Tuesday, February 4, 2014

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson,
Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson,
Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman

"Remember who the enemy is"


I saw the first installment of this franchise and I liked its premise. More so than the one with the vampires and the werewolves. Yet when "Catching Fire" first came out in the theaters, I passed on it as I tend to be a non conformist and didn't want to see it just because the whole world was viewing it.  Heh!

I just learned that one of my favorite supporting actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a heroin overdose.  It's really sad but he leaves us with a wide array of movies to view and cherish. It will always be a worthy testament to his brilliant acting skills.

So to honor his memory, I searched my folder of movies to find an appropriate one that showcased his talent. I thought that "The Master" was too heavy (will probably see it one day!) so I settled with Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is cast as Plutarch Heavensbee, the overall coordinator of the Hunger Games. His character takes over the previous gamemaker who had to suffer the consequences of his bad decision to let two tributes win the Games.    It is a short role but highly significant and sadly he wasn't able to finish shooting his scenes for the final story in this trilogy.

"Catching Fire" takes off a year after Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) won. As part of their 'reward', they have to go on a propaganda tour to all the districts to promote the Games. But there is an undercurrent of rebellion festering in the districts as the citizens demand more freedom from the totalitarian form of government run by President Snow.

To get their minds off their grumbling rants, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) decides to stage another game, The Quarter Quell.  It is like an All Stars version of the Hunger Games as all 24 previous winners are the tributes who will battle each other for the ultimate title.

New cast members (Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone) play some of the other tributes who are all well developed characters.  While Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland all reprise their roles as the characters we have grown to like, love and/or hate.

The film still packs a lot of action filled sequences especially once the Quarter Quell games start rolling.  But there is a darker, more gritty edge to the plot as evidenced by the growing rebellion in the districts. It adds more intense drama in the backdrop while the the otherwise fun form of  "entertainment" is splashed across huge TV screens.  It is staged yearly as a form of escape from the doldrums yet now more than ever the populace are getting restless and use the Games as a catalyst for reforms from the oppressive regime of President Snow.

Of course, the real standout in the film is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen.  We see her grow from the naive 'hunter' in the first film to a more mature woman with a lot of anger and angst eating up inside her. She is torn between fulfilling her role as one of the winners and her personal battle to escape from all the pageantry and manipulation orchestrated by the authorities. She has more axes to grind even as she is seen parading in her full regalia to please the crowd at the Capitol.   Jennifer Lawrence was born to play this role and whatever role she is cast in, she never fails to disappoint.

"Catching Fire" ended quite abruptly perhaps to build up the excitement and anticipation for the finale.   Yet I think they should have handled it with more finesse as the sudden and quite brutal cliffhanger was too jarring to the senses. More so as you know you need to wait a whole year just to know the conclusion but by then our short term memory would have forgotten all the essential elements!   

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