The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire everything is amped up. Everything is more, compared to 2012’s The Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is more skillful, more passionate, more political, more focused. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is more mature, more confident, more clever. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is more calculating and more concerned about the power and influence Katniss and Peeta are able to command.

After emerging as co-victors of the Hunger Games, the pair are presented to the nation of Panem as a romantic couple. They are heroes. Snow wants them to use their personal appearance tour to trump up support for his political system. When that backfires, he and advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) hatch a plan to kill them off: a new Hunger Games featuring previous winners.

As for the actual kill-or-be-killed game, the competition again closely resembles TV’s Survivor. The game is closely monitored and every element is subject to being reset and reordered. The events of THG:CF deliver a satisfying outcome but leave much unresolved. This film, of course, is designed to set up the next two films.

Two over-the-top characters are even more outrageous in THG:CF. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) wears more eye makeup and her costumes are more ridiculous. Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) as host of the Hunger Games TV show is smarmier this time around. He almost seems in his announcing style to be channeling Michael “Let’s get ready to rumble!” Buffer.

Director Francis Lawrence, whose credits include Constantine, I Am Legend and Water For Elephants, brings amazing visuals and near perfect pacing. Happily, he did not feel compelled to resort to 3D.

It was wonderful at last year’s MTV Movie Awards to hear The Hunger Games actors thank novelist Susan Collins for providing the story that has fascinated millions of readers and moviegoers. Her narrative, her characters and her vision of Panem society are entertaining and thoughtful. I can’t wait for installments 3 and 4.

 

 

A Late Quartet

A movie about a string quartet? How tedious could that be? In the case of “A Late Quartet,” not tedious at all—this is a lively, energetic movie about a talented group of musicians, performed by a talented group of actors.

You don’t have to be a Beethoven fan to appreciate “A Late Quartet.” There’s plenty of music, but the story is more about the musicians and their passions, musical and otherwise.

Christopher Walken is a recently widowed cello player who is diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a violinist who is married to the quartet’s viola player, played by Catherine Keener. Ukraine native Mark Ivanir is the intense first-chair violinist who wants every note played perfectly.

But musicians do not always play every note perfectly. Christopher Walken’s character has a wonderful scene in the film in which he relates a tale about an encounter with violin great Pablo Casals. The point of his anecdote is that a live performance of music reveals personal interpretation.

The quartet has been together for nearly a quarter century when we meet them. The group is upset first by their cellist’s Parkinson’s, then by Hoffman’s character’s desire to make a change to the group. Then come marital issues between the couple and an upsetting romantic choice by the first chair.

Along with the quartet, a beautiful young actress with the unfortunate name Imogen Poots gives a nice performance as the aspiring violinist daughter of the couple.

Director Yaron Zilberman (such an unknown that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page) who co-wrote the original script, does an excellent job of making these actors appear to be real musicians. (At least to my non-musician eyes.)

Yes, the story is a bit soap opera-ish, but the cast is strong and the music enjoyable. While “A Late Quartet” is unlikely to move beyond art houses, don’t let Beethoven scare you away from a good movie.