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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All Jackie Chan movies are basically the same right? Jackie is the good
guy who's on the run from or in pursuit of a truly evil bad guy. In
this one Jackie plays an Imperial Chinese guard sent to the American
west during the 1800s to rescue a kidnapped princess (Lucy Liu). He
buddies up with a bumbling outlaw (Owen Wilson) and as you might guess
action and laughs follow.
One reason for Chan's phenomenal success of recent years is that he
seems to realize his own strengths and weaknesses as an actor and plays
up to them. As he did with Chris Tucker in "Rush Hour " Chan plays the
straight guy while Wilson (doing a more slapstick type of comedy than in
"Bottle Rocket" and other films) acts the goof.
Well there's some nice scenery of the Sierra Nevadas and the old west
(where this stuff was actually filmed I have no idea but it looks
great) but other than that this film is a showcase for the actors. For
the most part director Tom Dey doesn't deviate from the tried-and-true
elements of a Hollywood western: Gunfights Indians brothels bounty
hunters barroom brawls hangings damsels in distress and so on. The
final fight between the good guys and bad guys is a lot of fun mixing
up swordplay gunplay martial arts and fighting sticks.
Top Story: Kate Hudson Expecting First Child
Actress Kate Hudson and her rock star husband, Chris Robinson, are expecting their first child early next year, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Hudson, whose moment to shine came in her breakout role as Penny Lane in the 2000 Oscar winning movie Almost Famous, declined to give a more exact due date for the baby. Hudson, 24, and Robinson, 36, were married in December 2000. Robinson, the former frontman for the Black Crowes, is expected to begin touring again soon with his new band, New Earth Mud. Hudson is currently starring in the romantic comedy Alex and Emma, which opens this weekend. This will make a grandmother of Hudson's Oscar-winning mom, Goldie Hawn, the star of the 1960s TV show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
Spears, Berry and Costner Get Hollywood Stars
Britney Spears, Halle Berry and Kevin Costner are getting stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, Johnny Grant, chairman of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, announced Thursday. Anthony Hopkins, John Singleton, Ted Turner, Glenn Close, Journey and 17-year-old twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will also get the celebrated sidewalk honor next year.
Stewart Trial Set for January 12
A federal judge ruled Thursday that Martha Stewart's trial for securities fraud will start on Jan. 12, Reuters reports. U.S. Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum set the trial date after defense lawyers said they needed more time to review the government's evidence against Stewart and Peter Bacanovic, her former stockbroker at Merrill Lynch & Co. Stewart, 61, was indicted June 4 and pleaded not guilty of securities fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements. If convicted, she could face up to 30 years in prison and $2 million in fines.
Actor's Union Shuts Down Voight Project
About 30 union actors and crew members, including Tess Harper and James Cromwell, have managed to shut down the non-union film Deadly Course, a project they believed was being produced by Screen Actors' Guild member Jon Voight. A representative of the Intl. Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) who asked not to be identified told Reuters, "The working conditions were horrendous. The pay was terrible. Some people were getting $6-$7 an hour. Some were working 20-hour days." Voight confirmed to Reuters the project had been completely shut down but insisted he was not working on the film.
Exorcist Author, Director Sue Warner Bros.
William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, and William Friedkin, the director of the 1973 movie, have filed suit against Warner Bros., claiming the studio breached its fiduciary duty by self-dealing the rights for a newer version of the film. They also claim the studio would sell the rights to its sister cable TV networks TNT and TBS for little to no profit. Warner Bros., however, asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, claiming it has no financial responsibility to Blatty and Friedkin. Superior Court Judge Laurie Zelon denied Thursday Blatty and Friedkin's claim of breach of fiduciary duty, but set a July 14 trial for the two's claims of breach of contract and misrepresented accounting, the AP reports.
No Spike TV for Viacom
The five appellate judges of the New York State Supreme Court upheld an injunction Thursday preventing media conglomerate Viacom Inc. from renaming its TNN cable network "Spike TV," Reuters reports. Filmmaker Spike Lee, who directed Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and 25th Hour, had won a temporary injunction last week stopping the name change, claiming he feared he would be erroneously associated with the network. Viacom, which plans to feature racy animated series such as Pamela Anderson's Stripperella and The Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, wanted to change the name of its cable network to coincide with a programming shift.
Russell Simmons Pushes To Reform Drug Law
Impresario Russell Simmons went to Albany, N.Y., to push politicians to reform drug laws, but instead got blamed for taking up too much of the legislature's time. According to Reuters, Republican State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said the Wednesday night seven-hour marathon meeting with Simmons "took too much time." The two sides made progress, however, reaching a last minute agreement on how to reduce sentences for people now serving time mandated by the Rockefeller-era drug laws, which often result in jail time for first offenses and give judges almost no discretion.
Celebrities Entertain U.S. Troops in Gulf
Kid Rock and Wayne Newton will perform for U.S. troops in the Gulf this week as part of the first large-scale entertainment tour of the region. Dubbed Project Salute 2003, the performers will visits American military personnel in Baghdad, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the Ali al-Salem air base in Kuwait, said Donna St. John, Reuters reports. Other celebs on the entertainment roster include actresses Alyssa Milano, Brittany Murphy, country singer Lee Ann Womack, actor Gary Sinise, comedian Paul Rodriguez and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
Role Call: Zellweger To Play Joplin in Feature Biopic