Frankly, it’s irresistible. Whether you love or loathe Hollywood’s downpour of science fiction extravaganzas, this take on the shape of things to come possesses that George Orwellian kind of undertow. Caution: It could happen to you.
In fact, the second edition of a proposed four-part franchise adapted from the novels of Suzanne Collins, leaves you thirsting for more. From its very first frame, 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' sustains your curiosity in its ensemble of potential revolutionaries against a dictatorship. The insurgents will overcome, perhaps. Perhaps not. And so kickstarts another game of survival - not only of the fittest but of the most altruistic. The self-absorbed Rambos and Lara Crofts have no place here. Every contestant is aware that he or she is fighting a losing battle, unless there’s solidarity.
Clearly, here’s a parable which may be set in the future, but harks back to the savagery of the World War II holocaust and to present-day genocides. Astutely then, the backdrop isn’t restricted to any specific time span or zone. You can see hyper-fantasised trains and Daliesque clock-shaped lakes to filthy markets and row houses straight out of the Middle Ages, topped by a blingy studio set used for TV reality shows nowadays.
Apart from digital surveillance images – projected in thin air – the location could be anywhere, any time, as if a contemporary relevance was being emphasised. The pitch is every breath you take is being in consonance with the paranoia – justified to quite an extent - that no one’s safe today from fascist intervention.
How or why the megalomaniac President Snow (Donald Sutherland) came to subjugate his subjects, and why the oppressed have assented to play his absurd game, aren’t explicated. That’s left to your imagination. All you learn is that the Prez has his court of near-robotic admirers and a master strategist (Philip Seymour Hoffman), threatened by a mounting count of dissenters.
Next: the announcement of the 75th round of the death game in which only one contestant can triumph. But hang on, it’s with a difference. Bugged with the independent spirit of the last game’s winners Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the Prez forces them back into the arena to combat former victors. Smart? Not quite. Because, the accent has shifted from a fight-to-the-finish to banding together as allies. Unity matters.
Divided into two distinct sections, initially the screenplay focuses on the build-up, emphasising the utter vulnerability of Katniss, determined but prepared to be exterminated. The latter-half tracks her and her allies doggedly, monitoring their intuitions and will power as much as their physical agility. Underlined with suspense, and nail chewing tension throughout, the film’s special effects – like the spectacle of a poisonous fog - are mercifully secondary to the emotional bond which develops between the stealthful Katniss allies.
The scenes between Katniss and her strong-willed sister, as well as a doomed love story with a childhood friend, are interwoven seamlessly. As much as the fluent screenplay, the production design rocks big-time -- the set décor is often minimalistic countered by flashes of razzmatazz costumes, like a wedding dress with chameleon properties. The sound mix, too, is one of the best heard this year -- in second place to the lost-in-space masterwork 'Gravity'.
About the only quarrel you can pick with 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' is its stressful length of 146 minutes, and whoa a strange striptease by a cougar contestant in an elevator. Say cheesy.
Ably supported by the supporting players, particularly Woody Harrelson as a boozed-out coach, Jennifer Lawrence plays her part from within, keeping the externals to a bare miniumum. Quite clearly, the picture belongs to her and to director Francis Lawrence who creates a world she so magnificently fills. A must-experience.
The result of a decade-long effort by the studio to fashion an animated feature from Andersen’s classic “The Snow Queen,” “Frozen” ultimately bears only the most superficial resemblance to its source, the haunting story of a young girl’s efforts to free her true love from the mind-altering effects of a cursed mirror and the icy lair of the eponymous snow spirit. Instead, writer-directors Chris Buck (a veteran Disney animator with credits dating back to “The Fox and the Hound”) and Jennifer Lee (who co-scripted “Wreck-It Ralph”) give us a more conventional tale of two sisters, younger Anna (Kristen Bell) and elder Elsa (Idina Menzel), heirs to the enchanted Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle (also a return of sorts to Disney tradition after the dutiful PC dues-paying of “Pocahontas,” “Mulan” and “The Princess and the Frog”).
As seen in the movie’s opening moments, the girls are the closest of childhood friends, their playtime enhanced by Elsa’s unexplained ability to conjure a wonderland of ice and snow at the literal waving of her fingertips. But like Midas’ golden touch, Elsa’s powers soon seem more curse than blessing. When an errant icicle nearly proves fatal to Anna, the King and Queen seal the castle gates, while Elsa further cuts herself off from that circumscribed world, coming of age in solitude even after a shipwreck leaves her and Anna orphans.
Only as Elsa’s coronation day draws near does she emerge from her seclusion, still uncertain as to whether or not she can control her “gift” (which, like the telekinetic rage of Stephen King’s Carrie, seems to be triggered by intense surges of emotion). Meanwhile, Anna has had all memory of her childhood trauma wiped, “Men in Black”-style, by some friendly neighborhood trolls, leaving her all the more miffed by big sis’ literal and figurative cold shoulder.
These early passages play out pleasantly enough, enhanced by nice detail work showing the bustle of daily Arendelle life and an amusing turn by Alan Tudyk (last seen as “Ralph’s” megalomaniacal Turbo) as the nosy, diminutive Duke of neighboring Weselton (which, to his great consternation, everyone mispronounces as Weaseltown). But the narrative of “Frozen” only really kicks into gear with the palace ball following the coronation, where everything seems to be going hunky-dory until Anna makes the mistake of asking her sister’s permission to marry the dashing Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana) — whom, admittedly, she only met earlier that same day. To say that Elsa’s reaction puts a chill in the air would be an arctic understatement. (Think Carrie’s prom crossed with the Ice Capades.)
With her secret laid bare for all to see, a devastated Elsa flees into the surrounding mountains, enveloping all of summertime Arendelle in a thick permafrost as she does. Anna gives chase, but proves ill equipped for the rugged and frigid terrain, eventually stumbling upon a small trading post (run by a hulking Swede named Oaken, voiced by “Bolt” co-director Chris Williams) that has wasted no time in jacking up prices on its minimal supply of off-season winter provisions. It’s there that she crosses paths with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a flaxen-haired ice seller somewhat lacking in social graces (his best, and possibly only, friend is his trusty, sleigh-pulling reindeer, Sven). But with his own bottom line taking a sizable hit from the sudden climate change, he agrees to help Anna search for Elsa in the hope of once again bringing sunshine to the land.