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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire | Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire | Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth | Review

The second installment of author Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, burns with a ferocious energy that makes it even better than its predecessor on the big screen.

In the year following their shared victory in the 74th Hunger Games, tributes Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to Panem’s impoverished District 12 to live in Victor’s Village, a posh neighborhood which also houses former Hunger Games victor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).

After a visit complete with a thinly veiled death threat from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who fears that the young couple’s romance is a ruse to influence the populace to rebel against the cruel Capitol regime, Katniss and Peeta embark on a placating victory tour to each of the districts, but witness cruelty and injustice, along with an unrest that may very well signal the start of an uprising. Katniss’ best friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) falls victim to the new head Peacekeeper’s cruel takeover of District 12, and tensions simmer.

Katniss is becoming a symbol of hope for the downtrodden Panem districts and President Snow is diabolical in his resolve to stop her.

A declaration from the Capitol pits a multi-generational tribute group against each other for the 75th Hunger Games, a.k.a. The Quarter Quell.  Tributes composed of former victors are summoned to the Capitol and dropped into a tropical arena of deadly obstacles, including poison fog and vicious baboons.

Alliances form, and Katniss and Peeta team up with Finnick (Sam Claflin) Mags (Lynn Cohen) Johanna (Jena Malone) Wiress (Amanda Plummer) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) to stave off the coordinated attacks of the arena itself before they are forced to take on each other. Other tribute teams are composed of professional killers known as Careers.  The Arena is a dangerous place, indeed.

Interwoven throughout are Katniss’s conflicted feelings for both Gale and Peeta, her love for her mother (Paula Malcolmson) and younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) and her growing rage at the Capitol in general and President Snow in particular.  

Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman joins the cast as Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, who takes sinister delight in the techno-danger he controls.

Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz reprise their roles as District Escort Effie Trinket, Emcee Caesar Flickerman and costume designer Cinna (although the real credit goes to Trish Summerville).

Jennifer Lawrence commands the screen almost exclusively with her eyes, which can reflect sadness and rage in equal measure.  Josh Hutcherson provides a staunch supporter in Peeta, Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch is a living testament to cynical life under Capitol rule, and Elizabeth Banks is a scene stealer as Effie Trinket.  Liam Hemsworth is underutilized once again.

Stanley Tucci appears to be having a wonderfully smarmy time as Caesar, while Sutherland and Hoffman portray competing versions of suave, smiling menace as they broadcast violent deaths for both blatant entertainment and subtle prediction.

Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) along with screenwriters Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) and Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) involves the viewer in an adventure that explores friendship, loyalty, trust, betrayal and love amid a futuristic backdrop that juxtaposes medieval squalor and deprivation with futuristic, high-tech air travel, surveillance, and extreme decadence that borders on the absurd.

Catching Fire is what happens when an already compelling book meets its directorial match.  May the odds be ever in its favor.

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