on November 22, 2013
Wow. Just, wow. I went to see Catching Fire last night after a year and a half long wait and I can honestly say, it was 100% worth it. Please go see this movie. You will not be disappointed. The director, Francis Lawrence, did a fantastic job expanding the world of Panem while keeping true to the tone set by the first movie. The first half of the movie, the victory tour and events leading up to the Quarter Quell, may feel a little bit rushed, but all the important details are there. The arena is colossal, so much better on screen than in my mind. The music, which I paid particular attention to since I loved the first film's score, was moving and fit perfectly in every scene. For book fans, there are a few minor details left out, but the amount of content taken directly from the book is amazing. Much of the dialogue (although not all) is taken straight from the book, word-for-word. This was probably my favorite part of the whole movie. And I need not add that the casting was phenomenal (but it was). Anyway, enough babbling. In conclusion, if you are a fan of the Hunger Games in any way, shape, or form, go see this movie. If you like a thrilling adventure fraught with unexpected surprises, humorous exchanges, and scenes that move you, go see this movie.
Nothing could have prepared me for Catching Fire; it was, quite simply, an astonishment on every level. It is so much more than just an action movie; it is also a thought-provoking look at hope, revolution, rebellion, and the importance of government. It's themes encompass grand ideas and touchy subjects with utter fearlessness.
Let us examine what sets The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a cut above the rest:
1. CAST: Surrounding the amazing Jennifer Lawrence (who has matured into a riveting young actress) is a supporting cast to die for. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth give good roles, but it is the incomparable Donald Sutherland, who oozes quiet menace from every pore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who chews the scenery with a subtle performance, and the amazing Jeffrey Wright who truly astonish. Look also for Jena Malone as Johanna Mason in a brilliant, scene-stealing performance of incredible charisma.
2. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Filled with gorgeous and eye-catching shots, Joe Willems's cinematography fills Panem with striking, practical, gritty, but never dour visuals. From the browns and greys of District 12 to the lush, green, cramped hell of the arena, Catching Fire is one of the best photographed films of the year.
3. COSTUMES AND SET DESIGN: Catching Fire offers, courtesy of small genius Trish Summerville, some of the most luscious, gorgeous, and eye-catching dresses this side of Lord of the Rings. Look for the marked contrast between the grit and the ash of District 12 with the gleam and color of the Capitol. THG's realistic set design and costuming brings a whole new field of "real" to the game.
4. ACTION: The perfect blend of psychological build-up and riveting action, the last hour of Catching Fire is an absolute powerhouse of action. Prepare to be glued to the edge of your seat as poisonous fog, lightning, monkeys, psychological torture, and floods beset our heroes. The stakes are raised, and the action is upped, but GONE is the shaky-cam that plagued the first film. Catching Fire has matured in every way.
5. THEMES: This is what astonished me the most; the subtle, devious, brilliantly convoluted game of cat-and-mouse ("moves and counter moves") played by President Snow, Plutarch Heavensbee, and Katniss Everdeen over the course of the film. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a thought-provoking and stimulating look at fascism, revolution, revolt, and the dangerous side effects of hope. Bravo for the decision to insert such smart material into a film of this calibre.
On the whole, the cons of Catching Fire are few, and it's pros are many. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the blockbuster event of the year. 5 tributes out of 5.
While not perfect, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that rarity among sequels: it is decidedly better than the first film. Credit for this achievement goes deservedly to the new team behind Catching Fire. Director Francis Lawrence (Water For Elephants, I Am Legend) brings a surer hand to the action and the pacing, and cinematographer Jo Willems gives the world of Hunger Games a feel of seamless reality that seemed missing from the first film. But the biggest credit should go to the veteran (and Academy Award-winning) writers, Simon Beaufoy (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and The Full Monty) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3) who not only managed to produce a tighter and more vivid screenplay from Suzanne Collins' novel, they also managed to compensate for the principal problem with the second novel, i.e. that much of the plot device-wise was a repeat of the first novel. One of the most noticeable ways the writers dealt with this was in how they gave the actors more opportunities to give depth to their characters, so that even though the core dilemma was the same, the events mattered because we cared more about the characters.
Anyone who has read the novels already knows most of the plot as Catching Fire, like Hunger Games, follows the book on which it was based for the most part. Note: if you haven't read the first book or seen the first movie, make sure you do at least one before seeing Catching Fire. Seriously. Background is important here and Catching Fire - quite rightly - doesn't waste a lot of time on flashbacks or lumpy exposition. For anyone who's only seen the first movie, I'm going to say very little about the plot to avoid any potential spoilers.
