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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Summer concert tours did not measure up to what they were supposed to be.
And I say this with bruised feelings (and pocketbook).
As an avid music fan, I was as excited as everyone else when the summer concert guide was released in late May. The biggest names in the music industry would be doing their North American tours this summer and I wanted to be a part of it all.
Eagerly, I jotted the dates when my favorite performers would be in town on my calendar.
Looking back, I should have known better and gotten a good night's sleep instead of spending restless nights counting the days until acts like Ozzfest, Poison and Blink 182 came to town.
The first hint that all was not right in concert-land was my biggest disappointment of the summer, not getting to see 'N Sync perform at Miami's Pro Player Stadium on Aug. 2.
Like any other fan, I purchased my tickets the day they went on sale through Ticketmaster in February. I got 18th row to the side of the stage. Not bad, I thought, but I needed to be closer to my beloved Justin Timberlake.
Call me a freak.
I consulted a ticket broker in Chicago and got 10th row center seats. I was now $200 poorer. The news got better, my best friend would fly over from Arizona to see the show with me. The countdown had begun.
With my luck, tropical storm Barry decided to pay South Florida a visit a couple days before the show. 'N Sync's Pop Odyssey Tour was "postponed until further notice," said a recorded message at the Pro Player Stadium's answering machine.
It wasn't until Aug. 7 that the concert promoter, Clear Channel Entertainment, sent out a press release saying that both the venue and 'N Sync "had made every possible effort to reschedule, but there are no mutually compatible dates available."
With the start of football season, there will be no availability for stadiums to seat the 40,000 fans that purchased tickets for the event.
I missed out on seeing 'N Sync and my frustrated best friend took the plane back to Arizona.
"This is the second time ['N Sync] should be here in Miami and they cancelled. If I was an 'N Sync fan I would be very upset," a spokesman with the South Florida-based Todd'sTickets.com said.
Florida local news reported that night that 'N Sync suffered $90,000 worth of damage to their equipment due to rain while they tried to set up their stage.
Bitterness aside, there hasn't been a single show this summer that has left me exhilarated. Half the artists never showed up while the rest sang their tunes showing no passion for their music.
This year seemed to be the summer where every artist entered rehab or decided to cancel their show, disappointing many of their fans who eagerly anticipated these shows.
Madonna was forced to cancel her Drowned Tour concert scheduled for Aug. 3 at the Continental Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, due to laryngitis. During the same week, the singer postponed her Aug. 6 show in Boston because of "logistical reasons," her Web site announced.
Fans who cashed in $150 for a single Madonna ticket learned that the Material Girl had no desire to relive the past. Most of the songs on her set list were taken from her most recent albums, Ray of Light and Music, leaving out hits like "Material Girl," "Vogue," and "Express Yourself."
The Backstreet Boys postponed the start of their Aug. 24 tour after singer A.J. McLean, 23, entered a 30-day treatment for depression and alcohol abuse on July 9. The group postponed the date two additional weeks when McLean needed more time in transitional care.
Other acts added to the spate of tour cancellations. Janet Jackson postponed the kickoff to her All For You tour on July 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, because her equipment did not arrive on time for the show. She also postponed her Aug. 5 show in Cleveland due to "a bout with influenza," according to a statement from her publicist.
Poison nixed the final 22 dates of their Glam Slam Metal Jam tour after bassist Bobby Dall underwent emergency surgery on his spine. Godsmack canceled their Aug. 7 show in Atlanta and their Aug. 9 show in Antioch, Tenn., after bassist Robbie Merrill sustained an injury to his leg, Launch.com reported.
At Ozzfest, Black Sabbath played with no energy while Ozzy Osbourne, who I've seen a handful of times, gave the most tedious performance I have ever seen. Needless to say, I left halfway though their set.
Hip-hop acts D12 and Esham were booted off the Vans Warped Tour after their Aug. 3 Camden, N.J., show. In addition, Alien Ant Farm, currently hot because of their cover of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," bailed out after the last three Warped stops because, they had "some business to take care off" in Los Angeles before heading off for an European tour, Warped Tour founder, Kevin Lyman, told Launch.com.
Even still, good luck guarding your spot at the Warped Tour, which brought together punk rockers filled with teenage angst. I got pushed and shoved around so many times I still have the bruises to prove it. Their artists showed no audience participation as they came and went from the stage performing their mere 30-minute stage show.
Most recently, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have canceled their late-August concert in Israel fearing their safety due to the suicide bombings. According to Launch.com, more than 200,000 tickets had been sold for their Aug. 28 performance in Tel Aviv.
Last but not least, Stevie Nicks has postponed her two Northern California dates due to an undisclosed illness, but the shows will be rescheduled for a later date, promoters said.
Too much hype often creates disappointment, and this summer's tours were no exceptions.
Next time around I will give a second thought before buying tickets to every concert on my calendar. I might as well save my money and take an extended trip to the Caribbean.