Friday, January 24, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Drink every time Katniss cries out for Peeta. 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – 3 out of 5

The Hunger Games never really interested me so I never read the books and never bothered to see the film in the theaters. However, when it was released on DVD, I gave it a shot because I will give every movie a chance (how do I know if something that looks like it won’t entertain me ends up entertaining me?). After watching, I wasn’t impressed but I admitted that I wasn’t the target audience for the film. I just had a hard time accepting the characters and feeling anything for them or getting into the story…a lot of the acting didn’t sell me either. Then I found out that not liking The Hunger Games makes you the equivalent of Hitler as a guy I once knew called me a snob and refused to talk to ever again after he asked me if I liked the film or not and I said, “Eh, not really.” His reaction was actually quite amusing because you would have thought I just threatened his family. The man went on a tirade of insults, curse words and comments about how I’m the most negative man in the world…all because I said I didn’t care for the film. I didn’t even say I hated it. 

Peeta is suspicious of the rotten egg smell that suddenly appeared after Katniss
abruptly cleared her throat during her speech.

Anyway, friends, coworkers, acquaintances and even strangers on the street have come up to me and told me that the second film was infinitely better and they said all my complaints about the first one were improved (it was really disturbing when strangers would stop me and tell me this. I thought they were giving me some code phrase and that I was suddenly caught in a spy thriller). Since I’ll give any movie a chance and since I never pass up a recommendation, I took these people’s words to heart and decided to watch Catching Fire

God likes to do this occasionally to show Treebeard what he is capable of.

And it actually wasn’t that bad.

When we last saw our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), she and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) pulled the old Romeo & Juliet Hail Mary in order to save both their asses in the Hunger Games. Since then, Katniss has become the object of defiance in the poverty stricken districts and the bosses at the capital are worried that a new revolution will soon take place. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) needs to extinguish the flames of revolt and make the people hate Katniss so, when the 75th Hunger Games comes upon them, he enacts the Quarter Quell—a ruling that will allow him to change the rules of the games and he decides that only previous winners will be allowed to participate. Soon, Peeta and Katniss are back in the game but the Girl on Fire soon learns that there is more at play this time around…

For example, this time there's a water level!!!

Like I stated earlier, I actually enjoyed this one more than the previous one. However, I know you are probably saying right now, “I wonder if we have any lunch meat in the fridge because I’m hungry.” Others, who probably have full bellies or aren’t currently craving a ham sandwich (Note to Self: make a ham sandwich after I’m done typing this), are probably saying, “But, Rev., if you liked the film, why did you only give it your middle-of-the-road, average score of 3 out of 5?” You ask a good question, Text That Illustrates the Potential Question of a Possible Reader. Yes, I thought this film was better and easier to endure than the first one but did I find it stellar in its entertainment? No, but I still enjoyed it…but not enough to call myself a Hunger Games fan yet.

"Ow, I tripped.  Time out!  I tripped!"

Like the previous film, the movie still suffers from a lot of poor development with the combatants in the games. While some of the characters have pro-wrestling style introductions (and even character traits), most of them are faceless nobodies who are just around to fill body bags and be cannon fires in the games. With Katniss recklessly shooting arrows in one guy's knee and ruining his adventuring career and Peeta barely able to hold his own against even the weakest of opponents, this element did the same thing the previous movie did and failed at getting me to get behind the survival of the characters. However, other combatants in the games are better developed this time and the added element of already having seen Katniss go through this hell in the previous film kinda made up for this downside.

"An arrow to the knee, my only weakness!"

This time around, as well, I’m a little more forgiving of the silliness that held me back in the first film. One thing I had a problem with in the first film was their look for the dystopian society was just too silly to take seriously. I know I’m throwing stones from my glass house because I’m a Star Wars and Doctor Who nut but the ridiculous names and the even more ridiculous fashions of the people who dwell in the capital was just too much of a comical act and not enough of a fantasy/sci-fi act. Granted, this time around it’s still pretty damn silly (most the make-up they slap on Lawrence is hard enough to deal with) but, since I’ve already sat through the first one, I’m kinda used to the established universe and, while many of the outfits the characters wear and many of their names look and sound like the images that dance behind the closed eyes of a peyote addict and sound like someone just created the characters’ names by picking randomly out of the dictionary, I’m pretty much sold on the universe The Hunger Games exists in and this is no longer an element that tosses me out of the story.

