Archive for the 'Rick Swift' Category

The Monuments Men

Thursday, February 6th, 2014


It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)

“What is art? It’s people’s lives.”

The Monuments Men

Swift shot: Loosely based on “The Monuments Men” by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, George Clooney unveils a little known legacy of World War II as he directs an all-star cast of motley, middle-aged heroes.  Their heroism isn’t defined so much by their actions in the film, rather in their willingness to simply be there . . . to protect the very culture Hitler was trying to erase from the fabric of history.

With a deliberately slow pace and a sometimes exhaustive exposition, The Monuments Men tends to suffer in places because it has such talented actors all vying for screen time.  There are almost too many to list here, but I will.  Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, and Clooney himself dot the film which takes the audience across Europe in every major battle on the German Front.  As the team hunts for stolen masterpieces, they learn that the Nazis are just as determined to keep the treasure of the reich.  And the Nazis aren’t the only ones looking for riches.

Explored in the film is the very notion of sacrificing a life for a painting, for a piece of marble, for a thing.  In the end, isn’t art just a collection of things left behind?  Perhaps to some, but not to the men (and women) of Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, known as the “Monuments Men.”

I actually saw this film surrounded by members of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Norton Museum of Art, and as some of the more dramatic moments played out, I felt a genuine sadness engulf the theater.  I can’t say it will leave a mark on everyone, but it should serve as a reminder that an entire culture was almost wiped off the earth by a failed artist with a Napoleon complex!



That Awkward Moment

Friday, January 31st, 2014


It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)


That Awkward Moment

Swift shot: In every relationship these days there is that awkward so, so what are we doing here? So, are we going anywhere with this? So, what do I tell my friends? . . . And so on. That Awkward Moment is really just that, a series of awkward moments strewn loosely together to form a patchwork of a romantic comedy. There isn’t anything spectacular about it.

Zac Efron pulls out a full frontal assault as he plays Jason, the most self-absorbed character of 2014. His friend Daniel (Miles Teller) is only one degree less selfish. And Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is a struggling true romantic who is facing a serious challenge with his marriage to Vera (Jessica Lucas).

Daniel and Jason actually have a cool job, designing book covers, which is perfect as a metaphor for how Jason treats women – only doing the surface work. But when he first meets the sophisticated Ellie (Imogen Poots) he may finally have met his match.

As Ellie and Jason traverse the romantic meanderings of Gramercy Park, and their friends’ stories meld with the film, directed by Tom Gormican, the audience really only sat waiting (less than patiently) for the next vulgar joke or site gag.

If vulgar jokes and less than stimulating romance comedies are your thing, this won’t disappoint. But, I really didn’t care how the characters’ stories ended. And I wasn’t surprised or genuinely moved once.  I do get a kick out of saying Poots, though.



Lone Survivor

Friday, January 10th, 2014


It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (4 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)

“I died with a full heart, with my brothers.”

Lone Survivor

Swift shot: Peter Berg has clearly become one of the better action movie directors out of Hollywood, as Lone Survivor demonstrates in a visceral way, as you feel each and every wound and fracture as you learn the fate of the seemingly cursed Operation Red Wings. While this film is BOATS, (Based On A True Story) and the sheer amount of will to survive defies belief, at no time did I think to myself, oh, come on, that’s bullshit. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the events are all too believable. You feel every death, and because this isn’t some fiction, it really hits hard.  The impact is real.

Mark Wahlberg is Marcus Luttrell, a Texas born Frog-man, assigned with his SEAL team to take out Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami). Early on in the film we are given a glimpse of the Taliban chief’s evil nature, and the case is made as to why he needs to be terminated. The mission is complex, with a lot of moving parts, perhaps too many, as the title of the film hints – they are doomed.

On the High-Value-Target mission, Ben Foster as Axe, Emile Hirsch as Dietz, and Taylor Kitsch as their commander, Lt. Mike Murphy, insert themselves outside the perimeter of a village swarming with Taliban. High on a mountain ridge, something comes their way that will seal the fate of all but one of them, and leads to the most intense fire-fight sequence ever filmed. Evading RPG attacks, rifle rounds, and even a machine gun trained on them, the SEALs quickly determine that survival is the new mission. Several times they are left with one lethal option over another lethal option. Both options suck.

This film serves as a reminder that we are still engaged in Afghanistan, and we are still losing people, great people, in a region seemingly ruled by chaos. Yet, within the chaos, there is compassion. I like to think that those pockets of civility are worth fighting for, and I hope this film also inspires others to stay in the fight.

