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 little golden men have been carried away by the lucky winners. The rented jewelry is being returned. Quentin Tarantino is high-fiving himself in a mirror somewhere. Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic are weeping because E! has to put aside its 360 Glam Cam until Emmy time. And Captain Kirk is now safely back in the 23rd century. But, like the bad taste that lingers from host Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song, many questions about the 2013 Academy Awards remain. We consider it a public service to answer 10 of the biggest for you.
1. Who Was Snubbed During the In Memoriam Segment? While more than ever the Academy discouraged applause during the depressing annual segment honoring the film industry notables who’ve died in the past year—hence the lack of a true Applause-o-Meter this time around—we were crying foul about a few notable omissions from the weepy montage. Gee, pa, where was Andy Griffith? Before he played Sheriff Andy Taylor on his long-running sitcom, the Georgia native burned bright in Elia Kazan’s A Face on the Crowd (1957), as a rube turned demagogue, and showed the comic timing he’d later display on the tube in the charming military laugher No Time for Sergeants (1958). Not to mention his latter-day turn as a lovable diner patron in 2007’s Waitress. Not cool, Academy.
Less surprising omissions included Larry Hagman and Phyllis Diller, who, despite making movies, are most strongly associated with TV. The same goes for Richard Dawson, the Family Feud host who played the villain in 1987’s The Running Man. More egregious were the absences of Ann Rutherford, who played one of Scarlett O’Hara’s sisters in Gone With the Wind, Our Gang star Jack Hanlon, and Snakes on a Plane director David R. Ellis.
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The Academy should consider itself lucky that they included Sans Soleil director Chris Marker, or we would have lost it.
2. Did Samuel L. Jackson skip over part of the teleprompter’s banter when presenting Best Visual Effects? It’s hard to tell if it was teleprompter problems or the awkwardness of having five Avengers stars presenting two awards—for Cinematography and Visual Effects—but Marvel’s Nick Fury got especially tripped up. After awkwardly getting through the cinematography award, Jackson jumped over most of the banter for Visual Effects just to announce the winner, while Robert Downey Jr. tried to stick to the script. Maybe Jackson was worried about getting played off with the Jaws theme—understandable considering his battle with sharks in Deep Blue Sea. Since no other presenters deviated from their sometimes lengthy scripts, despite the bloated runtime of the telecast, it seems Jackson made this decision without prompting from the producers.
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3. The sound editors for Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall both won in their category. How many previous ties have there been in Oscars history? There have been five previous tie winners, but none since the 1995 ceremony. In 1932, The Champ’s Wallace Beery and Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde’s Frederic March tied for Best Actor, because of a rule that allowed two people to share a prize if only one vote separated them. Beery received just one extra vote than March, so both took home statuettes. Under today’s rules, Beery would have been the sole winner.
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At the 1950 ceremony there was a tie in the Best Documentary Short Subject category, and in 1987 there was a tie for Documentary Feature with Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got and Down and Out in America scoring the same number of votes. In 1995, Best Live Action Short film was split between Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Trevor.
But the most famous Oscar tie of all occurred in 1969 when both Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand walked away with Best Actress for their roles in The Lion in Winter and Funny Girl, respectively.
4. Where did the 2013 ceremony rank among the all-time longest? Actually, not that high. At three hours and 35 minutes it was the longest telecast since…2010, when The Hurt Locker won best picture at the end of a three hour and 37 minute broadcast. That’s still well short of the longest Oscars ever, the four-hour 23-minute sprawl that was the 2002 Awards hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. The fastest ceremony ever? The 1956 fete that lasted only a brisk 90 minutes.
NEXT: What’s up with Seth MacFarlane’s dig at Entertainment Weekly? And just who is Steve Battaglio?
5. What is Seth MacFarlane’s beef with Entertainment Weekly magazine? At the end of his opening monologue, in which Captain Kirk’s intervention had repaired the timeline and prevented MacFarlane from being declared the “worst Oscar host of all time,” a new headline appeared onscreen that said “Best Oscars ever, says everyone except Entertainment Weekly.”
