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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Singer Adele and Mr. Bean star Rowan Atkinson have been named among the recipients of coveted titles on Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Honors List. The 87-year-old monarch has bestowed a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) medal on the Grammy Award-winning 25 year old, while funnyman Atkinson has been awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire).
Adele's MBE comes during a very special year for the new mum - she picked up her first Oscar in February (13) for co-writing the theme to hit Bond film Skyfall.
The two celebrities are among the nearly 1,200 people who have been recognised by The Queen on her birthday.
Atkinson's former Blackadder sidekick Tony Robinson has been handed a knighthood and will therefore be able to add 'Sir' to his name.
Upon hearing the news, Robinson, 66, told the BBC, "I'm thrilled, flattered and a little gob-smacked," adding, "I'll use my new title with abandon to highlight the causes I believe in, particularly the importance of culture, the arts and heritage in our society, and the plight of the infirm elderly and their carers.
"I also pledge that from this day on I'll slaughter all unruly dragons, and rescue any damsels in distress who request my help."
Meanwhile, one-time Bond villain Julian Glover, actress Claire Bloom and revered cinematographer Roger Deakins join Atkinson on the list of CBE recipients, celebrated sculptor Anish Kapoor has been given a knighthood, British comedian Rob Brydon and singer PJ Harvey have been honoured with MBEs and grown-up child star Aled Jones has picked up an OBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) medal.
The 42 year old Walking in the Air hitmaker says, "I'm delighted and deeply honoured to be recognised."
Authors Jackie Collins, Kate Mosse and Joanne Harris have also been recognised on The Queen's Birthday Honors List - Collins and Mosse pick up CBEs for services to literature, while Harris is among the MBE recipients.
A modern take on Puccini’s classic opera La Boheme Rent isn’t a complicated story. Set on the brink of the ‘90s we meet a group of er bohemians living in a rundown tenement in New York’s East Village struggling with AIDS eviction and creative ways to express themselves. The denizens include a budding documentary filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp); his rock musician roommate Roger (Adam Pascal); the stripper drug addict Mimi (Rosario Dawson) who lives downstairs; Mark’s ex-girlfriend edgy performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel) and her new lawyer girlfriend Joanne (Tracie Thoms); street-drumming drag queen Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and his handsome boyfriend philosopher professor Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin). When their fraught way of life in their beloved ‘hood is threatened by expanding corporate gentrification orchestrated by Mark ’s former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs) the group does what we’d all like to do--sing. And sing and… Non-musical fans may need a breather but at least the songs by Jonathan Larson (the show’s young composer who died suddenly before opening night) are MTV ready and vital to the storytelling. Casting most of Rent’s original Broadway stars is definitely a plus. Menzel Rapp Heredia (who won a Tony for his role) Diggs Martin and Pascal understand what it takes to make this story come alive and how to really belt out those songs. But the fact they are all mostly stage performers you get the feeling watching these talented thespians that they never stop wanting to give 110 percent which may come off over the top for the big screen. A seasoned film actor like Dawson (Sin City 25th Hour) is at an advantage. She understands the requisite subtleties of acting for the camera and gives a tour-de-force performance as Mimi all at once seductive sad and oh-so-tortured. Dawson is certainly one to look out for during this awards season. Wow director Chris Columbus sure is gutsy. Not only did he revive the long-stalled project from years in development limbo but he also had to live up to the high expectations of the Broadway show’s cultish fan base. Of course he isn’t a stranger to appeasing the masses having helmed the first two Harry Potter movies but ultimately with Rent Columbus turns out to be the wrong man for the job. The film is fairly static without much creative flair--and very long. Spike Lee was originally attached for the longest time. Imagine that film for a moment. Still to be fair to Columbus turning Rent into a movie is just plain difficult because it is NOT a cinematic story. It’s an opera--a good opera with lots of great pulse-pounding heart-wrenching songs but an opera nonetheless. Fans of the show or “Rent-Heads” as they are lovingly referred to should be happy with this big-screen version but once again I was left wishing I’d seen it on stage.