The film picks up things shortly after where Hunger Games ended. Despite all odds and against all precedent, both Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) managed to survive the 74th annual Hunger Games, games in which there is not supposed to be - and previously never had been - more than a single victor, i.e. survivor. They return home to District 12, the poorest sector in the country of Panem, thinking that it's all over. But just before Katniss and Peeta are to start a mandatory "Victory Tour" (read 'propaganda tour') of the country for the Capitol, Katniss receives an unexpected - and highly unwanted - visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who is quite angry with her for upsetting the rules and breaking precedent. In defying the Capitol - on nationwide television no less! - Katniss has unwittingly inspired rebellion in the districts. Snow tells Katniss that she and Peeta must continue to pretend to be desperately in love on their Victory Tour, to preserve the illusion of government compassion, with the warning that failure to do so will result in her family being killed. And so Katniss and Peeta set out, hoping that the tour will go smoothly. But things swiftly begin to unravel, and when the government announces that the 75th Hunger Games will be something called a Quarter Quell with a new very special rule added, they find out that far from being out of danger, the Hunger Games were only the beginning of their troubles.
Without revealing anything else about the plot, I do have to say that Catching Fire really delivers with the ending, and the last shot of Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss just by itself will leave you itching for Mockingjay Part I to come out.
The acting in Catching Fire definitely gets cranked up a notch, again largely because the script gives the actors the chance to bring some depth to the characters but also because of a highly talented supporting cast. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, Winter's Bone) brings a certain subtlety to Katniss, coming across as awkward and almost reluctant to be in front of the camera at times. The thing is, this is exactly the Katniss portrayed in the books: awkward in social situations, thrust into a spotlight she never wanted, only feeling truly natural when she's bow-in-hand focused on survival, of others as well as her own. Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia, The Kids Are All Right) remains perfect as Peeta, effortlessly inhabiting the role of the supportive and surprisingly creative nice guy whom fate continues to treat with ironic cruelty by tying him physically to Katniss but leaving her emotionally always out of reach.
As always, Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, No Country For Old Men) steals every scene he's in as Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta's slovenly and hard-drinking coach who nonetheless actually gives them very solid advice. I swear, Harrelson can take the most ordinary lines and turn them into absolute gems simply by the way he looks at people when he delivers them. More than any other actor I know, Harrelson seems to truly enjoy himself when acting and it really comes through in his performances. Much the same can also be said of Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, Shall We Dance) who reprises his role as Caesar Flickerman, Panem's grandly over-the-top talk show host, who in turn was one of the best things in the first film. And special notice should be given to Elizabth Banks (Pitch Perfect, The Next Three Days) whose Effie Trinket was also a stand-out in the first film because this time around the script lets Banks bring some emotional depth to her character in subtle but very effective ways.
Among the new characters that get introduced, Philip Seymour Hoffman has arguably the toughest job, walking a fine line as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new master of games who rose to his position after his predecessor in Hunger Games had an unfortunate encounter with some berries. The standout performances however are mostly among the veteran tributes from other districts. Jeffrey Wright (Boardwalk Empire) and Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction, The Fisher King) deliver as Beetee and Wiress, the two brainy tributes from the hi-tech District 3. Sam Claflin (The Pillars of the Earth, Snow White & the Huntsman) gives surprising depth to Finnick Odair, the seemingly perfect got-it-all-and-knows-it tribute from District 4. And Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) is awesome as Johanna Mason, the kick-ass attitude-to-the-max tribute from District 7. But personally I found the most moving performance was given by Lynn Cohen (Sex and the City) as Finnick's elderly fellow tribute, Mags. With no lines of dialogue, Cohen has to convey everything through her face and physical gestures, and she does this superbly, making you see what Katniss sees in her.
On the somewhat minus side, Liam Hemsworth (Empire State) doesn't do much as Gale - Katniss' District 12 hunting partner and ostensible love-interest - but this is less the fault of the actor than it is simply that the demands of the plot don't allow him much on-screen time. And
Donald Sutherland's President Snow never quite seems to rise much above the level of stock villain, but this too is less the fault of the actor than a reflection of the fact that the character in the books was in truth rather sketchy and never really rose above stock villain level either.
Overall, highly recommended as a better-than-expected follow-up to the first Hunger Games film and as a good solid action film in its own right.
Seldom have I watched a movie based on a book that so accurately translates what was on the printed page. At several points I thought I must have seen the movie before because the image was so familiar but later realized that the movie just got it so right that I only imagined it.
It's also worth remembering that the movie is a children's movie based on a children's book and despite the fact that it deals with some fairly violent subject matter, it does it in a very child-friendly way. Adults who are accustomed to the usual gore Hollywood likes to spew out will notice a much tamer take on the subject.
