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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What’s in a name? Everything if you’re a rock star. Majority of people are born with boring, everyday names - unless, of course, you’re born to a 20th century celebrity, in which case your name is a fruit, Disney character, or another entry from the MeSoUnique dictionary. In order to be larger-than-life celebrities, these rockers opted for a larger-than-life name.
Here’s a rundown of rockers with some of the best names that their mamas don't call them by.
Marilyn Manson (Brian Hugh Warner) The artist formerly known as Brian Hugh Warner came up with his stage name by combing the names of 2 infamous icons from the 1960s: Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. He chose the 2 celebs because he wanted to have the “fakest stage name of all” to reflect the phoniness of show business. Well played, Brian.
Axl Rose (William Bruce Rose, Jr.) Before his name was synonymous with rock star douchebaggery, Axl Rose was called William Bruce Rose, Jr. The name we’ve all come to love and loathe him by came from the name of one of the first bands he was in when he first moved to Los Angeles: AXL. Of course, there is that whole anagram story…
Elvis Costello (Declan Patrick MacManus) Declan MacManus may sound like the name of a capo from the Westies, but it’s actually the birth name of post-punk rock god Elvis Costello. Costello took his name from his musician father’s stage name (Day Costello) and Elvis Presley.
Cat Power (Charlyn Marie Marshall) Cat Power sounds like the slogan of a felinist wanting to empower kitties everywhere, but really the indie rocker’s stage name came from a guy wearing a Caterpillar trucker cap. Power was part of a band that needed a name for their first show, and after seeing a man in a “Cat Diesel Power” hat, she knew she found the name. Though she ended up moving to New York a couple years after, the name stuck and she’s been Cat Power ever since.
Slash (Saul Hudson) Back in the 70s, when someone said “Better call Saul,” they were talking about Saul Hudson. Slash got his nickname from family friend and actor Seymour Cassel, who started calling him the name due to the fact that he was always in a hurry and never in one place for a long period of time.
Iggy Pop (James Newell Osterberg) Iggy Pop has long been called the Godfather of Punk, but his real name sounds like the name of an 80-year-old Russian history professor. After serving as the drummer for The Iguanas, Mr. Osterberg officially became Iggy. The “Pop” came after a friend of the Stooges, Jimmy Pop, lost all his hair, including his eyebrows, prompting Iggy to shave off his eyebrows in tribute and consequently being dubbed Iggy Pop.
Joe Strummer (John Graham Mellor) John Graham Mellor sure doesn’t sound like the name of the frontman of one of the original punk bands, so it’s no surprise that he changed his name. Before he was Joe Strummer, though, he went by Woody Mellor, in honor of folk legend Woody Guthrie. He used this moniker during his time with the 101’ers and a couple years before the Clash was born, changed his name to Joe Strummer. The “Joe” was to signify that he was nothing special, just a “regular joe,” and the “Strummer” pertained to his rather lackluster rhythm guitar skills.
The Cramps: Lux Interior (Erick Lee Purkhiser) & Poison Ivy (Kristy Marlana Wallace) “Hi, my name is Lux Interior and this is my wife, Poison Ivy.” Few people get to drop opening lines like that, but the 2 permanent members of psychobilly pioneers the Cramps were an exception. Interior not surprisingly took his name from an old car commercial, while Ivy (who also went by Ivy Rorschach) stated the name had come to her in a dream.
Brody Dalle (Bree Joanna Alice Robinson) With a name like Bree Joanna Alice Robinson, you’re either going to become a Type A debutante who looks up to Paris Hilton, or you’re going to drop every part of your name and become one of the most hardcore lead singers of a punk rock band. Luckily for the world, Bree Robinson opted for the latter and changed her name to Brody. Before she adopted her last name from crazy/badass French actress Beatrice Dalle, however, she was known as Brody Armstrong (aka Tim Armstrong’s wife). A Rolling Stone tongue-makeout session with Josh Homme later, Brody Armstrong officially became Brody Dalle.
Sid Vicious (John Simon Ritchie) Born John Simon Ritchie, Sid Vicious went on to personify the defining aspects of punk rock – rebellion, attitude, and safety pins. The story of the Sex Pistols is one of abrupt fame coupled with an even speedier decline, and Vicious’ scandalous life and tumultuous relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen made for a punk rock fairytale, where there’s no such thing as a happy ending. The best part of all this, though, is that the dude was named after a hamster. After being bit by Johnny Rotten’s fuzzy, lovable hamster Sid, the then-John Ritchie said, “Sid is really vicious!,” and Rotten decided that a star was born.
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.