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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Country star Hank Williams, Jr. will ring in 2014 as a winner - he will be honoured for his support of the U.S. military during his New Year's Eve (31Dec13) concert in Nashville, Tennessee. The singer, who has performed at various military bases over the years, will receive the Patriot Award from officials at the non-profit Operation Troop Aid (OTA) organisation as he headlines the Bash on Broadway show next month (Dec13).
OTA founder and executive director Mark Woods says, "I am extremely honoured to award Hank Williams, Jr. the 2013 Patriot Award. His art, legacy of family and Spirit of Patriotism is exactly why this award exists. He never forgot his roots and why we have the freedom we do in America."
He follows in the footsteps of previous recipients Toby Keith, KISS, Gary Sinise and Charlie Daniels.
With the Emmys no more than a distant (and less than fond) memory, let’s talk about some incredible actors who somehow seem to get missed when the nominations for big awards get passed out.
Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter)
Tell me, how is it that January Jones has an Emmy nomination and Jennifer Carpenter doesn’t? On a show that grew increasingly melodramatic (read: bad), she stayed solid. Some actors started phoning it in, but Carpenter? She kept on dropping those F-bombs until the bitter end. And then they unceremoniously killed her off by blood clot. A blood clot! We were already done with the tragically unexpected blood clot/stroke thing when Grey’s Anatomy did it back in 2006.
Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom)
People love to hate on The Newsroom, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some solid acting going on. Emmy Winner Jeff Daniels, anyone? Anyone?
Anyway, there’s someone else from Newsroom that I’m kind of in love with (no, it’s not Olivia Munn): Emily Mortimer. Many have complained about the at-times ditzy and almost-constantly lovelorn characterization of MacKenzie, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Mortimer is seriously delivering. She plays that flawed character for more than it’s worth: she’s simultaneously the emotional and moral center of the show and the comic relief a good percentage of the time. I don’t want start any wars here, but I think she could give Anna Gunn a serious run for her money.
Dean Norris (Breaking Bad)
From bumblingly obnoxious uncle to the revenge-hungry ASAC "Go F--k Yourself" Schrader, Norris hit all the right notes — even Anthony Hopkins thinks so, according to The Huffington Post. But where are all the awards? I suppose on a show filled with Walter Whites, Jesse Pinkmans, and Gus Frings, it would be hard for the comparatively-less-flashy Hank to catch a break; though maybe his crazily awesome death scene will finally get him the recognition he deserves.
This morning Neil Patrick Harris and Aaron Paul, fillng in for Kate Mara, whose flight was delayed, announced the 2013 Emmy Awards nominations. Here's the full list of nominees. Did your favorite make the cut?
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey Damian Lewis, Homeland Kevin Spacey, House of Cards Jon Hamm, Mad Men Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey Claire Danes, Homeland Robin Wright, House of Cards Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men Connie Britton, Nashville Kerry Washington, Scandal
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra Toby Jones, The Girl Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade's End Al Pacino, Phil Spector
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Asylum Laura Linney, The Big C Helen Mirren, Phil Spector Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake
Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program Ryan Seacrest, American Idol Betty White, Betty White's Off Their Rockers Tom Bergeron, Dancing With The Stars Heidi Klum, Project Runway Tim Gunn, Project Runway Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance Anthony Bourdain, The Taste
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series Jason Bateman, Arrested Development Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory Matt Leblanc, Episodes Don Cheadle, House of Lies Louis C.K., Louie Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series Laura Dern, Enlightened Lena Dunham, Girls Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation Tina Fey, 30 Rock Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Outstanding Reality - Competition Program The Amazing Race Dancing With The Stars Project Runway So You Think You Can DanceTop Chef The Voice
Outstanding Variety Series The Colbert Report The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Jimmy Kimmel Live Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Real Time With Bill Maher Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Miniseries Or Movie American Horror Story: Asylum Behind The Candelabra The Bible Phil Spector Political Animals Top Of The Lake
Outstanding Comedy Series The Big Bang Theory Girls Louie 30 Rock Veep
Outstanding Drama Series Breaking Bad Downton Abbey Game Of Thrones Homeland House Of Cards Mad Men
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad Jim Carter, Downton Abbey Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones Morena Baccarin, Homeland Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
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