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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The animated hits have been joined by The Adventures of Tintin, A Cat in Paris, Arthur Christmas, Arrugas, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rio on the nominations list.
Gary Oldman and James Hong (both for Kung Fu Panda 2), Ashley Jensen and Bill Nighy (both for Arthur Christmas), Jemaine Clement (Rio), Jim Cummings (Gnomeo and Juliet) and Zach Galifianakis (Puss in Boots) will compete for the Best Voice Actor prize, while Henry Jackman, John Williams, Siedah Garrett, Sergio Mendes and Zooey Deschanel are up for the Best Music prize.
The International Animated Film Society's Annie Awards winners will be revealed during a ceremony at Royce Hall in Los Angeles on 4 February (12).
Pop star Elton John will auction off 20 of his private stash of luxury and sports cars at Christie's on June 5, the auction house announced Wednesday.
The cars include John's Rolls Royce Silver Cloud named "Daisy" and an Aston Martin called "The Beast," according Christie's. Passengers of the cars, other than the ostentatious singer, include Sting, Hugh Grant, Gianni Versace and George Michael. Christie's estimates the cars will bring in approximately $1.4 million.
This is just the latest in a quite lengthy string of celebrity auctions to hit the block. A selection of Madonna memorabilia is currently up for sale online through Leland's auction house. Leland's is more noted for its sports collectibles, but has recently gained more exposure and credibility with the entertainment industry.
Leland's auction, only online, also includes Jimi Hendrix's personal stash box, Jim Morrison's humidor, Elton John's Elvis-like jumpsuit and a saxophone signed by former president Bill Clinton and band members of Fleetwood Mac. Sotheby's, not to be outdone, last week sold a bed and underwear belonging to British pop star Robbie Williams, with proceeds going to his charity, Give It Sum. Williams' undies may have been purchased for a cool $3,200, but Madonna's bra-and-panties set is already priced above $8,000 on Leland's Web site.
"Celebrity auctions are very popular," said Christie's spokesperson Patricia Clark, "especially Elton John, who's incredibly popular here in England.
"There is generally more interest in celebrity auctions. People love the idea of owning a bit of a star, a piece of history. It makes their lives a little more interesting."
Marty Appel, spokesperson for Leland's, agrees.
"Buying the items is a connection to someone they appreciate, someone whose performances they've enjoyed," Appel said. "The entertainment items draw a lot of press and attention to the auctions, which contain many, many lots other than those select items."
Sometimes, celebrity castoffs are bought as an investment, Appel said.
" People think they'll be even more valuable in 30 to 40 years," he said. "Madonna figures to be a 'forever' icon. Anything associated with her has value for a long time, as she's become a legitimate Hollywood icon."
Clark and Appel cited increased international interest in entertainment industry items over interest in more mundane pieces. Leland's claims that its "online only" strategy to auctions makes it even easier for the international buyer to bid and purchase an item, by leveling the auction playing field for everyone.
Christie's has held numerous auctions for Hollywood and the entertainment industry, including a James Bond-theme auction - Ursula Andress' famous bikini from Dr. No was sold - and Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana auctions.
John recently lost a court battle with his former manager and accountant. Christie's, however, insisted that The Rocket Man is selling his cars because he doesn't get a chance to enjoy them anymore because of his travel and other time commitments.
John also put his vast record collection on the market last year through Christie's.