Why such a pointed dig? Well, it all goes back to April 9, 1999 when EW’s TV critic Ken Tucker published a review of Family Guy. He gave the new show a "D" and never warmed to it thereafter. In the 2005 direct-to-DVD movie Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, the baby breaks the neck of a reporter the moment he learns he’s from Entertainment Weekly. Perhaps I should consider myself lucky then that I emerged with my hide after interviewing MacFarlane in 2011 for EW, after he hosted The Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump. His first words to me: “You’re from EW, huh? Have you fired Ken Tucker yet? Have you guys gotten rid of him yet?” Then on Jan. 13, 2013, he launched a Twitter war with Tucker, in which he said “Dear Ken Tucker and Entertainment Weekly: Please tell me how I may earn a review as glowing as the one you gave Urkel,” and linked to Tucker’s "A" review of Family Matters from 1990. Tucker tweeted back, “Easy: Just be as funny as Urkel once was.” Though the glossy magazine gave MacFarlane a major cover story just two weeks before the Oscars—not to mention that Tucker has left the publication—that faux headline during the ceremony shows he’s still holding a grudge.
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6. Who is Steve Battaglio? All of the fake headlines during that Captain Kirk segment were attributed to a writer named Steve Battaglio. No invention of MacFarlane’s feverish brain, Battaglio is actually the business editor at TV Guide Magazine, a publication for which MacFarlane seems to have greater affection than EW. TV Guide’s LA bureau chief Michael Schneider tweeted, “Seth MacFarlane picked @SteveBattaglio as the author of that nasty review as thanks - Steve was an early supporter of #FamilyGuy.”
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7. How Does Captain Kirk’s Appearance at the Oscars Fit Into or Disrupt J.J. Abrams’ Rebooted Star Trek Continuity? Along with the realization that this is the first time we’ve seen William Shatner in the captain’s chair since 1994’s Star Trek: Generations comes the sorry recognition that we have to refer to his version of the character as "Kirk Prime," since he fits into the old Trek continuity that was almost entirely erased by J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film. Unlike Chris Pine’s Kirk, Shatner’s didn’t lose his father at the moment of his birth but was raised in a loving two-parent family, meaning that he has so few psychological issues to unpack that he can risk time-traveling to 2013 just to prevent Seth MacFarlane from being deemed the all-time worst Oscar host. Wait…or maybe this means this version of the character has even more issues than Pine’s. Then again maybe by traveling back through time, Kirk Prime erased the alternate history of Abrams’ franchise, throwing the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness into a third timeline—like Fringe! None of this addresses, though, why MacFarlane didn’t warn Kirk that he will be crushed by a bridge. That’s one do-over we really want to see.
NEXT: Are the Malfoys now Oscar winners? Take our quiz!
8. Which barber-free Oscar winner/Malfoy relative is which? These three guys are Claudio Miranda (Best Cinematography, Life of Pi), Paul N.J. Ottosson (Best Sound Editing, Zero Dark Thirty), and Per Hallberg (Best Sound Editing, Skyfall), but not in that order in the photo above. Try to match them up, then find out which one is which in the answers at the bottom of this post.
9. Were the technical nominees playing musical chairs during the broadcast? It sure seemed that way, huh? Seats were designated along the sides of the Dolby Theatre in which to place the technical nominees (for Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Makeup, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Film Editing) a couple minutes before the presentation of each category. That way, there wouldn’t be such a long delay as the winners march up to the stage. A good idea as a time-saving measure. Too bad this show was still 20 minutes longer than those in 2011 and 2012.
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10. Is there precedent for someone from the White House crashing Hollywood’s biggest night? GOPers were crying foul on Twitter after Michelle Obama read the winner of Best Picture via satellite from the White House. They should note, though, that this is not the first time someone from Washington has been involved. Ronald Reagan recorded an address for the 1981 Oscar ceremony, shortly after taking office. And in 2002 Laura Bush also taped a segment for the first Academy Awards after 9/11.
