Saturday, May 31, 2014

Semisonic – Feeling Strangely Fine (1998)

Tuneful Alternative Power pop from the 90s

Rock critics love to gloat. It’s a critical part of their job, almost as significantly important as name-dropping and claiming to have the definitive opinion on every album ever recorded. Here’s how the story begins: In 1995, a rock critic friend picked the Minneapolis based, Alternative power pop rock band Semisonic as a "Band to Watch" for his year-end mag column. That was due to the band’s Pleasure EP. The band’s major-label debut, Great Divide, was later picked by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of 1996, but for some reason he just never got interested in that second disc. Maybe he expected too much after hearing the band’s first EP. 

The opener on Semisonic's second studio album Feeling Strangely Fine (1998), "Closing Time," was a phenomenal No.1 Grammy Nominated Modern Rock hit - getting heavy rotations of alt-rock radio stations, and making you feel like how it was right back in ’98. Sure, it’s vaguely reminiscent of the guitar line from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Bush’s "Little Things," for that matter, but the addition of the simple piano line is almost enough to make that riff sound new again. 

Next up is "Singing in My Sleep," a song that could easily have been written by Cheap Trick during their heyday (that’s a compliment, by the way). It’s about a long-distance love affair that’s kept alive by the couple’s trading of mix tapes. Have fun trying to spot all the songs referenced in the lyrics. On "Made to Last," singer/songwriter/guitarist Dan Wilson delivers a cryptic message to the band’s fans. "Never You Mind" is a bit too bouncy to really work, much like a Ben Folds Five track with less interesting lyrics (and without the really talented pianist). 

One of the many highlights on Feeling Strangely Fine is  the beautifully intense "Secret Smile" and "DND," a surprisingly touching song about a motel room rendezvous. In case you’re wondering, the song’s title refers to the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. "Completely Pleased" may be a first of its kind in rock and roll - a song in which a male singer actually sings "I want to leave you completely pleased." How many times have we heard a singer focus only on their own pleasure? Kudos to Wilson for turning an old cliché on its ear. 

Semisonic worked closely to with English record producer Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Nick Cave, Killing Joke) to strip their songs down to their essential elements. They succeeded, and recorded a disc that makes you think as much as it makes you want to sing along. 

Admittedly, there are a few bloodless tracks here, and Semisonic’s sound is too clean and too easy on the ears to appeal to modern heavy rock fans entranced by the jagged edges of say Trent Reznor or Billy Corgan or Indie acts like Arcade Fire. But Feeling Strangely Fine has plenty of well-written lyrics hiding behind that nice wall of ear candy. Maybe my friend was right back in ’95 after all. Yeah, rock critics love to gloat.

Listen to the entire Feeling Strangely Fine (1998) album now on Grooveshark here or watch the Closing Time Video below!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pompeii (2014)

JohnnyTwoToes finds no redeeming qualities in this derivative roman adventure

To say that Pompeii is bad is an understatement. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, the director of such art house classics as Death Race (remake), Resident Evil and some of its sequels, The Three Musketeers (AAAAAHAHAHAHA), Pompeii has nothing to say about any point in the film and if you are waiting for the destruction by Mt. Vesuvius to be entertaining then this will be as long as you fear it can be. At 96 minutes the credits start running and I was hurriedly looking for the remote to quickly get this film off of my TV. 

I already know that Anderson is not a good director with only two films that I can say are good. Event Horizon was a terrific, if somewhat flawed gothic haunted house flick that takes place on two spaceships and was genuinely scary as hell. His first film WAS an actual art house film called Shopping starring a then unknown Jude Law and Sadie Frost about thieves who steal cars, smash them into shopping plaza stores and make off with as much as they can carry. Since then it has been all downhill. 

