The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Lionsgate Films

PG-13 for profanity, intense violence, frightening images, mature themes and a suggestive situation

Sequel Finds Katniss Forced To Compete In Another Death Match

Despite only being introduced in 2008, The Hunger Games trilogy has so captured the collective imagination of kids the world over that it has already eclipsed Harry Potter as the best-selling children’s book series of all time. Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic adventure is set in Panem, a disturbing dystopia marked by the brutal subjugation of the overwhelmingly poor majority by the very powerful, privileged few.

In the first installment, heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) grudgingly participated in a winner-take-all death match against other teens, each representing his or her home district. Known as the Hunger Games, the annual competition is staged as entertainment ostensibly designed to distract the masses from their pitiful plight.

Wise beyond her years, underdog Katniss emerged triumphant at the end of the first episode by virtue of a combination of craftiness, compassion and her skills as an archer. However, she did break a cardinal rule by sparing the life of her co-winner, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her friend and male counterpart from District 12.

At the second installment’s point of departure, we find the pair embarking on a government-sponsored victory tour around the country. However, when their speeches stir up revolutionary fervor in the crowds, a vindictive President Snow (Donald Sutherland) breaks a promise by drafting them to take part in the Quarter Quell, a tournament of champions comprised entirely of former Hunger Games winners.

So, it’s not long before they’re back in training for another free-for-all, this time engaging elite opponents blessed with gifts ranging from fang-like teeth to uncanny intuition to chameleon-like camouflage to the ability to harness electricity. Each of the entrants, known as tributes, is introduced by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), the festivities’ unctuous master of ceremonies.

Once the pomp and circumstance of the decadent opening ritual are out of the way, the relatively gruesome main event begins. Allegiances are forged, and bargains are made, followed by literal and figurative backstabbing in a desperate contest which ultimately mandates a cruel betrayal of any loyalties.

For all its frenetic action, this uneventful installment nevertheless suffers slightly from a classic case of inbetweenie-itis, since it basically serves as a bridge to the trilogy’s exciting conclusion. A water-treading sequel that achieves its goal of satiating the fans’ bloodlust while whetting their appetite for the franchise’s grand finale.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 146 minutes

 

 

Black Nativity

Fox Searchlight

Rated PG for menacing, mature themes and mild epithets

Jennifer Hudson Steals Show In Screen Adaptation Of Langston Hughes Musical

Naima (Jennifer Hudson) is a single mom struggling to pay the rent on the apartment she shares with son Langston (Jacob Latimore), 15, who’s the same age she was when she had him. Back then, she was as headstrong as he is now, which explains why she ran away from a good home in Harlem to raise him alone in Baltimore.

Today, upon receiving an eviction notice, cash-strapped Naima reluctantly sends the rebellious adolescent in need of a father figure to New York to live with her parents, Aretha (Angela Bassett) and Reverend Cornell Cobbs (Forest Whitaker), prominent members of the black community. But Langston lands in trouble even before they have a chance to pick him up at the bus station, so they end up having to bail him out of jail.

Is it too late for anyone to make a difference in the rebellious juvenile delinquent’s life? Can the Cobbs mend the fractured relationship with their long-estranged daughter? Will Langston belatedly bond with the absentee father he’s never known?

These are the pivotal questions raised in Black Nativity, a modern morality play based on the Langston Hughes musical of the same name. Adapted and directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), the film features an engaging soundtrack sprinkled with evocative onscreen performances by cast members including Mary J. Blige, Nas and Tyrese, though all pale in comparison to those by Jennifer Hudson.

Fair warning to theatergoers ordinarily operating on CPT: Don’t take the risk of arriving too late to catch the incomparable diva’s unforgettable opener, “Test Of Faith,” a showstopper every bit as memorable as her heartfelt rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” as Effie in Dreamgirls.

A moving parable as memorable for its music as for its moving message about the importance of faith and family.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 93 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening November 29, 2013

 

Frozen (PG for action and mild rude humor) Disney animated adventure about a fearless princess (Kristen Bell) who embarks on an epic journey with a gruff mountain man (Josh Gad) in order to reverse the curse of eternal winter accidentally inflicted upon the kingdom by her queen-to-be sister (Idina Menzel) with cryogenic powers. Voice cast includes Ciaran Hinds, Jonathan Groff and Edie McClurg.

 

Homefront (R for graphic violence, drug use, pervasive profanity and brief sexuality) Sly Stallone wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of the Chuck Logan novel of the same name about a DEA agent (Jason Statham) who retires to a quiet town for the sake of his family only to have their lives turned upside down by a ruthless meth dealer (James Franco). With Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Izabela Vidovic and Omar Benson Miller.

 

Oldboy (R for nudity, profanity, graphic sexuality, brutal violence and disturbing images) Spike Lee directed this remake of the Korean revenge thriller revolving around an advertising exec’s (Josh Brolin) quest for vengeance after being kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years. With Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley and Michael Imperioli.

 

Bullett Raja (Unrated) Saif Ali Khan stars in the title role of this action adventure, set in the Hindi heartland, about a mild-mannered Average Joe’s transformation into an anti-establishment outlaw in response to India’s corruption. With Raj Babbar, Gulshan Grover and Vidyut Jamwal.

 

Caught In The Web (Unrated) Cultural evolution drama about a young Chinese woman (Yuanyuan Gao) who’s ostracized after a cell phone video of her failing to yield her bus seat to a senior citizen goes viral. Co-starring Chen Yao, Mark Chao and Xueqi Wang. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

 

The End Of Time (Unrated) Tick-tock documentary exploring our perception of the elusive subject of time.

 

Journey To The South Pacific (G) Eco-documentary, narrated by Cate Blanchett, advocating the preservation of such undersea creatures as whale sharks and giant rays.

 

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (PG-13 for sexuality, intense violence, disturbing images and brief profanity) Epic biopic based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) chronicling the South African leader’s transition from outlawed freedom fighter to political prisoner to president. With Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge and Riaad Moosa. (In English, Afrikaans and Xhosa with subtitles)

 

Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey (Unrated) Daryl Hannah narrates this climate change documentary lamenting the melting of the Himalayan glacial region as a consequence of global warming.

 

The Punk Singer (Unrated) Retrospective rockumentary revisiting the 20-year career of activist and musical pioneer Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the band Bikini Kill. Featuring commentary by Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Carrie Brownstein.

 

Reaching For The Moon (Unrated) Bittersweet biopic recounting the tragic love affair between American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires). Featuring Tracy Middendorf, Marcello Airoldi and Lola Kirke. (In English and Portuguese with subtitles)

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