[Swift aside – After you see this film, I ask you, honestly, which of the three options would you have chosen?]





Friday, January 10th, 2014
It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (30 People gave this 3.30 out of 5)

Michael Moore couldn’t have done a better one-sided smear piece if he tried.

Dawn Brancheau 2008

Swift shot: If you have ever owned a pet, gone to the zoo, or even to a fair where they have pony rides for your kids, according to Blackfish . . . you are a horrible person. Oh, and if you have ever had a ham sandwich, eaten a steak or any other mammal, you are equally as horrible, but they don’t dare go there. No, they lead off with the capture of baby Orcas in the 1970s, ripping them from their mother’s pod as they screeched. According to some guy who has seen two wars or something, it was the most horrible thing he’s witnessed. Clearly, he hasn’t seen much of war. But, I digress, I come to bury Blackfish and its PETA-fueled director, Gabriela Cowperthweight. That is my agenda.

I have known one of the current (not FORMER) employees of Sea World since we were six years old; I consider him a brother from another mother. I flat out asked him when I heard about Dawn, “Dude, what the hell happened?” I can’t remember his exact words, but he made it known that these things are called killer whales for a reason (they are the top predator of the ocean), and maybe Tilikum just wanted to play and got carried away. Tilikum is known to be quite possessive of his toys. Ultimately though, I do remember him saying you can’t anthropomorphize Tilikum, because he can’t give you a reason – he can’t tell us what happened.

He was told flat out the first day he worked at “Believe” – you don’t go into the water with Tilikum, because you might not come out. That is just part of the job.

You see, Tilikum is this mammal that can’t quite seem to grasp the concept of death, to him, Dawn was just a toy. Or, we could hypothesize the opposite and say that Tilikum is a serial killer . . . whale. Or we could draw the conclusion that he only killed, because he was a captive animal – sooner or later they are going to snap. Or we could draw the conclusion that he was just really pissed off that day at Dawn, because she didn’t give him enough fish. Do I need to hold up a sarcasm sign?

The point is, these are killer creatures, predators. I will give the director credit for showing the footage of the seal being expertly stalked by a group of lethal Orcas. Oh, wait, do you see what I just did there? I distinguished a group of them as lethal, that’s kinda what the film tries to do too. It is Tilikum’s demon seed that (because he was raised in captivity) has spread across theme-parks worldwide. Thing is, you can’t distinguish one group as lethal and another as docile – in the wild they all gotta eat, right? So, which is it, is it nature or nurture? Is it his genetic pool (sue me, I like puns) or his upbringing? Guess what, folks? I have a degree in psychology, and that debate has still not been settled for humans! Guess what else, folks? Whales are mammals, just like us, so if we can’t settle the debate for humans, how can we settle it for whales that have a “language” we can’t understand?

Since the film’s previews all use the horrific capture footage to get you to watch the film, let’s just say it like it is. Sea LAND, which no longer exists, captured Tilikum, not Sea World. An ommitted fact from the film is something called the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which prohibits collecting whales. Also, while Sea World’s previous owners (in the 70s, prior to the law forbidding it) collected other whales, the park has gone through three other owners since then. This law is in force across the country.

But, to punctuate the facts, when Sea LAND closed, releasing, captivity raised, Tilikum into the wild would have been a death sentence. Sea World is world-renowned for their compassionate programs to protect animals exactly like Tilikum – since my friend and I have been alive, at least.

That is why they use Tilikum’s seed to breed them in captivity, so they don’t separate mothers from their kids in the wild anymore. They agree with the law. So, spare me your attacks on Sea World. For one, my friend spent his whole life loving just about every animal on land, air, or sea – and now he gets to interact with them on a daily basis. He gets paid for doing what he loves, and some PETA-smear piece is going to put him out of work, because he loves working with animals? Well, I don’t think so! I am not letting you go after my friend’s livelihood without a fight. I too am a mammal that spent years in captivity.

Dawn lived doing what she loved. Dawn died doing what she loved. We should all be so lucky, and if I ever get the call that my friend dies at Sea World, so be it. I’ll be beyond devastated, but I will know that he died doing something he believed in . . . just like when I was in the Marines, folks. If I died when I was in, my family would have been devastated, but I would have died doing something I believed in. All the film-makers are looking to do is capitalize on Dawn’s death, they don’t believe in what she stood for.