Pompeii has decent cast but I can't see why any of them would want to be in this dreary, mundane, insipid, sappy and routine "swords and sandals epic". And another point, if I were Ridley Scott, the producers and writers of Gladiator, I would look into a law suit for plagiarizing or copyright infringement. Yes, it is that blatant. Kit Harrington is Milo, a slave whois forced into becoming a gladiator in Rome. His family has been slaughtered by Roman troops led by the evil, Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). Milo's newest friend starts out as his fiercest enemy named Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Atticus carries wooden figurines representing his family, of course anyone who has watched Gladiator knows these are plot gimmicks that have been unabashedly copied from that film. But wait there is more. When Atticus and Milo become brothers from other mothers, they and the other slaves are forced into the Colosseum to reenact a battle that made Corvus the legend he has become. Milo and Atticus turn the tables on the Roman warriors during the reenactment and win the battle. Sound familiar, anyone? Milo, at one point hurls a spear into the balcony at Corvus almost impaling him. Remember that scene from Gladiator? These are just a few of the big problems I had with Pompeii

Aside from stealing entire scenes from a monumentally better film, Pompeii has an absolutely witless script by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson. There is not one scene that felt real or honest and the acting is horrendous. These actors are all good actors as is Emily Browning, Jared Harris, Carrie-Ann Moss and Jessica Lucas. Did they not read the script and see what a turkey this was? The action scenes are wretched. The love scenes are are about as much fun as cleaning a toilet. The lighter moments that are supposed to be humorous are about as funny as watching someone read an operating manual for a calculator. The acting is painful to watch. These are accomplished performers who are simply cashing checks. The script and the inept directing by Anderson give these characters no depth, no charisma and NOTHING to do or say with any originality. Sutherland has an accent that appears and disappears from scene to scene and he is GROSSLY miscast. What were they thinking? 

And if you are waiting to the end when Mt. Vesuvius starts to belch and spew destruction from above, thinking that Pompeii will get better? Sorry, you are waiting for a bus that ain't gonna show. The visuals are complete cheese and there are enough matte paintings to start an art gallery in Soho. Only Clinton Shorter's score was able to keep me from shutting this film off. It seems last year at about this time I saw the latest abomination of the Die Hard films. Not long after was the equally abysmal Only God Forgives. Those two were at the top of my worst of the year list. It seems only fitting that Pompeii is following the same path. This film is total crap. Don't waste your time. Instead watch Gladiator, again and purge this film from your senses. Pompeii-1/2 * out of 4

Saturday, May 24, 2014

4 Movies I Saw This Week (and You Must too)

What I have been watching this week

Falling ill has its advantages like getting to watch some great and not so great movies! Here are 4 flicks you ought to watch too. 

Godzilla (2014/Gareth Edwards) – This 2014 new reboot is a class act – with great special effects, fantastic cinematography, stupendous action sequences but one missing element - Godzilla. Yes, you read it right! Unlike what the teasers and trailers promised, Godzilla is pretty much absent throughout the movie not until it’s already the half way mark. And when you do finally see him, he is not the angry, berserk monster you would expect but the friendly beast out to save humanity from the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). Maybe the idea was to pay homage to the traditional Japanese TOHO movies (with Godzilla as the savior of mankind) but for many fans like me who were expecting something fire and thunder bombastic, it’s a big letdown. Anyway, it’s not that all bad and with no big name stars in this vehicle except Godzilla, you never know what’s coming!

American Hustle (2013/David O. Russell) – Let me put it straight.  Though based on the 1970s FBI Abscam  sting operation, this is not really the con movie it sets out to be but more of a character study of the 5 protagonists and their internal machinations. Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld (based on the real life con man Melvin Weinberg) and he is a standout in this role with his balding pate, failing health and a bulging waist line. Christian Bale is living proof of how far some actors will to get into the character literally and movies like this (and The Machinist), reiterate his strengths of what a fine actor he is.  Amy Adams is his partner in crime, the hot, conning damsel who cons for a higher purpose in life and Bradley Cooper the insecure but over ambitious FBI agent on their trail who entraps them to entrap bigger fish or so it goes. You also get support from Jeremy Renner in a rather unusual casting as the mayor with a golden heart but its Jennifer Lawrence as Bale’s hyperactive and unpredictable wife who literally steals the show. Robert De Niro is largely wasted in a potentially explosive character that’s never explored beyond his 5 minutes of screen time. However, the club scene when he speaks in Arabic is stellar! Though it has it flaws, this is still a great watch just to relish the 70s scenery and the antics of Bale, Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence!