Put some caps on Stanley Tucci's teeth and his mouth instantly looks HUGE!

The one thing that had me sing any praises about the first film (and, coincidentally, is the one thing I say after I utter, “I didn’t care for it,” and, also coincidentally, caused the dude who flipped out on me to say that I was just patronizing him), is the fact I really liked the character of Haymitch Abernathy. Despite the fact he has the coolest name in a world that is built on ridiculous-as-shit names, he was played by Woody Harrelson and his performance, in my opinion, outshined everyone else in the film. But Harrelson’s epic performance aside, the character just interested me. I wanted to know more about him; I wanted to see the game he won, I wanted to see the lasting impact that game left and how it turned him into a jaded drunk. I wanted to see him before he became the shell of a man that we saw him as. I don’t care if it will piss of the loyal, purist fans but I want a Haymitch Abernathy prequel/origin film. Hell, I’ll just throw a wig on a friend of mine, toss him into the woods drunk and start flinging shit at him while I film it and just make the movie myself.

Unless...Woody Harrelson wants to do my Haymitch movie...
I can offer him a whole 5 dollars and lunch at Qdoba!

Hmm...Sam Clafin looks like he could be a great Aquaman...
You're welcome, DC movie universe.  I won't even
charge you for that casting idea.
This time around, we get a little more Haymitch and get to see that he’s got a bigger role in all the going-ons that is occurring (which actually sells me on the next films intensely, to be honest), but there was another character that I found almost as interesting as Haymitch…a couple actually. First off, Finnick Odair (played by Sam Clafin); while this character is first introduced as a douche-y one, he quickly grew on me when the games started and his alliance with Katniss and Peeta began. While he definitely came off as a badass who can deal out pain to his competitors (the first real time I saw this in the franchise, to be honest), there was also an underlying tenderness to him due to his protective nature of the older former winner that the group allies themselves with.

Yep, this moment was sad...

Secondly, Jena Malone as Johanna. It’s an established rule that Malone is a terrific actress who isn’t in nearly enough films as she should be but the character she plays was definitely intriguing. Her character is hard to pinpoint as she is introduced by stripping down to her birthday suit in front of Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch and, ultimately, comes off like a cocky free-spirit and like she is going to be the potential rival of Katniss—in fact, she was the polar opposite of Katniss. While Lawrence’s character is motivated by emotion (which often gets the better of her but I’ll get to that later), Johanna seems cold, calculating and motivated to win by all means. However, as the film progresses (just a reminder, I’ve never read the books, so I don’t really know the paths these characters walk on till I see the movie), we see there is more to Johanna than just a need to survive and that really captured my attention quicker than if she stripped in front of me like she did with Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch.

Sure, Johanna gets nude in an elevator and it's okay.  I do it and I'm escorted
out of the hotel and called a pervert.

Finally, the man I’ve been told I look like ever since he was in Twister (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plays Plutarch Heavensbee (alright, now they are just fucking with us with the names). Plutarch is here to replace Seneca Crane as the man responsible for creating the hazard elements in the game. While Plutarch comes off as the stereotypical villain that is plotting with President Snow, there quickly seems to be more at play with the man and a hidden dynamic ready to be flushed out in the future films (and teased about at the end). Plutarch comes off as having so many levels that only one man really can play him and Hoffman is just as awesome as ever.

Gawd dammit, you know he knows he's awesome.

Now…I have to get to some negatives that is still keeping me from becoming a Hunger Games fan and why this one, even with a more intriguing story and some better action and drama, is still just an average film. Number One) Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark. I won’t attack Hutcherson too much for his acting but I don’t think too much of him as an actor (he was terrific in Detention, though). While he’s not an outright terrible actor that is just either painful to watch or results in inexplicable rage like someone like Shia LaBeouf, he just doesn’t come off as that memorable. Furthermore, his lethargic acting makes me honestly question if I, as a viewer, am suppose to root for Peeta’s survival or even like the guy.

