‘Catching Fire’ Sets Screen on Fire; ‘Delivery Man’ Doesn’t Deliver

hunger games catching fire


Movie Info

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE begins as Katniss Everdeen has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a “Victor’s Tour” of the districts. Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) – a competition that could change Panem forever. (c) Lionsgate

PG-13, 2 hr. 26 min.

Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Jennifer Lawrence hits target in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’
By Randy Myers
San Jose Mercury News Correspondent
Defiant arrow-slinger Katniss Everdeen and her Oscar-winning alter ego Jennifer Lawrence have once again nailed their target.

With Francis Lawrence stepping in as director and a fresh round of richly developed secondary characters, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” averts the curse that plagues most sequels.

In many ways, “Catching Fire” is a better film than its impressive 2012 predecessor. The rough edges have been smoothed out — gone are those confusing fast edits — while the acting, directing and writing is sharper.

The only advantage the first film had over this one is that it got to introduce the audience to the Games. The sequel replays them. So while the second installment in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopian trilogy may be thrilling and sets the stage for even more rebellious mischief afoot, it can’t help but seem a bit like a rehash.

That’s because Collins basically yet effectively hits the restart button and sends Katniss, the upstart co-winner of the 74th Hunger Games, into a new survival-of-the-fittest showdown, this time going mano-to-arrow against previous Games victors. These Tributes hail from the 12 districts of the post-apocalyptic Panem nation.

The future Collins has created is grim, ruled with bloody fist by a totalitarian government that orchestrates a reality-TV-like annual duel that pits teens against teens who fight to the death. Why? So the government can brainwash and inspire fear and subservience in its downtrodden minions.

Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her fellow District 12 Tribute — the rules call for a boy and a girl to be selected by lottery from each area — were co-victors from the previous year and eventually both won by craftily pretending to be lovers. As “Catching Fire” opens, both are prepping for their Victors Tour, with Katniss saying goodbye to her best friend and minor love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth, who has a little more to do this time).

While on tour, Katniss and Peeta further rankle the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland, so conniving) as they go way off script and start fanning the fires of rebellion. Their behavior unwittingly puts the district population in danger.

Snow realizes he must quash Katniss so he’s tapped a new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, heavensent in the part). And since this is a sequel after all — and everything needs to be bigger and more threatening — Snow demands a more dangerous version of the game for the Quarter Quell, which marks the death match’s 75th anniversary. Plutarch delivers.

Up to that point, “Catching Fire” is refreshingly different, with director Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) and production designer Philip Messina and costume designer Trish Summerville further enhancing the look and feel of Panem. The Capitol sequences in particular add more texture and depth, mirroring the Third Reich and gladiator competitions with flourishes of Oz, that last one in the form of commentators, including the toothy TV host Stanley Tucci as Caesar.

Even when the script reboots itself and sends us back into the Games’ familiar structure, there’s more refinement and detail not just to the obstacles but the former Games winners who Collins and screenwriters Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy have created. Each Tribute comes into sharper focus, a more developed character. They’re all well cast too, particularly Jena Malone who’s outstanding as the feisty and flirty Johanna Mason and Sam Claflin as the pretty boy with a soft side Finnick.

The cast of supporting actors from the first film are a hoot again, from Woody Harrelson as the drunken but surprisingly sharp Haymitch to Elizabeth Banks as the flashy Effie.

The cast never misses a beat, including Hutcherson who gets to be more bold. But the reason “Catching Fire” works so well can once again be attributed to its strong central female character and talents of Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, the perfect actor to play her.

“Catching Fire” plays on that fact, with the camera locking on Lawrence’s face as she conveys tidal waves of conflicting emotions.

