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Film Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Following the events of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdean (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are paraded round as celebrities by the powers that be in The Capitol. However, worried about her Katniss’ growing popularity amongst the repressed Districts, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) creates the Quarter Quell to mark the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, sending Katniss, Peeta and other previous winners back into the arena.

The second installment of a trilogy is often the darkest; just look at Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as examples. And it’s this way for a reason. We’re at the mid-way point in the story where the threat is usually at its highest and still a way off finding a resolution for the characters. This is where we’re at with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

The first Hunger Games film was a surprisingly adult affair considering its young adult demographic and featured a strong female lead, an attribute many considered an advantage over its Twilight peers. It was also a satirical look at today’s society, examining the class system and adding a modern twist to Orwell’s ‘big brother’ ideas.

Catching Fire is essentially split into two parts. The first focuses on Katniss coming to terms with the events of the first film and how she’s struggling to deal with having killed people and consequently being hailed as a celebrity because of it. This half may seem a little slow to those expecting the intensity to instantly match that of the first film, but it’s necessary to evaluate the past events as well as set up the second half of the film.

The second half plays out in a very similar fashion to the first film and, as such, feels a little repetitive at times. There are a few added elements and new characters but it does tread familiar ground perhaps too often. The film does also feel rather flabby with its two and a half hour runtime. There are a few scenes which probably could easily have stayed on the cutting room floor to make it a much tighter film which, considering the rather rushed denouement, is a little damaging to the pacing.

Now, onto the film’s tone and just how dark it is. The first film wasn’t exactly sweetness and light, particularly with its Battle Royale theme, but Catching Fire takes it to a new level. Here we have public executions and torture, as well as a really quite disturbing turn of events that isn’t dwelt upon too much but adds another dimension to the second half of the film. It’s a brave decision from director Francis Lawrence to run with a darker tone but the film benefits massively as a result.

Catching Fire’s cast have also developed along with the film. In the first film, it was Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch who really stood out but here pretty much everyone else has upped their game. Elizabeth Banks as Effie is a much more human character this time around, whilst Stanley Tucci as TV host Caesar Flickerman is fantastically creepy. However, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who really steps up to the plate. There was little wrong with her performance as Katniss Everdean last time around but she’s matured so much since then. She shows real conflict in her actions, perfectly portraying Katniss’s strength one minute and frailties the next.

Catching Fire has done exactly what it needed to do. It’s still true to the first in terms of style and message but has evolved the story and the main characters just the right amount. Splitting the final book, Mockingjay, into two films is a somewhat risky choice, but thanks to Catching Fire the franchise is doing nothing but growing in strength.

Pros

  • Great performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks
  • A real dark undertone to the film
  • An interesting comment on society
  • Fantastic costume design

Cons

  • Rushed denouement
  • Some characters feel underdeveloped
  • A little too long

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Now You See Me

A group of four magicians known as The Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco) are enlisted by a mysterious fifth party to undertake a serious of impressive, and illegal, illusions that begin attracting the attention of the authorities, and in particular FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).

Now You See Me starts off on the right foot. We’re treated to a bit of close-up magic that actually involves the audience, immediately inviting us to buy into what’s on screen. Even up until about half way in, we’re still in a world of mystery and illusion. However, it all suddenly starts to fall away. Gone are any trace of nuance or intricacy and in comes a paint-by-numbers action film complete with car chases, fight scenes and a ridiculously unnecessary romance.

Most of the cast do reasonably well with what they’re given, but none are particularly stand out. Woody Harrelson probably provides the most personality of the four leads, with Dave Franco and Isla Fisher being really rather nondescript. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are also fleetingly entertaining but never do more than hover around the periphery.

