Note to self: Next time a blockbuster like "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" opens, don't arrive at the theater after the trailers have already begun unless you want to sit in the front row again.
From that vantage point, sitting spread eagle in your movie seat, your neck gets a workout just trying to look from one end of the screen to the other. Looking up movie stars'nostrils is one way of appreciating the ultrahigh resolution of modern cinematography.
Eyelashes play a major part in "Catching Fire's" production design, along with an inflammable wedding gown and a chariot of fire, and you get the full effect when you're so up close and personal.
On the plus side, it also puts you in touch with the sheer emotional power that is Jennifer Lawrence. Last year's Oscar winner feels less like an "actress" than a force of nature. Her amazing performance is one - but not the only - thing that led this sequel to a record-setting opening weekend at the box office.
Considering how awful and cynical the "Hunger Games" premise is - a futuristic dystopian society that "entertains" the masses with a reality game show featuring its youths killing one another - it's remarkable how engaging this new movie is.
While Lawrence ably carries the franchise, her co-stars Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland- all do their parts, too, turning what might be caricatures in less skillful hands into memorable roles.
Chalk up its emotional impact to having a woman in the leading role, and another woman, author Suzanne Collins, conceiving it all so brilliantly. Adding estrogen to the action formula is a game-changer when it comes to strength, courage and character.
Instead of having guys in capes and tights vying in contests of dumb brute force, the "Hunger Games" franchise is complex and nuanced, brimming with symbols and allegory, more about universally shared feelings than the latest computer-generated special effects.
Its future world mixes echoes of ancient Roman decadence, George Orwell's worst paranoid nightmares and a voyeuristic reality-TV culture uncomfortably close to our own.
Its villains - Sutherland as the Machiavellian president, Tucci as the unctuous game-show host, Hoffman as the designer of the "game" - are the faces of a sinister, tyrannical government trying to cling to power in the face of growing revolutionary sentiments.
While the first "Hunger Games" focused on teens locked in lethal battle, this one concentrates more on the adult puppeteers pulling their strings. The actors get every nuance out of their roles, whichever side they're on.
Past Maui Film Festival honorees Harrelson and Banks elicit knowing chuckles from the audience, like old friends, when they first appear onscreen. Tucci turns over-the-top insincerity into its own form of comedy.
Despite the almost unbearable hurt she encounters at every turn - not to mention the impossible love triangle she finds herself in - Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen becomes a unique symbol of hope against the forces of oppression, elevating the story from action-adventure to political parable.
Former music video director Francis Lawrence is up to the challenges of big-screen epics, using close-ups to intensify the humanity - or inhumanity - of his characters in between the superbly orchestrated action.
Ironically, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire's" release came the same weekend the country was remembering and commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
It may be a stretch to link the troubling world of "The Hunger Games" to that still tragic event in our history that is sometimes attributed with launching the modern era of rampant media, along with a mistrust and a lack of faith, in government.
But Everdeen's fight to survive provides inspiration, no matter how you look at it, and one more cause for thanksgiving today.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.