She sets the screen on fire, and so does “Catching Fire,” one of this year’s best and most thought-provoking blockbusters.

delivery man

Movie Info

From DreamWorks Pictures comes “Delivery Man”, the story of affable underachiever David Wozniak, whose mundane life is turned upside down when he finds out that he fathered 533 children through sperm donations he made twenty years earlier. In debt to the mob, rejected by his pregnant girlfriend, things couldn’t look worse for David when he is hit with a lawsuit from 142 of the 533 twenty-somethings who want to know the identity of the donor. As David struggles to decide whether or not he should reveal his true identity, he embarks on a journey that leads him to discover not only his true self but the father he could become as well. (c) Disney

PG-13, 1 hr. 43 min.


‘Delivery Man’ Review: An Excessively Artificial Insemination Comedy

By Alonso Duralde

Neither the laughs nor the sentimentality land as Vince Vaughn phones in another performance, this time as a frequent sperm donor who fathered hundreds of offspring

Whatever happened to Vince Vaughn? He hasn’t been physically absent from the movies by any means, but the fast-talking hustler of “Swingers” has become, over the years, a lazy and uninspired leading man, emptily vamping his way through forgettable vehicles like “The Watch” and “The Internship” and “The Dilemma” and “Four Christmases” and “Fred Claus,” to name just a few.

Granted, Vaughn probably couldn’t single-handedly rescue his latest, “Delivery Man,” but he’s certainly not helping.

A remake of the Canadian comedy “Starbuck” (released in the U.S. earlier this year), “Delivery Man” offers comedy and sentimentality in equal doses and, unfortunately, equal efficacy — the jokes, the characters and the situations aren’t very funny, and the would-be heart-tuggery is mostly embarrassing.

Vaughn stars as David Wozniak, a ne’er-do-well manchild who’s unreliable and constantly in trouble; he’s currently deeply in debt to some thugs because of a bad investment, and his wages as a delivery-truck driver for his father’s butcher shop isn’t helping him make ends meet. David’s cop girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) announces she’s pregnant but that she doesn’t want David involved until he can get his act together.

Soon thereafter, David learns that Emma isn’t the first woman to carry his child; back in the 1990s, he earned money as a frequent sperm donor, and it turns out that he has biologically fathered nearly 600 children, more than 100 of whom are suing the fertility clinic to learn David’s identity. David’s best pal, less-than-competent lawyer Brett (Chris Pratt), urges David to keep his paternity secret — he used the code name “Starbuck” when making donations — but when David gets his hands on letters from his children, he can’t resist the urge to start snooping.

Before long, David is peeking in on the lives of several of his kids, taking over a son’s barista shift so he can make an audition, watching to make sure a daughter doesn’t backslide into heroin addiction, cheering various offspring on at their jobs as lifeguards and historical reenactors. Doing good deeds for these young adults, he thinks, will prove to Emma that he’s got the right stuff for fatherhood.

This synopsis probably makes “Delivery Man” sound more fun than it is — the movie lacks wit and energy, and its attempts to be quippy fall flat, defying the comic talents of Pratt and Smulders and Bobby Moynihan (who plays one of David’s more settled brothers).

The film’s portrayal of David’s involvement with his spawn starts out creepy — there’s something weirdly stalker-ish about the way he suddenly insinuates himself into the lives of these people who don’t know who he is — before becoming insulting and offensive. David discovers that he has an institutionalized son who uses a wheelchair and is unable to communicate. “Delivery Man” gleefully turns this character into a trophy for David’s decency, hoping to score points by dragging him out as a magical prop, and it’s utterly condescending.

Writer-director Ken Scott, who also made the original film, writes himself in circles to keep the whole plot deception going, to the point where it seems David’s only reason to remain anonymous is that, now that news of the lawsuit has hit the media, there’s public ridicule of “Starbuck” as a chronic masturbator. And the whole owing-money-to-mobsters subplot, which only rarely even comes up, gets settled so lickety-split you might miss the resolution during a popcorn run.

Corn is all you’re getting from “Delivery Man,” unfortunately, and it’s a particularly stale batch.

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