Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Ghoul Versus The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Part 1)

Previously on the Hunger Games...

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the 74th Annual Hunger Games, won an arena style battle to the death designed by a fascist government to keep all of its citizens in place by constantly reminding them how helpless they are. However, they did so in a defiant manner which drew the ire of President Snow, Chief Fascist and part time Santa Claus. There's no way he's going to let two uppity teenagers upset his balance of power, so get ready for an overly elaborate plan that could have easily been solved by JUST KILLING THEM.

Because really, when you think about it, none of this makes any sense. Snow outright says he doesn't want to kill Katniss because it'll just make her a martyr and inspire many others to take her place, but this is neglecting one key detail. The only districts that seem to have a problem with the Capitol are the outlying ones, the ones filled with dirt poor workers who suffer the most under Panem's jackbooted heels. HOW are they going to revolt? They have no real technology and no real way to get to the Capitol short of WALKING THERE, so there is no way to overthrow Snow that way.

Sure, they could just stop working and producing the supplies the Capitol needs, but they have small numbers and would be no match if Snow send his army of hovercraft and Stormtroopers over there to resolve the stoppage. And on THAT topic, what does a technologically advanced paradise like the Capitol need COAL for anyway? That physical holographic technology of theirs run off coal? In summary, Snow is a fucking idiot and is just begging to be the cause of his own undoing, giving Katniss every weapon she needs to do so.

Right. So the Hunger Games kicked all kinds of ass, assuring a sequel to adapt the next book would get greenlit faster than you could say CHA-CHING! Director Gary Ross couldn't return due to commitments he had to other films, so Francis Lawrence was chosen to take his place. Lawrence is another in a long line of music video and commercial directors that turned to film, scoring hits with I Am Legend and Water For Elephants. The script was handled by acclaimed writer Simon Beaufoy, who is best known for his award winning screenplays for the Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire. Beaufoy left the film mid-production and even more acclaimed writer Michael Arndt was brought in to do rewrites. Arndt only won Oscars for his first two screenplays, Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, so it's safe to say the script was in GOOD HANDS.

Something very interesting and sad I found while doing my research on this movie is that it was the first film since 1973's the Exorcist to lead the yearly domestic box office while featuring a female lead. 1973? REALLY, America? That actually gives me an idea for an article where I'll go through the films of the past 42 years and see where box office hits featuring female leads landed on the charts, so expect that one soon...ish. That sounds like a lot of work. Especially when I have a movie about Katniss to review first! Get ready to see how to do a sequel PROPERLY as you settle in for A Ghoul Versus The Hunger Games: Catching Fire!

We open with Katniss and the Lord of the Hunks hunting for turkeys in the woods of District 12. Katniss is about to fire on one when it turns into Marvel, the boy she shot in the last movie. She begins to freak out, as she is obviously not over the hell she endured in last year's arena as any NORMAL PERSON wouldn't be. As I mentioned in my last review, this was my favourite aspect of the trilogy: its realistic approach to a person's mental state in the face of horrific events. Gale talks her down and they return to the village, as Katniss has to get ready to leave in a couple of hours for a Capitol-mandated “victory tour” of all the districts on the eve of this year's Hunger Games.

Gale says he won't be accompanying her to the train station, as it's obvious he's still upset about her on screen romance with Peeta. Katniss assures him it was all an act she put on to survive, Gale throwing caution to the wind and kissing her. Looking most confused, she returns to her new home in the Victors' Village, the section of the district assigned for past winners of the Games. On the way she passes Prim's cat Buttercup, who has magically transformed into a yellow tabby cat now.  This was apparently done at the bequest of Suzanne Collins herself, who was bugged by them pointlessly putting a cat of the wrong colour in the role.  She goes to Haymitch's house, who has fallen back off the wagon because the new screenwriters realized his character DOES work better as an alcoholic.

Peeta is also there, making for a very awkward encounter with Katniss as at some point between the end of the last movie and now she came clean about her loving him being a lie. Gee, if only the movie had ended with him discovering that like he was SUPPOSED to. After telling Haymitch to get ready for the tour, she heads home only to find she has an unwelcome guest: President Snow. She tries to engage him in pleasantries, but he declares things will go so much smoother if they agree not to lie to each other. In the book, this leads to one of my favourite scenes in the entire trilogy, something I PRAY the fourth movie keeps in. Katniss agrees to this, so he lays down the 411.

