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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Prince William made history at Buckingham Palace on Thursday (17Oct13) when he stepped in for his grandmother to bestow knighthoods and honours on Brits, including Wimbledon tennis champ Andy Murray, for the first time. The new dad, who is second-in-line to the throne, took on his first ever investiture ceremony on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, and carried out his first sword-waving knighthood, bestowed on educator Kenneth Gibson.
The Duke of Cambridge, who was dressed in his ceremonial Royal Air Force uniform, also knighted Sir Anthony Salz and handed out various medal honours to Professor Dame Nicola Cullum, TV producer Jon Plowman, and Welsh singer-turned-TV and radio personality Aled Jones, who was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Collecting his Order of the British Empire (OBE) medal, tennis ace Murray revealed after the ceremony that he and the royal had chatted about a recent hospital visit.
Murray told Britain's ITV News, "He asked me about my recent back surgery, which I had a few weeks ago, and how I was feeling after Wimbledon. I teased him a bit as he had sent me a note before Wimbledon wishing me luck, and his wife had written me a letter afterwards. Her handwriting was beautiful, and I told him how fantastic it was compared to his."
Veteran actor Sir Sean Connery put speculation about his deteriorating health to rest on Thursday (05Sep13) when he stepped out in New York looking happy and healthy. The legendary Bond star, who retired from the limelight in 2011, was all smiles as he made a rare public appearance to attend the U.S. Open tennis championships in Queens, but his joy was dampened as he watched his fellow Scot Andy Murray lose in straight sets to Stanislas Wawrinka in the men's singles quarterfinals.
Connery's appearance came just days after Sir Michael Caine was forced to dismiss rumours his pal is suffering from Alzheimer's disease following the publication of an article in a German newspaper, in which the Alfie star was said to have raised concerns about the 83 year old's dementia, and was quoted as saying, "One must have serious concerns for him."
Caine subsequently blasted the report as "completely preposterous", explaining, "I did some interviews over in Germany for a new film and I can only assume someone has twisted my words or got the wrong end of the stick... This stuff about Alzheimer's is just nonsense. I have no idea where they are getting it from."
The U.S. Open Tennis Tournament has begun (not to get you confused with the U.S. Open Golf Tournament) and the legends of the mens game are on display. Well, one of them was bounced early, but everyone's human. Here are the four Gods of the Tennis World right now.
The "Joker" of the Tour has grown up and shed the clown label. As of the Open, he was No. 1 in the world and looked to keep his grip on that ranking for a very long time. He won the 2013 Australian Open earlier, his sixth time winning that tournament and as of this writing, he was still in the 2013 U.S. Open.
Federer was on top for a long time, but he is on the other end of his career, as his being eliminated before the Quarterfinals this year shows. Still, the man has had a run that rivals the all-time greats, and nobody stays on top of the hill forever in tennis. As of the Open, he was ranked No. 7 in the World, though he had a very long run at No. 1 before Djokovic.
If there's one word to describe Nadal on the court, it's fierce. He gives no quarter and while that is a good trait, he's also brutal on his body. That could curtail what has been a fine career, though he's struggled in the shadow of Federer and Djokovic. It's like Highlander, though: There can only be one. When the Open began, Nadal was ranked No. 2 in the World.
By winning Wimbledon in 2013, the first time someone from Britain had won it in 77 years, Murray muscled his way into the Mens Pantheon. It moved him up to the No. 3 World ranking when the Open began and he was looking to keep on that perch.
More:Top 10 Sports Movie Quotes5 Unbelievable Martin Scorsese Oscar SnubsTop 5 Comedy Central Roast Moments
From Our Partners:40 Most Revealing See-Through Red Carpet Looks (Vh1)15 Stars Share Secrets of their Sex Lives (Celebuzz)
On Aug. 26, the U.S. Open began its first round of matches for the 2013 tournament. Tennis lovers from around the world flocked to Queens, New York to see athletes like Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams participate in the renowned competition. Along with the fans, celebrities also made their way to the USTA National Tennis Center to see these athletes in action.
Movie stars like Matt Bomer, Kevin Spacey, and Blake Lively all showed up on the U.S. Open Instagram, while our very own sister site, Beyond the Row, caught Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour taking in a set or two. Nick Jonas kissed new girlfriend Olivia Culpo in the stands while Ben Stiller was caught chatting with tennis star Andy Murray.
The US Open will end Mon. Sept. 9, with the finals beginning on Sun. Sept. 8 at 12 PM ET. But you can get your dose of Open star power now by launching our gallery.
