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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Newly single pop star Britney Spears has purchased a new home in Beverly Hills for $7.2 million.
The five-bedroom Mediterranean-style villa is located in the exclusive gated community of Summit Circle and includes a swimming pool, library, media room, and maid's quarters.
Celebrity real estate agent Barbara Corcoran says, "Britney's new house is a perfect party pad.
"It's on the best street in the Summit Circle gated community, on a quiet cul-de-sac and it needs absolutely no work."
Spears has already moved out of the Malibu, California, home she shared with estranged husband Kevin Federline and is keen to move into her new property as soon as possible.
A source tells Star magazine, "She asked the sellers to get out right away. So they moved to a hotel on Dec. 12.
"Britney liked the house just as it was. She didn't want to have to wait for new furniture to be brought in."
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Ashley Olsen says twin sis is 'hanging in there'
Ashley Olsen tells People magazine her twin sister Mary-Kate, who is seeking treatment for a health-related issue, is "hanging in there." Both People and Us Weekly have reported Mary-Kate has an eating disorder. Although Ashley never named what condition Mary-Kate was being treated for, she said it was something her sister has been struggling with for quite a while before the family stepped in and got help for her. "She is taking the time she needs for herself right now," Ashley told People. "Right now is especially a good time right before school so she can get healthy." The twins, who turned 18 earlier this month, plan to attend New York University in the fall. Ashley recently canceled a trip to Australia to promote their first feature film, New York Minute, to be with Mary-Kate. But Ashley declined to describe their recent meetings to People, saying: "It's private. I'm here for her whenever she needs me, and, you know, that's how it works." Ashley also added the family appreciates the support they have received from the public. "The support's been really amazing," she said.
Michael Moore says political opponents helped Fahrenheit 9/11 ticket sales
Filmmaker Michael Moore credited his political opponents for boosting ticket sales for his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 at the box office this weekend, The Associated Press reports. "They're all getting a Christmas card from me this year," said Moore while greeting moviegoers at a downtown Manhattan theater Sunday. Moore said conservative groups helped draw attention--and viewers--to the documentary, which took in $21.8 million in 868 theaters in its first three days of release. Moore added Fahrenheit 9/11 sold out in Fort Bragg, N.C., and Peoria, Ill., states that went to Bush in the 2000 presidential election and said the film will convince "a lot of swing voters, independents and even Republicans."
Bonham Carter, Burton have baby boy
Actress Helena Bonham Carter and film director Tim Burton welcomed a baby boy into the world Saturday in London, the AP reports. The actress' agent said the couple had not yet named the boy. Bonham Carter, 37, and Burton, 45, met on the set of the remake Planet of The Apes four years ago. The as-yet-unwed couple lives in adjoining houses in north London that were recently connected with a door. "I don't know if we'll marry," Bonham Carter told the magazine Radio Times. "I find it romantic bearing his illegitimate child and living next door." Burton, who last directed Bonham Carter in Big Fish, is currently working on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp.
Mira Sorvino gets hitched
Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino, 36, married her 22-year-old beau, actor Christopher Backus, in a private ceremony in Santa Barbara, Calif., AP reports. It's the first marriage for both. Sorvino, the daughter of actor Paul Sorvino, won a best supporting actress Oscar for Woody Allen's 1995 film Mighty Aphrodite. Backus has appeared on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace.
Title of sixth Harry Potter book revealed
Author J.K. Rowling has announced the title for the sixth book in her popular Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, CNN/Money reports. Rowling made the announcement on her official Web site but it took dedicated fans with in-depth knowledge of the site to discover the path to the title, which was detailed on the fan site WizardNews.com. The Christopher Little Agency said the author is still in the process of writing the book and no release date has been set. Rowling seemed to confirm the Half Blood Prince title on her site's main Daily News by adding, "The HBP is neither Harry nor Voldemort," she wrote. Lord Voldemort is the series' villain.
"Bam" Margera ordered to stop filming MTV series
Local officials in West Chester, Penn., have ordered Brandon C. "Bam" Margera to stop production and get rid of his TV gear and props for his MTV show Viva La Bam in 30 days, the AP reports. Margera, who starred alongside Johnny Knoxville in the defunct series Jackass, paid $1.2 million for the 13.8-acre property and moved there in February to film the series. Among other things, he's staged a heavy metal concert, a helicopter landing, a demolition derby and an encampment of Civil War reenactors on the property. "The question is whether he is running a business in a residential neighborhood," H. William Sellers, supervisors chairman in the township, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Margera and MTV said they would appeal the June 16 letter from Pocopson Township.
Idol finalist DeGarmo releases first single
RCA Records is releasing American Idol runner-up Diana DeGarmo's first CD single, "Dreams," Tuesday, AP reports. "I know I'm probably going to have a heart attack," DeGarmo told AP, about hearing her song played on the radio for the first time. The 17-year-old singer, who came in second to winner Fantasia Barrino (now known as Fantasia), is close to signing a record deal with RCA. "We're doing a full album, and if all things go well, hopefully it will be out before the end of the year. I can't wait to have everything finalized and in ink," DeGarmo said.
Kelly Osbourne takes new spin on next album
Fresh off a concert tour with her father, Ozzy Osbourne, in London, Kelly Osbourne is excited about her next album. The singer told AP Radio she went in a whole new direction with her new album, taking a departure from her first album. "[I felt I needed] to fill the shoes of rock and roll because of the family I have [on the first album]," Kelly explained. "That's not really my deal. I don't really like rock. I like '80s pop. I really went in an '80s direction this time."
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
China promised Wednesday that by the end of the year it will have shut down some 200 major marketplaces selling bootleg video discs and CDs. Today's Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal said that the Ministry of Culture had identified the 200 targets--outdoor markets were ten or more different sellers gather--and has already closed 120 of them. A deputy director of the ministry told the WSJ that most of the remaining 80 vendors have agreed to shut down voluntarily, although a few are still resisting.