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
Hilary Duff is About to Get Played: And by Ashton Kutcher, no less! Duff will head to Two and a Half Men for the show's tenth season finale, where she'll play Stacey — a hottie who is dating Kutcher's character, Walden. Taxi‘s Marilu Henner will also guest as her grandmother, and if you've studied Walden's romantic history (or Kutcher's real life romantic history) it may not surprise you that Walden's eyes will start to wander... [TVLine]
Lorne Michaels Keeps it in the SNL Family: Current Saturday Night Live funnylady Nasim Pedrad is set to star alongside writer/creator John Mulaney in the SNL writer's upcoming NBC comedy pilot. Based loosely upon his own life, the pilot has cast Pedrad as Jane, a sweet but lazy grade school teacher looking to make changes in her life. The multi-camera comedy has also tapped (you guessed it!) yet another SNL alum, Martin Short, to star as well. Lorne Michaels, you really do run the funny business, don't you? [Hollywood Reporter]
Fringe Favorite Moves On: Lance Reddick, who played the beloved Broyles on Fringe and Cedric Daniels on The Wire, will try his luck in comedy with a guest stint on FX's quirky hit Wilfred. Reddick will guest star as Dr. Blum, Elijah Wood's character's "calm, no-nonsense therapist." The episode is slated to appear during the latter half of the show's third season. [Hollywood Reporter]
FX is Taking Over the World: FX already has a gaggle of critically acclaimed hits on its roster (Justified, American Horror Story, The Americans, and Sons of Anarchy, to name a few...), and now it's taking a journey to the distant past with Conquistadors, an event series based on Kim MacQuarrie's book Last Days of the Incas. The series will focus on both the Spanish Conquistadors who conquered the 10-million-strong Incan Empire, and rebellious Incan rebels who tried their best to save their people. [Hollywood Reporter]
The Walking Dead is Team Stark: No, unfortunately they don't get to watch Game of Thrones in the depressing post-apocalpytic wasteland on TWD. But it was confirmed that, for Season 4, the show has put out a casting call for a character named Roy Stark, "a former army medic who is deeply haunted by his past." Stark is going to be in his early 30s to mid 40s, leading many to speculate that he'll be the show's version of Abraham — who, in the comics, was an army sergeant of a similar age. [TVLine]
Twisted Role for Gilmore Girl: ABC Family's newest mystery series Twisted has just added Gilmore Girl's Keiko Agena as a guest star. Twisted centers on a charismatic 16-year-old (Avan Jogia) with a troubled past who spends five years in juvenile detention and then reconnects with his two female best friends from childhood (Maddie Hasson and Kylie Bunbury). Agena will play April Tanaka, a bohemian grief specialist who heads up a counseling session for the students at Green Grove High. Brittany Curran also joined the cast as Phoebe, an overly dramatic classmate who enjoys the limelight and tries to bond with Bunbury’s Lacey. Both characters will make their debut in Episode 2. [TVLine]
Degrassi to Lose a Student: Alex Steele will not be returning to TeenNick's drama Degrassi for the show's 13th season. "I'm very proud of my time on Degrassi and feel very lucky to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew," Steele - who plays fan-favorite Tori - said in a statement. "I've decided to take on a new focus pursuing film. I have a few opportunities already in the works and am excited to get started!" No word yet on how her character's exit will play out. [E!]
Austin and Ally Will Keep Singing: Disney Channel has renewed the musical show Austin and Ally for a third season. The upcoming slate of episodes “promises excitement for ‘Auslly’ fans as Austin’s music career kicks into full gear and Ally’s begins to take flight,” Adam Bonnett, senior vice president, original programming, Disney Channels Worldwide said in a statement. "This ensemble cast — Ross Lynch, Laura Marano, Raini Rodriguez and Calum Worthy — has incredible comedic chemistry and charm that continues to win audiences over." [TVLine]
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[Photo Credit: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic]
From Our PartnersSee 'Game of Thrones' as 'Mad Men' (Vulture)Hayden Panetierre Bikinis in Miami (Celebuzz)
Dodgeball is the classic big guy vs. little guy
can-do tale featuring your least favorite P.E. activity. Peter La Fleur
(Vince Vaughn) is the irresponsible manager of Average Joe Gymnasium a
low-end workout center that is losing business to Globo Gym America Corp.
run by former fatty food fetishist White Goodman (Ben Stiller). Peter
discovers that he has 30 days to come up with $50 000 of payments or else he
will lose his gym to Goodman. With the help of the bank's lawyer Kate Veatch
(Christine Taylor) and a ragtag team of gym regulars Peter plans on
winning the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open and its first place
prize money. Yes folks all of your favorite sports clichés are here: the
salty experienced coach (Rip Torn) with his inspirational
non-sequiturs the nerd with a girl to impress a love triangle between the two
rivals and of course pirates. What? You were expecting a high concept and clever plot twists perhaps? C'mon.
If you want character development go see the folks at Merchant-Ivory. This
is irreverent comedy folks. And truth be told it's nothing we haven't seen
before. Vince Vaughn hones his too-cool-for-school good-guy persona against
Ben Stiller's lycra-covered over-the-top overachiever with a '70s porn
moustache. Stiller's performance is colored with shades of the dim-witted
Zoolander and the granny-thrashing nurse from Happy Gilmore but it
works. The two actors play off of each other and their co-stars quite well.
