Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (and a brief mention of About Time)

             Only You Can Light Revolutionary Fires
                          Review by Ken Burke

                                    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Round 2 of the futuristic sci-fi conflict between the oppressed 12 Districts and the vicious Capitol takes Katniss back into fierce competition but with unexpected twists.

[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting.  But please be aware that the links we recommend in our reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]

In my previous posting (November 21, 2013, with reviews of Dallas Buyers Club [Jean-Marc Vallée] and Blue Is the Warmest Color [Abdellatif Kechiche]) I noted that I usually don’t take much note of significant calendar days that just happen to coincide with our posting dates but had done so recently given that a previous one landed right on Halloween even as I had coincidently seen some relevant horror films while last week’s Dallas inclusions couldn’t allow me to ignore the melancholy context of the JFK assassination’s 50th anniversary.  I guess that leaves me with no choice but to acknowledge Thanksgiving this week, given that I’m posting a couple of days earlier than usual in an attempt to take some time off from this self-appointed task in order to spend it with my wife, Nina, many members of her family, and a few of our close friends.  Therefore, my condolences to the many big birds who will serve as a feast for the gluttonous pleasure of people like me over the next few days (as we project ourselves into the mindset of the beyond-material-concerns of The Hunger Games’ upper-class of Capitol-dwellers, if all we care about for the next few days is how much we eat and what football game to watch), in hopes that their corn-fed sacrifice contributes to a happy holiday respite that’s more about sharing time with loved ones than taking part in a Hunger Games-like assault on fellow consumers as the final month of the holiday-shopping-season moves into full-commando-mode.

Obviously, this intro leads us back to the ever-grim-life-lessons of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she and the other-put-upon-citizens of bleak-future-post-Armageddon-Panem—especially her fellow Victor from the previous movie, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson)—continue their struggle for a tolerable existence in the context of a harsh, totalitarian society.   (The name of this re-established-and-rigidly-regulated-nation comes from the Latin for “bread,” as in the “bread-and-circuses”-populace-diversion-strategy of the ancient Roman empire, except in President Coriolanus Snow’s [Donald Sutherland] rearranged-North America it’s mostly “circuses” in the form of the annual Hunger Games, where 24 young people [1 male and 1 female, ages 12 to 18, from each of the 12 Districts chosen by lottery as Tribunes at the dreaded yearly Reaping] fight each other to the death in order to remind everyone that a long-ago-rebellion was put down by the rulers of the Capitol and that the lives of the many District-dwellers are completely under control of the cruel central government—although the Victors do live in relative luxury for the rest of their lives while being expected to mentor new Tribunes [those who choose to are also welcome in the Capitol where they can carouse with the elite, although seemingly only those from the few already-more-favored-Districts even have a desire to do so] in an attempt to retain some form of sanity and hope that their collective burdens might someday be lifted.  Having never read the Suzanne Collins trilogy that these movies are based on, I won’t even attempt to present myself as much of a Hunger Games expert, but if you want to get further into the backstory of Katniss’ world you can explore the official website and/or a very detailed summary of the Panem universe—although at this one the site managers are calling for further documentation, but there’s certainly a lot that already rings true just from what I’ve seen in the first 2 movies so I think you can be reasonably assured of decent reportage; however, if any of you do look into this latter link and find problems with it, we’d all benefit from you making a comment to this review far below on this page).  The first time around, when the cinematic adaptation was simply called The Hunger Games, my rating was 3 ½ of 5 stars (review in our April 6, 2012 posting), with my reservations based mostly on how familiar the whole concept and its current re-enactment felt and the rather-obvious-marketing-ploy of choosing a popular-young-adult-novel-cluster which easily translates to the ongoing-target-demographic that movie studios try to corral when they offer up these mega-million-dollar-budget-investments in hopes of a grand payday (which has been wonderfully realized for Lionsgate with this latest installment of these “mockingjay diaries” with an estimated domestic haul of $161 million, almost $308 million worldwide, on opening-weekend alone which sets respective-all-time-records of 4th and 12th place for any 3-day debut).  I’m not as fully overwhelmed as some of my critic brethren tell me I should be with this sequel either, but I do find useful additions and extensions in it—along with continued effective control of the narrative arc and the production values—so I’ve retained the same rating, with hopes that the 2-movie finale in 2014-15 will really bring this tale to the dynamic conclusion that it seems to be seeking, as the situation evolves from another Hunger Games battle this time into what shapes up to be more full-scale rebellion when we next connect with Katniss’ cohort.

