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“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” – Review (POSITIVE)

November 22, 2013

Screen shot 2013-11-22 at 1.57.32 PMFrancis Lawrence has toppled Gary Ross in the “Hunger Games” series, he’s done for the series, what David Yates did for the Potter films, and thank goodness Lawrence is signed on to complete the Hunger Games films, because he’s directed a intense thriller, riddled with brilliant/thought provoking themes, and features the best camera work this year. The cast is powered by intense performances, this is the best in the series, and it’s going to be tricky to top.

Picking up a year after the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now living with the haunting dreams of that terrible game; guilt, fear, and even regret. Ever since she and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) decided to eat the poison berries, a wildfire of hope was lit across all 12 districts. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) fears that a revolution will uprise, and potentially destroy the Capitol. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has been brought forward to design a new vision in the games, and a plan is sent into motion, the 75th games will see all remaining winners, male/female, to be selected in the reaping and fight to the death as before. But this time the Hunger Games are no longer ‘games’, it becomes a race against the clock to survive the most horrifying traps imaginable, and the hope that Katniss will survive is inside every District citizens heart.

So, right off the bat, Catching Fire, the book has already been hailed as the best book in the Suzanne Collins trilogy, and it’s earned that title for a reason. It’s no longer about kids killing kids & to win for chance, now its about people killing people, & surviving the harshness of a dangerous world, with a few allies at your side. The movie delves deeper into the emotional conflict about society’s social class issues. The rich are rich, the poor are poor, and somewhere in-between good and evil exists. There’s a scene I think that really sticks out, when Katniss and Peeta are at the Presidential party, and one of the party-goers offers a drink that makes you feel sick, so you can eat some more. I mean, how goddamn insane is that?

I cannot understand how the Hunger Games was meant for young teens; the underlying themes, the harsh brutality of its dystopian future, it’s mind-boggling to me. If this was written & made into a movie in the mid-70s, along with such films like “THX-1138”, “1984”, or “Logan’s Run”, I don’t think kids would be into it as much as they are today, at least on a sophisticated level. I believe teens of today should check out those films, perhaps they will take something away from them in a more enlightening way, and then when they re-watch the Hunger Games films, they’ll see something more than to young lovers kissing every 10 mins. Seriously, last night, every time a kiss between Katniss and Peeta occurred, the entire theater swooned.

Screen shot 2013-11-22 at 1.57.42 PMThe one thing that’s problematic about the series in itself (so far), is the fact that they play up the love triangle aspect a little too harsh. I get it, young sexual chemistry sells, it attracts the female (tween) demographich, and gives them something to gawk at. Thankfully, this wasn’t a major problem in “Catching Fire”, as it was in “The Hunger Games”, yes it’s still there, but I don’t think it’s so in your face about it. However, you’ll always have those girls that will act like over-zealous fools regarding just about anything that is remotely intimate between two characters, physically or emotionally. It’s the nature of the beast, and having that forced on the audience, I think detaches the message the movie is trying to convey.

Now, the best thing about this movie, besides the tightly wound script by Oscar winners Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, or the brilliant performances, was the immersive cinematography. The cinematography was definitely a controversial topic when the first film came out last year. [Director] Gary Ross decided it was best to shake the camera violently to hide the intense violence, but here, [Francis] Lawrence & cinematographer Jo Willems were not afraid to show the audience what was needed to be seen. Not only that, but Lawrence/Willems decide to follow in the footsteps of Chris Nolan and J.J. Abrams and shoot the film on IMAX cameras, and I must say, THAT is truly the shining light of this entire film. The 50 mins of the films ‘game’ was completely shot, and presented on IMAX, giving us an epic vision in scope and feel. That is what I like in a film, when it’s NOT in 3D, big picture over flashy 3D visuals any day of the week for me.

It’s rare for a series to leave you hanging with such a powerful cliffhanger, and when films like “Catching Fire” accomplish that in an intoxicating way, you cannot help but be taken back. So sign me up for “Mocking Jay Part 1” “Part 2”, I am ready to see this series to the end. But, again, this one will be a hard one to top, I hope Francis Lawrence and crew can match it.

GRADE: A-

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