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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The allure of a jump scare that perfectly-timed loud noise that sends a horror movie audience jumping is hard to ignore. They're easy but effective — if you want to shake people up nothing works as well as a well placed violin screech or slamming door sound effect. Thankfully the new evil ghost movie Sinister mostly avoids the easy way out by developing its lead character a novelist with a drinking problem and exploring an inventive twist on "found footage" (the guy actually finds footage). It all works quite well… that is until it starts relying on jump scares.
True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) hasn't had a hit book in years but he hopes to change his life around by investigating a set of murders committed in the backyard of a suburban home. To immerse himself in the history Ellison moves his entire family into the house where the committed murders took place (and without telling them their new home's little secret). He immediately falls down the rabbit hole discovering a series of Super 8 movies depicting the first killings and a string of other bizarre murders all captured on gritty film. Ellison loses himself to the movies only flinching when his wife Tracey (Juliet Rylance) begs him to come to bed or his son Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) wakes up in a fit of terror from an anxiety ailment. But as he watches and rewatches the snuff films Ellison begins to see a connection between them: a shadowy figure who it turns out might be a supernatural entity.
Great horror rides on its lead and Hawke serves Sinister well. He's ambitious and overly confident of his abilities as he digs deeper and deeper into the history of the Super 8 movies. He makes some poor choices — why writers in movies are continually keeping secrets from their families and drinking way more whiskey than their finances would allow is one of Hollywood's great mysteries — but Hawke is adept at making the act of watching someone watch something interesting. His obsession with the mystery his slowly disintegrating mind is reminiscent of Jack Torrence in The Shining.
But before Sinister gets that involved with its central character it strays into run-of-the-mill haunted house territory. Vincent D'Onofrio pops up for a quick expositional Skype chat to inform Ellison that the dark being in his home movies might be a Pagan deity that eats the souls of children. That would explain all those pesky kid ghosts that keep whispering in the ear of Ellison's Ashley (Clare Foley) and making creepy bumps in the night.
Sinister's most terrifying material comes from the grainy "found footage." When director Scott Derrickson moves back and forth between Ellison and the films the writer illuminated only by the flickering projector it's chilling. But the movie progresses away from that into its own conventional horror movie. Weighed down by explanation and meandering action Sinister loses track of its character angle in favor of the almighty jump scare. It's exhausting — but then again as the nickname suggests they never fail to make one jump.
More than 500,000 people were polled for the ABC TV and People magazine movie rundown, and the stars earned almost a quarter of the votes for their turn in James Cameron's epic.
The romance between Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in 1939 classic Gone with the Wind was rated the second most romantic film pairing, while Richard Gere and Julia Roberts' unlikely coupling in Pretty Woman landed them third in the survey.
Casablanca couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall came fourth, while Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn - who starred in nine films together - rounded out the top five.
Looks like life may be imitating art for the star of The Wedding Planner.
The New York Post and Britain's The Sun reported on Sunday that actress-singer Jennifer Lopez's may be engaged to her dancer boyfriend, Cris Judd.
But it gets better. Lopez is also rumored to be three months pregnant with Judd's baby, according to several sources. Reports have done everything from describing the proposal to detailing the ring, but no one, and we mean no one, has confirmed these rumors with Lopez's "people."
But Lopez's publicist, Alan Nierob, told us today that he could not comment on the star's private life. However, he could confirm that Lopez was not filming "any sequel to Anaconda." (Some reports had said she dropped out of an Anaconda 2 project because of the pregnancy).
"She has nothing to do with it at all," Nierob said. He did confirm that Lopez is currently filming Columbia Pictures' Enough, directed by Michael Apted, and said that she has several other projects coming up.
This isn't the first time J.Lo pregnancy/marriage rumors have swirled. In January, an E! Online user asked columnist Ted Casablanca about a possible Lopez/Combs wedding, and mentioned the pregnancy possibility as well.
Obviously, that didn't happen.
Puffy wraps up a supermodel
If you're feeling bad for Puffy, don't.