For now, though, Katniss finds that the previous strategy that she and Peeta formulated to allow both of them to survive the 74th Hunger Games—that of being lovers who were willing to each commit suicide by eating the poisonous nightlock berries rather than either killing the other (with Peeta the likely loser given Katniss’ archery/hunting skills compared to his background as a baker, although he does prove to be a determined survivor as, with help from Katniss, he makes it to the final twosome before they’re saved from further homicide by a change in attitude from the enraptured Capitol audiences [hidden cameras and microphones all over the Hunger Games arena allow viewers to follow almost every aspect of the competition; more on that later]; however, this whole scenario was given some complexity as Peeta publically announced that he’s in love with Katniss [true on his part, despite her lack of private reciprocation], setting up the whole sympathy-for-the-romantic-pair-attitude that helped bring about the rule change allowing 2 Victors from the same District to survive, especially if it were to be these 2)—has led to private problems from jealous-almost-real-romantic-partner Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth; yes, he’s “Thor”’s [Chris Hemsworth] younger brother, so now Nina has 2 of them to lust after), frustration from Peeta that he must continue to play the lover to Katniss on their upcoming Victors’ tour of the Districts even though she’s only marginally civil to him as neighbors in their slightly-better-than-the-rest-of-coal-mining-District-12’s-bleak-surroundings-Victors’ Village, and direct pressure from President Snow for them to be more convincing as star-struck-romantics so as snuff out the rising revolutionary sentiment starting to flare up in some of the Districts as a response to their Hunger Games-escape as more of a defiance of Capitol rules than 2 lovebirds willing to kill themselves rather than harm each other.  Under Snow’s explicit threat to sell their “romance” to the Districts’ crowds, lest our newest Victors along with Katniss’ mother (Paula Malcomson) and younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), suddenly find themselves terminated in some vicious manner (Snow further indicates that he’s even willing to eliminate all of District 12 as subversives if necessary to achieve his objective), Katniss and Peeta make attempts, but insurrection brews anyway, beginning with the largely Black population of agriculture-oriented District 11 where many in the victory-tour-crowd offer the 3-finger-salute of District 12 which has become a symbol of revolution, at least until the saluters are clubbed or shot by the cruel Peacekeepers army (who look suspiciously like Star Wars Stormtroopers, especially given that few of them ever take their face-covering helmets off, except for fierce new District 12 Head Peacekeeper Romulous Thread [Patrick St. Esprit] who whips Gale mercilessly for interference in the Snow-ordered crackdown on any infractions of Panem's rigid rules as another ploy in turning the people against popular Katniss).

We’re intended to see Snow as someone who conveys a sense of the absolute power of a Roman emperor (with echoes of how that authoritarian domination was imported centuries later into Nazi oppression), visualized with huge architectural edifices that make him seem like a demi-god as he commands all that he surveys, yet he’s concerned that his harsh rule still faces rebellious challenges unless he can force Katniss to lose all sense of being an oppositional-leader, instead being perceived as newly-caught-up with her recent fame, relative wealth, and comfort within the protected enclave of the Capitol (San Francisco Chronicle Film Critic Mick LaSalle also notes a Star Wars-type connection in his November 22, 2013 review when he says: “These leaders are evil—and not in the grand way of Darth Vader, but in the small, scared way of despotic politicians.”; however, in the same review he notes one of the new Hunger Games dangers as orangutans rather than baboons [again, see below for more details] so even as I admire his prose and analytical skills I also have to recommend that this newspaper start sending his copy editor to those preview screenings as well for fact-checking-purposes [and not to just dump on accurate-much-more-often-than-not-LaSalle, I’ll also note that in Owen Gleiberman’s November 29, 2013—amazing how they manage to get these things published a week before they exist—Entertainment Weekly review he mistakenly says Katniss is from District 9; neither of these misspeaks are that important, but given how ubiquitous all things Hunger Games are in this culture I’m just amazed that slips like this occur in such big-ticket-media-outlets, so if either of these organizations wants to hire me as a fact-checker [just as long as they don’t discover any errors that I’ve likely made but haven’t heard about yet] I’ll be glad to tell them where to send my check).  When their District 12 former-Victor-now-mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), informs Katniss and Peeta that their lives will never be private again, Katniss—who never desired to be any sort of warrior or social leader but simply got into the last round of the Games as a substitute when sister Prim’s name was drawn from the fishbowl—is willing to make whatever concessions are needed to save any number of lives, so she suggests a public engagement between her and Peeta to dumb-down their situations for the melodrama-desiring-Capital-masses as much as possible.  This initially goes over well with Snow because he wants the image of Katniss to be assimilated into the decadent ranks of preening Capital showbirds such as her image-coordinator, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and the grotesquely-pandering Hunger Games TV host, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci; to also be fair to Gleiberman’s eloquent prose and usually-accurate-statements I’ll quote his description of Flickerman: “the Ryan Seacrest of Oz”)—both of whom play their absurd roles to perfection, making you want to include them front-and-center in an attack by the downtrodden masses of the Districts (even as you quietly admire their wondrous lifestyles).

