The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) – Movie Review

Hunger Games Catching Fire movie poster

It has become a Hollywood rule that sequels should suck. A few movies have escaped that sophomore slump. Add Catching Fire to that short list. Nay, have Catching Fire occupy an honorary spot on that list. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how sequels should be made.

I am a fan of The Hunger Games book series. I also thoroughly enjoyed the first movie. And let’s just say that the second movie makes my liking of the first seem mediocre, childish, fanboyish. I stand corrected – The Hunger Games was not the movie that brought this series to its potential. Catching Fire does that and so much more.

The events pick up where the previous movie ended: Katniss has to work with the consequences of her defiance at The Hunger Games that resulted in saving both Peeta Mellark and herself. Her act of defiance is seeding a revolution across the country. People are looking at her as their leader. And the Capitol wants her to do what she can to squash that revolution down, as they prepare for a very special edition of The Hunger Games, which have hit their 75th edition.

Saying anything more than that would be treading spoiler-zone worse than a minesweeper game. Catching Fire doesn’t let up. There’s no dull moment. There’s no frame that feels out of place. There’s no scene that makes you shrug at it being useless. It keeps you transfixed throughout its two and a half hour run. Just sit back and enjoy it. Special effects? Check. Riveting cast? Check. Twisted story? Check. Great directing? Check. Cinematography, art direction, costume design? Check, check and check.  Seriously, what more do you need?

Jennifer Lawrence, through her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, is cementing herself as the actress of our generation. The sheer talent this creature has is simply spell-binding to watch. She captures the essence of Katniss perfectly, delivering one knockout scene after the next like it’s a piece of cake. It helps that she has multi-layered material to work with. But I highly doubt any other actress with less chops could have done the marvelous job she’s doing in this series.

If The Hunger Games series continues its upward trajectory, look for it to mark itself as this classic movie series down the line that we tell our grandchildren to watch as they shrug us off. Those movies? They’d ask. But they look so ancient. They’d add. Except they’re not. Catching Fire, despite it being fiction, feels extremely relevant in the world of today. It may not be the movie that would amass a ton of Oscars. It’s not because it’s not worthy. It’s because it’s just too easy to shrug this off as some silly young adult novel adaptation. Catching Fire, however, is one of the best book adaptations I’ve seen. There have been very few and there will be even fewer movies this year that are as entertaining.

Do yourself a favor and check in whatever you thought about the first movie at the door and head to your nearest cinema this weekend to get on this ride. You’re in for one hell of a treat. The Hunger Games have caught fire and I, for one, am still betting on them.

4.5/5

Silver Linings Playbook – Movie Review

Silver Linings PLaybook movie poster

For all matters and purposes, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie that shouldn’t technically work. It struts the line of a cliche romantic comedy so dangerously close that it could wander into those realms very easily. The premise isn’t groundbreaking. Very little about it is out of the box enough for it to be as brilliantly exhilarating as it turns out to be.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a former history teacher who found out his wife was cheating on him and ends up in a mental institute to treat his bipolar disorder, as part of a court deal. Eight months later, his mother (Jacki Weaver) goes on a limb and gets him out. His father (Robert De Niro) is an undiagnosed obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan. Set on getting back with his wife who issued a restraining order against him, Pat decides to get his life in order. But the disorder proves harder to control at times. It is then that he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow with her fair share of problems. The odd couple strikes a friendship where they feed off each other’s woes and troubles in a brutally honest manner, be it by enumerating the drugs they take without one stutter, by going for jogs around their neighborhoods, by making scenes on Halloween outside a local diner, by Tiffany proposing sex to which Pat objects, by Pat believing Tiffany, the self-proclaimed slut is crazier than him, or by rehearsing to a dance competition that Tiffany wants to participate in.

I was surprised by Bradley Cooper who gives a terrific performance. He portrays the disorder his character is having perfectly. The transfers between episodes of mania and depression is subtle and striking. He delivers his dialogue at a breakneck pace and never falters. His performance is energetic, never subdued, is a true revelation.

On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence, the movie’s acting highlight, gives a tour de force performance as the deeply troubled widow with layers upon layers of concealed rage to her character. The dysfunctional chemistry she brings to the table is absolutely brilliant to watch. You forget for the entirety of the movie that the woman you’re seeing on screen is only 22. She plays a character way above her age perfectly. She portrays her character’s angst, sadness, grieving and resiliency to perfection. She delivers the movie’s funniest moments in moments that shouldn’t even be funny. In Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence is simply spectacular and has proven herself to be, yet again, our generation’s most promising new actresses.

The movie’s supporting cast also does well. While Jacki Weaver’s role doesn’t have much character development and is more important in its subtlety as the mother who had to deal with her son’s illness for years and the wife who had to cope with her husband’s obsessive compulsiveness, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in years as the father who cluelessly believes in his son. All in all, the people of Silver Linings Playbook can act and there’s no reason three of them should not see Oscar nominations for what they accomplished here.

David O. Russell, who gave us The Fighter a couple of years ago, has to be commended for maintaing the balance that Silver Linings Playbook shows. His knack for having dialogue-driven movies works well here. However, Silver Linings Playbook is not perfect. The supremely strong first half gives way to a less stellar second half in which the movie loses focus at times as it starts juggling way too many things at once, instead of focusing solely on what was making the movie work in the first place: Pat and Tiffany.

So much could have gone wrong with Silver Linings Playbook. The portrayal of mental illness could have easily turned into a PSA. The romantic part of it could have easily become dreary. The dysfunctional family could have easily turned grating. But all of those don’t happen. Instead, the movie has a sense of rawness mixed with like-ability that makes it oddly refreshing. Silver Linings Playbook is one of my favorite movies of 2012 so far simply because it’s not a color-by-number movie. It is untidy. It’s random. It’s all over the place sometimes. But you still watch it. And you go out of it feeling happy and smiling because Silver Linings Playbook is brilliant.

9/10

The Hunger Games – Movie Review

For legions of people, The Hunger Games is the most anticipated movie release of the year. And for a movie released so early in 2012, that’s saying something. Based on the book of the same title (read my review here), The Hunger Games stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl living in a post-apocalyptic America where hunger and oppression ruled, where hunting for rodents was the way to keep your family alive and where every day represents a fight for your life.

This post-apocalyptic America is the country of Panem, governed by the Capitol which oversees twelve districts, making sure they are stripped down to the bare necessities. Those twelve districts had been thirteen that rebelled against the Capitol’s oppression. They lost the war and are still paying the price, the heaviest of which is the annual Hunger Games which require each district to send a young man and woman, for a total of 24, to battle each other to the death. There can only be one victor. “May the odds be ever in your favor” is the sentence the tributes keep hearing as if odds will help them on the brink of death.

When her sister is chosen, Katniss volunteers in her place and is taken along with the male tribute of District 12, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), to the Capitol where they are groomed like lambs for slaughter in an attempt to make an impression which can make it or break it for them once the games fall upon them. And fall they do, with devastating consequences.

To see the Katniss Everdeen of your imagination after reading The Hunger Games books be incarnated so perfectly on screen by Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to the eye. Lawrence struts through every scene as if she was Katniss and Katniss was her. She exuberates confidence, sentimentality, fragility, innocence, worry, love and pain. Widely known for her Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone, Lawrence is still in the same vein in The Hunger Games. This time, however, she manages to polish the sides of her performance, nitpicking until she truly becomes flawless. In Katniss, Lawrence gives you a heroine you want to root for with all your heart. It doesn’t even feel forced, it’s simply natural to feel invested in the primal force that Lawrence conveys to Katniss. And it is then that you realize the brilliance of Lawrence’s Katniss. She has managed to make her character one that is driven by principle.

Director Gary Ross manages to not let the movie’s extended run at 140 minutes affect it negatively. The Hunger Games doesn’t let down. It keeps picking up, bring in gut-wrenching revelations and action sequences one after the other. Ross uses the action of the movie to serve the characters, not drown them. He keeps the suspense going throughout. His camerawork is also highly interesting, with lots of focus on his characters’ faces, giving them a more humane appearance and seeing the struggles in them easily. Co-writing the movie’s script with the book’s author, Suzanne Collins, he stays true to the book’s essence. Even though some sequences have been shortened and some have been omitted, the feeling of the book remains there, present for you throughout to sink your eyes into.

At the center of the deathly games is a growing love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a friend of Katniss from District 12 who’s lucky enough not to have been chosen as tribute. Liam Hemsworth quickly establishes himself as a forceful character, with the limited screentime he gets. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is highly relatable as the man secretly crushing over Katniss whose only memory of him is him helping her in a time of need. But the greatest triumph in this regard for The Hunger Games is focusing less on the love triangle than other movies targeting the same audience, making you really not care about either Team Peeta or Team Gale. At the end of the day, the only team you want to be on is the movie.

Other actors that appear in the movie are Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, a TV host that charmingly narrates the games as they unfold. Elizabeth Banks stars as Effie Trinket, a Capitol spokesperson who’s as obnoxious as she is caring. Donald Sutherland appears as the horrible President Snow, governing his country with a hand of steel. Woody Harrelson is the always drunk Haymitch who has to sober up in order to tip the balance in his tributes’ favor.

The Hunger Games is an unflinching adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ book. In many ways, the book was more suited for a screen adaptation because it is that fertile for the imagination. The movie does not falter. It’s a more serious movie than many might think it could possibly be. It is gut-wrenching at times and heavily sincere at others. It takes you on a roller coaster ride that you never want to let go of. In fact, not wanting to let go is most evident when, after 140 minutes, the movie suddenly ends and you remain in your seat wanting more. Fans of the book, rejoice. The Hunger Games does not disappoint at all. It’s a haunting tale that, coupled with a chilling score by James Newton Howard that serves as a brilliant auditory backdrop the darkest of scenes, will leave you mesmerized by how real it feels and how good it turned out to be. May the odds be ever in favor of The Hunger Games.
10/10

Top 13 Movies To Be Excited About in 2012

Since 2012 is a few days away, I figured I’d make a small list featuring 13 movies that will be released in 2012, which I am personally excited about. So without further ado, let us begin:

13 – Titanic – 3D

This movie is on my list simply because of the magnitude of its initial version. Like it or not, think it’s been turned into a useless cliche or not, it was until very recently the biggest movie in history.

12 – Men In Black III

Because the first two are fun. Hopefully the third one won’t put a damper on the whole franchise.

11 – Snow White and the Huntsman

This movie is on my list simply because Charlize Theron looks (and sounds) absolutely chilling in it. “Hair black as night, lips red as blood. Give me your heart my dear, dear Snow White.” Also, the TV show Once Upon A Time has boosted my Snow White interest as well.

10 – The Avengers

Most superhero movies we watched were a preparation for this. We liked some and hated others. This, however, should be brainless good fun.

9 – The Master

Amy Adams joins Philip Seymour Hoffman in a 1950s-set drama about a cult leader. What more can you ask for? I’ve decided to include this movie even when there’s neither a poster nor a trailer available to it, mostly based on the caliber of its cast, coupled with the intrigue in its story.

8 – The Amazing Spider-Man

A reboot of the franchise. I hated the third movie but hopefully this will be a much needed return to basics.

7 – Prometheus

Gladiator Ridley Scott’s newest movie. I am a big fan of Scott with his movie screen and TV screen work (The Good Wife for instance). So this movie is definitely on my list.

6 – Skyfall

The new James Bond movie. I personally loved Casino Royal and hated Quantum of Solace. So third time will be the charm for Daniel Craig’s bond.

5 – Les Miserables

We’ve all read the book. We’ve also watched the Liam Neeson version many times when we were younger. But there’s a new version coming to theaters and Victor Hugo’s masterpiece will hopefully be more than well represented. Again, this movie has no trailer nor a poster.

4 – Kill Bin Laden

I hated Kathryn Bigelow’s last movie The Hurt Locker. But this movie, about the operation leading up the assassination of Bin Laden from a Navy Seal’s perspective, looks more interesting and promising. No poster and no trailer available for this as well.

