The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “I Am Legend”)
Written by: Peter Craig (“The Town”) and Danny Strong (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”)

The economically-sound trend of splitting the final chapters of book-to-film franchises into two movies presents a unique—if not always positive—film-going experience. Like the penultimate films in “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series before it, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” doesn’t really feel like a normal movie. It creates a sense of unease as you try in your head to look for typical story beats and plot markers that just aren’t there because, alas, this movie is meant to end with a sense of having been all about building to a climax that we won’t get to see for another year. It can all be a bit disorienting and insulting, but what are you going to do? Wait until both films have been released on DVD and Blu-ray so you can watch them back-to-back so that they make a cohesive whole? Good luck with that.

After her lightning-charged arrow destroyed the arena during the Quarter Quell in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a symbol of rebellion in the oppressed post-apocalyptic state of Panem. After being rescued from the arena by Capitol turncoat Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated), Katniss is whisked away to the militarized District 13, a grim underground bunker of jumpsuits and cafeterias. Clearly suffering from PTSD and the separation from her would-be lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—himself a prisoner of the Capitol and a propaganda tool—Katniss is called upon by President Coin (Julianne Moore) to become the Mockingjay, a symbol to unite the Districts in rebellion against the Capitol and the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With the help of Heavensbee, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss will need to overcome her own suffering if the people of Panem have any hope of living free of Snow and the Capitol.

When you can look past the table-setting and sometimes lumpy, drawn-out storytelling, “Mockingjay – Part 1” ventures into some incredibly dark yet intriguing places for a film franchise that, at least on the surface, is aimed at teenagers. The body count is high and the politics of propaganda is a refreshing change from the typical “chosen one” storylines that usually inhabit these YA worlds. Katniss is not valued by Coin for her skills in the arena, but for the televised image she cultivated in the Game—not that anyone should ever doubt her when notching an exploding arrow, though. Scenes of Katniss working with filmmakers to put together rebellion-sowing video clips are the bright spots of the film, creating a much richer world than the movie’s goofy future-animals like mockingjays or tracker jackers ever could. The rebellion is coming. Too bad we have to wait another year for it.

The Hunger Games

March 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”)
Written by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”), Suzanne Collins (debut), Billy Ray (“State of Play”)

There are a few things inherently lacking in director/co-writer Gary Ross’ highly-anticipated film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” that should be puzzling to anyone who is familiar with the history of the sci-fi genre and even the more complex ideas behind dystopian literature and how it carries into the social context of today.

Thematically, the film, which is based on the popular young adult series by Suzanne Collins, doesn’t have a single original thought in its flimsy framework. It’s bothersome because young fans of the series won’t care how similar it is to films of the past. Audiences just want something to replace the hole that will soon be left by “The Twilight Saga.” It is fortunate “The Hunger Games” doesn’t stoop to a level like Stephenie Meyer, but it still makes it hard to appreciate Collins’ concepts when she does nothing to separate herself from the pack.

Set in the future, “The Hunger Games” takes about an hour of the first act to explain the mythology behind the title competition. Two kids or teenagers from 12 different districts are chosen through a lottery system to compete in an all-out fight to the death on national TV where only one of them will survive. Representing District 12 is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss enters the competition after her younger sister Primrose’s name is chosen and she volunteers to take her place.

Whisked off to the Capitol (a sort of Emerald City on acid), Katniss and Peeta are pampered like royalty and assigned a mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former Hunger Games champion who is now a drunk, to teach them the ins and outs of a competition that will leave at least one of them dead.

Borrowing generously from the text of writers like Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”), and Richard Connell (“The Most Dangerous Game”), “The Hunger Games” will definitely attract its fan base who have been itching to see the film come to life on the big screen. While its easily-accessible plot and characters also might generate some new interest from others not familiar with the books, the movie has no real ambition. More importantly, it fails to build any type of emotional structure around its characters besides Katniss herself. As kids get picked off one by one in the battle royale (look it up, kids: Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film “Battle Royale”), it’s about as affecting as watching pawns get removed from a chess board.

Take away the fact that “The Hunger Games” is a 142-minute rehash, and we’re left with a perfectly-cast Lawrence in the lead role who makes up for a lot of the film’s problem areas. As Katniss, Lawrence, nominated for an Oscar for the fantastic 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” is a strong female protagonist that puts someone like the always-suffering Bella Swan of “The Twilight Saga” to shame. Lawrence is the reason to hope the inevitable sequels to this franchise can break away just a little more from Collins’ original text and at least give it a style that doesn’t feel so synthetic at times.

The Last Song

April 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear
Directed by: Julie Anne Robinson (debut)
Written by: Nicholas Sparks (debut) and Jeff Van Wie (debut)

Adapting his novel into a screenplay for the first time since his stories began hitting the big screen in 1999 (“Message in a Bottle”), author Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook,” “Dear John”) quickly loses handle of his newest tearjerker “The Last Song” from the start.

Written specifically for teenage music and TV idol Miley Cyrus (“Hannah Montana: The Movie”), the role proves to be far too much for someone with so little feature film experience to explore. Aside from the unmotivated script and direction, it is Cyrus’s shockingly inept performance that makes “The Last Song” so very dissonant. Facetiously speaking: Those voters from the MTV Movie Awards aren’t going to be knocking on her door for this one.

In “Song,” Cyrus takes a dramatic turn for the worst as Ronnie Miller, an unhappy teenage piano virtuoso who is still hurting from her parents divorce. Sent with her little brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with their estranged father (Greg Kinnear) at his beachside home, Ronnie is not about to meet her dad halfway and try to make the best of an uncomfortable situation.

Uninterested in playing the piano anymore (she stopped on the day her father left the house; how very symbolic) or following her dream to enroll at Julliard, Ronnie would much rather be a sulking teenager with nothing to live for. Cyrus’s self-pity parade becomes more and more unrealistic with every pouty moment she musters.

When she finally meets the man of her dreams, Sparks’s half-hearted efforts plop into a series of formulaic plot devices and corny montages fit for a Disney TV show. As Ronnie and her summer fling spend more time with one another, unnecessary and underwritten secondary storylines are tossed in without much thought. One includes Ronnie taking an interest in sea turtles. Another has her looking out for a girl she meets who is in a dysfunctional relationship.

Waiting in the wings is Kinnear, who is wasted as a father hoping to reconnect with his daughter. Instead, his character is misplaced until Sparks need a tragic story to fall back on and to complete his relationship melodrama. He does the same in every one of his stories, but in “Song” it feels even more insincere than ever before.

If young girls want nothing more than an unoriginal and extremely silly summer romance, Sparks has spun tween gold. This bland story, however, has been told so many times before and with less giddiness. Most importantly, those same movies are done without Cyrus, who makes fellow songstress Taylor Swift’s laughable performance in “Valentine’s Day” earlier this year look Oscar worthy.