Nov. 28--"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Rating: 3.5 Stars (on a scale of zero to four stars)
I couldn't help but feel like one of the many teen fans of the "Hunger Games" books while watching the movie sequel, considering the number of times that something happened on-screen to which my mind generated the universal rating of teen approval: That was awesome.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is the second cinematic installment in this young-adult book franchise, which looks like it will resemble the quality of the "Harry Potter" franchise in successfully turning a book phenomenon into equally outstanding movies.
It doesn't hurt that these films, which can only be as good as the young woman portraying the heroine who is the heart and soul of these tales, feature the most talented young actress in the world in the role of Katniss Everdeen.
Last year's megahit "The Hunger Games" turned Jennifer Lawrence into an international star. With "Catching Fire," the 23-year-old returns as the reigning Academy Award winner for best actress ("Silver Linings Playbook"), and her performance here is, well ... This girl is on fire.
The books by Suzanne Collins feature a heady mix of dystopian science-fiction society, doomed romances, intense action-adventure and moralistic drama. The film remarkably delivers on all of these fronts in a deeply satisfying manner.
These complex themes are developed with a vitality that is surprising because this is a 146-minute motion picture that doesn't feel that long because its pace is measured when it needs to be and breathless the rest of the time.
The innocence-lost ideals of "The Hunger Games" mature with grace into the theme of "Catching Fire" -- Katniss proved she can fight to survive; now that she's aware of the political agendas at play, can she fight the Capitol? The gamesmanship between Katniss and the dictatorial President Snow is fantastic.
The movie is a solid example of "the book on film" in spirit, and Lawrence is brilliant in a performance far beyond blockbuster-level acting.
Katniss is a young woman under an incredible amount of pressure. She appears close to a nervous breakdown at times, and Lawrence can pull off such emotions without saying a word.
It's obvious that this film's much-larger budget has paid for improved special effects that are most evident in the arena, which finds Katniss returned to the Hunger Games against past victors. These effects are impressive, yet it is the arena portion of the film that does not measure up to the first film's excellence.
This film marks two of the trilogy's books now on film, but we're only halfway through at the cinema -- book No. 3, "Mockingjay," is being split into two films. If they are as enjoyable and as exceptional as "Catching Fire," the odds are in our favor that we have something special to look forward to the next couple of years.
Movie Rating (on 4 star scale)
All is Lost 4 Stars
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 3.5 Stars
Dallas Buyers Club 3.5 Stars
Gravity 3.5 Stars
Prisoners 3.5 Stars
12 Years a Slave 3 Stars
Enough Said 3 Stars
Rush 3 Stars
Ender's Game 3 Stars
Elysium 3 Stars
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 3 Stars
About Time 2.5 Stars
Captain Phillips 2.5 Stars
The Counselor 2.5 Stars
Carrie 2.5 Stars
Thor: The Dark World 2 Stars
The Christmas Candle 2 Stars
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters 1.5 Stars
Free Birds 1.5 Stars
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