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Catching Fire. November 29, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As someone who’s actually written a book about Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series, I was looking forward to the film version of the second novel, “Catching Fire.” But I was surprised to read the gushing praise most critics have lavished on the film in comparison to the original film, “The Hunger Games.” I really liked the first film. How much better could this be?

Last night, our friend Ben and I finally got to the theater to check it out. And I was underwhelmed. The star-studded cast certainly gave it their best shot. Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz were back in full form. New additions Sam Claflin as Finnick Adair and Patrick St. Esprit as Commander Thread were especially strong. And of course, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson as the love triangle at the center of the story were all excellent.

There were some great touches, like making the so-called “Peacekeepers” (the Capitol’s Nazi-like enforcers) look more like the Storm Troopers in “Star Wars” and giving them codpieces. And making the Avoxes—anyone who had offended the Capitol by trying to defend the rights of the populace, and had been enslaved and silenced by having their tongues cut out as a result—dressed in mummylike costumes that all but obscured their faces. And having President Snow (Donald Sutherland) bleed into his champagne.

But overall, “Catching Fire” struck me as a slick production, nothing like the gritty portrayal of Panem and its manifest inequalities that was the defining feature of the first film. And they chose to omit the pivotal scene of the book, in which the new Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, shows his watch to Katniss—a watch that bears a mockingjay design, a watch that explains the setup of the arena, a watch that tells her he’s an ally. Why on earth they’d omit such a central scene is completely beyond me.

The film had two highlights for me, and both were due to the brilliant talent of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, and both involved nothing more than facial expression. The first was when her beloved stylist Cinna was brutally beaten and dragged away by the Peacekeepers before her eyes as she’s heading into the arena, and her face sets into a mask of fury and resolve. And the next was at the end, when Gale (Liam Hemsworth) tells her that her home district, District 12, has been obliterated by President Snow. Until that point, she’d just been a girl looking out for herself and those she cares about. But in that moment you see her, just through her expression, transform into a warrior. Kudos to Ms. Lawrence for an astonishing achievement. But two expressions aren’t enough to carry a film.

I’ll take the first film any day.

‘Til next time,


Have a nice trip: Jen wins. February 25, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Jennifer Lawrence won a Best Actress Oscar last night for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook,” doubtless taking a number of critics, who’d predicted that the award would go to the great 86-year-old French icon Emmanuelle Riva for her heartrending performance in “Amour,” by surprise. Sentiment would have tipped the hat to Ms. Riva, acknowledging a lifetime of iconic performances, or if not, perhaps to 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis for her role in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Why Jen, and why now?

The obvious answer would be that Jennifer Lawrence is a great natural actor who has never taken a single acting lesson and who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar last year for her first starring role, in “Winter’s Bone,” filmed when she was just 19. That her role as a young, troubled widow in “Silver Linings Playbook” blew critics away and had already garnered her Best Actress honors at the Golden Globes and Free Spirit Awards.

All of this is true. But it ignores the elephant in the room: “The Hunger Games.” Like any television show, be it “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” or the Super Bowl or the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, the Oscars depend on ratings. Ratings are based on how many people are watching, and determine the amount and quality of advertizing dollars. And advertizers keep a close eye on not just the number of people watching, but on how old those people are. Do they fall in the admen’s golden demographic of 18 to 30, or are they post-30 fogies who tend to use their paychecks to pay for their mortgages and their kids’ college rather than on designer fragrances and million-dollar watches? Oh, dear.

Even if you’re the Oscars, if you don’t have the admen, you don’t have a show, as Dire Straits’ great founder Mark Knopfler points out in his song “Stand Up Guy.” Call me a cynic, but I’d say the Academy Awards were pretty desperate to grab more viewers in that golden 18-to-30 range and avoid being pinpointed as a tiny clique of irrelevant, elitist insiders pleasing themselves at their would-be core audience’s expense. And they knew the crowd favorite was Jen Lawrence, not for “Silver Linings Playbook” but for “The Hunger Games.”

True, they couldn’t bring themselves to nominate the mega-blockbuster “Hunger Games” for a single award, or acknowledge Jennifer Lawrence’s amazing star turn in it as Katniss Everdeen, or the fantastic supporting roles of Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, or Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne. Shame on them! Every one of them deserves an award.

By giving Jennifer Lawrence the nod for “Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Hunger Games” wins by default. Not that Jen didn’t deserve the win for both and for “Winter’s Bone” as well. But Jen, here’s a tip: When you’re wearing an amazing but voluminous dress to receive your award, think of Vivienne Leigh and Olivia De Havilland in “Gone with the Wind” and lift up the front of that skirt as you ascend the steps so you’re not in danger of tripping. I for one think you made a fabulous dress choice for your Oscar win.

‘Til next time,