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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Jazz musician Ben Tucker has been killed in a car crash in Georgia. The 82 year old was driving a golf cart across a road on Hutchinson Island in Savannah on Tuesday (04Jun13) when a car slammed into him at high speed. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The other driver, a 52-year-old man from Texas, has been charged with racing, vehicular homicide and reckless driving, according to Savannah-Chatham County police spokesman Julian Miller.
An accomplished upright bass player, Tucker performed with the likes of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lee, and played an impressive instrument he named Bertha and claimed was 240 years old.
Tucker also penned a number of jazz records, most notably the track Comin' Home Baby!, co-written with jazz vocalist Bob Dorough, which has been recorded by Mel Torme, Herbie Mann and, more recently, Michael Buble.
Jazz guitarist Howard Paul paid tribute to his longtime friend saying, "One of the most interesting things about playing with Ben was he was so beloved by so many people in Savannah who had met him at his club or whose weddings he had played. You could count on being interrupted at least three times in a song because Savannahians (sic) would walk up and shake his hand while we were playing."
"He was on the music scene for so many years and performed with many of the greatest names in jazz, yet he spent so much time with local musicians and children as well. I think he grew up in an era of jazz musicians where they felt obligated to give back."
Sift through comments on franchise sequel announcements and you'll find many crying afoul to Hollywood's insistence of resurfacing every last brand in their bank of titles. The desire for original content is reasonable but occasionally a cinematic follow-up does have the potential to be rich and rewarding. Revisiting characters who've seen time pass in their own lives is worthy of exploration — Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville Richard Linklater's Before Sunset and even A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas prove that theory. American Reunion reaches for that same dramatic arc reentering the lives of its core cast eight years after American Wedding. But instead of mixing comedy with any weighty issues the movie only tickles the nostalgia bone (and without f**king one pie in the process) — a hurdle that keeps American Reunion from being nearly as riotous as the original.
Life hits a wall for Jim (Jason Biggs) in 2012. He's a happily married man a father and a moderately successful employee of a faceless company. But after catching his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) enjoying the company of a shower head it dawns on Jim that he's in need of a shake-up. Perfect timing: Jim packs up the family and heads to his hometown for his 13th high school reunion (sure why not) where he reunites with the old gang: Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) currently whipped into submission by his girlfriend Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) back from a trip around the world Oz (Chris Klein) now a superstar sportscaster fresh off a celebrity dance show stint and Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) a law firm temp who continues to turn women into his own personal squeeze toys. The high school buddies devolve quickly into their old habits alcoholic antics and potty-mouthed rants by the red solo cupful. Good fun for Jim no fun for Michelle.
Instead of digging deep into its well-founded characters (which I swear is allowed in a raunchy R-rated comedy) American Reunion sticks to the familiar goofball scenarios of its predecessors. Which is passable because the core group who stuck through all three movies — Biggs Nicholas Thomas and Scott — make poop-infused pranks and slapstick shtick like a scene in which Jim and co. must get a drunken naked eighteen-year-old back into her parents' house without looking like total creepsters highly entertaining. Scott once again proves him an underused comedic talent making Stifler one of the few characters who can rattle off colorful cuss words while showing a glimmer of humanity. Same goes for Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad who finds his role beefed up now that he's once again single. Grieving for years over his wife's death Jim helps his advice-dealing pop hit the dating scene and Levy spins gold out of the silliest of situations.
The problem with American Reunion is everyone else. Chris Klein never clicks with the rest of the group (that's what he gets for skipping out on Jim's wedding) while the rest of the ensemble feel ham-fisted for cameo purposes rather than complimenting the storyline. Tara Reid and Mena Suvari return to the franchise to stand around and react to the ineptitude of their male counterparts. Natasha Lyonne is in and out faster than Jim's first time. Other brief character appearances are like bigfoot sightings. The idea of bringing the entire cast of the original back for more seems perfect but without proper pacing from writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) there's never a moment to enjoy it.
American Reunion is a flaccid entry servicing fans while coming through with enough laugh out loud moments to make one scream (In one scene Jim takes a page out of Michael Fassbender's Shame that will elicit audible reactions). If these were fresh characters we'd brush it off — but at the film's core is a lovable familiar bunch of knuckleheads that can't be ignored. And if Stifler wants to party you party.
As the under-18 female world continues to mourn the loss of bachelorhood for Backstreet Boys (and cousins) Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell, we've hunted down who we think are their blond, lucky fiancées, or as Backstreet fans know them, The Witches Who Stole Our Future Husbands.
Richardson and Willits Richardson, 28, is engaged to Kristin Willits, a dancer for Cher, says USA Today. The two met in a Disney World cafeteria when Richardson was working as a Ninja Turtle and have been dating off and on for seven years.
