Sci-Fi Film Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 (dir by Francis Lawrence)


Mj

It’s finally over!

It probably sounds like I’m really excited that the final Hunger Games adaptation has been released.  It may sound like I’m happy that the saga of Katniss Everdeen and her life in Panem has finally come to an end.  And, to a certain extent, I am.  After everything that Katniss has been through, she deserves some peace and, fortunately, the series has ended before Jennifer Lawrence got bored with playing the role.  (To see what happens when actor gets bored with an iconic role, check out Daniel Craig in Spectre.)  Even though I think it can be argued that Mockingjay Part Two is the weakest of all the Hunger Games films, it still allows both Katniss and the actress who brought her to life to go out on a high note.

There’s a part of me that cringes a little when I think about all of the films that were released as a direct result of the success of The Hunger Games.  The Giver, The Maze Runner, Divergent, Tomorrowland, the list goes on and on.  I’ve reached the point where I can now say that I am officially sick of sitting through adaptations of Young Adult dystopian fiction.  And yet, I was still excited to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two (even if that title is way too long and unwieldy).  Regardless of the number of mediocre films that it may have inspired, The Hunger Games franchise has always remained compelling.

So, how was Mockingjay Part Two?  Obviously, it doesn’t work as a stand-alone film.  The pacing is totally off, characters appear and disappear almost at random, and it’s all rather confusing.  If you haven’t seen the film that came before Mockingjay Part Two, I imagine that you would be totally confused by this film.  But, when viewed as the fourth part of one gigantic epic story, the whole thing is rather brilliant.

When the film opens, Katniss is still being used a prop in Alma Coin’s (Julianne Moore) revolution.  The majority of the film deals with her journey into and through the capital.  She wants to track down and assassinate President Snow (the wonderfully evil Donald Sutherland) whereas Coin just wants to use her as a symbol to solidify her authority.  As Katniss quickly realizes, there’s not much difference between Snow and Coin.  However, it takes one great tragedy for Katniss to truly understand the truth about the Alma Coin and her revolution.  If you’ve read the book, you’ll already know about and be prepared for that tragedy but it’s still a heart-breaking moment.

It’s also the most important moment in the franchise, one that reminds us that The Hunger Games has always been far more politically sophisticated (and thematically darker) than all of the films, books, and fan fic that has been inspired by it.  This is a seriously dark and, some would say, cynical movie and, as a student of history, I appreciated that.  I appreciated that Mockingjay didn’t try to force a happy ending on us and I also appreciated the fact that Mockingjay didn’t buy into the simplistic Manichaen worldview that is currently ruining worlds both real and cinematic.  The film’s final scene may be hopeful but it’s never naive.

It’s a bit unfortunate that Mockingjay had to be split into two separate films.  Mockingjay Part Two is full of exciting moments but there’s also a lot of scenes that feel like filler.  You get the feeling they were included to make sure that Mockingjay Part Two’s running team was equal to the other films in the franchise.  This is a film that features a lot of genuinely exciting action and some truly emotional moments.  It’s also a film that features a lot of speeches.  If only both parts of Mockingjay could have been released as one six hour film.  I would have watched it!

The film also features the final performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing the rule of Plutarch.  Hoffman is not in many scenes and reportedly, he died before filming two of his biggest scenes.  Those scenes were rewritten and his dialogue given to other actors.  At one point, Woody Harrelson starts to read a letter that was written by Plutarch and it’s a sad scene because you’re aware that, originally, Hoffman was meant to deliver those lines in his trademark style.  As it is, Hoffman only appears in a few minutes of Mockingjay Part Two and he doesn’t do much.  But, when the film briefly features his bemused smile, you’re reminded of what a great actor the world lost when Philip Seymour Hoffman died.

Of course, the entire Hunger Games franchise has been full of great actors.  Jennifer Lawrence brought Katniss to wonderful and empowering life and one of the joys of Mockingjay Part Two is getting to see her bring the character’s story to a close.  But even beyond Jennifer Lawrence’s rightly acclaimed work, the entire cast of the franchise deserves a lot of credit.  I’ve always loved Donald Sutherland’s interpretation of President Snow and he’s at his best here.

For that matter, if there ever is another Hunger Games film or a Hunger Games spin-off, why not make it about Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason?  The way that Malone delivered her angry and frequently sarcastic dialogue was definitely one of the film’s highlights.

