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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Taylor Swift may want to set her face to perpetual stun: the 22-year-old pop/country star just sold 1.2 million copies of her new album Red in its first week. It's a feat that hasn't been accomplished in 10 years, when Eminem moved 1.32 million copies of The Eminem Show back in 2002. "They just told me Red sold 1.2 million albums first week. How is this real life?! You are UNREAL. I love you so much. Thanks a million ;)," Swift tweeted in response to the news.
Among the various jaw-dropping statistics Billboard released about Swift's Red, which "sold two albums every second last week in the U.S." and "accounted for 19.3% of all albums sold in the U.S. last week," is that it holds that eighth-largest sales week for an album in SoundScan's history and is already the third biggest-selling album of 2012, behind Adele's record-breaking 21 (which has moved 4.1 million copies this year alone) and One Direction's Up All Night (1.3 million).
Still, there's one hurdle Swift wasn't able to get over. No, not finding the right boyfriend to settle down with, thus rendering the tabloid rumor mill and 90 percent of her songs ineffective. Rather, the chart-topper couldn't quite top the now-defunct boy band 'NSYNC. The pop quintet still holds the all-time record for debut week sales when their 2000 smash No Strings Attached moved 2.4 million copies.
While it's impossible for Swift to break that record now, that doesn't mean she can't have the same massive impact that 'NSYNC did post-No Strings Attached. Sure, she can't create a TRL-infused frenzy like they did (and, boy, don't you get the impression she and Carson Daly would have gotten along swimmingly?) but that doesn't mean she can't follow a similar model.
Here are five possible 'NSYNC-inspired paths Swift can take now that she, too, is a Billboard legend.
- Reinstate TRL to beat 'NSYNC's records on there. And Eminem's for that matter. If anyone can wield that power over MTV, it's Swift.
- Hit Broadway, baby. Both Joey Fatone and Lance Bass took on iconic roles in shows on the Great White Way, Rent and Hairspray, respectively. With teen-friendly Hollywood A-listers (Daniel Radcliffe) and pop stars (Nick Jonas) alike getting in on the act, it seems like a logical move for Swift and a way to prove to skeptics that she can put on a live show. She's just begging to be the lead in Annie, no?
- Randy Jackson would love to have her as a guest judge on America's Best Dance Crew, dawg. Just ask, JC Chasez. (Seriously, someone go check on JC Chasez.)
- Get a haircut to make yourself resemble a pineapple. Hey, it "worked" for Chris Kirkpatrick.
- Take over the pop culture industry as a whole. Open a restaurant, do a phenomenal job hosting Saturday Night Live and be asked to return repeatedly, give a brilliant supporting performance in an Oscar-winning drama (sorry, that means no more Valentine's Day), and splash your inevitable overblown nuptials all over the cover of People magazine. Of course, in turn, this means you will have to utterly ignore and reject the musical career and supporters that made you a superstar in the first place. Hey, it worked for Justin Timberlake.
Follow Aly Semigran on Twitter @AlySemigran
[Photo credits: WENN.com]
How to Properly Celebrate the Release of Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’
Taylor Swift's Dream of Becoming American Royalty is Dead
Taylor Swift's Perfect Man
From Our Partners:
Heidi Klum Cancels Her Annual Halloween Party Due to Superstorm Sandy
’Hunger Games’ Stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson Visit Haunted House for Halloween — PHOTOS
Sizemore in trouble with law again
Actor Tom Sizemore, who was convicted in 2003 of beating and threatening ex-girlfriend Heidi Fleiss, was arrested on Wednesday on felony charges of possession of a controlled substance, Reuters reports. Syndicated entertainment TV show Access Hollywood reported that parole officers were conducting random visits and discovered drug paraphernalia in Sizemore's Los Angeles home. It was not immediately clear what the drugs were. The actor was booked and bail was set at $10,000; he was released from custody Wednesday afternoon. Earlier this year, prosecutors accused Sizemore of a parole violation after a positive test for methamphetamine. His attorneys argued the positive test was due to a prescription drug.
George Clinton fesses up to drug charges
Meanwhile, in other celebrity drug-related news, funk musician George Clinton pleaded no contest Wednesday to two misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charges, The Associated Press reports. The musician was arrested in December sitting in a car near his Tallahassee, Fla., recording studio; police said when they approached, he volunteered that he had cocaine in his pocket. He was found with a bag of crack cocaine and a glass pipe, police said. Clinton, 63, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and two years of probation. He was also fined $372 in court costs.
Aguilera sued by photographer
Christina Aguilera and one of her bodyguards are being sued by a photographer who says the guard punched and spat on him after he took the singer's picture outside a Hollywood nightclub last year, AP reports. According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday, David Keeler was attacked after he photographed Aguilera leaving the club on May 21, 2003. After Aguilera and the bodyguard got into a car, Keeler said the guard told him he "needed to learn respect" and punched and spat on him. Aguilera's representative, Meghan Prophet, denied the incident. "Christina has no reason to believe that such an incident did occur, nor did she witness such an incident," Prophet said.
Fire wrecks Black Eyed Peas equipment
A fire broke out early Wednesday in a Los Angeles studio where the Black Eyed Peas were recording a new album, destroying about $500,000 in gear and instruments, authorities and band members told AP. The band members apparently lit candles during the recording session and forgot to blow them out, causing the 3 a.m. fire. The band said it was devastated by the loss. "Guitars, drums, drum kits, keyboards, microphones, classic instruments that we've collected with our worldly travels are now destroyed," band member Will I. Am told KABC-TV.
Beyonce, Usher put on fashion show
Beyonce, Rod Stewart and Usher are among the artists set to perform at Fashion Rocks, an event intended to celebrate the relationship between fashion and music, AP reports. The super-sized concert, which will also include Andre 3000 (just named Esquire magazine's best-dressed man), Avril Lavigne, Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys, will take place at New York's Radio City Music Hall Sept. 8, the start of New York Fashion Week, AP reports. The concert will air Sept. 26 as a two-hour primetime special on Fox.
Kinks founder recovering from stroke
Dave Davies, one of the founding members and lead guitarist of British rock group The Kinks, has been partially paralyzed by a stroke he suffered in June, his spokesman told AP. Spokesman Alan Robinson said Davies, 57, would have to spend at least another month in hospital, but that doctors were confident that with physiotherapy he would recover. "He is paralyzed on the right hand side of his body but he retains some feeling and he can still hold a guitar plectrum," Robinson said Monday. "These small things mean a hell of a lot. They're small but very important."
Simpson sister's debut album takes top spot
Buoyed by her hit MTV show, Ashlee Simpson's debut album, Autobiography, reclaimed the top spot on the U.S. pop albums chart Wednesday after a week at No. 2, Reuters reports. The 16th installment of the NOW That's What I Call Music! dropped to No. 2, while Jimmy Buffett's former chart-topper License To Chill climbed one place to No. 3. Usher's Confessions also rose one, to No. 4 with Gretchen Wilson's Here for the Party rounding out the top five.