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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Nell Carter, best known for her '80s sitcom Gimme a Break! as well as her illustrious stage career, died Thursday in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 54. The singer-actress, who suffered from diabetes, collapsed in her home and was found by one of her 13-year-old sons, spokesman Roger Lane told The Associated Press. Carter had also undergone brain surgery in 1992 to remove an aneurysm. Although most know Carter from her long-running TV series that ran from 1981-1987, Carter's first love was the stage, where she won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin' in 1978. Before her death, Carter was in rehearsals for a musical version of Raisin in the Sun called Raisin, scheduled to open next month in Long Beach, Calif.
Following in the footsteps of celebrity ex-couple Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Entertainment Weekly.com reports new parents Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick have filed a similar $15 million lawsuit against the cosmetics company Sephora for allegedly using their likenesses without consent for a Valentine's Day ad promotion in 2001 that featured several celebrity couples. The complaint states the couple wasn't even aware of the unauthorized use of their images until Kidman and Cruise filed their suit against Sephora last September.
Nicolas Cage's former security guard was convicted of stealing a $45,000 watch and two cases of rare Scotch from the actor, according to the TV show Celebrity Justice. The watch and all but one bottle were returned.
People.com reports actor Taye Diggs, 32, tied the knot Jan. 11 with longtime girlfriend, actress-singer Idina Menzel, 31, at the Round Hill resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It is the first marriage for both.
The Berlin International Film Festival announced their lineup Wednesday. The 22 films include the Chinese-German co-production Mang Jing (Blind Shaft) and Michael Winterbottom's In This World. Entries will compete for the festival's coveted Golden Bear award. The festival runs Feb. 6-16.
MGM and DreamWorks are coming together to do a remake of the 1968 comedy The Party, with Jay Roach (Austin Powers In Goldmember) set to direct. The original movie starred Peter Sellers about an accident-prone Indian actor who is mistakenly invited to an A-list Hollywood party and destroys everything in sight.
Variety reports Miramax Films acquired the distribution rights for the indie film The Station Agent, currently making a splash at the Sundance Film Festival. Peter Dinklage plays a dwarf who chooses a life of isolation and spends his time pursuing his passion for trains, but becomes drawn into the lives of two other loners played by Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is set to star in a remake of Walking Tall for MGM. The original 1973 story followed Buford Pusser (played by Joe Don Baker), a sheriff who rids his small Southern county of corruption mostly by using a two-by-four. The updated version will have The Rock returning from serving in the military to find his small town corrupted by drugs and violence. And yes, he'll also be using a formidable two-by-four to make his point.
Wheel of Fortune's likable host Pat Sajak is getting his own talk show. Called Pat Sajak Weekend, it'll premiere on the Fox News Channel starting in the spring, AP reports. "I enjoy exercising my interviewing muscles and I look forward to having the chance to do that every weekend," Sajak said in a statement.
The soundtrack to the new hit musical Chicago sailed to No. 4 on the album charts in its first week of release, breaking up the otherwise monotonous record sales so far this season. Chicago sold 83,000 units for the week ending Sunday, according to data issued by Nielsen Soundscan on Wednesday, Reuters reports.