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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Renowned for changing their line-ups quicker than most groups change their underwear, UK girlband Sugababes have almost made Fleetwood Mac look like the picture of stability since bursting onto the pop scene with the brilliant "Overload" back in 2000. In the week that the original trio finally released their comeback single and the last all but admitting that the game is over, here's a look at each of their five incarnations from worst to best.
Jade, Amelle & Heidi (2009-2013)
After drafting in former Eurovision entrant Jade Ewen to replace the only founding member, Keisha Buchanan, the final Sugababes line-up became the complete antithesis to everything that the first stood for. Jumping aboard the 'fun in the club' Europop bandwagon, their one and only dismal studio effort, the anything but Sweet 7, saw them transform into shameless hit-chasers. While they spent their last three years focusing more on appearing in tacky reality shows (Dancing On Ice, Splash) than getting their act together. The recent news of their split comes as a relief.
Mutya, Keisha & Siobhan (2012-??)
Having left the band through a toilet window in 2001, Siobhan Donaghy and the rest of the original line-up decided to put their differences aside and join forces again last year. Only a handful of tracks from their unexpected reunion have emerged so far. But if they can keep their squabbling to a minimum, the triumphant Dev Hynes-produced hipster pop of "Flatline" and their classy take on Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools (Drank)" suggests that MKS are more than capable of surpassing their former glories.
Heidi, Amelle & Keisha (2006-2009)
An era of two halves, the third Sugababes line-up picked up where the second left off with a string of brilliant pop singles ("Red Dress," "Easy," "About You Now"), a Greatest Hits collection which confirmed their girlband superiority and a second UK number one album with Change. But they hopelessly lost their way towards the end with a lazy cover of "Here Come The Girls," its dull retro-soul parent album, Catfights & Spotlights, and arguably the death knell for the group, "Get Sexy," a jaw-droppingly bad slice of trash pop which for reasons unknown sampled Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy."
Mutya, Keisha & Siobhan (1998-2001)
Arriving at a time when the charts were flooded with girlbands hoping to fill the Spice Girls-shaped hole in the market, Sugababes managed to emerge as one of the most distinctive thanks to an intriguingly aloof image and an effortlessly cool urban pop sound produced by former Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry cohort Cameron McVey. But despite a wave of critical acclaim, 2000 debut One Touch didn’t exactly set the world alight and following Donaghy’s departure, the group were dropped from their London Records label.
Heidi, Mutya & Keisha (2001-2006)
One of the most remarkable career turnarounds in girlband history, Sugababes Version 2.0 went from the verge of extinction to the top of the UK charts in the space of six months. Comeback single "Freak Like Me," an inspired mash-up of Gary Numan’s "Are 'Friends' Electric" and Adina Howard’s '90s R&B classic, signalled their pop world-conquering ambitions immediately. But despite their new-found commercial success, the trio remained one of the most exciting and inventive acts around, forging a successful partnership with Xenomania before Girls Aloud had even formed and toying with everything from crunk to trip-hop to ambient electronica on their subsequent three albums.
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Pop band Sugababes split two years ago after their musical success "fizzled out", according to bandmember Jade Ewen. The singer recently cast doubt on the future of the group following the reunion of the band's original members, Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy, who have returned under the name Mutya Keisha Siobhan.
However, she has now come clean about the real status of the current line-up, which also includes Heidi Range and Amelle Berrabah, insisting they have not worked together in two years and have no plans to reunite.
She tells Digitalspy.co.uk, "This is a tricky one because I don't feel comfortable lying, saying we're in the studio recording and we're going to bring music out next year, which seems to be the favoured line. I think it's unfair to fans and we should be honest.
"The band being over is definitely not my choice. I kind of was unlucky in that I came in (to Sugababes) towards the end of the cycle when things naturally came to the end.
"There was so much drama surrounding the group, I think the music just got lost. I don't like all the drama and the negativity. We kind of fizzled out about two years ago."
She also blames the constant line-up changes for bringing about the group's demise, and hints that she will tell the real story of the Sugababes in a future book, adding, "One day I'm hoping that I'll be able to put out a book and explain that whole chapter."
The band's original line-up broke down in 2001 when Donaghy left. She was followed by Mutya Buena in 2005 and Buchanan in 2007, while the band continued performing with a new line-up. Ewen joined Sugababes in 2009 to replace Buchanan.
Pop stars Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy blame record company bosses for the breakup of the original Sugababes, insisting they were all too young to handle fame on their own. The trio formed in 1998 when they were just 13 years old and within two years they had rocketed to stardom with their debut hit Overload.
