Much is riding on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire when it hits theaters on November 22. All signs are pointing towards a sure-fire hit. Estimates project a weekend box office of $175 million domestically. But is incoming director Francis Lawrence able to please fans and a wider audience after Gary Ross’ excellent Hunger Games?

The answer, in short, is yes. The story follows Katniss as she embarks on the Victory Tour where she notices signs of a rebellion slowing taking shape. After President Show requests she help calm the Districts down, our hero learns that she and Peeta will be heading back into the Games for the Quarter Quell where they’ll face off against other “all-experienced killers.”

If you ask readers how they would rank The Hunger Games book trilogy, the vast majority who we talk to say the first was best, the second was second best, and third was the worst. That must be a daunting fact for producer Nina Jacobsen and Francis Lawrence who will be carrying the four-part film series to the end. They’ll have to keep the story interesting and clean up mistakes that Collins made in her books. Namely, the pacing of the story and the messiness of Mockingjay’s final battle.

Fans and the producers can rest easy until next year, at least. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a leaner, meaner version of its source material.

catching-fire-full-page-katniss-caesar

Leaner: Numerous chapters in the book are not in the movie. Like in The Hunger Games, Madge is completely absent from Catching Fire. Darius, Maysilee, Bonnie, and Twill are gone too. It’s only at the very end that Katniss learns of District 13’s existence. Specifically, chapters 9, 10, and 11 of the book are completely removed. Most of chapter 12 is out except for the very end where we see the Quarter Quell announcement.

Instead of this (arguably) slow area of the book, we jump straight from Gale’s whipping to his recovery and then the Quarter Quell announcement. Another example of a cut: There’s no scene where Katniss and Peeta watch Haymitch’s Games.

Meaner: In some areas, the film’s story is more gruesome than what you see in the book. A pre-Games scene depicts Peacekeepers entering District 12 and causing havoc for no apparent reason. This leads Gale to attack one of the Peacekeepers which is why he gets whipped (in the book, he gets whippings for poaching). In addition, Katniss’ goodbye to District 12 is very dramatic in the film whereas in the book she departs without making any commotion. Scenes like these emphasize the danger of the Capitol. During the presentation to the Gamemakers, Katniss actually sees Peeta’s painting of Rue (in the book she does not), which appears to set her off and inspire the hanging of Seneca Crane.

By making the story leaner and meaner, the story becomes a Hollywood epic. Clocking in at 2 hours and 26 minutes, we were actually surprised by how fast the story moves when you consider that it’s one of the longest movies you’ll see this year.

Acting with the heat turned up

Havensbee and Haymitch in 'Catching Fire' Catching Fire’s quick pace can be credited to the aforementioned plot cuts as well as stellar acting from a wide variety of cast members. The two standout roles in this film are from returning stars: Stanley Tucci who plays Caesar Flickerman and Woody Harrelson who plays Haymitch Abernathy. The two bring unique performances that make you think about how lucky producers were to snag both of these stars in the first place. Tucci in particular seems to have brought his portrayal of the tribute interviewer to a new level. His timing, dialogue, passion, and body language deliver some of the most pleasing acting you’ll see in the entire film. Meanwhile, Harrelson uses Haymitch’s drunkenness to bring comic relief into moments where you may least expect it even though his reason for drinking is quite depressing.

All around, the cast is stellar. Donald Sutherland’s President Snow has a cool temper as he winds down the Districts and gets into Katniss’ head. New roles have equally excellent actors. Sam Claflin’s Finnick surprised us with his charm and smooth attitude. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee matches the stern and professional atmosphere Snow brings. Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason is exactly as she reads in the books.

The roles of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale have been brought to a new level thanks to the darker story and a second opportunity for stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth to portray their characters. Lawrence in particular has become completely engulfed in Katniss and belts out raw emotion during several scenes like the attack by the peacekeepers on Cinna.

Line-by-line, a loyal transformation

Several lines that you hear in the movie are word-for-word what you’ll find in the book if you go back and compare like we did after watching.

Cinna in 'Catching Fire'Examples of Collins’ words being brought to the screenplay:
– Gale after kissing Katniss: “I had to do that. At least once.”
– Haymitch to Katniss about Peeta: “You can live a hundred lifetimes and not deserve him, you know.”
– Katniss to Finnick: “I don’t like jewels and I have more money than I need,” and Finnick’s “I haven’t dealt in anything as common as money for years.”
– Cinna: “I just want you to look straight ahead, as if the entire audience is beneath your notice,” and Katniss’ “Finally something I’ll be good at.”
– Johanna: “Make him pay for it” to Katniss in regards to making her wear the wedding dress.
– Cinna to Katniss: “Remember Girl on Fire, I’m still betting on you.”

