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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When will people learn you can’t take a model, a designer and a prize package and replicate the magic of Project Runway? Many have tried and few have succeed. The new series Styled to Rock, produced by Rihanna, gives the show a punky makeover. Project Runway: All Stars has some major upgrades from last season. But is there room for more than one Project Runway?
Styled to Rock is the umpteenth attempt at using the same format of Runway. Rather than focusing on the design, this series focuses on styling and costuming for musicians. Unfortunately, supermodel host Erin Wasson has the charm of a frozen waffle.
People take for granted that Heidi Klum was an actress and a television host before she produced Project Runway. Tim Gunn has become a celebrity due to his loving nature, distinct voice and stellar vocabulary. Their Emmy is proof that they are a major part of the show’s success. You can't just pull people off the shelf and expect the same magic to happen.
Project Runway: All Stars may have the exact same premise as the original but at least it innovates. It gives designers we have come to love a chance at redemption. Judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman also speak more authoritatively and diplomatically about fashion. Casting has improved this season with charmless model Angela Lindvall and severe mentor Joanna Coles replaced by opinionated Alyssa Milano and effervescent Zanna Roberts Rossi.
These are not the only attempts to clone Runway. Here are some others:
The Fashion Show
When Bravo lost Runway to Lifetime they tried to keep viewers with The Fashion Show. Mizrahi served as designer judge and Kelly Rowland served as host. The show received a slight upgrade in season two when supermodel Iman took over as host.
Launch My Line
Bravo tried again with this series. Dean and Dan Caten, of DSquared, hosted this series that featured “professionals” paired with designers. Seemingly random people in fields ranging from event planning to architecture had to create their own fashion line.
Not to be outdone by the shamelessness of Bravo, Lifetime tried to create a spin-off of Runway hosted by Molly Sims. Designer Kenneth Cole served as judge in this inversion of Runway. Designers create accessories ranging from jewelry to headpieces and style them with provided clothing.
This show tried to bring Runway to network television. Jessica Simpson, Nicole Ritchie and designer John Varvatos judged designers and offered them a chance to sell their line at Express and H&M. The show had too much product placement and was a little late to the game in Runway rehashing.