Considered one of the finest Southern writers of his generation, author Pat Conroy's tales of domineering fathers and dysfunctional families provided material for some of film's greatest actors. After...
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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English school teacher David Edwards can now retire from teaching.
Edwards, a physics teacher from Denstone, has become the second person to win the £1 million jackpot on Britain's Who Wants to be a Millionaire, BBC News reports. The first person to win the jackpot was garden designer Judith Keppel in November.
The big win had still not quite sunk in yet, Edwards said at a press conference.
"One afternoon, I had a couple of hours of smug contentment. I had some idea of what is going on," said Edwards, whose win aired Saturday.
The new millionaire and his wife, who have two children in college, plan to go on vacation
Host Chris Tarrant said Edwards "was so cool and had an amazing general knowledge."
Martin is no "Zorro"
Ricky Martin will not wear the mask of Zorro. Martin's reps have dismissed British tabloid reports claiming that the Latin singer would star as Zorro in a new West End musical.
" [He's] not planning on taking over the lead in the show and has had no discussions with its producers," a rep for his record company said, according to ABC News reports.
The singer has had some acting experience, first as an actor in soap General Hospital and in Les Miserables.
David Lee Roth and Van Halen reunite
Former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth recorded three songs last year at Van Halen's private studio, ABC News reports.
"About a year ago, myself and the great Van Halen band played together once or twice and it sounded amazing, phenomenal," Roth said on his Web site.
The recording was made in July, but he hasn't made music or kept in touch with the band since, Roth said.
"But I am holding forth. I'm in the shape of my life and I got the high note. I'm ready to go," Roth said.
Van Halen fans hoped to see a such a reunion after Roth joined the band to present an award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. Roth also recorded two songs for a Van Halen's compilation album, but soon departed ways again with his former bandmates.
Producer Jack Haley dead
Jack Haley Jr., longtime Hollywood producer, actor, writer and the former husband of Liza Minnelli, died early Saturday of respiratory failure, The Associated Press reports. He was 67.
Haley, who had been in poor health, was admitted to the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday in a semi-comatose condition, said his assistant, Kelly Brandt. He died Saturday at the hospital.
During his 30-year career, Haley produced numerous films and television specials, including a number of the Academy Awards presentations. He also produced The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a 1990 documentary on the making of the classic movie. His father, actor Jack Haley, starred in The Wizard of Oz as the Tin Man.
The Oz connection did not end there. In 1974, Haley married Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Haley and Minnelli divorced in 1979, but remained close friends.
" I fell in love with him the first time I met him, and I have loved him with all my heart ever since," Minnelli said in a statement released Saturday.
Conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli dead
Italian conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli, best known for his daring interpretations of the works of Verdi and Puccini, died late Friday after suffering a heart attack while conducting at a Berlin opera house, The Associated Press reports. He was 54.
Sinopoli was rushed to the city's German Heart Center clinic after collapsing during the third act of Giuseppe Verdi's four-act Aida. Doctors first tried to resuscitate Sinopoli at the Opera house and then at the hospital. The opera house sent home its shocked audience members.
Sinopoli founded the Bruno Maderna ensemble in 1975. He began his career as an avant-garde composer before turning to conducting.
Poland to sell unpublished Monroe pictures
The Polish state treasury will sell thousands of unpublished photographs of Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood legends, Reuters reports.
Celebrated photographer Milton Greene's collection, which also features Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra, was acquired in 1995 by Poland's foreign debt agency from an American businessman.
" The time is ripe to turn it into cash,'' said Piotr Grzeskiewicz, an administrator of the assets of the liquidated Foreign Debt Servicing Fund.
Greene worked for such magazines such as Life and Vogue. He died in 1985.
The collection contains about 300,000 negatives from the 1950s and is valued at least several million dollars. Grzeskiewicz said he hopes the collection arouses strong interest from Monroe collectors.
" We have to decide on the best way to sell the collection. We do not want to spoil the market by flooding it with the photos,'' he told Reuters.
Stax Museum breaks ground
Numerous R&B musicians gathered Friday at the site of Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn., to reminisce and celebrate the groundbreaking of the museum and music conservatory honoring the former label.
A crowd of 3,000 met on the empty lot where Stax's famed recording studio - dubbed "Soulsville, USA" - once stood, The Associated Press reported.
