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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Top Story: Prosecutor Suggests Michael Jackson May Flee U.S.
The prosecutor in Michael Jackson's child molestation case opposes reducing the pop star's $3 million bail out of concern he might flee the country, The Associated Press reports. Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon's office said Jackson's wealth requires at least the current bail, arguing the singer might choose to live out his life as "a wealthy absconder" rather than face a life term in a California prison. According to the motion filed by Deputy District Attorney Gerald McC. Franklin, there is concern Jackson might flee to a country that doesn't have an extradition agreement with the United States. "Mr. Jackson is known and adored--'adored' is not too strong a word--in many of the countries of Europe, the Near East and Africa," the motion said. "The defendant here is 'Michael Jackson, international celebrity,' a man whose lifestyle to date would not have prepared him to adapt readily to a prison environment and routine, and whose physical stature will present its own problems for him in making the necessary adjustments." In addition to child molestation, a grand jury indicted Jackson with a conspiracy count that alleged child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
Posh Stands By Her Man
Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham says in Marie Claire's July issue that she has faith in her husband, English soccer star David Beckham. "I know my David's never cheated on me," she said in the interview in response to allegations Beckham had affairs with his former personal assistant and a model. The Beckhams recently announced that Victoria--still known as Posh Spice to many fans of the 1990s girl band--and their two children would move to Spain to be with David, who left Manchester United to play for Real Madrid last year. She also denied rumors she stayed with David to make money from the 'Beckham brand.' "I couldn't live a lie and it would be unfair on our children," she said. "We are working on things together, but it is absolutely not a business arrangement."
Sean Combs Didn't Expect Tony Nod for Raisin
Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who is currently starring in the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, told Reuters in a recent telephone interview he isn't bothered being the only star in the production not to get a Tony Award nomination. "I didn't expect to get nominated. That was not my motivation. I'm very realistic as a person about life and how you have to pay your dues and about the level I'm at as an actor. I have my time for awards," Combs said, adding: "There's nothing that can compare to people laughing about you for something and then every night, standing room only." Initial ticket sales for A Raisin in the Sun broke the 1,078-seat Royale Theatre record and routinely sells out.
Combs Goes From B'way To Politics
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Helen Hunt Has Baby Girl
Mad About You star Helen Hunt gave birth to a daughter on May 13 in Beverly Hills, Calif., Reuters reports. The baby, named MaKena lei Gordon Carnahan, is the first child for Hunt and director Matthew Carnahan. The couple began dating in 2001. The 40-year-old actress and her baby are "doing very well," her publicist said Friday.
Kirk, Anne Douglas Renew Wedding Vows
Anne and Kirk Douglas renewed their wedding vows for the second time in 50 years Sunday before 300 guests in a traditional Jewish ceremony at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., the AP reports. Guests included former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Merv Griffin, Dan Aykroyd, Lauren Bacall, Tony Curtis, Vidal Sassoon and Anjelica Huston. Family members included the Douglas' son Peter and Kirk Douglas' son, producer Joel Douglas, from his first marriage. Actors Eric and Michael Douglas were unable to attend. A publicist for Kirk Douglas said Michael Douglas was with his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is currently filming in Europe.
24 Whittles Cast for Upcoming Season
The Counter Terrorism Unit on Fox's drama 24 is getting its pink slip. Sources tell Reuters the actors who play Jack Bauer's (Kiefer Sutherland) CTU colleagues have been informed that their options as series regulars will not be picked up for the upcoming fall season. That includes Reiko Aylesworth and James Badge Dale, who play CTU members Michelle Dessler and Chase Edmunds. The two could return could return next season for guest appearances, along with Carlos Bernard, Zachary Quinto and Daniel Dae Kim, who played CTU members on a recurring basis. Elisha Cuthbert, who plays Jack's daughter and CTU analyst Kimberly Bauer, is expected to return next season.
Death Row Must Pay for Man's Injuries
Death Row Records was ordered to pay more than $162,000 to a man who said label owner Marion "Suge" Knight and his bodyguards attacked him at a recording studio in 2001, the AP reports. A Superior Court jury ruled that although Knight, who was not in the studio during the altercation, was not personally liable for the fight, Death Row Records was responsible for the actions of his security guards. Dwayne H. Baudy said he went to Con Am Studios in November of 2001 to meet an independent rap producer when he and a friend got into a confrontation with Death Row's security chief, Reginald Wright Jr. Wright said Baudy and his friend brandished guns after they were barred