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

The Hunger Games Breaks Box Office Records – Sets Huge Debut

$155 million.

That’s how much The Hunger Games has grossed in its opening weekend, enough to place it third on the best opening weekends list of all time, behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Dark Knight. The Hunger Games has, therefore, grossed more on its opening weekend than any other non-sequel movie ever made.

That’s even more than the $142 million Twilight: New Moon made on its opening weekend. Here you go, yet another reason as to why The Hunger Games is not Twilight.

The appeal for the movie has been attributed to an array of factors ranging from the critical acclaim the movie has amassed, the high interest fueled by an engaging marketing campaign, the fandom of the books, to the wide range of audience that have seen it: interest was high among both female and male viewers.

The Hunger Games has also become its studio’s biggest hit ever in just three days. The previous best for Lionsgate was $116 million for Fahrenheit 9/11.

The next installment in the books Catching Fire is slated for a November 2013 release. With the reception this one has gotten, Catching Fire will be a volcano.

The Hunger Games is NOT Twilight

I had no intention to write such a post. But when I saw people on various platforms saying that The Hunger Games is just another Twilight, I simply had to step in to say no. Just no. And I think I am a qualified person to make the comparison. How so? Well, I’ve actually read both book series before the hype for their movies set in.

1 – The Books

There is a drastic difference between the themes of the books to begin with. The Hunger Games does not have supernatural human beings, let alone vampires or werewolves that have been so ruined in their portrayal that they’ve become a common source for jokes. The main characters of The Hunger Games are not driven by their incessant need to be loved but by their primal instinct for survival. Both may be intended for young adults and have a central female character but when it comes to the plot, protagonists and reception, the two series couldn’t be more different. Twilight is a fantasy love story, while The Hunger Games is an adventure about survival. That alone create a huge difference in the central elements of the book: where characters in one search for a boyfriend, the characters in another prepare for a revolution.

This brings me to point 2.

2- Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan:

Bella’s struggles in Twilight is to choose between the sparkly vampire Edward and the transform-at-will werewolf Jacob. Her character is also nauseatingly one dimensional, useless and completely infatuated with mundane things, making her unlikeable.

Katniss is the exact opposite. Where Bella had things handed for her on a silver platter (boyfriend trouble don’t count as life problems), Katniss has to survive a world where the government has made the people hungry, where her mother is disconnected from the world and where she has to care for her only sister. Katniss’ world does not revolve around a boy, unlike Bella.

Bella is driven by her infatuation with Edward. Katniss is driven by her need to survive a cruel world. Katniss is a character young readers should look up to. Bella Swan is not.

3 – The Movies

Both movie series are turning out to be immensely popular. The Hunger Games has grossed over $25 million from midnight screenings alone. Twilight movies have broken records. Where they differ, however, is in the drastic critical reception. The Hunger Games has an aggregate score of more than 90% of positive reviews. Every single Twilight movie has been certified rotten by critics. You can read my review of The Hunger Games here. I didn’t even find it in me to review the latest Twilight movie. Enough said.

Perhaps both The Hunger Games and Twilight can be considered as a “teen” series. How that’s a bad thing, I’m not sure. The difference remains that one is absolutely relevant to what we’re living through today: revolutions, war, famine while the other lives in lala land. The fact remains that people need to get it in their heads that not anything that rings true with young adults needs to be compared with a preceding cultural phenomenon. Twilight was compared to Harry Potter. The Hunger Games is being compared to Twilight. How ridiculous, I know. When will such unfounded thoughts end? I have no clue.

The Hunger Games Soundtrack – Album Review

The Hunger Games is probably one of the most anticipated movies of the year. And the movie delivers (read my review). With such standards, the need for a decent soundtrack becomes evident. The album’s producer T-Bone Burnett manages to do what he does best. The award-winning producer has come up with a very coherent album with a specific vibe and feel that doesn’t stray away from the movie’s theme.

While listening to The Hunger Games‘ soundtrack, titled: The Hunger Games (Songs from District 12 and Beyond), you cannot but feel that this is an album that would have stood alone as a credible work without an accompanying movie. The fact that there’s a movie to it is just the cherry on top. It’s a folky, country album. It is mellow, somewhat subdued in parts and also defiant in others. The sound it holds varies between realism and shrieking for liberty. It switches between being soothing and calling for arms.

