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Article by Teddy Durgin

Hunger Games Sequel Indeed Catches Fire

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is definitely a good movie. How do I know it's a good movie? Well, first of all, I paid to see it since Lionsgate opted not to preview it for Baltimore-area reviewers and instead stuck to only the major markets like New York and Chicago. So, I could really judge the film on "Did I get my money's worth?" And, yes, I did. The stakes are higher, and the story is propelled forward in a way that deepens and enriches what the first film set up. Second, (and this is just sad) when I went to buy a ticket, the snot-nosed, voice-cracking punk operating the box office window asked 43-year-old me, "A senior ticket, sir?" Oh yes he did. Not that I can blame him, I... uh... guess. The average age of everyone else around me buying tickets for this thing looked to be about... oh... 19. Now, of course, I shot the kid about 15 seconds worth of eye daggers before finally responding, "No, Sonny, just the regular admission price." Sure, I could have saved a grand total of $1 off my ticket cost at this particular theater. And saving $1 in today's dystopian Panem... er, America is probably an opportunity I should take every time. But there was the principle of the whole thing. That, and I just had to ask, "So, what's the minimum age for a senior ticket?" Without a single care for my feelings - NONE! - this "Teen Beach Movie" reject replied, "55." So, how do I know "Catching Fire" is a good movie? Because once it started, I became absorbed in it and forgot the little incident at the box office window. Really good movies do that. We immediately catch up with reluctant revolutionary Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), winner of the first film's Hunger Games - a grotesque "Survivor"-like spectacle put on by the evil forces of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) that, each year, pits teens from 12 different districts of the future dystopian society Panem in a hunt to the death. Katniss won and spared her friend, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), by convincing the cameras and the masses watching at home that they were a Romeo and Juliet-esque couple willing to eat poison berries and die together rather than "win" the Games. As the sequel opens, Katniss and Peeta are about to embark on their victory tour throughout the dozen locked-down districts. At each stop, they have to read government-scripted speeches and pretend that they are sweethearts. When they don't dance this dance to Snow's satisfaction, he and his new game-master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) come up with a great idea - basically an All-Star edition of the Hunger Games that puts Katniss and Peeta back in the game against their will and pits them against past winners. The result is a film that adeptly and, at times, thrillingly mixes social commentary and action survival cinema. Criticisms? Well, "Catching Fire" is one of those "second stories" in a series. So, the ending is far from satisfying. After 147 minutes of action, drama, tragedy and intrigue, it just sort of... well... ends. It's by design, of course. But it really leaves you hangin', and there aren't even some "scenes for next week." Also, and this is just a touch surprising now that I reflect on the film, but... I have yet to really take these characters into my soul. Yeah, I know. That sounds a bit grandiose. But by the end of the second "Harry Potter," the second "Lord of the Rings," and (of course) the second "Star Wars," I had become truly immersed not only in those universes, but also heavily invested in the individual characters. Part of the problem is this story to date has been SO Katniss-centered. Everyone and everything revolves around her and everything is filtered through her perception. At the end of "Catching Fire," there is definitely a hint that the characters are coalescing into more of an ensemble. And I hope that is the route the series takes. By the time this is all completed, I guess I'll be booking a room at the home. But I'll definitely be watching. It might be with bifocals, but I'll be watching.


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