The music-mogul rapper has reportedly been dating supermodel Naomi Campbell. The pair met at the Cannes Film Festival, and Campbell recently visited Combs in New York.
The New York Post has spied the cozy couple in many Manhattan night spots, but at the first sign of a photographer, they apparently immediately separated. While both deny any romance, they admit to a friendship and appear to be very friendly.
Combs has made headlines with his recent trial for gun possession, a name change from "Puff Daddy" to "P. Diddy" and finally back to Sean Combs. An ex, Kim Porter, is suing for child support. Campbell has dated a variety of European playboys, but has spent most of the past month with Combs.
Heather and Heath split up--oh yeah, and Tara and Carson are, too
Their names may make them seem like a match made in Heaven, but May to September lovebirds Heath Ledger and Heather Graham have called it quits.
The Washington Post reported today that Graham's publicist confirmed last week's big rumor about the split up between the knight and his fair go-go dancing gal.
Oh yeah, if anyone cares, Tara Reid and Carson Daly have done the splitsville thing, too. At least, their once-impending nuptials have been, well, postponed.
Hollywood.com Staffer Leigh Johnson contributed to this story.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 9, 2000 -- Watch out, "Charlie's Angels." Here come "Josie and the Pussycats."
According to today's Hollywood Reporter, Rachael Leigh Cook, the pan-wielding grrl from those get-tough "Just Say No" ads, has signed on to play the title character in a live-action "Josie" film.
As announced last year, "Can't Hardly Wait's" Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan will direct.
The Universal picture is scheduled to begin shooting this summer. Marc Platt and Riverdale Prods., which own the rights to the toon, are the producers. Mogul Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and wife Tracey are in talks to provide the music through their Edmonds Entertainment.
For those not up on their schlocky cartoon history, "Josie and the Pussycats," inspired by the 1960s-era comic book, was originally produced for Saturday morning purposes from 1970-72. Cousins to "The Archies," the Pussycats were a bubblegum precursor of, say, the Go-Gos. Their all-girl band lineup consisted of Melody, Valerie and, yes, Josie. (A pre-"Charlie's Angels" Cheryl Ladd provided Melody's singing voice.) In 1972, the Pussycats were blasted into orbit -- hence the title of their next (and, alas, final) TV toon: "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space" (1972-74).
Cook, 20, is best known for her star turn in last year's surprise hit "She's All That".
HUNGRY FOR A SCOOBY SNACK? In other movie-toon news, the word from the New York Daily News is that Jennifer Love Hewitt could be up for the shagadelic role of Daphne in Mike Myers' planned live-action version of the canine cartoon "Scooby Doo."
KLEIN LACES UP FOR 'BALL': "American Pie" star Chris Klein is set to show off his skating skills in a remake of the 1970s cult hit "Rollerball." The Reporter notes that Klein is in final negotiations to star in the John McTiernan-helmed sci-fi actioner. The MGM/UA production could be the studio's major release for 2001.
Klein takes over a role originated by James Caan in 1975. The original futuristic pic, directed by Norman Jewison, featured Caan as the veteran star of a sport where groups of warriors in roller skates and on motorcycles battled to the death for corporate sponsors.
No word on the changes in scripter John Pogue's ("The Skulls") latest draft, but sources report that Jewison could be involved in bringing the new version to the screen.
IN 'MOTION': Reese Witherspoon, a Golden Globe nominee for her sharp work in the hilarious "Election," switches gears as the producer and star of the drama "Slow Motion." The Reporter notes that Witherspoon is set to work on the Sony-based Phoenix Pictures production, which is based on Dani Shapiro's 1992 novel "Playing With Fire."
The film's about a college student who is seduced by her roommate's father. According to the Reporter, it's a story about an "abusive relationship between two people blinded by love."
GOING TO 'TOWNIES'? Director Mike Figgis and Brad Pitt might be heading downtown on the project "Urban Townies." The Reporter has the filmmaker scheduled to meet with Pitt about the film, which the actor has been considering for a while.
The drama, produced by Barry Levinson and Paula Weinstein, has to do with a man from the Midwest who returns to New York City to find his old girlfriend involved with his best friend.