3 – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Having read the book, I can safely say this will be a brilliant movie. The trailer can’t but get you über excited as well. And it’s Peter Jackson at the helm after all. You simply can’t go wrong with anything Lord of the Ring related.

2 – The Hunger Games

I really can’t wait for this. March is just so far away when it comes to The Hunger Games. The books are epic. The trailer looks brilliant. The song of the movie is stunning. It has Jennifer Lawrence, one of my favorite new actresses. What more can you ask for?

1 – The Dark Knight Rises

Because no other movie deserves to be here other than this. One of the most anticipated sequels to one of the best movies I have ever watched. Christopher Nolan’s Batman is back.

Is there any movie you think should be on this list that I’ve missed? Let me know.

X-Men: First Class – Movie Review

Ever since the first X-Men movie was released more than a decade ago, I was fascinated by the saga and the upcoming sequels did not deter me from still liking it.

X-Men: First Class is both literally and figuratively a return to basics. It is both the prologue to all X-Men movies that were released before it and it is also a return to form of a series that kinda lost its way with trying to build too much history and subplot.

Erik Lehnsherr is a teenage boy, imprisoned in German Nazi concentration camps. When Dr. Schmidt sees him move a metal gate as his parents are taken away from him, he summons Erik and asks him to move a metal coin. Erik fails, with devastating consequences that lead to great anger, launching Erik’s powers of controlling metal and killing two guards on the spot.

Fast forward twenty years and Erik (Michael Fassbender) is on a mission to find Dr. Schmidt and kill him in revenge. On the other hand, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is seeking a PhD in Genetics with his research about the upcoming mutations in the human species. Charles, along with shape-shifter Raven (later known as Mystique and played by the awesome Jennifer Lawrence *insert fanboy hearts*) are trying to find other people of their kind and help them accept their condition. That’s when they are recruited by the CIA in order to prevent a nuclear war between the US and Russia, a war that is spearheaded by the present form of Dr. Schmidt, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant whose power is deadly and his group of mutants who will do their best to bring destruction.

James McAvoy, as young Dr. Charles Xavier, is in a role he was born to play. I couldn’t imagine a better actor in this role simply because McAvoy embodies the serenity that Xavier has in the previous movies, set in the future compared to this one, perfectly. He is wise, calm and intelligent, exactly as the future Dr. X is.

On the other hand, Fassbender is as great in portraying Erik, later known as Magneto. He sets the tone for the character we all know later on amazingly well: the many layers that shape this man and his beliefs. And he does so perfectly.

Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays a younger Mystique, is absolutely stunning both literally and figuratively in that portrayal. Mystique (or as she is known in this movie: Raven) controls her powers really well. But her weakness is acceptance. She hates her blue-scaled look and seeks out a much more “acceptable” form as a human. Her path in the movie is first and foremost one towards self-acceptance, with which she will also help Henry McCoy (later known as Beast) to accept his mutation as well.

X-Men: First Class is fueled by the directing chops of Matthew Vaughn, whose latest offering was Kick Ass, a very interesting movie if you haven’t seen it. And you need to give lots of props to this director for taking what was, according to many (I still enjoyed the movies), a sagging franchise and breathed new life into it by reinvigorating its past and reminding everyone how it all started.

Why is it that Dr. Xavier is paralyzed? How did Magneto get that weird helmet he wears to prevent Dr. X from accessing his mind? How did the term X-Men originate? How did both sides of the battle (call them good and evil) originate? X-Men: First Class answers all these questions and more. It is a movie that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. X-Men has always been a saga about the fine line between good and evil and how that line gets blurred often. This one is no different. You feel that both sides of the equation have things going for them. It doesn’t show one side in a good light and the other in a bad light. Both have strong and true convictions. You get to choose the side you want to be on.

2011 is shaping up to be a great movie for superhero movies. After the highly entertaining Thor (my review), X-Men: First Class steps it up. And with more superhero movies to come, it will take a mighty effort for them to overtake the caliber that this movie presents. Go watch it now. You will be absorbed for over two hours. Your move, Captain America.

Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win (And Who Should)

The time of the year is here and in preparation for the big event tomorrow, I have decided to post my Oscar predictions.

For the full list of nominees, click here.

Best Picture:

- Who will win: The King’s Speech

- Who should win: Inception.


If you had asked me a month ago what movie was the clear favorite for best picture, I would have easily answered “The Social Network” but having not lost a single guild award it was nominated for and with it building momentum by the minute, it’s hard to see how the movie that is nominated for 12 Academy Awards will lose. However, regardless of the exquisite movie that is The King’s Speech, no other movie apart from Inception deserves this. Out of all the nominated movies, it’s the one that was the most ground-breaking this year and while many believe ground-breaking is not a criteria to warrant a best picture win (I still think Avatar was snubbed last year), in this case it does because Inception is a masterpiece.

Read up on my reviews of Inception and The King’s Speech.

Leading Actor:

- Who will win: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech


- Who should win: James Franco for 127 Hours


This category has 5 nominees. One of them has a 99% chance of winning, James Franco has a little less than 1% and the rest is divided among the other 3. Colin Firth has led a remarkable campaign and if he doesn’t win this tomorrow, it will be the biggest upset of the evening. While brilliant in his portrayal of the stuttering king, I believe James Franco had one of the best acting performances of the year. The whole movie he’s nominated for is built upon his performance, so much in fact that removing his performance out of the equation would render his movie bland. Colin Firth’s performance, while still remarkable, relied heavily on his interaction with Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, which makes Franco’s solo act the more fascinating.

Read up on my review of 127 Hours.

Leading Actress:

- Who will win: Natalie Portman for Black Swan


- Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone


With acting, it’s ultimately a matter of taste. I believe all of the nominated actresses are deserving of a win and it ultimately comes down to the role you preferred and out of the nominated five actresses, the one that struck a cord with me was Jennifer Lawrence in her portrayal of the struggling teenager in the dark Winter’s Bone. Natalie Portman is winning this, the only dark horse being Annette Bening for The Kids Are Alright.

Read up on my review of Winter’s Bone.

Supporting Actor:

- Who will win: Christian Bale for The Fighter

- Who should win: Christian Bale for The Fighter

To think this is the same man who played Batman in Nolan’s reboot of the franchise is daunting. He portrays his pale, drug-addict character brilliantly. He has already grabbed most of the awards related to this category and he’s the obvious frontrunner.

Read up on my review of The Fighter.

Supporting Actress:

- Who will win: Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech


- Who should win: Amy Adams for The Fighter


Out of all the acting categories, this looks like it’ll be the closest one. Up until very recently, Melissa Leo was viewed as the obvious frontrunner in this but leading an Oscar campaign, where she printed out posters calling Academy members to vote for her, has left some people turned off. Add to that an exponentially increasing momentum for The King’s Speech coupled with a BAFTA win for Helena Bonham Carter followed by a brilliant speech and you might have a recipe for an upset. Regardless of that, my favorite out of the bunch remains Amy Adams for her role as the girlfriend trying to guide her significant other to find himself. A very plausible dark horse in this race is the young Hailee Steinfeld who, in my opinion, should have been nominated in the best actress category for her role in True Grit.

Best Director:

- Who will win: David Fincher for The Social Network

- Who should win: Christopher Nolan for Inception

The person who should win this isn’t even nominated. Yes, I’m glaring at the non-existent Academy member that might end up reading this. And for that, this category is almost a lock now for The Social Network’s director even though it looks like Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, is giving him a run for his money.

Read up on my review of The Social Network.

Animated Movie:

- Who will win: Toy Story 3

- Who should win: How To Train Your Dragon

I’ve honestly enjoyed both movies and Toy Story 3, being nominated for best picture as well, is winning this. But my heart goes to How To Train Your Dragon, an animated movie inviting everyone to break away from stereotypes and closed bubble that society enforces upon us.

Cinematography:

- Who will win: Inception

- Who should win: Inception

No other movie deserves these technical awards because, simply, Inception was groundbreaking.