Regardless of whether there are any future films, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two is a worthy conclusion to a great story.

(By the way, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, December is science fiction month here at the Shattered Lens!  We hope you enjoy it!)

Previous Hunger Games Reviews:

  1. Quick Review: The Hunger Games (dir by Gary Ross)
  2. Review: The Hunger Games
  3. 44 Days of Paranoia: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  4. For Your Consideration: Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part One

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #118: The Kids Are All Right (dir by Lisa Cholodenko)


Kids_are_all_right_poster

Dare I admit to thinking that the 2010 best picture nominee The Kids Are All Right is overrated?

The Kids Are All Right tells the story of Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), married lesbians in Los Angeles.  The pragmatic Nic is an obstetrician while the more flighty Jules has a landscaping business.  They also have two children, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska).  When Laser and Joni decide to track down their anonymous sperm donor father, the trail leads to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who owns an organic restaurant.  (Of course, he does…)  After Paul meets Nic and Jules, he eventually ends up having an affair with Jules, which threatens the family’s stability.

It’s been five years since the film first came out and, as a result, I think it’s easy to forgot what a big deal The Kids Are All Right was back in 2010.  It got a lot of attention for being both a film about a lesbian couple and a box office success.  To a certain extent, every LGBT-themed film to come out since owes a debt of gratitude to The Kids Are All Right for proving that audiences are willing to see films with LGBT characters.  As well, the film’s box office success was an early sign of the growing support for the legalization of gay marriage.  The Kids Are All Right can make a very valid claim to being a landmark film.

But, once you look past the film’s historic importance, it doesn’t hold up as well as you might hope.  The performers are all good, especially Annette Bening.  The film’s script also has a lot of good lines.  However, it also has a lot of lines that feel just a little bit too glib and obvious.  It’s not surprising that HBO considered turning The Kids Are All Right into a TV series because the entire movie really does feel like an above average episode of an hourly drama.  Lisa Cholodenko’s visually flat direction also feels more appropriate for television than for the big screen.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’d probably be more into The Kids Are All Right if the characters were a little less wealthy.  If you can look past the fact that this is a movie about a happy lesbian marriage being threatened by a clueless straight guy, you discover that The Kids Are All Right is essentially just another movie about rich white people with problems.

I guess my problem with The Kids Are All Right can be summed up by the scene where Jules fires her Mexican gardener because she suspects that he’s seen her with Paul.  The scene is largely played for laughs and, after the gardener has lost his job, he’s never seen again.  At one point, Jules does say that she feels guilty for firing him but again, the scene is played for laughs.  The film asks us to laugh with the rich white characters and to laugh at the one non-rich non-white.

The Kids Are All Right is a historically important film but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being a great film.

For Your Consideration #6: Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One


Mockingjay

Of the three The Hunger Games films released so far, Mockingjay Part One is definitely the weakest.  That does not, however, mean that it’s a bad film.  It’s just that it doesn’t quite reach the grandeur of the first film, nor does it have the same political immediacy as the second one.  However, there’s a lot of good things to be said about Mockingjay.  Julianne Moore is perfectly cast as the charismatic but faintly sinister Alma Coin.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance reminds us of what a towering talent we lost earlier this year.  Donald Sutherland continues to transform President Snow into a villain for the ages.  Even though he’s only in the film for a few minutes, Stanley Tucci is perfectly vapid as Caesar Flickerman.

In fact, the only real problem with Mockingjay is that it’s so obviously a prologue to something bigger.  Much as with The Maze Runner, we watch Mockingjay with the knowledge that it’s only part one and that the majority of the issues raised by the film will not be settled until next year.  The film itself knows this as well and, as such, it lacks the immediacy and much of the excitement of the first two Hunger Games films.

But yet, with all those flaws in mind, Mockingjay still works and it’s largely because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen.  Whereas the first two Hunger Games films featured a Katniss who was always at the center of the action and always taking charge of any situation that she found herself in, Mockingjay features a Katniss who has far less control over her fate.  (One of the neater ironies of the series is that Katniss was actually more independent as a prisoner of President Snow than as a “guest” of Alma Coin.)  In Mockingjay, Katniss finds herself forced — with more than a little reluctance — to become the figurehead for the entire revolution and the film’s best moments are the ones in which others debate how to best “market” her.  These scenes are all about how Katniss — who is now not only a celebrity but a political icon as well — deals with losing control over her own public image.  Considering that Jennifer Lawrence’s rise to fame and acclaim occurred just as abruptly as Katniss’s, it’s probable that — even more so than in the previous films — the actress brought a lot of herself to the character.

