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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UPDATE: I just can't catch a break. Every time I finish writing something about the damn Scream 4 casting, Dimension Films goes and announces another addition to the already huge ensemble cast. Today's news: the delightful Alison Brie (of Community) and Mary McDonnell (the President on Battlestar Galactica) have signed on to the slasher horror. Brie will play Neve Campbell's ambitious personal assistant, who is envious of her boss's success. Mary McDonnell's role is still unknown, although it is possible she will be replacing Lauren Graham, whose publicist just confirmed the rumors that she has dropped out due to a scheduling conflict, most likely with the NBC series Parenthood.
Original Story: News continues to come off the set of Scream 4, which reunites horror director Wes Craven with Kevin Williamson, who wrote the original script for Scream (1996) and Scream 2 (1997). Last week we reported that Lake Bell, who had been cast as Deputy Judy Hicks, was leaving the project due to a scheduling conflict; it has been rumored (but not confirmed) that Lauren Graham will also have to be replaced. While we suggested Jennifer Connelly play the character, described as a "sexy but a bit off" high school friend of Sidney's (Neve Campbell), we learned today that the part has gone to Marley Shelton, who recently acted opposite Josh Brolin in Planet Terror.
Joining Shelton is Adam Brody of O.C. fame and Erik Knudsen (Youth in Revolt, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), who will fill two previously unrevealed roles. Brody will play a cop and recent college graduate whose training appears to be unduly influenced by the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation school of forensic science. Knudsen's role is that of the wisecracking movie buff, modeled after Jamie Kennedy's character 'Randy' in the first three Scream movies, whose knowledge of horror conventions and cliches is one source of the series' unique brand of meta-comic relief (I imagine the movie-within-a-movie slasher series 'Stab' will make a reappearance as well).
On a side note: whoever at Dimension Films had the bright idea to release this casting information so gradually, kudos to you for tricking people like me into building hype for your movie. It's working! With news trickling off the set at a deviously calculated rate, anticipation has never been higher for the fourth Scream, which sees the old guard (Campbell, Kennedy, Courteney Cox, David Arquette) making way for a new generation of slasher victims some ten years after Scream 3. While many of the original cast members will reprise their roles, they will be joined by a host of fresh faces, including Emma Roberts as Jill Kesler, Sidney's cousin and one of the film's heroines; Hayden Panettiere as Jill's best friend Kirby Reed, a cute film geek; Rory Culkin as Charlie Walker, Jill's maybe love interest; and Nico Tortorella as Trevor Sheldon, a handsome high school jock with a secret.
Who's wearing the 'ghostface' mask this time around? Probably not Adam Brody or Hayden Panettiere, but we'll have to wait until April 15th to find out for sure.
Source: Heatvision, /Film