For truly evil Capitol-consciousness, however, only one of the elite is of the same petty-but-dangerous-wickedness as Snow, new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman)—who replaced predecessor Seneca Crane, a victim of state-ordered suicide for allowing Katniss and Peeta to manipulate the 74th Games into a situation of dual survival.  Heavensbee (I’ve got to hand it to Collins for her creativity with character names, many of which are as outlandish as Capital couture and makeup) helps Snow turn this Quarter Quell (a special edition of the Games every 25 years) into a contest populated only by former Victors, in an effort to eliminate many of them, thereby further reducing the ranks of would-be-revolutionary-idols.  Katniss is horror-struck at this, not only because she must put her life on the line again but also because she feels certain that Peeta is a more-likely-non-survivor whom she’s developed a fondness for, despite her reluctance to give too much of herself to anyone along with her continued semi-connection with Gale.  In this sense, I found more to be interested with in Catching Fire than in the first Hunger Games because it emphasizes how un-warrior-like Katniss truly is, how traumatized she remains with visions and nightmares of the Tributes she previously killed, and how she longs for a rebellion to break out although she’d prefer to just try to sneak away with Gale to somewhere far from Panem (I have no idea what condition the rest of the planet is in beyond this toxic super-state, but the implication is that there are other societies that at least aren’t as atrociously run as this one), but he insists on staying to be an active part of the emerging resistance.  With Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch the only Victors in District 12, though, she has no choice but to return to the Games; Peeta is spared through luck of the draw but he immediately steps forward to take Haymitch’s place (an irreversible act) so our would-be-lovers are back in the frying pan (although Peeta tries a last-ditch strategy of gaining sympathy from the Capitol audience with the false claim that he and Katniss were secretly married and she’s now pregnant—the other 22 thought-they-were-safe-and-secure-for-life-but-now-have-those-lives-on-the-line-again-Tributes support the long-shot hope for cancellation of the Quarter Quell but no dice, so once again they’re all forced into an arena [actually a large circular lake surrounded by a forest, all contained within an invisible domed structure that emits a deadly force field to prevent escape]).  Then, to make matters more difficult, Heavensbee and his control crew are able to initiate various additional horrors—hot blood pouring from the sky, a poisonous fog, a large tribe of killer baboons (mandrills, to be specific, Mr. LaSalle), a huge tidal wave across the forest and lake, an attack of jabberjay birds that duplicate Prim’s voice almost driving Katniss mad—that are as dangerous to the lives of the Tributes as they are to each other with their various weapons of personal destruction.  Additional imposed obstacles were a part of the previous Games as well, but this time we get a different on-screen dynamic in how all of this is presented to us.

To begin with, Katniss and Peeta realize even in the initial rush for weapons when the Games are officially begun that they have allies in the District 4 Tribunes, dashing, trident-wielding Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and likely-oldest-of-any-surviving-Tribune Mags (Lynn Cohen), who normally has to be carried by Finnick as the frantic foursome attempt to escape into the forest but shows great fortitude in sacrificing herself into the deadly fog so the other 3 can more easily get out of harm’s way, later finding that their wounds are literally washed away when they return to the starting point of the lake.  They also get help from one of the District 6 camouflage experts who sacrifices herself to save Peeta during the baboon attack, then find themselves with more allies in the brainy Tributes from District 3, Wiress (Amanda Plummer)—who’s in shock from the various attacks but discerns that the arena is set up like a 12-hour clock so that each added challenge occurs only for an hour at a time and only within that hour’s sector of the space—and Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright) who concocts an electrocution plan to finish off the remaining killers in the woods (unlike in the earlier Hunger Games we get a lot of announcements of dead Tributes via cannon fire and video projections in the sky but we don’t see many of the deaths, with even the few that we do witness made quick and mostly bloodless keeping this movie more appropriately in the realm of its PG-13 rating than so many others with this designation that seem to wallow in oddly-sanctioned-depicted-violence—I admire LaSalle for frequently writing about this maddening discrepancy within the manner in which movie ratings are arbitrarily applied).

