Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Title: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Are The Odds Ever In Your Favor? Not the last few times I've been to Vegas, no.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Arnold Schwarzeneggers in The Running Man out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: The [un]true story of [24] strangers picked to live in an [arena] and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting [dead].

Tagline: "Remember who the enemy is."

Better Tagline: "Resistance, Rebellion and Death."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Winning the Hunger Games isn't all it's cracked up to be, as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) soon discover. Their faux romance, instrumental to their surviving the Games, also earned them the enmity of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and is now a deception that must be maintained during the subsequent Victory Tour through the 12 Districts. Even worse, this year is the Games' 75th anniversary, marked by something called a "Quarter Quell," in which the tributes are selected from past Games winners. Surprise surprise, Katniss and Peeta are sent back to the Capitol. Meanwhile, Katniss finds she has become the symbol of rebellion in the Districts. Something else for President Snow to be pissed about.

"Critical" Analysis:

By the dust of them all... Bartertown learned. - Dr. Dealgood, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

His Dark Materials, The Caster Chroicles, The Mortal Instruments, out of all the YA film adaptations, Suzanne Collins' soon to be quadrilogy of post-apocalyptic cheese stands alone. The fact that the only movie anybody's foolish enough to throw against Catching Fire on its opening weekend is Delivery Man -- in which Vince Vaughn takes the bold step of playing a character exactly like himself -- is testimony to the Hunger Games trilogy's rareified status.

But is it any good? In my review of The Hunger Games, I mentioned how crucial it was that then-director Gary Ross had secured such a fine cast: Lawrence, Stanley Tucci (*fabulous* Games host Caesar Flickerman) and Woody Harrelson (former District 12 winner Haymitch Abernathy) are all Oscar nominees, and Sutherland probably ought to be. And this holds true for Catching Fire, because as another critically lauded actor once told George Lucas: "George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can't say it."

Even with a script by Simon Slumdog Millionaire Beaufoy and Michael Toy Story 3 Arndt, Catching Fire suffers not only from the inherent goofiness/cliché of the plot (all that's missing is Sutherland twirling his mustache) but from the expected problems of a middle chapter (or second of four; they're splitting Mockingjay into two movies). The first 90 minutes rehash a great deal from the first movie (another Reaping, more training, more interviews, more FASHION), though the scenes of rebellion and the violence spilling out into the districts hint at what's to come.

Aside: I'm running out of ways to describe the Capitol. I think this time I came up with "The Great Gatsby on DMT."

But that's just it: "what's to come" has to wait until next year. I was almost disappointed when the Games finally started, because it derailed the burgeoning rebellion storyline, and because they're the weakest part of the film. Though they'd have been much worse without the inclusion of Jena Malone (Johanna) and Jeffrey Wright (Beetee), who at least delivers lines about "redirecting such and such megajoules of lightning energy" with conviction. I'm also going out on a limb and assuming Back to the Future was one of Collins' favorite movies when she was younger.

... I'm re-reading this and realizing it sounds like I didn't like Catching Fire, which is incorrect. I didn't *love* it, but the performances and a few surprises (Cinna!) kept me engaged. Lawrence is central to the whole endeavor, and convincingly makes the transition from the stoic teen warrior of THG to a damaged and hesitant political lynchpin. She's even able to make us believe she might potentially choose Peeta over Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Seriously, director Francis Lawrence uses more forced perspective to make Hutcherson look as tall as JLaw than Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings movies. In other news, I can't believe I just typed "JLaw."

Catching Fire isn't bad, and as set up chapters go, it's better than most at essentially marking time until the shit hits the fan. But I'm sure I won't be the only person who'll watch Katniss' expression in the last scene (after she's just gotten some unpleasant news from Gale) and just want to get to the fireworks factory last two entries already.

Catching Fire is in the theaters today. Katniss Everdeen will return in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

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