If things weren’t word for word, the transfer of scenes from book to screen worked in most cases. For example, Effie drives hard the “team” theme between her, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch as seen in the books and you can’t help but feel like you’re a part of their group. Another example: Plutarch and Katniss have a talk at the Capitol party, but the Gamemakers’ watch with the mockingjay is not seen. Instead, he drops a verbal hint to Katniss about where his loyalties lie. For a wider audience it may be a better hint and less confusing than a glimpse at his watch.

Additions to the film further enhance Catching Fire in unexpected ways. Effie makes a reference to mahogany which isn’t found in the book but will please fans who loved the line in the first book and movie. President Snow’s granddaughter is introduced and she takes a liking to Katniss which naturally must enrage the Capitol leader. And in one of the funniest moments in the movie, Haymitch is present while Johanna strips in front of Katniss and Peeta in the elevator (in the book, the mentor is not there). While the boys ogle at what’s happening right before them, Jennifer Lawrence offers perhaps one of her most JLaw-esque reaction faces that you’ve come to love her for on red carpets.

A whole new world thanks to IMAX

Our Catching Fire screening took place in an IMAX theater. The Games were shot using IMAX cameras, and as soon as the tournament starts, the screen in your IMAX theater will open to reveal a taller picture. This unique feature lends itself to the scope of the jungle and the gorgeous beach (Hawaii). You really feel like you’ve entered the jungle with Katniss and company. When the Games end, the screen shrinks back down to “normal” size and it’s almost jarring after getting accustomed to the larger view.

A sense of ‘Mockingjay, Part 0’

The final shot in 'Catching Fire'We think there’s an issue with how this film plays into the four-part series on a whole. The climax arrives at the same time as it does in the book when Katniss shoots the arrow at the forcefield and breaks down the system (By the way, Finnick feeds her the “Remember who the enemy is” line. She hears it earlier from Haymitch, but she needs a reminder from someone else.).

The end of the story moves at a pace that is quicker than what you’ll find in the book, and it’s because of this faster rate of motion that we were left feeling like Catching Fire is one big introduction to Mockingjay.

Why is this a problem? Mockingjay is being split into two movies, and by the end of this series we’re going to have essentially two prequels to the grand Mockingjay, Part 2 finale. To us, it felt like the story needed a bigger climax and some resolution so that we’re not left hanging for two movies in a row.

We are not letting this affect our overall impression of the film because it’s loyal to the original story. Put simply: The sudden ending of the Games and then the cut to black a few minutes later – coupled with how quick this film moves – made us crave more.

Conclusion

It’s not easy for a film franchise to keep the momentum going from one film to the next. We can say with confidence that Francis Lawrence has pulled off an amazingly worthy follow-up to The Hunger Games. The 20-month wait between the two films is made worth it thanks to the speed, action, dialogue, and acting you’ll encounter while diving deeper into a rebellion with Katniss. All we can do now is be happy that we only have a 12-month wait between the remaining two films.

Grade: A-

The good: Fast-paced storytelling, dialogue fans will eat up, and beautiful visuals thanks to better special effects when compared to The Hunger Games.

The bad: Little sense of resolution, some romantic moments that only YA-lit lovers will appreciate.

Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens in theaters on November 22, 2013. Purchase your tickets now!

Look forward to our exclusive interview with Jeffrey Wright (Beetee) next week.

Here are the 2017 Oscars winners and losers

8:25 pm EST, February 26, 2017

The 2017 Oscars took place Sunday night in Hollywood and found La La Land cleaning up with six wins. Here are the Academy Award winners!

ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel hosted the 2017 Oscars, which took place at the Dolby Theater. The event featured live performances of all five Oscar-nominated songs.

2017 Oscar winners list

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The 2017 Oscars took place Sunday night in Hollywood and found La La Land cleaning up with six wins. Here are the Academy Award winners!

ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel hosted the 2017 Oscars, which took place at the Dolby Theater. The event featured live performances of all five Oscar-nominated songs.

2017 Oscar winners list

Related: We asked our parents to describe the 2017 Oscar nominees

Below is a complete list of Oscar winner and losers.

2017 Oscar winner list

Note: The final winner of the night was originally announced to be La La Land, but the announcement was actually an error — Moonlight won Best Picture. Awkward.

