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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

MockingjayPart1Poster3

Let’s be honest, Mockingjay didn’t need to be split into two parts. I totally understand the reasoning ($$$), but I was worried Part 1 would be all exposition, and none of the good stuff. But I was pleasantly surprised by Part 1 of the final book in the Hunger Games saga. Director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig make do with the not-so-great novel, and deliver another exciting and well-made entry in the franchise. Bolstered by impressive performances that get better every film, and a sense of urgency that sets the film apart from the first two, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a big success.

Mockingjay Part 1 picks up after Catching Fire. The rebels have set up base in District 13, and are planning a revolution with this other districts against the Capitol. Peeta is still in the Capitol, being used to torment Katniss and the rest of the rebels. In District 13, Katniss is clashing with President Coin (Julianne Moore), and has agreed to be the Mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion, and participate in propaganda videos against the Capitol.

Mockingjay Part 1, like all of the Hunger Games, is all very topical, but Mockingjay is even more so. The script deals with some relevant issues we find in our society today. Katniss being the subject of propaganda videos, and her camera crew led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) give us a lot of interesting scenes. The scene in District 8 is a harrowing a torn-down war zone, and it’s all very dark and significant.

The first thing you’ll notice in Mockingjay Part 1 is that the tone is completely different. It takes about 30 minutes for the first joke to crack, and the film drags a little in the beginning. This is the theme with final novels, but with Mockingjay the split part tends to show its weaknesses. With Harry Potter, it worked. With Twilight, not so much. Director Lawrence makes it work somewhat with Mockingjay, but it isn’t without losses. The beginning is a bit of a mess, and it isn’t until Haymitch shows up that the film really kicks into gear. Some characters aren’t given much to do, and others a bit too much. There is about twice as much Gale as there should be, and the overemphasis of Cressida and Finnick is a bit strange. Obviously Part 2 will be better, but I would’ve preferred one big cohesive film that gave every character a chance to shine.

But damn, how good of a performer is Jennifer Lawrence? She gets better as Katniss as the series as progresses. Lawrence is such a natural performer, and knows when she needs to bring it and also when she needs to pull back. In the book, Katniss is a bit of a mess, but luckily in the film she’s straightened out a bit. This characterization is well needed for a great finale where she struggles getting Peeta back. Josh Hutcherson has also stepped up his game. Although he isn’t given too much to work with, he has grown most as a performer out of anyone in this franchise. The rest of the cast is naturally great, especially Elizabeth Banks, whose character Effie has been written into the finale (to great effect, I might add).

Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, and Donald Sutherland round out the returning players and each gets their moment in the spotlight. New to the series is Julianne Moore as President Coin and while she is definitely chilling and a force to be reckoned with, she doesn’t hold a candle to the always-eerie President Snow.

Mockingjay Part 1 offers plenty of thrills, but it’s the subtle, quieter moments that really shine. A scene in District 12 where Katniss begins to sing might seem a bit out of place, but stick with it because it’s a great moment. Some of the monologues are great here, and the rapport between Katniss and Snow is better than ever. There’s some good writing here that borrows some important lines from the book but also keeps the film from ever feeling like other young-adult fare. What sets The Hunger Games franchise apart from films like Divergent or The Maze Runner is its attention to detail in world-building but also its believability and dialogue. We’ve been with these characters for almost three years now, and Lawrence has built upon what director Gary Ross started in brilliant ways.

While Mockingjay Part 1 isn’t as tight as it could be, and it doesn’t match the heights of Catching Fire, it’s still a great entry in the franchise that sets us up for one thrilling finale next November. Thrilling action but also great characterization highlight the third film in the series, with knockout performances from the always-great cast. I’m eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the franchise, which should tell you something about the success and excitement that these films can deliver.

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Posted by on November 21, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

thehungergams-catchingfire-ukposterThe Hunger Games is arguably the most popular franchise right now, and with the second installment in the four part movie saga, director Francis Lawrence captures what Hunger Games director Gary Ross could not. Lawrence takes the series in the direction it should be going, with brilliant action scenes and a well-done story. Top notch acting from Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, and many others, Catching Fire should not be passed off as standard young adult fare.

Catching Fire finds Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, the victors of the 74th annual Hunger Games, an annual televised fight to the death. They are now living in the Victor’s Village in District 12. Words of uprising have been spread around the districts, and as the two embark on their Victory Tour to the other districts, a rebellion seems underway following the results of last year’s games. On top of that, the two lovebirds must go back into the arena once more, for the 75th Quarter Quell (think all-stars reality tv shows), where the tributes are reaped from past victors.

Like the first film, Catching Fire features some magnificent actors flexing their acting prowess here. Jennifer Lawrence, my favorite actress right now, is once again on top of her game. Haunted by visions from last year’s games, Katniss must keep herself together to escape the arena. Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta, is much improved from his corny dialogue and weak acting from the first film. Now he has a tougher personality and is much sharper, and Hutcherson really delivers here. Other favorites like Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Lenny Kravitz as the stylist Cinna, and Woody Harrelson as their mentor Haymitch, deliver great performances, but they don’t have as much screen time as they did in the first film. My favorite from last time around, Stanley Tucci as announcer Caesar Flickerman, shines once more with some of the film’s best lines and funny moments. Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’s old friend Gale and Willow Shields as her sister Prim round out the top actors, as they have much more time in the spotlight than before. Donald Sutherland also shines as the chilling President Snow.

