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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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Summer may be coming to a close, but Rihanna is suppressing our winter blues by continuing to release hit after hit after hit. Just in time for the weekend, the singer has released her latest single We Found Love and if you ask me, it's awesome! Being a huge Rihanna fan, you may think I'm just a bit biased, but this track has a very unique sound that seems a little different than any of her other ones. It somehow manages to have an upbeat tempo, yet still feels like a soothing melody all at the same time. So even if you're not a huge fan of Rihanna's work, this single is definitely still worth checking out. I'm very curious to see what the music video will be like.
The track from her forthcoming album, which was produced by Calvin Harris, apparently has the singer "excited but nervous" about how her fans will react. The fiery bombshell tweeted about her emotions, saying, "I'm EXCITED,NERVOUS,ANXIOUS! I cud throw up [to be honest]." You know my stance on it, but listen to the song below and see for yourself:
Click on the image below for more photos of Rihanna!
Source: Hollywood Gossip
S10E9: Holy over-the-top drama. Last night was a long episode. Granted, group week is usually my favorite because it’s when everyone’s crazy starts to come out, and boy did it ever. The folks at Idol flipped the usual group week antics upside down. When students of the show got ahead of the game by forming groups during the first round of auditions, dreaming up routines and practicing whenever they could, the judges announced that this year the rules had changed. Every group would have to be part Day 1 contestants and Part Day 2 and they’d have to choose songs from a pre-set list. Well crap. Of course, tears and pandemonium ensued – as well as some serious heartlessness. Here’s a tip Idol hopefuls: you aren’t going to win the hearts of American voters if you kick a 15 year old sweetheart out of your group at midnight.
After nearly an hour of set-up, watching the groups flounder to get members, and subsequently fight for space to rehearse, the judges were finally ready to begin the judging. And away we go.
“He came out gangbusters…I think they all went off.” – Steven
Right out of the gate, the groups were shaping up to be pretty good. First up was a trio made up of Pia Toscano, Alessandra Guercio and Brielle Von Hugel singing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. The New York natives did an adequate rendition of the song and fulfilled the choreography requirement by pretending they were in a Destiny’s Child video from 1999, but that was enough and they all made it through.
Then came the first sign of trouble after all the pre-audition drama. Jordan Dorsey, who will likely not be getting many votes after this display, ditched his group, 440, after playing prima donna all day and telling every potential new member they weren’t good enough. His new group, who changed their name to 4+1 in honor of the recent addition, also featured audience favorite Robbie Rosen and did an nice version of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” that allowed them to make it to the next round. (And even though Rosen aligned himself with the Jordan bozo, I’m still hoping he sticks around.)
Next, of course, because Idol loves the drama, was Jordan’s abandoned group 440 singing the song also known as “Fuck You.” (Take that TV sensors.) Because Idol cuts up the songs so we only see the faces they’re interested in, we saw both Adrian Michaels and Lauren Turner belt it out despite their frustrations due to the wrench Jordan’s decision threw into their routine. They were able to hold their heads high afterward because after a dramatic display of making them each step forward one by one, they all made it through.
“Oh you guys. I’m so scared of this group.” –JLo
Oh, Tiffany Rios, you nutcase. After searching tirelessly for someone, ANYONE to join her group, Tiffany had scored Jessica Yantz as her partner in crime, but no matter how hard they tried (including serenading the unwilling listeners in the auditorium) they couldn’t find a third person to meet the requirements. So they performed a duet and it was horrific. I didn’t know that “Irreplaceable” could sound so much like a horror movie. Then again, I didn’t think she’d make it past the first audition back in New Jersey, so what do I know? Buh-bye, ladies.
From “Irreplaceable” to irresponsible we go as Kevin Campos completely screws his group, Spanglish, by sleeping in until noon. Ass. The good thing about this little screw-up is that it gives Steven a chance to play the drums to pass the time while everyone waits for Kevin to get his act together. (Did anyone else think he looked like Animal from Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem?) When the group finally got up there, Jovany Barreto, Jorge Gabriel and Karen Rodriguez were obviously shaken up by their teammate's dumbassery, but only Jovany and Karen managed to continue on after Steven accidentally told them they’d all make it (and after their onstage celebration made their rejected teammates cry even more). Yikes.
“You fell off the melody…” –Steven
“And forgot all the words.” –JLo
Well, you can’t argue with that; and things continued to underwhelm the judges. Lauren Alaina and her group tried something a little different: they brought Steven up onstage and sang directly to him, even getting him to sing along with them at the end. It was pretty cute. Unfortunately for everyone but Alaina, the judges were impressed with the creativity, but not the vocals. Yeah, you know that little thing that the whole competition is based on. At least Lauren’s teammates were sweet about it.
