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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Retired volleyball champion and model Gabrielle Reece has opened up about the state of her marriage to private surfing legend Laird Hamilton in a new book. The former U.S. Olympian has disclosed details about secretly filing for divorce from the big wave icon and getting back together with Hamilton in her tome My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper.
She says, "Laird trusts me and I think he knows that I tried to do this is good taste. He is private but he is very direct and open, so he's not hiding anything either... If you're gonna make a point then you have to be honest."
Reece also reveals she and Hamilton have a 48-hour sex rule: "We shoot for that; sometimes it ends up being three days... It doesn't take that long, first of all... Everything's smooth.
"All boys, let's be real... a man's language is food and sex... You could be like, 'Honey, I made a million dollars and I'm so smart,' and they do respect you, but I really think when it comes to a male dynamic, if he's not treating you like his sister or his daughter, there has to be intimacy."
And she urges women to make time for sex with their husbands no matter what they look like naked.
She writes, "You have to keep the man happy in your life... They don't care if you have cellulite or a jiggle; they just want you naked and smiling."
Jennifer Aniston has turned to her close-knit group of girl friends after allegedly calling off her marriage to boyfriend Vince Vaughn.
The actress is reportedly single again and is calling on best pals Courteney Cox Arquette, Sheryl Crow and volleyball star Gabrielle Reece to help her cope with another broken romance.
According to Life & Style magazine, Aniston staged a girls-only get together at Cox Arquette's Malibu, California, home on July 24 and has been referring to herself as "the new Jen" ever since.
Aniston and Vaughn never officially announced their engagement, but tabloids were rife with wedding plans.
The all-girl power meeting was a chance for Crow to officially thank her pals for helping her through her breast cancer battle.
In a recent interview, the rocker revealed that Cox Arquette and Aniston were among a small army of pals who stood by her as she faced her health crisis.
Crow revealed, "I had this incredible tribe of women just descend upon me and carry me through the whole experience on their backs."
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Gabrielle Union's publicist is calling for celebrities to boycott Los Angeles nightclub Mood, after the venue's owner allegedly cancelled the actress' birthday party when he discovered she was African-American.
The Bad Boys II beauty was set to celebrate her 33rd birthday with a star-studded bash at the top club this weekend, until Mood owner David Judaken allegedly realized he had mistaken Union for white beach volleyball player Gabrielle Reece.
On Friday, Union's publicist Holly Shankoor of BWR Public Relations sent an email around the publicity industry, urging a boycott of Mood.
Shakoor's email wrote, "You should all be aware of an incident that occurred with my client Gabrielle Union and the owner of Mood.
"Mood was going to host her birthday party. Once the owner found out she was African-American, he not only cancelled her party, but he proceeded to say that he 'didn't realize Gabrielle Union was black.'
"You can discourage your celeb clients from going (to Mood) and also doing any events (there)."
Shakoor quoted Judaken as saying, "I don't want (Union's) kind of people in my club."
In a statement to E! Online website, Judaken says, "All the statements written in her email are untrue. To say that this event was cancelled over race or creed is hurtful and slanderous."
Judaken is now considering legal action against Shakoor, declaring her email "has an immediate negative impact on my business."
Shakoor's bosses at BWR say their employee's email "by no means reflects our official position on this matter."
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