Likable blonde silent screen actress, dubbed "the American Venus" by Florenz Ziegfeld after she starred as an aspiring Miss America contestant in a 1926 film of that name. Practically raised onstage b...
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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Was at the peak of her fame in the mid to late 1920s
Cast as Mrs. Darling in a silent film version of "Peter Pan"
Played a small role in Charles Chaplin's "The Kid", opposite Chaplin and Jackie Coogan
Stardom fading; went to England to play prominent roles in "Rome Express" and "After the Ball"
Moved to Hollywood with her parents; made screen debut at age 14; earliest films include "Phantom Fortunes"
Joined family's theatrical troupe at age 2; act known as the "Ralston Family Metropolitan Entertainers with Baby Esther" (date approximate)
Starred in the film, "The American Venus", which led to her acquiring that nickname; film reportedly no longer extant
Last leading roles included work in the film, "Black Beauty"
Performed in radio soap operas
Retired from films
Played primarily supporting roles for the rest of her film career
Worked in a department store; later held executive positions with a talent agency and with an electric company located in upstate New York
Played title role in "The Case of Lena Smith"; reported to be her favorite part
Returned to acting when she played Helen Lee on NBC-TV's serial drama, "Our Five Daughters"
Likable blonde silent screen actress, dubbed "the American Venus" by Florenz Ziegfeld after she starred as an aspiring Miss America contestant in a 1926 film of that name. Practically raised onstage by a family of vaudevillians, Ralston began in bit parts in films as a teenager, and worked primarily with Paramount and MGM during the 1920s. Ralston's films often found her playing wholesome, glamorous yet playful roles and include a charming version of "Peter Pan" (1925) in which she played Mrs. Darling in support of star Betty Bronson, the lively comedy "Beggar on Horseback" (1925), "Half a Bride" (1928), in which she played opposite Gary Cooper, and "The Case of Lena Smith" (1929) directed by the formidable Joseph von Sternberg.
At one point in the mid-1920s Ralston was one of Hollywood's highest-paid stars, but her career gradually petered out with the coming of sound. She did, however, play intermittent supporting roles (as in the highly enjoyable mystery "Mr. Dynamite" 1935) until the early 1940s. Ralston later worked as an executive at a talent agency and for an electric company, and did occasional TV work (e.g. a leading role as the mother of "Our Five Daughters" 1962). Ralston was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild and in her later years proved a very lively interviewee on TV specials and documentaries on the past glories of American film.