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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1980s television was unique. The comedies were brighter and campier, the dramas were more succinct and black-and-white. So, a television series that worked in that decade might not have the same effect on audiences today. But experimentation is where genius is born. And as far as genres go: crime-drama is timeless. So, taking these matters into account, NBC is vying for a remake of the undercover cop series Wiseguy (1987-1990), starring Ken Wahl, Jim Byrnes and Jonathan Banks.
Wahl, who has not acted since 1996, when he starred in the TV movie version of this series, played undercover police officer Vinnie Terranova—this could get confusing if they run the show on Mondays. In the original series, Vinnie disguises himself as a prisoner in a New Jersey penitentiary with the mission of taking down the local organized crime syndicates from the inside. The new series, however, will put a different spin on things.
In the remake, the main character will actually play a disgraced cop who, while in jail, takes on the undercover work in exchange for a reduced sentence. No word on whether or not characters like "Lifeguard" Burroughs, or "Harry the Hunch" will be revived directly, or who will be attached to the cast. But if Banks, now a soaring eagle on Breaking Bad, has any plans to revisit old material, I think we're in for some glorious television.
Top Story: Who's "Fun and Fearless"?
Matthew Perry and Alicia Silverstone, that's who. Cosmopolitan magazine has chosen the two as the Fun, Fearless Male and Female for 2004, The Associated Press reports. Cosmo's editor in chief, Kate White, described the star of NBC's Friends as "the epitome of a hot Cosmo male," adding he is "handsome, charming and incredibly talented. Plus, he's retained his optimism and sense of humor through difficult personal relationships." White described Silverstone, the 27-year-old star of NBC's Miss Match, as gutsy and talented, and said she lives life "with a vengeance." "I really respect how committed she is to her beliefs and how she works to improve the world around her," White said. Others on Cosmo's February list include Sofia Coppola, Ashanti, Kristin Chenoweth, Sue Wong, Lucy Liu, Holly Hunter, Parminder Nagra, Lisa Scottoline, Mischa Barton and Diane Lane.
Keaton Gets AFI Honor
Diane Keaton, nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Something's Gotta Give, is being honored by the American Film Institute, AP reports, receiving AFI's Star Award at the 10th Annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival next month. Previous Star Award recipients include Steve Martin, Mike Myers, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal.
Carnivale Gets Cinematography Nod
Carnivale, HBO's supernatural Dust Bowl-era series, leads the American Society of Cinematographer Awards with two nominations. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the recognition given to HBO's offbeat series marks the first time in the 18-year history of the ASC Awards that a woman has been nominated in any of its film or TV award categories. Tami Reiker, whose feature credits include last year's Pieces of April, was nominated for her work as director of photography on the Carnivale pilot. Other TV shows in competition include HBO's Angel in America, FX's The Pentagon Papers, Showtime's Out of Ashes and Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. The awards will be handed out Feb. 8 in Los Angeles.
Walker, Texas Ranger Actor Dies
Noble Willingham, a character actor for the last 30 years and best known for his role on Walker, Texas Ranger, died Saturday of natural causes in Palm Springs, Calif., AP reports. He was 72. Willingham also dabbled in politics, running on the Republican congressional ticket for eastern Texas. He lost to Democrat Max Sandlin.
Janet Jackson Releases New Album
Pop diva Janet Jackson will release her latest, yet-to-be titled album Mar. 30, Billboard reports. The new album is the follow-up to 2001's All for You, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and has sold more than 3 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Jackson will also be performing at the Super Bowl XXXVIII festivities in Houston on Feb. 1, although it is unknown if she will preview material from the upcoming release. P. Diddy, Kid Rock and Nelly are also scheduled to appear.
Idol Duet Hits the Road
American Idol sweethearts Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson are teaming up for a concert tour to kick off Feb. 24 in Charlotte, N.C., AP reports. The Grammy-nominated Clarkson, who won the Idol title in 2002, released her debut album Thankful in May 2003 and has sold more than 1 million copies, while 2003 runner-up Aiken's Sept. debut, Measure of a Man, hit No. 1 and went double-platinum.
Role Call: Hoffman Takes on Focker
Dustin Hoffman will play Ben Stiller's father in Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the 2000 hit comedy Meet the Parents, which starred Stiller, Teri Polo, Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the other actors are also reprising their roles in Focker, which revolves around Greg (Stiller) and his fiancée, Pam Byrnes (Polo), who thinks everything is hunky-dory now that Greg has won over his soon-to-be in-laws, Jack (De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Danner)--until, that is, Pam's parents meet Greg's parents, the Fockers. The hyper-easygoing Fockers and the tightly wound Byrneses are mismatched from the start.