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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Fahrenheit heats up box office
Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 broke single-day box office records at the two New York theaters where it played Wednesday, Reuters reports. The movie, which criticizes President Bush and the war in Iraq, sold $49,000 worth of tickets at the Loew's Village 7 theater, beating the venue's single-day record of $43,435 held by 1997's Men in Black, according to distributors Lions Gate Films and IFC Films, while at the Lincoln Plaza theater, Fahrenheit took in more than $30,000 to top the $24,013 set by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Lions Gate Films said the company debuted the movie in the two theaters to help build good word-of-mouth ahead its wider debut June 25 in 868 theaters.
And on to more record-breakers...
Bill Clinton's My Life sold more than 400,000 copies in the United States on in its first day of release, the most ever for a nonfiction book and double the believed previous record holder, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History, The Associated Press reports. Clinton's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, announced an additional printing of 725,000 copies, bringing the total to 2.25 million. Clinton's book has also topped the Amazon.com best-seller list in the United States, England, France and Japan, AP reports. Still, the record holder for the most books sold on one day belongs to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the Harry Potter installments, which sold an estimated 5 million copies on its opening day last year.
Crystal hits Great White Way
Billy Crystal is bringing his autobiographical one-man show, 700 Sundays, to Broadway in November, AP reports. The play marks the comedian first extended return to live performing in 16 years, in which Crystal portrays numerous characters drawn from his childhood, his teen years and adulthood. The title relates to Crystal's father, Jack, a jazz concert producer who died when the comic was just 15. "It's not a concert, but there are elements of that. It's deeply personal and liberating at the same time," Crystal explained to AP. "I've never been as excited about anything since I starting working in this play. It's been such a great energy at this point in my life, to be able to bring the show to New York."
Walters thinks today's journalists should follow upBarbara Walters criticized the current state of political reporting, Reuters reports. When asked whether journalists go too lightly on politicians, Walters, who steps down as ABC's 20/20 co-anchor in September, said, "No, I think journalists are tougher on politicians," she said. "One thing they don't do enough is the follow-up question." The veteran newswoman known for her in-depth interviews with celebrities, said she's looking forward to doing specials and reporting on people that she finds interesting once she leaves 20/20. "Even with the hideousness of the other parts of the world, we still seem to be in the throes of (celebrity culture)," she said. "People would still like to see Paris Hilton rather than Paris, France."
Celebs, musicians line up to raise money for John Kerry
Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal, Neil Diamond, Dave Matthews, Whoopi Goldberg and others are lending their support in raising money for Democratic candidate John Kerry, Reuters reports, by putting on two gala concerts on both U.S. coasts. A Los Angeles concert on Thursday, and a concert in New York on July 8 are expecting to raise about $10 million. Ticket prices range from $250 to $25,000 a seat. The two shows are the biggest political outings by the Democratic entertainment set since early 2003 when actors and musicians joined forces in opposition to the imminent U.S.-led war on Iraq, Reuters reports.
Playgirl magazine searches for sexiest TV newscaster
Anderson Cooper we could understand, but Andy Rooney? The 85-year-old 60 Minutes commentator is among the candidates on Playgirl magazine's online ballot for sexiest TV newscaster. "We're looking for all the elements that make the perfect guy--intelligence, personality and good looks," Playgirl's editor in chief Michelle Zipp told the AP Wednesday. "We know that 'handsome' is really in the eye of the beholder. We're anxious to see what the outcome will be." Among the 18 men on the ballot are CNN's Bill Hemmer, MSNBC's Lester Holt, Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith, ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS's Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw. The winner will be announced in September and profiled--fully clothed--in Playgirl's October issue. The magazine will make a contribution to a charity of the winner's choice.
Tommy Lee denies being forced out of Bellagio gig
So what exactly happened at the Bellagio's Light nightclub in Las Vegas on Sunday night? It depends on whom you choose to believe. Former Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, who was at the club for a disc jockey gig, claims he walked off 30 minutes into the Father's Day party because the management was asking him to play top 40 hip-hop songs. But the club's director of marketing, Sean Christie, is spinning a different tune. "He was playing lousy music," Christie told the Las Vegas Sun in Tuesday's edition. "We told him to wrap up his set and make a graceful exit. When he refused, we said we would just pull the plug on him, which is what we ended up doing." Christie added the club was bothered that Lee kept ordering $800 bottles of Cristal champagne and didn't pay for them, something Lee's publicist denied. Christie said he'd welcome Lee back if the 41-year-old drummer cleaned up his act, but added, "dealing with him was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had in this business."
Times they are a-changin' for Bob Dylan
Musical icon Bob Dylan was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by the University of St Andrews in Scotland Wednesday. Dylan, whose hits include Like a Rolling Stone and Mr. Tambourine Man, has only accepted one other honorary degree, from Princeton University in 1970. Dressed in a black academic gown, the 63-year-old rock legend arrived 50 minutes into the 90-minute ceremony and did not address the audience of 180 graduating students and their relatives. According to the AP, Dylan sat motionless, sometimes yawning, and showed no reaction as a university choir performed a version of his early classic, Blowin' in the Wind-- but his presence brought a strong dose of star power to Britain's third-oldest university.
Korn singer sued over serial killer museum
A collector of criminal artifacts filed a $4 million lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court on against Korn frontman Jonathan Davis after the singer announced plans for a museum of American serial killers. According to court papers obtained by Reuters Wednesday, Arthur Rosenblatt claims Davis, a former mortuary science student, approached him in June 2001 about his collection of "Americana," which included a Volkswagen once owned by serial killer Ted Bundy. Rosenblatt said when he told Davis of his plan to open a museum of criminal artifacts, the singer offered him $250,000 to fund the museum, which Rosenblatt suggested be named the "Museum of Justice & Odditorium." Rosenblatt alleges Davis and other partners never provided any money and that his life was threatened on various occasions.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.