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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For a group that's been fast and/or furious for well over a decade now, the Fast & Furious crew look pretty still and calm in their new poster. Of course, all they're saving all the absurd action for the trailer (cars taking down an airplane — sure why not!) but the poster for Fast & Furious 6 still provides pretty much everything you need to know about the latest installment of the franchise: the original gang is back (welcome back, Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Michelle Rodriguez), as well as some newcomers (welcome aboard, Gina Carano!), it's in an enviable location (London, baby), and there's cars (vrooom!).
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Hell, even the tag line ("All roads lead to this") is more dramatic than anything that's happened in any of these movies. But, really, the poster is kind of a perfect fit for the film, which hits theaters on May 24, because what you see, is what you get and if the box office for the past five has been any indication, moviegoers sure do like it. Time and time again. Check out the poster, which also features — among others — Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris all looking fastly and furiously indifferent.
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Top Story: Cage, Presley Officially End Marriage
Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley have made their divorce final, ending lengthy legal proceedings which outlasted the actual marriage itself, Reuters reports. Cage filed for divorce in November 2002 from Presley, after being married for only three months. According to an Extra report, citing court papers filed on Monday, the two "amicably resolved" their brief marriage, with neither receiving any kind of spousal support and each maintaining all assets acquired prior to their marriage. It was a third marriage for Presley, who was married to Michael Jackson for less than two years and who previously had two children with musician Danny Keogh. Cage was also previously married to actress Patricia Arquette.
Madonna Sidelines L.A. Concert
An ailing Material Girl had to cancel her second Los Angeles concert due to the stomach flu, Reuters reports. A statement posted on her Web site said Madonna was ordered to rest by her doctor but would be "back at 100 percent" by Wednesday. Madonna, 45, kicked off her Re-Invention tour in L.A. Monday night.
West Wing's Janney Gets Engaged
Emmy-winning actress Allison Janney, known as the sharp C.J. Cregg on NBC's The West Wing, is engaged to marry actor Richard Jenik, The Associated Press reports. The couple live in Los Angeles and have dated for two years, a spokesman for Janney said Wednesday. A wedding date has not be set as yet.
Charges Against Simmons Cleared
An assault charge against exercise guru Richard Simmons, who was accused of slapping a man at an airport, has been dropped, AP reports. Simmons, the outlandish 55-year-old known for his exercise videos, was accused of slapping a 6-foot-2, 250-pound traveler, who recognized Simmons in March at an Phoenix, Ariz., airport as they were waiting for a flight to Los Angeles and made an off-hand comment about Simmons' exercise videos, police said.
Marvel, Lions Gate Make Direct-to-DVD Pact
Marvel Enterprises Inc., which controls a library of more than 4,700 comic book characters, has chosen Lions Gate Entertainment to make at least eight direct-to-DVD animated features. Marvel and Lions Gate are expected develop eight 66-minute animated features for release on DVD beginning next year, focusing first on comic book characters such as Captain America, the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man. Per the agreement, Lions Gate will provide Marvel with licensing fees for character rights and fund all of the development, production, distribution and marketing for each title. According to Reuters, some Wall Street analysts predict this new line of animated home videos could sell as many as 1 million DVD units each.
MTV Names More Presenters for Movie Awards
More presenters have been announced for the 2004 MTV Movie Awards, which will be broadcast on the network June 10. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vin Diesel, Paris Hilton, Ice Cube, Ashton Kutcher, Matthew Perry, Queen Latifah and Marlon Wayans and Shawn Wayans have been added to the list of previously announced presenters Snoop Dogg, Dave Chappelle, Kirsten Dunst, Eve, Jimmy Fallon, Kate Hudson and Scarlett Johansson. Lindsay Lohan, the 17-year-old star of Mean Girls is set to host the show, with musical performances by D12, the Beastie Boys and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
CBS Ends TV Season on Top
CBS will finish the TV season--which officially ends today--as the nation's most popular network, the AP reports. According to Nielsen Media Research, CBS has averaged 13.1 million viewers this season--up 4 percent over last year. Fox's American Idol, however, was the favorite show of the season, averaging 25.8 million viewer, winning by a slim margin over CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which averaged 25.6 million viewers. And while NBC was down 5 percent among total viewers, the network proclaimed a season victory in the only demographic it worries about: the 18-to-49-year-old viewer. Fox was the nation's third-place network, second among 18-to-49-year-old viewers, while ABC followed in fourth place.
Just for Laughs Festival Announces Lineup
Wayne Brady, Caroline Rhea, Tim Allen, Tom Arnold and Jackie Mason are among the comics scheduled to perform at Montreal's 22nd Just for Laughs Festival, which runs July 15-25. Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green and Mila Kunis, the voices behind the animated show Family Guy, will do a live script reading of the show, which has become one of the biggest-selling TV DVDs. The festival will also host the world premiere of Evil Dead 1 & 2: The Musical, a comedy based on the director Sam Raimi's campy horror classics. New on this summer's roster is Late Nite Down Under, a spotlight on the funniest acts from Australia and New Zealand, including performances by Colin Hay of '80s pop band Men at Work, and the North American premiere of James Campbell's stand-up comedy for kids ages 5 and older.
Role Call: Harrison Ford Takes To Outer Space with Goodspeed
Harrison Ford is set to star in Godspeed, an outer space-set thriller being put together by James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainmen