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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It's Friday the 13th, a day laced with paranoia, superstition and the occasional machete-wielding psychopath. On this day of misfortune, it's wise to cast an eye over your shoulder every once in a while, lest you fall victim to a day feared by many. Even if your'e not particularly triskaidekaphobic, there are lessons to be learned from Friday the 13th — specifically from those characters on television who represent the pitiful end of the luck spectrum.
Some of TV's most beloved characters are also the medium's unluckiest, facing pathetic misery in the form of cougars (Kim Bauer!), ripped pants (Jerry Gergich!) and cursed lottery numbers (Hurley!). In honor of Friday the 13th, our writers decided to take a closer look at their favorite unlucky so-and-sos:
Alison Parker (Melrose Place) Sure, there were many twists and turns on Melrose Place (which is 20 years old this week), but the person who always had it the worst was Alison Parker. Not only was she an on-again-off-again alcoholic, but she got pregnant, had a miscarriage, tried to adopt, and then was denied a child when she got caught drinking. Then she married a man who was lost in a boating accident on their damn honeymoon. And this was after she lost her job and was transferred to Hong Kong. Oh, and let's not forget when she went blind when Kimberly blew up Melrose Place. Don't stand next to this lady in a thunder storm. — BRIAN MOYLAN
Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) Poor Sookie... how many times has this girl been forced to mop up the blood of loved ones on her Gram's kitchen room floor? Not to mention all the supernatural creatures that want her dead: 3,000-year-old vampires, Maenads, witches, jealous werewolf girlfriends. The list goes on and on. If it wasn't for her continuous steamy hookups with insanely hot men, this would be one completely depressing life. — KELLY SCHREMPH
Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) Sure, he's worth probably half a billion dollars, maybe more, but no amount of money will ever enable Larry to escape or reinvent the social mores that plague his daily life -- and the often mortifying, always hilarious consequences. For that, though, we the viewers of Curb Your Enthusiasm are very, very lucky, indeed. — BRIAN MARDER
Louie (Louie) Louis C.K. has been playing unlucky sad sacks since the days of Lucky Louie. While his fate with television success has improved tremendously, his character hasn't fared nearly as well. Louie has gone on some of the worst dates known to mankind, constantly finds himself in painfully awkward social situations, terrible misunderstandings ("Wave to me!") and was once made to feel bad by none other than Dane Cook. — ALY SEMIGRAN
Kenny (South Park) Let's see: Volcano, mutant turkey, mosh pit, goldfish — ask for ways in which Kenny hasn't been killed, and you'd come up with a much shorter list. But it gets worse for South Park's resident parka-flanked mumbler: Not only was Kenny forced to regularly suffer death, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker chose to kill him off permanently in Season 5… only to revive him — and kill him all over again — in subsequent seasons. You bastards! — KATE WARD
Hurley (Lost) Oh, Hurley, you poor soul. After winning the lottery (everyone’s assumed ticket to eternal bliss), the Lost character was treated to a rash of unfortunate events starting with simple things like his new house burning to the ground and not quite ending with his crash landing on the infamous Island. Then comes the heartbreaking moment, just after Hurley’s finally found the Kate to his Jack — Libby — only to have Michael return and murder her in the hatch. It just makes you want to hug your television. But then again, if we’re looking at it Hurley’s way, it’s not really bad luck. It's all about the numbers he played to win the lottery. The same numbers that reset the ominous switch in the hatch. The numbers that lined up with the potential candidates to replace Jacob as the Island’s protector. The numbers that served as coefficients of an equation that predicted mankind’s extinction. The numbers, man. The numbers. — KELSEA STAHLER
Eugene (Hey Arnold!) Poor Eugene is the victim of his own unfortunate fate: he was born on Friday the 13th. That probably explains why the accident-prone, soupcan-haired kid is a total jinx, crying out "I'm okay!" after any pitiful pratfall or bicycling accident. He's been mugged, had his bike destroyed, his pet fish murdered, and his childhood superhero revealed to be a depressing sham — and yet the ginger remains optimistic! Why? Because he's in musical theatre. That's why. — MARC SNETIKER
Ted (Scrubs) “Awww…” That’s the sound of a man at the end of this wits. A man who has nothing left to cling onto (except, maybe, a couple of reruns of Gilmore Girls). Ted Buckland, resident attorney at Sacred Heart Teaching Hospital, is this man. Scrubs’ Ted is the definitive sad sack: a loser who has been tricked, insulted, rejected, injured, and resigned of all dignity since his youth. The divorced, incompetent lawyer gets the brunt of Chief of Medicine Dr. Kelso’s malevolence, is constantly ignored or offended by his coworkers, and has an odd proclivity for dropping ice cream… which doesn’t always stop him from eating it. Even when Ted does find love at the end of the series, it doesn’t last… his character reappears in Bill Lawrence’s follow-up series Cougar Town, once again alone, confessing that he “should have seen it coming.” Fortune so bad, it isn’t even confined to your own TV show? Now that’s bad luck. — MICHAEL ARBEITER
Wile E. Coyote (Looney Tunes) It would be easy to call Road Runner's foe lucky — not everyone can survive accordion-like existence after a nearly-fatal piano collision — but he's waited decades for one of his schemes to work in his favor. What's a guy gotta do to get ACME's destructive tools working? Switch to another brand? No one likes change! — KATE WARD
Kim Bauer (24) You know 'dumb luck'? Kim Bauer didn't have that. She had dumb un-luck. Part jinx and part dumdum, she was the character to run in the direction of a car bomb, catch on fire, and get caught in an animal trap and be hunted by a cougar. A cougar, people. — MICHELLE LEE
Jerry Gergich (Parks & Recreation) Damnit, Jerry! Jerry Gergich, king of the pointillist "murinal," is also the "schlemiel" and the "schlemazel" of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation office. And maybe the universe as a whole. The butt of seemingly every joke (ever!), Jerry's status as happy-go-unlucky office klutz has been cemented from day one. The man just cannot catch a break. Ever. He can't even lie well: too embarrassed to admit he'd fallen in a stream (come ON, Jerry, really? A stream?), he explained that teenagers mugged him in a park. The man is constantly asking — nay, begging — for every single taunt and tease he wearily accepts from his P&R cohorts. Wait, his name is Gerald? Gary? Gerry? Garry? Since he thinks it's too rude to correct us, we may just never know. I heard he played a beautiful Tinkerbell back in '64, for what it's worth. Damnit, Jerry! — ALICIA LUTES
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It's hardly out of the norm for Bill Lawrence to stick his old friends in his new shows. Back when Scrubs was still a welcome fixture in our weekly routine, actors from Lawrence's previous show, Spin City, would pop up fairly regularly. And in a very circle-of-lifey vein, we're about to see a handful of Scrubs cameos on Lawrence's Cougar Town. Specifically, Zach Braff, and Robert Maschio, who played The Todd. It was announced last month that Sarah Chalke would also be appearing on the show in a multi-episode arc as Bobby's (Brian Van Holt) girlfriend and Travis' (Dan Byrd) college professor.
