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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Every once in a while you do something right and God gives you a little gift. Sometimes you find $20 on the street. Sometimes you meet someone new and exciting at a bar and you get to make out in a dark corner and get your genitals all in a kerfuffle. And sometimes, some great times God puts Porsha Williams Stewart down here on the earth and winds her up like a mechanical monkey and just let's her spin out of control for all of our amusement. Clang, clang, clang she says as she hobbles from one leg to the other banging her cymbals together and shaking that one bean in the empty head of hers. Yes, Porsha Williams Stewart is a gift from God. Not like her Grammy meant when she said it, but she still is because we are going to be endlessly amused by her.
But before we get to Porsha, we have to talk about the rest of the Real Carpetbaggers of Nifty Moving and Mini-Storage. Seriously, all these women do is move. Kim is moving, Kandi is moving, NeNe is jet setting around getting pedicures while sitting in some uncomfortable black crocodile wing chair. (As I declared last week, I am not discussing moving one bit, so sorry Kim and Kandi. I can't be bothered with you until you do something real.) Did that not look like the least romantic pedicure of all time? And her husband Gregg is sitting next to her writing love poems that he just made up on the spot. "I want a key to your door. Like I never had before." He says. Well, he's a poet, and he didn't even know it. "I want you to be my wife. And then you will shoot me with your rif-le." "When are we gonna get back together? Maybe April or September?" "Roses are red, NeNe is black. If I was Nickelodeon, you'd be my Gak." That is what Gregg's love poems sound like. Man, he wants NeNe back so bad, it probably has nothing to do with the fact that she's now back on national TV and making lots of money and totally rich, bitch. It probably has nothing to do with that at all.
Now that NeNe is all big and famous, she's just jet setting around the world. Now she's in New York for the NBC Upfronts so that she can go out to dinner with boring advertising execs and they can buy her drinks and she can pretends like she is generally interested in talking to so that Kraft Mac 'N' Cheeze will spend lots of money to shill their product during her new show. She's all hanging up there and Cynthia is also in New York for "modeling." I love that is her excuse. "Hey girl, what you doing in town?" "Oh, I just got some modeling. Then I'm gonna see a show and go to Uniqlo and maybe stop by the Meatball Shop. But mostly, I got some modeling." What?
Well, Cynthia decides that she is going to take NeNe on a "poor tour" of New York, because she never had to be a struggling model in New York back when "modeling" was a harder commodity to come by. (But not modeling glue, because that you can buy easy and is good for a cheap high. PS, kids, don't do drugs. Well, at least not modeling glue. And if you do want to do modeling glue, I'm just a tweet away. I'll tell you how you can score some real shit.) The "poor tour" consists of a subway ride, which NeNe has never done, and eating a New York street hot dog, which no one with a still-functioning digestive track has ever done.
I hate when people are like "reality shows are fake" because duh, but I hate when reality shows are so fake that they think that we're not going to even know that they're fake and not care. The "poor tour" consists of NeNe going two stops on the subway. Two stops! She went from 49th St and Seventh Avenue to 58th Street and Fifth Avenue. That is like a five minute walk. Maybe 10 if you're wearing spiked Louboutins like NeNe. And then, right when they get off the subway there is a hot dog vendor which makes sense because there are a million of these people right on the edges of Central Park. But their hot dog vendor was a pretty white lady. I have seen a million hot dog vendors in New York and not only have I never seen a white one, I have never seen a lady, and most of the non-white men that I've seen haven't been that good looking. Now, if their hot dog vendor was an Arab teenager, that I would believe. But no, it was a pretty white lady. This is not a real thing that happened. This is an urban myth like hailing a taxi and getting the Cash Cab (seriously producers vet that shit). There is a better chance of getting a pretty lady cab driver (there are like three) but there are precisely zero pretty lady hot dog vendors. I mean, imagine the harassment?
What else happened? Hmm. Oh, Phaedra, who I think is my favorite on this show, is making a work out tape with her husband Apollo and it's called "The Donkey Booty Ass Kicking Workout Vol. 1." It is so every woman out there can have a fat ass. Now, I'm sorry Phaedra, but don't most people say, "I'm going to start working out so I can get rid of my fat ass," not, you know, the opposite? Well, not to worry, because this isn't going to be a strenuous workout. It's going to be an easy work out so that no one has to sweat and send their hair into paroxysms of "afroism" as Phaedra says. She's going to get Kernya Moo-ah to produce it which, ha! Hahahahaha. Oh, hahaahahaha. Sorry, I'm going to laughing until Boxing Day. Wake me up on the 27th. Also she said her husband looked like "Arnold Schwarzenegger on bath salts" which is both hilarious and true and it makes me want to go out for coffee with Phaedra and make jokes and lean across the table and slap each other's hands after each one and then laugh so hard we're out of breath and then eat like 20 biscotti and go for an easy work out. If Phaedra says a fat ass is OK, I can get on board.
