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
Following New York Times Magazine's publication of Stephen Rodrick's phenomenal "Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie," Google News was overrun with headlines even more negative than the Times article itself. "Lindsay Lohan Is Awful to Work With." "Lindsay Lohan — Tales of Drunken, Crying Debauchery on Movie Set." "Lindsay Lohan Was Drinking and Driving, Popping Pills During The Canyons Filming." The list would continue — between tales of the actress' frequent emotional breakdowns (crying outside director Paul Schrader's hotel room for 90 minutes), professional mishaps (failing to show up to set on numerous occasions), and possibly illegal activity (driving while under the influence of alcohol) on the set of Paul Schrader's The Canyons, editors had plenty of content to choose from.
Yet, with all the focus on Lohan's well-reported problems, editors and pop culture fans are missing the bottom line of Rodrick's article: The piece is the best thing that's happened to Lindsay Lohan in years.
It might not seem that way at first. After all, after reading the piece, an understandable course of action for any producer or director courting Lohan would be to fly to the opposite end of the world faster than you can say "an eavesdropping Dina Lohan." But while Rodrick's story presented Lohan as a immature nightmare whose behavior only got worse after she was fired, it also proved that the actress is a Hollywood figure as fascinating as she is shrewd. Lohan is no spoiled Hollywood princess famous for being famous — she's a scrappy manipulator who knows the system as well as the "f**k u" on the back of her hand.
Take this choice excerpt from Rodrick's article:
Lohan suggested shooting the scene at the Grove, a tony West Hollywood shopping center.
“Look, we can shoot at the Grove, and we can get it for free.”
Pope looked at her with confusion.
“We’ll have ‘Access Hollywood’ pay for it. They’ll film it, I’ll answer three questions about the movie and then they’ll pay for it. It’s really easy.”
Pope and Schrader were unconvinced. But Lohan was insistent as she left the room.
“They’ll do it. You just have to know how to work it.”Or this portion of the piece, showcasing Lohan's relationship with the paparazzi:
Over at the mall, Schrader paced nervously. “We need to get three shots, and we’re not going to get a second chance.” He was worried about attracting the attention of mall security. An hour later, Lohan arrived in her black Porsche trailed by four or five paparazzi. Schrader threw up his hands and said, “That’s it.”
Lohan told him, politely, to shut up.
“Paul, we can do this.”
She climbed out of her car and turned to the photographers.
“I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll give you a good shot, but then you have to go.” Lohan turned to her good side and hiked her floor-length skirt up to show a little leg.
“O.K., five, four, three, two, one. Now you have to go.”It's tidbits like these that elevate Lohan past the desperate Sean Young status she's enjoyed since her first DUI arrest in 2007. Of course, Lohan isn't someone to feel sorry for or someone to root for — she has participated in heinous illegal activity. But, now, following Rodrick's article, she's someone to invest in. After all, Lohan's story in 8,000 words turned out to be more interesting than Norma Desmond, Vicki Lester, and Neely O'Hara's combined. She's terrible. She's irrational. She's incorrigible. But she's brilliant. And, as she herself has said, she's a fighter — for better or for worse. (Okay, mostly worse.)
And now we can't help but be strapped in, waiting to find out whether Lohan will get a TKO or tap out in the next round. There's no denying whatever little curiosity you had about The Canyons prior to reading Rodrick's article has since increased tenfold. (Heck, you might actually see it.) And there's no denying that, while reading the piece, you finally cared about Lindsay Lohan. And that's a feeling no Tonight Show interview, Lifetime movie, or Playboy spread could invite.
Thanks to Rodrick's article, for the first time in years, we're not looking back, fondly remembering the days Lohan charmed us in critically acclaimed fare like The Parent Trap and Mean Girls. Instead, pop culture fans actually want to see what happens next in Lohan's life. And that's the best thing that could ever happen to her. Well, besides normalcy, of course.
[Image Credit: Kmm-Sasha-Jack-RS/X17online]
All the Insane Things Lindsay Lohan Did on the Set of Bret Easton Ellis' 'The Canyons'
Lindsay Lohan Makes Her Foray Into Porn in 'The Canyons' Trailer
Lindsay Lohan Keeps Finding Work, Lands Pat in Bret Easton Ellis' 'The Canyons'
Star Wars was the game changer.
In 1977, a generation of children walked into the movie theater wanting to be firefighters or astronauts or racecar drivers. They walked out wanting to be filmmakers. The movie defined a generation, and defined the art that a generation produced. You can see the influence of Star Wars in the work of everyone from Peter Jackson to Kevin Smith, Stephen Colbert to Simon Pegg, Daft Punk to Jedi Mind Tricks, and countless more creators. Hundreds of amateur filmmakers have gotten their start in the Star Wars sandbox, creating parodies, sequels and songs about the series.
But while Star Wars was a box office juggernaut, it still managed to be a personal experience. For the the budding nerds, artists, writers and filmmakers who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars was the story that everyone loved, or hated, passionately enough that it shaped their lives personally and professionally.
For my generation, the yet-unnamed children of the turn of the millennia, that story was Harry Potter. This isn’t meant to diminish the impact of Star Wars, of course, I ran around playing with lightsabers and trying to talk like Darth Vader as much as any other kid. But it wasn’t really ours, there was nearly twenty years of expanded universe to work through by the time we got on board. Harry Potter was the series that my friends and I grew up with, that aged with us.
