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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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MTV is airing a marathon of the The Real World this weekend. Not the crap that's kept you entertained while the Kardashians were on hiatus over this last decade, the REAL Real World. Like, New York, San Francisco, and original Las Vegas, Real World. (In the Real World canon, the last is known as "the downfall" season.) And since there is obviously nothing more important than re-living hijinks of Real Worlds past, we've decided to explore the depths of the Interwebs for a particular RW staple: The Meltdown.
Now, what truly makes a meltdown a Meltdown (with a capital M)? Is it some je ne sais quoi, or are there benchmarks that separate a true MD from lesser fare like "fist fight," "panic attack," and "drunken sob-fest?" According to our expert team of researchers, a true Meltdown should contain at least two of the following properties:
1. The threat to leave one's home for greener pastures.
2. Liberal useage of the word "b**tch."
3. An ugly cry.
4. Panicking over something trivial (like mail).
5. An arrest.
Using these benchmarks, we've isolated the following as the best and brightest meltdowns in Real World's sordid history. You stupid b**ch.
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1. Miami Dan set the stage for great things to come when he completely lost whatever s**t he had over, LITERALLY, an accidentally opened envelope.
2. Brooke LaBarbera of Denver fame made it clear that you should never f**king speak to her that way again when castmate Jenn called her a whole.
3. Rachel Moyal from Austin "went there" when she A, got drunk, B, threatened to go home, and C (appallingly) told her housemate that she hoped he would get shot up in the street one day. This, from an Iraq vet!
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4. Jemmye Carroll of NOLA Part Deux got drunk, got naked, and later wandered outside the house and got lost.
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5. Warning: This isn't funny. Stephen Williams and Irene McGee from Seattle both flipped out and hurled nasty insults at each other before she ultimately went home, but when Williams threw her childhood teddy bear off the pier then literally slapped her, he made Real World history in the worst way possible.
6. Paula Meronek from the Key West season opened the door for discussions on MTV's responsibility re: the mental health of its "stars." She was NUTS.
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7. "Puck" and Pedro Zamora's fights were so intense, it caused the former to become the second Real World-er to be evicted. There would be many more.
8. Decades later, Dave Edwards exposing Tami Roman is still not funny.
9. A decision-making meltdown caused San Diego's Brad Fiorenza and Robin Hibbard to get arrested on THE SAME NIGHT. In two separate locations. Wondeful.
10. Hawaii's Ruthie Alcaide became The Real World's AA poster child — for good reason. Thankfully, she is now sober.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[Photo Credit: MTV]
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