AEOS Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 (2014)

What’s interesting about Mockingjay Pt 1 (2014) is the criticism its received for being a movie adaptation of half a book more than being critiqued for the movie it is. That’s not to say I’m hating on my fellow critics and movie fans as much as I’m saying that the film got a bad rap before it even screened.

Of course, there’s nothing the movie could do to repair itself from its already negative standing among critics. To offer up only a first half of a story and leave the audience hanging for a year is a cruel move. But I think punishing the film for this is like pointing the finger at the victim rather than the wrong-doer. Historically speaking, Twilight and Harry Potter started the trend of YA book series being adapted into films, and then slicing the epic finale into two films. The short version we understand this as? A cash grab.

The cash grab has become the center of discussion revolving around Mockingjay Pt 1, thus painting it black and predicting its future location on FYE clearance shelves next to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1 (2011) for years to come.

David Yates let me read only the first half of the Deathly Hallows before shooting this pointless film . . .

Personally, I walked into the theater expecting what everyone predicted: a cash grab that left me bored, disappointed, and unimpressed. But I’ll get back to that in a little bit.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now bunkered in District 13, where she’s demanding for the rescue of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), walking around angry and confused, and desperately hoping she can finally be left alone after suffering and surviving two Hunger Games.

As fellow readers and fans of the book series, we all know that Katniss will still be put on display in the third book. But instead of fighting to the death for public entertainment, instead she’ll become the official symbol of hope, representing the good in this battle against the evil Capitol, run by dictatorial President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

And it’s “moves and countermoves,” as Mr. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) reminds viewers. It’s all about how Katniss is perceived. She’s to be an ally for District 13, a glimmer of hope for fighting districts, a threat to the Capitol, a demand to come home for Peeta, and perhaps a pillar of strength both for herself and Finnick (Sam Claflin), as they seek strength in knowing they’re loved ones are suffering at the hands of Snow.

RIP, Mr. Hoffman.

Seeing Mockingjay Pt 1 has really made me want to reread the book upon which its based. I wasn’t expecting the action, the blanks to be filled in, and the perspectives outside of Katniss’s to entertain me the way writers Peter Craig, Danny Strong, and book author Suzanne Collins presented them in this third film installment.

This new dark chunk in the dystopian cake seemed to present a new layer of young adult film adaptations to movie viewers. For me, the message was sent that for being a film based off a popular young adult series, that Mockingjay Pt 1 wasn’t required to sit in a box labeled “YA adaptations.” Mockingjay Pt 1 played to its strengths and took risks, not just because studios required the book to be split into two films, but because both the writers and director Francis Lawrence actually seemed to want to make a good movie.

While the previous movies showed Katniss’s struggle to deal with the hypocrisy of the Capitol and ultimately survive in the hunger games, Mockingjay focused its time on how Heavensbee, President Coin (Julianne Moore), and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) along with Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and an entire camera team presenting Katniss to the public, which proved to be a greater struggle than fighting in the games for Katniss. In the games, Katniss could be her true self among strangers, because she understood she needed to survive, and she felt comfortable with a bow and arrow. But force her in front of a camera and ask her to rally the districts while she was still suffering PTSD and desiring to recover Peeta wasn’t working. So they took her to the ruins of District 12 and a makeshift hospital of other districts’s survivors.

It seems like more and more seasoned actors and actresses join The Hunger Games (2012) universe with each movie, and they support the foundation of an already solid script and coherent direction. While Jennifer Lawrence plays the star, it is the supporting cast that ultimately sells the film, from Woody Harrelson to Stanley Tucci, to newcomer Julianne Moore.

I actually pull off the gray hair rather well, yes?

James Newton Howard scores this third film, playing off the original themes he created in the first Hunger Games film. The special effects are even amped up, including explosions and some exciting action scenes. One particular scene had me especially fascinated and on edge, as we got to see some District 13 soldiers go on a rescue mission inside the Capitol while Katniss kept Snow on the line to “distract” him. The additions the movie offers that readers missed out on seem to work well for movie audiences, filling in the holes instead of confusing viewers who haven’t read the books.

