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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Subjectivity aside, there are a few movies that maintain supremecy as the most influential of humankind's cinematic constructions. The art of film, the Hollywood business, and perhaps the vast sum of our planet's societies are forever changed by the triumphant elements of great titles, such as Citizen Kane and its foreboding cinematography, The Godfather and its superhuman performances, Along Came Polly and its sort of curly-on-the-bottom hairstyles.
Scoff all you want at the ranking of Ben Stiller's 2004 "comedy" (you have to muster at least one laugh before you can earn the branding without undermining quotation marks) among the likes of the business' most persuasive pictures, but Jennifer Aniston's flowing ringlets have earned her a silver medal in the Hairdressing Council of Great Britain's declaration of the most influential movie 'dos of all time. Of all time.
That means, Aniston's ferret-wielding locks overshadow the likes of Johnny Depp's fraying bulrushes in Edward Scissorhands, of Little Orphan Annie's red 'fro, of Princess freakin' Leia. The only follicular sculpting that did beat out Aniston's Along Came Polly 'do: Anne Hathaway's crew cut in Les Misérables, as reported by E!. The pair even topped Audrey Hepburn's game-hanging Charade updo, which earned third place.
Total hair-esy! Completely dis-tressing! They'd have to be fila-mental to make that ruling! In the generations of widescreen coiffures, spanning from Travis Bickle to Jack Dawson, we've surely seen a bob or a perm of some kind with more a societal impact than Hathaway in Les Mis, or certainly Aniston in Along Came Polly.
But maybe we're simply defining "influence" incorrectly. Maybe it's not how many immitators a 'do inspired, but something far greater by which the Hairdressing Council of Great Britain is setting its standards. Perhaps Hathaway's Les Mis frizz and Aniston's Polly topper changed the world in far greater ways...
Let's look at our dear planet on Dec. 26, 2012 — one day after the theatrical release of Hathaway's Les Miserables. In the wake of Fantine's Oscar-winning performance, the globe saw Egypt undertake a new Islamist-backed consitution; it saw Russia's parliament ban American citizens from adopting emigrating Russian children; it saw Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe take office, select his new league of cabinet members, and oversee the decimation of the Yen's value to a new low; it saw the appointment of Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz into the seat of deceased U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye; it saw the opening of the world's longest high-speed rail route, connecting Beijing to Guangzhou.
Now, we're not saying that all of these things happened solely because of Hathaway's haircut, but we can't be certain that they would have happened otherwise, now can we?
And let's look at the big blue marble on Jan. 17, 2004 — one day after Along Came Polly hit theaters. Following the John Hamburg-directed 90-minute jab-in-the-Adam's Apple, we saw NASA cancel its plans for the Hubble Telescope service mission; we saw the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou declare his intentions to sign a mutual agreement with Turkey to decrease military expenses; we saw Cyprian biologist Dr. Panos Zavos transplant a two-week-old embryo into a human woman's uterus.
Now, we're not saying that all of these things happened solely because of Aniston's haircut, but...
... yeah, actually, we are. They did. You can thank Rachel for the delapidation of our country's space program.
There you have it: definitive evidence that Hathaway and Aniston, and their respective vibrissa, changed the world forever, putting to shame the cinnamon buns of Carrie Fisher and the various cowlicks of an early '90s Jim Carrey. So, you can lay your complaints to rest, investing trust in the solid and steadfast assurance that these woman are indeed those most deserving of the title.
It doesn't matter that Universal Pictures, the studio behind Les Mis, Along Came Polly, and Charade alike, was involved in the Hairdressing Council of Great Britain's selection process... I mean, surely the company wouldn't stoop to favor their own projects in such a venerated title as Most Influential Hair. No, ye cynics. We live in a world filled with embryo transplants, high-speed Chinese railways, and trust. All thanks to a French hooker's buzz cut, and, to a slightly lesser extent, a flighty Friends vet's arching split ends.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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