It's basically a rehash of everything Haymitch told Katniss at the end of the last movie, confirming that her act of defiance with the berries has inspired talk of rebellion in other districts. Katniss has a fantastic series of exchanges with the President, as you can tell she is afraid of him but refuses to give him the satisfaction of knowing that. Always keep your head held high, that is the Katniss way. Snow threatens her with destroying the entire district if she doesn't start playing ball, which involves kissing the Capitol's ass while on her victory tour. Donald Sutherland is magnificently threatening here, as he's taken his increased relevance to the story and ran with it. He tells Katniss she has to convince the districts the berry thing wasn't an act of defiance, but rather just her being madly in love with Peeta. On his way out, he shows Katniss a recording of Gale kissing her because he's a dick like that.

Snow departs, Katniss' next visitors consisting of Effie, Cinna, and assorted stylists. Here's a fun fact I never realized until typing up by review of the first film: Effie is never once named on screen. The cameras show up to give audiences their reunion of Katniss and Peeta, which is very awkward as Katniss is working her ass off to be happy and bubbly while Peeta is basically channeling Bruce Willis getting interviewed by Chris Tucker in the Fifth Element. They're rushed off to the hovertrain to begin their tour, Peeta getting Katniss alone and saying he wants to try being friends so things won't be so rough between them. It's a much needed scene between the two, as we get to see them just be themselves and talk with no life-or-death situation hanging over their heads. Even though there IS, but Katniss chooses not to tell Peeta about her little visit from Snow.

They arrive in District 11, which is MUCH worse than life back home. District 11 is an agricultural community full of armed Stormtroopers and barbed wire fences, where the works toil in the fields all day. The majority of the population appears to be black, which I'm sure pissed off a certain percentage of the fandom to no end. #KeepHungerGamesWhite! Unless... Suzanne Collins was going for, oh I don't know, some kind of social commentary on fascism and racism in her novels. Hmm. They have to give a speech to the gathered district honouring Rue and Thresh, Effie giving them cards containing generic words. Peeta quickly goes off script and delivers a moving tribute to the fallen teenagers, Katniss joining in and doing the same.

This only serves to inspire the crowd, an elderly man doing the three finger salute after she gets done speaking. Stormtroopers rush into the audience and grab him, shooting him pointblank in the back of the head. THAT escalated quickly. Katniss and Peeta are dragged inside a building, where Haymitch takes them upstairs to yell at them for their improvised words. Katniss finally comes clean about Snow, Peeta outraged that she didn't mention any of that earlier. Katniss tries to tell him she was only trying to protect her family, prompting him to mention that HE has family too. Remember this line class, there will be a test later. Haymitch says the only way to get through this is by acting as the Capitol's puppets, but the following montage of them traveling district to district shows it's too late and the damage has been done. The natives are getting restless, each stop getting more and more violent. This is fine for the movie I suppose, but in the books it never made much sense as they clearly said the closer districts to the Capitol were very much behind the regency.

Katniss comes up with the idea of Peeta proposing to her on Caesar's show, which naturally is followed up with a reactionary shot of Gale. OH PLEASE, enough with the fake love triangle. Gale is as vital to this story as Teresa was in the Maze Runner.  Quick, name ONE THING she did the entire movie! No? Don't feel bad, I couldn't either. Anyways, the tour finally ends and they're in the Capitol, the guests of honour at a lavish party being thrown by Snow. It is there Katniss meets the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, who is replacing Seneca Crane and his unfortunate facial hair. Plutarch is played by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who unfortunately died of a drug overdose in the middle of shooting the final two Mockingjay movies. He was a wonderful actor who went way before his time, and was a PERFECT choice to play Plutarch.

Plutarch asks Katniss to dance, exchanging some brief words with her about the Games. This is one of the major changes from the book, as there he showed her his watch which had a holographic projection of the Mockingjay symbol on it. He made a big deal of this, leaving Katniss puzzled as to why. Snow enters the party and toasts the young lovers, although his speech is clearly more veiled threats towards Katniss. In another “This Scene Is Incomprehensible Unless You've Head The Books” moment, Snow drinks a glass of champagne and backwashes a unhealthy amount of blood into it. Does Snow have the world's most severe case of gingivitis? No, in the books they explain how one of Snow's most popular forms of assassinating his rivals is by poison, which he himself drinks to avoid suspicion. He takes antidotes naturally, but a lifetime of drinking poison has permanently fucked up his mouth and it never stops bleeding. GUH-ross.

