The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – A Review

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In the words of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of the greatest philosophers of our time…..

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Heather has returned to the movies!

Because of all my goddamn injuries, I haven’t been to the theater to see a movie since July, which is all sorts of ridiculous. That may not be that long for mere mortals, but for a pop culture blogger whose bread and butter are movie reviews that is a long freaking time to be MIA. I had thoughts of attempting a movie a few times when I had my cast, but then parking and then getting into the theater just seemed like too much of a hassle; it didn’t help that there weren’t that many movies that I was dying to see during that time period. But I missed writing my reviews and hopefully people missed reading them, so I’m glad to be back in the saddle. I apologize if you made some terrible movie going choices in my absence.

I’ve gone to early screenings for all the previous Hunger Game movies, so I was determined to make it out to see the final installment. My sister-in-law hooked me up with a ticket to an early screening of Mockingjay Part 2 on Wednesday night, which was an added bonus because I’d get to go with friends and that meant I had some moral support as I navigated the theater for the first time in three months (I’m still using one crutch and wearing an ankle brace). Plus as much as I love going to the movies by myself, it’s also nice to share the experience with others to discuss what you all just witnessed. As we chatted before the movie, I discovered that I’d forgotten quite a bit about Mockingjay since I read it several years ago. It wasn’t my favorite book of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy and while I could recall some of the big stuff, there were plenty of other details that I didn’t have much memory of. I’m willing to bet that I was the only person in the theater who was surprised by some of the characters that meet their demise in this final film. In some ways, that probably added a little more suspense.

Mockingjay Part 2 is the darkest and bleakest film of the franchise, which is saying something when you consider that the first film had kids killing kids for other people’s entertainment. While the earlier films could focus more on the lopsided love triangle – seriously, did anyone ever think that Gale stood a chance – and quips from Effie and Haymitch, there is very little of that in Mockingjay Part 2. The franchise has definitely earned this moment, but the final film is definitely punishing. Of course, the timing of the release of Mockingjay Part 2 less than a week after terrorist attacks in Beirut and France lends even more resonance to the rebellion depicted; when President Snow mentions refugees, it’s hard not to think of the current debate in America over those fleeing Syria. There are some very exciting actions sequences – the attack in the sewer systems stands out in particular – but there is a very deliberate pacing of Mockingjay. In a lot of ways, it has more in common with a horror movie than an action film; the constant unknown threat and the knowledge that just around the next corner could be mortal danger lends itself to the constant rising tension in the film. You know something bad is going to happen and the anticipation only ramps up those feelings of anxiety.

There is also a weariness that hangs over Mockingjay Part 2; at this point, these characters have been through so much and that has most certainly taken a toll on them. This is nowhere clearer than the performance of Jennifer Lawrence, who wears the burden of being the Mockingjay like a second skin. There is an exhaustion that shrouds Lawrence throughout this film, the culmination of becoming an accidental rallying cry for a rebellion and of being unsure of who she can in fact trust. Lawrence can convey more with a look on her face than lesser actresses could do with an entire soliloquy; so much of the performance of Katniss rests on her physicality and Lawrence does a great job. Josh Hutcherson also does an outstanding job of showing the inner conflict in Peeta, as he tries to rectify what is real and what is not after his reprogramming after being held hostage in the Capitol.

That all being said, I think that Mockingjay Part 2 is the weakest entrant in the franchise. Part of that is the result of the blatant money grab of splitting the final book into two movies. There is a lot of filler in here to make two full length movies and the seams show where they tried to stretch things out. Splitting Mockingjay in half also has the unfortunate side effect of putting all the interesting character development and plot in the first movie and not leaving much other than some action sequences for the second. Mockingjay Part 2 was the first Hunger Games movie where it felt long and I was consciously aware of the time. In more than one scene, the camera dwells on someone’s face for a beat (or five) too long. Mockingjay would have been a much better film overall if it was one cohesive story; as it was done, the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts. A lesser Hunger Games movie is still pretty good, but the franchise is definitely running on some fumes as it crosses the finish line.

Some other thoughts:

  • Seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman again on the big screen was both welcome and depressing. It doesn’t seem like he’s been gone nearly two years.
  • I never made the connection before, but seeing the ending of Mockingjay Part 2 made me realize that E.L. James probably ripped off that book off as well in her Fifty Shades of Grey books (nor am I proud that I read all three of those terrible books).
  • I’d watch a movie that gives some context for the final scene between Effie and Haymitch. They’re holding out on us!
  • I always thought that the Mutts that were released in the Hunger Games were supposed to look like dogs, but unless I missed something, in Mockingjay they look like the creatures from The Descent (props to my friend Stacy for making that comparison). They are terrifying, but not at all what I had pictured.
  • Actually, a lot of what I had pictured reading Mockingjay didn’t exactly match up with the how they depicted it on screen, but the visual representation actually made some of what happened in the book a little clearer.
  • Poor Jennifer Lawrence – I hope she finds work now that The Hunger Games movies are over (or are they?). 😉

The Hunger Games series could have ended a little stronger, but Mockingjay Part 2 is still a very enjoyable film. Strong performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as well as some really cool action sequences help make Mockingjay Part 2 good, but the fact that there just wasn’t enough compelling material to tell this story in two movies ultimately drags the film down. All good things must come to an end and while Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t reach the same heights of the previous films, it is a fine way to send Katniss and company off into the sunset.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 opens nationwide today.

