Friday, November 29, 2013

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Plot: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) get sent back to the Hunger Games after getting double-crossed by President Snow, who thought Katniss was becoming a political symbol. Katniss and the other tributes are more angry at the government for putting them in the games than they are at each other. In the games she forms an alliance to fight off adversaries. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Hunger Games: Catching Fire is genre-crossing movie with action, romance and politics all co-existing. The first novel & movie played with killing for mass entertainment. This movie plays with politics manipulating people through entertainment.

Catching Fire's Politics was not as clever as the media satire from the first movie, so Catching Fire is not as strong as the first Hunger Games. On the other hand, the plot has been streamlined from the book, and I found it easier to understand. 

In Catching Fire, Katniss grows up from a lucky victim to a heroine herself. The moral dimension gets heavy-handed; and as heavy handed as the politics were in the movie -- it was worse in the book.

The fact that people were dying and our young heroes were killing them is taken more seriously in Catching Fire, and this leads to the revolutionary sentiment. 

I loved the art direction in Hunger Games, and this continued the same theme, and the darker tone of Catching Fire makes the silly clothes seem more silly. I liked the elaborate food, the bohemia reference and the TV production sets.  Stanley Tucci should get his own sequel playing the announcer. I continue to love Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and her clever costumes. Poor Lenny Kravitz is wasted though. 

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks

Directed by: Francis Lawrence; based on the book by Suzanne Collins

Art direction by: John Collins, Adam Davis, Robert Fechtman

Rating: 2.5 stars: I am a Hunger Games fan. A satire about reality shows where the contestants really kill each other is a great idea. Here in the second movie, the concept wears thin, and the contestants turn their hatred toward the government. At its best Catching Fire, satirizes how entertainment media can manipulate people, but sometimes the political aspect of the movie seems forced -- like an excuse for the action/romance part of the film. 

More: Hopefully Catching Fire was a necessary step to set up a great 3rd movie. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Plot: Journalist Martin (Steve Coogan)  investigates the case of Philomena (Judi Dench) who was forced to give up her child Anthony for adoption 30 years prior while in residence at a convent. They never find Anthony, but they trace out his tragic life. 

Review: A slow moving, melodrama featuring a great performance by Judi Dench. It tells of horrific child-rearing practices and human trafficking in Ireland during the 1950's.

Highlights are the great performance of Judi Dench who inhabits the simple-minded persona of Philomena, and the writing which is filled with little details of her personality. The tragic story has a documentary aspect that is intrinsically interesting.

Lowlights were the many digressions, and the melodramatic, tear-jerker manipulation. Similarly I don't believe the nuns were so incredibly evil when they were probably doing the best they could. The poor nuns were, in fact, helping young mothers who had been disowned by their families. It helps to remember that Ireland after WWII was a poor country. 

Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark

Directed by: Stephen Frears; Based on the book by Martin Sixsmith

Rating: 2.0 stars: One good performance saves what would otherwise be a tedious story. 

More: Perhaps I am supposed to think that this was a heroic crusade to buy back the past of these young mothers. This movie did not work for me as a documentary. I don't trust dramatizations to get the facts right. The Guardian has some fact checking here.