Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I hope each of you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving, shared with family, friends and lots of good food. I had a great time at my brother’s, and in between turkey and pie, I made sure to take the time to thank God for my countless blessings, not the least of which is my family and friends, and the two troublemakers (my dear knuckleheads) that I love to the moon and back and which I give thanks for every day. I kicked off my Thanksgiving break (I took Wednesday off from work) with my usual Tuesday cheapo movie night, but unlike my usual one woman show, this time I had the wonderful, if silent, company of my friends and co-workers who joined in for some Hunger Games fun. Yup, Tuesday’s selection was Catching Fire, the film adaptation of the second Hunger Games book of the same name.

Catching Fire picks up where The Hunger Games left off, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) returning home as the reigning District 12 victors after having one upped the Capitol and President Snow by forcing his hand into having two victors instead of letting them commit suicide via poisoned berry ingestion. Now living in a beautiful home in the Victor’s Village, Katniss is once again hunting the District 12 woods and sparking some sexual tension with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) when President Snow pays her a none too friendly visit to warn her on maintaining the conjured up love story between her and Peeta and to demand her assistance in tamping down a possible revolution caused by their act of defiance. Katniss and Peeta have given the masses hope, and that is the last thing Snow and the Capitol can afford. With Snow’s ominous threats hanging over their heads, Katniss and Peeta set off on a tour of the districts, only to be first-hand witnesses of the growing civil unrest and the Capitol’s heavy handed and brutal ways of dealing with it.

In a desperate bid to appease Snow after inadvertently setting off a tragic series of events while visiting Rue’s old district, Katniss and Peeta announce their engagement. But Snow is not appeased and in hopes of finally dealing with the headache posed by the rebellious Katniss, he announces the celebration of the third Quarter Quell which will bring about a new “all-star” edition of the games featuring a previous male and female victor from each district. Of course, that means Katniss will be facing either her previous mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) or Peeta, and of course, Peeta is nothing if not valiant so he volunteers. Off to face their destiny yet again, the two are reunited with Effie and style-guru Cinna, as they begin the arduous process of training, preening for potential Capitol sponsors, and forming necessary alliances with other victors in hopes of once again coming home alive. Like Haymitch warned them, the last games truly were like “child’s play,” for this time around they are not just matching wits with their competitors, but instead facing a gauntlet of manufactured dangers including invisible force fields, poisonous fog, and some nightmarish monkeys. With Katniss in usual kick-ass form and new allies in the form of Finnick (Sam Claflin), Johanna (Jena Malone), and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), the fake lovers but true friends have every hope in making each other this year’s victor.

While I wasn’t wowed by this film, I thought it was nonetheless a great film adaptation of the book, filled with gasp-inducing action sequences and believable special effects. Lawrence offers a spot on performance once again; delivering not only on the action front but also on an emotional level as she conveys this young woman’s torn allegiances between remaining true to herself and her convictions while protecting those she loves. I am Team Peeta all the way, so I loved Hutcherson; I feel like he brings this wholesome, idealistic innocence to his portrayal that I can’t help but love. Peeta is my favorite character from the books for I feel his pure and sacrificing love for Katniss inspires the best from her. There is a saying that "behind every great man there is a great woman," well I think this time the opposite is true. As for the rest of the cast, Claflin was a great addition to the film as the egotistical yet witty Finnick, but the scene-stealer of this film was Jena Malone all the way. Malone was brilliant as the fearless, outspoken and acerbic Johanna. You sense both her strength and vulnerability, when she boldly rants against the Capitol, confessing she’s got no one left she loves to fear for.

In spite of being nearly two and a half hours in length, the movie never drags or slows in action and the last shots in the film will definitely leave fans salivating for the next in the series, Mockingjay, which unfortunately is being split into two films. Though I totally understand their need to squeeze every last cent out of this series, I just don’t get how they can split what I felt was the weakest of the three books into two substantial films. Despite the gripe, I will definitely be in line next November with $7.50 movie ticket in hand (I’ll go on cheapo night) to revisit Katniss, Peeta and the whole gang.