Friday, January 31, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I saw The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire at the Century at Tanforan Shopping Center in January.

The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire starring Jennifer Lawrence; with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman & Donald Sutherland; directed by Francis Lawrence; (2013) - Official Website

I first saw Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone at the 2010 San Francisco International Film Festival.  Ms. Lawrence attended the screening and took Q&A on stage afterwards.  I sat in the back of the big auditorium at the Kabuki for the screening.  Towards the end of the film, the director (Debra Granik) and Ms. Lawrence stood near me as they waited to take the stage after the film ended.  Lawrence was 19 years old that day.  I remember she seemed a little awkward and shy.  Granik fielded most of the audience's questions as I recall.  Since then, Ms. Lawrence has released nine films including big budget blockbusters like The Hunger Games, American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook and the X-Men reboot.  She has won an Oscar and two Golden Globes.  I've seen her poised and playful in interviews and Saturday Night Live.  She even challenged Joan Rivers.  Maybe I am reading a lot into glimpsed body language in the dark from 3.5 years ago but she seems much more comfortable in herself now. 

All that was simply a prelude into saying that Jennifer Lawrence strikes me as a composed, self-confident young woman.  That's good for her but not so good for The Hunger Games franchise.  Having read the books, I thought that Katniss Everdeen was an adaptable survivor with a streak of self-doubt and fear.  I have a hard time sensing self-doubt and fear in Lawrence's performance in Catching Fire.  The fear was there but it wasn't very convincing to me.  I'm not sure if I'm projecting my own preconceived about Lawrence onto her performance or if Lawrence isn't conveying that in her portrayal. 

Regardless, the major stumbling block for me was that I could never quite suspend disbelief.  I always felt like I'm watching Jennifer Lawrence rather than Katniss Everdeen.  Having just seen her in American Hustle, I know Lawrence has quite an acting range.  Perhaps another factor working against Lawrence is that she looks like a woman whereas Katniss is a 17 year old girl.  Lawrence seems much matured from her appearance The Hunger Games (2012).

I won't bother to recap the plot since the film stays mostly faithful to the novel and the novel was on the bestsellers list for months.  Amanda Plummer shows up looking much different than she did in Pulp Fiction.  Jeffrey Wright, who I enjoyed in Basquiat, also makes an appearance.  Both actors acquit themselves well as the meek duo from one of the Districts.

Maybe I'm a little burnt out on big action films (not that I see that many) but Catching Fire just didn't seem to have the energy and appeal that The Hunger Games had.  It was certainly above average for an action film but I was bored for long stretches of the film.  In fact, another problem I had with the film was that it as 2.5 hours long...about 30 minutes too long in my opinion.

If I have to leave a critical bon mot, I would say "Catching Fire only made me luke warm."

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