A house in Canberra, Australia, just picked up a Guinness World Record for the most Christmas lights on a house. Rough stats:
David Appleford is my go-to guy for movie reviews -- he's an expert -- and he seems to really like the second Hunger Games flick... He's from KEZ in Phoenix, AZ. Here's his review:
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire benefits from a change of rules.
In the first, teenagers were paired against teenagers in a fight to the death, an appalling notion considering that the target audience was also teenagers, so in order to present the battles, or the games, the scenes were shot with a queasy hand-held and edited at such a rapid pace it was almost impossible to see what was going on. The idea was to dilute the impact of what was actually happening – children murdering children - and earn that PG-13 instead of an R. The end result might have won have the desired rating but it also made for one clumsy looking film that appeared to chicken out when it finally got to the parts you were there to see in the first place. This second installment is considerably better.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes off at exactly where the first ended. The filmmakers take for granted that everyone knows what has already happened, so with no introductory prologue, characters make their entrance with little or no announcements and principle players talk of events that have already happened without bringing anyone up to date. It’s TV story telling for the big screen. The assumption is, you should already know. If you’re a casual viewer rather than a fan of the books and, like the majority, saw the original just the one time, there could be a few minutes or longer of getting yourself up to speed.
The young and resourceful heroine, Katniss Everdeen – such a great name – returns home after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games, but principle villain President Snow (an effectively obsequious Donald Sutherland with a firm grip on the proceedings) is not happy.
The games were not supposed to end like that and Snow lets Kat know. “It must be a fragile system if it can be brought down by some berries,” Kat tells Snow, referring to the poisonous Nightlock berries that ended the games in the first film. Snow is going to make Kat pay for her defiance and force her to participate in the 75th games, only this time it’s going to be different. “Why don’t you just kill me now?” Kat asks the president, but he’s not going to. He wants to make her an example in front of everyone. “She has become a beacon of rebellion,” the president will later say, “And she needs to be killed.”
Once the victory tour for Kat and her fellow victor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is completed they will have to return for another outing, only this time they’ll be fighting for their lives against past winners, all of whom are now considerably older and more resourceful. This time, there are no teenagers against teenagers; these are adults, which is fortunate for us because now there’s also no dilution of the action. Even though what is actually happening is still as appalling as ever, somehow having adults in the playing field and not other kids makes everything more palatable when presented as entertainment.
Once again, Jennifer Lawrence triumphs. Since her big screen introduction in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, Lawrence has never looked back. Not every film has worked – House at the End of the Street wasn’t exactly the best of its genre – but Lawrence has always maintained a standard of performance worthy of everyone’s attention, and even though the initial complaints that she was miscast and actually too old to play Katniss when the fist film was all over the social network, no one should be thinking that now. Jennifer Lawrence is simply the best of her generation and to date has that ability to make anything she approaches her own.
Woody Harrelson as her monitor and guide, Haymitch Abernathy, appears to have a more prominent role this time around. It’s difficult to say whether he has more screen time during this second outing than the first, but his presence is here more grounded and necessary, plus he brings his own level of defiance against the system to the fore, something that was only hinted at in the original. “Nobody ever wins the games,” he tells Katniss in a moment of honesty. “You survive them.”
The games themselves start around the eighty-five minute mark – there’s a lot to get through before the countdown begins – but once it starts, the action is taught and well presented, with conflict after deadly conflict thrown in the faces of the participants. These contestants aren’t simply trying to fight each other, that would be too easy; here, the odds are stacked against them by having the authorities manipulate all kinds of unannounced challenges, like invisible force fields that electrocute, smoke clouds that pour over you, burning your skin like acid, and killer baboons that appear from nowhere and attack en masse.
But the film lets itself down with its conclusion; or rather, the absence of a conclusion. It doesn’t have an end. After almost two and a half hours it simply stops. There’s a cliff-hanger to lead you into part three but it comes with no sense of satisfaction. Those who know the books will be prepared, but those who go to the movies for the one time experience may feel cheated. Ending with a to be concluded attitude feels anti-climactic, like watching a TV series week after week for a whole season only to have the finale end with a tease to keep you wanting more but resolving nothing.
However, based on what we see in part two – better, well-crafted action with more story conflict, an adult approach and far more lives at stake – there’s every indication that part three just might be great.
MPAA Rating: PG 13 Length: 146 minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)