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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Video of the tiger attack isn't being released
Despite two subpoenas from federal authorities, the company behind the Siegfried & Roy Las Vegas magic show has refused to turn over video of last year's tiger attack on illusionist Roy Horn, The Associated Press reports. In an investigation into the incident, where Horn was mauled by a 300-pound tiger during an Oct. 3 live performance at The Mirage hotel-casino, the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to obtain video of the show under the federal Animal Welfare Act to see if there were possible violations of the act. Feld Entertainment, however, would not hand over the footage, a USDA source familiar with the case told AP. USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said Tuesday from Washington D.C. that the probe into the tiger attack remains open and if violations did occur, the USDA can take action against violators, imposing fines and suspending or revoking licenses.
No ****! Dave Matthews Band sued for dumping poop
The state of Illinois sued the Dave Matthews Band on Tuesday for allegedly dumping up to 800 pounds of liquid human waste from a bus into the Chicago River and dousing a tour boat filled with passengers, the AP reports. According to the lawsuit, a bus leased by the band was heading to a Chicago hotel on Aug. 8 where members were staying. The driver allegedly emptied the contents of the septic tank through Kinzie Street Bridge's metal grating into the river below. More than 100 people on an architecture tour were showered with the waste. After the incident, the boat's captain turned the vessel around and took passengers back to the dock and given refunds. The boat was cleaned with disinfectant. The lawsuit seeks $70,000 in civil penalties. A spokesman for the band said the driver stated he was not involved in this incident, and added that the band "will continue to be cooperative in this investigation."
Rodney Dangerfield hospitalized for heart trouble
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield, best known for his trademark line "I don't get no respect!" was admitted on Tuesday to a Los Angeles hospital for heart valve replacement surgery, his publicist told Reuters. The surgery at UCLA Medical Center had been planned since last year when Dangerfield had brain bypass surgery to reduce the chances of stroke during the heart procedure. The surgery is scheduled for Wednesday morning and Dangerfield is expected to make a full recovery, his publicist, Kevin Sasaki, said. The 82-year-old comedian quipped that he planned on a brief hospital stay. "If things go right, I'll be there about a week, and if things don't go right, I'll be there about an hour and a half," he said.
Toronto Film Fest announces complete lineup
The Toronto International Film Festival unveiled its 328-film lineup, which includes 100 world premieres and 81 North American premieres, Reuters reports. The festival opens Sept. 9 with the world premiere of Istvan Szabo's Being Julia, starring Annette Bening, and closes Sept. 18 with the Martin Short starrer Jiminy Glick in Lalawood. Among the other 20 high-profile films to receive red-carpet treatment are Mike Barker's A Good Woman, a comedy about Americans in Italy that stars Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson; and Beyond the Sea, which Kevin Spacey directed and stars in as Bobby Darin.
Apprentice runner-up scores major deal
Kwame Jackson, last year's runner-up in the hit NBC reality show The Apprentice, is turning into his former boss, Donald Trump, after completing a multibillion dollar real-estate deal of his own, AP reports. With two other partners, Jackson has made a deal with officials in Prince George's County in Maryland to develop an 80-to-130-acre area into commercial and residential property. The deal is worth $3.8 billion and will provide over 32,000 jobs, Jackson explained. "For me, The Apprentice was the beginning," he told AP. "It's not a ceiling, it's a floor."
Whoopi returns to Broadway
Whoopi Goldberg is returning to Broadway in the show that jump-started her career 20 years ago, the AP reports. Goldberg's self-titled show opens Nov. 17 at the Lyceum Theatre in New York, the same house where her one-woman show premiered in October 1984 and ran for 156 performances. Since then, the comedian has appeared on Broadway in the revivals of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Goldberg, who won a supporting actress Oscar in 1991 for her role in Ghost, will first try out her show in Philadelphia, playing a week's engagement at the Merriam Theatre starting Oct. 13. Preview performances will start in New York Nov. 6.
Spector hires former Gotti attorney
Music producer Phil Spector has hired an attorney who used to work for mob boss John Gotti to defend him on murder charges after his previous attorney resigned from the case, the AP reports. But Leslie Abramson said Tuesday she and her co-counsel were taken by surprise when Bruce Cutler filed a motion to take over the case. "We were put in an untenable position, and we were forced to resign," Abramson told the AP. Cutler, however, said he signed on as Spector's personal attorney before Abramson and Marcia Morrissey took over the criminal case. "Leslie and Marcia were brought on in February, and they quit in July. They just jumped ship, and I had to take control of the ship and bring it into port," Cutler said. Spector, 64, is charged in the fatal shooting of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson at his home in February 2003. He is free on $1 million bail.
Metallica to release vinyl box set
Heavy metal group Metallica will release a boxed set of albums on vinyl on Oct. 26, Billboard.com reports. Vinyl Box will include special editions of the group's first four studio albums along with the long-out-of-print Garage Days Re-Revisited EP and the Creeping Death picture disc, which was previously unavailable in the U.S. Metallica, currently in the middle of a North American tour, has been in perpetual spotlight this year: The band has already released a documentary feature, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and published a coffee table book tiled So What! The Good, the Mad, and the Ugly. Vinyl Box, distributed by Elektra/Rhino Vinyl, will be limited to 5,000 numbered copies and will carry a suggested retail price of $99.98.
TV director Petrie dies
Emmy Award-winning television and film director Daniel Petrie Sr., who also made such motion pictures as A Raisin in the Sun and Fort Apache the Bronx, died of cancer Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. He was 83. Petrie, who earned his Emmys for the TV miniseries Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years in 1976, also earned television's Peabody Award in 1977 for Sybil, starring Sally Field. Petrie is survived by his wife of 57 years, TV producer Dorothea Petrie, and their four children--screenwriter Dan Petrie Jr., director Donald Petrie, actress Mary Petrie, and producer June Petrie. The family has asked that memorial donations be sent to the American Film Institute or the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.