OK, I assume you’ve read this far well aware of my standard Spoiler Alert back at the beginning of the review, but if you need to protect yourself from major plot revelations then you may need to jump on down to my brief comments on About Time before you end up cursing me into the next two generations of my non-existent children!  The other ally that our intrepid band join up with is axe-master Johanna Mason from District 7, a wary friend but one willing to hope that somehow the intended (by them) Final 5 (Wiress didn’t make it when another assault required some visible deaths) will be able to stand together against their Capitol masters when the other threats have been neutralized; she also is the one most indignant about the changed rules of the Quarter Quell, forcing her back into action after having already survived 1 of these inhuman trials. When those last 2 killer opponents thwart Beetee’s electrocution plan, forcing Johanna and Katniss to stand their ground (much as I’m coming to despise that term when it takes on political connotations), I got a bit confused when Johanna first attacks Katniss (cutting her arm) but then pushes her into protective cover while Johanna leads the killers away in pursuit of her escape (maybe it was to trick them into thinking that Katniss was dead?), but anyway Katniss returns to the huge tree where lighting is programmed to strike at midnight, ties the loose end of Beetee’s wire which is wrapped around the tree to one of her arrows (magic’s not supposed to be part of the Hunger Games’ world, but her quiver sure restocked itself plenty during her roughly 36 hours in this arena as she always had more arrows to shoot no matter how depleted it looked in earlier scenes), and fires it at the dome just as the lightning is unleashed, setting off an explosive reaction that breaks open the dome, allowing a Capitol aircraft to enter, airlifting Katniss and Beetee out of the compromised arena.  When she finally awakes from the shock of the electrical surge she finds herself not just rescued from the now-abandoned Quarter Quell but in the company of Finnick, Haymitch, and … Plutarch Heavensbee … who tell her that the long-awaited rebellion is now underway, that this whole Games set-up was a plot from the beginning to get Katniss out of the arena (Plutarch is an undercover rebel; half of the Tributes were in on the ruse, explaining their unexpected cooperation), and that they need her as the face of the revolution (just to make things interesting for the final episodes of this “trilogy”—which will borrow a tactic from the Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows [David Yates; 2010, 2011] and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn [Bill Condon; 2011, 2012] movies by dividing the final novel of the set into 2 filmic adaptations [not to mention The Hobbit (Peter Jackson; 2012, 2013, 2014) which stretches 1 book into 3 movies]—we also learn that Peeta and Johanna are Capitol captives).  She still seems a bit stunned and unsure about the whole venture (especially when they tell her they’re flying to District 13, which supposedly was obliterated years ago as a punishment for attempted revolt) until she’s reunited with Gale who tells her that while he was able to rescue her mother and sister from the destruction there is now no longer any District 12 (so that I can now add to my catalogue of bothersome “resemblances” that I cited about The Hunger Games in my previous review another— more substantial—Star Wars parallel, that of an initially-hesitant-savior-figure-with-specific-combat-skills being pushed into action by the death of loved-ones, although with Luke Skywalker it was just Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru whereas Katniss lost almost everyone she ever knew to the heavy hand of an evil empire).  The determined look on her face as we fade to black (along with a fiery mockingjay symbol, echoing the wedding-dress-costume-turned-to-flaming-reveal-of-a-winged-outfit that she surprised everyone with in the final telecast before the Quarter Quell, further branding her as a subversive rather than a desperate lover, setting Snow on a [failed, for now at least] course of seeing her die in the arena, and resulting in the apparent retaliatory death of her supportive designer, Cinna [Lenny Kravitz]) tells us that Snow and company are going to have hell to pay before the fate of Panem is decided.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an aspect of a cluster of related futuristic and outer-space sci-fi and fantasy films of this anticipated-big-box-office-season of mid-to-late-autumn, including Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood) and Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor; these 2 reviewed respectively in our November 7, 2013 and November 14, 2013 postings, soon to be followed by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), but one that offers the needed human-interest-aspects so absent in the first 2 noted above as well as trying to rise above the frustration that often occurs in the middle episode of a planned trilogy where the action is pushed to a climatic point only to be suspended for a year or so before the desperately-awaited-resolution is finally allowed to emerge.  While, for me at least, Catching Fire doesn’t fully establish itself as an almost-stand-alone-middle-episode (as did Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back [Irvin Kershner, 1980]—with its introduction of Yoda and the game-changing [for the time, before Anakin's expanded life story in the first-occurring-but-later-released-trilogy] revelation that Vader was Luke’s father—and Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [2002]—with its introductions of Saruman the White, the Ents, and the massive battle of Helm's Deep) it does give us a useful shift in tone from the “exciting” blood-sport focus of the first Hunger Games narrative, allowing us to see in a bit more tragic manner the unrelenting cruelty of the Capital-imposed regulation of life in the Districts and the unwavering determination of President Snow to snuff out any sense of disloyalty while relieving us of the focus on depicted death that was so evident in the first round of Katniss and Peeta’s awful situation.  It also left me a bit confused more so than last time (but, as I said earlier, I’m no Hunger Games-trivia-encyclopedia, so any fill-in clarifications are welcome) about just what the audiences in the Capitol and the outlying districts actually see on their large video screens of the arena combat (some of that comes from me not being able to remember specific shots of the first movie, especially having nothing much to compare to this time because I don’t recall any instance of any audience except Snow or Heavensbee’s control team seeing any imagery of these Quarter Quell Games).  I’m not sure if everyone has the multi-screen feeds that are available in the Capitol control rooms (or even on the high-speed train that whisks Katniss and Peeta on their Victors tour, where she sees the emerging rebellions in the various Districts, imagery I’m sure isn’t shown anywhere outside of command centers, including to the Capitol residents-at-large) or if they just get a specific, limited view intended to sway the general population toward the fates of the various combatants and to encourage Capitol sponsors toward helping pre-determined Capitol officials’ favorites in order to better rig the outcome.  Further, given that there seem to be hidden microphones along with the ever-present cameras I wonder how any of the Tributes’ strategy-conversations ever elude their overseers, along with wondering how quickly the Capitol Hunger Games control team can react to unintended actions such as Katniss’ dome-destruction tactic given that Heavensbee must have already been in the air heading toward the arena when it happened so he wouldn’t have been back at central control to overturn pro-Capitol decisions made by his underlings.  Questions just kept coming at me this time faster than I could ascertain answers to them, a minor distraction but a distraction nevertheless regarding full appreciation.