But a year later the British band began to fracture as Donaghy quit, and by 2009 all three members had abandoned the group, to be replaced by Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen.
The original three singers reunited last year (12) under the bandname Mutya Keisha Siobhan and they are adamant there will be no repeat of the in-fighting that previously dogged them because they are older and wiser.
Donaghy tells ES Magazine, "Looking back there was a lot of divide and conquer going on. The adult world around us wanted to manage the environment and make it a business, and maybe forgot we were young and our happiness was important.
"We were teenagers. We weren't even old enough to drink! They saw us as interchangeable - it was all about the band, not the individuals, and that's not good for your self-esteem."
Buena adds, "We were just too young to appreciate it. We didn't realise our music was credible. (The management would say) 'You're number one!' (and I was thinking) OK, can I go home now?"
Original Sugababes star Siobhan Donaghy is adamant the band's former members will never share a stage with the current line-up of the girl band, dismissing fans' hopes of a supergroup tour. Donaghy has reunited with her former bandmates Mutya Buena and Keisha Buchanan to form a new girl group called Mutya Keisha Siobhan.
All three singers were replaced when they left the line-up and the current band features Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen, who recently voiced her hope that the two bands could be combined to form a Sugababes supergroup, telling Digitalspy.co.uk, "That would be awesome, it would sell out... I'm definitely up for it."
However, Donaghy is adamant it will never happen, telling Britain's Metro newspaper, "People have to remember, especially for me, I have only ever worked with Mutya and Keisha, that's my focus and that's what I enjoy. There will be no tour together."
She adds of the later incarnation of the Sugababes, "If I'm completely honest, I wasn't really a fan."
The original stars of British girl group Sugababes sealed their comeback by reviving their back catalogue for their first full live show together in 12 years on Thursday night (01Aug13). The singers have reunited under the new name Mutya Keisha Siobhan and they premiered their first new single, Flatline, this week (beg29Jul13).
They also returned to the stage with a show at London's Scala venue on Thursday, marking their first full concert together in more than a decade, and the group kicked off the gig by performing the Sugababes' first ever single, 2000's Overload.
They also thrilled fans with hits including Run For Cover, Freak Like Me, Stronger, and Push The Button.
In a message posted on Twitter.com after the show, singer Keisha Buchanan writes, "So much love in the air! Thanks to everyone who came and supported us! We had a ball! So shocked by the turn out!... Whoop Best. Fans. Ever."
A tweet on the MKS page reads, "Thank you all so much for being part of such a special night for us. Blown away by the love and support."
The band's original line-up broke down in 2001 when Siobhan Donaghy left. She was followed out the door by Mutya Buena in 2005 and Buchanan in 2007, while the band continued performing with a new line-up.
Jade Ewen, who joined Sugababes in 2009 to replace Buchanan, recently sparked speculation that the reunion of the pop group's original members spelled the end for the remaining line-up, telling Digitalspy.co.uk, "I don't even know if the band stuff is going to happen again, if I'm completely honest... I think we're pretty much done."
British pop star Jade Ewen has cast doubt on the future of the Sugababes by insisting her girl group is "pretty much done". Ewen has no definite plans to perform again with her bandmates Heidi Range and Amelle Berrabah, following the reunion of the trio's original line-up, Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy.
She tells Digital Spy, "I don't even know if the band stuff is going to happen again, if I'm completely honest. I think Amelle wants to do her own solo stuff, Heidi is doing a Happy Days musical... I think we're pretty much done.
"I'm working on solo material at the moment actually. It's only come about in the past three weeks, so it's quite a new project. No one's really seen me yet... I've been in a band, but I don't think anyone really knows what I'm about."
Ewen, Range and Berrabah replaced Buena, Buchanan and Donaghy, who formed the Sugababes in 1999 but left to pursue solo careers. All three original members had abandoned the group by 2009, but they reunited as Mutya Keisha Siobhan last year (12).
Ewen insists she would love for all six women to team up on tour, insisting, "That would be awesome, it would sell out. That's easy for me to say, though, I don't know how that would go down (with the other girls). But I'm definitely up for it."
Supermodel Jourdan Dunn burst into tears during a night out in London this week (beg22Apr13) when she lost her cell phone. The catwalk beauty was partying with Sugababes singer Jade Ewen at the glitzy Crazy Bear venue in Covent Garden on Tuesday night (23Apr13) when she realised her iPhone had vanished.
Dunn flew into a panic and was so distressed, she broke down in tears.
In a series of subsequent posts on Twitter.com, she writes, "Lost my iPhone... extremely p**sed (drunk)... Yes tears were shed... Don't mind me I'm just mourning over my phone."