The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Premise: Based on the popular book series to which I've read the first one and didn't bother reading the two sequels; Katniss is back, and she is angry and such about having to be the symbol of a revolution. Life was so much simpler before she murdered those other teens on television and became famous. Been there! All the lovable characters from the first one are still around; like Peeta (the useless guy), Haymitch (the drunk guy), Cina (the poorly acted guy), Gale (the forced love triangle guy), President Snow (the evil guy) and Elizabeth Banks, whose character name I can't remember. Let's just call her Foofica Promwillywick. That name matches her appearance pretty well.
-A lot of the "charm" of the first Hunger Games came with its simple premise and execution. It wasn't entirely political, but you understood the political implications. It was more about going through the motions that led up to a frightening experience through the eyes of a young girl. Catching Fire is much more dark and angry, and it is definitely trying to make an actual message out of the plot. I'm sure you can make a bunch of metaphors out of Catching Fire about how it relates to a "tyrannical" American government that tries to control its citizens through strategic public relations and fear-mongering, but this is a COW forum, not Real Time with Bill Maher. Still, I liked that this sequel actually went out of its way not to just completely retread the first one by attempting to recreate the magic that was already there. A lot of times I watch a movie and I end up lamenting a good concept that falls short, yelling "Do something, movie. DO something." at the screen as if it can actually hear me. In Catching Fire's case, the movie tried to actually do something. Good for you, teen action film! [puts gold sticker on Hunger Games' forehead]
-Jennifer Lawrence is almost above these movies at this point, isn't she? It's pretty cool that she can be in two huge special effects laden franchises (this and X-Men), yet still find the time to win Academy Awards for her other films. And it doesn't even seem like she hates being in the Hunger Games movies, either. Probably because they aren't soul-sucking, wooden films like the Twilight movies. That's one thing that always amused me about the Twilight series; it seemed like everyone involved really resented being a part of it, despite it making them all millionaires. I don't get that vibe with The Hunger Games.
-On that note, the rest of the cast does enough to satisfy our expectations. Could have used more Stanley Tucci, though... Of the new people, Jena Malone is the standout as the angry victor from the tree district. Also, Jeffrey Wright needs to be in everything.
-I'd like to think that Philip Seymour Hoffman agreed to be in this movie as long as he didn't have to wear any goofy costumes or make-up. "Yeah, I'll do it, seems like a nice role. But if you put that giant blue feather hat near my head, or try and draw a swirly beard on my face, I'll walk off the set."
-Josh Hutcherson kind of sucks. Not just the character he plays in this movie, but he just seems like an uninteresting guy in general. But then he hosted SNL this past weekend, and he did a pretty great job. Made me respect him more after the fact. But Peeta still kind of sucks. (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x17k6wr_josh-hutcherson-josie-sketch-your-...)
-As far as CGI monkeys go, the baboons in this film ranked higher than both After Earth and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, but lower than Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Remember the monkeys from Jumanji? I saw that movie again on TV the other day, they didn't hold up well to time.
-I saw it in IMAX, and they actually used IMAX cameras for the entire 50 minute "games" portion of the film. It was a neat change in visuals to transition into the big footage at that crucial moment.
-Speaking of the games, I liked the new arena, it was more interesting than the first film's arena.
-Much less noticeable shakey cam.
-There are cliffhanger endings that work, and those that feel cheap and annoying. I thought the ending to this one worked decent enough. It makes me want to see the next film.
-But the overlong CGI Mockingjay graphic that came up right before the credits was... ridiculous... ...and weird...
-I would have liked to have gotten to know the other victors who competed in the games in this movie a little better. They only bothered to introduce the ones who were relevant to Katniss' story, but they could have at least done a quick two-minute sports show-esk preview/montage of all the competitors or something...? Because ya know, it's interesting.
-But I hope this Finnick guy doesn't become a fourth handsome object of Katniss' eye. She's already in a needless love triangle. What would it be with three dudes? A love quadrangle? A love rectangle? I DON'T WANT TO KNOW.
-Liam Hemsworth gets third billing in these movies? He's in them for like five minutes each. It's the abs isn't it?
-Unless she's going around picking up all the arrows she shoots, Katniss appears to have an infinite supply of ammunition for her bow. Yes, that's kind of a nitpick of a complaint, because I should just roll with the action or whatever. But I don't know, it might have been really tense if she had a noticeably limited supply of arrows, and she had to really think about when she wanted to use them. That would inject some emotion into the action, instead of her just rattling off fifteen arrows into a pack of baboons, then in the next scene there's still four arrows in her quiver. Just sayin'.
-Lenny Kravitz doesn't do it for me. I don't like him. He wrote one good song twenty years ago. He's not much of an actor.
-The last five minutes of the movie were somewhat rushed and over-expository. My way of thought is that if you're going to make a movie almost two and a half hours long, you might as well just take your time with the ending as well. Right? But it felt like, "OH CRAP, WE NEED TO EXPLAIN A LOT OF STUFF BEFORE THE SCREEN GOES BLACK SO WE BETTER JUST SPIT IT OUT REAL QUICK. HERE'S YOUR LINES. READ THEM AS FAST AS YOU CAN. ROLL CREDITS."
-Have you seen the trailer for "I Frankenstein"? They played it again before this movie and it looks obnoxiously bad.
Final Thoughts: I really liked the first Hunger Games, both the book and the film, and I liked Catching Fire probably the same amount. It's more entertaining than most of the summer blockbusters from this year, and I enjoy the fact that they've actually bothered to make this film series with at least above-average technical artistry. Hey, I just thought up a good food truck name! I could sell sausages and pulled pork sandwiches, and call it "May the Hogs Be Ever in Your Flavor."
8.5 out of 10
We likely will not see this movie until it is on RedBox - we sit really close to the TV so it is almost like IMAX!
On a related but not really related note, over the weekend after the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who movie on BBC America, they played the pilot of Atlantis, a weak SyFy quality Game of Thrones poser show. Maybe it's popular on the real BBC, but probably not.
Anyway, since most Americans will NEVER see this show (mainly because it is terrible), in the pilot, Jason (a modern British deep sea explorer type) goes in search of his father, who possibly died in a mini-sub accident presumably in the Mediterranean Sea. Naturally Jason is sucked into the lost city of Atlantis (that's not really a spoiler because all you have to do is mention "Atlantis" and you pretty much know what is going to happen).
Anyway, after making friends with Pythagorus and Hercules (Mary Addy, lovable guy from the Full Monty and the first episode of Game of Thrones is, apparently, the most muscular British actor available for a short-lived tv series), Jason enters the annual lottery to face the Minotaur.
Now stop me if this starts to sound familiar.
Each year the citizens of Atlantis draw lots and 7 of them have to enter the Minotaur's cave maze and basically die for their city.
Of course Pythagorus chooses the black stone, and because he's a mathematician of course he's a 90 pound weakling, and Jason being a marine biologist is of course a bad a$$. So Jason, and I quote, offers himself in tribute to face the Minotaur. They really did not try to pretend that they were ripping off the Hunger Games.
Anyway, the rest of the episode goes in a predictable way, as will the rest of the episodes that make it to air before it is cancelled due to poor ratings.
Film critic Pete Rosenthal really captures the essence of the new film in this spot-on analysis:
My daughter insists the shakeycam in the first one was deliberate and used to give a sense of the disjointed and disorienting world around Katniss. I have to be happy that she even thinks about how cameras are used in shooting films; most of her peers wouldn't pick up on that. I won't have my own opinions on Catching Fire until I see it, probably on red box.