Phaedra and Kernya had lunch but, whatever, it was kind of boring. Kernya bellowed, "Barkeep! Barkeep!" at the bartender with a complete lack of irony which is the fastest way to get your ass perpetually ignored at every bar in the entire Milky Way (not the candy bar).
As boring as their lunch was, Kernya's lunch with Porshe Williams Stewart was so incredibly fascinating. I am obsessed with Porsha. She is just the right combination of entitled, pretty, stupid, privileged, and self-righteous that she makes for the best Housewives character. However, she is just this year's step sister. Yes, we all know the step sisters like Kim G on New Jersey and Brandi on Beverly Hills last year or the new defunct Marlow on this here Atlanta. These are the secondary characters who are around to get fights started but aren't given the privileged of having a tag line at the beginning. They probably get payed less too. Yes, like step sisters they're around for all the big events and the grievances but don't get called to lunch or anything. I usually hate the step sister, but I want to see as much of this Porsha as I can.
Porsha asks her big sister Kernya out to dinner ostensibly to ask her to be the celebrity at her fundraiser for her grandfather's charity to feed homeless children the Hosea Williams Foundation." Kernya as a celebrity draw at a fundraiser, which, ha! Hahahahaha. Oh, hahaahahaha. Sorry, I'm going to laughing until Presidents' Day. Wake me up in February. As soon as lunch starts Porsha asks Kernya if she's married and Kernya says no and Porsha tells her all about her husband, Carvell Stewart, who is a Cookie Puss that taught himself how to play football. The reason this is all Piggity P wants to talk about is because her marriage is about the only interesting thing about her. She's just one of those bland stupid girls that likes Sex and the City or Girlfriends and bags and shoes and purses and shopping and her friends and has no aspirations beyond consumption and putting glitter on things. And texting. That is all that Porsha's future holds. Maybe a few kids.
Now her rubbing the fact that she is young and wants to have a million babies and is married to hot young scoop of ice cream is just awesome. She can't see Kernya getting more and more angry as she just carries on and talks about her tiara and satchel for winning Miss USA (as if she can put all her pride in that satchel, which she pretty much does anyway).
Now it's time for Porsha's bday party fundraiser which, again, is a "Powerful Woman Party." This is like the murder mystery dinner party of 2012, because everyone seems to be having one. It's at Hosea William's house, which was one of the earliest brick McMansions in the ATL and she puts up a white tent next to it. We only see one shot of the house and the walls of it are decorated with giant checks like all Hosea Williams did was win celebrity golf tournaments or something. I bet Porsha thinks that's the most tasteful thing in the whole world, just having laughably huge notations of legal tender lining the stairway of your house. As a kid she and her sister would take the checks down and run outside and ring the doorbell and the other would answer and they would play Publisher's Clearing House and one would play Ed McMahon and give the other a giant check she just won and the winner would just jump up and down and scream her head off and run around the house and throw her body down on the ground and just hammer and clamor. But no one wanted to play Ed McMahon. Why do I have to play Ed McMahon? I was Ed last time. God!
So, Kernya shows up to the party with her friend Karnya. If Real Housewives of Atlanta ever does an Alice in Wonderland-themed episode, we have cast our Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Daa. As soon as she arrives Kernya is dissing the party – that it's too small, that the house is ghetto, that it smells like manure – and then Porsha gets on the microphone (never give a half-drunk girl or a drag queen a microphone, because no good will come of it) and announces to her 25 closest friends that Kernya Moo-ah is there and is a celebrity which, ha! Hahahahaha. Oh, hahaahahaha. Sorry, I'm going to laughing until Flag Day. Wake me up in June.
But then she says Kernya was Miss America, which she was not. She was Miss USA. The second black Miss USA, to be precise. This mistake gets Kernya all upset. I mean it's like if you have the heavyweight champion of the WCW at your party and say they're the heavyweight champion of the WWF. That's like a promotion. Take it, Kernya. Take the promotion.