Wer (2013/William Brent Bell)– It’s been a while since you had a great werewolf movie and this independent horror thriller from the director who gave us the Devil Inside(2012) and Stay Alive(2006) turns this genre upside down with interesting results. A deformed man is accused in rural France of ghastly murders and in his defense, comes our heroine – A.J.Cook, her work partner Chuck’s Vik Sahay and her ex boy friend researcher Simon Quaterman. Is the deformed guy the dangerous killer that he is accused of or an innocent persecuted for his odd looks. I wont spoil it further for you.  From a rather sedate start, that had me almost hit the forward button, the movie suddenly picks up steam and becomes quite engrossing. However, the last final act is sort of a lame cop out but I would still recommend you watch it for the bloody fun!

Snowpiercer (2013/Joon-ho Bong) – The advantage of international travel is that you get to see some movies first than others, especially if you live in the US or UK. Touted as one of the most expensive South Korean produced English movies, this sci-fi thriller was on my watch list for a long time for 2 reasons – it’s based on a famous French dystopian graphic novel Le Transperceneige written by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochettewiki and its directed by Joon-ho Bong who gave us fantastic movies like The Host(2006) and The Mother (2009) in his first English debut. With a great cast including an almost undecipherable Chris Evans, the amazing Tilda Swinton (in one of here best performances), Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, John Hurt and Korean superstar - Song Kang-ho, this actually could have been better. Sadly, the intentionally multilayered script suffers from many contradictions and inherent flaws in scince & logic making Snowpiercer a odd mishmash of kinetic action, sepia toned sci-fi and silly eco-activism. As a hard core sci-fi fan with high expectations on this, I was a tad disappointed but regular fans will probably gloss it over. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lone Survivor (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes is totally enamored by this brutal 'mission gone wrong' war flick

The United States Navy Seals training is the most difficult army training in the world. I could never survive 1 hour, let alone the weeks that the brave recruits endure in the most adverse conditions. To become a Navy Seal, requires the toughest endurance from anyone who becomes a member of the elite team. This movie shows what these soldiers endure even in the worst of scenarios. 

Lone Survivor is the tragic true story of Operation Red Wings which has a team of 4 Seals sent into an Afghanistan town to recon for a Taliban commander. The four man team, led by Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) has Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt 'Axe' Axelson (Ben Foster) dropped in for an 3-4 hour hike, take the necessary photos and establish the whereabouts of the Taliban commander, get back to the pick up point and get back to base. What the team does not count on is a goat herder and his two sons stumbling upon the Seals position. Now the question is, kill the man and his sons, tie the man and his sons to trees and leave them there or cut them loose, beat it to the extraction point and take their chances. After a compelling but quick discussion, Murphy decides they will cut the civilians loose and take their chances getting to the extraction point. 

The Seal team just hopes that these people are not sympathetic to the Taliban. The Seals are wrong. 

Soon there are upwards of over 200 Taliban closing in on the Seals position and a virulent gun battle ensues. The battle in Lone Survivor takes place mostly in the rock laden hills and mountains of Afghanistan as the Seal team tries to make it to the pick up point. Wounded and running low on ammunition the Seal heroes fight valiantly but to no avail. I won't say much more about the film's plot because there is more to it than just the battle. What these Seals endure is staggering. All 4 men are shot numerous times and still they fight. The Seals jump off of cliffs risking broken bones, rather than give up or be taken prisoner. Only the kindness of an Afghan farmer and his son save what is left of the Seal team. 

Yes, Lone Survivor is a tough film to watch just like Black Hawk Down. Both are not about the fight as much as they are about survival of the human spirit, brotherhood and honor. The battle scenes are as harrowing and brutally unrelenting on par with Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan. Maybe not as big or extravagant as those two films but the bloody intensity is every bit as palpable. 

Peter Berg is showing himself to be a A list director and his script based on the book Lone Survivor by Seal Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson is smart, authentic and a fitting homage to those brave men that gave all on that mountain in Afghanistan. The editing is stellar, its so good it earned the movie two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. 

This is an awesome war film from start to finish and it does not take long before I was totally invested in the characters of the Seal team. These were good honorable men; tough, resilient, resourceful and what heroes are made of. Director Berg knows this and shows the Seal team at their best in the worst of situations. 

