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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Somewhere in an addendum to the constitution, it is written that there is only one true conquest to find love in the great United States of America: starring on ABC's hit television series, The Bachelorette. And in this addendum, a list of characteristics defines America's greatest lover as the truest beauty of all (wo)mankind. She has patience; She creates desire; She's a world traveler; and, it's 99.9 percent guaranteed that she has already been rejected by one of ABC's own (like Sean Lowe or Ben Flajnik or even Jake Pavelka).
Yes, we're are clearly past the times of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Men no longer need to stand outside of a window to court their love. Now, all they have to do is sign up for reality television, get a handy STD test proving that they are clean, and jump in a limo as it delivers them to the front steps of The Bachelorette mansion alongside 24 other valiant men. And after all that, they have to fight to the death to hopefully win the hand of the fairest lady in America.
ABC will be announcing who America's fairest lady is Monday night — and here are the girls who are in the running for the gig. And by the way, trying to get the lead role in this show is quite comparable to running a political campaign to become the President, so we came up with the six possible contenders' campaigns for them.
Meet the Candidates:
Desiree Hartsock, (W) from the 17th District
Political Party: Fiancee PartyCampaign Slogan: It's time for me to pick out my wedding dress.Dating Philosophy: Love can be a roller coaster. But as long as I'm in the seat next to you, that's all that matters.Life Goals: To find someone who won't break my heart.Platform: "If you elect me the next Bachelorette, I promise to show you how a wedding really can be done... without David Tutera's help."
AshLee Frazier, (L) from the 17th District
Political Party: Contemptious PartyCampaign Slogan: I'm always the right one... for you.Dating Philosophy: "You can't put a price tag on love, but you can on all its accessories." - Melanie ClarkLife Goals: To adopt all of the orphans around the world and give them a loving home.Platform: "If you elect me the next Bachelorette, I will prove to you that age doesn't matter when it comes to falling in love (and starring as The Bachelorette)."
Lesley Murphy, (L) from the 17th District
Political Party: Kissing PartyCampaign Slogan: Kiss me!Dating Philosophy: Do your lips taste like sugar? Let me see.Life Goals: To find the one man I want to makeout with for the rest of my life. And to get a small role in House of Cards Season 2.Platform: "If you elect me the next Bachelorette, I will again beat the world record for the longest makeout session 25 times. Sorry, Sean."
Lindsay Yenter, (L) from the 17th District
Political Party: Army Wives PartyCampaign Slogan: Lindsay Strong.Dating Philosophy: I want you! to love me.Life Goals: Recruiting the most perfect husband that will settle down with me right at this very moment.Platform: "If you elect me to be the next Bachelorette, I will march on to find love."
Catherine Giudici, (L) from the 17th District
Political Party: Hippy PartyCampaign Slogan: My life. My love. Dating Philosophy: Friends first turns into lovers later.Life Goals: To marry my best friend.Platform: "If you name me the next Bachelorette, I will give you the most authentic show you have ever seen."
Ali Fedotowsky, (L) from the 14th District
Political Party: Bachelorette PartyCampaign Slogan: Love fits me comfortably.Dating Philosophy: The third time is always a charm.Life Goals: To design a line of wedding sneakers. Sorry, George Banks — yours sucked!Platform: "If you elect me the next Bachelorette, I will show you that fairytale endings do come true."
Who do you think will be the next Bachelorette?
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LDiMat.
[Photo Credit: FayesVision/WENN, ABC(5)]
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A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.