Then Carvell comes out with a cake in the shape of a purse because, of course (it is also his sister). Then he gives her a Chanel purse for her birthday which she squeals over because also, of course. And then he donates $200,000 to her grandfather's charity because, I guess. Basically this wasn't a fundraiser it was just her man giving a charity a bunch of money and Porsha throwing herself a party for marrying well and so she could have that really cute purse cake she saw on Pinterest which was reblogged from ObnoxiousThingsGirlsLike.tumblr.com. This is why Porshe is amazing. She doesn't get any of it. She just doesn't understand. She sits there in her Herve Leger dress thinking that she's the black Kim Kardashian and has no idea the awful implications of that. In fact, if you told her she was the black Kim Kardashian she would be flattered. This is her idea of equality. This is why her grandfather marched on Washington with Dr. King, so that she could have a purse party in his back yard with Kernya Moo-ah.
Well, Ms. Kernya (who is nasty) is cold. She is freezing! And she complains. She picks at her kale salad and just bitches about how awful it is in the tent and how it should be made warmer. After all, she is the celebrity guest and she should be warm. She is pulling a bit of a power trip so that she can get some attention and Porsha doesn't bite. Kernya says she's going outside to warm up and her and Tweedle Daa sneak off to their car. While they're waiting, and bitching about how it lit-rally smells like doo-doo (I used "literally" correctly to comment on how people use "literally" incorrectly but I also hate subtlety). And what happens? Porshe comes out to check on her celebrity guest. She comes out to make sure Kernya Moo-ah is OK and not dissing her. That is awesome. She is more concerned with what Kernya is doing than her own party. Girl, stay above it. Don't mess with a basket case like Kernya.
So, Kernya says she's coming back, but she never does, so what happens? Porsha comes back again! The only thing worse than checking on this bitch once is checking on her twice, because the stink face you got the first time should have said it all. Yes, Porsha just wants to see if everyone is cool, and Porsha is like, "Um, why did you get up and leave in the middle of dinner? Your food is waiting!" This pisses off Kernya who starts with her crazy shade and tries to make it seem like the Miss USA/Miss America snub was some huge deal. It was kind of annoying, but Porsha can't even figure out the difference between a hat and an earring, so how do you think you can tell the difference between Miss USA and Miss America? Please.
They fight, which is awesome. Porsha says that Kernya doesn't care about starving children because she stormed out of a faux-ndraiser and Kernya is like, "You ghetto," because she doesn't have any real gripes and then Porsha kicks Kernya out and it was just a moment of amazement.
It was just two egos smacking into each other in the night, neither knowing exactly what was going on or why they were upset but that there was rage to be had. Porsha wobbled up the pock marked driveway up back to her party and Kernya and Tweedle Daa got into Kernya's big black car brought around by the valet. She settled into the seat and sped away, her head held high and her eyes dry. At the end of the road she stopped at an intersection and the warm night closed around them. She shut off the air conditioner and opened the window and felt the stickiness seep in through the window in a blast like an explosion. The stars littered the sky with their light that was billions of years old, wiser than all of us and Kernya started to cry. A deep nasty cry and after a moment hit the steering wheel, harder and harder each time, setting off the horn a few times in small bleats that were enveloped by the humidity. Then she just kept on crying.
"Are you OK?" Tweedle Daa said. "It's not my fault," Kernya replied. "It's never my fault."
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Bravo]
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Natina Reed, a member of the '90s group Blaque and star of the 2000 cheerleading film Bring It On, died last night at the age of 32. According to a release from the Gwinnett Police Department sent to Hollywood.com, Reed was struck by a car at about 10:30 p.m., and was pronounced dead at 10:59 ET at Gwinnett Medical Center, near Atlanta, GA.
The release also said that while the investigation is ongoing, the driver has been determined to not be at fault. "Preliminary information indicates that Reed was in the roadway on Lawrenceville Highway near Hamilton Road when struck. The driver of the vehicle was determined to be not at fault and there are no charges pending. There are no additional witnesses beyond the driver and passenger. Their names are being withheld until the investigation is concluded."
Reed's former group-mates Brandi Williams and Shamari Fears-DeVoe issued a joint statement:
"We are devastated by the loss of our group member, sister and friend Natina Reed. Because of the enormous support of Blaque fans and our love for each another, Blaque officially reunited this fall and we were in the process of working on a new album and a reality show. Natina continuously embodied the pioneering spirit of Blaque and her undeniable creativity touched the hearts of fans everywhere. Natina was a mother, sister, accomplished songwriter, artist and friend. We ask for your prayers at this time for Natina's family. She will forever be missed and her global influence eternally felt. We thank God for the experiences we shared."
Natina leaves behind a 10-year-old son, Tren, with rapper Kurupt. She would have been 33 on Sunday.
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