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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Getty/Andy SheppardHaving recently topped the U.K. charts and entered the U.S. Top 10 with their debut album Days Are Gone, Los Angeles siblings Haim certainly appear to have justified the hype that was showered upon their sun-soaked soft-rock sound at the beginning of the year. But in case you've been living under a rock over the past twelve months, here's a quick everything you need to know guide to Este, Danielle and Alaina.They've Always Kept It in the FamilyProof that the trio have always kept it in the family, the girls began their music career in a band named Rockinhaim with their father Mordechai on drums and their mother Donna on guitar.They Were Once Valli GirlsDanielle & Este also cut their teeth as part of The Valli Girls, an all girl-group inspired by the likes of Blondie and The Pretenders who appeared on the soundtracks to both The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants and the 2005 Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards.Julian Casablancas was Their Unofficial MentorAfter inviting Danielle to perform percussion and guitar on his solo tour, The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas then became the band's unofficial mentor, advising them to take a break from playing live and instead concentrate on their songwriting.Este is a Musical ProdigyRenowned for her incredible bass-face performances, Este is also something of a musical prodigy having completed her five-year degree in Ethnomusicology at UCLA in just two years.They Won the BBC's Sound of 2013Pipping the likes of AlunaGeorge, Angel Haze and Laura Mvula to the post, Haim were crowned the winners of the BBC's prestigious industry poll earlier this year to join such illustrious company as Adele, Florence + The Machine and Ellie Goulding.They Like CollaboratingAs well as hooking up with Jessie Ware on their own record, various members have also popped up on tracks this year by Major Lazer ("You're No Good"), Kid Cudi ("Red Eye") and Portugal. The Man ("Purple Yellow Red & Blue")Este Almost Died at GlastonburyDiabetic Este claimed that she feared she was going to die in front of a live audience after she was forced to abandon their first set at this year's Glastonbury when her blood sugar levels ran dangerously low.David Cameron is a FanDavid Cameron tweeted how he was looking forward to listening to their album after the trio dedicated a performance of "The Wire" to the Prime Minister when they both appeared on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.
As you might have guessed, the BAFTA ceremony was this weekend and a bunch of British films won. Of course this was bound to happen. I'd give it to my home team, too. The results don't necessarily determine the outcome of the Oscar's in two weeks, but it does confirm that there are a lot of great films competing this year. The King's Speech was easily the big winner, taking home Best Film, Actor, both Supporting Actor awards, British Film, Original Screenplay and Music. Inception and Alice in Wonderland, as the only other slightly British films in Hollywood, took most of the technical awards for Production Design, Hair & Make Up, Visual Effects, etc. And when the Brits didn't have a clear domestic winner, I like to imagine they begrudgingly handed them over to David Fincher, Natalie Portman, Toy Story 3 and the lot.
Best Film- The King’s Speech
Director - The Social Network - David Fincher
Leading Actor - Colin Firth - The King’s Speech
Leading Actress - Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Supporting Actor - Geoffrey Rush - The King’s Speech
Supporting Actress - Helena Bonham Carter - The King’s Speech
Adapted Screenplay- The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin
Original Screenplay - The King’s Speech - David Seidler
Animated Film - Toy Story 3 - Lee Unkrich
Outstanding British Film - The King’s Speech
Film Not In The English Language - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer - Four Lions - Chris Morris (Director/Writer)
Cinematography - True Grit - Roger Deakins
Editing - The Social Network - Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
Production Design - Inception - Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Doug Mowat
Sound - Inception - Richard King, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A Rizzo, Ed Novick
Special Visual Effects - Inception - Chris Corbould, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Peter Bebb
Make Up & Hair - Alice In Wonderland - Valli O'Reilly, Paul Gooch
Original Music - The King’s Speech - Alexandre Desplat
Costume Design - Alice In Wonderland - Colleen Atwood
Short Film - Until The River Runs Red - Paul Wright, Poss Kondeatis
Short Animation - The Eagleman Stag - Michael Please
The Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award (voted by the public) - Tom Hardy