Ep. 26 – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, The Theory of Everything, talking the new Peanuts teaser trailer, and examining the trend of the set-up movie

November 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Podcast

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In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net review “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” and “The Theory of Everything.” They also discuss the new “Peanuts” trailer as well as set up movies and whether or not audiences would watched 3 to 3.5 hour movies instead of two-parters. 

[0:00-6:49] Intro and Thanksgiving talk
[6:49-24:22] A new “Peanuts” teaser trailer was released
[24:22-43:49] The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
[43:49-1:02:31] The Theory of Everything
[1:02:31-1:28:08] Set up movies: Would audiences watch a 3-3.5 hour movie instead of two 2-hour movies?
[1:28:08-1:31:03] Teases for next week and close

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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.

Francis Lawrence – Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

For filmmaker Francis Lawrence, getting the opportunity to continue making sequels to one of the most successful movie franchises ever was something he hoped for after taking over for “The Hunger Games” director Gary Ross in 2013’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Completing the series with the two-part final film “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” not only gave Lawrence the chance to see the project all the way through to the end, it also allowed him to explore some of the darker themes of author Suzanne Collins’ third book. In “Mockingjay – Part 1,” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) reluctantly becomes the leader of a resistance against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who has taken Peeta (Josh Hutchinson) and turned him into a propaganda tool for the Capitol.

During an interview with Francis Lawrence this past week, I talked to him about whether or not he thinks waiting an entire year for “Mockingjay – Part 2” is too long, the tough decisions he had to make when actor Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away before production ended, and what theme interested him the most from Collins’ book.

I’m sure because this is such a huge franchise and fans of the books and movies were probably watching your every move, things could get a bit stressful for you as a filmmaker. What was the scariest decision you had to make about these last two “Mockingjay” films?

You know, oddly enough one of the scariest decisions was one that I thought the fans would be appreciative of, which was putting Effie (Elizabeth Banks) in the movie. Effie really doesn’t make an appearance in the book [Mockingjay] until the end. We definitely wanted her to be in District 13 with everybody. We really wanted to incorporate her into this movie. That was a big change from the book. It was scary, but I really thought the fans would like to have Effie there.

There is a scene in the film where Katniss is making a propaganda film, which calls for Jennifer Lawrence to act like she doesn’t know how to act. What kind of direction did you give Jennifer to make her look like a bad actress?

Well, we actually tried [that scene] a bunch of different ways. We all knew it was going to be a scene with levity and humor. We spent two days shooting that scene and really let Phil [Seymour Hoffman] and Jen [Lawrence] improvise quite a bit. We had a huge range in terms of the level of levity in the scenes. We went from super naturalistic where she’s not acting badly at all to scenes where she acted really, really bad. In the editing room I had loads of possibilities. I wanted to make sure the tone of the humor fit the rest of the movie.

What about the scene where Katniss sings the song “The Hanging Tree?” Jennifer said recently that she was not comfortable shooting that scene. Was it just a matter of doing it and getting it over with or was it difficult?

Yeah, she was not happy. But Jen being unhappy is a minor issue in terms of the film. I mean, she knew she had to do it. (Laughs) She didn’t enjoy it. But she has a great voice. She sings in key. She sings in tune. She has a great texture to her voice. We had the Lumineers write the melody from the lyrics in the book. It was a nice, simple song, but it was definitely not her favorite thing.

Actress Julianne Moore said recently that she became very popular with her kids for taking on the role of President Alma Coin. Did you earn any street credit with anyone when you signed on for “Catching Fire” and these last two films?

Yeah, I have a nine year old and an 11 year old. They were just getting to that age where they started caring about movies. I remember they had this school camping trip right around the time I had just gotten the job [to direct “Catching Fire”]. The theme of the camping trip was “The Hunger Games.” This pop phenomenon has swept through and all their friends knew the movie and the books. So, the fact that their dad was making the next one, they thought that was pretty cool.

You have to know waiting an entire year to see how the film ends is going to be torture for hardcore fans of this franchise (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” opens in theaters Nov. 20, 2015). I know you don’t make those decisions, but do you think that is too long?

I don’t think it’s too long. I think one of the benefits of shooting back to back is that we can turn another big movie around that quickly since we’re already working on it. I think longer than a year would be tricky. I think a year is about right. I think it really builds up that anticipation and makes people want to go see it. When the movie comes out, you sort of get saturated by it. I don’t think you’d want to come out too soon [to see the next movie].

Google just came out with a study that says moviegoers who are interested in action movies are more likely to care about who is directing the action movies they go to see than moviegoers who prefer other genres like comedy and drama. If that is true, how would you feel if your name starts being recognized as an action film director? Would you like that or would you rather not be labeled in that way?

I’d like to be known as a director of movies people like. (Laughs) I don’t know if I’d like to be labeled as just an action director. I’ve done different kinds of things. I don’t know if I’d want to be pigeonholed as one type of director.

What did you have to tell actress Natalie Dormer to prevent her from shaving her entire head for her role as Cressida?

Ah, well, she and I had a conversation when we hired her and the first thing she said to me was that she was prepared to shave her entire head. Oddly enough, she and I had the same ideas for the look of her character. We started thinking that maybe she shouldn’t have her entire head shaved. One of my references was my costume designer from “Catching Fire” (Trish Summerville). She has the side of her head shaved. She had this great look. It was perfect for tattoos on the side of her head. I always thought of Cressida having this irreverent, sort of punk-like attitude, so I thought it would work. So, we agreed on shaving only half of her head.

What does it mean to you as a filmmaker to continue working on a franchise with such a strong female hero at the center? Do you think characters like Katniss are too few and far between in movies these days?