What else about the Oscar ceremony left you scratching your head?
Answers to the Long-Haired Winners Quiz:
Oscar Victor on Left: Paul N. J. Ottosson, Sound Editor, Zero Dark Thirty
Oscar Victor in Center: Per Hallberg, Co-Sound Editor, Skyfall
Oscar Victor on Right: Claudio Miranda, Cinematographer, Life of Pi
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credits: Kevin Winter/Getty Images (3); Robyn Beck/Getty Images; Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images]
Oscars 2013 Special Coverage
Oscars 2013 Best Dressed: PICS!
• Anne Hathaway: Oscar’s Worst Dressed?• Seth MacFarlane’s Opening: How’d He Do?• Adele’s Performance Gets Mixed Reviews• 15 Oscar-Winning Nude Scenes• What Happened to Renee Zellweger's Face?• Oscars 2013: The Full Winners List• Why Kristen Stewart Was on Crutches
A comic winner set against the beginning of pro football in 1925 Leatherheads is first-class movie entertainment in the tradition of 1973’s The Sting. The script has been floating around for about 17 years developed by two Sports Illustrated writers (Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly). Right from the opening use of the old Universal logo director and star George Clooney plops us smack into the middle of the roaring ‘20s as Dodge Connolly quarterback and born leader who is trying to transition fans from far more popular college games into the free-for-all world of pro ball. In “Magnificent 7” style he pulls together a ragtag team of talented yet eccentric recruits but when things go wrong he is forced to enlist a star college athlete and World War I hero named Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) in order to boost attendance. Enter pretty Tribune newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) who suspects Rutherford’s story may be a tad too perfect to be true so she digs up the dirt on him while both he and Dodge battle for her affections off the field. It may have taken Clooney’s sensibility as a director to recognize he was the perfect choice to play Dodge Connolly a role originally meant for Mel Gibson. Clooney exudes movie star cool and carries Leatherheads on a carefree hilarious run from start to end zone. It’s no easy task since the script is basically an homage to the screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s. You know the ones where Cary Grant would square off against Rosalind Russell with lots of snappy rat-a-tat tat one-liners. This kind of mannered dialogue may be alien to today’s core young movie-going audience but Clooney and his co-star Zellweger manage to pull it off convincingly. Many contemporary actors would fall flat on their botoxed faces trying this stuff but not this pair. In fact Zellweger seems born to play this kind of career-oriented dame. Making up the other third of the triangle Krasinski (The Office )--as the boy who may not be as golden as he seems--holds his own and has a couple of choice moments particularly in a nicely choreographed fist fight with Clooney. There’s also fine support from several veteran actors including Jack Thompson as Littleton’s editor Peter Gerety as the Chicago football commissioner and especially Jonathan Pryce as Carter’s bottom line obsessed oily manager. The guys who make up the Bulldog team are all believable ball players even though none had suited up before--except standout Keith Loneker a gentle giant as ‘Big Gus.’ After Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and his Oscar-nominated work on Good Night And Good Luck it should be no state secret that Clooney knows his way around both sides of the camera. This is the first time however he’s directed AND played the leading role. He’s at total ease pulling off the tricky screwball comedy aspects with just enough restraint to make them play for modern audiences while making the mud bath football stuff exciting funny and credible. Considering the number of fine comic performances he got from his cast it’s clear his experience as an actor has paid off in that department. What’s really impressive is Leatherheads' look and feel with top notch cinematography production and costume design and editing. Randy Newman’s ragtime music recalls The Sting but it’s entirely appropriate and the musician even turns up in an onscreen cameo as a piano player. The film has been carefully crafted and the effort shows. Period pieces like this are hard to pull off successfully but Clooney and company succeed admirably.