It is a treat to listen to.

Opening with an eerie battle for strength by Arcade Fire, in a song titled “Abraham’s Daughter,” the bar is set very high for the album. Driven by incessant military beat, the band sings in Biblical terms about the power of sacrifice. It is the song that plays as the movie’s credits start rolling.

The album also features two songs by country superstar Taylor Swift, both of which are not the typical country pop sound she has become known for. Instead, Taylor has decided to let her sound grow on an album that is not hers. On “Safe & Sound” (full review of the song), she’s soothing, telling the character to whom she’s singing to “close your eyes, you’ll be alright. No one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound.” On the other offering for Taylor in the album, the song titled “Eyes Open” (full review of the song), she is the exact opposite. “Keep you eyes open,” she incessantly repeats as if her life depended on it.

Grammy-winning folk band The Civil Wars are also present on the album in two songs. The first is a feature on the aforementioned Safe & Sound, the second is one entirely their own called “Kingdom Come”. For a band known for their harmonies, they work their best here. Their harmonies get better as the song progresses. “Run, run, run away. Buy yourself another day. A cold wind’s whispering secrets in your ear. So low only you can hear…. It’ll all be over soon. I’ll be waiting here for you.”

Hip-hop artist Kid Cudi is featured on a song titled “The Ruler and the Killer.” Maroon 5 also contribute a haunting submission titled “Come Away To The Water,” a song that is very different from many of their personal material with lyrics that are dark and haunting. “Come away little lamb, come away to the slaughter. To the ones appointed to see this through. We are coming for you.”

New country band, The Pistol Annies with their frontwoman Miranda Lambert are present on “Run Daddy Run,” a folky song that’s very in the vein of what other country artists had given the soundtrack. It is reminiscent of the movie’s mood as well. “Daddy, can you hear the devil drawing near?” they sing with conviction.

Glen Hansard, known for his more subdued songs such as “Falling Slowly”, is outside of the character he has convinced people of. On the rocking song “Take the Heartland,” he shouts and pleads. “I’m not gonna put my head down. I’ll face it like a Fidel Castro, like a Che Guevara or a Fidel Castro. I’m gonna grab my bow and my life’s one last wish. And I’m gonna take the life and a knife. And I’m gonna shape my way and not fall.”

Young singer Birdy, known for her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” concludes the album with the chilling “Just a Game.” “There comes you to keep me safe from harm. There comes you to take me in your arms. Is it just a game? I don’t know. Is it just a game? I don’t know” she pleads.

The album also features many other artists such as The Decemberists, The Secret Sisters, Neko Case, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers, Jayme Dee and The Low Anthem. All of the 16 songs that make up the album help create a great companion for The Hunger Games.

After watching the movie, you cannot but be certain that The Hunger Games‘ soundtrack fits the movie perfectly. While listening to the songs, you can close your eyes and imagine Katniss struggling for her life, arming her bow and shooting at her enemies. And in a way, the soundtrack does that. It shoots at musical conformity by giving you a composite sound different from most of the music you hear nowadays. And that is always certainly welcomed.

9/10

The tracklist:

1. Arcade Fire, “Abraham’s Daughter”
2. The Secret Sisters, “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”
3. Neko Case, “Nothing To Remember”
4. Taylor Swift, “Safe & Sound ft. The Civil Wars”
5. Kid Cudi, “The Ruler and The Killer”
6. Punch Brothers, “Dark Days”
7. The Decemberists, “One Engine”
8. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Daughter’s Lament”
9. The Civil Wars, “Kingdom Come”
10. Glen Hansard, “Take The Heartland”
11. Maroon 5 ft. Rozzi Crane, “Come Away To The Water”
12. Miranda Lambert, “Run Daddy Run feat. Pistol Annies”
13. Jayme Dee, “Rules”
14. Taylor Swift, “Eyes Open”
15. The Low Anthem, “Lover Is Childlike”
16. Birdy, “Just A Game”

 

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

Eyes Open (Single Review & Lyrics) – Taylor Swift [The Hunger Games Soundtrack]

Taylor Swift’s second submission to The Hunger Games‘ soundtrack album has just been released, ahead of the movie’s release in theaters next week.

