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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Former Prison Break star Rockmond Dunbar is engaged to marry actress Maya Gilbert. The 40 year old proposed to Gilbert at a resort in Jamaica after just nine months of dating, and Dunbar admits he went to great lengths to pull off the surprise.
He tells Sister 2 Sister magazine, "I spoke to a couple of my friends, the vice president of the resort, and they helped me plan the whole entire thing. And they set up this private dinner right at (the) edge of the ocean in the private gazebo just for two, and it was one of the most beautiful, serene places that I have ever been to, and I proposed after dinner...
"She is literally the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life. Not only is she beautiful, but she's perfect for me."
And the couple may even return to the island to tie the knot, hopefully in December (13), with the star adding: "We're really thinking of Jamaica right now, but we haven't decided on the final destination yet."
This will be Gilbert's first marriage, while Dunbar divorced his model wife Ivy Holmes in 2006.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, set to debut in 3,672 theaters on Friday, looks to be on its way to breaking weekend box office records, Reuters reports. The record for widest opening belongs to Mission: Impossible, which opened in 3,653 theaters last summer and made $56.8 million. The record number of theaters scheduled to show Harry Potter could push the movie to surpass the $72.1 million three-day opening of The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997.
Singer Van Morrison won a libel suit against the London paper Sunday Independent over statements that he had an affair with singer Linda Gail Lewis. The paper has fully accepted that there was absolutely no truth in the allegation and agreed to pay substantial damages to Morrison, including legal costs, BBC News reports. Morrison, who recently recorded an album with Lewis, called the allegations a complete and utter fabrication.
In the soon-to-be-released documentary Being Mick, Mick Jagger pokes fun at Britain's royal family for not awarding him any royal honors, The Associated Press reports. Right before a meeting with Prince Charles, Jagger puts on an exaggerated upper-class English accent and jokes, "Is it true that you haven't got anything at all? That is rather odd, isn't it." Paul McCartney and Elton John both wear the title of "sir." The documentary will air on ABC on Thanksgiving.
Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special surprised CBS execs with a stunning 25.73 million viewers, the largest audience for a music special on any network since ABC's Beatles Anthology in 1995. Variety, which dubbed it the "Wacko Jacko" effect, claims viewers tuned in not so much for the music, but to get a glimpse at the frighteningly pale and surgically altered Jackson.
For the first time in its 18-year history, Jeopardy! will increase the dollar amount on its question-and-answer board, raising the minimum amount to $200 from the current $100 and the top amount to $2,000 from $1,000, Reuters reports. The show's longtime host Alex Trebek said he is happy that contestants will be rewarded even more for their hard work and vast knowledge.
Author Jonathan Franzen won the National Book Award for fiction Wednesday for his novel The Corrections, Reuters reports. Franzen found himself embroiled in controversy last month when he voiced reservations about having the novel included in Oprah Winfrey's book club. After complaining about having the club's logo on the dust cover of his novel, Winfrey took back her invitation to have Franzen appear on her show.
Over the next two months, Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael, Penn & Teller, Dave Holmes, Cindy Adams, Gilbert Gottfried and Robin Leach will temporarily replace Dick Cavett as the narrator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Broadway. After Cavett warned his successors about the show's crazed fans, daytime talk Raphael told AP, "People throw things? That's part of my daily existence. I'm afraid that is not a stretch."
A study by researchers at the University of Tuebingen in Germany indicates that the brain waves of professional musicians respond to music in a way that suggests they have an intuitive sense of the notes. Using brain-scanning MRI machines to peer into the minds of professional German violinists, neuroscientists found the subjects could hear the music by simply thinking about it, AP reports.