Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Willow Shields, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymor Hoffman, Lynn Cohen, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, and more.
Directed by: Francis Lawrence Screenplay by: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt Based on the Novel by: Suzanne Collins Cinematography by: Jo Willems Music by: James Newton Howard
Premise: Close to a year after the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is still trying to deal with the horror of those death filled days. And President Snow doesn't like how the districts have taken her defiance during the games to heart and have hope again. Under threats to her family and friends, Katniss picks up her fake romance with Peeta to please the president. But every move she makes only displeases him all the more. He wants her removed permanently. Yet it is the new head of the games who comes up with the plan on how she could best meet her end - by using a little known clause of the games and make the 75th Hunger Games one which picks its contestants only from previous winners of the games. And Katniss is the sole, living female winner from District 12, so she has no way out. (Rated PG-13)
Acting - Total Thumbs Up: For "Catching Fire" there were several returning characters as well as a bunch of new ones. Jennifer Lawrence totally sold the PTSD's, grief, and other whirlwind emotions flowing through Katniss Everdeen. Josh Hutcherson's Peetah Mellark was earnest, even while battling the bitterness at Katniss's lack of affection for him. Donald Sutherland was delightfully evil as President Snow. Elizabeth Banks was great at showing how Effie Trinket finally realizes that the system they live under might be flawed.
I thought Lynn Cohen gave an amazing performance as Mags - and she never uttered one word. Sam Claflin was also very entertaining, as he kept the audience guessing throughout on just what kind of person he was.
2) Special Effects - Total Thumbs Up: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is full of lovely, visual special effects. The 3D map in the game control and the shield dome were but two of many. Others special effect efforts were even more impressive because they didn't even seem like special effects - the crawling fog, the lightning, the waves, and even the baboons all seemed like natural, integral parts of the environment rather than an added element for our entertainment.
The only spot that seemed to have difficulty was not one you'd expect. Katniss is at the top of a tree, looking out at her surroundings. And though she really is in a tree, the forest around her was not. Yet when the images were merged, they didn't blend well at all, and failed in their purpose. It was quite surprising.
3) Plot/Story - Total Thumbs Up: Since I'd not read "Catching Fire" before seeing the film, I'd wondered how they were going to deal with matters as left in "The Hunger Games." I couldn't have been more pleased. Though almost a full year had passed, Katniss is actually shown still trying to deal with what she'd done in the previous games. Suffering from PTSD's, trying desperately to cling to the life she'd hoped to make with Gale, cowed by the enormity of what she is being told is her fault just for trying to survive and save those around her - realistic reactions to the events thrust upon her, and one which most films would not have ventured to show.
The escalation of events, the 'games' Katniss is not aware of which are happening all around her and beyond. The horrible sense of guilt and helplessness as things are given meaning beyond anything she'd imagined
and unable to do anything about any of it.
There wasn't much rehashing of things which had gone before, so no slowing of events for those who watched the first film. I think enough is glimpsed in the beginning to at least give new viewers a general idea of what's going on, so they'd be able to enjoy it.
Even the film's title operates on several levels, which was delicious fun. There are even several surprises in store.
4) Locations/Cinematography - Total Thumbs Up: In "Catching Fire" we get a glimpse of several of the other districts, each with their own look and feel. The location of O'ahu, Hawaii allowed for a totally different arena than the one used for the first film and looked great. The cinematography took full advantage of the new venue, giving us some really spectacular shots at various points.
5) Costuming/Makeup - Total Thumbs Up: As with the first film, strange clothes and makeup abound. Effie Trinket has more costume changes than lines. Her butterfly dress was utterly amazing. Taking the concept to extremes, even to butterfly eyelashes. I loved the contrast between people like her, and other normal citizens of the Capital vs. the more restrained tastes of those more confident of their status or power.
Conclusion: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" outdoes "The Hunger Games" with regards to story, intensity, and logic. Lots of power plays and plenty of great visuals to kept us thoroughly enthralled. Sadly, no previews or extra bits in the credits for the next one.
Rating: 4.5 out 5 (Hubby's Rating: Worth Paying Full Price to See Again) (Been a great season for good movies!)