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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Hello, X Factor fans! Your beloved recapper Shaunna is otherwise engaged this evening, so you're all going to just have to deal with me (Alicia) this evening. So, if my opinions are different and the tone is completely inconsistent with what you're used to, you're just going to have to deal. I promise that I'll try to make it good for you guys though, okay? Let's get right down to business. Music business!
THE CONTESTANT CUTS
The show got started with a symphony of melodrama. The gaggle of folks we knew before had to face the music and brace for the final cut to make it to the judges' house. Everyone was sad! Everyone was nervous! Dreams were in peril! So, of course, the producers decided to spend about 59 years dissecting all the nerves. Overall, the judges seemed to be on the same page, though judge Britney Spears seemed a bit surprised from time to time when Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato didn't agree. No one is really all that surprised by L.A. Reid's crazy hissy fits though, huh?
The singing categories were broken down as such: The Fetuses (Teens), The Incorrigible Youths (Young Adults), The Olds (Over 25), and the groups.
CeCe Frey (duh)
Willie Jones (and his fly ombre jeans)
Fennel Jennel Garcia
Paige Thomas (and her Lauren Conrad tear.)
James Tanner (what the what is this Baby Bieber doing wearing his sunglasses inside?)
Carly Rose Sonenclar
...and here's where the TWIST THAT'S NOT A TWIST AT ALL happened! They're calling people back to make some GROUPS. Three originally made it as-is, and the last three groups were created by the judges. They are:
Playback (new all-boy group)
LYLAS (new all-girl group)
ONE4FIVE with Lyric
So there are our top performers! So now it's time to run over to each judge's not-actually-their-own-house-house to perform and meet their judge and mentor. First, the groups show up at Simon's Miami abode (on a boat!), and some of them even think they're at an imaginary home that people can't actually own. (Fact: they just make these houses for show and they sit empty!) Their mentor is... Marc Anthony? Random-seeming, but okay! Moving on.
For the young adults in LA, everyone is talking about how much they belong in Hollywood! LA the dream-maker, rump-shaker. You know. Demi's fake downtown LA apartment is so edgy with its exposed brick and sparse layout. She's so cool and hip and understanding of the youngs. And Nick Jonas is their mentor. [Insert screaming girls here.] The tweens are off to Britney's house and OMG LOL! Welcome to the 'bu (sorry, Malibu). Who was there to greet them? Mentor and part-time space DJ Will.i.am, y'all! What... a letdown. (Yeah, I said it.)
Now onto the olds heading to L.A.'s house in the Hollywood Hills. And this one is sure to be hilarious because L.A. is P-I-S-S-E-D that he has the non-young, non-sexy, non-easily-marketable group (because the music industry sucks the blood of its young. People over 25 should basically just go live in retirement homes rather than try to be in the music industry. Duh!). Not one to shy away from his feelings, L.A. quickly tells his group about how disappointed he has to pretend he wants one of them to win. Ugh! What a drag! To calm his nerves, L.A. Reid has brought the Biebs himself — aka Justin Bieber for you olds out there — in his corner as mentor. Phew! For a minute there we were all afraid L.A. was going to run off to a nursery school to stave off the vapors.
NEXT: The Performances! So now it's time for our fair singers to sit around looking nervous while Coldplay plays in the background and voiceovers speak to nerves and dreams. The two categories performing tonight include the young adults and the groups. The best part is everyone can either hear and/or see the other performers, so they're all sizing each other up and stressing each other out. Drama is a wonderfully hilarious thing, is it not?
Jennel: "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry: Prior to her performance, Demi told her not to over-perform. She was alright, though! Nick liked her, but Demi tis afraid her advice "dimmed" Jennel's light.
Willie Jones: "Nobody Knows" by Babyface: An yes, the song he bombed at bootcamp. It's much better this time. Yay Willie! Nick and Demi both think he's a star, but he has to figure out if he's R&B or country. Why can't he be both? Sing some R&B with some twang and I'm on board, y'all. It's original, and I think Willie is just that.
Jillian Jensen: "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles: Jillian and Demi have a connection that we all saw before, but she still feels like she needs to prove herself. Her rendition of "Gravity" was emotional and lovely at points, but hokey and try-too-hard at others. Nick thinks she sexy (cue fainting, jealous teen girls everywhere), but Demi thinks Jillian over-did it and that her performance didn't feel genuine.
