"Catching Fire" heats up the weekend at JC Cinema

"Catching Fire" returns to Mason for the snowy weekend (photo courtesy of GMU's Office of Events Management).
"Catching Fire" returns to Mason for the snowy weekend (photo courtesy of GMU's Office of Events Management).

It has been nearly two years since the first “Hunger Games” film was released in theaters as an attempt to capitalize on the success of previous films based on young adult books (i.e. “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.”) By the end of 2012, “The Hunger Games” proved to be a good film with an entertaining story and strong performances by Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland.

However, there were still some outstanding flaws. The one thing that really bugged me when I first saw the film was the huge amount of “shaky cam”—when the camera shakes during action scenes to create a blurring effect—used in almost every scene. This made it hard to see what was going on and at times made me sick to my stomach.

Nevertheless, “The Hunger Games” was a huge success in the box office, prompting the release of the sequel, “Catching Fire,” which is now playing at the Johnson Center Cinema.

“Catching Fire” takes place a year after Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the  Seventy-Fourth Annual Hunger Games—a required ceremony where each of the 12 Districts of Panem must send one male and one female child to fight in an arena to the death. Since then, life would never be the same.

Katniss struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and is forced to, along with Peeta, continue her life faking a romance that was created to help them survive the games. When the two begin the “Victory Tour,” a journey around the other 11 Districts to deliver victory speeches and show sympathy for the fallen tributes, Katniss quickly discovers that what she and Peeta did to save each other has sparked a  revolution against the Capital, with Katniss as their symbol. Fearing that the revolution could happen at any moment, President Snow adds a twist to the upcoming  Seventy-Fifth Hunger Games to instill fear and loyalty back into the Districts and eliminate all hope that Katniss’ actions created.

Walking out of the theater, I found this sequel to the 2012 hit to be a major improvement. The use of shaky cam, which most aggravated me about the first film, is now practically gone, and audiences are able to see what is happening without developing motion sickness while trying to focus on one character’s face.

Another improvement, compared to the original film, was the writing. While I was pleased with the first film’s close connection with the source material and some cleverly written scenes, there were many times that involved character interaction (mostly when Katniss and Peeta were in the cave) that ranged from ridiculous to unbelievable. “Catching Fire” fixes this by taking its time with the interactions between the characters, sparking many interesting conversations that will leave the audience hanging onto their every word. Of course, what really helps the successful writing successful is the barrage of powerful performances.

Most of my praise goes to Jennifer Lawrence, who not only does a fantastic job playing Katniss, but also sells the part so well that it makes it hard to believe that anyone but her can play the role.

If I were to credit any other performances, it would have to be Donald Sutherland as President Snow and the late Phillip Seymour-Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensby. Every facial expression, every action and every line delivery comes off in an entertainingly sinister way that made this film near complete. Sutherland’s performance is practically the personification of evil, selling the role right down to his final line in the film. Seymour-Hoffman’s role as Heavensby does not necessarily come off as evil, but conniving, which never got old. He was able to flesh out the character well, while adding some new tricks of his own.

In the last film, I found myself growing rather bored with the games because of the constant shaky cam and the fact that there were long periods where nothing happened. This time, however, the games make up the best part of the film because something is always happening. Each twist in the games is more surprising than the last, and watching some of the tributes die is painfully sad.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is not only a major improvement over the first film, but a fantastic film in general. The acting is superb and the build up to the Hunger Games themselves delivers a satisfying pay off with a wildly entertaining final hour.

If you find yourself without something to do this weekend and have a couple of hours to spare, go see “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” at the JC Cinema on Feb. 13 at 9 p.m., Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and Feb. 15 at 6 p.m.. It’s a very well-made film that captures the magic of what film versions of YA novels can be and will possibly spark up some new fans as it spreads through American culture.


A Moment of Dedication

As many people have probably heard by now, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman (who played Plutarch Heavensby) passed away on Feb. 2 of an apparent drug overdose. Seymour-Hoffman was a gift to acting with many powerful performances. A select few from his filmography include “The Big Lebowski (1998),” Moneyball (2011),” “The Master (2012)” and “Capote (2005),” which gained him an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final role will be as Plutarch Heavensby in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2,” which is set for release in 2015.

Hoffman and his presence in the film industry will surely be missed, and the legacy that he has left with his numerous talented performances willlive on for many generations of movie-goers to come.

R.I.P. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014).

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