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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If Brandi Glanville, a retired model for a sexy costumes catalog, were to sing a karaoke song on last night's episode of She-Man and the Master Cleansers of the Universe it would be the old Sonny and Cher classic, "I Got Sued, Babe." ("I got sued, babe. Dun duh, dun duh, dun duh, dun duh. I got sued, babe.") Yes, Brandi Glanville is facing a lawsuit from Adrienne the Queen of the Maloofs (which is a race of Skeletors that live under the mountain) because Brandi dared to speak the truth in public. This turned into a huge Housewives and Househusbands-wide fight over dinner at a Moroccan restaurant. (Contrary to what Taylor Armstrong thinks, Mo' Rockin is not what a band's tour bus needs, it is a style of cuisine found in Northern Africa.) Oh, what a sham this lawsuit is, and this fight is. But we have so much more to get to first. Oh yes we do.
First we had to watch a recap of Brandi's sitdown with Schaennaeiouandsometimesy that was really just an advertisement for Lisa's new show Car Vanderpump Where Are You? which, in case we forget, airs right after this here program that we are now discussing. After we saw the same scene we saw last week, Brandi went and talked to Lisa about it and Lisa was all, "How was talking about your ex-husband cheating on you with an employee of mine so that people will tune into my new show? Oh, you're crying. I can see you're feeling pain. Are you in pain? You are in pain. Sorry about that. Well, thank you for hurting yourself for my gain. But did you learn something? Of course you did. There there, sweetie. And thanks."
It kind of made me hate Lisa for a second, but then we got a tour of her going to her other restaurant Villa Blanca (whose chef is totally hot and Lisa made a joke about him having sex with Brandi, but after what Lisa made Brandi do for her ratings, that chef should be wearing nothing but an apron and be handcuffed to Brandi's stove when she gets home). I totally fell in love with Lisa the Boss all over again. I'm even more in love with Ken, who built her this giant pink swing that looks like it's from, you know, that painting, the one with the rich lady wearing pink in a swing and some guy pulling it. You know. This one. Exactly! That's what it looks like. He even planted a little garden underneath it, which wasn't a ton of work and he had a maid to help him, but considering that he just had his hip replaced he probably shouldn't have been kneeling in the dirt anyway.
But just when you think that Ken and Lisa are the most ridiculous rich people you've ever met in your life (he is a 70 year-old man wearing a tight pink Abercrombie shirt like he's going to Chicken Hawk night at BUNZ, Palm Springs' best gay bar) he tells us that he installed the swing because it reminds him of a swing they had in their first house, and he used to push Lisa when they first got married and it was their favorite thing. Aaaaaawwwwwww. We all want a husband just like Ken, don't we? Well, maybe one a little bit younger, who looks a bit less like Rod Stewart's hologram that will be playing Vegas starting in 2023, but just as rich, right? Of course right!
We Now Interrupt This Program to Bring You the Latest Episode of At Home With Yolanda Bananas Foster. Hi there, ladies and gentlemen. It's time for your favorite recap within a recap. This week we come to you straight from Yolanda's house, where she is teaching us how to do a Master Cleanse. First, you invite over a very attractive friend who is totally crazy and you invite her up into your lemon orchard. She tells you that she is scared of bees, and you say, "God, Kyle. You're afraid of flying, you're afraid of heights, you're afraid of being on a diving board, what the hell aren't you afraid of?" Next, you tell your friend how one day you were in the store and you saw a bottle of something and it said Master Cleanse, and you thought it said Master Race so you went back to take a second look and realized that it wasn't a eugenics potion but something that will make you skinny and free and beautiful. Even better? Anyway, Yolanda tried it and it was so good that it made a whole orchard of lemons grow in her yard. It was a Master Miracle™! The next step is you fill a basket (because who doesn't have like 30 baskets just lying around the house for your orchard activities) with lemons and then you go into the house. You juice the lemons, combine them with maple syrup and cayenne pepper, and then you're done! Now all you have to do is drink only that for two weeks and then your life will miraculously be Mastered. Oh, and there's one final step. You have to talk shit about your friend's sister to her face. You must do that or all positive benefits of being Cleansed will not hold. And that was all we learned last night on At Home With Yolanda Bananas Foster.