Where Safe & Sound was a reassuring song in the face of distress and fear, Eyes Open is the opposite in theme. Where the former tells a story of safety, the latter, with its prominent guitar, is almost the total opposite. And for a movie & book like The Hunger Games (my review of the book), Eyes Open is way more fitting. It has the energy, thrill and rush of the story all wrapped up in 4 minutes.

The song starts with Taylor reminiscing about the days when things were safe, when the characters were children, playing with wooden swords. But their carefree days have now been replaced with a cruel world – one where they have to keep their eyes open in order to survive: “Playing soldiers, just pretending… In backyards, winning battles with our wooden swords. But now we’ve stepped into a cruel world...”

Meanwhile, everyone’s waiting for them to fail, to breakdown and watch the fallout. So she urges them to keep their eyes open even when they’re asleep: “Everybody’s waiting for you to breakdown. Everybody’s watching to see the fallout. Even when you’re sleeping, sleeping, keep your eyes open

I can imagine the song being played in the movie just before the tributes are taken into the arena because every single lyric uttered by Taylor fits that moment perfectly. “But turn around, they’ve surrounded you. It’s a showdown, and nobody comes to save you now.” According to Taylor, the song is a symbolization of Katniss’ rebellion against the Capitol. The song shows that as well.

The lyrics are so on point, in fact, that you can’t but think of Katniss and the other tributes preparing to run as the countdown to The Hunger Games dies down when you hear Taylor sing: “Keep your feet ready, heartbeat steady. Keep your eyes open. Keep your aim locked. The night goes dark, keep your eyes open.”

The melody is very catchy. It builds up, all to the backdrop of a strong guitar sound, before the song culminates in repetitions of “keep your eyes open” for further emphasis and eventually stops, as it should, right on top. There’s no outro cue. The song stops the way it starts, suddenly, because when the character’s lives are at stake, the only way a song describing the situation would work is by it being sudden and urgent.

When it comes to Taylor Swift’s songs, she might be the only person able to sing them convincingly. Her vocal performance is always not perfect but the little flaws help to add to the song’s overall feel. When it comes to Eyes Open, the cracks here and there in Taylor’s voice contribute to the song’s overall mood of absolute urgency.

Overall, Eyes Open is a great addition to Taylor’s repertoire. She shows her great songwriting abilities by the way she turns phrases and creates scenes in simple words, making it seem effortless in the process. I can’t wait to hear it in the movie.

8/10

The Lyrics:

Everybody’s waiting
Everybody’s watching
Even when you’re sleeping
So keep your eyes open

The tricky thing is yesterday we were just children
Playing soldiers, just pretending
Dreaming dreams with happy endings
In backyards, winning battles with our wooden swords
But now we’ve stepped into a cruel world
Where everybody stands to keep score

Keep your eyes open

Everybody’s waiting for you to breakdown
Everybody’s watching to see the fallout
Even when you’re sleeping, sleeping
Keep your eyes open
Keep your eyes open
Keep your eyes open

So here you are, two steps ahead and staying on guard
Every lesson forms a new scar
They never thought you’d make it this far
But turn around, they’ve surrounded you
It’s a showdown, and nobody comes to save you now
But you’ve got something they don’t
Yeah you’ve got something they don’t
You’ve just gotta keep your eyes open

Everybody’s waiting for you to breakdown
Everybody’s watching to see the fallout
Even when you’re sleeping, sleeping
Keep your eyes open
Keep your eyes open
Keep your eyes open

Keep your feet ready
Heartbeat steady
Keep your eyes open
Keep your aim locked
The night goes dark
Keep your eyes open

Everybody’s waiting for you to breakdown
Everybody’s watching to see the fallout
Even when you’re sleeping, sleeping

Keep your eyes open
Keep your eyes open
Keep your eyes open
Keep your eyes open

You can listen to Eyes Open here. I’ll post a YouTube link the moment Taylor’s label tones down the video-removing frenzy.