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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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
NYPD Racial Profiling?
Monday Night Football
Comments made about
the Welsh by Anne Robinson, host of the new NBC game show The Weakest Link,
have not been deemed racist by Britain's Broadcasting Standards Commission, according
to the BBC News. By calling the Welsh "irritating and annoying," however, Robinson
"came close to the boundaries of acceptability," the BSC said.
Protests exploded when
Robinson called the Welsh one of her pet hates on the BBC show Room 101.
"I've never taken to them.
What are they for?" she reportedly said.
Parliament, Welsh MPs and
North Wales police criticized Robinson for inciting racial hatred.
The BSC ruled that "neither
the overall content nor the style of this programme was racist."
Robinson has since made
amends with the Welsh community by giving free services to a Welsh Tourist Board
Easter publicity campaign. She wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the message "Wales
Open for Easter."
Diddy in trouble again
After his months-long trial
on bribery and gun possession charges, of which he was acquitted, rapper Sean
Combs cannot seem to stay out of court.
He was pulled over Saturday
night for allegedly making an illegal lane change while driving a scooter along
Miami Beach's Ocean Drive. Police charged Combs
with driving without a suspended license. He had to sign "a promise to appear"
form for a court date, the police told Reuters. The date has yet to be set.
This was after he had been
stopped Tuesday for allegedly speeding in Golden Beach, Fla., where he was carrying
a suspended New York driver's license. Police did not arrest Combs
because he said he did not know he had a suspended license.
license had been suspended in February because of failure to pay a parking fine,
according to the Miami Herald.
told Miami Beach police that he thought his New York attorney had straightened
out his license problem.
"Because of the holiday
weekend, paperwork that was processed in New York regarding the license had yet
to reach the national system," Natalie Moar, Combs' spokeswoman, told the Miami
denies NYPD is gunning for rappers
Mayor Rudolph Guiliani
dismissed claims that the New York Police Department is looking to nail rappers
such as Jay-Z, who was arrested last week on a weapons charge after leaving a
"The NYPD targets people
who illegally possess [and use] guns, and they target people who kill each other.
They criminally profile. Every bit of evidence suggests that…Here's a way not
to get in trouble with the NYPD: Don't shoot anybody, don't rob anybody, don't
rape anybody and don't carry guns illegally." Guiliani told NYPost.com.
Police, who arrested Jay-Z
and three members of his crew early Friday, said they found a loaded Glock 23
.40-caliber semiautomatic handgun in Jay-Z's Chevy Suburban. They were released
Friday afternoon after their arraignment.
Jay-Z and his camp later
insinuated that the police may be "profiling" rappers - watching or pulling them
over to try and get some illegal activity, NYPost.com reported.
Knight happy to get out
Multimillionaire rap mogul
Marion "Suge" Knight will be released from prison this week after serving five
years of a nine-year sentence on assault-related charges.
"The first thing that I'm
gonna do when I get out of here is take an hour-long bath. I'm sick of showers,"
Knight, the co-founder of the rap label Death Row, told The Associated Press.
"Then, I'm going to get
me a double cheeseburger and some chili-cheese fries. I've been thinking about
them…for five years."
He is scheduled to spend
up to two months in a halfway house or work-release program and should be free
and clear by midsummer.
Knight produced several
platinum records by the late rap star Tupac
Shakur, whose just-released Until the End of the Time hit No. 1 its
first week in stores.
talks to the experts
A conference call between
the popular song-swapping Web site Napster and a court-appointed technical expert
was held Friday to resolve disputes over the injunction against Napster in the
trading of copyrighted songs on the service.
Reuters reported that both
sides declined comment and that the U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ordered
the transcript of the call sealed.
Robert Frackman, attorney
for the recording industry, told Reuters on Thursday that the conference call
was to "set the protocol and parameters for the technical expert going forward."
Napster had come under
fire after the March 5 injunction, with the court complaining that it was not
working quickly and successfully enough to stop the trading of copyrighted songs
completely, as ordered.
Napster said it is doing
the best it could to comply but blamed record labels for not identifying songs
to be blocked in total compliance. Judge Patel hoped the call with the technical
expert would help Napster to understand alternatives available to them.
Alec Guinness' secret
Apparently, one of Britain's
best-loved actors, Sir Alec Guinness, was bisexual according to three new biographies
due out next year, the BBC News reported.
The actor, who died last
year at 86, was charged with a homosexual act in a public restroom in 1946, right
before he was to play his debut film role in Great Expectations.
Guinness was able to keep
it out of the press. Had the news been widely spread, it would have certainly
stifled a career that was just starting out.
His bisexuality was known
by his family and friends, according Garry O'Connor, whose biography is due out
"He escaped into his acting
and the church as comfort ... [it gave] him much needed security from the demons
of his sexuality" O'Connor told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper.
Guinness received a knighthood
in 1960. He had one child with his wife, Merula.
Wars" on display
The 34-foot Naboo starfighter
model used in the making of the 1999 film Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom
Menace will be on display from April 28 through June 24 at the Arts and Industries
Building of the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibit also will include an interactive
kiosk, showing the creative process of creating the starfighter and the film in
Records closes shop
Giant Records, the Nashville
record label home to the Wilkinsons and bluegrass great Johnny
Staats, has packed up and called it a day.
Current clients, including Clay
McCoy and Georgia
Middleman, will move to the Nashville office of Warner Bros., Music Row
magazine reported. About 15 Giant employees lost their jobs.
receive input from politicos
Leaders of the Writers
Guild of America aren't afraid of a little political interaction.
According to a report by
the Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan sat down Thursday
with top honchos from the to discuss what measures might be taken to avoid a writers'
The WGA met Friday with
California's director of the department of industrial relations Steve Smith to
talk about the potential work stoppage.
A study that quantifies
the negative fiscal impact of the looming writers' strike will likely be released
this week by Riordan's office.
"The mayor was great. He's
leaving office soon, but he is not overlooking his responsibility to the city
of Los Angeles," WGA spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden told the Hollywood Reporter.
Talks between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers
have been stalled since March 1, but are scheduled to resume Tuesday. The current
agreement between the WGA and the AMPTA expires May 1.
producer loses his wings
Peters, producer of such box office hits as A Star Is Born, Caddyshack,
Batman, and The Witches of Eastwick, has lost his lucrative production
deal with the Warner Bros. Studio, Variety reports.
Currently producing Columbia
Pictures' Ali, starring Will
Smith and Jon Voight,
Peters' arrangement with Warner Bros. quietly ended on March 6. Peters
will continue to develop projects for Warners, including remakes of Superman,
A Star Is Born, and Around the World in 80 Days.
Peters' career as a producer
began in 1976 with the Barbra
Streisand vehicle, A Star Is Born. Peters,
partnered with Peter Guber,
produced Batman, The Witches of Eastwick, and Vision Quest
for Warner Bros.
and Guber tried to buy out MGM in 1988 and ran Sony Pictures from 1989 to 1994, but returned to Warner Bros. after each failed foray.
ratings gain, NBC's profits fall in Q1
The nation's economic slowdown
has reached the high-flying world of network television.
Despite being the top-rated
network, NBC's parent unit General Electric said Thursday that profits during
the first quarter of 2001 were $48 million less than the same quarter in 2000,
dropping from $394 million to $346 million. Revenues remained relatively stable
at $1.35 billion for the quarter.
According to Variety, NBC
has for the fourth straight year won the sweeps for the key demographic, adults
18-49. NBC has the five most popular comedies on telelvision (Friends,
Will & Grace, Just Shoot Me, Frasier, and The Weber Show),
the highest-rated drama (ER) and the newsmagazine that most people watch
In GE's report, NBC claimed
to be the only network with ratings growth over 2000.
Night Football" schedule remains rigid
ABC isn't complaining.
ABC, host of Monday
Night Football, will air three games featuring reigning Super Bowl Champion
Baltimore Ravens three times during the 2001-02 NFL season. The New York Giants
(NFC Champions), the Minnesota Vikings (AFC Central Champions) and the St. Louis
Rams (Super Bowl XXXIV Champs) also will each play three Monday night games. Three
times is the maximum number that a team can appear on Monday night in one season.
ABC had hoped for a more
flexible approach to the schedule, whereby the network could choose the matchup
in the waning weeks of the season, according to Variety. This would have
allowed ABC to choose games with playoff implications to keep ratings high.
While ABC wasn't granted
that option, it did receive ratings relief, with permission to broadcast the final
two games on their slate on Saturday night. The last two Monday nights of the
season fall out on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when TV ratings traditionally
ABC also will broadcast
two wild-card games on Jan 3 and the Pro Bowl on Feb. 3.
*NSync frontman's hoop dreams If his girlfriend can do it, why not Justin? In the wake of girlfriend Britney Spears' success as an author (A Mother's Gift, co-written by Spears' mom), *NSync singer Justin Timberlake has signed a reported seven-figure deal with Ballantine Books to pen his own novel, according to Rolling Stone Magazine.
With the working title Crossover Dribble, Timberlake's tome centers around
a professional basketball star, Jason Windriver, trying to take his team to the
championship. Ballantine hasn't released any other details. There's no set date for the release of Timberlake's novel, according to the report.