The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Written Review

This review contains spoilers to the first Hunger Games film, and by extension book.

Spoiler alert! Katniss and Peeta survived the Hunger Games by threatening to eat poisonous berries!

Catching Fire is the 2nd entry into the Hunger Games trilogy (or Quadrilogy, if we’re going by the movies). Katniss and Peeta survived the Hunger Games where children killed each other for the amusement of the people by pretending they were in love. President Snowman decided that when the two defied the rules, they became a threat to the security of the empire’s power.

Catching Fire properly continues the story of the Hunger Games without rehashing the story, like many sequels do. It actually goes beyond the kids killing kids and makes it a battle, with Katniss as a symbol of hope against the dystopian empire.

This film’s quality is an improvement about the first one. Since most of the characters have been established, it allows the audience to fall right into the story. One of my largest issues with the first film was the slow pacing. This film is far more brisk. The acting is strong too. Jennifer Lawrence, as expected, does a good job, and is proving herself to be a promising up and coming star. Unfortunately, Liam Hemsworth is also in this film, and his delivery is kind of bland, and unfortunately, he starts to introduce a love triangle into the series, which is not cool with me. Enemy at the Gates and the First season of Korra were almost ruined for me by that dreadful concept.

Woody Harrelson, as with every film he’s in, is fun to watch, The rest of the cast does great as well, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and the guy who plays Cinna are especially good. The two main villains of this film, President Snow and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, portrayed by Donald Sutherland and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, both are far more threatening than the Heavy in the first film, managing to pretty dastardly in their line deliveries and evil plans. Though one issue with the film is that the empire is depicted as so cartoonishly evil, it’s hilarious. The best part is where a stormtrooper commander was whipping Gale (Hemsworth), and he spoke in a voice you’d associate with the Kurgan from Highlander or a cartoon villain.

“So, sir, who shall we slaughter today?”

Though if there is something to complain about, there is some dialogue that just feels so unnatural. For example, the first time Katniss meets Phillip Seymour Hoffman at a Gatsby party hosted by President Snowman, they have an exchange, where PSH tells Katniss he became the new guy running the Hunger Games, and when she asked why, he responded with “Ambition”. That line bugged me because that’s not how one describes themselves, that’s how someone else describes them.

Anyway, the cinematography is good too, with lots of nice pretty, yet living in and gritty sets. The Hunger Games section of the story is also much better than the first one, more dramatic, with improved characters whose deaths mean more than in the first story.  Notably, there is a lot less shaky cam as well, which was an issue with the first film, since by design, it’s supposed an R rating just based on content. However, studios need it to be PG-13, so when there is a brutal action scene, the cameraman gets Parkinson’s. There’s less of that here. It’s much more clear what’s going on in action scenes now.

This would be really cool in a video game or a game show.

The reality TV satire aspect, which was always one of my favorite parts of the first film, is even more prominent here, with Katniss being a superstar who has to pretend she’s in love with Peeta. It really is a nice look at how an empire would use celebrities to distract their population from real issues, and how stupid the people are for letting that be such a big thing on their lives. There’s also other symbolism in this film, like about rich people, and birds.

This represents… something.

I do not wish to give away the one twist the ending has, but it’s a pleasant surprise (unless you’re a person who has read the books, in which case, you will not be surprised at all). This is overall an enjoyable film. Perhaps not exactly for me, but I find it pretty good, and an improvement over the first.

Also, this film has CGI Mandrills and malevolent poison gas. They are the true masterminds of the series. Beware.

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Only God Forgives Written Review

I haven’t seen much of Nicolas Refn’s work. I still need to dedicate some time to watching Valhalla Rising, I saw Bronson, and I thought it was pretty good. What I saw was Drive, and that film was great. It had a cool retro 70s crime film feel to it with a nice 80s soundtrack. The film was cemented with a power actor trio of Albert Brooks reaching Ledger Joker or Anton Chigurh levels of intimidation, Ron Perlman being his normal cool self as a crime boss, and Bryan Cranston being the father figure to the protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling. The protagonist of the film was cool and appropriately mysterious, like Blondie. And the film, as all of Refn’s films are, looks spectacular.

So, I was excited to see his follow up film, Only God Forgives, which had Cliff Martinez, who did the Drive soundtrack, and Ryan Gosling returning. I was excited, the trailers to this film made it look great, especially the Red Band version.

 

This movie is not great. It’s a disappointment. It’s not fun to sit through, at all. Refn’s gift of making the movie look good is present, and Cliff Martinez gives a good soundtrack. Kristen Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm give good performances, especially Pansringarm. Those are the good parts of the film.

The bad parts? Everything else. This film is one of the most poorly structured and edited films I’ve seen in a while. The plot was difficult for me to follow. Nothing is explained in this film. It’s all done with long visual shots that look pretty, but don’t say anything. Drive had Ryan Gosling being stoic and expressionless, and that was acceptable because other characters expressed emotions. In this film however, Gosling is even more expressionless, and no one else besides Kristen Scott Thomas shows any emotion whatsoever.

 

Ryan Gosling’s entire range of emotions in this film is this.
The story is that a drug dealer named Julian is in Bangkok running a ring as a front. His brother gets killed and his mother comes back and encourages Julian to find the murderers. Also, there is a cop going around looking intimidating. Of course, that’s what the movie claims to be about, not that you’d be able to follow it.
The film doesn’t flow together at all. One scene Gosling is staring at a prostitute, and then the cop, Chang shows up, or does he? Wait no, it was a surreal vision. This film lacks what we call a narrative.
This film disappointed me a lot because the trailer shows cool bits of the film, like in the redband trailer above, there is a part where Ryan Gosling’s character grabs a guy and drags him down a hallway by the mouth. When you see that scene in the film, it has no lead up, no motivation, and he literally drags the guy for about 3 seconds before it cuts away. The scene was pointless, and only looked cool.
There is also some crappy pretentious symbols, but don’t ask me what they mean, cause I got no idea. Shots like hands becoming fists are obviously supposed to symbolize….something. Then there’s the fact that after the cop uses his sword to brutalize somebody, it cuts to him, or in one instance, some girl, performing very nice sounding karaoke. Connection? Maybe it’s an Eastern thing. Then there’s the incestuous overtones with Julian and his mother. And that’s not resolved either. Julian likes watching prostitutes do stuff, you can tell by the expression on his face. His relationship with one prostitute in the film doesn’t go anywhere either.
Also, the film is really brutal, but it all feels like there’s no purpose to it. Okay, so, Chang likes to cut people with a sword he always carries for some reason. He thinks he’s some sort of divine punisher, which if you watch the movie, you’ll see in this one scene where he tortures a guy.
This film is so egotistical for Refn, cause he’s probably the only person who gets it, and someone is going to use an interpretation of this film as an excuse to elevate themselves above others when in fact, there is nothing really here.
I can’t really say the film is terrible, because its well shot and soundtracked, but like… there is no narrative, and it presents itself as high art without anything intelligent to back it up. I don’t want to dissuade people from watching it though. Someone else might get something out of this. I didn’t.

Here’s your film, you can have it back, Refn.