The footage from Mark Simmons was when I finally saw what the director was doing. She selectively edited his pieces, interwoven with others before, and after, to look like it was Mark saying that captive animals will always turn out bad, when in fact that is the exact opposite of what he said . . . if you pay attention, that is. I’m not watching it again to suss out all the other lies and manipulations.

In the end, all you have here is a one-sided, agenda-fueled exploitation piece smearing a good company, a good person, and an industry that isn’t quite as evil as they would have you Believe.

So, if you have ANY outrage over Blackfish, and just “can’t believe what humans can do” – fine, don’t eat meat, don’t own a pet, don’t go to a zoo, don’t attend a fair, and put a porpoise on your next ballot . . . otherwise, you are a hypocrite. And, of course, that is exactly what PETA wants! Oh, and the film’s main expert is actually named Duffus – that should be a clue to take this film for exactly what it is, a fiction-fueled sham.




The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)

What is the purpose of life?

Walter Mitty

Swift shot: Loosely based on the short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about the world’s greatest adventurer, well, in his daydreams. Set against the re-engineering of “Life” magazine to an online outlet, Director Ben Stiller uses a mosaic of beauty and design to tell the story of one of the little people in “Life” who breaks out of his comfort zone to finally realize his true potential. Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig pair up well together on screen, and the film has a slight Gumpian feel to it.

Walter Mitty used to be a pretty cool kid, but then something happened when he was young that ended his cool streak, and he needed to become mature, and responsible, at a young age. Now he spends most of his life dreaming about the adventures of his hero, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), a photographer who travels from one extreme clime to the next just to capture the perfect image for Life magazine. Walter is smitten by one of his new co-workers, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) who really barely knows he exists. Of course, in Walter’s elaborate daydreams, she is the one smitten with him!

As Walter signs up for EHarmony, and makes the acquaintance of “Todd, from EHarmony,” his plans of approaching Cheryl seem destined for failure, because the beards (as I call them) led by Ted (Adam Scott) are there to fire most of the staff deemed unessential. Before they switch over to Life Online; however, there is a missing photo that Sean has labeled the quintessence of Life, and Walter must find this photo if he wants to keep his job. Sean is impossible to locate, and thus begins Walter’s purpose of life, to find Sean, and discover what photo “number 25” reveals.

Walter goes from daydreamer to globe-trekking adventurer, as what first starts out as a journey for a photo turns into a journey of self-discovery. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty may convert a few people who didn’t like Stiller into an instant fan, as he is hard not to root for on his quest for the quintessence of his life. With dramatic music, grand cinematography, brilliant angled shots, and a touching tribute to Life magazine, this film will leave you wondering what is your purpose of life?

[Swift aside: I have a rule about comparing re-makes to the originals if more than 20 years has passed. But, for the sake of clarity, there is another The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) starring Danny Kaye that you might also enjoy.]


Saving Mr. Banks

Friday, December 20th, 2013


It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 4.00 out of 5)

Sometimes promises can’t be kept

Saving Mr. Banks

Swift shot: A story about a wonderfully complicated woman and a man who wouldn’t hear “no.” Watching both Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, two of my favorite actors, square off against one another was a real treat. I was secretly anxious that Hanks wouldn’t be able to pull off Walt Disney, as they are both my personal heroes for different reasons. I should never have doubted Hanks for a second. Paul Giamatti provides proof to the Stanislavsky quote, “there are no small parts, only small actors,” as he masterfully cements the film together with very few lines required.

Imagine telling Walt Disney, “No!” – before all the theme parks went up across the world, there was just the magical Disneyland in California and Walt Disney Studios. Known for Mickey Mouse and cartoons world-wide, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) fascinated millions of people with his wonderful stories and endearing charm. P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) was not one of those people.

Set in the early 60s, while Walt was busy working on “The Florida Project” – he was also desperate to keep a twenty year promise to his daughters, to bring their beloved child-hood fantasy character, Mary Poppins, to life. If you know a little about Walt (as he insisted on being called) you know he struggled early on with losing rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and what I didn’t know, but learned in the film, was he almost lost Mickey Mouse as well! So, he was very understanding of Travers not wanting to give her character away – he personally went through what he was now putting her through. For twenty years, I might add. But, finally, money, ever the villain in Travers’ life, comes knocking on her flat, and she reluctantly agrees to meet with Walt and his team in California.