Luttrell, to this day still keeps in touch with the Afghan who saved his life, Mohammad Gulab. Its told, Mr. Gulab visits Luttrell once a year and Mr. Luttrell is currently trying to get a Visa for Gulab and his son. Berg shows that honor is not just an American trait, as in when Gulab saved Mr, Luttrell, he did so at great risk to his own family, not to mention the entire village. Operation Red Wings was a disaster but Lone Survivor is a fitting tribute to those whose valiance will always be remembered. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

FC Kahuna - Machine Says Yes (2002)

The Stunning Debut album of the British Electronic Duo

The 90's were magical. You'd have been forgiven for giving up on the dance music long player. There was a time when a classic debut seemed to come out of nowhere each year and gave credence to the idea that electronic dance music could produce more than the thrill of the 12-inch. Chemical BrothersExit Planet Dust (1995), Leftfield's Leftism (1995), Daft Punk's Homework (1997), Basement Jaxx's Remedy (1999) ... each claimed a place among the decade's most cherished albums, and as each artist left a measure of unfulfilled promise, the next emerged to offer new hope. 

Since Basement Jaxx's debut, however, the well was a little dry. There were some genuinely exciting happenings in dance music (2-step's brazen rumble comes to mind), and a handful of excellent albums (Avalanches' Since I Left You of 2000 and Felix da Housecat's Kittenz and Thee Glitz in 2001 topping the list), but no more landmark debuts blindsided us on the dancefloor. 

Enter the British electronic DJ duo FC Kahuna consisting of Jon Nowell and Daniel Ormondroyd. If, 18 minutes into this album, you are not ready to feel these two London-via-Leeds hedonists were the most exciting thing in dance music, you need your feet examined. "Fear of Guitars" (voiced by Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys) is an exquisite 5-minute ambient wind-up punctured by the acidic disco pogo of "Glitterball"(featured in the 2003 video game Need for Speed: Underground, this album's statement of dance floor intent. This is a monster tune that fulfills all the promises of dance music: it's funky, it's alien, and it's loud as fuck. And it gets blown right out of the water by what comes next. 

"Machine Says Yes" has choon of the Year locked down, sizzling along on a six-foot-thick synth line, a lovely chord sequence, and a heavenly vocal from Icelandic Band Gus Gus' Hafdis Huld. But what really kills are the dynamics, the way the Kahunas suck the song through multiple dancefloor-detonating cycles without ever resorting to clichéd wind-ups and drumrolls. Anyone who thinks these dance types can't write proper songs needs to cock an ear. 

Where to go from there? They can only hope to maintain. "Growler" and "Nothing Is Wrong" do just that, pushing their fusion of house and electro/techno out on the dancefloor, keeping the acid quotient high, and only occasionally letting things get too noisy. "Bleep Freak" is a brilliant, all-too-short aside, beefing up tongue-in-cheek retro with a thoroughly modern stop-start rhythm. My favorite "Hayling" (heard on the Layer Cake Soundtrack) slows things down for Huld's second guest spot, and its beautiful mechanized melodics more than compensate for messy, rockist drums. 

Then comes 2000 single "Mindset to Cycle," the only thing the Kahunas ever did to suggest an album like this might be on the way. It lacks the melodic suckerpunch of the best songs here, but its sinister lurches and endlessly unraveling structure were always an indication of Dan and Jon's desire to capture the dynamics of the dancefloor in songs, rather than just looped-up tracks. 

In the end, it's this understanding that makes Machine Says Yes so special. This is a sound inspired by sweaty basement dancefloors, dangerously late nights, noises and grooves that come out of nowhere to change your life. It's the sound of musicians finding their form and stepping up to take their turn, buzzing off the moment. Like all great buzzes, it's gone before you know it -- the retro-electro "Microcuts" feeds into comedown blues "North Pole Transmission," and it's over. But put the needle back to side one and the feeling starts to build again. A magical debut album,. and what more could you want?  Jesse Fahnestock

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Now You See Me (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews this preposterously shallow but fun caper thriller

The one thing you don't want to do is try to follow the plot in Now You See Me (2013), because you will not be able to do it. This is french director Louis Leterrier's sixth film in a mostly hit and miss career as a director. The only three films he has directed that I have enjoyed at all are Jet Li's Unleashed from 2005 formerly entitled Danny The Dog, mildly, Transporter 2 and his best film to date, The Incredible Hulk (here comes the hate mail). I thoroughly despised the Clash Of The Titans remake and was even more stunned with its sequel. 