Yet, as with anything else in such a creatively-exaggerated-narrative-setting (sadly, exaggerated only to a degree from equally-absurd-realities of our own societies, such as the various Survivor-type “entertainments” on our worldwide TV screens, with the most extreme I’ve seen being the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid where a stranger-male-and-female-pair must survive 21 days with no food, clothes, etc. in jungle-ish territory [a new version, this time with 2 sans-clothing-couples, premieres on Dec. 8, if you can possibly wait that long]) we shouldn’t be too critical of such possible laps of logic (or laps of memory from your conscientious critic, frantically trying to scribble notes in the dark, thereby possibly missing occasionally-important images or snatches of dialogue) but instead focus on the overall impact of the total package.  From that perspective, I accept The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as well-crafted-suspense-and-thrill-inducing-entertainment (despite its many similarities to others of its type, as already noted) which likely resonates with its more-intended-target-audience a bit better than with me (as even-less-than-1-week-ticket-sales have already proven) and has me hoping for a rousing storm-the-Capitol-finale when the rebellion is fully engaged over the next couple of years (as long as Snow doesn’t counter with a Death Star, which wouldn’t surprise me too much at this point), so I recommend it, just not as any sort of masterpiece (even a pop-art one; and, with a similar backhanded-compliment, let me say that Lawrence—Jennifer, that is, not her director—won't be up for any Oscar-nominations for this role, although you never know what may come of her return-work with David O. Russell this winter with American Hustle given that he steered her to the Best Actress statuette last year in Silver Linings Playbook [I'd still have gone with Emmanuelle Riva in Amour (Michael Haneke) or even Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow; reviews of these 2 films in this blog in our January 24, 2013 and January 7, 2013 postings, respectively); however, you can never tell what you're gonna get with Oscars as I've been brutally reminded lately by re-watching the spectacular work of Meryl Streep in Ironweed (Héctor Babenco, 1987) which lost to the effective-but-inferior performance of Cher in Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987), although no one's offering me an Oscar-picking-job either]) but rather as a well-oiled-thrill-ride that promises increasingly-better impact when we jolt around the bend to its final segments.  To cap things off on Katniss and her fiery future, I’ll offer my weekly musical metaphor with the most obvious links I can think of (trying to stay in spirit with the sense I get of this Hunger Games series), Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhE6Izmkpx4 (performed in 1968 at the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN, when the tune was more current to its 1963 origination, but you can also go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tmzxM_XvQA [from the 1994 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland] where the more-weathered look and sound of Cash is akin to the ground-down reality of Panem’s huddled masses) and The Beatles in a live performance of “Revolution” at http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=tH9zG28GQEg (which begins its life on their 1968 "White Album"—officially named just The Beatles—where this song is what's called "Revolution 1" but in a much-slower tempo than the single-record version sung in this video, although I'm not sure who's doing the keyboard part [Nicky Hopkins plays it on the album]); the images are a bit ragged, but, like the later Cash video above, that's in keeping with the underground attitude in this latest episode of The Hunger Games so please embrace the grit.

