The Hunger Games: Catching Fire | iZombie, Season 3 | Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
Things go from bad to worse for everyone
Movie review - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Movie summary: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem. (IMDb)
Where the first movie had too low a budget to do the setting justice, it still did well enough to justify The Hunger Games: Catching Fire getting a major bump and it's absolutely visible that everything on-screen is an upgrade for this second instalment. The actors, still doing great work here, finally got the movie their performances deserved to be in.
I genuinely love this movie and, watching it again for this review, was surprised at how relevant it felt to today, with a ruling elite keeping the general populace downtrodden and grateful for any scraps they can get - living in Brexit Britain, it feels all too familiar and may be the same for many in the USA too. Except it's not just enough to keep people downtrodden here, but to kick them when they're down.
Donald Sutherland is truly fantastic as President Snow and his attempts to quash any signs of rebellion from the Districts subservient to the Capitol become harsher and harsher, providing multiple 'darkest hour' moments as things just keep getting worse. He and, by extension, the Peacekeepers enforcing his will are truly brilliant antagonists that are highly enjoyable to hate.
All of this builds to what is my favourite sequence in the series, from the moment that Snow announces the Quarter Quell competitors will be reaped from the existing pool of Victors - ensuring Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has to fight again - all the way up to the reaping ceremony and Elizabeth Bank's best scene in all the movies as Effie finally realises just how horrifically cruel the Capitol can be.
It's often said that less is more, but Catching Fire is a rare exception and more is definitely more here - even if this was the series' peak and it's only downhill from here. This is hugely entertaining movie that doesn't shy away from showing government brutality and the desire of the public to stand up to it, but stops short of true brilliance by neither starting nor ending the story and feeling inherently incomplete.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the best in the series, with the increased budget from the first movie allowing the world to be more fully realised as the plot takes on a greater scope, even if it does feel a little incomplete by being a 'continuing' part of the story. The performances are all improved too, with everyone returning from the first movie now comfortable and familiar in the roles, with the new characters slotting in perfectly.
TV review - iZombie, Season 3
TV summary: Liv has discovered there are more zombies living in Seattle than she previously believed. In fact, there's a private military contractor employing a small zombie army, and that army is preparing for the day humans learn of their existence. (Rotten Tomatoes)
It's difficult to talk about how iZombie's third season unfolds without spoiling it as the show becomes more and more serialised, effectively dropping the 'case of the week' episodes that were already showing signs of dying out in the second season. It's basically an entirely different show by this point, which might cost it some viewers, but made for a more cohesive watching experience for me.
There are still cases for Liv (Rose McIver) to get involved in, although how much personality she inherits from the brains of the victims that she eats is taken to absurd proportions at time and is used more for increasingly silly interactions between the characters rather than offering any insights into whatever Clive (Malcolm Goodwin) is investigating at the time.
To be fair, that silliness and exaggeration does allow the show to push further into unreality than it ever has before, leading up to a season finale that actually feels big - giant-sized compared to season 2's weak finish. Things really have changed by the time the season finishes and it's going to be very interesting to see how the next season unfolds as a result.
As for the characters, they don't really get to escape the silliness, with most of the enjoyment coming from the humour as they and the show start moving further away from reality. There's relationship drama and bickering, but much of it feels so manufactured and stupid that it's difficult to take seriously, which is why it's easier to accept the silliness when the characters are being deliberately funny.
iZombie's third season, and especially its ending, is where the show really does turn into something completely different from how it started out, which may put some off. Fortunately, the characters are still pretty much just as much fun to watch interact with each other as before, plus the increased serialisation of the show has improved the pacing of the show, even if it does feel like things have got a little bit too silly.
Game(?) review - Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
Game summary: Explore an uninhabited Hebridean island, while in the same time voiced-over letters can be heard, directed to a woman named Esther.
It's very difficult to call Dear Esther: Landmark Edition (or the previous versions) a game, with it being more of an interactive experience than anything else. You're on a remote island where all you can do is look and walk around while the narration continues as you explore more of your surroundings - narration which can change slightly between each time through.
So, it's not going to be for everyone, with there not even being any sprinting, jumping or climbing. It's a sedate experience, but thankfully atmospheric thanks to the still very good-looking visuals, sound design and score. There are plenty of games that wish they could generate this much atmosphere in crowded environments, never mind a deserted island.
If anything, the atmosphere is boosted by being a first-person 'game', especially when you find yourself in glowing caves with bizarre scribblings all over the walls - it wouldn't take much to make a bloody good horror game with this setting. Then again, the narration partially fills that role anyway, growing ever more detached from reality as you make your way across the island.
Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is quite the experience, although how satisfying you'll find it will depend on how you approach it. There's little more to do than walk around and investigate your surroundings while the narration - with ever-decreasing sanity - fills in the backstory for why you're even on this strange island in the first place, but it's highly atmospheric all the same.