So, yes, I would argue that Jennifer Lawrence does perhaps deserve some awards consideration for her performance in Mockingjay.  However, she truly deserves it for the consistent quality of her performance throughout the entire Hunger Games franchise.  From the very first film, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance has been iconic.  Fiercely independent without giving into the usual cinematic clichés that come with that, Katniss Everdeen has provided an alternative role model for a generation of girls who, otherwise, might have only had the likes of Bella Swan to look up to.

If that’s not worthy of being honored, then I don’t know what is.

44 Days of Paranoia #31: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir by Francis Lawrence)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at a film that might, at first, seem out-of-place in this series — The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Why is Catching Fire included in a series of films about conspiracy and paranoia?  Because, even more than the first film, Catching Fire is a film with a political subtext.  Beneath its franchise surface, Catching Fire is about how the government and media establishment manipulates its citizens and how, occasionally, the citizens are smart enough to manipulate them.

When reviewing Catching Fire, probably the first and most important question is how it compares to The Hunger Games.  Is it that film’s equal, is it better, or is it worst?  That’s not necessarily an easy question to answer because Catching Fire is a very different film from The Hunger Games.

One of the main reasons that I loved The Hunger Games is because, after a countless number of Twilight-style films that all featured teenage girls willingly sacrificing their independence for a boyfriend, The Hunger Games finally gave us a female protagonist who kicked ass and made no apologies for doing so.  Katniss Everdeen was defined by her mind and her soul and not her relationship status.  I loved The Hunger Games because, like Brave, it celebrated female strength and independence.  While I have always been willing to defend the Twilight films for what they are, I would not want my niece or my future daughter to grow up to be Bella Swan.  Katniss Everdeen, however, is a role model for both our times and our future.  The Hunger Games was all about celebrating girl power and, for that reason, I loved it.

Katniss Everdeen is still a worthy and independent role model in Catching Fire but the film itself is far more political than The Hunger Games.  Whereas The Hunger Games was all about establishing Katniss as a strong woman, Catching Fire is about how that strength can be used to challenge the status quo.

As the film opens, Katniss (played, of course, by Jennifer Lawrence, who I have such a girl crush on) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 after having “won” the 74th Hunger Games.  Realizing that their act of defiance could lead to a full-scale revolution, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) attempts to co-opt their rebel image.  He orders that Katniss and Peeta continue to pretend to be in love so that, during their Victory Tour, the citizens of the other districts will be convinced that Katniss’s actions were the result of love and not of defiance.

This is actually a very interesting premise and definitely that shows a lot more sophistication than what we, as filmgoers, have been conditioned to expect from a movie based on YA fiction.  While thousands of films have depicted love as a form of political rebellion, Catching Fire is unique in suggesting that love (or the appearance of love) can also be used to maintain political suppression.

During the Victory Tour, both Katniss and Peeta balk at having to play the roles that Snow has assigned them.  While at District 11, Katniss pays tribute to Rue and then watches in horror as Snow’s “peacekeepers” executes a man who dared to hold up the three-finger salute.  Trying to avoid further violence, Katniss agrees to become engaged to Peeta.

Snow, however, realizes that, as long as Katniss is alive, she’ll be a threat to him.  He announces a special all-star edition of The Hunger Games, in which all the tributes will be past winners.  Since Katniss is the only female tribute from District 12 to have ever survived the Hunger Games, she knows that she’s going to have to compete for a second time. When Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is selected to be the male tribue, Peeta immediately volunteers to go in his place.

The first hour of Catching Fire, which deals with the media and political manipulation surrounding the Victory Tour, is brilliant.  The second half, which features Katniss and Peeta competing in their second Hunger Games, feels a bit familiar and rushed.  It’s not that the second half of the film isn’t good.  It’s just far more predictable.

But here’s what’s important — everything that worked about The Hunger Games works for Catching Fire.  Josh Hutcherson seems a lot more confident here than he did in the first film, Donald Sutherland makes for a great villain, Stanly Tucci is a lot of fun as Caesar Flickerman (what a great name!), and the film is a visual feast.  Among the new cast members, Jena Malone is perfectly cast as tribune Johanna Mason while Philip Seymour Hoffman is properly Philip Seymour Hoffmanish as the new director of the Hunger Games.

However, the film belongs to and works because of Jennifer Lawrence.  Whether she’s playing Katniss or Mystique or Ree Dolly or Tiffany Maxwell or Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Jennifer Lawrence kicks ass.

Yes, that is my official review as a film critic.

Jennifer Lawrence kicks ass.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon

Quick Review: The Hunger Games (dir. by Gary Ross)


The Hunger Games is something of an event film, which means that this may not be the only review for the movie. Especially since I haven’t seen Battle Royale, which many say The Hunger Games is very similar to, there’ll probably be a number of viewpoints to this movie.

Update: leon3duke has added his own in-depth review of The Hunger Games. Definitely worth reading.

I consider myself fortunate that I knew next to nothing about the movie adaptation to Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games” or the novel itself. When I purchased my ticket for a midnight showing, there were only about 10 people around, many of them wearing T-Shirts with the logo. However, when the movie house started asking for the tickets, that 10 turned into 30. By the time the movie started, the 30 became about 50 or so. Not exactly a packed spectacle for where I reside, but I know the ones in Manhattan were.

If any comparisons can be made, I guess it could be to 1987’s The Running Man, with maybe a dash of The Truman Show, but The Hunger Games stands on it’s own because it’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, comes across as being in danger every step of the way. That’s enough to keep the audience enthralled. Arnold, not so much.

So, what are the Hunger Games? It’s overall a really great film with a strong female lead in Jennifer Lawrence.

In the future, the nation goes through a number of changes. Wars, famine and poverty ravage the land and eventually, a sense of peace is found. Panem, as the country is called, is divided into 12 Districts. Much like Joss Whedon’s Firefly, the land is broken between the rich who live in the Capitol and the Districts, which live off of a bartering system and are extremely poor. At one time, a 13th Division challenged the rule of the Capitol and had to be taken down. As punishment and to remind the other districts of how great the Capitol is, each District picks one boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in a last one to the death event known as the Hunger Games.

Lawrence (X-Men First Class, Winter’s Bone) easily carries the film as Katniss Everdeen, a resident of District 12, who is great at Archery and uses her skills to hunt for food for her family. When her sister, Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen as a Hunger Games Tribute, she volunteers to take her place. Leaving behind her mother, sister and best friend (Liam Helmsworth), Katniss is taken to the Capitol to participate. Joining her is another member of her District, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

Katniss and Peeta are then introduced to their team, lead by Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (a nearly unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks), and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Harrelson pretty much nails every scene he’s in, something I’ve noticed lately with a lot of his roles. I found it interesting as well to see Lawrence play opposite Lenny, considering she only recently acted alongside his daughter Zoe in X-Men: First Class last year. He actually does well with the time he has on-screen.

That there is the core of the film. Can Katniss survive The Hunger Games? There’s much more to that, but in originally writing this, I ended up explaining most of the film.

The movie does get bloody. It doesn’t try to make light of any of the situations the characters are in, but being a PG-13 film, it doesn’t turn into anything on the lines of a Saw film (which makes me wonder how that would have turned out).

Can I take the kids to this one? 

You can, yes, but note that even though this based on a story written for young audiences, it does have its share of blood and violence. Then again, considering that you can get the same kind of violence from video games these days, I’d say only the really young may be bothered. If there’s any problem regarding kids, it could be a patience factor. Kids expecting non stop action may get a little bored, but if they already read the book, they probably won’t have any problems with it at all and know what to expect. In terms of sexual situations, there aren’t any.

How long is the film? Am I going to yawn? 

The Hunger Games clocks in at about 142 minutes (2 hours and 22 minutes). The first half of the film needs to set up for the second half (The Games themselves), and while it doesn’t move slow, it takes it’s time in letting the audience know what the stakes are for them and to show the contrasts between the districts and the Capitol. Think of it like Batman Begins. Before we get to see Batman, we had to be able to see Bruce Wayne go through his training. There’s not action all the way through the movie, which actually works in it’s favor. The same kind of applies for The Hunger Games. If that made you yawn, then that first half of this film may have the same effect. I loved it, myself, because a lot of that information felt necessary to me, but what works for me may not work for everyone else.

Overall, The Hunger Games was definitely worth it, at least for an initial viewing. I hope that if they go with a sequel (given the success of this one, that’s pretty much guaranteed), they expand more on Panem and some of the events that brought things to where they are now.