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 Transformers moviemaker, famed for his action epics, will produce the big screen adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story through his The Institute production company.
The computer-generated characters in the 3D adventure will be designed by Joseph C. Pepe - the man behind the aliens in Avatar, according to movie website ComingSoon.net.
The movie is scheduled to begin production in Germany next year (11).
You know how we always joke about how hilarious it would be if Michael Bay (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Island) made this or that movie? You know, because it would just go so overboard on the CGI explosions and hackneyed dialogue? Well, it turns out that it's funnier when it isn't actually happening. Because the following news is just sort of sad and maybe a little distressing.
Yes, Michael Bay has indeed marked another classic story for Bay-ification. Are you ready?
Bay's ominously-named production company "The Institute" issued a press release today announcing their intent to develop a 3D, action-packed, CGI effect-driven interpretation of the classic Grimm Brothers' fairytale 'Hansel and Gretel.' BOOM!
Here's the official release: “Hansel and Gretel in 3D” is an action packed visual FX filled version of the classic Grimm Brothers’ fairytale. In addition to the infamous witch in the gingerbread house, the film showcases the legendary creatures of German mythology. These Teutonic beings will be designed by Joseph C. Pepe, the lead character designer from Avatar. The film is live action.
The movie is being produced by The Institute and Kalliope Films. The Institute was co-founded by Michael Bay and Scott Gardenhour. Kalliope Films was founded by Kira Madallo Sesay. The movie is scheduled for a spring 2011 shoot on location in Germany. Scott Gardenhour and Kira Madallo Sesay are the producers on the film. “Hansel and Gretel in 3D” exemplifies The Institute’s motto: “Where Brand Science Meets Great Storytelling.”
Was that last line designed to bring to mind some terrible capitalist dystopia? It sounds like Bay et al. just plugged a bunch of factors (profit, nostalgia, 3D, explosions, the expiration of intellectual property rights) into an algorithm, and out popped 'Hansel and Gretel.'
"Their unique model employs consumer engagement, marketing, production, financing, and distribution, resulting in marketing and entertainment products that correspond with consumer demand. No matter the length, medium, or format, The Institute generates innovative content to connect with consumers and audiences, create efficiencies, and, ultimately, drive profits." Hey, capitalism, right? I love movies that "create efficiencies." Those are the best.
The original Grimm Brothers' 'Hansel and Gretel' tells the story of two children who are abandoned in the woods by their mother and father, who feel there isn't enough food to feed the entire family. Though the siblings leave a trail of breadcrumbs on the ground so that they can find their way home, they are eaten by birds, and the two become lost in the forest. Eventually they come upon a house made of candy and gingerbread and other tasty treats, so of course there's got to be something amiss. And, lo and behold, a child-eating witch lives there, and traps them with the intention of eating them. Luckily, Gretel manages to shove the witch into the oven while she's basting Hansel with steak sauce or whatever, and the two cook the witch alive. Oh, and then they discover lots of gold coins lying around! This solves the whole "poverty" issue that led to their abandonment in the first place, so they head home, only to learn that their mother has died. The end.
On second thought, that's all quite dark and unpleasant. Maybe some 3D and a couple explosions (plus "the legendary creatures of German mythology") wouldn't hurt! Presumably Rosie Huntington-Whiteley will also be on hand to lean seductively over the oven.
Here's the teaser poster: