The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1

Happy Thanksgiving! To celebrate, Zach and Will take a look at the highly anticipated Mockingjay, the third fixture in the Hunger Games series. Directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, this film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

Mockingjay continues the events of Catching Fire, with the Games destroyed and anarchy breaking lose throughout Panam. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), along with a few allies from the Games, finds herself in District 13, a district that was originally thought to have been destroyed. Under President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the counsel of friends, Katniss attempts to become the symbol of rebellion for the people of Panam and take down President Snow and the capital.

6.5 out of 10

It’s no secret that I’m a Hunger Games fan. I’ve read and enjoyed the books and watched and enjoyed the movies. I’ve gotten some flack from my friends about liking the series, but in my opinion it’s absorbing and compelling.

That being said, the third book in the Hunger Games series was borderline awful. It was stale, contrived, and it compromised the strength and appeal of its characters. Katniss, for example, devolved from a headstrong, independent female to a drug-addicted, man-needing complainer.

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The moviemakers of Mockingjay were already going to have a tough time matching the quality of the previous two films, given the disparity in quality of the source material, and Lionsgate’s decision to split the already thin book into a two-part finale, a la Harry Potter, simply exacerbated the situation. I guess, though, Lionsgate is more about making money than about making good movies. Even for a text as thick in pages and story as The Deathly Hallows the result was a meager first act, so it’s no surprise that Mockingjay Part 1 was entirely disappointing.

It was almost completely devoid of action, save for a few split seconds of frenetic camera shaking here and there, which prevented the movie from ever achieving the level of intensity that characterized the first two installments, and Katniss’s touring of the districts with her camera crew felt like 120 minutes of set-up for the next movie. I essentially watched a poorly conceived 2-hour trailer for a movie that I’m not so sure I’m dying to see anymore.

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It’s also no secret that I’m a Jennifer Lawrence fan. I think she was fantastic in Silver Linings Playbook, and she rightly deserves the praise she gets. Her acting in Mockingjay, however, just felt awkward. I don’t know if she was trying to hard, the lines were just cheesy (likely) or whatever, but I actually felt like laughing at how silly she seemed some times, which is a feeling I should definitely not be getting from someone whose boyfriend is being tortured in the Capitol.

The rest of the A-list cast didn’t really help out either. Elizabeth Banks has always been fantastic as Effie Trinket, but she was way underused, Josh Hutcherson seems to only have any worth as an actor when he’s with Lawrence, and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin was just completely cold. The only star worthy of such a distinction was Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the terribleness of the rest of the cast served only to highlight just how good he is.

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Certainly I think much of the lackluster work from the cast stems from poor source material with ridiculous dialogue, but still, with all the assembled talent and all the funding I’m sure this project received, Mockingjay should have been better. Even so, the movie will certainly gross hundreds of millions of dollars. Hordes of tweens and dashing movie reviewing teens will throng into the theaters and pay a steep $11 dollar ticket price for a decidedly mediocre movie simply because it’s Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (and probably no mention will be played to Banks, Moore, and Hoffman). And I can’t blame Lionsgate for wanting to capitalize on that by splitting the book into two movies for double the profit (early reports show that Mockingjay grossed $123 million in its opening weekend, by far the biggest opening in the last few months), I just wish it had turned out better.

The film’s one redeeming quality was its interesting portrayal of wartime politics and, specifically, propaganda. Throughout Mockingjay, Katniss is pressured into making staged and incendiary propaganda pieces to inspire the rebellion in the districts. Mockingjay’s directors use some intriguing subtext and satirize the abuse of rhetoric that is rampant in politics and military campaigns (which I’m sure amused all my AP Lang buddies out there) but ultimately it wasn’t near enough to save the movie. Still, it warrants a 6.5 simply because I enjoyed it. I am a Hunger Games fan, and so I was more than happy to go see Mockingjay. If you’re not already invested in the series, though, don’t bother fronting the $11 for the ticket. Go see the vastly superior Big Hero 6 instead.

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As one especially keen 12 year old who sat behind me in the theater pointed out when Jennifer Lawrence came on screen for the first time, “That’s Jennifer Lawrence! I love her!” Yes, that is Jennifer Lawrence, and that’s about all you’ll be able to get out of Mockingjay.
~Will

7.0 out of 10

Just how much does context excuse a movie?

With the new trend of final chapters being axed in to two installments, that’s a question I have to ask myself a lot. Just how slow can a first part of the end be, running on the excuse that “It’s only the first part”? Just how necessary is it? Just how many CEOs were jumping for joy and screenwriters’ days were ruined when they announced the end would be split?

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Well, I can’t get that last scenario out of my head. A bunch of my fellow writers laboring over how to pace some first half without slowing to a crawl just kills me. Mockingjay is a film that both defies and perfectly adheres to the tropes that plague “Part One” movies.

We’ll address the pacing first and, yes, it’s pretty languid (After Interstellar, this one felt faster than Barry Allen however). And a byproduct of that sluggishness is a cramped, claustrophobic feeling. In the books, as far as I can tell, Katniss spends the first quarter or so shacked up in a bunker and gets in on the action. Here, she spends 70% of her precious screentime in a base. A base that the movie flat out compares to a prison because it practically is.

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In fact, that’s one of the limiting reagents of Mockingjay. Around the fifty minute mark, I asked myself “Why am I not invested in Katniss’s story? She had my attention the first two movies.” and that query is easily answered: Katniss is a great hero but she’s an awful victim.

The very driving force of Katniss is that she’s “The Girl on Fire”. These movies repeat that ad nauseum. When we’re introduced to her, literature has conditioned us to think that she’ll be either a weak damsel in distress or a hero who will ultimately have to rely on someone else’s (Usually a man’s) help. But, no, she was a determined, strong character and she held up all the way through. In fact, she couldn’t be a damsel in distress for the cameras in-universe. Katniss was constantly shaping the plot and soaring to new heights in survival.

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And how does she spend most of this movie? Begging for a guy to return to her (When did she start caring that much about Peeta above everything else? The extents she goes to are a bit extreme) and staying locked underground.

Now, that being said, I do get what they’re trying to do. This series has often been about interdependence versus independence and it would be interesting to see Katniss have to lean on others for once and subsequently learn about finding strength in humility and compromising personal desires for larger stakes.

But Katniss does not get to learn about it by the end because this isn’t the end. All development seems to be braked by that “Part One” label and the need to stall to get to the “Part Two” label. I recently spoiled Mockingjay for myself in a moment of weakness and, if the producers opted against the two-part structure, it could be an incredibly exciting, tightly plotted movie, packed with mountains of character development.

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Yet this is where that conflict I talked about in the beginning of the review comes in to play. Since this is The Hunger Games, I trust the filmmakers a lot more than I usually would and I’m going to allow them to take their time. Until then, this installment still had plenty of creative action scenes to keep us occupied (Even if they didn’t include the characters we care about most).

I’m still impressed by how the films lampoon our insatiable appetite for the carefully-manipulated images that we’re often fed (The interview scenes where the characters have to exaggerate and tap-dance to earn sympathy are as relevant as they were when the series started). And the actors crush the material given to them. I can’t imagine it’s easy to play a character who’s practically playing a character.

So, Hunger Games, impress me with your (actual) final chapter a year from now and maybe this part will be retroactively boosted by its twin. If you haven’t read the books, there’s certainly new territory to see in this film. If you have, get ready to maybe check your watch if bunker-scenes don’t float your boat.
~Zach

Like Mockingjay? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all! We hope you are enjoying your turkey day with a good film or two.

Secondly, we are happy to introduce a guest writer for this piece, Nick, in place of Vig, who was unavailable this week.

And now for the feature presentation, The Hunger Games; Catching Fire. Based off the worldwide best selling series of the same name, The Hunger Games series has been adored/not by people of all ages, and the same goes with the films. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, thematic elements, and language, and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) in the aftermath of her defiant victory in the 74th Hunger Games, as she becomes the symbol of hope and revolution all across the Districts, much to the dismay of the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Before she embarks on her victory tour, she is confronted by Snow, who challenges her to prove her love with Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), the co-champion from the previous games, in order to convince the world that her defiance was love, not rebellion.

With the help of their team, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta attempt to continue on with their lives. However, Snow, in an attempt to kill Katniss to extinguish an uprising, announces that the 75th Hunger Games, the “Quarter Quell” will feature solely past winners. Katniss, being the only female victor from her district, is automatically chosen to the games. Katniss, with the hopes of millions on her shoulders, is forced to find help in those she trusts, and those she doesn’t.

8.0/10

I’d like to start out by saying I read the Hunger Games Trilogy which these movies are based on. The first movie, released last year, didn’t quite do the series justice. I was unimpressed by the stale acting, some pacing, and the horrible “shaky cam” that effectively ruined every action sequence. That being said, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improved on everything that was lacking in the first movie, and went above and beyond my expectations.

After comparing the sequel to last year’s film, it’s easy to see that a new director was at the helm this year. Hearing about the change actually worried me before seeing the movie. Gary Ross, director of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, was replaced by Francis Lawrence, known for I Am Legend and Water For Elephants. I thought his butchering of both those titles from the books to the big screen would foreshadow how Hunger Games: Catching Fire would turn out, but I’m glad to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

The film starts out with Katniss, now a victor of the 74th Hunger Games, struggling to live her life after defying the Capitol. Everything around her depends on her ability to convince the nation she really does love Peeta and defied the Capitol out of love instead of rebellion. As the story progresses, society around the characters begins to crumble, and by the end it is clear the film has set everything up to climax in the next two movies (Mockingjay will be split into two parts).

The acting in this film has seen a huge improvement since the first movie. After watching Silver Linings Playbook (for which Lawrence won an Oscar), I expected a lot more of Lawrence this time around. And I’m quite happy to say she definitely delivered. She behaves less like a cardboard cutout and more like the complex character that she is supposed to emulate. Everything from her screams to anxiety attacks feel real, and that is a definite difference in the sequel. Katniss’s relations with some other characters such as Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta are complicated to say the least. The chemistry between these actors is definitely interesting to watch, but the main relationship between Peeta and Katniss fell a little short for me. Hutcherson has certainly improved from the first film, but has still a ways to go in my opinion. Characters that get less screen time, like President Snow manage to absolutely nail their roles. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) was only on screen of about fifteen minutes, but his performance and role manage to stick out in the forefront of my mind.

Although the pacing was a bit odd (The actual games started an hour plus into the movie) the movie really focused on the bigger picture of the movement against the Capitol. I loved this, especially as the time in the actual games was far less interesting than out. By the end, you know the next movies are where the series will become even darker.
The fact that this whole movement started because of a helpless girl just being fed up with being played around with is very apparent. Katniss is constantly out of her depth, and the Capitol will stop at nothing to bring peace back to Panem. At this point in the series, it’s Katniss and her friends versus an entire omnipotent government that doesn’t have an inkling of what mercy is. And in short, the movie set up for the bigger picture events while also having a story of its own. Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a great film, and gives me hope for the next movie in the series.
~Nick

7.0 out of 10

Can we get a film about the guy who yells “HUNGER GAMES” in the trailer?

I kid. I kid….A little. But around two years ago, when Hunger Games had just wrapped up its trilogy and I was about to start reading the books, people warned me that there was to be a gradual decline in the quality of the books; culminating in the polarizing mess that is Mockingjay.

While I can’t say if that happened in the books (I’ve only read the first one), I can confidently say that the movies aren’t appearing to lose their strong points anytime soon. I went in under the pretense that it would be a lukewarm re-hash of the original as some have said the book is and I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it expanded on it, just a sequel should do. The movie plays out like a bleak middle chapter that is shaped around our characters rather than the opposite.

But if there is one thing that the Hunger Games movie (s) tends to suffer from, its indecisiveness. The franchise has a lot of different types of fans to appeal to. There are those who see it as a character-study of Katniss while others see it as a commentary on modern day entertainment and inequality. Still, there are always going to be those who are a part of it just for the wooden love triangles that seem somewhat hastily set up. In reality, I do think it is a mix of the three elements (Yes, even the third one) but, in our world of fast-paced movies, asking for two hours and twenty-six minutes of a viewers time is a touch too much if the film is undecided on what exactly it wants to develop.

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The actors tend to keep the scenes rollin, however. I don’t think I can really say anything about Jennifer Lawrence that hasn’t been said by fans, critics or the Academy but I’ll reiterate that I feel like I’m watching the character, not the actor playing her. The others are also good picks as they fit pretty perfectly into the world their characters are in. Rumor says that Donald Sutherland found the role of President Snow so complex that he would continually write detailed letters to the producers of the Hunger Games films just to expand his role and confirm all of his choices and I think that shows here. Much like Tom Hiddleston with Loki, you can tell that Sutherland finds the villain he’s playing very interesting to the benefit of the audience.

As for what themes there are that need to be discussed, I would say they are relatively obvious. The Hunger Games perpetually and flawlessly depicts the brutality of modern media in such an extreme way that the viewer can not help but resonate with it. Its hard to believe that we, as a society, needed a franchise about kids killing each other to meet this realization but we meet it nonetheless.

Catching Fire falls into that category of sequels that about meet the quality of their predecessor. I would personally say that it surpasses it by a millimeter. With some direction, Mockingjay could cement this trilogy as a success.
~Zach

Bonus Video! Coldplay’s song “Atlas” made for the Catching Fire soundtrack.

IMDB: 7.7
Metacritic: 75
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%