Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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October has arrived, and with it, the season of deepest reverence for horrorphiles the world over.
As much as I count myself among their bloodthirsty ranks, the best part of the Halloween season for me is the heightened interest in horror films it stimulates within traditionally non-horror-centric audiences. It is the one time during the year when everyone, no matter their usual cinematic proclivities, rushes to the horror section of the video store to snatch up as many classic titles as possible.
Well luckily for all of us, Netflix’s Watch Instantly service has made it even easier for us to access these horror classics, as you have a plethora of scary movies at your fingertips. To that end we hope you’ll consider giving recent Netflix WI addition Child’s Play a spin as October 31st looms ever closer.
Who Made It: Child’s Play was co-written and directed by Tom Holland. Holland is a hero to guys like me. His other big directorial effort was the spectacular 80s vampire romp Fright Night, which I would also highly recommend adding to your Halloween playlist. Holland also wrote two of my favorite unsung horror titles: The Beast Within and Psycho II.
Who’s In It: The two most recognizable faces in Child’s Play are Brad Dourif and Chris Sarandon. Dourif, who plays Charles Lee Ray at the beginning of the film and subsequently voices the sadistic doll Chucky, is a prolific character actor who is most recently recognizable for his turn as Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, as well as Doc Cochran on HBO’s Deadwood and Sheriff Brackett in Rob Zombie’s atrocious Halloween reboots. Sarandon, who plays the police officer hot on Ray’s doll-sized heels, is actually one of the stars of the original Fright Night, playing Jerry Dandrige, one of cinema’s sexiest, most evil vampires.
What It’s About: Child’s Play is the happy story of notorious serial killer Charles Lee Ray, alias The Lakeshore Strangler, whose murderous crime spree comes to a violent end when he is gunned down in a Chicago toy store. Just before he dies, he uses ancient dark magic to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll. The doll ends up in the hands of six-year-old Andy Barclay who had desperately wanted a Good Guy for his birthday. Shortly after receiving the doll however, people around Andy begin to die horribly. The police begin to suspect young Andy may be psychologically disturbed, but Andy maintains that his plastic buddy Chucky is to blame.
Why You Should Watch It:
While Chucky may be as much a pop culture boogeyman as Freddy, Michael Myers, or Jason, Child’s Play is a franchise that does not enjoy the same level of cult adoration as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or Friday the 13th. In fact, and in the interest of full disclosure, as much as I am a rabid horror fan, today marked the very first time I had seen Child’s Play. But the first film in this series is a fantastic example of supernatural horror that, for a good portion of its run time, relies on atmosphere and shared universal fears rather than explicit violence or jump scares.
I think we can all agree that dolls are freaking scary. Their life-like appearance despite being inanimate always engenders lingering doubts in our subconscious that they are in fact lifeless. Child’s Play feeds this universal mistrust of dolls by not only making the doll a vessel of pure evil, but also withholding shots of Chucky moving beyond his capacities as a toy for much of the movie. We know the doll is killing people, but it takes quite a while before we actually see him do so.
The movie plays off of that feeling you get when laying eyes on a particularly creepy doll and wondering what mischief it gets into when you aren’t looking. It also toys with the idea that maybe Andy really is the killer; even having him dress in the same Good Guy attire as Chucky through much of the movie. Child’s Play is a creepy, suspenseful ride that operates just as well as a mystery story as it does a campy horror film.
Among the best aspects of Child’s Play are its special effects. There is not a single computer-generated effect in the whole film. The task of bringing Chucky to life is accomplished through a series of unique camera angles, child actors in costume, and masterful practical effects. Seeing the myriad ways the filmmakers were able to breath life into the plastic antagonist is what makes the film so remarkable and allows it to stand the test of time. Particularly impressive is the ending sequence in which a pint-sized stuntman executes a full body burn and animatronics are subsequently used to create a charred, nearly extinct Chucky. It gives me chills just thinking about it.
Netflix is streaming Child’s Play in high-definition, which will only shed a brighter spotlight on the film’s stellar effects and provide clearer imagery for your inevitable nightmares.
Queue up Child's Play!