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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Tony Stark's Iron Man suits aren't real (at least not yet), but what about Jarvis, the futuristic A.I. that controls every aspect of his life? In conjunction with the Blu-ray release of Iron Man 3 on September 24, Marvel has developed an new iPhone app, officially named Marvel's Iron Man 3 – Jarvis: A Second Screen Experience, that allows you to have your own snarky digital assistant in the palm of your hands. How successful were they in bringing Jarvis to your home? Let's take a look.
First, the Jarvis app is completely free, so you don't have to worry about earning Tony Stark's salary in order to pay for it. When you run the app for the first time, you will immediately recognize that Paul Bettany has reprised his role as the voice of Jarvis. The actor recorded over 20 hours of new lines just for the app, including the step-by-step process of setting things up. It's fairly easy. Simply select whether you want to be called "sir" or "madam" and whether you want your temperature readings to be read in Fahrenheit, Celsius or Kelvin (for those chemistry nerds who absolutely must have everything in SI units). It'll then ask you if you want to use your iPhone's internal GPS to determine your location, an option you can change later within your phone's settings.
Once you're all done, Jarvis is now ready to tell you the time and weather of your current location, and have access to all of his features. The interface isn't fairly intuitive at first, but a simple glance at Jarvis's help menu will help you use all of possible voice commands, set alarms and reminders, and use its internal compass. You are also now able to access several ringtones, mostly variations of Jarvis saying "You have a new voice mail," which you can use to personally customize your phone to feel more like Iron Man. If you simply enjoy hearing the soothing voice of Jarvis, simply press the app's "home" button for a quick chat. There's a nice hidden gem that if you press it enough times in a short period of time, Jarvis will start to become incensed. Press it enough times and you'll be treated to a wonderful display of flashing lights and flickering screens as he "erases" all the data on your phone (don't worry, he's just kidding!).
Unfortunately, several of the app's features aren't immediately available until Iron Man 3 arrives on store shelves next week. For instance, you can use the app to control your Blu-ray player if it's connected to the same wireless network as your iPhone. But the coolest feature of Jarvis involves the ability to use its internal QR reader to play an "easter egg" hunt. Hidden throughout the movie are QR Codes that will unlock various Iron Man suits and allw you to rebuild Jarvis's database. According to the marketing folks at Marvel, finding these hard-to-find QR codes and restoring Jarvis's database to 100% will unlock an exclusive "special" sneak peek. They won't reveal exactly what it is at the moment, but here's hoping that it's an inside look at Avengers 2.
Overall, the Jarvis app is fun to play with for just a few minutes until Iron Man 3 hits stores shelves, when it becomes a more substantial experience. It's certainly more fun than functional (you won't replace Siri with it anytime soon) and its seemingly low resolution doesn't take advantage of the iPhone's amazing Retina display. But at the low low price of zero dollars you won't feel any buyer's remorse after downloading it.
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