Finally, while I’m offering no thematic connection between The Hunger Games series and another movie with an aspect of sci-fi—time travel—in About Time (Richard Curtis), I do want to make a couple of brief comments about the latter before it slips my memory completely.  I held off writing about it after seeing it a few weeks ago because I had hopes from my someday-writing-partner Pat Craig that he was going to do a review of it so I didn’t want to distract from that long-awaited-other-one-of-the-Two-Guys-debut, but in that nothing has yet emerged I’ll just go ahead and put my thoughts out there for now and hope that Pat has more to offer later from his own perspective.  In this unusual story, where you have to mostly ignore any previous connections between time travel and sci-fi (such as in The Time Machine [George Pal, 1960] and the Terminator movies [James Cameron, 1984 and 1991; Jonathan Mostow, 2003—but note that McG’s 2009 Terminator Salvation takes place just in the future with no travel back to earlier eras]) in order to properly focus on the temporal dislocations just as an aspect of what you’ve previously seen in certain drama (Slaughterhouse Five [George Roy Hill, 1972]), comedy (the Back to the Future series [Robert Zemeckis; 1985, 1989, 1990]), or romance (Somewhere in Time [Jeannot Szwarc, 1980], The Time Traveler’s Wife [Robert Schwentke, 2009) plots.  In About Time, our main male character, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson [noted by one San Francisco Bay Area reviewer—not LaSalle, but I’ve lost track of who it was—as looking enough like Harry Potter’s friend Ron Weasley to have been cast as his brother—apparently without checking a few sources that would easily reveal that Gleeson was in fact Weasley older-brother Bill in both Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows: Part 1 and … 2 [David Yates; 2010, 2011]—my availability for that high-paying-fact-checker-job is still open, but I guess I could be persuaded to just pick each year's Oscar winners), is a rather ordinary young man who would love to get into a serious relationship but sabotages himself frequently with clumsy acts or poorly-stated-thoughts; on his 21st birthday, though, his delightful Dad (Bill Nighy) tells him the secret that men in his family can time-travel backward within their own lifetimes, which allows them the exceptional opportunity of being able to re-live any given event so they can “correct” its outcome, a life-and-love-saving-device that allows Tim to smooth over the rough spots in his initial encounters with charming Mary (Rachel McAdams)—the most “devious” change gives him the advantage over another guy that she was about to meet before Tim had the chance—allowing them to progress to a blissful marriage.  However, there’s also a limitation that has to do with not being able to go back any farther than the birth of your youngest child without causing notable, possibly unwanted, changes in all aspects of your life (a plot device also explored in a similar manner by Steven King in his 11/22/63 novel where another time traveler is able to prevent the JFK assassination, only to find this break in the space-time continuum leads to dire circumstances, forcing him to travel back once again to reset everything—just as what happens when Tim revisits an event that occurred before the birth of his first baby, requiring him to go back again to undo his attempted revisions) so when Mary wants to add to the brood after Tim’s father died he has to sacrifice his deep love for Dad and the easy ability to revisit him in the past for the sake of the future of his own immediate family, adding a bit of sentimental strain and decision to what is otherwise a pleasant comic romp (although one that has been criticized for not letting Mary in on his secret, so that Tim is able to reorder his life from his perspective without ever consulting with her on the outcomes), that ends with the oft-repeated advice to simply live each day as if it’s your last so that even if you don’t have time-travel powers you will have maximum appreciation for what you’ve experienced.  If I were doing an actual review of About Time I’d say about 3 of 5 stars because it’s all sweet, pleasant, and romantic enough, but doesn’t do all that much to transcend the basic human appeal of its delightful stars as they attempt to bring interest to their characters (the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic folks weren’t wild about it either, respectively rating it at 68% and 55%); if you’d like to explore it further, you might want to start with the official site (may be a bit of a slow download) and a trailer.  However, I’ll leave such explorations to you while you’re mulling over your 4th turkey, dressing, and cranberry sandwich this holiday weekend, awaiting my trip to the farm country of Nebraska (Alexander Payne) next week.