Now You See Me is a clever and fun mix of magic, humor and action but it goes so far over the top that by film's end I just could not take it seriously. This is a film that has a wink but it does want you to believe the story. How they expect you to believe it is beyond me. The film has a dream cast with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, the simply stunning Isla Fisher and Dave Franco as 'the Four Horsemen' illusionists. They are the hottest magic show in Vegas and for their latest feats they rob banks. Or do they? 

When the FBI becomes involved (even though I have no idea of how they could get involved),here is no real evidence that could prove ANYTHING about a bank robbery, but okay I will for the sake of argument give you that. Mark Ruffalo is the lead SAC of catching the Four Horsemen and he is aided by the lovely Melanie Laurent who is a 'desk jockey' getting her first big case. Throw in Michael Caine as the group's underwriter and Morgan Freeman as the man who spills the beans on how magicians ply their trade (basically debunks them) and you have a fairly fun movie. 

Where the film goes wrong is that is spends so much time creating the world of magic in such a flamboyant way, that there is no credible way of taking this film seriously. The scenes where they want you to believe in the magic are immediately debunked by the magicians themselves, so what they were trying to do is anybodies guess. Then there is a whole subplot about the magicians try to get into the EYE which is like the Holy Grail for magicians. None of that made any sense and it plays into the climax which does not make a bit of sense. 

The cast is well played out, though. Eisenberg as the leader, Daniel is a fast talking and smart individual who dares the FBI to come after them. Isla Fisher is the gorgeous Henley who can immerse herself into a tank of water, shackled to the floor of the tank with only 60 seconds to free herself or another tank above with Piranhas will drop into the tank below. Dave Franco plays Jack and man who can either bend a spoon or pick your pocket depending on who you are and the most interesting character, Merritt the Mentalist played by the very busy Woody Harrelson. These four are great on screen. They have chemistry and and fun to watch. Michael Caine is in a small but important role, however I do wish they had spent more time developing his character and Morgan Freeman is slithery as the man who hates magicians and makes tons of money off of telling all of their secrets on DVDs. Ruffalo and Laurent make a good team and how much do you wanna bet they hook up by the end of the film? 

Now You See Me is fun, I will give it that but the film would have been better served to make the magic a little more believable thus insuring the plot to be taken more seriously. The script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt (with the story by Yakin and Ricourt) seems to spend so much time on the extravagant and elaborate setup that I never really came to know the back round of the Four Horsemen. In 10 minutes they go from street hustling to Vegas and the finale is so preposterous that I caught myself laughing out loud. There is a dizzying amount of flash and pizzazz with the magic, yet, the characters are so thin that they are nothing more than plot gimmicks. Brian Tyler's orchestral score, however, is a thunderous achievement and worthy of purchasing on Amazon or wherever soundtracks are still sold. 

Being a box office success, there is a sequel planned with everyone returning from the director to the main cast. Maybe they can answer some questions posed in the first film. Let's hope they can tone down the sensationalism and simply go for sensational. Now You See Me is a 'one and you're done' type of film with the real magic missing. You can enjoy it once and then move on to something else. Now You See Me-**1/2

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tiny Music . . . Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop - Stone Temple Pilots (1996)

Reminiscing STP's third and their most musically diverse album.

Ripping off the Seattle grunge sound is second nature to a lot of new alternative rock renaissance bands these days, but Stone Temple Pilots often simply called STP was one of the first pioneering grunge rock bands to do so and pay the price. The Stone Temple Pilots were one of the most critically despised bands on the planet then because they were playing an entirely different style of music before grunge got popular. 

When the band changed their name from Mighty Joe Young and started to play grunge, the "poseurs" label seemed all too fitting. STP's debut album, Core (1992), was seen as little more than a blatant attempt to cash in on Alice in Chains' sound. Their second album Purple (1994) was a giant step ahead of Core, and even some of the band's biggest enemies in the press had to confess that Purple was pretty good. That's why Tiny Music...Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop(1996), their experimental third album was sort of a public statement to assert their musical talent and independent reputation.

This album unlike their predecessors was a complete departure from their trademark heavy grunge sound to new virgin territory mixing genres that included 60's style psychedelic rock,  jangle pop and even shoe gaze forcing the rock world to evaluate the band again. While many fans lambasted the album calling it a needless experimentation, STP critics considered this was proof of worthless imitators who had survived their questionable history. 