Yeah, it’s rare to see a female hero. To be a part of that is fantastic. One of the keys to that is Suzanne Collins writing an amazing story with amazing characters. Then, when you have someone as talented as Jen Lawrence and Julianne [Moore], it makes it really appealing.

We, of course, lost a great actor in Philip Seymour Hoffman this year, who was an important part of this series. What were some of the tough decisions you had to make since he hadn’t entirely finished shooting “Part 2” before he passed away?

Well, honestly, he was almost done with his work. He had two dialogue scenes left – one for “Part 1” and one for “Part 2.” We never thought about doing a digital version of him. He was one of the greatest actors, so to try to digitally recreate one of those performances would’ve been really foolish. So, we rewrote those scenes and gave his dialogue to other actors.

Will his character feel complete when the series is over or do you think it will be obvious that things were reworked in the script?

Yes, he feels completed. I mean, would I rather have had the other two scenes with him in them? Yes, absolutely. But I think his character feels complete.

In the film, we see Katniss struggling to decide if she wants to be a part of this resistance. To me, that showed how war really isn’t just a black and white issue. Was that a key element you wanted to highlight in the film and make moviegoers understand there was more to leading a rebellion than what you see on the surface?

Yes. That is definitely straight out of the pages of Suzanne’s book. It was one of the most appealing things about this movie. Quite honestly, it’s one of the reasons I got involved in these films. It not only shows war, but the consequences of it. I think the theme you’re picking up there is something that is even more explored in the next one. So, when I was asked to do these two films it was really exciting because A) I got to see this [franchise] through to the end and B) I got to work with these sorts of themes. What you just brought up is one of the biggest themes for me. War is not always clear and not always black and white. War is really messy. Even if you feel like a revolution is needed, it’s not going to be pretty.

Natalie Dormer – Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” actress Natalie Dormer (TV’s “Game of Thrones”) plays Cressida, a film director who, along with her production crew, is asked to create propaganda material using Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as the leader of the rebellion against the Capitol. Through these films known as “propos,” Cressida and the rest of the rebels hope to encourage more people to join the fight against tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

During my interview with Dormer, 32, we talked about how different a character like Cressida is to her role in “Game of Thrones” and why she feels it’s important to challenge herself throughout her career. She also explains the smart strategy she would follow if she ever found herself thrown into a brutal competition like the Hunger Games.

Other than this franchise being such a pop cultural phenomenon, what attracted to a film like “Mockingjay?”

Yeah, it’s this blockbuster saga, but the writing is so well done, too. It’s done at such a high level. It’s rare that you find such compelling material next to such commercial viability. I was a huge fan of the first movie. An extraordinary cast had been gathered for the previous movies and extended even more with “Mockingjay.” It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of that.

What did you like about your character Cressida and what she brings to a story like this?

She is a tough girl. She’s pretty far away from the long skirts and the long brown hair of Margaery Tyrell (her character in “Game of Thrones”), who I’ve been playing for the last few years. I wanted to shake it up a bit. I wanted to shake up people’s perception of me and my perception of myself. (Laughing) Shaving half your head and running around with a gun for nine months is a good way to do that.

Were you ready for the more physical aspects of your character, especially since you’re so proper in your role in “Game of Thrones?”

Yeah, it was a long time coming. I’m quite a physical human being. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Margaery Tyrell, but to have the opportunity to get out there and get physical was great. We’ll see a lot more of that in “Mockingjay – Part 2” to be quite honest, but to play Cressida was very interesting.

Yeah, you’re playing someone who is sort of making a movie inside a movie.

Yeah, as an actor you spend so much time working with directors, people who cut and edit and manipulate material. So, it was intriguing to me to play someone who works on the other side of the camera as well.

You said you were a fan of the first film. Were you a fan of Suzanne Collins’ books as well or did those not come onto your radar until the movies started?

I didn’t read the books until I attained the role of Cressida. But upon reading them, I was so impressed with them. I think the secret to Suzanne Collins’ success with “The Hunger Games” is that she doesn’t talk down to the younger members of her audience. She appreciates that they are fully capable of grappling with the big social and political themes that are present.

Do you think if you were forced into a competition like the Hunger Games in real life you would survive?

(Laughs) I’d like to think so. Dormer by name, Dormier by nature. I’d probably find a nice corner and sleep through it all. It’s a skill you learn as an actor when you have 5 a.m. pickup calls to sleep pretty much anywhere during the day. I’m a great napper. So, you’d probably find me somewhere in the arena sleeping away until the last canon went off.

You mentioned how you want to shake things up and do something different. Is that important for you as an actress right now – to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable with the roles you’re taking on?

Yeah, I think it’s really important to challenge myself. I’ve been very lucky in my career. I’ve managed to parallel run different mediums. I’ve done theater work and then also film and television and have been able to keep all three going. I’m very grateful that I’ve had all those opportunities. It would be great if I could keep my hand in all three mediums going into the future.

What are you looking for when you decide on your next project, whether it’s on the stage or screen?

I look at the script and the quality and arch of the journey. I look at the character. Sometimes something that scares you a little bit or something that will challenge you or something you’re not sure you can do convincingly is a good sign that you should probably do it. The only way to grow is to be a little scared of something and overcoming it. I’m looking forward to doing my next films “Patient Zero” and “The Forest.” I’ve got some interesting roles coming up in the immediate future.

What do you think it is about these sort of fantasy-based films like “The Hunger Games” that attract audiences?

Fantasy and science fiction, which I’m a massive fan of, allow you to analyze and explore the deepest, darkest parts of human nature and political and social structure from a safe distance. You don’t have to actually carry that baggage of that world. That’s what interests me the most about the genre.