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 Master

September 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”)
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”)

Pornography as a cultural influence in “Boogie Nights;” the squeaky sound of an abandoned harmonium in “Punch-Drunk Love;” frogs falling from the sky in “Magnolia.” The works of auteur director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson over the last decade and a half might be some of the most challenging films to dissect for the average moviegoer, but none have been as demanding, ambiguous, and dreamlike as his latest offering “The Master.” Inspired and loosely based on the early teachings of L. Ron Hubbard (although the word Scientology is never uttered), Anderson has once again proven why he is the most intelligent and distinctive filmmaker working today. This time, however, it does come at the price of alienating audiences with a drama not nearly as narrative-driven as his others and one that will easily take multiple viewings to pin down and decipher all of Anderson’s lofty and visionary concepts.

Coming four years after his full-fledged masterpiece “There Will Be Blood,” which earned Daniel Day-Lewis a decisive second Academy Award, Anderson returns with another bizarrely compelling character study of a man who has “wandered from the proper path” and found himself under the guidance of a leader he strongly admires and later questions. Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a mentally unstable, alcoholic drifter lost in a tiresome post WWII existence. He finds solace when recruited by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to join his flock and partake in the unconventional therapies meant to help individuals expose their past lives by what seems like slow-burn brainwashing.

Hoffman’s performance is beyond words, as always, but it is Phoenix’s take on the animalistic nature of man that speaks volumes to the core elements of what makes the film such a devastating one to shake.

Moneyball

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Bennett Miller (“Capote”)
Written by: Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”)

In a world of competitive sports where a power lifter can basically bench press a bulldozer by sticking a syringe his ass cheek, it’s getting harder to believe any athlete is performing on an even playing field nowadays. Even without the roids, there’s always a company out there manufacturing high tops that add six inches to a basketball player’s vertical leap or polyurethane bodysuits that give swimmers increased speed and make Michael Phelps whine. Whatever the case, having an unfair advantage seems to be America’s new favorite pastime.

When it comes to comparing championship teams with teams whose fans wear paper bags over their heads, however, it’s not all about whether 450-ft. homeruns are crushed off the bats of juicers. Sometimes it helps to have a few dollars stored away in the dugout. The idea that a team’s financial status can affect whether they succeed in their sport is examined in “Moneyball,” an exceptionally entertaining look at the true story behind Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and the unconventional route he takes in 2002 to transform his scrappy, penniless team into a competitive ball club. Call it “Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Richer.”

Based on the 2003 book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, the film follows Billy and his brainiac new assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) as they work to keep up with the intimidating payrolls of powerhouse teams like the New York Yankees by signing ball players considered undervalued by rarely-recognized analytical statistics.

If “Moneyball” sounds like a baseball movie for nerds, it is. There are no bottom of the 9th, bases loaded clichés and sports heroics. Instead, Academy Award-winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) dissect the game into an intriguing underdog story about one man’s belief in changing a good ol’ boy system he feels is outdated. Aficionados of the sport should admire the clubhouse access they get, especially during scenes where Billy builds his team as skillfully as a mathematician solving a proof. Pitt proves his big-league worth in this winning combination of thrilling drama and cynical dialogue.

Directed by Bennett Miller, whose previous film “Capote” won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar (he plays grumpy A’s manager Art Howe in this one), “Moneyball” is one of the best baseball movies ever made that’s actually not about baseball at all. With the way the game is played today, it’s nice to get something that feels so natural.

Doubt

December 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed by: John Patrick Shanley (“Joe Versus the Volcano”)
Written by: John Patrick Shanley (“Alive”)

Watching two acting heavyweights like Academy-Award winners Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman go head-to-head with material written for the stage can be seriously nerve-wracking. It’s simply impossible to grip onto each word they hiss at each other or catch every glance glared back and forth between them. There are moments in “Doubt” where – as cliché as it sounds – I didn’t want to blink.

It’s different when you use that sentiment with a film like “Doubt,” though. While most people would say they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the screen during a multimillion-dollar special effect, there are no bells and whistles in John Patrick Shanely’s opus. All it is is raw emotion and talent. It’s an actor’s showcase.

Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, who accuses one of the priests, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), of committing an impious act with a shy black student without any real concrete evidence. Sister Aloysius is an intimidating figure and feels if there is anyone that can get the truth out of Father Flynn, it would be her.

Amy Adams (“Junebug”) plays Sister James, an idealist nun who first takes suspicion to Father Flynn’s behavior toward the student before reporting it to Sister Aloysius. Her nature is not to be untrustworthy, but with Sister Aloysius certainty about what she thinks she knows, there is very little that can be said to change her mind. It’s actress Viola Davis (“Solaris”) who comes the closest to cutting Streep’s Aloysius down to size. She, along with Streep and Hoffman, are shoe-ins for Oscar nominations. (Adams isn’t far behind either).

In “Doubt,” Shanely has created a cinematic paradox. As each of these characters slice each other down, they all reveal their own moral shortcomings. It’s shocking how well a story like this also divulges what kind of thinkers we are. Do we think on impulse and what we know to be true in our own heart or is there always doubt without specific proof? “Doubt” won’t give you the answers you’re looking for, but you’ll be replaying the scenarios through your head long after the curtain falls.

Synecdoche, New York

November 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman (debut)
Written by: Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)

It’s evident from films like “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is a modern genius when it comes to vision and individuality. In his directorial debut, Kaufman, like he does with 2002’s “Adaptation,” writes a story about a writer who writes himself into his own story (get that?).

This time, Academy Award-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) fills in as his muse and is cast as Caden Cotard, a playwright who emotionally deteriorates while leading an acting troupe through an endless charade of obscurity. It’s a dark and complex tale, but as an audience, it might seem as though Kaufman has left us floating on the outer edges of a conversation he’s having with himself.