The only other house we have to visit before getting to the big party is the home of that peroxided can of mixed nuts Kim Richards. Oh, I love a visit to Kim Richard's home. (One day, when I am very rich, I am going to start the Kim Richards Home for Aloholics and Fast Teens.) First of all we get to meet Milton, Kim's "houseman." What does Kim need a houseman for? She has no real job and a tiny house. What does he do? Clean up the chicken salad on the kitchen floor after Kim mixes it up with her hands? We also get to meet her life coach, Dr. Philip. Dr. Philip is an old southern man with a tan, a mustache, and a bald head. He is not endorsed by Oprah, but he is the second Google result when you search "Please, Dr. Phil, Help Me" so he has taken on a large clientele in the greater Los Angeles area. Dr. Philip got his Life Coaching License while rehabilitating himself in the California State Penitentiary System, but ever since he was released he has been in charge of countless lives — there has only been one fatality, so he has a nearly sterling record. So, he comes over to give Kim advice. What does he tell her? Oh, who knows. It was a bunch of platitudes about making up with her sister so that she can move on. It's basically the same advice that anyone who has watched 20 seconds of this show could give her and none of us had to study out-of-date Life Coaching for Dummies books while serving 8-10 for grand larceny.
The things we learned about their childhood though, from both Kim and Kyle, were quite telling. When Kyle was little, she thought that Kim was magic. Because Kim was in the movies, Kyle thought that Kim could do anything, and if her mother told her "No" or didn't want to give her something, she figured Kim would provide. Kim was always providing for everyone. That was Kim's job. Kyle idolized her and wanted to be just like her, even though when they fought they would scratch and claw at each other, often drawing blood and leaving scars both visible and inside. As Kim grew up and couldn't provide anymore, her magic was gone. Disappointed in herself, Kim took to the drink. Disappointed in her sister, Kyle took to trying to bring back the magic by hectoring and scolding and trying to find her own wellspring of magic inside herself (she learned that while watching Practical Magic one night on TBS). And that is where the Sisters Richards are today, two witches who don't know how to use their magic except against each other, and each of them spending what little they have left of their youth and beauty to continue to cast spells. It's a sad fairy tale. Sadder even than Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
OK, now we're finally to the big fight. Man, how am I going to break this down? Let's start with the problem and then we'll work our way around to the contenders. Alright, so Brandi shows and and tells Kyle and Fetch (better know as Marisa Zanuck who is never going to happen) that Adrienne is suing her. Well, not quite. According to Brandi's lawyer, who she had to pay $2000 she doesn't have to retain, Adrienne sent a letter saying that Brandi would be sued if she didn't come and sign some non-disclosure agreement saying that she wouldn't talk publicly about Adrienne and the rest of the Maloof royal family ever again. Brandi (and I) think that is bullshit. Once again Adrienne proves herself to be the worst kind of rich person. She is the kind of rich person who just has lawyers on the payroll sitting around looking at vintage baseball cards on eBay until Adrienne has some chore for them. She calls them up and they send some bullshit letters to Brandi who then has to go pay money to get a lawyer to defend herself. Not all of us have lawyers, and initializing legal action on someone who can hardly afford one is rich people's favorite kind of harassment and intimidation. What is Brandi supposed to do? Pay money for a lawyer she can't afford and fight it, or not pay for a lawyer and do whatever Adrienne says? This is why rich people always win. Because they can afford the lawyers.
Here is how everyone reacted to the news:
Brandi Glanville: Brandi is pissed that she had to get a lawyer, and while she has acknowledged that she shouldn't have said "the thing she said" (that Adrienne possibly potentially maybe or maybe not allegedly had her children via a surrogate) she doesn't think that she should be sued for saying something that was the truth. I agree with her. It's not like she lied, and it's not even that big a deal. This isn't Brandi's problem, it's Adrienne's.
Kyle Richards: Kyle didn't care so much but she wanted to know all the info so that she could tell other people about it and gossip. She was also very busy having a very deep conversation with her sister where Kim finally apologized for treating her like crap all those years when she was drinking, and Kyle teared up and told us that she has been waiting for ages for an apology from Kim and then when she finally got it, well, she didn't quite believe it. At least not yet. So Kyle had other things on her mind.
Kim Richards: Kim is on Adrienne's side because she is Adrienne's friend and she has been on the receiving end of one of Brandi's barbs before. Though they made up, Kim has no sympathy for Brandi and thinks she can't go around saying things that aren't true. As Brandi reminded Kim, what she said wasn't really untrue, it was just off-target. Kim does not understand this distinction.
Yolanda Bananas Foster: In a crossover with At Home With Yolanda Bananas Foster she showed up to tell us that her husband was rehearsing with Barbra Streisand and that she thinks that Brandi should just call Adrienne and work it out.
Taylor Armstrong: Deep into a Moroccan Margarita (this is just tequila in a glass), Taylor was feeling that she had to support all of her now-single sisters. She told Brandi that she had to stay strong and not leave when conflict erupted and stand her ground and fight for herself. She grabbed Brandi and St. Camille's hands like a 12-year-old about to say Grace, and she stood their ground with them. Um, Taylor, aren't you in a fight with Brandi? Anyway, Taylor also wants to start dating again but is having a hard time forgiving Russell. She says her whole life was a lie and then tells a lie about how her daughter wants to ride on their plane again. Can I hug Taylor with one arm while ripping out her hair with the other?
