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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (#110 of 18)

Watch: Shia LaBeouf & Maddie Ziegler Star in Sia’s “Elastic Heart” Music Video

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Watch: Shia LaBeouf & Maddie Ziegler Star in Sia’s “Elastic Heart” Music Video
Watch: Shia LaBeouf & Maddie Ziegler Star in Sia’s “Elastic Heart” Music Video

Some songs deserve a second chance. And sometimes they get it. Sia’s “Elastic Heart” was originally featured on the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack back in 2013, and the track, produced by Diplo and featuring the Weeknd, even got a video treatment starring a blond-bobbed stand-in (the clip has since been removed). The Aussie pop singer-songwriter would, of course, go on to cast another proxy for herself, 12-year-old Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler, in the music video for “Chandelier,” the lead single from last year’s 1000 Forms of Fear. On the heels of that song’s massive success (the video is nearing half a billion views on YouTube), RCA is giving “Elastic Heart” a new shot of adrenaline. The re-launch includes a solo version of the song and a new clip, which finds Ziegler reprising her role as a bewigged (and semi-wigged-out) ballerina sporting a dirty leotard and some fantastic dance moves. This time, though, she goes toe to toe with creepy-sexy enfant terrible Shia LaBeouf, who is, naturally, bearded and half-naked. Locked in a giant birdcage from which only the petite-framed Maddie is able to escape, the pair face off in what is both a tender and sometimes funny sequel to “Chandelier.”

Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

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Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion
Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

The image of women spontaneously combusting while doing housework was one of the most popular tropes of filmmaking more than a century ago. In a widely viewed early film from 1903, Mary Jane’s Mishap, a British housemaid accidentally immolates herself while attempting to light a hearth fire with paraffin and subsequently explodes out of the chimney. It was, of course, not uncommon for 19th-century women to catch fire in their own homes when their bulky hoop skirts would graze against an errant spark from the fireplace. Women spontaneously combusting in their own homes was a frequent hazard of the time that journalists then tastefully referred to as “crinoline conflagrations.”

Comical media images of women exploding provided outlets for spectators to laugh off the hazardous politics of everyday domesticity. While many aspects of the relationship between gender politics and media culture have changed since the early 1900s, we still harbor an unconscious tendency to laugh at otherwise horrific images of violence inflicted on women’s bodies. Fortunately, 21st-century domesticity isn’t quite so fraught with the perils of instantaneous conflagration. Yet, the image of women catching fire—quite simply as a metaphor for women’s ambitions to be visible at all—continues to spark our cultural imagination.

And perhaps no other movie star walks this fine line between media visibility and human calamity as deftly as Jennifer Lawrence. There’s something oddly literalistic about the actress’s star appeal. From her “electricity” with Bradley Cooper, to her near-fatal calamity with a 1970s microwave in American Hustle, to her iconic portrayal of “The Girl on Fire” in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lawrence draws on a long tradition of female combustion in cinema.

The 20 Best Movie Posters of 2013

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The 20 Best Movie Posters of 2013
The 20 Best Movie Posters of 2013

What were the common threads among the finest film posters of 2013? Mustaches. Sunglasses. Font that boldly monopolizes the center of the design. And plenty of pink. A great movie poster can do a great many things, but it’s most important attribute is always the reminder that there are more ways to enticingly sell a film than with famous faces. Virtually every genre (and budget level) is covered in this roster of 2013’s best, proving that great marketing in this industry is by no means exclusive to one type or size of film. And though an ethical issue had a pivotal effect on the final results, it couldn’t tarnish a collection of vastly diverse aesthetic triumphs, which helped to richly enhance the cinema-going year.

Box Office Rap Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

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Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap
Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

Adam McKay’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens on Wednesday and looks to become the eighth live-action comedy of 2013 to gross over $100 million in its domestic run. That’s a significant jump from only three comedies in 2012 which made that benchmark—a doubling in margin that suggests, by all conventional accounts, that it was a “good” year for comedies. Yet, upon further inspection, we find the titles of these moneymakers to be Bad Grandpa, Grown Ups 2, The Heat, and The Hangover Part III, which are among the laziest, if not the worst, Hollywood films of the year. Instead of “good,” we should say it was a profitable year for comedies and leave any such evaluative adjectives out of box-office summations.

If live-action comedy hits were aplenty, so were their animated counterparts, with Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, The Croods, Frozen, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 all meeting or exceeding financial expectations. The same could certainly be said for nearly every endeavor into superhero territory, as audiences still prefer cinema that transports them from the confines of reality and into a playground of fantasy-infused triviality, with a treatment of characters that ranged from tongue in cheek (Iron Man 3) to bombastic (Man of Steel) to hopelessly imitable (The Great Gatsby).

House Playlist: St. Vincent, Burial, Phantogram, & EMA

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<em>House</em> Playlist: St. Vincent, Burial, Phantogram, & EMA
<em>House</em> Playlist: St. Vincent, Burial, Phantogram, & EMA

[Editor’s Note: House Playlist is a weekly round-up of all the new music we think you need to hear.]

St. Vincent, “Birth in Reverse”: “Birth in Reverse” is the first taste of singer-guitarist Annie Clark’s forthcoming self-titled album, the follow-up to last year’s Love This Giant, a collaboration with David Byrne, and her first solo effort since 2011’s Strange Mercy. Described by Clark as “a party record you could play at a funeral,” St. Vincent is due February 25th.

