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
Hallmark has laid claim to many an industry — sentimental family movies, holidays conspired entirely for card sales, a school store in Hudson, N.H. — but the corporate giant with Missouri roots has yet to sate its worldly appetite. The next realm to conquer: television shows. The Hallmark Channel has greenlit its first original series, Cedar Cove, set to launch in January with a two-hour pilot. The program, based on a book series by author Debbie Macomber, will place venerably Hallmarky actress Andie MacDowell at the center as a municipal court judge named Olivia Lockhart (a venerably Hallmarky name). Variety reports that the network has also begun planning four additional original series, each set to hit the air by 2014.
It's only natural to assume that Hallmark will draw from some of its other regimes to develop this new empire. After all, you've got to imagine that the company's renowned expertise in the art of cardsmanship should translate at least somewhat effectively to TV. Given this double-sided aisle of possibilities, here are a few Hallmark-worthy pitches we'd like to suggest.
Get Well Soon
Marcus Halloway is a street-tough who never had nobody to look after him. But when he gets caught racketeering in the premiere episode, a local judge forces him to spend his days caring for bedridden senior citizen Gretta Cardman as community service. Over the course of the series, Marcus comes to care for Gretta, learning a little bit about life, love, and growing up, as he tries long and hard to make her comfortable through her terminal illness.
Dr. Hallie Markowitz is the top cardiologist at Greetings Hospital, helping both her patients and colleagues week after week. Hallie cures sickly visitors to the hospital with her surgical prowess but is just as impressive as an inspiration to young interns and jaded doctors, thanks to her knack for crafting poetic, life-affirming greeting cards (which frame the narration of the episodes) for every occasion.
H. Allan Markenheim is a rich, business-driven socialite who has spent the last ten years of his life investing every ounce of his humanity into keeping his father's Fortune 500 company at the top of the industry. But when he meets Anna Versary in the pilot, Allan starts to realize that maybe there's more to life than work and money, and he begins focusing all of his energy on the girl of his dreams.
In this sci-fi procedural, has-been mailman Jeff Schmallmark (I know, I'm getting lazy, just deal with it) teams up with crime-fighting robot E-CARD (Executor of Criminal Analysis and Riot Deterrence) in a dystopian future to maintain justice and deliver messages from murder and kidnapping victims and jailed criminals to their loved ones.
[Photo Credit: Hallmark]
Life Without 'Newsweek': 5 Ways It Will Be Different
'Family Guy' 200th Episode: What We Want To See
Nick Offerman Will Get Naked For Money... For Charity
From Our Partners:
Giuliana and Bill Rancic Planning for Baby No. 2: ‘I Would Love a Girl,’ Says E Host
Kate Upton Flaunts Major Cleavage in Vogue’s November Issue — PHOTOS