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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Brosnan admits he was let go
Ex-James Bond Pierce Brosnan says he was basically let go from the lucrative franchise. According to an interview in the Toronto Sun, the 51-year-old Irish actor--in Nassau, Bahamas, promoting his upcoming film After the Sunset--said he was willing, even eager, to do a fifth and final Bond, adding that 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson had asked him to return. "And then one day the phone rang--I was here (in Nassau shooting After The Sunset)--and my agents told me that the goalposts had moved and that they had changed their minds." He added, "It was disappointing. It was surprising. And I accepted the knowledge (that his run as 007 was over for good) after 24 hours of being in shock." But Brosnan says he holds no resentment. "None, none, none! It's not worth having. If I did, it would make all the great decade, the four films, the lovely success, meaningless. Bitterness against whom and for what reason?"
The stars want you to vote
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of several celebrities who have made public service announcements encouraging young people to vote in the Nov. 2 election, The Associated Press reports. In his PSA, DiCaprio speaks about the environment, while Samuel L. Jackson discusses the possibility of a reinstated military draft, Justin Timberlake talks about education, and Benicio Del Toro encourages women to vote. The PSAs are set to go up on www.rockthevote.com next week. "We hope these PSAs help motivate young people to exercise their right to vote in this vital election," DiCaprio told AP.
Prince stirs it up again
Prince is getting more than a little heat over his new music video, "Cinnamon Girl," in which an Arab-American teen imagines herself as a suicide bomber, AP reports. The video features Keisha Castle-Hughes, the Oscar-nominated actress from the movie Whale Rider, playing a schoolgirl who witnesses a terrorist attack and then experiences racism from classmates and others. The racism pushes her to dream about carrying a bomb into an airport. The New York Post said it "might be the most tasteless video ever," Fox News commentator John Gibson suggested that Prince is "causing trouble," and CNN anchor Kyra Phillips said it is "shaking and rumbling the entertainment industry." The video's director, Phil Harder, told AP, "Prince intended for it to spark some dialogue," saying the lyrics show Prince is "sincere in wanting to speak to the times." He also emphasized that the video "resolves itself peacefully."
Bullock awarded $7 mil in real estate case
Actress Sandra Bullock was awarded $7 million Thursday in a lawsuit against the builder of her Texas dream house, Reuters reports. The Miss Congeniality star testified in the two-month long trial that she had paid $7 million for the 10,000-square-foot house on Lake Austin, but had never lived in it because of construction flaws, including water damage, a bad roof, wiring problems and holes in the masonry. Bullock, 40, was not in court because she went to Los Angeles to work on a new film, Reuters reports. Her father, John Bullock, told reporters the actress was pleased with the verdict, but had not decided what to do with the house.
O'Reilly vows to fight harassment charges
While promoting his children's book Thursday on Live with Regis and Kelly, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly vowed to fight sexual harassment charges by one of his producers, the AP reports. "If I have to go down, I'm willing to do it," O'Reilly said. "I'm going to take a stand. I'm a big mouth on the air and I'm a big mouth off the air." Trouble started Wednesday when O'Reilly filed a lawsuit accusing Andrea Mackris, an associate producer on The O'Reilly Factor, and her lawyer of seeking "hush money" during contract negotiations. Mackris, 33, filed her harassment claim against O'Reilly the next day. She alleges O'Reilly made a series of sexually explicit phone calls in which he advised her to use a vibrator, told her about sexual fantasies involving her and engaged in unwanted phone sex.
Jackson's trial will NOT be delayed
According to Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, the child molestation case against singer Michael Jackson will not be delayed beyond its Jan. 31 start date, Reuters reports. Melville issued his ultimatum as the two sides were still bickering over the exchange of evidence and claims from the defense that the prosecutors had engaged in misconduct before the grand jury. "I'm not interested in continuing this case beyond the trial date. That would be punishing me for your failure to comply with the rules," Melville said. "It's not in anybody's interest to prolong this litigation. I'm very serious about this." Melville postponed until November hearings on two key defense motions, one that would have Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon removed from the case and one that would lower Jackson's bail, AP reports.
Blake Judge Rules Taped Calls Irrelevant
A judge yesterday ruled two recorded phone calls--one between Bonny Lee Bakely and her future husband, Robert Blake, and the other involving her ex, Christian Brando--were immaterial to the Baretta star's case and would not be heard by jurors in the actors murder trial, the AP reports. In one call, Blake is heard urging Bakely to get an abortion and in the other, Brando suggests Bakely was lucky someone hadn't put a bullet in her head. Blake, 70, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Bakley, 44. The two were married months before her death and after DNA tests showed Blake, not Brando, was the father of her baby. "Certainly he had a right to be angry, just as Mr. Brando had a right to be angry at what she did. She used people, obviously," Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp said. Blake's trial is scheduled for Nov. 1.
