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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Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector opens with a man scratching his plumber’s-crack re-using a cotton swab to clean his ear and wearing the sleeveless shirt he uses as a towel. Naturally this is Larry (the Cable Guy) a health inspector. Halfheartedly inspecting the local food joints he’s leading the life that suits him well. But when his boss (Thomas F. Wilson) assigns him a serious-minded female partner (Iris Bahr) his world is turned upside down--or at least made less comfy. Larry’s called in to investigate “some fartin’ Jewish folks” at a swankier restaurant and learns that it’s not an isolated incident. While Larry’s unorthodox methods manage to arouse the interest of a waitress (Megyn Price) with bowel habits that he adores his tactics arouse the ire of the restaurateurs he investigates and it costs him his job. Now he’s forced to do whatever it takes to prove his innocence. Even the D-listers here must’ve gone straight to confession upon accepting these roles to help cushion their bank accounts. Let’s start with Larry the Cable Guy (of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour “Git-R-Done” fame) who is one of the most successful stand-up comics today. He’s right in his element seemingly with fart blanche on toilet humor but to the unconverted he’s a little more than grating. Speaking of grating the (hopefully) affected voice of Bahr makes the movie mostly unlistenable in addition to being unwatchable. But take pity on her for this is no way to jumpstart a movie career. Tony Hale clearly still reeling from the potential cancellation of TV’s Arrested Development (on which he plays Buster) also lowers his star and integrity with an ambiguous character here. And Joe Pantoliano shows his face. The once great character actor reaches a new low with this one even if his performance isn’t all bad. Health Inspector masters the art of the fart. But more disgusting than the settings with which the farts are juxtaposed is the ad nauseam (pun intended) level of over-usage. So congratulations go to along with fart Yoda Larry the Cable Guy director Trent Cooper who makes his feature directorial debut. And might we add what a fart-tastic debut it is! But it’s not all farts ladies and gentleman--all forms of gross-out humor are exploited unlike ever before. On the er serious side the collection of running jokes adds to a few legit laughs. Cooper helms a story that naturally doesn’t work deferring instead to Larry’s natural um charisma. The script offers no segue into Larry’s stand-up persona but anyone who sees this here flick ain’t lookin’ for no dang Oscar winner. Clearly Health Inspector will appeal to Larry’s following but is not meant for those of sound mind.
August 28, 2003 10:59am EST
Top Story: Bob Hope Eulogized at Memorial Mass
Politicians and celebrities gathered at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood near Bob Hope's Toluca Lake home yesterday to thank the late comic for his humor and decades of service to U.S. military personnel abroad. Hope died July 27 at age 100. Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney presided over the Mass, which was attended by Hope's widow, Dolores; former President Ford and his wife, Betty; former first lady Nancy Reagan, Mickey Rooney, Hal Holbrook, Raquel Welch, Marie Osmond, Phyllis Diller, Ed McMahon, Norm Crosby, retired Gen. William Westmoreland, former California Gov. Pete Wilson, and businessman Lee Iacocca, The Associated Press reports. The service began with an honor guard upholding the flags of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, representing the service men and women Hope entertained during his USO tours. The service ended with a Marine bugler playing "Taps" and a choir softly humming "Thanks for the Memory," Hope's theme song.
CIA Recruits Alias Star for Promotional Video
Alias star Jennifer Garner said she has been asked to contribute to an official CIA video promoting the government agency to be shown to university graduate students and prospective agents. "We feel that Miss Garner, both in character as agent Sydney Bristow and as herself, embodies the intelligence, enthusiasm and dedication that we're looking for," Chase Brandon, a film industry liaison for the CIA, told Reuters. "Her participation would add a human touch to the message we're trying to convey."
More Jail Time For Bobby Brown
Singer Bobby Brown, who was arrested at a suburban Atlanta restaurant while Friday while dining with wife Whitney Houston, was ordered to serve nine additional days in jail on for violating his probation from a drunken driving conviction, Reuters reports. DeKalb County Court Judge Wayne Purdom ordered Brown to serve 14 days of jail time, with credit for five days already served, and warned the singer of harsher consequences if he failed to fulfill terms of the probation. Brown, wearing the familiar orange jail uniform, apologized to the judge.
Radio Station Reprimanded for Mocking Holocaust
A Vancouver radio station was reprimanded Wednesday for running an episode of the syndicated advice show Loveline that mocked the Holocaust. It featured a call from a telephone sex operator who wanted advice on how to make her clients stay on the phone longer. Host Adam Carolla suggested she use words like "Holocaust," "Vietnam" and "cancer" to dampen her clients' zeal. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council said that while it understood the "intended humor" in the piece, Corolla exceeded any reasonable level of propriety when he responded with, "Yeah, yeah, burn those Jews. Gas 'em in the shower, baby. Yeah, yeah ... send 'em on the train to Krakow."
John Singleton Gets Walk of Fame Star
Director John Singleton, whose credits include Poetic Justice, Shaft and 2 Fast 2 Furious, received a star Tuesday on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the gangland drama Boyz N the Hood. Singleton penned the script for the film, which helped launch the acting careers of Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut, when he was a film student at the University of Southern California. "I am tripping out," Singleton said. "In 1977, when I was 9 years old, I had a date with my dad to go the Chinese Theatre to see Star Wars. This is where I learned to appreciate cinema. I want to thank my dad for that."
Sony Pushes Back Big Fish Release
Director Tim Burton 's new film Big Fish, which had originally been set for wide release Nov. 26 to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday, is being held back by two months to give the marketing campaign more time, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Sony Pictures will platform release the film in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto beginning Dec. 18 to an eventual wide release in 2,500 theaters Jan. 23. Big Fish, about a man coming to terms with his dying father, stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup and Jessica Lange.
Malibu Film Fest Unspools With Lou
The fourth annual Malibu Film Festival, which honors undiscovered, cutting-edge films, will open Sept. 26 with actor Brett Carr's directorial debut Lou, about a boxer with a speech impediment who can only speak without a stutter when he's fighting or impersonating the fictional Rocky Balboa. According to Variety, this year's festival will present 33 shorts, 10 documentaries and seven features, which were selected from an unprecedented pool of 3,000 international submissions. The festival closes Oct. 2.
Role Call: Sydney Pollack May Go Skate
Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack is in talks to helm Fox 2000's Shockproof Sydney Skate, based on the 1973 novel by Marijane Meaker. According to Variety, Shockproof is one of the longest gestating projects in Hollywood: It has been in development at Fox for several years, and its producer, Teri Schwartz, has held options to the book dating back to 1977. The film is a coming-of-age story about a young man who just before college falls in love with the same gorgeous model as his lesbian mother. Pollack picked up two Oscars for Out of Africa in 1985, one as pr