Film

'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Is That Rare Sequel That Surpasses the Original

Satisfyingly faithful to the book and in turn, exciting and disturbing all at once, the second installment in The Hunger Games trilogy manages to pick up where the terrific first movie left off and run full steam ahead with the larger story.


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanely Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, Jeffrey Wright
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2014-03-07

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that rare sequel that surpasses the original, making the series feel like a worthy addition to all the great trilogies already out there. Satisfyingly faithful to the book and in turn, exciting and disturbing all at once, the second installment in The Hunger Games trilogy manages to pick up where the terrific first movie left off and run full steam ahead with the larger story.

As Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are forced to take part in a celebratory tour of Panem, the Capital is simultaneously quashing any sign of rebellion their victory inspired. While initially agreeing to their roles as obedient and grateful winners, Katniss soon shows sign of rebellion that leads to the beginning of hope in the districts. The Capital’s answer is to host the next Hunger Games from the pool of previous winners, and the punishment is one that reverberates beyond just Katniss and Peeta.

The introduction of some of these previous Games winners, such as Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) are some of the best scenes in the movie. Their anger, resentment, and cockiness are all on display in ways that are both perfectly in character and cleverly misleading. As training begins and alliances are formed, more is revealed not only about the other Hunger Games participants, but also about Katniss, and her relationship with Peeta.

Part of what makes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire so engaging is that things aren’t always straightforward. While the Games themselves – and by extension, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his gamekeeper, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – are a study in deception and manipulation the same can also be said for those forced to play the game. It is Katniss’ inability to truly commit to that level of deception that makes her so appealing, even when Peeta is forced to take up the burden of making sure they appear appropriately contrite or humbled or in love.

One of the best devices for showing the difficulty and balance of keeping up appearances is the Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) show. Tucci revels in Flickerman’s fantastic eccentricities as he presents the Hunger Games participants to the masses. Somehow he’s both completely disarming and smarmy, and he’s an especially brilliant foil for Lawrence’s Katniss. The scenes in which he showcases the various Hunger Games winners are some of the most illuminating the movie, perfectly encapsulated by Johanna Mason’s profanity-laced appearance.

Similar to Flickerman, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) teeters on the edge of being totally ridiculous, yet she’s also startlingly affecting. Her character exhibits perhaps the greatest growth from the first movie to this one. As the reality of the Games and the toll they’ve taken on Katniss and her family finally comes through, Effie attempts to remain cheerful and supportive, but she also understands the weight of what’s being asked of the tributes much more than she did the first tie around. The progression feels natural and Banks does a wonderful job of conveying Effie’s growing discomfort and eventual disgust with the Games.

The arc of The Hunger Games trilogy is filled with tentative steps forward and dangerous steps back, but it’s the hope inspired by Katniss’ rebellion that moves the story ahead with full momentum. While the movie takes its time in showing as much of these shifts as possible, its length is not a detriment. Fans of the books will appreciate how thoughtfully the story has been adapted, while those only interested in the movies will get a fuller portrait of the struggle that’s central to the entire trilogy.

Lawrence continues to play Katniss with complete commitment. She’s strong and vulnerable, but more than that she never wavers in playing the unbelievable events she’s continually thrust into as natural and effortlessly believable. Though Lawrence is at the center, rightfully so, of The Hunger Games movies, they’re made all the better by the excellent supporting cast that commits as fully to the larger-than-life characters of the series. Malone, Hutcherson, Sutherland, Hoffman, Tucci, Banks and others know how to bring to life these book characters in ways that feel real and perfectly in keeping with the over-the-top world they inhabit.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues to build and improve upon its predecessor in smart and engaging ways. The cast is, unsurprisingly, wonderful and the movie strikes an enviable balance between action and the smaller, more intimate moments between characters. In fact, it is precisely that balance that makes the movie a successful translation of the book. It never sacrifices character development for an explosive action moment – of which there are plenty – making those bigger sequences more effective and meaningful in their consequences.

The Blu-ray DVD release includes audio commentary with director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, as well as deleted scenes, and “Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire”, a documentary only available on the Blu-ray release. The extras are a fine addition to the set, but the documentary in particular, is excellent. It’s nine parts and covers a great deal of the behind-the-scenes goings on of the movie.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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