Tiny Music... only contains twelve tracks including 2 small instrumentals. "Art School Girl" is a strong remake of Tripping Daisy's "I Got a Girl" with Scott Weiland's trippy voice replacing Tim DeLaughter's smiling whimsy. "Lady Picture Show" uses the same guitar sound as "Interstate Love Song," but with a different flavour. However, Weiland's lyrics are the album's most glaring weakness. Consider this example: "My friend Blue he runs the show/ with hot pink purple China glow." Yuck. The best lyric on Tiny Music.. describes the Stone Temple Pilots almost perfectly: in "Ride the Cliché," Weiland sings "Just because you're so clichéd/ It don't mean you won't get paid." He should know. Scott Weiland was later fired from the band and its now called Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington.

In spite of less than expected commercial success, mixed reviews and a failed promo tour, fortunately for STP, Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop garnered enough mainstream praise with Rolling Stone calling it the Best STP Album ever. Lets face it, nobody ever claimed that STP could play catchy pop music, and "Pop's Love Suicide" "Tumble in the Rough" and "Big Bang Baby" are all fine examples of tuneful bubblegum grunge. In fact, "Big Bang Baby", "Lady Picture Show", and "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart" reached the NO.1 spots on the mainstream charts propelling the album to Double Platinum status. If you've only known STP for their grunge sound, at least for curiosity sake, you should definitely check it out.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes considers this dystopian scifi adventure a worthy sequel

Jennifer Lawrence returns to familiar territory of the Hunger Games Trilogy based on the Suzanne Collins novel with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. This film picks up just after Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned home to the district as victors of the The Hunger Games. The district is still swimming in poverty and despair and just because Katniss and Peeta have won does not mean that life in their district will get better. Quite the opposite, seems to be the case. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) pays Katniss a visit and tells her that she and Peeta will go on a 'victory' tour to the other districts and tout the greatness of Panem and the centralized government that rules them all with an iron fist. He tells her she had better 'sell' it convincingly or else there will be DIRE consequences and part of this includes Katniss and Peeta being lovers. While Peeta might feel that way, Katniss has eyes for a man in her district, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), but must keep it a secret. Not only does the the 'victory' tour not go well but the two victors inadvertently spark riots that have costly repercussions. 

I loved the first Hunger Games film. It was brutal and its depiction of a dystopian future was scarily effective. The acting was terrific and overall the film was a huge critical and box office success. Now Catching Fire, has a different director and a new screen writing team, and although I did not enjoy it as much as the first film, Catching Fire has a lot of things going for it that I did enjoy. Most notably is Jennifer Lawrence who is not only easy on the eyes but she can act. Her Katniss is tortured by what happened in The Hunger Games, so much so that she has nightmares and sees herself still shooting arrows into young adults when she really is only shooting at wild turkeys. Lawrence does a good job of convincing us that she is damaged, inside and out and you truly feel sorry for her character. She is the selling point of these series and it is a good thing she can really act. 

Catching Fire has some great action sequences whether they are battling a poisonous fog or rabid monkeys and even each other. The entire cast is put to good use and this time around it includes Jeffery Wright, Jenna Malone and the late Phillip Seymore Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the creator of the new competition. The original cast is also back with Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Stanley Tucci as the propagandist-in-chief, Ceasar Flickerman and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, the wardrobe designer that makes Katniss glow. 

Catching Fire does has some slow parts and some of the film seems to trip over itself by trying to do too much. However, director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt have crafted a smart, intelligent film that is worthy sequel for the continuation of this story. The visuals are stunning and James Newton Howard returns to the scoring chair with another great score for Catching Fire. His lush orchestral arrangements,cool synthesizer pieces and a hauntingly beautiful theme song by Coldplay make this score one for the library. 

Catching Fire is a good family film. There is not much that parents can fear for their kids and adults can watch it without sitting through insipid kiddie fare. Yes, folks, I sat through this film without wanting to jam my drink straw into my eyes. The third and forth films that will be coming out, as of this point will have the cast returning for at least one of the films and the director and screen writers will be the same. They have wisely decided to split the last book into two films, Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2. Victory will be costly for the districts but, victory will be theirs, no doubt. Question is who will live to the end? I am looking forward to the next two films and I think you will be, too. Catching Fire will solidly 'carry your world' until then. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire- *** out of 4

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