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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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.
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More Jail Time For Bobby Brown
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Radio Station Reprimanded for Mocking Holocaust
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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
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Role Call: Sydney Pollack May Go Skate
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