The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Five Stars (out of five). 2013. Released by Lionsgate Films. Running time 146 minutes. Rated PG-13. Has closed captions. Has scenes of extreme violence, with miminal gore. No special features on the disc. This was reviewed on DVD on March 12, 2014.

Wait, you're a fan of Macklemore, too?! One year after the events of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is still suffering from post traumatic stress, thanks to her harrowing time in that brutal area. Going turkey hunting with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss nearly freaks out when she thinks she shot an arrow at a human being, instead of a turkey. But she’s struggling to keep it together, because, as the co-victor of the Hunger Games--along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)--she’s expected to go on a victory tour of all the districts of Panem. Before she leaves, Katniss receives a personal visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who warns her that her little stunt at the end of the first film has caused his government some trouble, and if Katniss doesn’t fly the straight and true, Snow will cause her trouble.

Hold on, turns out I don't know this guy after all. So go ahead and keep whipping him. No pressure, huh? But when Katniss goes on the tour, it becomes clear that revolution is in the air when she sees her Mockingjay symbol being used by the resistance to further their cause. And eventually, she finds herself being (to quote Pacino) "pulled right back in" another Hunger Games. I really enjoyed the first Hunger Games, due mainly to the fact that Katniss is such a great, proactive character who’s played by a marvelous actress in Lawrence. She gives another great, subtle performance here, as Katniss is torn with toeing the party line for a regime that’s so odious it doesn’t think twice about brutalizing the opposition, no matter how small or insignificant their act of rebellion might be.

David Bowie and his entourage arrives at another swinging party. Francis Lawrence (Constantine) takes over the directorial duties for Catching Fire, and he brings a polished sheen to the proceedings that’s a very welcome sight to see. Everything in the film, from the design of the soldiers (who look far more menacing here than in the first film), to the Capitol City, down to a pack of wild baboons, all look great. The CGI overall looks far better and more realistic, as it falls in line with a visual palette that just makes sense. The ever-present hovercraft (which looked like big silvery balloons in the first film) have even been redesigned to look more intimidating, and their new design, along with everything else, has a much better, sensible quality to it.

Oh wait, did we leave the stove on?! Some other good performances in this film include the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the new master of games, Jenna Malone as fellow tribute Johanna, who’s a real spitfire; Elizabeth Banks as the wonderfully fluffy Effie Trinket, who shows some genuine feelings; Woody Harrelson as Katniss’ mentor Haymitch and Stanley Tucci as the equally flamboyant Caesar Flickerman. By upping the science fiction elements this time out, Director Lawrence has provided a nice balance for a love story that thankfully lacks the brain-dead soap clichés that haunted the Twilight series. But he also slyly amps up the social commentary, which gives this strong second installment a firm foundation for the final two films in this series, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. --SF

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