 

 

 

Trailer Park Tuesday – Comic Con Edition

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While working on tomorrow’s pop culture roundup it became abundantly clear that thanks to Comic Con, I had so many trailers to share that it should probably just be its own post. So today is a special post that rounds up many of the trailers that debuted in the last week; there’s some pretty cool stuff in here. I’m finally officially interested in Suicide Squad, which I’ve been a little meh on up to this point. A good trailer can do that. So see what you’ll have to look forward to by perusing this menagerie of trailers.

Suicide Squad:

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:

 

David Simon’s new miniseries for HBO, Show Me a Hero:

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2:

 

A Comic-Con teaser for an upcoming Hannibal story line:

 

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow:

 

Season 6 of The Walking Dead:

 

Fear the Walking Dead:

 

Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw:

 

Con Man:

 

Some teasers for Fargo season 2:

 

 

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.:

 

The Bastard Executioner, the latest from Kurt Sutter:

 

Paul Giamatti & Damian Lewis in Billions:

 

Vikings season 4:

 

A trailer for the upcoming Sherlock special:

 

The Secrets of Pets:

 

Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City:

 

Ash v Evil Dead:

 

Ferrell Takes the Field:

 

Heroes Reborn:

 

Homeland season five:

 

Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker:

 

Amazon’s The Man in High Castle:

 

Season 2 of The Affair:

 

Goosebumps:

 

Doctor Who, series 9:

 

A very short teaser for American Horror Story: Hotel:

 

A&E’s Damien:

 

Childhood’s End on Syfy:

 

Disney’s The Finest Hours:

 

Colony, season one:

 

The Comic-Con Family Guy teaser:

 

The Expanse:

 

SuperMansion:

 

AMC’s Into the Badlands:

 

Brooklyn:

 

90 Minutes in Heaven:

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One – A Review

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It’s the beginning of the end of The Hunger Games franchise; though there is still one more film left to go – because Hollywood knows a cash cow when they see one – the release of Mockingjay, Part One marks the final installment of the book trilogy. On the one hand, this is kind of a bummer since I enjoyed both the books and the film adaptations quite a bit; however, Mockingjay was my least favorite book of the series and I don’t know how much story that there was really left to tell. Jennifer Lawrence has been a good soldier and has seen this franchise through to the end, despite her Oscar win, but it’s really time for her to move on to more adult roles (I’d spring her from the X-Men franchise as well, given the chance). All things run out of steam eventually, so while I’ve enjoyed the ride I do think it is time for The Hunger Games to come to it natural conclusion.

But the saga isn’t over quite yet; there is still a lot of story to tell and Mockingjay, Part One is not going out with a whimper. This film is not as strong as Catching Fire, but that is true of the source material as well. Mockingjay, Part One is handicapped by a few things, but perhaps the biggest hurdle is that it is only able to tell one half of the story thanks to the decision to split the final book into two installments. This is a trend that drives me crazy; while it makes everyone a lot of money, it isn’t necessarily rewarding for the movie goer to have the narrative broken up into pieces and spread out over time. It’s also a challenge for the filmmakers to find a way to make a satisfying movie that is also lacking its final act; I’m guessing that when Suzanne Collins was writing her trilogy, she wasn’t anticipating her final story being cut in half. When the big climax of the story is still several months away in a completely different film, the level of difficulty is higher.

Given this major constraint, Mockingjay, Part One does a pretty impressive job. Despite the story feeling unfinished, the film is still able to occasionally ratchet up the tension and create suspense and interest in the unfolding narrative. The film cannot completely overcome some of the shortcomings of the source material, but solid performances from the cast and the high stakes involved in Mockingjay, Part One, make it an enjoyable film that is worthy of its predecessors.

Mockingjay is the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy that leaves the actual Hunger Games behind. The events of Mockingjay follow the immediate aftermath of what happened in Catching Fire; revolution is brewing and the Districts are ready to wage war against the oppressive Capitol. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has inadvertently become the face of the rebellion; her actions in the last Hunger Games helped spark the spirit of revolution, though she was unaware that she was a pawn in this game. Recovering in the newly discovered District 13, Katniss’ primary concern is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who was left behind when she was rescued at the conclusion of Catching Fire. Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has convinced the revolution’s leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) that Katniss has real value for propaganda; she’ll unite the districts and inspire people to join the cause. Katniss obliges, as long as they rescue Peeta and the other tributes from the grasp of the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Oh yeah – Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is still skulking around for no apparent reason; he’s still a straw man obstacle to Peeta and Katniss’ relationship.