As for 24-year-old Littrell, we say his betrothed is longtime girlfriend Leighanne Wallace, a budding actress whose credits include "Wild America," "My Fellow Americans" and two Backstreet videos. She has a few Web sites of her own out there (whether they're hateful or supportive sites is another story). She's 30, which already puts her two decades ahead of most Backstreet fans and as far as they're concerned, dangerously close to Michael Douglas cradle-robbing territory.
Spurned fans, meanwhile, are pouring their hearts out on chat boards across the world, some slamming the Backstreet fiancées as "Yoko Onos" (how do prepubescents even know that reference?) and warning that the group "probably won't be number one or number two on [MTV's 'Total Request Live'] I'll tell you that." Others, who say they have met Wallace, call her everything from "really sweet" to "trash." On MTV Online, another fan wrote: "Now they're just throwing us away like a piece of trash."
Leighanne Wallace But others, bless their hearts, take comfort in knowing the other three Boys -- young blond heartthrob Nick Carter, tattooed, follicularly challenged A.J. McLean and bearded, ponytailed Howie Dorough -- are still single, and their Meaty Cheesy-inspiring music lives on. But one fan dared to speculate, "With all this negativity looming around with those who are obviously fair-weather fans, I wonder what will happen when ANY of the guys from 'N Sync become engaged."
Okay, now that's not funny.
THE BIRTH ACCORDING TO TRAVOLTA: John Travolta's about to become a father again, and reveals that he and wife Kelly Preston plan to introduce the unborn child to Scientology right out of the womb. According to "Entertainment Tonight" and the New York Daily News, Travolta, 45, says Preston, who is eight months along, will have a "quiet birth."
"We do the traditional French Lamaze, but in Dianetics [the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard], you try and keep the delivery room quiet so there's nothing recorded in the child's mind that shouldn't be there while there's pain going on," Travolta explains.
It's not completely quiet, though. Preston, 37, is allowed to moan in pain -- thank goodness -- but "any people saying any kind of negative verbiage may adversely affect the baby later on," says Travolta. Does this mean no discussing around the kid why Travolta agreed to star in "Michael"?
AGE MADE HIM DO IT: Film critic Rex Reed has been working to lift the negative reviews he's gotten since his shoplifting arrest last week. In a column for the Feb. 21 edition of the New York Observer, Reed, 61, claims a "senior moment" caused him to take three CDs from a Manhattan Tower Records store. When he was caught with the compact discs (by Mel Torme, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae) in his pocket, he offered to pay by credit card, "or the $500 in cash I had in my wallet," but was rejected. "I don't consider myself guilty of anything but careless stupidity," Reed says.
But all is not lost. Reed got a call from Lee's press agent, who said the pop-jazz legend "was so thrilled I wanted one of her CDs enough to put myself through so much hell that she was sending me an entire collection. I hope none of the songs is 'My Funny Valentine.' "
MUSIC BEAT: Carlos Santana, closing in on his likely Grammy sweep on Wednesday, retook the top spot on Billboard's album chart this week. "Supernatural" was followed by: Dr. Dre's "Dr. Dre 2001" and Celine Dion's "All the Way: A Decade of Song," which each moved up one spot. D'Angelo's "Voodoo," which held at No. 1 for two weeks, slipped to No. 4, and Christina Aguilera's self-titled debut stuck to No. 5.
The Top Five singles in the country are as follows: "I Knew I Loved You," Savage Garden; "Thank God I Found You," Mariah Carey featuring Joe and 98 Degrees; "Amazed," Lonestar; "What a Girl Wants," Christina Aguilera; and "Breathe," Faith Hill.
QUICK TAKES: A court has dismissed a bid by the undercover Los Angeles policeman who arrested George Michael in a public restroom in 1998 to sue the British pop star for $10 million on the grounds of emotional distress. Marcelo Rodriguez claimed emotional and mental distress and slander after Michael released the music video for "Outside" shortly after his arrest. The video was shot partly in a lavatory and features two policemen kissing. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed the case on Monday, saying Rodriguez was a public official and could not under law recover damages for alleged emotional distress ...
... "As the World Turns" star Michael Park, who plays Jack Snyder, and wife Laurie welcomed 7-pound daughter Kathleen Rose into the world Monday in New York ...
... Universal Studios president Ron Meyer threw an engagement/baby party for Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones last weekend, according to the New York Daily News. Sean Connery and Danny DeVito were among those in attendance ....
... So Leo and Brad won't be there, but you can always count on Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator himself has been tapped as a presenter for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards. Same goes for "Austin Powers" groovester Mike Myers. Look for both dudes at the big show, happening March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium.
... After playing God (literally) in "Dogma," rocker Alanis Morissette will make her Broadway debut in "The Vagina Monologues" March 21-April 2 at Los Angeles' Westside Theater, says Variety. Morissette filled in for Calista Flockhart Wednesday night in Los Angeles for a V-Day 2000 benefit performance.