St. Camille of Grammer: She offered Taylor absolution.
MMMmmmmm Richards: Why was Kyle's husband being a dick? Usually he stays out of these fights but he has some sort of problem with Brandi. I can see why. Brandi didn't help it when, cornered and frustrated, she told MMMmmmmm to, and I quote, "fuck off." Anyway, MMMmmmm is saying that Brandi should just call Adrienne and apologize and this will all go away, and he seems to think that she has not even tried. MMMmmmm is being very staunch in his position, though he seems to have absolutely no facts as to what Brandi has or has not done to assuage the situation, nor what Adrienne has done to her to start it in the first place. Usually he tries to not even bother with these skirmishes, so now he is going to ignore everything up until this point and then totally facilitate an argument he has no point joining in the first place. He is being a jerk.
Kenn Vanderpump: Kenn, as Brandi's flirting buddy, defends her to MMMmmmm, who are in a fight of their own about the matter. Sure Kenn says, "She has no man to protect her," which is kind of condescending, but I get what he's trying to say. He's trying to say that Adrienne is using her money and her lawyers to intimidate and possibly bankrupt Brandi so that Brandi will be forced to keep her secrets, a position that Brandi should not be in. She may not need a man, necessarily, to defend her, but she needs someone. If she just calls and apologizes, then Adrienne gets what she wants. Also, if all Adrienne wanted was an apology and the two of them could work this out over a "contrition lunch" then why did she initiate legal proceedings in the first place. Kenn is right, MMMmmmmm is being too simplistic.
Lisa Vanderpump: She's pissed that, while everyone is getting all upset about what Brandi said about Andrienne no one defended her when Adrienne accused her of selling stories. MMMmmmm replied "Who cares about that?" Lisa does! Also, who cares if Lisa possibly in an alternative universe and not in the cannon had babies with a surrogate?
Marisa Zanuck: There was all this fighting, screaming back and forth in a tiled room and the echos carried ever so far. The back half of the room wasn't empty so much as abandoned, as if you could see that there should be people there, that there would normally be people there, but there wouldn't be tonight. Tonight they were gone. Tonight it was time for the ladies. Marisa had planned this dinner with Kyle after their Faye Resnick dinner went so horribly awry. But now this was too. This was all just becoming such a mess. She didn't know what to make of this, all these long simmering resentments and petty squabbles combined in one big pot, like some sort of giant stew. Is stew Morraccan? Marisa didn't think so. And she had nothing to say. She just watched the fight go back and forth, back and forth, her head pivoting like a lazy Susan caught in a crosswind. "Excuse me, I'll be right back," she said, running to the ladies' room with her purse, her Arabian gown shimmering in a flow behind her.
She put her purse down on the vanity in front of the mirror and looked down at it. So many tiles, white and blue and grey and maroon. So many colors in this mosaic. It must have taken so long, so much hard work. Days and weeks of labor by some underpaid workers and, for what. For this. For her to rest her handbag on it while those privledged fuckers fight outside about silly lawsuits. She turned on the faucet, not to use the water, but because she felt like she had to do something. She looked up as the door opened and it was her husband Dean. Tall, handsome, sturdy, dependable Dean. He turned around and locked the door behind him.
"Dean!" Marisa yelled, "you..." "Are you alright?" he asked, with a look that showed both concern and frustration. "Yeah," she said. "I'm fine. It's just..."
"Well. I don't know..."
"I don't know if I want to do this anymore." She laid her hands on his chest, his smooth firm chest, and looked up into his eyes like he had the answer. He always had the answer.
"You don't have to if you don't want it. It's up to you. This whole fight seems ridiculous."
"I know. But I wanted it."
"I know you did," he said leaning down to kiss her and then she surprised him. She pulled his head into hers and turned would should have been just a kiss into something more. Something deeper. They kissed and kissed and she finally felt it, a connection. That is what she needed, just to be out of that swamp of despair and here, secreted away with the man she loves.
"Now," she said. He looked around at the empty room. "Now?" She nodded and hopped up on the counter, the cool tile warming up as she raised her legs up in the air. He undid his pants and got closer, embracing her once again. "I love you," he said and she just groaned. She put one hand on him and the other on the counter, feeling the rough edges beneath her palm. In this moment she was really glad for those workers and she felt this was an apt tribute. This is what she had to give. She wanted to bring love into the world, and this was the only way she knew how.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Bravo]
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