FS, Contributing Writer
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
The juggernaut continues with “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (wide release), the adaptation of the second volume of Suzanne Collins’ popular YA trilogy, which will be completed in two more films, splitting her final book in two, for obvious reasons of financial gain (it certainly worked for Harry Potter).
In this installment, evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wreaks revenge on heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) by forcing them to compete in the potentially fatal games again, this time pitted against other past winners.
The new competition, created by a sneering new master (Philip Seymour Hoffman), proves a grueling experience in which alliances play a major role, though one can never be entirely certain of people’s real loyalties.
The game is conducted against the backdrop of a simmering rebellion of which Katniss has become the symbol, adding tension to the mix.
“Catching Fire” suffers from the unfinished quality that hampers any story that ends with “to be continued,” ending inconclusively in a welter of unresolved twists and cliffhangers.
Still, it’s very well put together, with fine acting, especially from Lawrence and Hoffman, strong action direction by Francis Lawrence and a first-class physical production.
Fans will be satisfied, and even the uninitiated should be won over.
Vince Vaughn adds a nice touch of sweetness to his usual abrasive motor–mouth personality in “Delivery Man” (wide release), but it’s not enough to rescue Ken Scott’s schmaltzy English-language remake of his French Canadian hit, “Starbuck.”
The movie is based on the real-life story of an irresponsible forty-something guy who learns that the donations he made to a fertility clinic decades ago have sired more than 500 children, many of whom are now seeking to identify their biological father.
Vaughn gives the fellow a dash of wide-eyed charm as he searches out some of his offspring and tries to help them overcome their problems. Chris Pratt is a hoot as his buddy, a lawyer with kids himself.
But the complete absence of the parents who actually raised the youngsters leaves a weird hole at the center of the story, giving the manipulative parable about the meaning of family an oddly unsettling feel.
“The Book Thief”
A similar surfeit of sentimentality mars “The Book Thief” (Angelika), an attractive but overindulgent adaptation of Markus Zusak’s bestseller about an orphan girl adopted by foster parents in Nazi Germany. Taught to read by her new father, she not only becomes devoted to books but also becomes a storyteller herself, relating the transformative lessons she learns during the war years.
The film is well acted, with Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson painting a touching portrait of the girl’s new parents.
But the picture is overburdened with plot – including an important thread about a young Jew whom the family hides in their basement and another about a boy next door who dreams of being the next Jesse Owens. Having it narrated literally by Death, moreover, is a conspicuously pretentious idea.
The result is a “Thief” that pilfers much of its content from other, better films about the Holocaust even as its own inventions gravitate toward the saccharine.