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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If you are one of the few who actually watched the VMAs on TV, rather than in Youtube clips the next day, you might have noticed Lady Gaga's new song "Applause" in a Kia commercial. The commercial features the Kia hamsters working out to her song before arriving at the red carpet in the 2014 Kia Soul. It is cheesy and cute, words that rarely describe anything related to Lady Gaga.
Now, Gaga and her music have appeared in commercials before, most notably in a promotion for Google Chrome. But her style was in the forefront of this ad: it related to her overall image. Gaga is calculating. She never appears in everyday clothing. She is not "just like us." It seemed that she valued her artistic image over money, though that image did make her a lot of money. Why, then, did she let her song appear in this commercial, which seems almost in contradiction of the Gaga aesthetic?
Perhaps Gaga wants people to focus on her music, rather than the person behind it. "Applause" is a great pop song, and it shines in the Kia commercial. But Gaga has stayed true to her crazy image for so long, it seems unwise for her to waver now. Watch the commercial below.
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Who runs the world? If you're looking at last night's Super Bowl XLVII, than the answer seems to be girls, or more rightly, women.
From Beyoncé to Budweiser, the non-football elements of the biggest television event of the year were greatly driven by women and women's interests, making this year one for the ladies. A quick look at Monday's top Google searches, and it's clear that ladies are the ones dictating the discussion. Beyoncé, Super Bowl Commercials (many of which were clearly aimed at women), and the Puppy Bowl are all ranked higher than the game itself and retiring linebacker Ray Lewis. During the broadcast, Bey's halftime show generated 5.5 million tweets and the tweets-per-minute rate was almost double that of the game-making 49ers touchdown after the blackout and the final seconds of the game in which the Baltimore Ravens took the title. Even FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, got in on the action, tweeting, "Watching the #SuperBowl with family & friends. @Beyonce was phenomenal! I am so proud of her!" and signing it affectionately, "-mo." If you're looking at social media, it appears that the girl power-heavy halftime show was a bigger draw than the game itself.
RELATED: 47 Reasons Beyonce's Halftime Show Was Better Than the Game
But it wasn't just about Beyoncé. The game also opened with two other strong, talented women. Beyoncé's Dreamgirls co-star and vocal powerhouse Jennifer Hudson began the pre-game festivities with "America the Beautiul" and girl power figure Alicia Keys followed with a near-perfect "Star-Spangled Banner." It was clear that this year, more than ever before, the producers behind the Super Bowl were conscious of catering to both the usual beer-slinging, Taco-Bell-loving, he-men most ads and programming have catered to in years past and women. But why wouldn't they? According to most recent market research, women are the ones to aim for when it comes to marketing and social media.
According to Comscore, women account for the majority of social media users and are generally more engaged. Pontiflex adds that women on social media tend to be more influential than men. And when it comes to spending, Pontiflex also reports that women are responsible for 85 percent of household spending, and hold the majority of spending decisions in big Super Bowl advertising categories such as food, new cars, and personal computers.
With data like that, it should come as no surprise that some of the more beloved Super Bowl commercials are clearly marketed toward society's big spenders. Best Buy — a company that generally takes aim at men — enlisted lady hero Amy Poehler and her supposed love of Fifty Shades of Grey to sell its wares. Jeep sought the help of womankind's favorite lifestyle guru, Oprah Winfrey, as the voiceover for its emotional Super Bowl spot this year and Kia went for the cute, ooh-and-awww-inspiring story of Babylandia to entice its potential buyers. Where Budweiser usually goes for the rugged, All-American feel — showing us amber waves of grain and the strength of plodding Clydesdales — 2013 showed us the kinder, gentler side of America's favorite beer, giving us a love story between a man and the horse he raises from pony to steed, set appropriately to "Landslide." Even commercials that appeared to skew towards men, like Time Warner's Walking Dead-invades-your-home spot and Tide's miracle stain ad, end with the twist: Sorry, dudes, but women are the ones holding the reins. (Miracle stain guy is bested by his wife, who's rooting against his Ravens, and even Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead isn't too badass to heed mom's requests.) And that Calvin Klein ad, with a shiny, unbelievably buff model was definitely a little something for the ladies. While gross-out spots like Go Daddy's Bar Refaeli ad (which was offensive to nerds, people with ears, and living, breathing humans everywhere) and the borderline-rapey commercial for Gildan activewear, which featured a sneaky guy escaping after a one-night-stand, but not without trying to rip his t-shirt off his conquest first, the winning ads of the night were the feel-good, non-gender specific spots, and a few very-obviously female-skewing spots.
RELATED: Super Bowl XLVII's Best and Worst Ads
Yes, when the confetti fell on the Super Dome in New Orleans, it was for a team of sweaty dudes, but the night, overall, was a win for the ladies. Looking at the overnight ratings, which have been deemed the highest in history, made Super Bowl XLVII the biggest television event in the U.S., ever. The broadcast pulled in a 48.1 rating, which is equivalent to 114.7 million homes and 71 percent of the nation's televisions, and with the incessant chatter surrounding Beyoncé before (and long after) the halftime performance, it's hard to believe that the women who foretold that girls would run the world isn't at least partially to thank for the boost in viewership. UPDATE: The early numbers don't always match actual numbers and Super Bowl ratings were actually slightly down from years past, but interaction, especially during the halftime show, was still rather high and still rather focused on the lady of the five (plus) hour telecast.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: AP Images (2)]
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