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 only thing stranger than Simon Cowell's eraser-shaped head is the fact that he is currently dating Carmen Electra. The X Factor judge confirmed to Ryan Seacrest during his radio show that Electra (who has a long dating history of "Say what now?" men that includes Dennis Rodman and Dave Navarro) is not his "girlfriend" but they do "date." While Electra, 40, has had a more notorious love life, Cowell, 53, is no stranger to unexpected couplings, either. The music mogul had a long-running on-and-off relationship with pop star Sinitta, which started when she was just 14. (He is nearly ten years her senior.)
While the Cowell and Electra (Cowlectra? Electrawell?) is one of the more bizarre pairings to come out of Hollywood in a while, the two join a long lineage of Tinsel Town odd couples. Check out some of the other duos that have made us all go "Hmmm...."
Mila Kunis and Macaulay Culkin
Sure, they were both former child stars, but that didn't make the pairing of bona fide beauty Mila Kunis and troubled tabloid regular Macaulay Culkin any less strange. Even more eyebrow-raising? The mismatched duo dated for over eight years. Mary-Kate Olsen and Olivier Sarkozy
Let's do some math: half of the Olsen twins is dating the half brother of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is almost twice her age. It adds up to one incredibly creepy pairing that looks more like a kidnapping than a relationship.
Amber Tamblyn and David Cross
Before having the most hipsterrific wedding in the history of Hollywood, the Arrested Development funny man and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants actress turned heads with their noticeably significant age gap and arguably different levels of attractiveness.
Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett
Like Carmen Electra (bet you didn't think we could compare Julia Roberts to Carmen Electra, did you?) the Oscar-winning actress has had an eclectic love life. But this was none more evident than when the beautiful movie star wed goofy looking (sorry!) country singer Lyle Lovett. The pair eventually split in 1995 after less than two years of marriage.
Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton
One could argue Jolie's strangest pairing was her Oscar date brother, but since we've scrubbed that image clean out of memory, we'll go with BBT. In the throws of her wild child, blood vile-wearing days, the gorgeous actress was married to the guy who became famous for saying "French fried potaters" for almost 3 years, during which time they apparently had a lot of sex and creeped everyone out.
Christina Hendricks and Geoffrey Arend
Totally shallow to think it, we know. We know.
Brigette Nielsen and Flavor Flav
Take your pick about what's weirdest about these exes: that they met on Flavor of Love, that they were actually kind of a cute couple, or that the clock-wearing rapper/reality star could reasonably be considered one of the action starlet's more normal conquests — as she also has been with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Drew Barrymore and Tom Green
When Barrymore first got married she was practically still a child (she was 19 when she wed Jeremy Thomas in 1994), but her second marriage was to someone who behaved just like one. The lovely actress, who had made her transition into adorable pixie at this point, was married to MTV jokester/goon Tom Green for a year while the whole world kept waiting to find out if this was one of his pranks.
Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson Musical worlds collided in the most bizarre, unsettling way imaginable when Elvis Presley's daughter married the King of Pop. Their infamous MTV Video Music Awards kiss was one for the ages.
Soon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen The odd Hollywood coupling that started and ends them all: Woody and Soon-Yi. The legendary director became romantically involved with the adopted daughter of his longtime partner Mia Farrow, who was 20 years his junior. It's still pretty creepy to think about, but at least it's given the Farrows some seriously delightful Twitter fodder.
[Photo credits: Josephine Santos/Pacific Coast News; Chris Polk/FilmMagic/Getty Images; James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images; WENN; Jim Smeal/WireImage/Getty Images; Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images; B. Dowling/Wenn; Jody Cortes/Wenn; WENN; Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images; WENN]
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