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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Lucky Number 7: VH1 has decided to extend The Jenny McCarthy Show with an order for seven additional episodes. Since its February premiere, Jenny McCarthy’s pop culture talk show has maintained steady viewers and featured a handful of C-list celebrities including Bar Refaeli and Snooki. This extension comes amidst talk that funny girl is being considered to replace Joy Behar on The View, but McCarthy has dismissed the rumors stressing that her allegiance is to VH1. McCarthy will wrap her original episode order next Friday, March 29, and after a brief break the show will resume with new episodes on Friday, April 12. [Deadline]
Oh Baby! Just as production wrapped on season two of ABC Family's Baby Daddy, the network announced it has picked up the sitcom for a third season. The half-hour show has become the top-rated new comedy series in the history of the network. "Baby Daddy was an immediate success when it launched," ABC Family President Michael Ray said in a press release. "Based on the creative strength we saw during production on Season 2, and how the episodes, storylines and characters are developing, we decided to double down on this hit show and keep it in production for additional episodes." Fans can catch the season two premiere of Baby Daddy Wednesday, May 29. [Via release]
Hot Reunion For Mary Tyler Moore Show: Welcome back some old friends: Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, and Cloris Leachman will all guest star on an upcoming episode of Betty White's TV LandHot in Cleveland. All four actresses starred in the multiple Emmy-winning Mary Tyler Moore Show. Georgia Engel -- who also starred in the classic show -- will appear in the episode as well, as she’s had a recurring role on the sitcom since last spring. The episode is about White’s Elka and Engel’s Mamie Sue reuniting their old bowling team, which once included Diane (Moore), Peg (Leachman), and Angie (Harper). This will be the first time in more than 30 years that these five women have appeared on a sitcom together. Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson will also guest star in the reunion episode as a world-renowned, avant garde director with whom Wendie Malick’s Victoria would kill to work. But Ferguson's eccentric director wants to work with a different character, causing a complicated triangle to form. [Entertainment Weekly, TVLine]
Won't You Be My Neighbor? One Tree Hill alum Bethany Joy Lenz has just booked a recurring role on Dexter's eighth (and likely final) season, which kicks off on June 30 at 9 PM ET/PT. Lenz will play Cassie, an "an attractive former finance executive looking for a quieter life," and is slated to debut in the fourth episode. Since she will wind up moving in next door to our favorite serial killer, it looks like she won't find that quieter life she so wants... [TV Guide]
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[Photo Credit: Bob D'Amico/Getty Images]
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Even Lou would have to admire Valerie Harper's tenacity. Just weeks after revealing on Good Morning America that doctors have given her three to six months to live due to a rare form of brain cancer, it was announced that Harper would be joining a full-blown Mary Tyler Moore Show reunion on TV Land's Hot in Cleveland.
Valerie Harper Opens Up About Terminal Cancer Diagnosis
Deadline reports that, in an episode due to tape April 5, series star Betty White will stage a reunion of her old bowling team friends. The members of The Gorgeous Ladies of Bowling (GLOB) just happen to include Mary Tyler Moore, Cloris Leachman, Georgia Engel (who's already made Hot in Cleveland appearances), and Harper. It's the first time all these women have appeared together onscreen since the 1977 finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It may also be the last time we ever see Harper in an episode of scripted television.
Will you be watching when it airs later this spring?
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[Photo Credit: Adam Rose/NBC]
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Finally, some good news. Richard Engel, NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent, and two of his production team members — cameraman John Kooistra and producer Ghazi Balkiz — were freed from their abductors in Syria on Monday after being held in captivity for five days. The team was abducted on Thursday, and NBC did not hear from them until Monday, when the team was discovered in the back of a captors' van at a Syrian rebel checkpoint. Tuesday morning the freed crew conducted a special interview from Antakya, Turkey with the Today show to disclose the details of their capture, which included psychological torture. "It is good to be here,” Engel said. “I’m very happy that we’re able to do this live shot this morning.”
The capture occurred when Engel and his crew were traveling with Syrian rebels from Turkey to Northeast Syria. 15 armed men jumped from a bush and grabbed them, and one of the escorted rebels was killed on the spot. During their captivity, the three men were psychologically tortured, as their captors pretended to execute the other men while they were blindfolded and tied up. "We weren't physically beaten or tortured," Engel said. "[But] it was a lot of psychological torture — threats of being killed."
So who were Engel's captors? Engel believes that they were loyalists to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and possibly members of the "Shabiha" militia (the militia is "trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and allied with Lebanon-based group Hezbollah," according to NBC News). It is believed that the loyalists planned to use Engel's group as a negotiation tool to get the rebels to free some of their captives.
Luckily, on Monday, Engel's captors' plans went awry when they were caught at a Syrian rebel checkpoint, trying to move the NBC crew. At the checkpoint, a gunfight occurred — two of the captors were killed, and an uncounted number of them escaped.
Engel, Kooistra, and Balkiz were not physically harmed by the incident. As of Tuesday morning, they remain in Turkey.
Watch the crew's interview with Today below:
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[Photo Credit: NBC NEWS/AP Photo]
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