Jesse Eisenberg’s character comments at one point that with magic “the more you look, the less you see”, and the same could be said of Now You See Me. Look too closely and the whole thing starts to unravel – some rather sizeable plot holes and laughable exposition prevents you from ever fully engaging with the film. However, there is some fun to be had. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige this most definitely isn’t, but take it at face value and the various twists, turns and red herrings should provide just enough to provide some popcorn entertainment.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Seven Psychopaths

Seven PsychopathsMarty (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter with writer’s block. However, when his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) kidnaps a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu, Marty becomes involved and gets more inspiration than he was hoping for.

2008’s In Bruges was somewhat of a cult hit, so when writer Martin McDonagh returned with Seven Psychopaths, there was a fair bit of anticipation. Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to the aforementioned Belgium-based rib tickler, Seven Psychopaths still has a lot going for it, particularly its witty script and some excellent performances. Rockwell and Christopher Walken especially give top-notch performances and steal pretty much every scene they’re in. Farrell also seems much more at home in this type of thing than straight up action films.

The story is somewhat scatterbrain with characters and plot threads jumping here, there and everywhere (a metaphor for scriptwriting and writer’s block?), but the interesting characters and sometimes hilarious dialogue keep it glued together. It is a brilliant script that has huge amounts to dwell upon once the credits roll and is a film that almost demands a second viewing. It’s also full of self-referential moments that tread the line of clever and covering up for the odd occasion of lazy writing, but it’s nowhere near enough to spoil what is a worthy follow up to McDonagh’s debut, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same high notes.

Chris

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Quickie: Zombieland

Zombieland

After much of the American population has been infected by a developed form of mad cow disease, turning them into zombie-like creatures, few regular human beings still survive. One of them is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who, on his journey to discover whether his parents are alive, teams up with the volatile Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and two con artist sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), to fight the zombie hordes.

Narrated by Columbus, we learn how he has survived to this point, adopting certain rules to obey, such as “check the back seat” and “avoid strip clubs” with accompanying subtitles each time they are adhered to, and it’s this personality that is the film’s charm. There are plenty of zombie films about, so it takes something a little different for them to stand out from the crowd. However, Zombieland is less about the zombies and more about each of the characters’ relationships with each other.

The comedy (it’s a comedy by the way, in case you’re completely in the dark about this film) is witty, although if you aren’t a fan of Jesse Eisenberg, there’s nothing here that’ll change your opinion of him. He’s likeable throughout and his relationship with Harrleson’s Tallahassee provides many of the film’s standout moments. Stone and Breslin are also excellent, but it’s Harrelson who shines (again).

Despite being a comedy, there is still plenty of gore and a few moments to make you jump. Add to that a truly incredible and memorable cameo scene and you have a film that, whilst cut from the same mould as Shaun of the Dead, is very much its own film and a very entertaining one at that.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Quickie: Rampart

'Date Rape' Dave BrownDuring the fallout of the Rampart corruption scandal in the late 1990s, veteran police office Dave Brown is caught on camera viciously beating on a suspect. His life then spirals out of control as he tries his best to keep it all together.

Dave Brown is somewhat of a twisted fellow; he lives with his two exes who happen to be sisters and both of whom he has children with, he reportedly murdered a supposed serial date rapist, and he isn’t shy about whose bed he happens to fall into. To be honest, it’s hard to feel any kind of sympathy or empathy with Brown and as such, it’s sometimes difficult to care about what happens to him. There’s much more to his past (and his present) that we’re not shown and there are suggestions that his two exes aren’t the only members of the household he has ‘been close’ to. Again, this doesn’t sit well with a protagonist the film seems to want us to identify with.

Having said that, Woody Harrelson is excellent as usual. He worked with director Oren Moverman on The Messenger and it’s clear the two work well together. Moverman, on the other hand, does the film no favours with his constant use of over-the-top and disorientating camera techniques. Used in moderation they can be effective but the overuse is a little distracting. One particular scene featuring Harrelson, Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi could have brilliant but the constantly revolving camera succeeds in only detracting from the dialogue.

Rampart isn’t a bad film, it’s just one that doesn’t really do anything new or go anywhere particularly interesting. However, the performances are generally solid, particularly from Harrelson who appears in every scene, but outside of that the film will unlikely stick in the memory.

