Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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November 14, 2005 6:06am EST
Since the age of 12 Marcus (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) wanted to be a rapper. After his mother Katrina (Serena Reeder) is brutally killed Marcus’ rap dreams are put on hold and he begins hustling drugs to make enough money for a nice pair of shoes. Only he doesn’t stop at the shoes. When Marcus gets involved with Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) he sees how much money there is to be made in the drug business and he wants it all. Then his childhood best friend Charlene (Joy Bryant) moves back to Queens and they fall in love. But it isn’t too long before she gets pregnant and he is arrested. While perfecting his rap skills in jail he meets Bama (Terrence Howard) who becomes his manager and lifesaver on the outside taking him out of the drug game for good. 50 Cent may have the rap world locked up but his acting skills leave a lot to be desired. Watching him trying to emote is sort of akin to watching a bad comic bomb on stage. He seems to be the first rapper-turn-actors these days who can’t cut it. Thankfully Get Rich’s supporting cast help out--a little. Marc John Jefferies (Stuart Little 2 Spider-Man 2) who plays the young Marcus nearly steals the show. At first loving and caring then turning cold and unforgiving Jefferies made it look easy to flip the switch between the two. Another standout is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (HBO’s Oz) as the crooked drug lord Majestic. And in a year chockfull of good performances Terrence Howard who obviously just wanted to work with Sheridan adds much needed comic relief as the quirky Bama. Director Jim Sheridan whose resume includes Oscar-winning films such as In America and My Left Foot probably thought that if Oscar-winning director Curtis Hanson could handle Eminem’s 8 Mile with aplomb then he could do the same thing with a gangsta rap story. Guess he forgot the fact Hanson (L.A. Confidential) can do gritty. The very Irish Sheridan is just clearly way out of his element. Get Rich jumps around so much you don’t have any time to figure out what’s happening who’s who or where the heck the film’s heading. And it doesn’t help that the chaotic script is peppered with such stereotypical dialogue. Honestly if you want to see a compelling story about a wannabe rapper getting his shot (and not shot at) rent this year’s Hustle & Flow.
November 08, 2002 7:57am EST
In his feature film debut Eminem is Jimmy Smith Jr. a poor aspiring rapper living in a trailer park on Detroit's 8 Mile Rd.--the city's perimeter road which separates it from the 'burbs or more specifically the blacks from the whites. After breaking up with his girlfriend Janeane (Taryn Manning) Jimmy nicknamed "Rabbit " heads back to the trailer park to live with his mom (Kim Basinger) a lush with a penchant for bingo. He gets a day job in a factory so he can save enough money to get back on his feet but at night heads to the Shelter a hip-hop club where the city's best rappers "battle" each other in 45-second rounds of verbally abusive rhymes. Even though his friends including Shelter MC Future (Mekhi Phifer) believe in him Rabbit suffers stage fright and freezes like a deer in the headlights when it comes to competition time. But he realizes his entire future--and getting out of Detroit--rests on making it in the hip-hop world and cutting his own demo. To do so Rabbit must first find his voice and win a coveted battle. The battles whether you like hip-hop or not are worth the price of admission alone.
According to Eminem whose real name is Marshall Mathers III this film is part real and part made-up. But his character gets a complete Hollywood makeover here and it's glaringly easy to discern fact from fiction. 8 Mile's Rabbit for example is concerned with gun violence (Eminem was arrested twice in 2000 for weapons violations for which he received probation). And when a coworker starts harassing one of Rabbit's gay coworkers he breaks into a defensive rhyme: "Why you f***ing with the gay guy G? You're the one with the HIV." Audiences longing for a compassionate and caring version Eminem won't be disappointed. In his big screen debut Eminem is convincing and hardly afraid to show a soft and vulnerable side. He's a rapper and lyricist at heart however and his spiels often take on a cadence similar to his rap style. As Rabbit's buddy Future Phifer is solid and their relationship on screen is believable and endearing. Brittany Murphy is also great as the skanky Alex whose plan is to get out of Detroit by sleeping with all the wrong people. Basinger however delivers a bland performance as the drunk mom whining about her teen boyfriend's lack of sexual prowess.
Director Curtis Hanson scored Oscar nods for Best Picture and Best Director and won Best Adapted Screenplay in 1997 for the drama L.A. Confidential which is one reason there is more than a bit of buzz surrounding 8 Mile. The film is good but it's not Oscar worthy. Hanson paints a gritty and realistic portrait of the Murder City circa 1995 but the film's problem lies with the story written by The Mod Squad scribe Scott Silver. For one week viewers get a voyeuristic peek into Rabbit's life: he beats people up works hard has sex gets beaten up and sometimes raps. It's a stagnant view that never seems to go anywhere. While we know what happens to his mom--she wins big at bingo washes her hair and does the groceries--we never find out what happens to Rabbit. We can't even assume the film leaves off where Eminem's career starts because it's not a biopic. But despite the weak story Hanson commands a strong performance from Eminem and showcases both the rapper's newfound acting abilities and his musical talent. Considering the film's strength lies in Eminem it's surprising there weren't more musical performances from the Grammy-winning rapper.