New characters help give flair to the ritzy glamour of the Capitol and the harsh battles of the arena. New tributes such as Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) are standouts. They are both bitingly funny, with memorable dialogue and great scenes. An elevator scene in which Johanna strips naked is both awkward and intimidating, and Finnick provides some great eye candy. Jeffrey Wright plays Beetee, a tech savvy tribute who helps them escape the arena. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a delight as head game maker Plutarch Heavensbee, and he gives one of the best performances of the film. All in all, Catching Fire’s acting is a delight, and features an outstanding ensemble cast.

Catching Fire is a perfect adaptation of the novel. Haters and die hard fans will nitpick details, but Lawrence captures the spirit of the novel almost word for word here. Like I said, Lawrence is taking the series in the direction that it needs to go. While Ross was an expert at the emotional scenes in the first film, such as Rue’s death, Lawrence is king of action and dialogue. The battle scenes in the gorgeous arena are outstanding. A spinning cornucopia and poisonous fog are only some of the obstacles that the heroes face in the clock-shaped dome. These scenes are brilliantly done, and fans will remember them scene-for-scene from the book. Sharp dialogue and writing helps break apart the tense emotional scenes, and the film is quite funny at places, courtesy of actors like Banks and Malone.

The film’s plot seems all too relevant in society today. A bitter satire on surveillance society and privacy is seen in the undertones of the film. When the Peacekeepers take over District 12, to the monitoring on the arena, it calls to mind some current events in a surprisingly relevant way that no other big films like this can. It’s a small thing, but definitely noticeable.

If there’s any minor criticism, it’s that Catching Fire has a real sense of deja vu from the first film. I know that this can’t really be helped, considering that they are almost identical in form, it would have been nice if Lawrence broke apart a few scenes to make the film feel different than its original. While it’s not a shot-for-shot recreation, in terms of form and structure, it comes pretty damn close, and this is especially noticeable after watching the two films back to back.

Catching Fire is a visual spectacle. A gorgeous arena filled with all kinds of traps in a beach setting make for some fantastic set pieces. A huge wave crashes over a part of the arena, and lightning strikes and force-fields litter the forests. These are gorgeous, and some well done CGI helps to emphasize the danger of the arena. The snow covered District 12 and futuristic Capitol provide some cool locales, and with a higher production budget, it allows for some new shots and angles you’ve never seen before. Cinematography is solid, with some excellent shots on a sunset beach and a beautiful finale. A decrease in the use of shaky cam should make fans happy, as the action scenes are easy to watch and more enjoyable as a result.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is everything you would want out of a sequel. It’s tense, funny, emotional, and features some of the best acting you’ll see in a blockbuster like this. Director Francis Lawrence has taken control of the series, and now I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 4

Buy The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Today!

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Silver Linings Playbook Review

Silver Linings Playbook blends comedy, drama, romance, and sports and turns this all into one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. Based on the novel by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook spins a web of emotions with its characters that we actually care for, with characters that we root for, which is something that isn’t seen a lot in movies these days.

Silver Linings PlaybookThe film stars Pat (Bradley Cooper), who has just been released from a mental ward after 8 months. He moves back in with his parents, and tries to reconcile with them, especially with his football-loving father, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro). Pat learns that his wife, Nikki, has been cheating on him with a coworker at the high school they work at, and he desperately tries to reconnect with her despite a restraining order put upon him by her. While at dinner at a friend’s house, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widowed girl with problems all her own. Through Tiffany, Pat tries to communicate with Nikki, all while maintaining a good relationship with his parents, and he and Tiffany soon become more than friends, as Pat has to make a decision and choose between Tiffany or his father.

Silver Linings Playbook is really a character-driven story. Pat is the underdog, and we want to root for him early on. His relationship with his father and mother is complicated, and can really hit home for some viewers. It’s relatable characters and dilemmas like these that really make Silver Linings Playbook shine. When Pat meets Tiffany, he has tough decisions to make, and the believable characters help make these decisions more than black and white. The film’s message is a good one, but I’ll leave it to you to see it and figure it out.

This wouldn’t be possible without the excellent efforts of the actors, starting with Bradley Cooper. I was never the biggest fan, and I always thought Cooper’s place was in raunchy comedies like The Hangover, but I was completely turned by his acting in this movie. He brings Pat to life, giving the best performance of his career by far. Not to be outdone is Jennifer Lawrence, who has had quite the year with her box office slam The Hunger Games. She plays Tiffany with an aura of confidence and self-esteem, and when Tiffany and Pat first meet, it’s hard not to notice the chemistry. She is definitely a front-runner for best actress this Oscar season. Robert DeNiro has a smaller role as Pat’s father, and his bookmaking lifestyle really fits what DeNiro has done in the past. Many supporting characters bring this film to life, such as Chris Tucker as a fellow mental patient, Jacki Weaver as Pat’s loving mother, and John Ortiz as Pat’s good friend.

Silver Linings Playbook tells an excellent story, with characters with conviction and drive, all being pulled by an excellent cast and excellent supporting roles. It’s funny, sad, and balances these two emotions well, never tipping over one side of the spectrum. This is definitely one to watch when Oscar season comes.

Overall: 5 stars out of 5

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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