Additionally, I've read the books but I can't imagine this movie would suffer terribly for those who hadn't. The whole thing is fairly straightforward with no great complexity so it would be difficult to get lost even without previous experience in the texts.
Lastly, the thing that makes me like this series most is its strong underlying social commentary on the plutocracy in which we live in this country. For kids reading the book today, they're probably not seeing the parallels but once they get older it's just possible they'll see echoes of this in their own government and the social stratification that we live with every day.
on November 22, 2013
After more than a year and a half, the seemingly endless wait has finally come to an end. The Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, is here. If anticipation could literally kill people, this film would have whipped out tens of millions - not dissimilar from a Harry Potter or Twilight sequel. Regardless, the difference between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter or Twilight is the target audience of The Hunger Games is limitless. While the first film nearly broke the $700 million barrier worldwide, this franchise has picked up so much momentum that there shouldn't be any stopping it, right? Well, it's not like we aren't all aware of the dreaded "curse of the sequel," but rest assured Hunger Games fans - there's nothing to fear here.
The Hunger Games director, Gary Ross, steps aside for the sequel as the reigns fall on the shoulders of highly-acclaimed music video and occasional film director, Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants, I Am Legend). Catching Fire, based on the novel sequel of the same name by Suzanne Collins, picks up in the aftermath of the Hunger Games victory by Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Back in District 12, the pair attempts to reclaim their lives of normalcy while still dealing with the emotional backlash of being forced to murder people for the benefit of entertaining a legion of disassociated onlookers.
With the residents of the twelve districts becoming more and more agitated and on the verge of a revolution, President Snow places the blame on the actions of Katniss and her refusal to kill Peeta. Snow instructs her to sell her sham of a love affair with Peeta in order to unite the people and threatens her family and friends if she continues to defy the Capitol - evident in a kiss she shares with her close friend, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). In the meantime, Katniss and Peeta go on tour to each district to pay tribute to their fallen Hunger Games opponents, including an emotional tribute to Rue - which only intensifies the rebellion. Snow takes notice and sends in Peacekeeper soldiers to execute members of the forming resistance.
As the violent acts of the Peacekeepers intensifies, so does Snow's intent to murder Katniss. However, Snow's new adviser, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), hatches a plan to evoke the Third Quarter Quell on the 75th Anniversary of the Hunger Games. Instead of drafting new competitors for this anniversary contest, the lottery includes only former Hunger Games victors from each district, including Katniss, and Peeta. As the only female victor of District 12, Katniss must once again take arms in the Hunger Games, and is instantly forced to leave for the capitol - escorted by Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). On a side note, Banks' costumes are even more elaborately outlandish in this film than the last. Still, just amazing costume designs all around.
Let me first say that I don't read a whole lot of fiction (often spending my time watching it, instead), so the criticism coming from me are only in regards to the film itself. With that being said, there's nearly nothing to criticize about this film anyway. Honestly, after watching nearly half of this film, I was fully prepared to hammer this film for being nothing more than a slight reimaging of the first film. After watching the first film prior to watching the sequel, both films progress almost verbatim. The film begins with Katniss and Gale in the restricted zone hunting, followed by a slow progression of re-introducing characters from the previous film. As the story goes on, you'll notice slight variations from scenes in the first film when she arrives to the Capitol. Once more, Katniss and Peeta are paraded around (with combustible outfits), go through the interview process with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), and begin the same old training process. Only, instead of shooting an apple out of pig's mouth, Katniss is forced to be more creative (since this time they've installed a force field).
There are plenty of new characters introduced as opponents in the Hunger Games, including Gloss (Alan Ritchson), Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Mags (Lynn Cohen), and the undeniably charming Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones). Initially, you're led to believe this will be just another round of one-on-one violence as in the first film - but it's not. These games are so much more evolved and clever in comparison to the last film. Obviously, the battle sequences are major spoilers, so there's no need to discuss them in too much detail here other than to say the actual Hunger Games themselves make this movie into an absolute pleasure to watch. For the individual characters themselves, the other 23 competitors are not the prominent threat anymore. This time around, the unpredictability of their environment will have you zoned into this flick to the extent that you'll feel like you're sitting right next to these characters and sharing their experiences with them as they occur.
Obviously, some new characters have more screen time than others, but the screen time is largely devoted to Jennifer Lawrence and her emotional journey - a role in which Lawrence visibly excels. This film starts out with her character still recovering from the traumatizing events of her Hunger Games experience. From there, all the way to final moments of this sequel, Katniss is being slowly emotionally drained. The climax of this film is momentary build-up of her character saying enough is enough. She's surrounded by death and the idea that she's a symbol of hope (a theme is constantly mention over the course of the film), and frankly, that's bound to take its toll on anyone. At the same time, she's half-heartedly being courted by two different male suitors, one of which is her close friend (Gale) and the other she's supposed to marry for the good of "the people." And, while this romantic triangle is mildly entertaining, I like the fact that it's not at the forefront. To be honest, the chemistry between Lawrence, Hemsworth, and Hutcherson isn't all that believable in the first place.
Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a film that starts off slowly but eventually puts a stranglehold on your attention, making it one of the best sequels in recent memory. For those worrying about it not living upto the first film, rest assured: the sequel is better than its predecessor. You can't say that very often, yet in this case the sequel is far superior in nearly every facet of storytelling, acting, production, and design. If I had to generate a guess, Catching Fire will impress moviegoers so much that it will land itself in a club with The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather II, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day as one of the best sequels ever made. The thematic elements alone, discussing events that run rampant on the world today, including politics, revolution, media bias, wealth vs. poverty, and powerful people doing anything to maintain their power, all contribute to the success and progression of this story. By now, you're likely aware the two part final chapter, Mockingjay Part 1 & 2, are on their way, and the final scenes of Catching Fire provide a cliffhanger that have already made Mockingjay one of the most anticipated sequels of both 2014 and 2015.
Also, if you happen to listen to modern music, you should definitely check out the Catching Fire soundtrack. You won't be disappointed.
Admit it. Some of you have been waiting for this one. I know I have. If you saw "The Hunger Games," you will remember that in this battle to the death, our two representatives from District 12 had to pretend to be in love in order to get sponsors to provide some much-needed supplies necessary for their survival (and victory). Now the Panem government wants to see them marry to prove that it wasn't a hoax.
The problem is, The Capitol senses a rebellion brewing and thinks our heroine may be the inspiration, so they announce The Quarter Quell which will pit contestants drawn from previous winners. She is certain to have her name drawn as she is the only female winner from District 12 in the past quarter century. So much for that "lifetime of plenty" she was promised.
Some of these are returnees from the first episode:
* Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar for "Silver Linings Playbook") is back as Katniss, the role model I wish tweens would emulate: Her first instinct always is to help; she is genuine; she's smart; and she's resourceful. AND she has become the unwitting symbol of rebellion in Panem.
* Josh Hutcherson ("Red Dawn") is Peeta, her partner, and, to make their story look real, her fiance. This guy is steadfast, strong and soooo much in love with her....
* Liam Hemsworth ("The Last Song") is Gale, her first love, still working in the mine back in District 12, taking care of her mother and sister and trying to ignore the publicity about Katniss and Peeta's pending nuptials.
* Sam Claflin ("Snow White and the Huntsman") is Finnick, one of the other contestants. Is he an ally they can trust or an enemy who will stab them in the back?
* Lenny Kravitz ("Precious") is the wonderful Cinna, the designer who created the marvelous dress that launched Katniss as the Girl on Fire. This year's design is even more provocative. Wait until you see it!
* Donald Sutherland ("The Hunger Games") returns as President Snow, walking a fine line between assassinating Katniss outright (which might inflame the rebels) and trying to outwit her (which he's fairly confident he can do).
* Stanley Tucci ("Jack the Giant Slayer") once again is the perfect television host: smarmy, overly enthusiastic and completely despicable.
* Elizabeth Banks ("Pitch Perfect") This time her Effie Trinket seems to have grown a heart. Whew!
* Woody Harrelson ("Seven Psychopaths") still is Haymitch (and he still drinks too much). He's the only former winner of the Hunger Games from District 12 still living and as such, serves as a mentor for our two contestants.
This is a battle of wits, guts and gumption. It is PG-13 because of the grisly idea behind the games, although we rarely see blood. There is a sprinkle of profanity but it is warranted when used. We mostly see resourceful (and loyal) young adults in a battle for their lives. They remind each other, "Remember who the enemy is."
This is exciting, involving and we have a LOT of people to root for. I haven't named all the principal characters in this 146-minute epic, but I must warn you, there are no dull spots when you can take a quick break, so do NOT drink too many liquids!
I'm looking forward to the third (and fourth) episodes, "Mockingjay." Suzanne Collins' final book in this trilogy has been split into two $creenplay$. I guess my set from Amazon will total 4 DVDs.
on June 8, 2015
A fantastic movie! A must see...
on May 16, 2014
If you read the books, and/or loved the first movie, you are in luck, as this is the first movie all over again. The whole first half of the film is a convoluted plot to get them back in the "games" again, from there on out, it's about the same as the first one.
on July 7, 2014
The move was OK, but I was somewhat disappointed at the way it ended. I know they want to keep you interested in the next episode, but this was too abrupt and didn't close out this episode as I would have liked.