The Marry Poppins creative team of, Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak), Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman), and Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) are immediately taken aback when they meet Ms. Travers (as she insisted on being called) because they are plucky and upbeat where she is clearly trying to be such a pain in the neck that they (and Walt) will just give up and toss the whole idea. Her Disney assigned chaeffeur, Ralph (Paul Giamatti) is an affable character that refuses to allow Travers’ dour gloom to bring him down.

As Travers reminisces on her life in Australia, the film methodically transitions from her past to the present, as we see glimpses of how Mary Poppins came to life. If you are a huge Mary Poppins fan, this may shatter you, but sometimes we need to see the truth to understand the fantasy. Her father, played by Colin Farrell, struggled with money and alcohol his whole life, and when you meet the real Mary Poppins, you’ll understand why sometimes promises just can’t be kept.

The Australia sequences, where Ms. Travers is flashing-back to her childhood are lacking exposition, but this is by design by Director John Lee Hancock, as she is remembering her childhood. Rarely are streams of dialogue recalled when you think back that far, so the audience is given only thematic perception to understand what is really going on in the scenes . . . again, through the eyes of a child.

With carefully placed homages to Mary Poppins throughout the film, and seeing the creative process of the composers and writers unfold, and seeing a side to Walt that few really knew existed, Saving Mr. Banks may just break your heart and also remind you that tragedy finds us all, but what you do afterwards is what makes a life interesting. Yes, even, and especially Walt Disney. I know some people that “hate Disney” – and I wish I could force them to watch this film, as it is really an invitation to take a second look at the man, the mouse, and the magic. And if they still say “No!” – why – just tell them to GO FLY A KITE!


American Hustle

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013


It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)

“People believe what they want to believe.”

American Husttle

Swift shot: Splotchy, scattered, yet somehow spectacular. Set in the late 70’s, Director David O. Russell’s American Hustle features an all-star cast, with Christian Bale committing sex-symbol suicide by playing the most charismatically-vulnerable role since The Fighter. When he first appears on screen, it is the complete opposite of what you expect, or want, to see. With a few fun twists and enough side-boob to make Peter Griffin blush, this film will get you talking, especially if you grew up amidst the sexual revolution and Carter – where fashion and fun were the order of the day. Interestingly, the whole film was cast like a Boardwalk Empire reunion. See if you can spot them all.

Set in New Jersey, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a con-man who owns a few glass repair shops and dry cleaning businesses. He learned at a young age that very few people get ahead by following the rules. After watching the mafia roll his father who started the glass business, young Irv came up with a simple solution to drum up business for his dad . . . and he never really looked back. There was always a way to make people give him money, but he always controlled the hustle “from the feet up.”

At a Long Island party, he meets a sultry woman who is his match, she’s a huge fan of The Duke, no not John Wayne, Duke Ellington, whose moody tunes connect Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Irv in a way that he just can’t reconcile with his reality. Irv has a wife and an adopted son whom he loves very much. His rotten and delicious wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is a real piece of work too. She isn’t naive enough to believe he is remaining faithful, and their relationship is far from ideal, but they have an odd respect for one another and both take care of their son in their own respective methods. She’s also the textbook definition of a dingbat.

Irv and Sydney set up swindling desperate people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their plan is simple, keep telling people “No” and they will always want into something. And, it works, until the FBI finds out about their little scam. Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) busts them, well Sydney in fact, because she handled the check. This little detail has a huge impact on how everything plays out for all three characters.

Agent DiMaso is spiraling out of control. His reality is he lives with his mom and his fiancee, but he would much rather bed Sydney’s British facade.  DiMaso is driven and ambitious, and he wants his reality to be something flashy and sexy. But, his frumpy mid-western boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) knows his young agent is about to go rogue and is probably chasing shadows and tries to keep DiMaso on a short leash. He fails.

Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) is the most loved man in all of Camden, NJ. He is desparately trying to open casino gaming back into Atlantic City and is willing to work with people of the nefarious variety. Since the mayor is such a family man, Irv agrees to have Rosalyn at his side when he meets and convinces the mayor to take money from an Arab benefactor who needs to immideately become a citizen to facilitate the deal. This is DiMaso’s wet dream, because he will now have politicians taking bribes to help push this deal through. If you didn’t key on the “Arab” thing, you might not know about ABSCAM – where the FBI used undercover agents to bust some politicians in the late 70’s. That’s what American Hustle is really all about, how the different parties came together to pull off the near impossible.