The planned $20 million Stax Museum of American Music and adjoining Stax Academy and Performing Arts Center will serve tourists and budding musicians, said Deanie Parker, president of Soulsville, the nonprofit group behind the project.
"All around the world, this is the stamp of approval of what we did back in the '60s," said Steve Cropper, one-time guitarist for organist Booker T. Jones and his Memphis Group (MG's). "It will educate the people, and especially the kids, about the music."
"Boys Don't Cry" mother deserves more compensation
The mother of murdered cross-dresser Teena Brandon - the inspiration behind Boys Don't Cry - deserves more compensation, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday. The Supreme Court determined that a lower court had blundered by awarding $17,361 in damages to JoAnn Brandon for official negligence in the death of her daughter. The Supreme Court remanded the case to a District Court to determine new damages. The damages were awarded against Richardson County, Neb., and its sheriff, Charles Laux.
In his review of the case, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hendry said Judge Orville Coady's decision not to award damages to Brandon's mother for the loss of her daughter's companionship "shocks the conscience."
"Nothing will bring Teena back, but I will sleep better knowing that we found some justice for her, and because of this case, fewer parents will find their children abused and exposed to danger by law enforcement officials," Brandon told the Omaha World-Herald.
Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of Teena Brandon in the 1999 film, Boys Don't Cry.
Actor Bill Bellamy to host Miami soul festival
Actor and comedian Bill Bellamy will host the inaugural Soul Beach Music Festival at the Orange Bowl in Miami, The Associated Press reports.
Among the performers are: Angie Stone, Eric Benet, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Musiq and the Isley Brothers.
The concert shows how much the city's racial climate has improved since the early 1990s, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas said. At the time, Miami was boycotted by black tourists after the Miami City Commission snubbed visiting anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela for his refusal to repudiate Cuban President Fidel Castro.
``We have overcome some very painful experiences in this community,'' Penelas said.
The festival runs from May 30 through June 3.
Rapper Suge Knight leaves jail
Rapper Suge Knight, the co-founder of rap music label Death Row Records has been paroled five days earlier than expected, at Mule Creek State Prison, The Associated Press reports.
Knight told Sacramento, Calif., television station KXTV before his parole that prison had been a good experience for him and hopes to persuade young people not to follow his path.
" I had everything. I still do," he told the station. "But I had everything I could possibly have and I had six of the best lawyers and I still got nine years."
Death Row Records remains successful despite Knight's incarceration. The late Tupac Shakur's newly released album has been at the top of Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart for three weeks.
"Wind" parody publication blocked
U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell on Friday blocked the publication of a novel that he said borrows too liberally from Gone With the Wind and infringes on the copyright of Margaret Mitchell's classic novel.
Alice Randall's novel The Wind Done Gone is essentially a retelling of Gone With the Wind from a different point of view using the same fictional characters and places, Pannell wrote.
Publisher Houghton Mifflin argued that the story, told from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara's mulatto half-sister on the plantation Tara, was a political parody. Pannell disagreed, writing that Randall's "recitation of so much of the earlier work is overwhelming'' and constitutes an unauthorized sequel.
Attorneys for Mitchell's estate had sued to stop publication of Randall's book.
" It's a wonderful decision," said Martin Garbus, a lawyer representing the Mitchell trust. "It protects authors and publishers."
Writers, such as Pat Conroy, Harper Lee and Toni Morrison, who signed a petition in support of Randall's novel, were surprised.
" I can't believe the book will be suppressed,'' historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. said. "The Mitchell estate is doing a wonderful job of advertising for Houghton Mifflin."
Johnny Depp is the star "From Hell." Johnny Depp All right, he's the star in "From Hell." At least that's where talks concerning the comic-inspired flick are heading, according to today's Daily Variety.
The trade paper says Depp is considering the so-called Jack the Ripper tale for the writing-directing Hughes Brothers ("Dead Presidents") team. The film's inspired by the graphic novel of the same name.
As for Depp being a real star from hell? We don't know about that. We just know that at the box office the guy is something of the snakebit star from hell.
"The Astronaut's Wife," anybody?
PITT STOPS: Brad Pitt has had his share of bombs, too. ("Meet Joe Black"? Anyone? Anyone?) But that's not stopping him, either. The guy's being pursued for two -- count 'em two -- high-profile projects, Variety says. The first is "Beach Music," a peppy little number about suicide, the Holocaust and a child-custody battle based on a novel by Pat Conroy ("The Prince of Tides"). The second is "The Bourne Identity," a Robert Ludlum spy tale to converted into convenient film form by Doug Liman ("Swingers").
