The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (4.25/5):
After the success of Twilight, the rights to many young adult franchises were quickly swallowed up with the intent to forcibly shove adaptation after adaptation down young girl’s throats, hoping they’d vomit up a bundle of cash. Outside of Twilight and The Hunger Games, none of the hastily made franchises have made an impact in pop culture or the film world. Twilight, in spite of its inherent shit stained soul, has forever etched its place in pop culture history, but The Hunger Games, well, it’s a legitimate film franchise worth a damn. Where Twilight is more concerned with nipples and lip biting, The Hunger Games, especially in the new film Catching Fire, is deeply invested in carving out a dangerous world. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), a year after winning the deathly tournament, finds herself as a political prop. Along with her fabricated lover, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss moves from district to district building up the new year’s games. Melancholy consumes her, but Katniss chokes down her pride and fulfills her duty. That is until she notices symbolic gestures cropping up at her stops. In each district a small movement of enlightened citizens are making themselves known, inciting threats of a revolution with a simple hand gesture. Angered by a disobedient few, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the nation’s malevolent leader, believes an uprising hinges on Katniss breathing. With help from Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the president concocts a plan to put Katniss and Peeta in the games, hopefully eliminating a blossoming threat.
The driving force behind Catching Fire is the creation of a palpable revolution. Not only do we experience the unforgiving plight of Katniss and Peeta, but there’s a concerted effort in the film to capture the struggle of the people. The screenplay, along with director Francis Lawrence’s dedication to expose the world’s dark current, fearlessly depicts brutal , disheartening executions. Normally in a franchise of this size and nature, the death of a random citizen leads to sappy violin strings and empty tears, but each government sanctioned murder poignantly hangs on our conscience, as well as our protagonists. In the case of Katniss, she doesn’t embrace a revolution because the screenplay tells her to. She does so because her people need her to, and this personal revelation comes organically from within. Easily selling this acceptance of responsibility for a collection of people is Jennifer Lawrence, who anchors Katniss with an immovable strength and inspiring stoicism. Lawrence’s dynamic performance also lends credibility to the film’s action infused third act, where wonderful production design and well choreographed dangers coalesce into a breathless finale. Because of its investment in creating a perilous world, one inhabited by an unyielding female lead, Catching Fire is a powerful film that has actually earned its right to a sequel.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: (3.5/5):
Unless you’re a smug asshole who actually loves the life you live, I think we can all relate to a character who dreams of another life. It’s not that life is bad, but we often find ourselves examining, perhaps pining, for another existence An existence where sensational adventures unfold in front of us like a movie. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a man who constantly recedes into his head, where he conjures up triumphant personal moments for himself. The catalyst for many of Walter’s personal escapes is Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), a woman who has recently started working with him at Life magazine. She doesn’t notice him; he is nothing but a background character filling up space. One day Walter, feeling a bit ambitious, attempts to send Cheryl a flirtatious acknowledgement on a dating website. Walter’s bold move falters greatly because the website won’t let him initiate contact without a complete profile. As you can probably imagine, Walter’s profile is incomplete because it perfectly mirrors his life. He has done nothing worth mentioning. But, a shot at love, with a disaster brewing at work, forces Walter to reconcile his dreams with the life he lives. Now is the time for Walter to act, and he ends up exploring the vast, beautiful lands of Greenland and Iceland, discovering an urgency for living.
The imaginative adventures Walter partakes in are visually stunning and tap into our irrational desires to be something iconic, memorable. Whether it’s our desire for passionate romance or attaining the status of a gallant hero, we undeniably understand why Walter slips into his fantasies. What we don’t entirely believe is Walter throwing himself onto a plane and exploring the very world he once hid from. Love is a powerful tool, but even that feels hamstrung and contrived. Outside of the sweetness Kristen Wiig gives her, we know next to nothing about Cheryl. What is it about her that’s special? Granted, there is a scene or two that basically has Walter ruminating over a life of travel his deceased father wanted for him, but even then, it’s a piece of Walter’s life that only matters when Stiller wants to illicit tears from the audience, not impassioned belief. Stiller himself, both as the director and star, is also underwhelming. His humor certainly makes an appearance, but he never truly conveys the emotional advancement that Walter makes as a character. A monumental transformation feels muted in his hands, undermining the film’s major theme. Which is a shame because the film boasts some truly inspiring moments placed against terrific music, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty fails to truly define itself. If anything else, it’s a pleasant film that will likely make you want to visit Iceland, not reset your life.