Eminem launches channel on Sirius network
Eminem, who in July announced he planned to start a satellite music radio channel on the Sirius network, will launch the station Oct. 28 with a live broadcast of a concert from New York, Reuters reports. In a statement Thursday, Sirius said the new channel, Shade 45, will feature a full lineup of hip-hop music, stars and song mixers, and will have no filters or commercial restrictions. Sirius is a subscription-based network free from government restrictions on the content it airs. The pairing is an ideal one for Eminem, who has stirred controversy in the past with raps often construed as homophobic and misogynistic. Sirius also made headlines last week when it signed controversial shock jock Howard Stern to a five-year, $500 million contract to move his show from Infinity Broadcasting to satellite radio.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.
Elton John lambastes Madonna for miming songs
Elton John is rather outspoken these days. A few weeks after blasting the Taiwanese media for surprising him at the airport, John--while collecting a songwriting award from Q magazine in London--took a foul-mouthed swipe at Madonna, saying she cheated her fans by miming on stage, Reuters reports. When he discovered she had been nominated for Best Live Act, he responded, "Anyone who lip-synchs in public on stage when you pay 75 pounds ($134) to see them should be shot," referring to the ticket prices for Madonna's last concert tour. "Madonna, best f***ing live act? F*** off!" Yowch! He ended his outburst by saying: "That's me off her f***ing Christmas card list but do I give a toss? No." John's tirade prompted a swift response from Madonna's spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg, Reuters reports, who said in a statement: "Madonna does not lip-synch nor does she spend her time trashing other artists." The statement added, "Elton John remains on her Christmas card list whether he is nice…or naughty."
Jackson's defense want DA off case
Michael Jackson's lawyers filed a motion Monday, which was sealed, to remove the Santa Barbara County district attorney Tom Sneddon from the child molestation case against the singer, The Associated Press reports. The motion was one of several filed under seal by Jackson's attorney Robert Sanger, who said sealing the motion was necessary because "the content of the motion includes reference to details in under-seal material including discovery materials, grand jury transcripts, investigative reports, exhibits and identities of witnesses." Jackson's lawyers have claimed that District Attorney Tom Sneddon had a personal vendetta against the music star after failing to get charges filed against him in a 1993 allegation of child molestation.
Katey Sagal gets hitched
Katey Sagal, best known as Peg Bundy on Fox's Married…With Children and now starring in ABC's 8 Simple Rules, married Kurt Sutter, a writer for F/X's The Shield, Saturday in Los Angeles, AP reports. It was the third marriage for Sagal, who has a daughter and son from her 1993 marriage to actor Jack White.
George Harrison memorabilia stolen
Pictures of former Beatle George Harrison were stolen from his sister's car while she was donating memorabilia to the Clinton Presidential Library. Lou Harrison told the AP Monday someone shattered a window of her car and stole a briefcase, which contained photos of her and her brother, as well as lyrics to a number of his songs. Harrison had driven from her home in southern Illinois to donate memorabilia to the Little Rock, Ark., library, which is slated to open Nov. 18. "(The items are) precious to me obviously because I don't have my brother in person any more," she told Little Rock station KTHV-TV. Harrison, who had taken most of the items to the library when she discovered the break-in, asked for Beatles fans to help her recover the pictures. "Maybe they could keep an eye on the Internet," she said.
Zeta-Jones stalking trial can be televised
A judge Monday decided pretrial hearings for a woman accused of stalking Catherine Zeta-Jones could be televised--except when the proceedings involve witness testimony, AP reports. Judge David Mintz, however, did not rule on the motion filed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department asking cameras be barred from the trial itself because some witnesses are undercover detectives. Dawnette Knight, 33, is charged with one count of stalking and 24 counts of making criminal threats for allegedly sending threatening and violent letters to Zeta-Jones' husband, actor Michael Douglas. Attorneys for Zeta-Jones had filed a motion asking the court to bar cameras over concerns media coverage would taint the jury pool and encourage copycat crimes. The trial for Knight, who was arrested June 3 at her Beverly Hills home and is being held on $1 million bail, is scheduled to start Nov. 10. If convicted, she could face up to 19 years in prison.
The Donald takes crack at primetime scripted drama
Real estate magnate turned reality TV star Donald Trump is expected to serve as an executive producer on a scripted series, tentatively titled The Towers. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that Trump, who stars in and executive produces the hit NBC reality show The Apprentice, is in talks with the network for the primetime drama series that would be set in part at the Trump Tower, The Donald's posh skyscraper in Manhattan that also hosts The Apprentice contestants. According to The Reporter, Gay Walch, the writer/producer behind the WB's Summerland, is being eyed to pen the project.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.