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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
"Sorry if my snoring bothered you."
Those are not the first words I'd expect out of the mouth of someone who got up on a Friday morning to catch the 10:30 AM screening of a new movie but that is more or less what the fellow who'd been sitting behind me said as I passed him on my way out. I'd heard him snoring over the constant rat-a-tat-tat of bullets and butt-kicking being doled out by Milla Jovovich et al in this latest iteration of the never-ending Resident Evil series (this time in IMAX 3D) but I figured maybe I was hearing things. Nope he was asleep.
I used to play Resident Evil on my ancient PlayStation when it first came out. It scared the crap out of me. I enjoyed the first two movies — hey they included the skinless zombie dogs! — but I lost interest soon after that. How many times can you make the zombie apocalypse exciting? How many different skintight outfits can Jovovich wear while killing grotesque creatures who shoot evil grasping tentacles out of their mouths? Why should we care about all the blood and guts when we know the people we're supposed to be emotionally invested in will never die? We don't.
Try as he might there are only so many ways for writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson to give the Resident Evil series fresh new layers for each new movie. The Umbrella Corporation is the big bad. They were playing with biological weapons and somehow there was an accident that let one of the viruses loose... and boom you've got a zombie apocalypse on your hands. Our heroine is Alice played by Milla Jovovich and there is a rotating cast of characters who help her fight the good fight against the hordes of brain-eaters and whatever is left of the Umbrella Corporation that's now after her. There are some parallels to the video game series but Paul W.S. Anderson (a gamer himself) has taken lots of liberties with the basic plot over the years. While Anderson's flashy style is especially suited to these types of movies there's not enough plot to make it work.
We don't go to video game movies for plot of course but there has to be something to hold onto; otherwise why would we care if our protagonist were in danger? Anderson tries some neat tricks to snap us back to attention like bringing back characters that were killed in previous movies and throwing in a cloning subplot that calls into question some of the characters' true identities but it's still hard to get worked up about anything onscreen. However it ultimately sidesteps any deeper ideas that might take our attention away from all the guns. And there are so many guns and explosions and elegant butt-kickings doled out by Milla and her pals (or former pals in the case of Michelle Rodriguez's character Rain) that they blend together.
It is especially difficult to work up any interest in the story because it's a franchise and no matter how many times the stars or director might say they're not that interested in doing another everyone is just waiting to see how much money this will make before deciding to go forward. There is no question how franchise movies will end; there will be no derring-do on the part of the writer or director to actually kill off a beloved character permanently. At one point it seemed like Anderson was going to pull the old "And then she woke up!" trick which would have been bold both because it's such a hackneyed idea that it would make writing professors' heads explode all over the world but also because it would have required Anderson to play in a different universe and expand his repertoire a bit. Alas like Alice and Anderson himself we just can't seem to escape this rabbit hole.
Benicio Del Toro needs to allow his broken wrist to heal for at least one month longer before he returns to the set of his new film, The Hunted, Reuters reports. Del Toro, who is wearing a sling during a trip to Cuba to introduce free screenings of Traffic, broke his wrist in April during a fight scene with The Hunted costar Tommy Lee Jones.
Radio commentator Paul Harvey will receive outpatient surgery later this month to fix a vocal cord damaged by a virus, The Associated Press reports. Harvey, famous for his The Rest of the Story radio program, went off the air in May and will likely return at the end of August.
Warning to celebrities everywhere: think twice the next time that you stop to sign an autograph. Rap mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs stopped Tuesday to give his John Hancock to fans in New York, only to be entrapped by a process server, according to the New York Post's PageSix.com. Kim Porter, the mother of Combs' youngest son, Christian, is reportedly suing Combs for child support. Porter wants more than the $7,000 a month that Combs currently pays.
Former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith must pay $541,000 in attorney's fees, a Texas judge said Tuesday, Reuters reported. Smith also must pay an unspecified part of the $1.2 million in court costs stemming from her six-year fight over the fortune of her late husband, oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall III. A Los Angeles bankruptcy judge awarded Smith $475 million from the estate in June. That decision is now being reviewed following an appeal by Marshall's son, Pierce, who contends that Smith, 33, is a golddigger. Smith married the wheelchair-bound Marshall when she was 26 and he was 89.
Paula Poundstone has postponed a comedy tour after pleading not guilty last week to charges of committing lewd acts on a child and child endangerment, People magazine reports. She is in rehab for treatment of alcohol abuse, her attorney said Monday, and will return to court July 30.
Harrison Ford once again came to the rescue of a hiker in trouble. He helped locate a missing Utah Boy Scout who wandered off a trail Monday and spent the night alone in the woods of the Yellowstone National Park in Jackson, Wyo., The Associated Press reports. Ford, a part-time Jackson resident, flew his helicopter as part of the search-and-rescue mission. Ford and another searcher found the cold and hungry Cody Clawson, 13, on Tuesday morning about 10 miles from the Boy Scout camp. Last year, Ford rescued a sick hiker stranded on Wyoming's Table Mountain and flew her to a hospital.
Former Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert is planning to run for president of the factionalized Screen Actors Guild, The Associated Press reports. William Daniels, SAG's current president, has not said whether he would seek a second term. Union members will receive elections ballots in mid-October, with the results scheduled for announcement in early November.
Is one stage big enough for both the so-called King of Pop and the Godfather? Marlon Brando will pay homage to Michael Jackson at the Sept. 7 all-star concert in Jackson's honor, Launch.com reports. The legendary actor will join such other luminaries as Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and Ricky Martin during two concerts scheduled for Sept. 7 and Sept. 10.
DreamWorks will need to pony up $35,000 an hour if it wants Eddie Murphy to continue to act like a donkey. Murphy, Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz are each negotiating a $35,000 hourly fee to lend their voices to the planned Shrek sequel, Variety reports. This could net the trio $5 million each. Final negotiations are set for later this week.
Forget about asking Madonna for a free ticket to her sold-out series of U.S. concerts. The Material Girl turned down requests for complimentary tickets by the likes of Mick Jagger, Elton John and George Michael, who all dug deep into their pockets to pay $125 to catch her perform in London. "If you want a ticket for one of her shows, you have to pay," Madonna spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg told the New York Post.
The Hawaii-set Magnum, P.I. went off the air in 1988, but it's taken star Tom Selleck 13 years to put his Oahu house on the market. Avid fans can snap up Selleck's three-bedroom house for $2.7 million, The Associated Press reports. He bought the house--which overlooks the Kahala coast--in 1981 for $700,000.
Life is not beautiful for Andrew Lloyd Webber. His new musical, the Irish soccer-themed The Beautiful Game, will close Sept. 26 despite good reviews and plenty of awards. The musical is one of many victims of a slump in tourism that has crippled London's West End theater district. But the show will go on: Webber plans to stage the musical next year in Toronto.
The West Coast board of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists approved Tuesday a tentative three-year deal with studios and TV networks, Variety reports. SAG's East Coast board will address the deal--which includes a hike in the minimum pay scale in the ballpark of 3 percent to 3.5 percent annually over three years- on Thursday. Union members will then likely receive mail ballots within three weeks.