Film Editing:

- Who will win: The Social Network

- Who should win: Inception

Inception, again, isn’t even nominated here. But can you imagine watching that movie if the editing hadn’t been as top-notch as it was? It would make the near-incomprehensible movie basically “Einsteinian”. Out of the nominated movies, two come to mind with strong editing and those are: The Social Network and 127 Hours. In the latter, strong editing serves as a way to take the character away from the two rocks between which he’s stuck, allowing for some really good double-camera work and allowing the viewer to further immerse himself in this story to which he already knows the ending, making it even more fascinating to watch. The Social Network has some really great editing as well as it tells three different stories going on at different times and manages to merge them together in a very coherent way. I believe, because of buzz, The Social Network has the edge.

Visual Effects:

- Who will win: Inception

- Who should win: Inception

Even though Harry Potter is nominated for this and my heart wants it to win, the clear frontrunner here is Inception. And it’s not my bias speaking: an upside-down city, dream within a dream within a dream within a dream construct, a whole glacier-like city in limbo… no other movie deserves this as much as Inception and it will win it.

Adapted Screenplay:

- Who will win: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

- Who should win: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

The Social Network’s strength is its screenplay. It’s witty, fast and engaging. Aaron Sorkin deserves this.

Original Screeplay:

- Who will win: David Seidler for The King’s Speech

- Who should win: Christopher Nolan for Inception

I think this could go either way between both names. Inception won at the Writer’s Guild Awards but The King’s Speech was not eligible for a nomination. I want to see Christopher Nolan win this but I have a feeling it will be another casualty of a King’s Speech sweep.

Original Score:

- Who will win: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for The Social Network

- Who should win: Hans Zimmer for Inception

After winning the Golden Globe, I believe The Social Network’s score has the momentum to take this. But I still stand by the brilliance of Inception’s score. Hans Zimmer has come up with a masterpiece that isn’t being recognized enough.

There are many more categories, of course, but I believe these are the ones most people care about.

Winter’s Bone – Movie Review

This 2010 drama, set in the Ozarks Mountain in the U.S. is the story of a community that is deeply rooted in the manufacturing of amphetamines. This is the story of a rural community where keeping your mouth shut is the first commandment.

The director of this movie, Debra Granik, lived for a while in those communities. So it’s only natural that her representation of the community in this movie feels real. It’s bleak, dark, haunting… She shows the poverty, the patriarchy, the holiness of family and everything that this holiness entails, the rural aspect of it in such a brilliant way that at times you feel like you’re watching a documentary about the region. Even the accent was perfected by the actors and actresses that you forget this is actually a quest, more than a community presentation.

The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence, a brilliant newcomer, as Ree Dolly, a girl who’s the only caregiver of her mother, there in body only, and two siblings. She drops them out of school, teaches them to hunt and care for themselves, just in case… Her dad, Jessup, has gone missing and in order to keep her house and property, she needs to find him – dead or alive. Or else she’ll lose everything.

Now insert this in a community that is, the least you can say, non-helpful and very rigid about following the aforementioned first commandment and you get a movie that is thrilling, haunting and deservedly so, nominated for best picture as this year’s Oscars.

Everything in this movie is vicious. Even the moments of silence in it are terrifying. You don’t know what the people of this secluded community would do to harm Ree. And you can’t but feel what Ree is feeling, as the 17 year old girl trying to keep it together.

Jennifer Lawrence is epic in this. She’s my favorite acting performance of this year as the girl who, on her path to find any information about her dad, she will go through everything you don’t expect a 17 year old to live through. She portrays this role with a resilient stubbornness, indicative of the hardships she has gone through but she lets you in certain moments glimpse at her soul. There’s one scene, in a boat, that will leave you shaken to your core. When you watch it, you’ll know.

On her quest in this patriarchy, she must go through the wives, not the men. And the wife portrayed by Dale Dickey is a brilliant contrast: ice-cold, non-caring but human. Ultimately, this is the whole society. Even Ree’s uncle, played by John Hawkes, is at the same time ruthless but loving.

All in all, if you’re up for a movie that is deep, cold, dark and haunting, this is the movie for you.