Best Picture:
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land

Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight

Best Actress:
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Actor:
Casey Affleck – Manchester By the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Director:
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By the Sea
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Fences – August Wilson
Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Lion – Luke Davies
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins

Best Original Screenplay:
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Manchester By the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Best Original Song:
“Audition” – La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“City of Stars” – La La Land
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

Best Score:
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Best Cinematography:
Bradford Young – Arrival
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
Grieg Fraser – Lion
James Laxton – Moonlight
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

Best Live Action Short Film
Timecode
Sing
Silent Nights
Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV

Best Documentary, Short Subject:
4.1 Miles
Extremis
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Editing:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

Best Visual Effects:
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Production Design:
Arrival
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Animated Feature:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Best Animated Short:
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Best Foreign Language Film:
Land of Mine, Denmark
The Salesman, Iran
A Man Called Ove, Sweden
Tanna, Australia
Toni Erdmann, Germany

Best Supporting Actress:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester By the Sea

Best Sound Mixing:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Best Sound Editing:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best Documentary Feature:
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life Animated
O.J.: Made in America
13th

Best Costume Design:
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad
A Man Called Ove

Best Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Tags: 2017 Oscars

Lightning McQueen’s biggest enemy is himself in the new Cars 3 trailer.

The second major preview premiered during the Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon, where voice actor Owen Wilson served as grand marshal.

The new Cars 3 trailer finds Lightning pushing himself to compete with high tech cars that are engineered to win. The character suffers a serious accident during a race and finds himself back at square one, having to work himself back up to what he once was.

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Lightning McQueen’s biggest enemy is himself in the new Cars 3 trailer.

The second major preview premiered during the Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon, where voice actor Owen Wilson served as grand marshal.

The new Cars 3 trailer finds Lightning pushing himself to compete with high tech cars that are engineered to win. The character suffers a serious accident during a race and finds himself back at square one, having to work himself back up to what he once was.

While Cars 3’s main setting is unclear, we do see Lightning at least briefly returning to Radiator Springs (Gotta keep Cars Land at Disneyland relevant)!. This appears to be the I-need-to-rediscover-myself-by-remembering-my-origins scene.

Cars 3 looks dramatic, emotional, and possibly targeting kids and adults? We’ll race into theaters for this installment when Pixar’s latest opens this summer.

A synopsis from Pixar reads: “Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!”

Tags: cars 3

We asked our parents to describe the 2017 Oscar nominees

It's because we love them that we use them for our amusement.

10:30 am EST, February 26, 2017

When your friends and family don’t know about the films of the 2017 Oscars, you just have to take advantage of their ignorance and laugh.

The title of a movie (usually) makes obvious sense when you know what that movie is about. But titles can be so vague, and when you have no prior knowledge of the movie, the plot isn’t typically easy to decipher. How fun would it be then, to ask our friends and family to guess the plots of the nominees for the 2017 Oscars?

The task was simple for us. We gave our friends and family a movie title from the 2017 Oscars, and asked them to guess what the movie is about. It’s not, however, such a simple task for them. They weren’t allowed to look it up. No cheating allowed! As you can imagine, we got some interesting responses.

Read full article

When your friends and family don’t know about the films of the 2017 Oscars, you just have to take advantage of their ignorance and laugh.

The title of a movie (usually) makes obvious sense when you know what that movie is about. But titles can be so vague, and when you have no prior knowledge of the movie, the plot isn’t typically easy to decipher. How fun would it be then, to ask our friends and family to guess the plots of the nominees for the 2017 Oscars?

The task was simple for us. We gave our friends and family a movie title from the 2017 Oscars, and asked them to guess what the movie is about. It’s not, however, such a simple task for them. They weren’t allowed to look it up. No cheating allowed! As you can imagine, we got some interesting responses.

Be sure to check out the ridiculous responses we got for the 2016 Oscars too!

Time to let her rip tater chip.

‘Lion’

Our participants start out on a high note. Well, they at least know who’s in the movie.

‘Arrival’

Success continues with Arrival, as they have the vague idea it’s about space aliens (although it’s possible one of them is confused with Passengers).

‘Fences’

There was a common general premise our friends and family had of Fences.

‘Moonlight’

They did well with Moonlight…until they didn’t.

‘La La Land’

Maybe La La Land will be better! Everyone knows La La Land! Right…?

‘Hacksaw Ridge’

Oh no, we’re starting to lose them!

‘Hidden Figures’

No lie though, I’d watch that.

‘Captain Fantastic’

We’ve officially lost them.

‘Hell or High Water’

Could these plots be any more varied?

‘Nocturnal Animals’

It might have been a good idea for Nocturnal Animals to change its name.

‘Silence’

They’re really losing it now. They’ve had enough!

‘Manchester by the Sea’

Someone needs to turn these ideas into full screenplays, they are gold.

‘The Lobster’

What did they expect people would think when they named it The Lobster?

Thanks to Ariella, Brandi, Donya, Karen, Kendra, Kyle, Matthew, Pamela, Selina, and the friends and family they may or may not have annoyed all week.

Which 2017 Oscars movie do you think has the most misleading title?