Nick Youngerman: "Tick Tock" by Ke$ha: Lord forgive me, but I find this kid smarmy and just generally sort of annoying. He is like a mosquito in the ear. Somehow, Nick enjoyed it, though? Demi couldn't tell if she loved it or was annoyed by it. (The right answer is "annoyed" girl, c'mon.)
Paige Thomas: "Turn Up the Music" by Chris Brown: Paige is wearing what can only be described as a blue bow diaper and is really amping up her Rihanna schtick. Her slowed-down rendition of "Turn Up the Music" is dramatically different, but reeked of insecurity. Demi explains to Nick that at first people were blown away by her, but now she's insecure and people don't like it. Nick encourages Demi to try and get that old Paige back.
CeCe Frey: "Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO: Her version of this song is downtempo and kind of weird? Maybe even awkward? (Forgive me, I'm one of the olds and so I barely understand these LMFAO characters.) But Nick and Demi both seem to like it, especially since CeCe really took Demi's advice to tone down the confidence to heart. But is it enough? CeCe's not sure and she's just tired of holding it all in YOU GUYS. Life is very hard for CeCe.
Next up are the groups. Simon and Marc are just chilling by the pool, watching all the very tanned people of Miami zip around on their jetskis. That's all you're legally allowed to do in Miami. At least that's what I've heard. From time to time, though, Marc and Simon take a break and watch the groups perform! It all seems very relaxed and lovely... until you have to actually listen to the groups, and you realize there's basically two good ones total. Let's just say that the top bananas were pretty obvious.
Playback: "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates: Marc is not amused of the tiny boys who showed up and butchered such a quality song. "I just found myself looking for planes," Marc quipped after to explain his pure and utter boredom. Did I mention they rapped at one point, too? Yep. They rapped a verse of "Rich Girl" because young people. (Damn it, these f**king KIDZ! I AM OLD, WHATEVER.) Simon disagrees though, and Marc is all "IS THAT RIGHT?" in a very hilariously confused manner. I am on Team Marc on this one, y'all.
Emblem 3: "Every Little Thing She Does" by The Police: Nice harmonies from the world's most Californian boy band. Also, was there a memo I missed that required every single f**king song to have a rap in the middle? WHY WHY WHY, AMERICA? Why can't a song just be a song? Am I 900 years too old to be recapping this? This is a fun song, it doesn't need a rap! Mine ears! Poor Sting is going to have to tantric sex himself into a coma to recover from this. Simon flat out told the group that they "lost their way." The shirtless dude-wonder-brah messed up. Woops. Marc likes them, though? Confusion abounds.
Sister C: "Leavin'" by Shelby Lynne: Britney had previously said that she thinks they're annoying and, sorry, but I totally agree. They're like Minnie Mouse's traveling sister country act. The guys like them, though. Because blonde. Their voices are fine in that "they sound like every other middle of the road country girl" sort of way. Am I being too harsh? Woops. Simon worries if anyone would vote for them (No, probably not.)
Lyric and ONE4FIVE: "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus: This pairing was a masterstroke on Simon's part. The performance is fun! It's breezy and interesting, but not without talent. I worry about Lyric ruining her eyesight wearing that eyepatch all the time. I hope she visits her optometrist regularly. Marc and Simon think she's a star. They are probably right.
Dope Crisis: "Super Bass" by Nicki Minaj: This is just weird. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good. It was just a thing that happened for a few minutes. "Can you imagine if that's all they had?" Marc quipped after Simon commented that he thought the group gave their all.
LYLAS: "Impossible" by Shontelle: Now, world's dumbest name ever, right? Lucky for these ladies, we can let it slide, since they were definitely the best singing group of all of them. Marc and Simon have a flicker of excitement in them that they didn't have for any of the other groups at all. It's crazy that Simon could just tell these girls would be great together. It should be really interesting to see how they evolve.
So that's your Wednesday night of The X Factor! What did you think of the performances? Agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments!
[Photo Credit: FOX]
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
'The X Factor' Bootcamp Recap: Battle Round
The X Factor' Bootcamp Recap: CeCe Frey and a Ballad of Broken Dreams
'The X Factor' Recap: A Very Special Episode
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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