Then things started to get really, really ugly. The “Nashville Stars” featured crowd favorite Matt Dillard as well as Colton Dixon, but by the time they were done singing the judges were holding their heads in frustration it was so bad. Colton managed to hold his own amongst the muck and walked away as the only one to continue on. This bad streak continued (so brace yourself) with a string of our favorites going off key and piercing ear drums left and right. Shannon Livewell, Brianna Tyson, Janelle Arthur, and Caitlin Koch were all sent packing. Steven’s protégé, Alyson Jaydos, was also sent packing after she just couldn’t cut it (but we could have told you that after her first audition). Many of you may be surprised by Paris Tassin’s expulsion from the competition, but to be honest, her performance of “My Heart Will Go On” last week was actually kind of awful. We all want her to succeed because of her backstory, but the fact is, her voice isn’t strong enough to keep her there.
“I was bathing in your vocals” -Steven
After Ashley Sullivan faked her group out about leaving the competition at nearly 2 a.m., the performed quite well, giving them all a chance to see Ashley’s INSANE happy dance. (I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot more of that.)
Then came more rivalries! Gee, their forming quickly. “The Minors” and the “Deep Vs” are in a bit of a rift because James Durbin of the Vs is pissed about The Minors receiving help from their moms, and then there’s the whole issue of the two groups singing the same song. Too bad no amount of mama’s help could have saved the Vs from their terrible audition. Only Caleb Johnson and James Durbin made it through (although I still think his voice is just downright unpleasant, and now he’s a whiner to boot). Just like JLo predicted, Emma Henry gets swallowed up in the competition and is sent home. It’s a wonder she made it past the sudden death round, to be honest.
The Minors, who included Jalen Harris, Sarina Joi Cole and Deandre Brackensick were absolutely fantastic. I highly doubt that they suddenly gained extra pure talent in those 10 hours of rehearsal. It must suck to be Durbin and have all that whining put on national TV only to be proven wrong. Sorry, dude.
“You goin’ to hoot for us?” –Steven
Corey Levoy and Hollie Cavanaugh’s group makes it through despite half of them forgetting the words. Then one dumbass is stupid enough to ask the judges why they were sent through. DON’T LOOK A GIFT STEVEN TYLER IN THE MOUTH DUDE. It’s scary.
The next two groups braved a capella auditions. The first was pretty awful, yet Julie Zorilla from Colombia and Casey “Fraggle Rock” Abrams managed to shine and continue on. (Can I just say again how much I love Casey Abrams? Dude can really sing…dawg.) Next was Naima Adedapo’s group; she and teammate Jacob Lusk were the only fantastic ones (Lusk adding an interesting little twist to the end of the song) but they all made it through and I’m still not sure why.
“I don’t know that song.” –Jacee Badeaux
“Well, you can learn it.” –Brett Lowenstern
“The Four Non-blondes and That Guy” featured Devyn Rush (who famously lost her job after auditioning for Idol), Carson Higgins, Caleb Hawley, and Chris Medina. The only standout here was Carson Higgins who was like an awesome singing cartoon. Only Devyn was sent home and she cried about how wrong they were – and sometimes they are, but thems the breaks homeslice.
Finally, we get to the group that accepted sweet little Jacee Badeaux after his original group rejected him in the wee hours of the morning. He didn’t know the words to “Mercy” but made his own little jingle (he only had a few hours to learn it!) and the judges had mercy on the poor kid and sent him and his group members who included Denise Jackson and Brett Lowenstern who is not only an awesome singer, but one of the sweetest people in that auditorium. It just warms my heart. (Oh no, I sound like my grandma.)
Jacee’s rejectors, let by the mega-annoying Clint Jun Gamboa, have to fumble on stage while the judges grill them about screwing over the sweetest little boy, but they manage to pull out a decent performance and they all continue on. Of course, now that he has to face the problem, Scotty McCreery is all teary eyed and sorry that he didn’t stick up for Jacee. Why don’t you go apologize to him instead of CRYING INTO THE CAMERA LIKE A PRIMA DONNA.
“Can we do it like a million more times and then we’ll move on?” –Jaqueline Dunford
Last group! We made it. Thanks for sticking with me. Three’s Company was the group of couples whose plans were dashed when Nick Fink was sent home (good riddance). Chelsee Oaks and her ex Rob Bolin partnered with the abandoned girlfriend Jaqueline Dunford who quickly took over everything. By the time they reach the stage, Rob is so tired he can’t remember the words and completely gives up on the competition. Buh-bye. Something tells me that he’s totally okay with that. Maybe it’s that vacant look in his eyes. Oh well. The girls make it through, although personally I think Jaqueline’s voice is unpleasant and she should have been sent packing with her boyfriend.
Now, let’s all rest up and get prepared for tonight, when the contestants will each fend for themselves and we’ll see who gets to make it to the Idol stage.