GALLERY: Celebs Take in the U.S. Open
More:Ben Stiller Walks on Sunshine in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' PosterHot Photos of the Day! (September 2013)Nick Jonas and Aussie Girlfriend Split
From Our Partners:A Complete History Of Twerking (1993-2013) (Vh1)15 Stars Share Secrets of their Sex Lives (Celebuzz)
Stars including Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson and Gerard Butler gathered on Monday (08Jul13) to help tennis ace Novak Djokovic raise $1.7 million (£1.1 million) for his charity. Hawn and her daughter Hudson served as event chairs at the glittering gala alongside former British royal Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, supermodel Naomi Campbell and former tennis champion Boris Becker.
Actor Jeremy Piven joined British TV presenter Jonathan Ross and Hudson on stage at the Roundhouse venue in London for a mini tennis match, while Becker provided the commentary.
Guests bid on auction prizes including a yacht getaway with Hawn and Hudson, a signed guitar by The Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood and a seven-day holiday at Sir Richard Branson's private island.
Djokovic says of the event, "I am delighted to be joined... by friends and family to support a cause which is so close to my heart. The Foundation works alongside young children in Serbia to provide support, encouragement and resources so they can fulfil and nurture their dreams. With the help of such generous people, our vision is to expand our work to the U.K. and America and transform the lives of more children around the world."
All funds raised during the evening will benefit the Novak Djokovic Foundation, which aims to support vulnerable and disadvantaged children, especially in the tennis star's native Serbia.
The event took place just a day after Djokovic lost the Wimbledon Championships men's singles title to Andy Murray on Sunday (07Jul13).
Tennis champion Andy Murray was left nursing an off-court injury after he was bashed in the face by an overzealous fan as he left a London restaurant on Monday (08Jul13). The sports star, who became the first Brit to win the Wimbledon Men's Final in 77 years on Sunday (07Jul13), was leaving a celebratory dinner at upscale eaterie Nobu with his girlfriend Kim Sears when he ended up in the middle of a scuffle between an autograph hunter and security guards.
The unidentified well-wisher tried to push past the guard and a scrum of photographers to obtain Murray's signature, but ended up shoving a programme directly into the 26 year old's face.
Murray was pictured holding his hands up to his head and wincing in pain, before getting into his car and making a swift exit with Sears.
Kevin Spacey and Ewan Mcgregor are among the stars who have heaped praise on tennis champ Andy Murray after he beat Novak Djokovic to become the first Brit to win the Wimbledon Men's Final in 77 years. The Scottish sportsman overpowered the world's number one seed in three thrilling sets to take the Grand Slam title in London on Sunday (07Jul13), making him the first British Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936.
Bradley Cooper and pal Gerard Butler were among the spectators in the stands at Centre Court, while celebrities across the world tuned in for the big game and flocked to Twitter.com to cheer as world number two Murray scored victory in a three-hour, nine-minute match which ended 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, a year after he was named runner-up to Roger Federer.
Spacey writes, "Huge congrats to @Andy_Murray for an amazing Win! Been saying he would do it for a year! Alll (sic) of Great Britain is proud! Awesome tennis!"
Star Wars actor McGregor was also quick to celebrate his fellow Scot's epic win, tweeting, "Oh my God. What a match, what a player. Inspiring a Nation. Andy Murray!! Ya (sic) Beauty."
Meanwhile, One Direction's Niall Horan adds, "He's done it ! Huge win! Congratulations andy" and actor Sam Claflin comments, "Murray Murray Murray! What a legend. Hero. Wimbledon wombles! So chuffed that he's British (not just Scottish now he's won)."
Comedian Eddie Izzard writes, "Andy Murray - b**ody hero. Congratulations!!!!!!"; model Erin O'Connor exclaims, "We are so proud of you Andy Murray!!!!!" and Australian funnywoman Rebel Wilson posts, "Awesome Murray!! True champion".
In a post on Facebook.com, British soccer ace David Beckham gushed, "What an incredible achievement by Andy Murray today. He has worked so hard under enormous expectation to make history. The country is so proud of him. Congratulations to all his family, friends and team who have supported him over the years."
"Go @andy_murray! Amazing match. Get some rest. I will be glued to the TV come Friday. Wish I could be there, but will be there in spirit!" Tennis fan Kevin Spacey is cheering on Andy Murray at Wimbledon.
Eddie Redmayne showed off his serving skills on Sunday (16Jun13) as he took to a tennis court for a charity match at the Aegon Championships in London. The Les Miserables star joined London's Mayor Boris Johnson, U.K. TV host Jonathan Ross, tycoon Sir Richard Branson and comedians Michael McIntyre and Jimmy Carr for the Rally Against Cancer charity game.
The famous faces donned their whites for a tag-team match, which pitted them against professionals Andy Murray and Tim Henman.
The money raised from tickets sales will go to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, where British tennis player Ross Hutchins is receiving treatment following his Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis in December (12).
Before the charity match, Murray beat Croatian Marin Cilic to win the tournament.