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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The man-child: a staple character for modern comedy and notoriously known for being played one-note. They get the laugh they get out.
But turning the lovable goofball or zoned-out knucklehead into something more is no easy task—which makes Paul Rudd's work in Our Idiot Brother that much more impressive. Rudd's Earth-friendly farmer Ned (the closest thing to a new Lebowski we've seen since the original) finds himself down on his luck after being entrapped by a police officer looking for pot. After a stint in jail he abandons his rural hippie commune for the big city to take shelter with his three sisters. Unfortunately for Ned his three siblings Liz (Emily Mortimer) Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) are as equally displaced and confused from the ebb and flow of life—albeit with severely different perspectives of the world.
Liz struggles to put her kid in private school and keep her marriage to documentary filmmaker/scumbag Dylan (Steve Coogan) intact. Miranda claws her way to the top of Vanity Fair's editorial staff and shuns her flirtatious neighbor (Adam Scott). Natalie stresses over her commitment issues with girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones) leaving little time or patience for Ned's bumbling antics. Sound like a lot of plot? While the manic lives of Ned's sisters click symbolically with his journey to get back on his feet it makes for one sporadic narrative.
Like a series of vignettes Our Idiot Brother never gels but when director Jesse Peretz finds a moment of unadulterated Nedisms to throw up on screen the movie hits big. Whether it's Ned teaching his nephew how to fight accidentally romancing his sister's interview subject or infiltrating his ex-girlfriend's house to steal his dog Willie Nelson the movie relies heavily on Ned's antics and its smart to do so. But thin throughlines for its supporting don't hold a candle to Rudd doing his thing.
And its a testament to Rudd's versatility—the man has done everything from Shakespeare and raunchy Judd Apatow comedies after all—that makes the movie watchable. Rudd gives dimensionality to his nincompoop character allowing darker emotions to creep in when necessary. There's a point in the film when Ned gives up fighting for his type-A sisters' affection and it's some of the best material Rudd's ever delivered. But like one of Ned's lit joints Our Idiot Brother can quickly fizzle out leading to plodding plot twists and sentimental conclusions. Mortimer Banks and Deschanel are great actresses—here they drift through their scenes and come out in the end changed. Because they have to.
Our Idiot Brother tries to take the Apatow model to the indie scene and comes through with so-so results. Only Rudd's able to find something to latch on to to build upon to warm up to. In an unexpected twist it's the man-child who seems the most grown up.
Top Story: Don Johnson Says He's Not a Money Launderer
Don Johnson vehemently denies any involvement in a money laundering ring, Reuters reports. The Miami Vice star, 53, told Reuters there is absolutely no truth to reports that the actor says have caused him "irreparable damage" including the closing of two of his bank accounts. A story originating in Germany and picked up by news organizations around the world claimed customs officials found some $8 billion in cash, bonds and share certificates in Johnson's Mercedes when he was stopped at the Swiss/German border last November. The actor says he was on his way back from a film financing meeting in Zurich and had some bank statements and resumes in a briefcase. A German customs spokesman confirmed to Reuters on Wednesday that there was no criminal investigation underway. "The only thing I can do is to deny these charges, show there is no truth in them and let people know I am not going to sit idly back and be slandered," Johnson said.
McCartney is Rock's Richest Guy
According to Rolling Stone magazine, Paul McCartney ranked as the top moneymaker in the world of music for 2002. The former Beatle took in approximately $72 million, due in large part to his first world tour in nine years. The Rolling Stones, who brought in $44 million, were runners-up.
Michael Jackson is Zoned Out
Adding to his growing list of troubles, Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch may now be in violation of zoning regulations after the former King of Pop claimed a tax break for preserving agricultural land, Santa Barbara County officials told The Associated Press. Officials plan to visit Jackson's home in the Santa Ynez Valley in the next month to determine whether he's surpassed the development limit for those claiming the credit, AP reports.
The Osbournes DVD Top Draw
With the recent TV-to-DVD boom, The Osbournes: The First Season is on its way to becoming the best-selling television series on DVD ever, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The DVD collection, which features America's favorite dysfunctional family in new interviews, as well as a blooper reel, sold more 650,000 units in its first six days. The current record holder is The Simpsons: The First Complete Season, which has sold 1.6 million box sets.
Chris Rock Gets a Star!
The Hollywood Walk of Fame has honored prickly comedian Chris Rock with his own star. "I think I'm as qualified to walk over as anybody else," Rock joked Wednesday before a crowd of about 300 people that included actor David Spade, his former Saturday Night Live colleague, AP reports.
ABC News Goes 24 Hours
On Wednesday Walt Disney Co.'s ABC News launched its own 24-hour online service, which includes live feeds for those with high-speed Internet connections as well as coverage of all world and domestic events, Reuters reports. "We are definitely trying, over the course of the next 18 months to 2 years, to take small steps in creating an Internet news channel," Bernard Gershon, senior vice president and general manager of ABCNEWS.com, told Reuters.
Armed Forces To Make War Film Shorts
If there is a war against Iraq, the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps. are planning to document the frontline action and bring back stories of the soldiers to movie audiences in video shorts, Reuters reports, harkening back to the old Movietone film reels shown in theaters during World War II. "It's intended to fulfill the Navy and Marine Corps' obligation to maintain a strong tie to the public, to let them know what we're doing," Marine Lt. Colonel James Kuhn explained to Reuters.
Role Call: Dance and Romance
From Variety: We knew Jennifer Lopez had to jump on the musical bandwagon at some point. She is now poised to join Richard Gere in the remake Shall We Dance?, playing a dance instructor who helps a working man learn ballroom dancing, among other things… meanwhile, according to The Hollywood Reporter, steely Vin Diesel will try his hand at the romantic thing (good luck), in the Revolutions Studios comedy NY Giant, tackling the role of a hotheaded football player who has to deal with an uptight female etiquette expert or risk losing his lucrative endorsement contract.
Role Call Part Deux:
Variety reports two Daughters are vying to be first at theaters. Pop singer Mandy Moore will go in front of the cameras again in First Daughter for Regency Enterprises, in which she plays the President's 18-year-old daughter who slips away from bodyguards to embark on a road trip. A competing project, also called First Daughter, is to be directed by Forest Whitaker for Alcon Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros., in which the President's college-aged daughter falls for a Secret Service agent hired to guard her.