Even the people's of the Districts hate Peeta.  I'm mean, they're telling him to
"read between the lines."

My girlfriend (who is a fan of the books and films) had to explain to me that you are, in deed, suppose to like the character and not think of him as a lame duck that needs to be left behind like I think he is. In both films, I saw Peeta as a weakling incapable of taking care of himself. He can’t fight and it always looks like everyone has to protect him because, if left alone, he’s the kind of guy to drown in a bowl of water…even when the bowl of water is in the other room and he never even gets close to it. I keep finding myself saying, “Leave him to die, he’s holding you back,” every time he fumbled around with some sort of danger that came their way. Hutcherson’s lifeless performance and Katniss’ confusing feelings towards him don’t really help the matter and only further makes me question if I am suppose to like this character and want to see him survive.

I'm being serious, am I suppose to want to see him survive?

Number 2)…and let me apologize in advance because there are a lot of readers who are going to putting bounties on my head for this one…I STILL don’t see the appeal of Jennifer Lawrence. While no doubt an attractive young lady and is the current reigning doll of the Internet, I have yet to see a performance from her that matches the description of the performances people tell me she gives. It’s not that I think she’s a terrible actress, far from it; it’s just that I have yet to see an amazing performance from her—the performances that people tell me they see her do. I never seen a bad performance (well…), it’s just I’ve never seen a performance that was anything more than just average.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye and Green Arrow are discussing her form...GA is very concerned
by her lack of any arrows that have big boxing gloves attached to them.

Now…you’ll really hate me for this…I though Lawrence was unbearable in this film. There were two modes I saw from her as Katniss in this film and they were 1) OVERACTING THE FUCK OUT OF HER EMOTIONS and gorging herself on the scenery as she turned up her despair to 11 and 2) Someone who just looked bored. When she wasn’t in complete hysterics over Peeta or Cinna or whoever Katniss needed to cry over, Lawrence looked like she was too apathetic to put any effort in the film. However, those moments of not caring we’re very early in the film and, as the story progressed (and the times when she is not stuffing herself on scenery), she does start to show off some chops and we see the complex turmoil of Katniss…but then the next second, the complexities of her ordeal stop being complex and just turns back to the one-dimensional emotional outbursts. 

Her hysterical face looks just like the face she would make if she was about to
swallow Peeta's entire head.

Also, can we stop pretending that she’s chubby? She is still skinny as shit and just because she has round cheeks doesn’t make her fat. Her “fatness” is the media-created idea of what fat is and that fat is still really fucking skinny.

I hope there's a twist in this franchise that shows that the true ruling power of
Panem is actually Donald Sutherland's beard.

While Lawrence did annoy me occasionally and made me think she needed to pull it back more than a few times, and Hutcherson is still looking like he got the role just because he works for Taco Bell sauce packets, there is still some great performances all around. I already mentioned the likes of Harrelson, Malone, Clafin and Hoffman but the film also has a downright chilling performance from Donald Sutherland—of course, I sang his praises in the first film but this time around he really, REALLY came off as a legitimate threat and was just amazing to watch. Secondly, the film adds Jeffrey Wright to the film and, even though his role is small, Wright is a terrific actor and a good addition to the cast. Finally, you have all the returning guys who were great the last time around like Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks.

I feel sorry for the costume department.  It's hard to do strange when there's
a wild Gaga roaming the world.

While I’m still far away from becoming a fan of The Hunger Games, I’m not going to bullshit and say this movie was awful (hell, I don’t actually think the first one is truly awful, it just didn’t grab me). I can honestly say that I did enjoy this film. The story is much better and has the perfect amount of drama and upped tension that a sequel needs. Additionally, the film has better action than the first go around (however, there’s still not enough of it as most of the actual action in the games itself is running away from stuff and trying to NOT fight). The movie still had its problems but sometimes the problems just aren’t that bad (like how Lawrence’s performance was somehow annoying and decent to me at the same time). Overall, I think The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a vast improvement and a step in the right direction…and I’m actually kinda interested in seeing the next one.

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