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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Singer Ariana Grande has turned her back on her Christian faith after becoming disillusioned with the church during the reign of Pope Benedict Xvi. The Way hitmaker grew up a Roman Catholic, but began to question her religion after the former pontiff spoke out against everything from gay marriage to the Harry Potter book series.
She tells Britain's Metro newspaper, "I was born Roman Catholic but I lost faith when the Pope decided to tell me everything I loved and believed in was wrong.
"The church said (cartoon character) Spongebob Squarepants is gay and he's a sinner and he should burn in hell. And Harry Potter was a sin. And working women. I was like 'Enough! First the gays, then Spongebob and now Harry Potter? Get out my house!' I was not having it. And the working woman thing? It was a moment for me. I needed something else to believe in."
The 20 year old has now started practising Kabbalah, a mystical offshoot of Judaism, favoured by the likes of Madonna and Demi Moore.
She adds, "It is the practice of being a good person and how that will manifest good things in your life. People don't really realise that if you are kind you can make all sorts of things happen for you."
Pope Benedict XVI stepped down earlier this year (13), making way for current Catholic leader, Pope Francis.
Robert De Niro, Ed Burns and Julianne Moore will be the first celebrities to take a tour through the new 4 World Trade Center building in New York City for a wine tasting event on Thursday (21Nov13). Proceeds from the bash will go to food donation organisation City Harvest. The original building was severely damaged and eventually demolished after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The new complex opened last week (13Nov13).
Rocker Beck has blamed a "severe" spinal injury for forcing him to scale back his music output in recent years. The Loser hitmaker, 43, went public his health issues in an interview with Argentina's Pagina/12 newspaper, admitting the ailment has hindered work on the follow-up to 2008's Modern Guilt.
In the article, which has been translated into English on TheFutureHeart.com, he says, "I had some injuries. I had severe damage to my spine, but now it's improving so I'm back in the music. It was a long, long recovery. Lately I concentrated on playing guitar. Do not think I can move again as before, although I can give a lot onstage."
Beck, who is due to release his 12th studio album, Morning Phase, next year (14), also reveals he had an album of new material in late 2008, but the tracks "stopped ringing fresh" for him and he abandoned the work until 2010, when he resumed the project.
The musician has not been completely out of the public eye during his health struggle - he contributed to albums by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Thurston Moore and a collection of Philip Glass remixes, and he also reworked David Bowie's Sound + Vision earlier this year (13).
Morning Phase, which is set to be unveiled in February (14), is described as a "companion piece" to Beck's 2002 album Sea Change, which focused on acoustic tracks.
Top Hollywood casting agent Marvin Paige has passed away. Paige died from injuries he suffered in a car crash in Los Angeles last month (Oct13). He is believed to have been in his 80s.
He worked across the TV and film industry for several decades and his castings projects included Breakfast at Tiffany's, the big screen debut of Star Trek and several Woody Allen films.
He also worked across 100 episodes of hit U.S. soap opera General Hospital, hiring Demi Moore for her early role on the show.
Paige also worked on Planet of the Apes the TV series and Lassie.
Fashion designer/filmmaker Tom Ford was once left red-faced after unexpectedly running into legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour during a walk on a nudist beach. The style guru opened up about the mortifying meeting during a speech at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards in New York City on Monday (11Nov13), revealing he was caught naked by a fully-clothed Wintour on a nudist beach in Caribbean hotspot St. Barts.
He said, "It was like one of those dreams in high school when everyone has clothes on except you."
Ford also dished out advise to young designers hoping to make it big in the fashion world in front of a crowd, which included Wintour.
Julianne Moore, who starred in Ford's directorial debut A Single Man, introduced Ford to the stage, revealing how he made her feel at ease when they first met in the 1990s just months after she had given birth.
She said, "He was handsome, charming, gracious and absolutely took my breath away. And he assured me that, if I didn't feel comfortable in his dress, that it was fine. He said, 'Wear it, don't wear it - it's just a dress. Don't worry about it.'"
Patrick Swayze's 1990 film Ghost is heading to the small screen for a new TV adaptation. The hit film, which starred Swayze as a ghost trying to avenge his death and protect his fiancee, played by Demi Moore, grossed more than $500 million (GBP333,000) worldwide, scored Academy Awards for co-star Whoopi Goldberg and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, and was even adapted into a Broadway musical.
And now bosses at Paramount Television have recruited TV producers Jeff Pinkner and Akiva Goldsman to co-write a pilot for a planned TV adaptation.
Pinkner and Goldsman previously worked together on cult sci-fi series Fringe.
Julianne Moore is urging fellow veteran actresses to quit complaining about a lack of Hollywood roles for older women. The Hunger Games star, 52, began her career in the early 1980s and is still enjoying sought-after parts in blockbuster movies even in her sixth decade.
Other ageing screen sirens often moan that big roles dry up for female stars as they get older, but Moore is adamant complaining about it only reinforces Hollywood ageism - although she admits she has been "lucky" during her career.
She tells InStyle magazine, "I can't complain. I've been pretty lucky. And I think the more we talk about it, the more we make it real. I hate being asked about this stuff! Let's appreciate where we are. Let's not wish our lives away."
Actress/singer Rumer Willis has reportedly split from boyfriend Jayson Blair. The eldest daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis has called it quits with her beau after a year of dating, sources confirm to Us Weekly.
The 25 year old first met The Hard Times of RJ Berger actor through mutual friends, and they have been linked since July last year (12).
Justin Bieber has scrapped plans to launch a clothing line with Lil Twist after falling out with his former pal, according to a U.S. report. The Never Say Never hitmaker applied for the trademark for Wild Kidz (sic) in September (13), and planned to release a fashion collection consisting of T-shirts, according to TMZ.com.
However, Bieber has decided to axe the project and allow the rapper, who has been staying at his home in Calabasas, California for the past year, to keep the rights to the name.
This is the latest drama between Lil Twist, real name Christopher Moore, and Bieber - in August (13), a woman filed a battery report against Moore, alleging he grabbed her arm during a party at the pop star's mansion, and, in July (13), he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) while behind the wheel of Bieber's Fisker Karma sportscar.