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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When I first heard about This Means War, I was immediately intrigued. A film where Chris Pine AND Tom Hardy are competing against each other to win the love of Reese Witherspoon? What girl doesn't want a bunch of hot guys vying for her affection? And how do you pick between two of the hottest hunks in Hollywood (answer: you don't -- you take them both). That scenario got me thinking about all the other different pairings Reese has had throughout her extensive movie career, and I wondered what it would be like to pit some of her past leading men against each one another to see who might win her heart in the end, and why. It's not going to be an easy decision; the Oscar-winner has co-starred with some dreamy guys over the years, but as the great Pat Benatar once said: Love is a Battlefield -- and it's time to go to war.
Owen Wilson vs. Luke Wilson
Blood is supposed to be thicker than water, but when a girl is involved all bets are off. Owen and Reese worked together in the rom-com How Do You Know? and while the movie was mediocre at best, their chemistry was anything but. On the other hand, who could forget Luke Wilson playing the lovable lawyer (they do exist) Emmett in Legally Blonde. He was able to turn Elle Wood's attention away from the hunky Warner, so his brother would have some stiff competition on his hands. But after weighing the options, we think Owen would emerge victorious. Luke's definitely a decent guy, but his quieter demeanor would put him at a disadvantage. Girls like a guy with some initiative and Owen seems to be the more outgoing of the two.
Winner: Owen Wilson
Robert Pattinson vs. Ryan Phillippe
This is a tough one, as Rob and Ryan are probably two of the best-looking co-stars Reese has ever worked with. While her Cruel Intentions co-star could be seen as having a bit of an advantage given their off-screen history together, it's important to note that the relationship ended in divorce, so the odds aren't in his favor. And the last time I checked, RPatz has never had any trouble getting the girl he wants. However, I'm afraid the 10-year age difference between the Water For Elephants co-stars cannot be ignored (she's 35, he's 25). It's not the biggest age gap Hollywood has ever seen, but I don't think RPatz is mature enough to handle the type of relationship Reese would be looking for at this point in time. We're giving this round to the equally hunky father of her children, Mr. Ryan Phillppe.
Winner: Ryan Phillippe
Mark Ruffalo vs. Josh Lucas
The decisions just don't get any easier. We're now dealing with two completely sweet and adorable guys who starred opposite Reese in two sweet and adorable movies: Just Like Heaven and Sweet Home Alabama. Mark's got the whole boy-next-door thing going on, whereas Josh is a man's man -- lean and rugged. Plus, he's got the whole Southern charm thing working in his favor. When push came to shove, we sided with Mark. Why? Because Reese Ruffalo is just too cute a name to pass up. (Sorry, it was a really close call and didn't know how else to choose). If it came down to a duel I feel that Lucas would win, no contest. But it isn't just about a guy's physicality. It's about their dedication to and compatibility with Reese. And for that, Mark has the slight upper hand. His kiss in Just Like Heaven brought Reese's character back to life - that should definitely count for something!
Winner: Mark Ruffalo
Vince Vaughn vs. Joaquin Phoenix
This was also a difficult call to make, given that most girls love the funny guy AND the singer. So how do you choose? Ultimately, it came down to the chemistry. Though Vince and Reese shared some hilarious moments together in Four Christmases, I could never really buy them as a legitimate couple (still, it was absolutely adorable to see Reese's petite body next to Vince's towering figure). Joaquin, on the other hand, had a scorching connection with her in Walk the Line. These two managed to believably portray one of the most iconic couples of all time, June Carter and Johnny Cash. It's therefore safe to assume that they would also have fantastic chemistry off-screen as well. Now if only we could do something about that beard of his...
Winner: Joaquin Phoenix
Most of the independent movie theater owners in Quebec are refusing to book Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, Variety reports, because distributor 20th Century Fox is making demands that the owners consider unreasonable. Fox wants 70 percent of box office receipts for the first three weeks, rather than the usual first week, and is insisting the film stay in each theater's biggest hall for 12 weeks. Clones also comes out two weeks before the release of the French-language hit Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, which would force theaters to relegate this high-profile sequel to smaller theaters. Clones will open Thursday on only 86 screens across the province, but on almost none of the 363 independent screens.
Hollywood darling Gwyneth Paltrow has won strong praise for her performance at the British premiere of Proof Wednesday night, Sky News reports. Paltrow plays the daughter of a mad mathematical genius in her West End debut. Valentine Low of London's Evening Standard described the Oscar winner's performance as virtually flawless.
Actress Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda Hobbes on the HBO hit series Sex and the City, received a summons for allegedly blocking the sidewalk outside City Hall in New York on Tuesday while protesting budget cuts to schools, The Associated Press reports. Nixon and 11 other protestors were charged with disorderly conduct and will have to appear in court at a later date.
Worried about becoming the object of a media feeding frenzy, German model Claudia Schiffer and her boyfriend, film producer Matthew Vaughn, are keeping their wedding plans a secret. About the only thing known is that a Church of England official told Reuters that the couple had been granted a special license to marry in the eastern English county of Suffolk.
Arson has been ruled out as the cause of a fire that destroyed the summer home of Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton in Cape Cod, Mass., Launch.com reports. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blaze that gutted the house and a nearby barn that was near--but not part of--Hamilton's property.
Tina Wesson, the winner of Survivor: The Australian Outback, is lending her support to the Arthritis Foundation in hopes of helping the organization raise up to $250,000 and awareness for rheumatoid arthritis--a disease she has herself. One dollar will be donated for each person who registers through the Survive and Succeed campaign Web site.
R&B singer Tyrese is in talks to star in the sequel to last summer's hit The Fast and the Furious alongside Paul Walker.
Josh Hartnett has been cast in the action/adventure film Wish You Were Here, about four friends who try to smuggle a fortune out of Morocco, Variety reports. No director is attached to the project yet.
Sexy Beast star Ben Kingsley is in negotiations to star in Suspect Zero as an avenging former FBI agent dedicated to hunting down serial killers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film, which will be directed by E. Alias Merhige, goes into production in New Mexico in August.
Fox has decided to cancel the James Cameron sci-fi action series Dark Angel, Daily Variety reports. The network cited low ratings as the reason behind the cancellation. The show, which stars Jessica Alba, never transcended its cult status and ranked 125th among primetime series.
Fox dropped John Wayne Bobbitt from its scheduled Celebrity Boxing bout against Joey Buttafuoco after Bobbitt was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife, the AP reports. Bobbitt, who came to fame when his ex-wife cut off his penis in 1993, was replaced by former World Wrestling Federation star Joanie "Chyna" Laurer for the match.
The Osbourne Family Album will be released on June 11 by Epic Records and will feature a track by youngest daughter Kelly, a cover of Madonna's 1986 hit "Papa Don't Preach." The album will also feature Pat Boone's version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and John Lennon's "Imagine," Reuters reports.
This year's Black Entertainment Television Awards will honor boxer Muhammad Ali and R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire on June 25. Ali will receive BET's Humanitarian Award while Earth, Wind & Fire will get a Lifetime Achievement Award, the AP reports.
Actor-turned-publicist Ray Stricklyn died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a battle with chronic emphysema, the AP reports. He was 73. Stricklyn, who represented stars like Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor, starred in several feature films, including The Catered Affair and Ten North Frederick.