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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TV has one more Carl. ABC’s Revenge saw the birth of a brand new baby boy, son of the woman pretending to be Amanda Clarke and her baby-daddy, Jack Porter, and the glowing mother named her bundle of joy (the one that has dictated much of the direction of the season thus far)... (drumroll please)... Carl.
Now, revealing the tyke’s name the same night that The Walking Dead aired a new episode naturally begs some comparison. TV’s other noteworthy Carl is, of course, Rick Grimes’ ever-missing son on the AMC series. This season, Chandler Riggs’ controversial character has put his mischievousness to good use (even killing a handful of zombies himself), but considering the fans’ great anger over the Carl of Seasons 1 and 2 it makes us wonder why another Sunday night show would be so quick to christen another child with the same name. To solve the mystery, we look to a few other notable pop culture Carls to see what’s in a name:
Carl Winslow on Family Matters
He was Steve Urkel’s nemesis and sometimes father figure on Family Matters and a Chicago Police officer plagued by a love of donuts and a lack of physical fitness. The problem was that his constant exasperation was sometimes more obnoxious than Urkel himself.
Carl Points: -3
Carl Grimes on The Walking Dead
I’ve already defended little Carl, whose wayward ways are really his ineffective mother’s fault (let’s be honest, Lori is way worse than her son), but the buzz is bad. Season 3’s Carl 2.0 is working on turning that around, but it’s a tough sell. He’s still got some improving to do.
Carl Points: -5
Carl Carlson on The Simpsons
Carl, of the duo Lenny and Carl (Homer’s friends from the Nuclear Power Plant and Moe's Tavern), is a pretty cool dude. He’s an easy-going science wiz and also (apparently) one of the most attractive men in Springfield. Add to that his surprise Icelandic heritage, an element which rears its head sporadically (and often hilariously) and you’ve got a pretty cool Carl. Plus, he’s voiced by Hank Azaria, which gives him four automatic bonus points.
Carl Points: 6
Carl Brutananadilewski on Aqua Something You Know Whatever (the artist formerly known as Aqua Teen Hunger Force) Carl is kind of the worst, but that’s what makes him hilarious. He’s got a beer belly, a bald head, and his favorite outfit consists of blue sweatpants, flip flops, a white tank top, and a gold chain. He has hair on the bottom of his feet and is obsessed with... pleasing himself. This is not a good Carl. But, he does host his own totally awesome sports web series Carl’s Stone Cold Lock of the Century of the Week, which evens things out a bit. Carl Points: -1 Carl Spackler in Caddy Shack Bill Murray’s classic gopher-exterminator is already the best Carl on this list because he’s played by Bill Murray, but, if that’s not enough, let us recall how he helps the good guys win in the end by trying to nab the wiley gopher with a series of plastic explosives whose detonation knocks a golf ball into the hole, giving our hero the push he needs to win. And if that’s not enough, he’s got the power of infinite quotability. Here, we’ve got ourselves a quality Carl. Carl Points: 8 Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can FBI Agent Carl Hanratty spends most of the film chasing down the charismatic Frank Abignale Jr. and dangit if he isn’t a pain in his rear. But as the film progresses, we see that Frank and Carl have a mutual respect for one another, and an unorthodox, but real friendship. Plus, he’s played by the impossible-to-abhor Tom Hanks. Carl Points: 5 Carl Bernstein in All The President’s Men (and, you know, real life) This all-American hero helped uncover one of the greatest scandals in our nation’s history as the scrappy sidekick to Bob Woodward’s sleek, ivy league-educated reporter. And when Dustin Hoffman brought this reporter to the big screen, he went from legend to screen heartthrob (for some of us, OK?). Carl Points: 7 Carl Point Total: 17 Well, newest pop culture Carl, it would seem that you’re in better company than you might have thought. Perhaps your mother, while likely a little loopy after being in a coma after getting pushed off a balcony at her baby shower (that always happens!), wasn’t all that crazy after all. Welcome to the world, baby Carl. Just refrain from teasing any blood-thirsty zombies, growing a beer belly, or being generally stereotypical and obnoxious. Deal? Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler [Photo Credits: AMC; Orion Pictures] More: 'Revenge' Recap: Get Down To The Heart of the Matter 'Revenge' Recap: Mama Drama 'The Walking Dead' Recap: Walk With Me
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