If you want to know more about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire here are some suggested links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCnCcg589xg (12:50 very informal interview with actors Josh Hutcherson, Jena Malone, Sam Clafin, and Jennifer Lawrence)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control, as well as difficulties we’ve encountered with the Google RSS Feed Alert when used in conjunction with iGoogle and Google Reader.

Please note that to Post a Comment you need to either have a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com.  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I have said it before, but the strength of Ken's reviews over LaSalle's is how Mr. Burke can transport you back to the movie through his narrative, a quality missing from the big name critics. Of course LaSalle is concise and takes the traditional "non-spoiler" role in his reviews (and is published in the San Antonio papers often making him my initial checkpoint before heading out to the Bijou).

    As far as Catching Fire and the rest of the franchise goes, I give it credit for taking a potentially narrow focus "young female" romance and broadening the audience to everyone; males, old folks and everyone in-between. Especially given that the action star and often the franchise, typically a Schwarzenegger or Cruise, is in this case a young fresh faced female without formal training who simply nails it and wins Oscars.

    Like the Twilight series, the producers achieve broad audience appeal through superb production values, emerging and established star power, and a decent underlying story. In addition, Hunger Games largely avoids the typically endless and ultimately monotonous "action" scenes (which, as noted by LaSalle and Mr. Burke must be a factor in our growing epidemic of youth copycat violence).

    For my money, Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing 23 year old, one we can count on to achieve many great moments in the decades to come. Sutherland and Harrelson are perfect in their roles; I suspect Lawrence is taking notes and learning quickly when working with these kinds of established professionals.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for the detailed comments (and the compliments). I agree about using LaSalle as a focal point for whether I want to see something or not because even though we're sometimes completely at odds over the value of a given film, more often than not I agree with him and highly respect his intense knowledge of a wide range of cinema (he could give me lessons on a vast number of 1930s U.S. and contemporary French films that I've never seen). But regarding the orangutans ...

    You explain better than I do what works about Catching Fire as I had to see it twice before it started "catching fire" with me, but I completely agree that it's a well-produced series with some excellent acting along with being high time we see movies of this nature with a strong female protagonist. I also agree that Lawrence should have a fine career ahead of her; however, I just wasn't ready yet to give her an Oscar last year--but, then again, I guess the Academy lost my address when they tried to contact me to tell them who the winners should be, otherwise I'm sure they'd follow my picks no matter how the votes turn out (you can tell I'm originally from Texas, can't you?)

    Anyway, rj, I always appreciate your input, and given Pat's continued reluctance to contribute you're becoming more and more the official other Guy in the Dark so keep those contributions flowing. Ken

  3. The Hunger Games Catching Fire 2013 movie is really Great for Hollywood film festival . Last weeks i'm see this movie it's really amazing basically this movie story, if you wants to see or download this movie than
    Click Here for The Hunger Games Catching Fire 2013 HD movie free Download

  4. I'll just have to trust Sobuj on his offered link for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as I have no connection with any free downloads. If anyone encounters any problems with this link please let me know so that I can remove it. Ken Burke

  5. Great post about Hunger Games. I recently talked about the movie on my blog, but what I quickly did in a paragraph can't compare to your profound and lucid analysis. Keep up the good work!


