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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
The Jacqueline Susann biopic "Isn't She Great" comes to life this week with Bette Midler as the famed author.
Also opening wide this week is the Ewan McGregor-Ashley Judd psychological suspense thriller, "Eye of the Beholder."
Here's a list of all the films opening this week.
"Kestrel's Eye" (First Run) -- Directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Kristersson, this documentary chronicles the lives of a family of kestrels nesting in the tower of an old church. (Limited release)
"The Big Tease" (Warner Bros.) -- Scotsman Craig Ferguson plans to make his country proud when he is invited to the international hairdressing contest. He flies to Los Angeles only to discover that he is attending the event as an observer. (Limited release)
"The Cup" (Fine Line) -- The Bhutanese film follows two boys who are sent to a monastery in the foothills of the Himalayas. As they assimilate to the monastic life, one thing keeps intruding on their routine -- how can they get to watch the World Cup Finals? (Limited release)
"Eye of the Beholder" (Destination) -- Ewan McGregor stars as a British intelligence agent who is on a mission to shadow a murderous blackmailer played by Ashley Judd. (Wide release)
"Isn't She Great" (Universal) -- The real-life story depicting the vibrant, flamboyant and sometimes outrageous life of author Jacqueline Susann, who came to fame in the 1960s with the success of "The Valley of the Dolls." Bette Midler stakes the title role. (Wide release)
"Grizzly Falls" (Providence) -- When hunters capture her cubs, a grizzly bear retaliates by kidnapping the young son of a trapper portrayed by Bryan Brown. Rather than doing the boy any harm, the bear instead becomes his guide to the wilderness. Oliver Tobias, Daniel Clark and Richard Harris co-star. (Limited release)
"Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr." (Lions Gate) -- The subject of this portrait is the infamous Fred A. Leuchter Jr. -- the erstwhile engineer of death-row technology who disclaimed in 1988 the occurrence of the Holocaust. (Expanded release)
"Rear Window" (USA) -- Jimmy Stewart plays the housebound magazine photographer whose voyeuristic pastime unwittingly unravels a murder in the apartment facing his rear window. (Expanded release)
"Restaurant" (Palisades) -- At the center of a group of aspiring artists who make up the staff of a trendy Hoboken, N.J., restaurant is a longtime bartender played by Adrien Brody, a debuting playwright who is coping with the end of a recent romance. (Limited release)
"Stella Does Tricks" (Strand) -- Stella, a 15-year-old Glaswegian girl working as a prostitute in London, heads back to Glasgow with her new boyfriend and attempts to start a new life. However, she soon discovers the difficulty to break free of the cycle of abuse she has become trapped in. (Limited release)
"Topsy-Turvy" (USA) -- Directed by Mike Leigh, the film chronicles the bumpy collaboration of the writer-composer team Gilbert and Sullivan. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner co-star. (Expanded release)
It was the biggest wedding in the world this month, and People magazine is saying that someone has finally spilled the beans.
People says it has got all the ins and outs of what went down at the Madonna and Guy Ritchie matrimonial bash on Dec. 22 at Skibo Castle in Dornoch, Scotland, in its new issue coming out next week.
No elaborate photo spread (a la the Michael Douglas - Catherine Zeta-Jones nuptials) will be available, but according to an USA Today report, the following will be discussed in People:
-- How all guests took their seats shortly after 6:30 p.m. Scotland time.
-- How Madonna's 4-year-old daughter Lourdes led the processional.
-- How Paul McCartney scion Stella McCartney -- and not Gwyneth Paltrow -- was the maid of honor.
-- How the groom and bride were dressed.
-- How (gasp!) the couple exchanged mismatched rings.
-- How Madonna's very good friend Rosie O'Donnell wasn't able to make the wedding.
Now you can go back to sleep.
It's official: The Queen of Music has found her king.
Reuters reports today that superstar Madonna and her man Guy Ritchie will indeed get holy matrimonial -- as various tabloid reports have rumored in recent weeks -- at the Dornoch Cathedral in Scotland on Dec. 22.
So how, pray tell, did us the news people come across that confirmation?
Apparently, just by heading over to the Registrar's Office in Dornoch, Scotland, where the names of the "Music" maker and the "Snatch" helmer are posted on a roster of upcoming marriage licensees for all to see.
According to the report, Madonna, 42, might wear a gown by Stella McCartney while Ritchie, 32, would go the traditional route with a kilt. It is also said that Madonna's 4-year-old daughter Lourdes is expected to be a bridesmaid.
And only yesterday, the singer was reportedly spotted scoping out the wedding site in Scotland.
But despite these strong pieces of evidence, Madonna's camp has remained steadfastly mum on just about everything.
"We have no information and no comment," the siren's people told us this morning when we rang.
Madonna and her Guy met at a party thrown by Trudie Styler, wife of another mono-nominal singer, Sting, about two years ago and became inseparable a year after. The couple gave birth to a son, Rocco, in August.
Shortly thereafter, Madonna has been seen with a colossal diamond rock on her hand given to her by Ritchie.
This will be the first marriage for Ritchie and the first marriage for Madonna after her marriage to bad boy actor Sean Penn in 1989 that ended four years later in divorce.