Box Office Rap The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

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Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex
Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

Confession: I don’t like The Lord of the Rings films. All of them. Well, at least the first three, as I skipped The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey because of my disdain for its predecessors, and needless to say, I’ll be skipping The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as well. Of course, millions of others will not be skipping the film this weekend, as it tries to land somewhere in the $80-90 million range, matching the previous film’s performance. For me, director Peter Jackson’s initial trilogy operates on bloated runtimes meant to appease fanboy OCD, including Jackson’s own. The apex of contemporary pop-cultural obsession-as-sickness is no better embodied than by these films, which edify young moviegoers to view film culture as narrative/character/imaginary playtime rather than a mindful and serious medium for artistic expression.

However, rather than further lambast The Hobbit, Jackson, and Warner Bros. for their transparent, masturbatory decisions to turn one novel into three films for means of tripling profits, of more importance this week is examining how critics are responding to The Desolation of Smaug, and the sorts of qualities being sought after in their evaluations of Jackson’s latest. The film currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75%—a full 10% higher than the first installment, though the middling reviews did not negatively affect its box office, as The Unexpected Journey had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any films in the entire franchise. Critic proof, like most franchises, but it nevertheless remains the critic’s role to instruct attentive filmgoers to the qualities worthy of contemplation.

Box Office Rap Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

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Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)
Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

As Bane raises Batman above his head and prepares to snap his back in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane postulates, “I was wondering what would break first: your spirit or your body!” The scene is faithful to the comic books for its “krakt” intensity, but also reflexive insofar as it speaks to Christian Bale’s acting career, which has been founded on consistent bodily transformation and, before donning the cape for Christopher Nolan’s franchise, a lack of commercial success that could have easily broken the actor’s spirit in becoming an A-list star. Yet, even after the Batman films, Bale’s financial viability removed from franchise confines remains questionable, and one wonders with Out of the Furnace opening this weekend if Bale’s name alone is enough to guarantee a $10 million opening.

Bale’s career began as a child actor in films like Empire of the Sun and Newsies, but it wasn’t until 2000’s American Psycho that he found a leading role that began to define his star persona. As Patrick Bateman, Bale’s slender, muscular body and strikingly handsome face were apparent enough, but perhaps more surprising was the ease with which the actor seemed to project Bateman’s affability-masking-psychopathy lifestyle, wielding an ax with the same quotidian detachment as when he visits the tanning salon. Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that “Bale is heroic in the way he allows the character to leap joyfully into despicability; there is no instinct for self-preservation here, and that is one mark of a good actor.” Audiences generally agreed, as the $7 million film grossed just over $15 million domestically.

Box Office Rap Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

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Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown
Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

Some say the box office is going to end in fire, but some say it’ll end in ice, as Disney’s Frozen looks to unseat Catching Fire over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. For Catching Fire, the lack of a significant improvement over the opening weekend of the first film suggests many viewers could have been holding out to round up the family for a viewing over the long weekend; nevertheless, almost every box-office prognosticator had Catching Fire pegged too high (especially yours truly), making talk of “catching” The Avengers appear foolish in hindsight.

Frozen goes nationwide on Wednesday, entering a marketplace that hasn’t seen a legitimate animated contender since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 nearly two months ago. Although trailers make the film look rather pallid, reviews have been white hot, which should boost interest among core demographics and adults alike. In fact, interest could be high enough for Frozen to top Tangled’s $68.7 million opening three Thanksgivings ago.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the Emotional Breakdown of a Totalitarian Facade

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<em>The Hunger Games: Catching Fire</em> and the Emotional Breakdown of a Totalitarian Facade
<em>The Hunger Games: Catching Fire</em> and the Emotional Breakdown of a Totalitarian Facade

Of the many surprisingly poignant moments in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the most jarring comes courtesy of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the über-styled PR puppet who serves the corrupt Capitol, and is tasked, like many, to coddle the oppressed, dystopian Districts of Panem, distracting them from the horrors that pervade their daily lives. (Spoiler alert: the Capitol annually sends the Districts’ youth to compete in televised, fight-to-the-death bloodsport.) After the unprecedented announcement that the latest Hunger Games will force two past winners, or “victors,” from each District into a deathtrap-filled arena, Effie, the irrepressible fraud whose job includes gleefully declaring which males and females will fight, gets mildly choked up, her meticulous mascara slightly running.

Of course, in this moment, Effie is reading the names of the chosen victors from District 12, who include co-protagonists, ostensible lovebirds, and last year’s winners, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a tailored pair Effie regards as the crowd-pleasing achievement of her career. But just as Catching Fire never feels like it’s merely peddling a Chosen One narrative (or, worse, an unfounded Special Girl saga a la Stephenie Meyer’s oeuvre), Effie’s break in character seems less rooted in personal bias than the growing, common notion that something’s epically off in Panem. Katniss’s concocted act of defiance in the last film, wherein she and Peeta threatened suicide in favor of killing each other, didn’t just yield a dual triumph, but the start of an uprising. And even Effie, a picture of privileged, blinder-wearing, Capitol hypocrisy, is being forced to feel—to truly face her world’s radical injustices.