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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Previous rumors that Jermane and Randy Jackson had refused to attend the Jackson 5 reunion for the Michael Jackson: 30 Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years can now be dismissed. All five brothers from the eponymous Jackson 5 music group have confirmed their attendance at the event.
After feuding for the last month with the show's producer, David Gest, over the ticket prices, the guest list and the lineups for the all-star events, Jermaine agreed on Friday to perform at the September 7 and 10 shows, to be held at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"Having been accused of not wanting to be a part of my brother's 30th anniversary concert for publicity reasons is not right," Jermaine Jackson said in a statement Friday. "My concern was that our loyal fans were not invited nor able to attend because of excessive prices," he told SonicNet.com.
A combined total of 40,000 tickets for the September 7 and 10 Michael Jackson celebration concerts--priced $45 to $2,500 per ticket--sold out just five hours after going on sale on July 31, Launch. com reported.
"I place my family above all else and I would like to perform with my brothers in spite of all that has gone on. I'm sorry that loyalty to my fans and family has been perceived as betrayal," Jermaine added.
The Jackson brothers convened in Los Angeles on Friday to begin rehearsing for the shows.
A complete list of confirmed special guests goes as follows:
Friday, September 7: Marc Anthony; Ray Charles; Deborah Cox; Destiny's Child; Gloria Estefan; Billy Gilman; Whitney Houston; James Ingram; Quincy Jones & the Legends of Jazz including Al Jarreau, Herbie Mann, Les McCann, David "Fathead" Newman, Jimmy Smith, Clark Terry & Cassandra Wilson; Liza Minnelli; Monica; Mya; *NSYNC; Jill Scott; Shaggy featuring Ricardo "Rikrok" Ducent & Rayvon; Britney Spears; Tamia; 3T; Usher.
Monday, September 10: Marc Anthony; Mary J. Blige; Deborah Cox; Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott; Gloria Gaynor; Al Jarreau; Gladys Knight; Lil' Romeo; Ricky Martin; Liza Minnelli; Monica; Mya; 98 Degrees; Jill Scott; Usher; Luther Vandross; Dionne Warwick.
In addition, stars from television, sports, movies, and the recording industry will honor Jackson during the concerts. Confirmed guests include: Marlon Brando; Elizabeth Taylor; Samuel L. Jackson; Willem Dafoe; William Shatner; Dr. Dre; Snoop Dogg; Yoko Ono; Sean Lennon; Jane Russell; Chris Tucker; Liam Neeson; Vanessa Redgrave; Franco Nero; Muhammad Ali; Kobe Bryant; Magic Johnson; Esther Williams; Gregory Peck; Jennifer Jones; Angie Dickinson; Master P; Robert Wagner; Jill St. John; Sir John Mills; Hayley Mills; Janet Leigh; Reggie Miller; Ann Miller; Jane Powell; Macaulay Culkin; Patricia Neal.
We respect that the Writers Guild of America awards are really important and prestigious and stuff, but what we really respect is that they make winning the office Oscar pool a heck of a lot easier.
"American Beauty" To whit: If you've got a chance to pick "American Beauty" for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar or "Election" for Best Adapted Screenplay, do it. Both films took top honors in their respective categories Sunday night at the 52nd Annual WGA awards, handed out at twin ceremonies in New York and Los Angeles.
The "Beauty" trophy went to scribe Alan Ball, the "Election" one to co-screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. All three men have the chance to repeat at the 72nd Annual Academy Awards on March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium.
"Election" In taking the best original screenplay prize, Ball defeated Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magonlia"), M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense"), David O. Russell ("Three Kings") and Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich"). All but Russell are up for the Oscar. (Mike Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy" is the Academy's wild card.)
The "Election" team downed screenplays for "The Insider," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "The Cider House Rules" and "October Sky." Again, all but one ("October Sky") are in competition come Oscar night. The only screenplay "Election" won't have gone head-to-head against is the one for "The Green Mile," the surprise Academy nominee.
The WGA Awards also honor TV. We'd tell you that HBO's "The Sopranos" and NBC's "Frasier" took top honors for drama and comedy series, respectively, but that wouldn't help you with your Oscar handicapping, now would it?
Maybe when the Emmys roll around, we'll send you a reminder.
In other award-show news from an award-show-filled weekend:
-- "ER" was named favorite TV drama and "Everybody Loves Raymond" favorite TV comedy at the 2nd Annual TV Guide Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. Other key winners: Martin Sheen, tapped Favorite Actor in a New Series for NBC's "The West Wing" and Amy Brenneman, honored as Favorite Actress in a New Series for CBS' "Judging Amy." Overall, hardware in a whopping 25 categories -- from Favorite Soap ("Days of Our Lives," NBC) to bestest pet (Eddie the dog from "Frasier") -- were handed out. Awards were voted on by regular ol' TV Guide readers, explaining why The Guy From "Jag" (David James Elliott) beat out Emmy favorites such as Dennis Franz ("NYPD Blue") for Best Drama Actor.
-- Hip-hop trio TLC hopped to it with two wins -- for best R&B group and best R&B/soul album ("Fanmail") at the 14th Annual Soul Train Music Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles. Mary J. Blige also took multiple honors -- for best R&B/soul album by a female solo artist ("Mary") and the Sammy Davis. Jr. Award for the top female entertainer of the year. Old-timers Whitney Houston and the Guy Who Used to Be Called Prince were singled out as artists of the just-wrapped decade.
-- "Being John Malkovich" has been deigned the Best Stoner Movie of 1999 by the high-minded folks at High Times, a magazine (and Web site) devoted to all things, um, medicinal. Other winners of High Times' first-ever Stony Awards include: Michelle Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Dan Hedaya for Best Pot Scene for "Dick," and Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes and Nathan Bexton for Best Tripping Scene for "Go." ("Go" also took best movie and best director honors. Sounds like an endorsement.) Oscar favorite Kevin Spacey was named best actor for lighting up in "American Beauty." Winners presumably were determined per the polling of a smoke-filled room. A very smoke-filled room.