With a definitive Boogie Nights vibe, and a lack of facial make-up, American Hustle will keep you involved throughout. The scene-stealer (no surprise) is Jennifer Lawrence. I came out of the theater thinking, that kid is the best actress in America – and she’s only 23, folks! We are lucky to be enjoying her work right now, whoever “discovered” her – THANK YOU! Personally, I haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook yet, but it is on my must watch list. So I can’t compare her chemistry with Cooper in the two, but she has very little interplay with his character in American Hustle. Sadly, and probably by design, Rosalyn is almost completely an after-thought until the second act.

With the mafia, the Feds, a crazy wife, an adopted son, and a coked-up FBI agent desparately trying to make the bust of the century, Irv is in a “science oven” of his own making, and how he navigates the hustle is one of the most entertaining things you will see out of Hollywood this year. American Hustle also really unravels what betrayal looks like, on the ground, and serves as a kind of street-lesson for undercover operators and actors alike for why “from the feet up” is essential for success in any role you play.

If you miss the 70’s, long for any of the all-star cast, or just want a really well told story about greed, deception, corruption, and betrayal with a well balanced bit of comedy relief, American Hustle is for you. – and some of it actually happened! Consider also, you have Katniss, Batman, Hawkeye, and the Face Man in one film convincingly playing the furthest thing from action stars – what’s not to love?

Rick Swift’s “12 Flicks of Christmas”

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

On the 12th day before Christmas, you’ve simply got to watch . . .

HoHoHo#12 Die Hard (1988) – While this may not be regarded as a traditional Christmas film – it takes place during Christmas and has a constant Christmas soundtrack, plus, someone gets a Machine Gun for Christmas. My kind of gift!

On the 11th day before Christmas . . . yea, I am not doing that theme for 11 more films.  You catch my drift, right?



F-CTL36467#11 Home Alone (1990) – an endearing tale about a boy in a large family that wishes his family would disappear – and they do.  He has to overcome his fears and thwart burglars, all whilst remembering what Christmas is all about . . . family.



Elf10#10 Elf (2003) – One of the funniest films ever made about Christmas, and how you are never too old, nor too big, to get caught up in the Christmas spirit.  This film introduced me to Peter Dinklage, and watching James Caan navigate across Will Ferrel is just epic.




Miracle9#9 Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – A touching look at how Santa is real, whether you believe it or not.  This has been remade over and over again, but the original is the best, starring Natalie Wood as a little girl who wants a family for Christmas . . . something that everyone thinks is impossible (including her), except one nut who insists he is Santa.




#8 The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966) – A unique story about Santa Claus facing eviction by an evil banker.  This one always kept me glued to the tube, the music is good, catchy, and the effects and dubbing were sub-par, but that hasn’t ever bothered me.




Scrooged7#7 Scrooged (1988) – Bill Murray takes us on a yule-trip set against the film industry and is a powerful, modern take on the Dickens Classic “A Christmas Carol” – and it is freakin’ hilarious!




ChristmasCarol6#6 – A Christmas Carol (1984) – With George C. Scott as Scrooge, whenever I personally see a new, or different, version of this classic tale – this version is what I am comparing it with.  Scott will always be MY Scrooge.  The special effects were solid, and still hold up well, I think.



TheSantaClause5#5 – The Santa Clause (1994) – Tim Allen faces divorce and is forced to become Santa, reluctantly he obliges, and how society treats him is a metaphor for what has happened to Christmas in America.  The spirit of magic seems dead, or dying.



ErnestChristmas4#4 – Ernest Saves Christmas (1988) – Because it reminds me a bit of The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t and features a novel interpretation of “Oh Christmas Tree” that I find myself still laughing to.  Plus, it reminds me that people shouldn’t take themselves so seriously, especially during the holidays.



NationLampoonsChristmas3#3 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – I love all the Lampoon movies featuring Chevy Chase, and when this one came out, it almost replaced the top spot.  When he rants about what he wants for Christmas, I swear that is the longest rant ever in film history.  With Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the yuppie neighbor who is trying to essentially ignore Christmas, it’s just a great flick.  Leonard of The Big Bang Theory plays Rusty and Juliette Lewis is Audrey.




Emmet2#2 Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (1977) – Very rough puppet work, but one of the best stories Jim Henson ever told, about a little Otter whose father died and his mother struggles to afford the simplest of gifts.  An adaptation of the Gift of the Magi that reminds us what is important about Christmas isn’t the gift, it is the giving.




ChristmasStory1#1 – A Christmas Story (1983) – This has been overly saturated, as TBS plays it on an endless loop to let them run a skeleton crew over the holidays.  But, it is still the best Christmas Movie.  I can watch it a thousand times, and it has become a tradition that I can’t miss.


