Josh Hutcherson

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I’m reluctant to admit when some of my favorite actors or actresses fail to deliver.  This time, it’s the flavor du jour, Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook).  I adore her as much as everyone else does, don’t get me wrong.  Her unassuming demeanor and down-to-earth personality make her a breath of fresh air in Hollywood, not to mention her undeniable talent. That being said, her presence wasn’t enough to elevate The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to my lofty expectations.

When we last saw Katniss Everdeen, she had emerged victorious from The Hunger Games alongside Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right).  Both temporarily left their lives in District 12 behind as they fought to survive in a Darwinian cage match.  Pulling the strings was President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Horrible Bosses), a subtly nefarious plutocrat who kept the majority of the citizenry under his thumb after a failed uprising.  When Peeta and Katniss return home to District 12 things are bleaker than ever, as people scramble for essential resources.  President Snow wanted to use the Hunger Games as a twisted tool of both oppression and inspiration, as participation is involuntary, yet contestants are expected to fight proudly on behalf of their district.

Snow recognizes Katniss’ influence, and feels threatened by its implications for his own stranglehold on the populace.  He doesn’t want another uprising and must smite Katniss’ influence before she galvanizes the people.  He mandates that the next Hunger Games will be comprised solely of past champions. Talk about the odds not being in your favor.  Once again Peeta and Katniss must battle to the death, only this time their competition is infinitely more formidable.  Katniss’ team of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), and Effie (Elizabeth Banks, Movie 43) try their best to prepare she and Peeta for the challenges that lay ahead, though Katniss is overly protective of Peeta, perhaps feeling guilty for not completely returning his feelings.  They must form new alliances if they want to survive; yet Katniss senses that the stakes are even higher this time.

I haven’t read the books on which the movies are based, and perhaps that explains some of my opinions regarding this sequel.  I was very intrigued by the concept of a “best of the best” Hunger Games, but the actual competition portion of the movie didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  I won’t elaborate too much, so as not to spoil it for you, but I don’t think the competitive dynamic between contestants was as exciting as it could’ve been.  I also thought the movie ended very abruptly and left me wanting more.  This was odd, considering the lengthy run time – but a friend explained to me that the book ends equally abruptly.  Oh.

Finally, we come to Ms. Lawrence.  Save for one scene, I wasn’t that impressed with her performance.  She was beautiful and striking as Katniss, but the actual quality of her performance left me wanting more – and I know she’s capable of it because I’ve seen it.  I’ll give you a small example, and feel free to disagree.  If you’re supposed to be crying – I expect your face to be dampened with tears.  I think that’s a simple expectation, but it’s one that wasn’t met here.  I’m still in the tank for J-Law, but maybe she needs weightier material like Winter’s Bone to truly flourish.  I look for her turn in American Hustle to make me forget I ever faulted her abilities.  Final verdict?  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was pretty good.  Not great.  Grade: B.

The Hunger Games

I didn’t read the book, ok? Hopefully you still find my thoughts on The Hunger Games relevant.  I’m not one of those people that must read the book before I see the movie. Movies are my passion, and I haven’t been a voracious reader since adolescence. I think all of this higher education dulled my ability to read for pleasure, and I’m working on getting that desire back.  But who cares, let’s talk about The Hunger Games.  When I was a kid I read a short story called “The Most Dangerous Game,” about a man who was hunted like an animal by another man.  It was a fascinating look into man’s most sadistic urges.  The Hunger Games promised to touch on a similar theme of self-preservation, and it presented an interesting portrait of a bleak future – a striking cultural dichotomy.

In a fictional future, the country has been fractured by civil war.  The rebellion was quelled, but now instead of states, American territory is divided into twelve districts.  As penalty for their uprising, the citizenry must offer a periodic sacrifice, or “tribute.”  Each district must randomly select one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 to compete in The Hunger Games, a televised battle pitting the 24 contestants against each other in a fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen (Jessica Lawrence, X-Men: First Class) lives in District 12, and here’s the dichotomy I was talking about.  Although the movie depicts a futuristic world, District 12 looks like it’s straight out of The Great Depression.  Known for coal mining, the residents of District 12 are covered in soot, both downtrodden and hungry.  Food is a precious commodity, doled out in parsimonious fashion.  People barter for food by agreeing to submit their name into The Hunger Games lottery.  If you’re starving and don’t have any currency, you bargain with your livelihood.  At least that’s what I managed to glean from the cinematic version.  If you literary enthusiasts need to correct me on that point, feel free.  Katniss has an adorable little sister named Primrose, who at the age of 12 is newly eligible for the Games.  She’s understandably petrified at the prospect of the competition, but Katniss reassures her that the chances of her being selected the first time are slim.  Turns out the odds are not in young Primrose’s favor, and her name is pulled for The Hunger Games.  Fiercely protective of her sibling, Katniss offers herself as tribute in Primrose’s place.  The male contestant randomly selected is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right), Katniss’ childhood friend.

That’s the basic gist of the plot, which you probably already knew. Most of the movie takes place in a faux wilderness of sorts, the setting for The Hunger Games.  The contestants compete in a controlled environment, manipulated by the producers of the show.  Katniss is a skilled huntress, deft with a bow and arrow.  She uses this to her advantage in the savage game, one that allows for the possibility of a twelve year old girl fighting an eighteen year old boy to the death.  Talk about the deck being stacked against you.  Recently the movie has come under fire from the omnipresent vocal minority of racist idiots that call the internet home.  Again, I haven’t read the book, but one of the characters named Rue (Amandla Stenberg, Colombiana), has been criticized for not living up to the lily white image some viewers were expecting.  I thought she was adorable, and I’m not going to entertain any criticism of her performance, which was flawless.  The nubile Ms. Lawrence was equally impressive in her role, both stoic and compassionate as the reluctant warrior.

The film was a provocative exploration of the human desire for bloodlust.  It’s just a movie though, right? We’d never have something like The Hunger Games in real life…or would we?  I think the idea of a random drawing goes against the very cornerstone of American freedom, but don’t tell me there isn’t a deep dark part of human beings that loves blood sport.  Gladiators used to battle in a Coliseum while people laughed and pointed and had a grand old time.  And how many people love MMA fighting?  Oh sure, it’s not quite the same, but you get my point.  Google Faces of Death.  People got quite a kick out of that.  The Hunger Games was rather intense for the average little kid, and I wouldn’t take my first grader (if I had one).  Otherwise, I thought it was a treat, and a definite must-see movie.  Grade: A-.