CATCHING FIRE (PG-13)

CATCHING FIRE IGNITES THE BOX OFFICE


The 2nd installment of the Hunger Games franchise caught fire at the box office last week taking in over $480 million worldwide since opening. In case you missed the first movie; once upon a time in a post-apocalyptic nation known as Panem, North America are twelve suppressed districts held in check by the Capitol. Seventy-five years before, the then District 13 rebelled against the Capitol's iron fist. Retribution was extracted by hitting the districts in their most protected and vunerable place - their children. Designed to instill fear and maintain order, the diabolical Hunger Games reaps an age 12-18 male and female from each district once a year to represent their sector in the games. The tributes compete in a gladiatorial style fight-to-the-death with only one becoming victor. Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old from District 12 volunteers in her sister’s place and is catapulted onto the brutal stage of the games, along with her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark. Katniss and Peeta survive the arena as fledgling lovers by out-smarting the gamemakers and becoming the game’s first duel victors. The Capitol’s leader President Snow is not fooled and tags Katniss as a dangerous threat to the regime who must be destroyed at all costs.

"Catching Fire" opens with Katniss and Peeta returning to District 12 as the victors but their participation in the games has changed them forever. Their victory is short-lived because this is the year of the Quarter Quell, a special hunger games every twenty-five years. This time the stakes are raised when the tributes are reaped from each district’s existing pool of victors. Jennifer Lawrence took center stage again as the reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen. This film is carried by Lawrence’s talent, who embodies the role of Katniss with a rich array of emotional complexity and depth rare in such a young actor. You are drawn into the torment and ongoing struggles of her gloriously trapped world where she must fight to preserve her life while trying to hold onto her humanity. Lawrence disappeared into the part so well there were moments when you could read her character's thoughts. 
Lead players Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) are rejoined by Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson, (Haymitch), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), and Liam Hemsworth (Gale). There are notable new additions; Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Jenna Malone (Johanna Mason), and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee.
The ensemble cast was all well suited to their roles, but a few notables leapt off the screen stealing their scenes throughout the story; Harrelson's return as the District 12 drunken mentor Haymitch brought bittersweet comic relief. (The book gives a more in-depth look into Haymitch's background). There is also an elevator scene that sizzles as Jena Malone’s character Mason introduces herself to the District 12 tributes with a unique twist. Elizabeth Banks soared as the effervescent manager Effie Trinket, who escorts her tributes from one event to another. Banks is memorable, tickling your funny bone as she parades through her scenes with polyester precision like an overstuffed poodle – silly, trivial, and the Capitol’s flawless puppet. (I believe a special costume design Oscar should go to Trish Summerville for the imagination and gravity-defying creativity of Effie’s costumes). Stanley Tucci pulled out all the stops as the flamboyant over-the-top game-show host, Caesar Flickerman, (who should be called Fickleman). He is a sparkling drone for the government who cleverly uses razzle-bedazzle to feed the Capitol audience’s capricious appetite for entertainment. Tucci, one of Hollywood’s most gifted character actors personified Flickerman’s artificiality like a grotesque caricature. The unmatched Phillip Seymour Hoffman is not wasted as Head Gamemaker Heavensbee, where he flows in methodical smoothness as the strategist for the games. He plays the role with a mysterious edge leaving you to wonder what he’s really up to.
It is always a gamble when a blockbuster picture replaces any of its original elements. In this case the gamble paid off. Francis Lawrence ("I am Legend") replaced Gary Ross as the director. He made an efficient sequel seamlessly blending the look and the feel of the first and second film into a continuous story while bringing his own directorial viewpoint. "Hunger Games 2" touches on the far-reaching psychological and emotional effects of surviving the arena. It moves at a steady pace that fleshes out the characters in a more intimate story and the various ways the other victors cope with repeating their worst nightmare in the arena. Beyond the fantastical costumes, scenery and quirky characters was a story that challenges our sensibilities and moral compasses while revealing the immeasurable survival mechanisms of the human spirit.
Author, Suzanne Collins wrote three books in the Hunger Games series, but there will be two more films due to the third book "Mockingjay" being split into two parts. It will be difficult to continue churning out good quality sequels that satisfy the public appetite and box office receipts. But, "Star Wars", "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" prove that successful film series’ are possible. I for one look forward to following Katniss Everdeen’s metamorphosis and journey to its spectacular conclusion.
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