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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Spider-Man 2 sets DVD release date
Fans anxious to get their hands on the Spider-Man 2 DVD will have to wait a bit longer than they did for the original Spider-Man's home release. Variety reported Thursday that Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is releasing Spider-Man 2 to DVD Nov. 30--a month later than the release of the original, back in 2002. Columbia is hoping to curb the problem it had two years ago when it shipped millions more Spider-Man DVDs than actually sold. The November release date also means Columbia can focus their attention on the Seinfield series DVD set, which will be released just before Thanksgiving. Fans will also be able to purchase a two-pack with DVDs of both Spider-Man movies for $39.95. The first DVD edition of Spider-Man 2, however, will have 10 hours' worth of bonus features and commentaries.
Publicist Lizzie Grubman gets reality show
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Regis Philbin sets world record
Regis Philbin has set a world record for the most hours logged on television, the AP reports. Friday's broadcast of Live with Regis and Kelly gives Philbin 15,188 hours on the tube-giving him the Guinness World Record for most hours on camera. According to Guinness World Records researcher Stuart Claxton, that's more than broadcaster Hugh Downs. "Now it's all a big blur," Philbin told the AP Thursday as he looked back on his career that began as a San Diego news anchor in 1958. "When you look back that's a lot of hours on TV." Philbin, 72, has hosted the nationally syndicated Live in all 16 of its seasons--previously with Kathy Lee Gifford and now with Kelly Ripa. In his 46-year career, Philbin has hosted numerous news and entertainment shows, including the hit prime-time ABC game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
Autographed guitars auctioned to help Charley victims
Clear Channel Communications Inc. is auctioning off guitars autographed by musicians such as Britney Spears,Tom Petty and Kenny Rogers to raise money for Hurricane Charley victims in Florida, the AP reports. The radio giant said the online auction of 43 guitars signed by celebrities started Thursday and will end Sept. 20. All proceeds will be split between displaced families and the American Red Cross. Linkin Park, Stone Temple Pilots, Nickelback, ZZ Top, Tim McGraw and Shakira are also participating in the auction, which also includes a non-musical with instruments signed by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and comedian Mike Myers. The guitars are being offered on Clear Channel's StormAid.com Web site.
Sheryl Crow joins Vote for Change tour
Sheryl Crow, Jack Johnson and Crosby, Stills & Nash have joined the willing-to-rock coalition of musicians trying to unseat President Bush in November. Crow and the rest were added to the Vote for Change tour, which boasts a lineup of nearly 20 artists including Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band. Concert promoters told the AP Thursday the musicians will perform at some 38 shows in 32 cities in election swing states over the course of 12 days in October. Money generated from the concerts will go to America Coming Together (ACT), which promises on its Web site to "derail the right-wing Republican agenda by defeating George W. Bush." The shows will be presented by MoveOn PAC, the electoral arm of the liberal interest group MoveOn.org.
N.C. governor declares Saturday Fantasia Barrino day
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Neverland manager testifies in pretrial hearing
The property manager of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch testified Friday that sheriff's deputies last year searched areas of the estate not specified in a warrant, The Associated Press reports. The testimony came at a pretrial hearing in which defense attorneys are trying to limit the evidence prosecutors can produce at Jackson's Jan. 31 trial. During the hearing, Joseph Marcus testified he initially cooperated when the horde of investigators arrived but objected when officers wanted to search areas that were not on the warrant. He said a deputy told him he would call and have the search warrant amended, but Marcus said that was not done as far as he knows, and the search went ahead anyway. Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded innocent and is free on $3 million bail.
Private eye testifies in Blake case
A 70-year-old private investigator is expected to testify before Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp on Friday--months ahead of time in Robert Blake's murder trial, the AP reports. The request was made by prosecutors who said that because of his age, William Jordan may be unavailable at the time of the trial, the AP reports. The Baretta star is charged with killing his 44-year-old wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, in 2001. She was found shot to death in their car outside a restaurant where they had just eaten. Blake hired Jordan in September 2000, in anticipation of child custody proceedings and according to phone records included in court filings, spoke with the private eye frequently up to the time of Bakley's murder. The trial is now scheduled to start Nov. 1. Blake, meanwhile, is free on $1.5 million bail but remains under house arrest.