(Stiller's codpiece alone deserves its own screen credit.) But like a good drummer carries a band the movie's costars are what keeps the audience's attention. And as always Rip Torn does crazy
like no one else as dodgeball manager Patches O'Houlihan. He
chews the scenery spouting nuggets of wisdom such as "If you can dodge a
wrench you can dodge a ball" before heaving a tool at one poor kid. As for the team of Average Joes Stephen Root Justin Long and Joel Moore keep the gags rolling as do the actors who make cameo appearances. This laugher has more guest stars than a
two-hour Love Boat special. With a list that includes David
Hasselhoff Chuck Norris Jason Bateman Hank Azaria I was almost expecting
Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise to show up in a red Ferrari. The
highlights? Well Gary Cole shines in his bow to the great Vin Scully but
nothing could beat Lance Armstrong who laid down the best guilt trip I've
seen since I moved to the dorms.
This is Rawson Marshall Thurber's first time out playing with the big boys.
Quite a burden for a Tinseltown newbie but Thurber pulls it off agreeably.
All of your favorite sports movies will be mocked and you will enjoy it.
Thurber uses everything he can to get a laugh. Whether he's clowning Tony
Robbins parodying '50s instructional videos or using pizza in a perverse
and unholy manner Thurber keeps his audiences attention with enough
breakneck shtick to make Mel Brooks proud. But most importantly he never
forgets the fundamental rule to slapstick comedy: hitting people with stuff
is very very funny especially if it's in the nether regions or some area
of the human body that could potentially hurt or bleed a whole lot.
Socially inept Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is the only son among seven sisters who torment his insular daily life by calling him "gay boy" and making harassing telephone calls to him at work at the toilet-plunger warehouse he runs in the San Fernando Valley. Barry takes out his frustration by breaking and smashing things or randomly bursting into tears. One day he discovers a potential means of escape in an offer (and this part's based on a true story) for frequent-flyer miles through the purchase of $3 000 of Healthy Choice Pudding which Barry buys by the case eventually racking up over 1.25 million miles worth of air travel. But loneliness is the guest who doesn't leave and Barry bides his time by engaging in a phone-sex service wherein he gives away his credit card number and other information. He ends up being harassed by the woman he calls who turns out to be part of an extortion scheme organized by a dirtbag mattress salesman (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This leads to unforeseen consequences that push Barry deeper into the hair-pulling abyss--until his sister introduces him to Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) who with deceptively simple tenderness in this otherwise deceptively simple love story awakens Barry to his inner strength.
Let's get this over with right now: Adam Sandler kicks ass in this movie. It doesn't matter that he's playing varied degrees of his angry retard from Billy Madison Happy Gilmore and the rest and that here he's solidified those characters into a core of brewing indecisive rage (less the requisite heart of gold). Sandler seems to understand he's representing all the sexually inept basket cases that go through life nitpicking the fine print because they can't get laid. It's also obvious that nobody breaks things on screen like Sandler--but at least here his rage isn't just something that looked funny on paper. When he's tearing the door off the john or screaming himself almost into a stroke during a confrontation with one of his sisters one gets the sense that Sandler is getting in touch with the rage of the inner self. His fits aren't necessarily funny but they will make you laugh. It's long been speculated that Sandler has the talent to deliver the goods and he does it here with a cartoonish walk and punctuated delivery that'll suck you right into the loose wires of Barry's dilapidated nervous system. Maybe this performance won't earn him an Oscar nomination but Sandler's Barry will both give you the creeps and make you cheer him on. Refreshingly Emily Watson plays it straight this time around (as opposed to playing diseased dying or insane)--but unlike Sandler's performance any actress that looks good on a gurney could have done her role. But Watson gives a heck of a lot of warmth to a character that doesn't seem to have much of a story. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the sleazy salesman who operates the sleazy phone-sex service gets to say "shut up" a lot. This role again could have done by just about anyone but it's apparent that Hoffman has become an indispensable facet of Anderson films. So where oh where is John C. Reilly?
Boogie Nights and Magnolia gave us a director who put the cultural absurdities of David Lynch and the detailed broad strokes of Robert Altman in the soup and made us eat it with a gun to our heads. We loved it bestowing Paul Thomas Anderson with awards nominations and a fat paycheck. Punch-Drunk Love (for which Anderson won best director at Cannes 2002) exemplifies the director's knack for capturing the mind-numbing madness of the obvious. With a camera that slinks along hallways and around corners panoramic stills of the Valley's empty streets and grocery stores over-amplified sound effects and a creepy score by Jon Brion Anderson has put together a far more accessible feast than his last two outings. This is a movie you could watch just for the ingenious theatrical movement of the camera. Some of the scenes in Punch-Drunk Love--like when Barry's sister introduces him to Lena and we're barraged with crashes squelched dialogued and chaotic drumming that'll make you think you're having a seizure--are awe-inspiring. Anderson's screenplay loaded with witty dialogue and unexpected heart-stopping surprises is on par with the direction; there are a lot of choice lines especially from Sandler to put on your computer's hard drive.