Reviews – Who Wants Seconds? (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Part 1”)

When last we left our plucky heroes, Katniss Everdeen (Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence) and her pal, baker Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), they were the winners of the 74th Annual Hunger Games and were being treated like national treasures. Yay!

(SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Ah, but there’s trouble in Capitol City, and that starts with “T”, and that rhymes with “E”, and stands for Everdeen. It seems that Katniss has become a symbol (along with her mockingjay logo) of rebellion within the 12 Districts. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) doesn’t like Katniss and her image for the people, i.e., a spirit of independence. He even blackmails her to keep up appearances as a hero to the Capitol… or else!

She agrees, but to stop her positive impression on the people, Snow enlists the aid of campaign spin master, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). He’ll either turn Katniss against the people, or just kill her trying.

Katniss has seen the poverty in her home of District 12, not to mention the misery, anger, and hopelessness in the eyes of others during her “Victory Tour” throughout all the Districts. Peeta and Katniss vow to band together and stay alive; giving hope to the people. This is also good news to Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss’ secret love back home who’ll go to great lengths, even a severe flogging, to protect his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Katniss and Peeta have their friends to rely on: ever loopy mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson–very good here), publicity director guru and fashionista extraordinaire, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and pop fashion designer, Cinna (singer Lenny Kravitz). And let’s not forget Capitol City’s own TV show superhost, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci–outstanding).

But bigger problems have arisen for the pair in the form of the 75th Games having a unusual twist this year. Since every 25 years is deemed a Quarter Quell, a new rule is added to the game and surprise, surprise! President Snow has called back all the past game winners to do a battle royale with each other! No tribal council. No immunity challenge. Just kill or be killed… again.

Faster than you can say “Let the games begin”, Katniss and the other contestants are transported to a distant island where they quickly get murdered or form alliances with each other. Thanks to Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta find allies in handsome and quirky Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin), and his very old friend, Mags (Lynn Cohen). This jungle island is loaded with nasty booby traps and lethal elements like poisonous fog and crazed CGI baboons. There are ambushes, more murders, and a twisty electrifying ending that leaves Katniss nearly dead… but not quite. There’s a Part 2 due out next year!

After the lousy 2012 “Hunger Games” intro movie, I LOL’d at the thought that any sequel would be better. Boy, was I proven wrong! A change in the guard and a major shake-up at the studio did the trick. With a better director at the helm (Francis Lawrence, who gave us “I Am Legend“) and some great screenwriters (Simon Beaufoy and Michael Ardnt) who adapted Suzanne Collins’ novel, we got a more cohesive, action-driven, less teen-angst riddled script and movie.  Sure there were some slow spots, but even at 146 minutes, I never got bored.

And Jennifer Lawrence, after getting a few more films under her belt and winning that Oscar, has matured like a fine wine and improved her acting chops here, even though her character remains perpetually glum.

If you want to have some fun, (or make it a drinking game) count the number of arrows in Katniss’ quiver when she’s on the island. It changes almost every scene!

I can honesty say I enjoyed this movie, even though I still think the overall premise is utterly ridiculous. The acting from the principals, especially Sutherland, Hoffman, and Tucci were a high point, and all the eccentric costuming still reminds me of the denizens of Emerald City… on crack.

BATTLE ROYALE (2000) (An Updated Print)

In the question of “what came first?”, this is the answer. “Battle Royale,” a Japanese-made film that, for the most part, does parallel “The Hunger Games” in many respects. Made on a small budget and banned in many countries because of its overall brutality, gained a cult status and, thanks to “The Hunger Games” similarities, has once again been thrust back into the limelight.

A pleasant enough field trip of 35 local teenagers in the country ends rather badly when they are all gassed, fitted with electronic collars, and sent to a “briefing room” on a remote island. Their old high school teacher (who was attacked by a student a year before) named Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) explains to the class that they have been chosen to participate in the annual “Battle Royale”, as a result of the BR-ACT, which was passed after 800,000 students walked out of school. Talk about taking some strict disciplinary actions!

Kitano then shows them a disturbingly cute orientation video that explains to the class why, for three days, they WILL kill each until only one student survives. Students objecting to the rules or entering one of the randomly selected “death zones” each day, will be instantly killed by the collar’s detonation ring they all wear around their neck!

Each is given a random bag of food, compass, and some kind of a weapon, and must fend for themselves in this horrible game of kill or be killed. Some hook up with friends, others strike out on their own, and still others are blood-thirsty second-timers who are just there for the “sport”.

So the game is on, and one by one the teens off each other by bullets, machetes, knifes, homemade bombs, arrows, etc. Katniss wouldn’t have survived 10 minutes here. There’s lotsa blood, decapitations, back-stabbing (literal and figurative) and all you’d expect in this heinous game where teen angst is put to the ultimate test. . . with a whole bunch of weapons! The ending, a real head-scratcher, opened it up for a sequel, “Battle Royale II: Requiem“. Both films available for rental on Netflix.

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