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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Based on a 1913 novel The Lodger is a story about a couple who take in a mysterious lodger and find out he might be a suspect in a series of Jack the Ripper-like murders. Alfred Hitchcock made a film version in 1927 -- and it should have ended there. But writer/director and all-around Hitchcock groupie David Ondaatje couldn’t help himself. This time it’s set in current West Hollywood in which an estranged couple (Hope Davis and Donal Logue) take in handsome tenant (Simon Baker). Meanwhile police detective Chandler Manning (Alfred Molina) tries to solve the case of a ruthless killer murdering prostitutes on the Sunset Strip Ripper style. Bunch of questions arise including the biggest one of all: Why bother with ANY of this hogwash? Even more baffling is why a fine group of actors would ever spark to such a dismal script. The usually wonderful Molina is adrift in a role that increasingly makes no sense as the film meanders along. As his rookie partner Shane West piles on cliché after cliché of every police procedural. Davis comes off looking even worse but really no one could have made this part work. Logue yells a lot. And Baker who currently has a hot TV series The Mentalist is probably wishing he had those powers to see what a turkey this was going to be before signing on. Ondaatje is a self-professed student of Hitchcock but he should have spent more time studying Hitch’s films rather than actually trying to copy one. Even though he tries to ape several signature shots of the famous director it’s all in vain. The Lodger is nonsensical amateurish and so brazenly predictable. Check out Hitchcock’s original instead.