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 Queen and its star, Helen Mirren, were the big winners at Sunday’s Orange British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs), winning the Best Film and Best Actress awards.
Elsewhere, Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor prize for Last King of Scotland, Little Miss Sunshine star Alan Arkin won Best Supporting Actor and Jennifer Hudson won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Dreamgirls.
The ceremony took place at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.
The full list of winners is as follows:
The Academy Fellowship: Anne V. Coates
Film: The Queen
The Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema: Nick Daubeny
The Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year: Last King of Scotland
The Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer in Their First Feature Film: Andrea Arnold, Red Road
The David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction: United 93, Paul Greengrass
Original Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine, Michael Arndt
Adapted Screenplay: Last King of Scotland, Peter Morgan/Jeremy Brock
Film Not in the English Language: Pan's Labyrinth
Animated Feature Film: Happy Feet
Actor in a Leading Role: Forest Whitaker, Last King of Scotland
Actress in a Leading Role: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Actor in a Supporting Role: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Actress in a Supporting Role: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
The Anthony Asquith Award for Achievement in Film Music: Babel, Gustavo Santaolalla
Cinematography: Children of Men, Emmanuel Lubezki
Editing: United 93, Clare Douglas/Christopher Rouse/Richard Pearson
Production Design: Children of Men, Jim Clay/Geoffrey Kirkland/Jennifer Williams
Costume Design: Pan's Labyrinth, Lala Huete
Sound: Casino Royale, Chris Munro/Eddy Joseph/Mike Prestwood Smith/Martin Cantwell/Mark Taylor
Achievement in Special Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, John Knoll/Hal Hickel/Charles Gibson/Allen L. Hall
Makeup & Hair: Pan's Labyrinth, Jose Quetglas/Blanca Sanchez
Short Animation Film: Guy 101, Ian Gouldstone
Short Film: Do Not Erase, Asitha Ameresekere
The Orange Rising Star Award: Eva Green
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