NEW RECRUIT: Now, if Disney's World War II epic "Pearl Harbor" bombs, it'll put to shame all those Johnny Depp/Brad Pitt misfires. ("Seven Years in Tibet"? Nobody?) But we're not saying "Pearl Harbor" is going to bomb. We're just saying if on account of it's got the biggest planned budget (about $135-145 mil or so) in Hollywood history and, you know, if it doesn't hit, it's gonna make a mess. Anyway, at least the thing's got stars now. First, there was Cuba Gooding Jr. Then there was Ben Affleck. And today comes word that Josh Hartnett ("Halloween: H2O") has also enlisted. Apparently in a bid to play it safe, neither Depp nor Pitt has yet been cast.
Wrote memoir The Water is Wide based on his experiences as a schoolteacher
Published coming-of-age novel Beach Music
Published first novel The Great Santini
First feature film based on his work, "Conrack" (adapted from The Water Is Wide)
Wrote acclaimed novel The Prince of Tides
Published debut non-fiction book The Boo, a collection of anecdotes about cadet life
Feature adaptation "The Great Santini" released, starring Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner
Wrote CBS movie "Unconquered"
Inducted into South Carolina Hall of Fame
Worked as schoolteacher in Daufuski, SC
Wrote The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life
Co-wrote screen adaptation "The Prince of Tides," directed by and starring Barbra Streisand
Considered one of the finest Southern writers of his generation, author Pat Conroy's tales of domineering fathers and dysfunctional families provided material for some of film's greatest actors. After an early daunting attempt at a teaching career, Conroy channeled the deeply affecting experience into the memoir <i>The Water is Wide</i>, which was quickly adapted as the feature film "Conrack" (1974), starring John Voight as the young author. Conroy found even greater success when he mined his difficult adolescence and frequently violent home life for a pair of novels that were each subsequently made into the films "The Great Santini" (1979) - featuring a tour de force performance by Robert Duvall - and "The Lords of Discipline" (1983), the latter inspired by Conrad's challenging time at The Citadel, a revered military college. First as a novel and then a feature film co-scripted by Conroy, "The Prince of Tides" (1991) brought the novelist the greatest critical acclaim of his career and earned an Oscar nomination for the film's star, Nick Nolte. Although Hollywood collaborations later tapered off, Conroy nonetheless continued to enthrall readers with such bestsellers as 1995's <i>The Beach House</i> and 2009's <South of Broad</i>. In using fiction as a means of coming to terms with an often tumultuous and painful past, Conroy allowed millions of readers and moviegoers to do the same, while still finding themselves swept away by the lyrical realism of his tales filled with love, loss and the bonds of friendship.
Barbara Bolling Jones
Married Oct. 10, 1969; Divorced 1977
Born c. 1921; Divorced from Pat's mother 1975 after 33 years of marriage; Died of colon cancer May 9, 1998 at age 77
Divorced from Pat's father 1975 after 33 years of marriage; Died of leukemia 1984 at age 59
Born c. 1970; mother Barbara Bolling
Born c. 1982; mother Lenore Gurewitz
Born c. 1955
Younger; worked with mentally disabled children
Schizophrenic who committed suicide 1994 at age 33
Lenore Gurewitz Fleischer
Married 1981; Divorced Oct. 26, 1995
Married May 1997
Beaufort High School
"I've never seen a fuller world in a novel than in Pat's." – novelist Anne Rivers Siddons
"As wet and woozy as its title." – review of Beach Music in The New York Review of Books
"I think people who send their children to The Citadel hate their kids." – Conroy quoted in People, Aug. 14, 1995
"I got to page 233 – I don't know what was on that page, but I threw it [The Great Santini] across the room. Pat has managed to blame me for every mishap in his life. He has a way of expanding on problems instead of just getting them settled. I'm a Marine. I play hardball." – Colonel Donald Conroy, Pat's father, quoted in People, Aug. 14, 1995
"What I try to do is explain my life to myself. It does not particularly make it better, but I'm not sure serenity is the end result of art." – Conroy quoted in People, Aug. 14, 1995
Conroy received an honorary degree from The Citadel in 2000.