“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” PG-13: Teens will likely dive into this second film with gusto, whether they’ve read the books by Suzanne Collins or not. Director Francis Lawrence sees to it that the characters show grit and that the visual effects continue to startle. The long film’s pacing flags at times, but it pulls you into the bizarre adventures of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) well enough.
Haunted by dreams and PTSD-like flashbacks to her first violent Hunger Games, Katniss isn’t celebrating her victory. She grieves and braces herself for the next challenge, knowing that President Snow (Donald Sutherland), leader of the fascistic, futuristic land of Panem, wants her dead. Her defiant performance in her first Hunger Games has inspired a budding revolt he needs to quell.
While Katniss tries to enjoy her family and her childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Snow and his new games designer Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) decide to distract the masses by playing up the fake romance between Katniss and her District 12 co-fighter, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Snow declares that the next games will be played not by new fighters – “Tributes” – from each district, but by past winners. This way, he can kill off potential rebel leaders. Katniss, an ace with a bow and arrow, and Peeta, a gentle baker who’s can’t survive the games without her, must fight again. Their coach Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) advises them to find allies.
After a grim victory tour, Katniss and Peeta are dolled up by PR gal Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) for their big presentation to the public. Katniss and Peeta find allies in Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and others. The finale makes clear the fight has just begun.
Violent sequences don’t show a lot of gore, thus holding onto the PG-13 rating, but we see characters shot, stabbed and pierced by arrows during the games, their skin ravaged by agonizing boils from a poison fog, and their lives threatened by vicious monkeys, lightning, and a tidal wave. The dialogue includes rare use of the F-word and S-word.
“The Best Man Holiday” (R): Back in 1999, the film “The Best Man” (R) broke ground in its portrayal of upper-middle-class African-American characters. Now, filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee happily revisits them and adds a dash of melancholy to the comic mix. The result is an upscale soap opera with a starry group of actors having fun reprising their roles. The film has too much sexual behavior, sexual slang and strong profanity for under-16s.
Football star Lance (Morris Chestnut) and his wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) invite their old college crowd to spend Christmas week at their mansion. Novelist Harper (Taye Diggs) made his name with a thinly fictionalized tale of their college days, including his fling with Mia. Harper and Lance have barely spoken since. Harper’s career has stalled badly and he needs money. He’s also worried about his wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), who is pregnant and facing a breach birth.
The script contains very strong profanity and joking racial slurs among friends. There are a couple of steamy, semi-explicit sexual situations and crudely explicit sexual slang. An ailing character coughs up blood. Various adults behave badly in front of small children, fighting, hurling insults and profanity.