44 Days of Paranoia #31: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir by Francis Lawrence)

For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at a film that might, at first, seem out-of-place in this series — The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Why is Catching Fire included in a series of films about conspiracy and paranoia?  Because, even more than the first film, Catching Fire is a film with a political subtext.  Beneath its franchise surface, Catching Fire is about how the government and media establishment manipulates its citizens and how, occasionally, the citizens are smart enough to manipulate them.

When reviewing Catching Fire, probably the first and most important question is how it compares to The Hunger Games.  Is it that film’s equal, is it better, or is it worst?  That’s not necessarily an easy question to answer because Catching Fire is a very different film from The Hunger Games.

One of the main reasons that I loved The Hunger Games is because, after a countless number of Twilight-style films that all featured teenage girls willingly sacrificing their independence for a boyfriend, The Hunger Games finally gave us a female protagonist who kicked ass and made no apologies for doing so.  Katniss Everdeen was defined by her mind and her soul and not her relationship status.  I loved The Hunger Games because, like Brave, it celebrated female strength and independence.  While I have always been willing to defend the Twilight films for what they are, I would not want my niece or my future daughter to grow up to be Bella Swan.  Katniss Everdeen, however, is a role model for both our times and our future.  The Hunger Games was all about celebrating girl power and, for that reason, I loved it.

Katniss Everdeen is still a worthy and independent role model in Catching Fire but the film itself is far more political than The Hunger Games.  Whereas The Hunger Games was all about establishing Katniss as a strong woman, Catching Fire is about how that strength can be used to challenge the status quo.

As the film opens, Katniss (played, of course, by Jennifer Lawrence, who I have such a girl crush on) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 after having “won” the 74th Hunger Games.  Realizing that their act of defiance could lead to a full-scale revolution, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) attempts to co-opt their rebel image.  He orders that Katniss and Peeta continue to pretend to be in love so that, during their Victory Tour, the citizens of the other districts will be convinced that Katniss’s actions were the result of love and not of defiance.

This is actually a very interesting premise and definitely that shows a lot more sophistication than what we, as filmgoers, have been conditioned to expect from a movie based on YA fiction.  While thousands of films have depicted love as a form of political rebellion, Catching Fire is unique in suggesting that love (or the appearance of love) can also be used to maintain political suppression.

During the Victory Tour, both Katniss and Peeta balk at having to play the roles that Snow has assigned them.  While at District 11, Katniss pays tribute to Rue and then watches in horror as Snow’s “peacekeepers” executes a man who dared to hold up the three-finger salute.  Trying to avoid further violence, Katniss agrees to become engaged to Peeta.

Snow, however, realizes that, as long as Katniss is alive, she’ll be a threat to him.  He announces a special all-star edition of The Hunger Games, in which all the tributes will be past winners.  Since Katniss is the only female tribute from District 12 to have ever survived the Hunger Games, she knows that she’s going to have to compete for a second time. When Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is selected to be the male tribue, Peeta immediately volunteers to go in his place.

The first hour of Catching Fire, which deals with the media and political manipulation surrounding the Victory Tour, is brilliant.  The second half, which features Katniss and Peeta competing in their second Hunger Games, feels a bit familiar and rushed.  It’s not that the second half of the film isn’t good.  It’s just far more predictable.

But here’s what’s important — everything that worked about The Hunger Games works for Catching Fire.  Josh Hutcherson seems a lot more confident here than he did in the first film, Donald Sutherland makes for a great villain, Stanly Tucci is a lot of fun as Caesar Flickerman (what a great name!), and the film is a visual feast.  Among the new cast members, Jena Malone is perfectly cast as tribune Johanna Mason while Philip Seymour Hoffman is properly Philip Seymour Hoffmanish as the new director of the Hunger Games.

However, the film belongs to and works because of Jennifer Lawrence.  Whether she’s playing Katniss or Mystique or Ree Dolly or Tiffany Maxwell or Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Jennifer Lawrence kicks ass.

Yes, that is my official review as a film critic.

Jennifer Lawrence kicks ass.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon

Here Are The Semi-Finalists for the Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar

On December 14th, the Motion Picture Academy announced the 7 semi-finalists for this year’s Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.  Surprisingly, neither The Hobbit nor 12 Years A Slave made the cut.

Here’s what did:

American Hustle

Dallas Buyers Club

The Great Gatsby

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa

The Lone Ranger

That’s right, everyone — Bad Grandpa is one step closer to being immortalized as an Oscar nominee.

The final 3 nominees will be announced on January 16th.

Trailer: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


Katniss Everdeen is back!  Here’s the final trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and, it’s nice to say, this one is full of details that seem to have been included specifically for those of us who have read the book.  The film itself will be released on November 22nd.

Trailer: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


I am currently in the process of catching up on all of the news that I missed out on during last week’s unplanned vacation from posting.  Indeed, one of the biggest events last week was the release of this trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  The Hunger Games was one of the best films of 2012 and Jennifer Lawrence provided a role model for girls who, otherwise, might be tempted to mistake Bella Swan for a strong woman.

Is it any wonder that Catching Fire is one of the most anticipated films of 2013?

Catching Fire, starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Francis Lawrence, is scheduled to be released on November 22nd.

Trailer: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Exclusive Teaser)


The next installment in The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, looks to return later this year with a new director taking over the reins. Gary Ross began the series as director of the first film and the film enjoyed massive success and very positive reception from the critics-at-large. So, it was surprising news that Ross wouldn’t be returning to continue the series and instead Lionsgate replacing him with Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend).

This sequel brings back everyone who survived the first film and adds some new faces in the cast such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is set for a November 22, 2013 release date.

Catching Fire Has A Director

After two weeks of speculation, Catching Fire (the sequel to The Hunger Games) has a director and the winner is…

Francis Lawrence!

Francis Lawrence is known for directing music videos, Constantine, I Am Legend, and Water For Elephants.

I’ve never seen Constantine, I thought I am Legend was boring, and I enjoyed Water For Elephants but it’s hard not to feel that, after considering names like David Cronenberg, Alfonso Cuaron, Bennett Miller, and Duncan Jones, Lionsgate selected the most generic candidate in the mix.  

I’m sure that there will be a lot of people complaining about the selection but, to be honest, it’s not like Gary Ross was all that inspiring a director before Hunger Games.  In the end Catching Fire’s success is going to be more about Jennifer (as opposed to Francis) Lawrence.

Two weeks ago, we did a poll to see who you thought should direct Catching Fire and Hanna’s Joe Wright won a fairly easy victory.

Poll: Who Should Direct Catching Fire?

With the recent announcement that Gary Ross will not be directing Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games trilogy, there’s been a lot of online speculation has started as to who will take his place.  Since I was bored at work, I spent an hour or two reading some of that speculation.  Needless to say, a lot of names are being tossed around and some are a lot more plausible than others.  However, a few names seem to be mentioned more often than others.

Speaking for myself, I don’t think that the loss of Gary Ross is going to really hurt the sequel, financially or artistically. 

Financially, people are going to see the sequel regardless of who directs it and, quite frankly, I doubt many people went to the Hunger Games because they just couldn’t wait to see Gary Ross’s follow-up to Seabiscuit

From an artistic point of view, the main reason that I loved the Hunger Games was because, after years of seeing blockbuster movies where being female was essentially the same as being helpless and insipid, it was so refreshing to see a film about a strong, independent young woman who is concerned about something more than just keeping her boyfriend happy.  In short, I loved The Hunger Games because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen.  In short, Gary Ross was about as important to The Hunger Games franchise  as Chris Columbus was to the Harry Potter films.

As for who the new director is going to be, here’s some of the more interesting names that I’ve seen mentioned:

Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors of all time and he’s certainly showed that he can create entertaining films that both challenge conventional and force you to think.  As well, directing the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics and, if that’s not good training for the Hunger Games then what is?

J.J. Abrams is a far more conventional director than Danny Boyle but he’s also proven that he can make blockbuster films that don’t necessarily insult one’s intelligence.  Add to that, he created Alias and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

As the only woman to ever win best director, Kathryn Bigelow is an obvious choice for a franchise that is ultimately all about empowerment.  Plus, she’s proven she can handle action films and I think it would be a neat if, under her direction, Catching Fire made more money than Avatar.

Sofia Coppola, who should have won an Oscar for Lost in Translation,  would bring a definitely lyrical quality to Catching Fire and, if nothing else. her version would be amazing to look at.  Add to that, Sofia Coppola deserves to have at least one blockbuster on her resume.  (Yes, I know a lot of you people hated Somewhere but you know what?  You’re wrong and I’m right.)

Alfonso Cuaron has proven, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan, that he can step into a franchise without sacrificing his own individual vision.  Children of Men shows that he can create a realistic dystopian future.

Debra Granik is best-known for directing Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.  If not for Granik, Katniss Everdeen could have very easily ended up being played by Kristen Stewart.

Catherine Hardwicke is, of course, best known for directing the first Twilight film and a lot of people will never forgive her for that.  And you know what?  That’s really not fair to Hardwicke. Say what you will about Twilight, the film was actually pretty well-directed and Red Riding Hood is one of the unacknowledged masterpieces of 2011.  (No, really…)   Finally, Hardwicke directed Thirteen, one of the best films ever made.  Hardwicke’s Catching Fire probably wouldn’t be critically acclaimed but it would be a lot of fun.

Patty Jenkins is one of the more surprising names that I saw mentioned on several sites.  Jenkins is best known for directing the ultra-depressing Monster  as well as the atmospheric pilot for AMC’s The Killing. Apparently she was also, for a while, signed up to direct Thor 2, which would suggest that she can handle blockbuster action.  Of course, she was also fired from Thor 2.

Mike Newell directed the best of the Harry Potter films (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and has shown that he can handle action and spectacle.  He’s also directed Mona Lisa Smile, which is one of my favorite films of all time.

Sam Raimi would turn Catching Fire into a thrill ride.  While you would lose a lot of the story’s subtext, the film would certainly not be boring.  Add to that, Raimi directing would increase the chances of a Bruce Campbell cameo.

To be honest, I haven’t seen anyone mention the name of Mark Romanek so I’m going to mention him because I think he’s great and that Never Let Me Go was one of the best films of 2010.  Add to that, he actually played an important role in my life in that I can still remember being 12 years old, seeing his video for Fiona Apple’s Criminal, and going, “That’s what I’m going to do once I get to high school…”

Julie Taymor is best known as a theatrical director but her films have all been distinguished by a strong, individualistic vision.  More people need to see her film version of The Tempest.

Susanna White, though not well-known, was a contender to direct The Hunger Games before the job went to Gary Ross.  White got her start working with the BBC before coming over to America to direct episodes of Generation Kill and Boardwalk Empire for HBO.  She was also a contender to director another film based on YA literature, The Host.

With Hanna, Joe Wright gave us the best film of 2011 (regardless of what the Academy thinks) and he’s proven that he knows how to mix empowerment and action.

There are other names in contention, of course.  I’ve seen everyone from Stephen Soderbergh (bleh, to be honest) to Rob Zombie mentioned.  Arleigh suggested both James Cameron and David Fincher but I think he was mostly doing that to annoy me.  Someone on twitter (may have been me) mentioned Tyler Perry and then laughed and laughed.  However, the 14 names above are the ones that I find to be the most interesting and/or plausible.

So, who do you think would be a the best director for Catching Fire?

As for me and who I would like to so direct the film, I think that the director of Catching Fire should be a woman because Catching Fire is, ultimately, a story about empowerment.  I also think that characterization is far more important than action so I’m not as concerned about whether or not the director has a history of blowing things up onscreen.  Instead, what the franchise needs is a strong, female director with an eye for detail and a strong appreciation for what film is capable of accomplishing as an art form. 

For that reason, my vote goes to Sofia Coppola.