We've already seen a couple of old friends from Sacred Heart Hospital make their way down to the shores of CT. Christa Miller is the most obvious example of this (she plays Ellie Torres on Cougar Town and played Jordan Sullivan on Scrubs). Ken Jenkins, who reigned surpreme as the tyrannical Dr. Kelso on Scrubs, has made a couple of appearances as Jules' (star Courteney Cox) father, Chick. Plus, Scott Foley -- a frequent Scrubs recurrer as Elliot's (Chalke) handsome but socially awkward seal-training boyfriend Sean -- enjoyed an arc back in Season 1 as Jules' love interest. As a matter of fact, Cox herself falls into this category, as she had a brief stint on Scrubs' eighth season as the temporary Chief of Medicine at Sacred Heart. But the Scrubsiest moment of the series occured when Sam Lloyd made a guest appearance on the show's Season 2 finale (an episode full of interesting guest appearances), playing his Scrubs character, the perpetually-defeated lawyer/musician, Ted Buckland. Both Jenkins and Lloyd are set to reprise their characters this coming season.
And now, Braff and Maschio will find themselves involved in some wine-addled Penny Canning. No word yet on what characters the former docs will play, but some of the more dedicated fans might consider Braff playing anyone other than himself to be a rift in the space-time continuum, thanks to Laurie's (Busy Philipps) Zach Braff iPhone app.
The best thing about this is the possibility of a total Scrubs reunion episode: as Chalke's role on the show will span several episodes, we might get to see her interract with newcomers Braff and Maschio, and returning players Jenkins and Lloyd. Is it too much to hope for that they'll all find themselves in the same scene? Possibly with Miller, and Jules' creepy neighbor Tom, whose portrayer Bob Clenendin had a small recurring role as the sexual deviant oncologist Paul Zeltzer on Scrubs?
This is quite an exciting development for Scrubs fans. It's enough to make you jump on your best friend's shoulders and shout "Eagle!"
After three seasons, the novelty of My Name Is Earl has begun to wear off and its once endearing premise has become a something of a hindrance. The fourth-season premiere (airing Thursday at 8/7c on NBC; followed by another new episode at 8:30/7:30c) takes a small step in the right direction--that is, if you can ignore guest star Seth Green.
Green plays Buddy Zaks, yet another former victim of Earl’s (Jason Lee) cruelty. As a deathly ill child, Buddy’s dream was to ride a pony during Camden’s Make-a-Wish parade, a dream that went unfulfilled when Earl drunkenly stole his pony.
Cut to present day, when Earl and Randy (Ethan Suplee) embark on their usual make-things-right adventure. Since they expect Buddy to have died long ago because of his childhood illness, they seek out his mom, only to learn that Buddy is still alive and seemingly well.
After Earl gives Buddy the whole karma spiel, Buddy reveals his new wish to Earl: to make a movie about giant squids. Earl promises, albeit reluctanctly, to make it happen.
Naturally, the Camden locals--Joy (Jaime Pressly), Catalina (Nadine Velasquez), Patty (Dale Dickey), Kenny (Greg Binkley), et al.--round out the on- and off-set “talent,” and for Randy, who co-stars, the movie is a showcase for his unforeseen acting abilities. Earl, meanwhile, serves as the producer, and Buddy does double duty as star and director.
The episode itself is vintage Earl: light, brisk and funny, with a few laugh-out-loud lines in particular--the best of which belongs to Joy, who warns Buddy, “I only do tongue kissin’ if it’s Brad Pitt or Eric Roberts.”
But Green is a nuisance in the episode. For example, every time his character thinks something is awesome, he must express it via finger gestures, which haven’t been funny since Clueless in 1995. Annoying character tics aside, Green gives Buddy, who by all accounts has spent his whole life in Camden, a Southern California accent--or a non-accent.
They’re somewhat minor gripes, though, about a show that’s still an integral part of NBC’s funniest night of TV and a show that’s still better than the average sitcom. Let’s just hope that at some point this season, Greg Garcia and Co. throw us a major curveball that’ll punish us for expecting another 22-minute, self-contained episode about redemption.