    1. HI Arion, Thanks so much for the kind words. I promise you, I intend to be here for quite awhile. Ken

  6. Wanted to add that I just read your first Hunger Games review and must say you nailed it.

  7. Hey, rj, thanks much. At this point I think I did enjoy the first one a bit more (although I gave them each the same rating), but most mid-points in a trilogy suffer from set-up-for-the-finale-fever so I'm hoping that when we get the last two installments they really sing (in mockingjay harmony). Also, saw a preview screening of American Hustle today and really enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence's role (along with all of the others; this could be one of the best of 2013). Ken

  8. Hello i consider this as the movie of the year, i cant stop watching it i even watched it 3 times already and i didn't experience being bored, all the scenes are really amazing and intense all i can say its the movie of the year indeed.


  9. Hi Ehy, Your enthusiasm for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is great to know about. Thanks for posting with me.

    As for the Watch Full Movie link, again I have no involvement with that and leave it to everyone's individual interest to check it out as you see fit. Ken

  10. Wow, Ken, reading your review transported me back to the classroom. I miss your lectures. I don't think there's a professor alive that can nail things in the same way that you always managed to.

    Don't click the links, if they aren't packed full of viruses, they'll led you to sites that are. They're phishing accounts.

    As for some of your questions, the audiences see it as a we would any reality TV show. The Capital provides the most alluring and suspense-filled or heartbreaking scenes to them. For them, it's all about entertainment.

    I haven't read your review of the first one, but I was a little surprised by the lack of connection to current world matters that the series has hit upon (again, you might have done that in the first one). There's an organization called the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) that has created Odds in Our Favor (http://youtu.be/BmVJaBuoEYA) where they pull together the similarities of modern society and the Hunger Games scenario. Just something to tickle your mind a little more.

    I have to assume that you've not read the books. They try hard to keep to these in translation from written word to mega-film. Do you really feel like this series was just picked up to go with the other YA series that had been snatched up at the time? There's a HUGE collection of YA book-film works coming out in the future, with a large focus on the vampire ones. Why now? Some of these books have been around for YEARS (I was reading some of these series while at Mills). Any thoughts of what brings around these sudden surges in book to film collections, especially in the YA section and the different themes that they tend to focus on?

    Thanks for a great review read, Ken! And lots of fun memories of working hard in your class!

  11. Hi Jesse, Thanks for your extensive comments here to which I'll just briefly (for me) reply to now.

    First, I appreciate your clarification on how the viewing audience in the Hunger Games world sees on video screens what's happening in the competition; this is how I thought I remembered it from the first movie, but if viewers aren't more familiar with the plot's premises I don't they'd be able to get that understanding too clearly in this first sequel.

    My sense of my review of the first movie (see our April 6, 2012 posting) is that I did make reference to how these stories connect to current world affairs, but if not then you bring up a good point, furthered by your suggested link to the Odds in Our Favor video, which is a powerful indictment of how what's seemingly fictional in the Games future is sadly reflected in today's world. I've just probably gotten too jaded and cynical over the last 66 years to even make note of this often enough anymore, but it needs to be made clear that there's more going on here than just movie stars and special effects (although you don't want to get me up on the soapbox too much in these reviews because I do plenty of that already, which contributes to their unholy length--at least in the minds of readers who want everything you say to fit on one smartphone screen).

    No, I've not read these books nor can I clear my head at this moment to speculate on why anything particular makes the transition from print to blockbuster cinema--except the goal of likely audience response in terms of ticket sales rather than social action. I'd say that the most likely reason that anything gets on screen with this level of budget and advertising is because of market research that implies a big-profit payday. We can dialogue more on that later if you wish.

    A pleasure to be in touch with you again. I encourage your comments on anything that pops up on this blog. Ken

  12. Here's another comment to everyone, regarding Jesse's concern about viruses in the links to full versions of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as offered in the comments above by Sobuj Sardar and Ehy Hey. I know nothing about this links nor have I tried to open them. I didn't delete the comments because I didn't want to remove their statements about the film, but if anyone feels I should just delete these posts for our mutual protection from viruses then please tell me so. Thanks for your input. Ken