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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Tomorrow, American audiences will be reunited with one of their favorite movie duos of recent years: Harold Lee and Kumar Patel, returning to theaters for their third film installment, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. Although we'll be reunited with plenty of characters from the first two films, we'll also be meeting a few new ones, including Danny Trejo as Harold's very intimidating father-in-law, Mr. Perez. This got us thinking about a few other not-so-preferable in-laws from movies past: the manipulative, the violent, the absolutely no-holds-barred insane. We've compiled a list of a few of the most memorable in-laws we're all glad we don't have in our families.
Monster-in-Law: Charlotte Cantilini vs. Viola Fields
Fathers may look intimidating from a physical point of view, but it’s nothing compared to what the mothers can mentally bring to the table.
Charlotte has finally met the man of her dreams and is on her way to pure wedding bliss—until her fiancée’s mother tries to get in the way. Jane Fonda does an incredible job of portraying any wife’s worst nightmare: the controlling mother-in-law. Not wanting to be replaced as the number one woman in her son’s heart, Fonda’s character does everything in her power (from mind games to guilt trips) to stop the marriage from happening. It’s an in-law nightmare to the fullest extent, but then again no one ever said marriage was going to be easy, right? Future brides beware—there’s nothing more powerful than a mother’s pull over her son.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Ian Miller vs. The Entire Family
This movie focuses on a different kind of intimidation entirely in that it’s based off of sheer volume. While Toula is trying to come to terms with her heritage and cultural identity, her non-Greek fiancée, Ian, struggles to gain acceptance from her family…and I mean her entire family.
The title doesn’t lie, this family is huge, meaning there’s just so many of them it’s hard to keep them all straight. They’re loud, they’re opinionated, and they’re none too thrilled that Toula is going against tradition and marrying a man who isn’t Greek. Have you ever tried to convince a traditional family that one of their traditions isn’t that important? Not an easy feat, but if Ian ever wants to truly be considered a member of the family he needs to find a way to worm himself into their hearts and dinner tables (which are crowded enough to begin with). No pressure or anything. As the saying goes, you’re not marrying just one person – you’re marrying the entire family.
Armageddon: A.J. Frost vs. Harry Stamper
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Bruce Willis’ character walks around an oil rig, shooting at Ben Affleck’s character after finding out he’s been sleeping with his daughter. Talk about intimidation!
Bruce Willis himself already give
s off a “don’t mess with me” vibe, so adding a gun into the mix only further increases the fear factor. Now technically at this point these two characters aren’t related quite yet, but the father-in-law/son-in-law dynamic remains constant between these two characters throughout the entire duration of the film. It’s the usual dilemma many fathers eventually face: nobody is good enough to marry their little girl. And since both men are stubborn and natural born leaders, talking becomes a rather difficult task for the two of them (yelling doesn’t count). Granted, their relationship gets a little too extreme to be entirely believable (hopefully no guy has had their father-in-law use him for target practice), but the protective fatherly instincts are both understandable and relatable—just maybe not gun worthy.
Son-in-Law: Pauly Shore vs. the Entire Midwest
When Pauly Shore’s Crawl (that’s his name, not some kind of Bay Area rave dance) ventures to the rural Midwestern hometown of his college girlfriend, Rebecca Warner, he is not exactly the most welcome newcomer to the farmlands. Crawl is rude, idiotic, sex-starved, infantile, selfish and unwilling to adapt to the modest and dignified lifestyle of the townspeople. Mr. and Mrs. Warner alike are both threatened and disgusted by their houseguest, and can’t stomach the idea of him producing a grandchild with their only daughter.
And who can blame them. When their small town values get tossed asunder by this ineloquent tourist, it’s mystifying that they don’t run him out of town with an angry mob. But then again, he does teach them the latest slang. Where would the Warners be without “grubbage” in their vocabulary?
The Birdcage: The Goldman Family vs. Sen. Kevin Kealy
There’s bound to be one intolerant member in every family. But when Val Goldman, son of prominent gay nightclub owners Armand and Albert, becomes engaged to the daughter of an openly homophobic United States Senator…that’s pushing the limits. Devoted to making their son happy, Armand and Albert pretend to be something they are not in order to appease the bigoted senator at a family dinner and win his approval of Val for his daughter. However, it’s not long before the charade is blown, and the true, despicable feelings are let loose.
Before Kealy came along, Val and his fathers cherished their blissful, loving family unit. It was only when the menacing figure stepped into their lives that Val did profess any shame for the sort of parents he had. Now that's an intimidating in-law. It doesn’t take long for him to realize what truly matters, however. The senator may be an intimidating menace, but he’s no match for the Goldman family’s love.
The In-Laws: Sheldon Kornpett vs. Vincent Ricardo
Most troublesome in-law situations deal directly with at least one of the parties involved in the new marriage. The classic comedy film The In-Laws, however, illustrates the trouble that can occur between the extended families—specifically, the respective fathers of the bride and groom. Now, getting along with an in-law might be a troublesome feat in a normal circumstance. But when one is a supposed government operative who drags you along on his death-defying schemes? That’s none too easy to get past.
Sheldon Kornpett is a mild-mannered dentist whose life gets twisted out of shape when his daughter marries the son of Vincent Ricardo, a secret agent without much of a regard for his or Sheldon’s life. In the days surrounding the wedding, Ricardo ropes Sheldon into some high-risk globetrotting adventures—none of which Sheldon, a simple dentist, ever signed up for. Sure, it makes for interesting wedding toast material, but a maniacal action-hero (or antihero) like Vincent Ricardo is not exactly the sort of man you want coming over for family dinners every other weekend.
Meet the Parents: Greg Focker vs. Jack Byrnes
The mother of all father-in-laws is Jack Byrnes, the possessive, untrusting retired CIA agent who makes one simple weekend (and two very profitable sequels) hell for his daughter’s boyfriend/husband, Greg Focker. Most potential in-laws stick to passive-aggressive hostility, or roundabout manipulation to make the whole idea of courting their family members an unbearable experience. Jack Byrnes’ endeavors in this field are a tour de force. He employs verbal intimidation, threats, actual physical violence, and a vast array of high tech spy equipment—not excluding polygraph machines.
And what is perhaps the worst thing about Jack? He never seems to take a liking to Greg. Sure, each movie ends with him swallowing his pride and giving his poor victim a pat on the back…but things are right back to the way they began come Act I of the next movie. Let’s just hope, for Greg Focker’s sake, that he won’t be suffering through any fourquels or fivequels…otherwise, that marriage might be on thin ice.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Prince vs. The Evil Queen
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most intimidating in-law of them all? Even Disney stories can’t catch a break with the in-laws. The pressure pretty much doubles when you’re dealing with royal families since so much is at stake and they don’t want their children partnering up with someone that could ruin their kingdom (I assume since I can’t really speak from experience). But this relationship was doomed to be fraught with intimidation.
It’s really hard to really establish a bond with your mother-in-law when she keeps trying to kill your wife. It just tends to put a damper on things, even in the animated world. The Evil Queen makes all other in-laws look like a walk in the park. Granted, she was a step-mother, but that still counts since she was basically the only family Snow White had left. It’s your basic hero-villain dynamic, so they never really stood much of a chance of making nice with one another and you can forget about any family dinners (especially anything with apples).