Don’t forget these little TV special stocking-stuffers: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) and, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)!

Oh, and my favorite R-Rated Christmas film is The Ref (1994) starring Dr. Denis Leary as a robber who happens to break into the home of the most dysfunctional family, with Kevin Spacey as the father who is trying to keep everything together.  One of the funniest films of Leary’s, and easily Spacey’s career.  NOT a family friendly film though . . . but it should be in your adult holiday film rotation.

So, what are YOUR must watch Christmas Flicks?



The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Saturday, November 30th, 2013


It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (4 People gave this 4.50 out of 5)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Swift shot: Chapter Two sets the stage for the final conflict. I’ve read all three of the books now, because I liked The Hunger Games so much, and I just wanted to know how it was all going to end. I know. And The Hunger Games: Catching Fire directed by Francis Lawrence was almost a page for page interpretation of Suzanne Collins’ “Young Adult” best seller.

When we left Katniss Everdeen (Lennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), they had just beaten Seneca Crane’s 74th Hunger games by convincing Crane that killing them both would be worse than letting them both live. He had to choke on that decision, and now President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is left with a dilemma – if he kills Katniss, he will create a martyr for the Districts to rally around and perhaps lead to the collapse of his fragile, Panem.

Now, the 75th Hunger games is upon the Districts. They must again send tributes to do battle for the Capitol’s amusement. Penance for an otherwise forgotten rebellion. Referred to as the “Quarter Quell,” every 25 years the Capitol throws a wrinkle into the rules of the Quell. The victors are exempt from The Reaping (where tributes are selected in a macabre raffle).  It’s a more or less unwritten rule that no one messes with the victors, because to survive the Hunger Games is the ultimate ordeal.  So, they’ve earned a place of respect and even have their own village within their respective districts.  The District 12 victor’s village has been haunted only by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) essentially vacant for decades, until Katniss and Peeta have taken up separate residences there.

Katniss and Peeta’s bold action from the previous games has sowed dissent throughout the tyrannical system. Even holding up three fingers is enough of a transgression to meet immediate death.  President Snow has a problem with any form of defiance, and based on some recent uprisings, sparked by the tragic death of Rue from District 11 – Snow comes up with a way to both keep the Capitol fans happy and eliminate the victors. I won’t spoil what he does to the victors. But, Katniss and Peeta find themselves in the middle of another Quell.

These “new” players are experienced and the new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sets a diabolical death clock to rid Snow and the Capitol of the trouble-makers from the Districts.  As each hour passes, the players face new horrors.

Thanks to their fame, Team Gold (Katniss and Peeta) make quick alliances with the highly favored to win Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and a few of his friends.  There is more political intrigue and less Quell action in Catching Fire. But the message is the same, as these tributes kill one another for the Capitol, there is never a doubt who the real enemy is. But perhaps what serves as a surprise is who the real friends are.  I can’t say anything else without giving away most of the story.

As with The Hunger Games, Academy Award winner, Jennifer Lawrence does a fabulous job as the lethal teen, but there is a damaged element to her character, something all too familiar for us these days, as she is suffering from intense Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  All of her hunting prey now wear faces of those she dispatched last year.  While she struggled to survive in the past, everything is made conveniently available in the victor’s village, hunting now is really something to do to stave off boredom.  And it is also an excuse to meet up with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

The other actors were given little opportunity to use dialog to develop their characters, so they needed to be good at conveying a full range of emotion without lines.  While Elizabeth Banks, as Effie Trinket, showed real emotion when she discovered how her Team Gold would be tested, and as she learned the true nature of The Hunger Games and President Snow.

Defiance is the defining message of Catching Fire.  As Katniss learns she must defy her own soul, to feign passion for anything, not even sure if she can ever love . . . now that she has killed people.  She feels broken.  How can someone love her if she can’t love herself?  Defiance of the districts to the Capitol and President Snow.  Defiance of the players to participate in the Quarter Quell, and even defiance of Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) to design the most spectacular dress and transformation scene since Black Swan!

I have heard several of my friends who refuse to see these films or read the books, because they appear to be clones of Twilight and other Young Adult works, but the political intrigue of rebellion sparks a fire in me, as a Galactic Rebel Star Wars fan, that I have been missing for quite some time.  And, since I know how the whole series ends, it is a shame my friends will just overlook what is a very worthy, powerful saga.  Don’t make that mistake! See this film, read the books, live for defiance!