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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Warner Bros. has been very busy lately, reteaming with old associates and inviting new ones in on the game. News today is that the production company has ordered three new series for the CW: J.J. Abrams' and Mark Schwahn's comedy/drama Shelter, sci-fi romance Joey Dakota (produced by Mark Harmon) and dystopian drama The Selection, from a pair of Vampire Diaries producers. Additionally, the network has cast a lead in its new superhero series, Arrow.
I haven't seen Abrams in a while, but I assume that he has grown a beard, and maybe taken up drinking. Because, after about ten years, Abrams is heaving a sigh and uttering, "We have to go back... to Warner Bros." Abrams is returning to the company of his old friends to develop a CW series called Shelter. He will be teaming with LOST collaborators Mark Pedowitz (CW President) and Thom Sherman (Executive VP of Drama Development), as well as with One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn to work on this new show.
The WB, the pre-2006 incarnation of the CW, is where Abrams started the television career that would eventually amount to creating a new show every month. Abrams co-created the drama Felicity, a story about a girl who followed the high school crush to college. Since this series, Abrams has become more associated with high-concept thrillers and science-fiction projects, such as Alias, Fringe, his newest shows Person of Interest and Alcatraz, and his most famous television venture, LOST. But Abrams is getting back into the "real world" with this new project he is developing for the CW. Shelter, formerly titled Maine, will study the day-to-day lives of the employees and customers at a New England hotel, and how they intersect dramatically and comedically.
The CW is not limiting itself to the Abrams/Schwahn creation, however. The network is also developing two other projects. One, Joey Dakota, is being written by Bert Royal (Easy A) and will being produced by NCIS leading man Mark Harmon along with Eric and Kim Tannenbaum. The project is based on an Israeli series called Danny Hollywood and is described by THR as a "romantic time-travel musical" (already very much sold) about a filmmaker who travels back to the 1990s, falls in love with a destined-to-die rock star, and then is launched back to the present day, where she makes it her mission to re-travel back in time and save the love of her life from his untimely death.
The final project is titled The Selection, and is an hourlong drama/romance based on a developing book series by Kiera Cass. The television project is being written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (The Vampire Diaries). The story will follow the journey of an impoverished girl who, in a dystopian society three centuries into the future, will be chosen via lottery to be the next queen.
In more CW news, the recently greenlit series Arrow has earned itself a star: Stephen Amell, an actor who has primarily worked in recurring guest roles on series like Queer as Folk, Heartland, Private Practice and, most prominently, Hung. Amell will play the lead in the new series, which is a modern-day incarnation of the DC Comics superhero story, Green Arrow. The titular hero is a vigilante who employs his exemplary skills in archery to fight crime when not posing as a Bruce Wayne-esque billionaire playboy socialite, with a bit of Harvey Dent's politicism in him.