Mockingjay is the most political of the three books – it is, after all, focused on toppling a regime – but without the actual Hunger Games, the first film is somewhat lacking in action. There’s a lot of talking in Mockingjay, Part One and a lot less children killing children. There are moments of excitement, but the bulk of the film is focused on sowing the seeds of rebellion that will be sowed in the second chapter of the film. The rebels and President Snow trade their propaganda and Katniss and Peeta are mostly pawns in this larger game. There’s a lot of discussing action and strategy, but little actual excitement. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you are used to the more fast-paced earlier installments of the franchise, Mockingjay, Part One feels a lot slower. We’re now concerned with the fate of millions of people, rather than just those tributes in the game, but somehow it all seems a little smaller despite the vastness of the conflict. There’s a lot of action coming, but that’s still a movie away. Mockingjay Part One is mostly setting the table for the big showdown that is on the horizon. Because of that, it’s just not quite as satisfying as the other films. It’s still enjoyable, but it’s definitely a step down from Catching Fire, which I consider the high water mark of the franchise.

The reason that Mockingjay, Part One works as well as it does is because we care about these characters. They wisely stacked the cast with some pretty great actors that are able to elevate and deepen the words that they are given. Jennifer Lawrence has done such a great job in creating Katniss and conveying all of her emotions and uncertainty as the story plays out. The Hunger Games books are told from Katniss’ perspective and have the advantage of sharing her internal dialogue and thoughts; the films don’t have that luxury, but Lawrence is so good that we feel like we do know what’s going on inside Katniss’ head. She’s the heart and soul of the film and she continues to be invested in the role. We don’t get to see a ton of Peeta in this film, but Hutcherson does his usual solid job; he has to play a different version of Peeta than we have previously seen and he handles new facets well. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s role is greatly expanded in the final films and though it makes me sad to see him up on the big screen, he’s never anything less than spectacular. Julianne Moore is a welcome addition to the cast and quickly makes President Coin a memorable character. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks provide some necessary comic relief in the film; Banks, in particular, is fascinating to watch as Effie, who has now been stripped of her trademark over the top glamour and couture. The girls sitting behind me said “she’s the best” pretty much every time that Effie was on screen and it’s hard to really argue with that. Because we already care about these characters and their well-being, the viewer is automatically invested in the film. This helps overcome some of the slower moments where there is a lot of discussion about revolution and the effects of revolution, but not much actual revolution.

Some other thoughts:

  • I was once again the oldest person in the theater for a Hunger Games movie. I learned some interesting takeaways about teenagers – while Hemsworth is “smoldering,” they don’t really dig Gale either; they are super excited for the new Pitch Perfect movie; they think the Divergent movie ruined the book; and they feel compelled to do the Mockingjay salute whenever someone in the film does it. That last one was kind of creepy.

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  • It’s been a while since this happened, but someone had a baby at the film. And we all know how I feel about that.
  • One of the more ancillary problems that I had with Mockingjay as a book was that I had a tough time visualizing everything that was going on. In that regard, the film naturally enhanced the story for me by giving me a clearer picture of the new locations and characters that were introduced in the book.
  • Based on this quiz, I’d only make it about halfway through as a tribute in the Hunger Games, which is actually a lot better than I would have done. But it’s a Buzzfeed quiz and we all know that those are gospel.
  • She doesn’t have a ton to do yet, but it’s worth noting that Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) has joined the cast for the final two films.
  • I always surprised at how young Jennifer Lawrence looks in these films. I know that is obviously intentional, but it’s still jarring to see her look so different.
  • There is a fake out moment toward the end of the film when the screen fades to black for a moment and it appears that the movie might be over. The kids in the audience were having none of that; they got pretty riled up about it, though in all honestly I thought that would have been a better place to end the film than the actual end point.

If you like The Hunger Game series, you’ll enjoy Mockingjay, Part 1 but it is probably the weakest entry in the series. Since so much of Mockingjay, Part 1 is setting things up for Mockingjay, Part 2, that’s kind of inevitable; without a focusing event like the Hunger Games or the upcoming showdown with the Capitol, Mockingjay Part 1 suffers a bit by comparison. It’s still an enjoyable film for fans, given our affection for these characters and interest in what happens to them, and I have no doubt that they’ll stick the eventual landing, but there’s not the usual level of excitement and action in this film that we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Mockingjay Part 1 is simply a victim of the decision to spilt the book in half and it does all that it can, given those parameters. Not the best of the bunch, but enjoyable all the same.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 opens nationwide today.