The tours ends and they return to the district, Katniss catching surveillance footage of District 8 rioting against the Capitol. When she gets home she seeks out Gale, telling him about everything going on and her plan to run away. He declines, because he is all about this rebellion movement. Stormtroopers roll into the village led by the ruthless Commander Thread, who orders the Hob burnt down just because life wasn't miserable enough around there. Gale runs afoul of Thread and ends up getting whipped at the new whipping center in the public square, Katniss and Haymitch arriving to save him. They take him back to Katniss', where her mother and Prim are suddenly highly trained medics? Oh right, they cut that entire subplot out of the first movie so now it feels HORRIBLY out of character. Especially Prim, who was this timid little girl and is now talking like she's a doctor off of... uh, whatever popular medical show is in vogue right now? Is St. Elsewhere still on the air? How about E.R., featuring that young George Clooney guy?

Snow and Plutarch watch the footage of the District 12 victors standing up to the Stormtroopers, Snow bitching that they all think they're invincible now and need to be stopped. Plutarch disagrees though, because he's getting a light bulb over his head. We jump ahead a bit to Snow giving a press conference, where he discusses the upcoming 75th running of the Hunger Games. Every 25 years they do something called a Quarter Quell, which involves a tournament of extra special significance. This year's is going to feature contestants consisting of nothing but past victors, regardless of age. Katniss runs out into the woods for a minor freakout, then, after composing herself, goes to talk with Haymitch.
She tells him they HAVE to ensure Peeta survives, Haymitch mockingly telling her that Peeta had already been there an hour ago saying the same thing about her. He then drops one of my favourite lines of the series, “You could live 100 lifetimes and never deserve that boy.”. I've talked about how the removal of Katniss' inner dialogue was the biggest flaw of the first movie because it robbed us of her insights into everything, for this one I would definitely say its biggest weakness is Peeta's limited screen-time. We don't get the buildup for the character that he got there, which has paved the way for endless “Katniss should have chosen Gale over Peeta” jokes since Peeta hasn't made much of an impact thus far.

Peeta flirted with being a messianic figure in the books, he just exudes this poise and composure through his words that made him one of my favourite fictional characters in recent history. Pair him with how much I like Katniss, add a highly compelling and well written story, and you can see why I love the books so much. This dialogue with Haymitch is very effective, as it helps to sell Peeta a lot more effectively than he has been so far. The movie skips ahead to the Reaping, where even Effie herself is less than pleased with the latest turn of events as she's come to care for her tributes in her own fashion. Katniss and Haymitch are picked, but Peeta quickly volunteers in his place. Haymitch, honouring the pact he made with Katniss, tries to stop him but Peeta ain't listening.

They're rushed to the train and taken to the Capitol, Haymitch telling them the key to survival is finding allies to team up with since a large portion of the contestants are Career Tributes who have been friends for years. The movie has the novel idea of actually naming some of the tributes this go around, so let's see who we're going to be dealing with:

-Cashmere and Gloss, a supermodel looking team of siblings from District 1 that won the games back-to-back.
-Brutus and Enobaria, another Career team from District 2. Enobaria is rather unique in the fact she had all of her teeth filed into fangs for better throat ripping. Styling!
-Wiress and Beetee, a pair of hyper-intelligent tech geeks from District 3.
-Unnamed Guy and Unnamed Girl from District 6. They're called the Morphlings due to their addiction to said drug, which is a super-charged form of morphine.
-Finnick Odair and Mags from District 4. You KNOW Finnick is going to be important since he got a last name, he's basically the superstar of Panem due to his rugged good looks and political connections. Mags is an elderly woman who raised Finnick, volunteering as tribute in place of Annie, the love of Finnick's life. Although you wouldn't know that last bit that if you didn't read the books, the movie just mentions Annie's name like we TOTALLY know who she is.

And that's it for the field, even though there's many more. I guess Haymitch was showing them the deadliest threats, but then treated the Morphlings like a total joke so I'm not really sure what the point was. The next scene has all of the tributes getting ready for the parade, Finnick introducing himself to Katniss is a rather oily manner. Finnick is played by relative newcomer Sam Claflin, who has already landed choice roles in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Snow White and the Huntsman. He also had a starring role in a little known 2014 horror film called the Quiet Ones that is near the top of my queue because it sounds very interesting to me.

Click here for Part 2!