I was seven when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It was 1998- and a relatively inauspicious beginning to a love affair. My father bought me a copy, prefaced it with the assurance that “they were very popular in England,” and began reading. After he dozed off during chapter one, I liberated the book and read the next three chapters. By The Chamber of Secrets, I had given up on my slow-reading parents, and read the whole thing on my own. With the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, the series was officially famous. Bookstores started holding release parties, and all of the internet (by which I mean the three sites my parents hadn’t blocked on AOL) was aflutter with speculation over who was going to die. I carried the massive doorstopper of a book around for the rest of the summer, weighed down even more by the beach sand that had accumulated in the margins, until the spine finally split and it fell into three pieces.
Shortly after my eleventh birthday (where I was disappointed to discover that I hadn't received an owl from Hogwarts), I saw my first Harry Potter film. I hated it. It wasn't my Harry Potter, it was stiff acting and boring "action" scenes and odd line readings. For years afterwards, my friends and I would do impressions of Daniel Radcliffe, and his habit of repeating other character's lines, only with more emphasis. ("You're a wizard, Harry" "I'm a wizard?", and so on.) It wasn't really fair, but kids rarely are. With all of my middle-school wisdom, I figured that the movies were a bust- but I was wrong. Over time, the films (and my prickly standards,) changed. The actors matured, the directors found their footing, and I warmed up to the strange, shadowy world of Hogwarts the film portrayed. The movie world of Harry Potter became as familiar and comforting as the book, despite their differences.
Soon, the films were as a vital part of the Harry Potter experience as the books. The series worked like a training exercise for budding young cinephiles, like myself, who would gather online to examine every production detail, discuss every casting choice, and decry every digression from the books, no matter how minor. The films introduced us to actors like Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and Brendan Gleeson, directors like Mike Newell and Alfonso Cuarón. And, of course, the films were actually good- rather than sit back on the laurels of the book and let the money flow in, Warner Bros went out of their way to make the films something special in their own right. They showcased the talents of actors our own age along with venerated professionals, and captured the tone and life of the original books. Heck, sometimes they even improved on them (I’m looking at you, Order of the Phoenix. There’s only so much CAPSLOCK angst a girl can take.) Most importantly, the films were not afraid to change. They proved that the text was not some sacred canon to be replicated word-for-word, but rather, like Star Wars, an open world for filmmakers to experiment in and explore, a launching point for other adventures. That was a lesson that we fans took to heart.
When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out, I was fourteen lost in Barcelona, and had to hunt for an English-language bookstore. Like most teens, I was desperate to distance myself from my childhood, but Harry Potter was different. It was a book series that had grown in complexity and maturity as we had aged, introducing characters with moral ambiguity and moments of shocking darkness. So when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally released, I was proud to wait in line at midnight with my friends, even poofing up my hair so that I could dress up as a convincing Hermione. While the last book marked the official end of the series, the promise of future films kept the franchise from feeling as though it was truly finished. Now that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is coming out Friday, we'll be able to see the series’ cinematic legacy. But I’m far more interested in seeing the personal legacy.
My story isn’t everyone’s story, of course. Some people learned to read with the Harry Potter books, or came in to the series late, or were introduced to the series by the films. Many people picked up their first Potter book when they saw how much their kids loved them. Others had to hide them from parents who disapproved. And a great deal of people read a couple of books, decided that they didn’t like them, and are still wondering what all the fuss is about. But it’s fair to say that most people in my generation have been influenced by Harry Potter, and many of the people who are going to become my generation’s artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers will have the same connection to Potter that I do.
There are already some incredible, and Star Wars-esque, examples of people drawing from Potter for inspiration. Darren Criss, the latest Glee heartthrob, first achieved internet celebrity by writing and starring in university productions of A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel, full length musicals that affectionately parody the series. Emerson Spartz created Mugglenet, one of the foremost Harry Potter news sites, at the age of twelve. Now, at 24, Spartz runs an additional six websites and reached #2 on the NYTimes children’s bestseller list with What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7 - Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Falls in Love, and How the Series Finally Ends, which he coauthored. Young fans have formed "Wizard Rock” bands, like Harry and the Potters (or their musical rivals, Draco and the Malfoys), and have continued to make music even after the end of the series. Authors like Sarah Rees Brennan (The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy), Cassandra Clare (the Mortal Instruments series) and Jaida Jones (Havemercy, Shadow Magic) all got their start, and built their fan bases, writing fan fiction for Harry Potter.
Harry Potter fans have also made their mark on the world of the internet. Neil and Emmy Cicierega have been creating the intensely popular "Potter Puppet Pals" videos since 2003- their most famous (and catchy) video, "The Mysterious Ticking Noise," has over 100,000,000 views on Youtube. Brad Neely, creator of The Professor Brothers and the memetic Washington song, admits to never have seen a Potter film or read a book, but still drew from Harry Potter for inspiration. He first achieved internet acclaim by creating the hilariously surreal alternate audio track for Sorcerer's Stone, "Wizard People, Dear Reader". It would be hard to find a webcomic artist, graphic designer, or starving artist today who doesn’t have some Harry Potter fan art buried in a DeviantArt somewhere- the most successful example would probably be Makani, who became popular enough to get her a job at video game company Valve.
This group of talented young people are just the tip of the iceberg. As the Potter generation ages, there will only be more artists, writers, and filmmakers who come forward to make their mark. Outside of the creative sphere, Potter fans are entering the world of academia, of fashion, and, occasionally, of internet entertainment journalism. Star Wars was able to captivate the imagination of a generation with just three films, in under six and a half hours. Harry Potter has had thousands of pages and eight films to do the same. The kids like me who grew up with Harry by our sides are about to step out into the real world- and bring Harry with us. While Harry’s saga might be drawing to an end on Friday (at least, until the inevitable remake in five years), we’re going to be feeling the effects of J.K. Rowling’s stories for years to come.
And I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens.