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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What does it all mean?
Many of us don’t have time for such lofty philosophical teasers... because we are too busy watching a metric ton of movies. That being said (and questionable priorities notwithstanding) our beloved cinematic pastime is not without its own obscured connotations.
Film, like all artforms, is a conduit for the filmmaker to share various ideas and themes. These ideas needn’t always rest overtly on the surface, and one of the most rewarding aspects of being a film fan is digging deeper and discovering these underlying subtexts. The documentary Room 237, hitting theaters this week, explores the countless theories as to the hidden meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (is the movie a metaphor for the violence against Native Americans or a cover-up for the moon landing?). This inspired us to do a little excavating into some of the established metaphors underscoring our favorite classic films:
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High Noon— Communism Is Not a Red Herring
Citizen Kane— 99.9% Biopic
Often regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, if not the greatest, Citizen Kane is the story of a powerful newspaper magnate and the efforts to decode the significance of his final words. Though director/star Orson Welles swore his titular character is an amalgam of several different individuals, Citizen Kane is most certainly a parable of the life of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was among the most powerful men in America, founding the country’s largest newspaper and fundamentally changing the face of journalism. In the film, Kane’s home, Xanadu, is directly based on Hearst’s elaborate domiciles and the iconic last word “rosebud” was said to be a reference to Heart’s longtime mistress. In fact, there were so many direct nods to his life that rumor has it Hearst was absolutely enraged upon seeing the film; feeling his life’s story had been stolen.
On the surface, Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon could not be more straightforward. It centers on a small town lawman (Gary Cooper) who is about to retire, just as he gets married, when he is faced with the news that a dangerous criminal he put away is being released from jail and is heading back to town for revenge. Though set in the 19th century west, High Noon is actually a metaphor for the politics of the 1950s in which it was produced. Specifically, it is a reproach of McCarthyism and The Red Scare. Once the outlaw looms and our hero is “named,” all the otherwise good people begin cowardly abandoning their beloved lawman. The subtle finger-wag was clear enough that John Wayne initially criticized the film as being “un-American;” interesting choice of words considering High Noon takes aim at the House Un-American Activities Committee.
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High Noon— Communism Is Not a Red Herring
Invasion of the Body Snatchers— Fight the Little Green Man, Man
If High Noon figuratively rebukes The Red Scare, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, released just four years later, capitalizes on it. The plot of Don Siegel’s Body Snatchers involves giant plant pods from space that breed exact duplicates of the humans they encounter; the alien imposters eventually taking the place of the humans. To put it another way, a threat “from out there” comes into quaint, small-town America and assimilates its freethinking citizens into mindless drones. Need we say more? The swelter of paranoia over a possible communist takeover of the United States is the unspoken underscore of the movie. The ironic thing about this is that Kevin McCarthy plays the character that tries to warn everyone of the threat; it was Senator Joseph McCarthy who begot the aforementioned poisonous political practice that bears his name.
The Day the Earth Stood Still— Passion of the Klaatu
It’s no surprise that the latter half of this list is comprised of sci-fi titles. More than any other genre, science fiction tends to most artfully address the complex social issues of its day, even when disguised in fantastical trappings. 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still begins with a UFO landing in Washington DC, and the alien pilot informing the people that they must cease all warring ways or be destroyed for the good of the universe. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a fascinating case in that it features both Cold War subtext and a Christian allegory. The very title doubles as an apt descriptor for the nuclear stalemate in which America and The Soviet Union found itself post World War II. In the film, the Earth is forced to adopt a forced peace upon threat of destruction — sound familiar? In regard to the Christian symbolism at play, Klaatu comes to our world to save it, preaching a message of peace. He adopts the name Carpenter (Jesus’ occupation) while in hiding, and is even resurrected at one point in the film.
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Aliens— Mommie Dearest
James Cameron’s Aliens redefined expectations for sci-fi sequels. Heck, sequels in general. However, while we may have initially been mesmerized by the sheer bombastic entertainment value of Ripley’s second cinematic adventure, a far more meaningful story was lurking in the shadows. Aliens is an exploration of a woman’s complicated relationship with motherhood. Insemination and violent birth imagery are rampant throughout both Alien and Aliens, but it is in the sequel the Ripley must save Newt from the xenomorph queen in her nest of eggs; navigating a minefield of ova to save a surrogate daughter and having to literally confront the mother of an entire race of beings. This parallel is further enforced by a subplot, removed from the theatrical cut, about Ripley’s deceased daughter. The emotional and physical toll of motherhood upon women is therefore the symbolic core of this sci-fi actioner.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
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The popular show has garnered nods across the board including the coveted Best Musical category at the 66th annual prizegiving, which honours the best on Broadway.
Once will go up against Leap of Faith, Newsies and Nice Work If You Can Get It for the top prize.
Meanwhile Clybourne Park, Other Desert Cities, Peter and the Starcatcher and Venus in Fur will all compete for the Best Play accolade.
Hollywood star Phillip Seymour Hoffman is nominated in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play category for his part in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and he'll go head-to-head with John Lithgow (The Columnist), Frank Langella (Man and Boy), James Earl Jones (Gore Vidal's The Best Man) and James Corden (One Man, Two Guvnors) for the honour.
Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon is up for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play title for her turn in Wit but she'll face stiff competition from Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur), Tracie Bennett (End of the Rainbow), Stockard Channing (Other Desert Cities) and Linda Lavin (The Lyons).
Also landing mentions were new Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield for his feature role in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and David Alan Grier for his part in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.
The winners will be unveiled at the prizegiving ceremony, hosted by funnyman Neil Patrick Harris, on 10 June (12) at The Beacon Theatre in New York City.
The main list of nominees is as follows:
Other Desert Cities
Peter and the Starcatcher
Venus in Fur
Leap of Faith
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Best Book of a Musical:
Lysistrata Jones - Douglas Carter Beane
Newsies - Harvey Fierstein
Nice Work if You Can Get It - Joe Dipietro
Once - Enda Walsh
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre:
Bonnie & Clyde - Frank Wildhorn and Don Black
Newsies - Alan Menken and Jack Feldman
One Man, Two Guvnors - Grant Olding
Peter and the Starcatcher - Wayne Barker and Rick Elice
Best Revival of a Play:
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Gore Vidal's The Best Man
Best Revival of a Musical:
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Jesus Christ Superstar
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play:
James Corden - One Man, Two Guvnors
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
James Earl Jones - Gore Vidal's The Best Man
Frank Langella - Man and Boy
John Lithgow - The Columnist
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play:
Nina Arianda - Venus in Fur
Tracie Bennett - End of the Rainbow
Stockard Channing - Other Desert Cities
Linda Lavin - The Lyons
Cynthia Nixon - Wit
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical:
Danny Burstein - Follies
Jeremy Jordan - Newsies
Steve Kazee - Once
Norm Lewis - The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Ron Raines - Follies
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical:
Jan Maxwell - Follies
Audra McDonald - The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Cristin Milioti - Once
Kelli O'Hara - Nice Work If You Can Get It
Laura Osnes - Bonnie & Clyde
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play:
Christian Borle - Peter and the Starcatcher
Michael Cumpsty - End of the Rainbow
Tom Edden - One Man, Two Guvnors
Andrew Garfield - Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Jeremy Shamos - Clybourne Park
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play:
Linda Emond - Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Spencer Kayden - Don't Dress for Dinner
Celia Keenan-Bolger - Peter and the Starcatcher
Judith Light - Other Desert Cities
Condola Rashad - Stick Fly
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical:
Phillip Boykin - The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Michael Cerveris - Evita
David Alan Grier -The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Michael McGrath - Nice Work If You Can Get It
Josh Young - Jesus Christ Superstar
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical:
Elizabeth A. Davis - Once
Jayne Houdyshell - Follies
Judy Kaye - Nice Work if You Can Get It
Jessie Mueller - On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Da'Vine Joy Randolph - Ghost the Musical
Best Direction of a Play:
One Man, Two Guvnors - Nicholas Hytner
Clybourne Park - Pam MacKinnon
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman - Mike Nichols
Peter and the Starcatcher - Roger Rees and Alex Timbers
Best Direction of a Musical:
Newsies - Jeff Calhoun
Nice Work If You Can Get It - Kathleen Marshall
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess - Diane Paulus
Once - John Tiffany
Evita - Rob Ashford
Newsies - Christopher Gattelli
Once - Steven Hoggett
Nice Work If You Can Get It - Kathleen Marshall
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess - William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke
Nice Work If You Can Get It - Bill Elliott
Once - Martin Lowe
Newsies - Danny Troob.