Words: Chris Thomson

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The Hunger Games – A review by someone who hasn’t read the book

As the title of this review states, I have not read The Hunger Games. I have no idea if the filmmakers have added things, missed things out or stuck totally faithfully to the text – for all I know, in the book Katniss Everdeen could be bloke, or an animal, or a pirate. Basically, what i’m trying to say is, i’m just going to write a film review, with no comparison to the book whatsoever. So, without further ado, let’s get on with it.

The Hunger Games is further proof that young adult fiction is a licence to print money. Twilight and, to an extent, Harry Potter (although Potter does appeal to younger readers as well) have gone on to become nothing short of box office sensations, and it looks as if The Hunger Games and its sequels are well on their way to doing the same.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

For those unfamiliar, plot thus: Following a civil uprising, America (known as Panem here) has been split into twelve districts. To remind them all not to mess with The Man, and for the amusment of the upper classes watching on TV, every year one boy and one girl from each district are forced to fight to the death in The Hunger Games with only one person being victorious. When Primrose Everdeen from District 12 gets chosen for the games, her elder sister Katniss offers to take her place and, along with Peeta, the male chosen from her district, they must do their best to survive.

It’s a very interesting concept, even though not a totally original one as the Japanese Battle Royale has already covered similar territory. However, despite the similarity between the two films (that’s another blog for another time), The Hunger Games stands on its own two feet superbly, and there’s a good chance anyway that many won’t even be aware of the Japanese film. No harm, no foul there.

The characters were well realised for the most part and Jennifer Lawrence played the role of the strong yet vulnerable Katniss admirably. However, we don’t get to see much of what drives Katniss and, aside from a couple of particular touching moments, she seems to take everything in her stride, which seems odd for a girl thrown into an insane kill or be killed tournament to do. Perhaps it would have been nice to see a little more anger or conflict in Katniss, particularly when she makes her first kill; she doesn’t seem to show much emotion and just acts as if it’s totally natural. Peeta is probably the weakest character in the film, seemingly being there for necessities’ sake rather than anything else, and his ‘super strength’ seems an odd skill for someone who is smaller and skinnier than most of the other male contestants.

Woody Harrelson shines

Probably the best piece of casting in the film is that of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta’s mentor and a former winner of The Hunger Games. Now a drunk, Haymitch really can’t be bothered with the fuss of training the pair, although takes Katniss under his wing as he admires her fiery nature – the typical ‘you remind me of me when I was younger’ type of thing. Harrelson steals every scene he’s in, although this does take away some of the focus from the two about to enter the games and what they are going through. Still, i’d have happily seen more of Haymitch and his drunken, laissez faire attitude.

As for the film itself, it plods along at a decent speed, although it did perhaps take a little too long to get into The Games themselves. Many people will go and see the film wondering how Katniss is going to survive and avoid being worm food, but they might be a little disappointed having to wait half the film to find out. It’s easy to see why everything pre-games is included, I would just have liked more time in the arena. Once you’re there though, the action rarely lets up and it’s suitably violent for the older audiences but not so much that it’ll make the young’uns have nightmares. There are bludgeonings, snapped necks, impalings, but most of it is cleverly hidden through editing and camera work, and arguably the most eye-wincing death comes at the hands (or equivalent) of something entirely not human.

Effie and Katniss

As is often the case, the huge amount of hype surrounding a film can ulitmately be its downfall, but The Hunger Games has more than enough substance to carry it through. It straddles the line of teen and adult excellently, and the characters are infinitely more likeable and believeable than those in its peer, Twilight. Lionsgate have said that whether the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, get made is purely on whether The Hunger Games makes enough money. With box office takings in the hundreds of millions of dollars and still rising, it seems Lionsgate may just green light the sequels, and i’m already looking forward to seeing where the story goes. Although I may well have read the books by then.

Words: Chris Thomson

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