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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Latest Move Review: The Hunger Games - Catching Fire

Read my latest review of The Hunger Games - Catching Fire. Good flick!

Recently, I took a break from all my Christmas preparations and enjoyed a night at the cinema to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I liked the first of the three books (but not enough to read the next two) and enjoyed the first film, and but this second movie turned out to be really great. Strange, but still great. I’ll try to explain.

First of all, let’s discuss Jennifer Lawrence who plays the lead, Katniss Everdeen. She really is remarkable, being the second youngest actress to win the Best Actress Oscar last year for The Silver Linings Playbook. The camera is tight on her face in most of the scenes, which isn’t a bad thing. She is expressive, beautiful, smart, sexy—a true poster-child for the feminine tough girl who can kick some “you know what” when she needs to. And she isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Case in point, in her recent Barbara Walters interview, she voiced her dissatisfaction with the media pointing their finger at celebrities on the red carpet and calling them “fat.” I would agree. Considered by Walters as one of the Most Fascinating People of 2013, Lawrence has won the hearts of many movie-going gentlemen, due mainly to her looks, but we women like her too. She has a girl-next-door-appeal coupled with an inner strength that makes her admirable but non-threatening. I think we will see a lot of her over the years in more great movies.

This sequel begins with Katniss and her friend, Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson), embarking on an obligatory Victor's Tour to the surrounding districts after winning the most recent Hunger Games. But before leaving, Katniss is visited by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who still harbors resentment that she outsmarted him in the past games—a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the secret, brewing rebellion against the Capitol. Katniss is warned to quell any uprising or she and her entire family will be killed. The plan is for her to convince the world that she and Peeta are in love and are the model of happiness. But this proves to be impossible, given Katniss’ affections for Gale (Liam Helmsworth) and the atrocities witnessed at the hands of the Capitol’s storm troopers.

In retaliation, President Snow changes the rules to the games and calls a new challenge where former winners compete to the death. This sends Katniss and Peeta back into the arena with a fresh crop of blood-thirsty, trained killers. When sober, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), helps with strategy, suggesting that they align themselves with some of the more friendly competitors. Katniss is suspicious of this advice but eventually agrees to befriend Finnick Odair (played by up-and-comer Sam Clayflin) and Johanna Mason (Jenna Malone). The competition is fierce and cruel, but somehow, Katniss and her friends survive, much to President’s Snow’s chagrin. With the help of a new games coordinator, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the plan was for both Katniss and Peeta to be killed. But things work out in a very different way.

While the acting is commendable, the story is quirky and bizarre, to say the least. The setting is dark, yet bright and colorful, portraying post-apocalyptic doom and gloom against the glitter of the wealthy Capitol. The attire of the opulent is freakishly odd, especially that of Stanley Tucci who plays Caesar Flickerman, the Capitol’s version of Regis Philbin. Seeing him in purple eyebrows, wig, and fake, white choppers made me chuckle. In contrast to this hilarity is the extreme poverty in the outlying districts, where work-houses, racism, and the evils of a police-state keep people in severe fear and bondage. In several scenes, angry storm troopers drag rebels from the crowd and shoot them on the spot. This kind of government oppression went on and on to the point where I could feel the pressure well up inside of me, wanting to burst forth with a Mel Gibson battle cry for “FREEDOM!” I got an inkling of what our forefathers must have felt when they battled the British Empire, or perhaps the demonstrators during the Civil Rights movement who had enough of the Jim Crow laws. Most of us living in our cushy environments have never gotten a taste of this type of bondage, but many in this world do. It is a reminder of how fortunate and blessed we in America are.

Breaking free from extreme oppression is the overriding theme of The Hunger Games that does its job of stirring the soul, while entertaining at the same time. The viewer can’t help but go down the same emotional path as Katniss and her friends, where one injustice after another leads to the obvious, clear solution: the oppressed must rise up and fight back, even to the death. I’ve always been a fan of Donald Sutherland (who plays President Snow), but I welcome the day Katniss sticks it to him – both literally and figuratively. I’m looking forward to the next rendition where hopefully that scene will satisfy my movie-going taste for revenge.

While most of the film is edge-of-the-seat action, the love triangle between Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) adds an element of tenderness to the excitement. Gale is dark and handsome and a logical first-choice for Katniss, but my sympathies are for Peeta, because it is clear he loves Katniss more than she loves him. I sense his heart will be broken in the next sequel. Somehow, the triangle will need to be closed and he will most likely be the loser. Again, I haven’t read the other books, so I could be wrong!

I won’t say any more, other than this movie is a fantastic thrill ride that kept my eyes glued to the screen. I sense there are many more surprises to come in the next sequel, which hopefully, will be available next Christmas.

Happy New Year to everyone and happy movie viewing! 

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