Mockingjay Pt 1 did include a few things that bothered me, such as the wigs Jennifer Lawrence donned. It was obvious it wasn’t her real hair, and I found it distracting throughout the film. I also felt like Gale (Liam Hemsworth) wasn’t given enough to do, so he seemed to just be walking around, hoping to add to the film with his good Aussie looks since he rarely got any lines.

Despite those issues, I left the theater much more impressed than I expected to be when I walked in. I think if viewers and critics alike can overlook the obvious cash grab ordeal that has hovered over the film, I think many people can agree that Mockingjay Pt 1 is a solid installment in Collins’s epic book-to-screen adaptations. While the odds were certainly not in the film’s favor to succeed with critics, I give Mockingjay Pt 1

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1/2 EYES ON SCREEN.

It’s your turn now. What did you think of Mockingjay Part 1? Do you think it deserves a place beside the first two films? Sound off in the comments below.

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AEOS Review: The Hunger Games

The phrase, “The Truman Show Meets Gladiator,” was dubbed by Chicago film critic, Richard Roeper, in his review of the vastly marketed picture The Hunger Games, which opened this past weekend.

I make a regular habit of reading/watching film reviews by my two favorite Chicago film critics, the internationally acclaimed critic, Roger Ebert, and one of the guys Ebert used to rate films with–the above mentioned Richard Roeper. Although I have to hand it to Ebert for staying on top of more film and pop culture than any other critic I’m aware of, I’ve got to hand the torch for The Hunger Games to Roeper in this case, because unlike Ebert, Roeper read The Hunger Games series and was able to better review the film as a viewer, critic, and fan of the books. Do check out Roeper’s review below.

There’s a lot I can say about the film, so let me break it up into parts. Keep in mind that there will be SPOILERS. First, let’s get out of the way what I didn’t like.

What Didn’t Work

  • Poor Visual Quality for The Capitol – Unfortunately, the special effects did nothing for me in the middle section of the film. Gary Ross’s vision of The Capitol hardly lived up to Collins’s description. From the fake screens passing through the windows of the train, to the far-off screen shot of the tributes riding in on chariots to the ceremony, to Katniss’s Capitol quarters, the film lacked visual prowess, color, and quality overall. I was hoping Ross would have pulled out all the stops for the film, but the setting of The Capitol fell short.
  • Madge and Plutarch MIA – Madge– This complaint comes from someone who read the book. The introduction of the Mockingjay pin is given by District 12’s mayor’s daughter, Madge, who befriends Katniss in the series. In the first book, she gives this to Katniss. Instead the film attempts to make up for this poor revision by having Greasy Sae hand Katniss the pin in the Hob. Plutarch– My sister brought up this point to me. Although I wouldn’t regard this as a dealbreaker or major fault on Ross’s end, I have to wonder why Mr. Plutarch wasn’t present within the film given that his role becomes more pertinent to the plot in the following sequels. My conclusion is that they’ll bring him along in the later films, and they didn’t regard him as necessary in the first.
  • Low Katniss/Peeta Screen Time – While many fans are overjoyed to not have another one of their beloved series taken over by a tween love triangle, the two leads of The Hunger Games shared fewer scenes together than what I had hoped for. Although film is a rather limited channel for time in telling a story (well, Peter Jackson defied that problem with LOTR. I digress.), Katniss and Peeta’s relationship–or should I say the relationship put on for show–wasn’t built well enough to convince us that the love displayed between Katniss and Peeta wasn’t entirely false. Katniss is confused, and we grasp that a little at the end; but watching the film, we don’t see enough of a relationship or friendship built between Katniss and Peeta to know that Katniss isn’t entirely genuine. Her actions are questionable, and rightfully so, but they’re questionable for the wrong reason. Instead of wondering whether she really has genuine feelings for Peeta or not, we’re questioning how she could be having feelings for him having not shared many scenes with him on screen.
  • 50% Finale – Did anyone else take notice that the third part of Suzanne Collins’s novel ate up over half of the film’s running time? Put in perspective – Each of The Hunger Games novels are built like a play, each having three acts. “The Games” acts as the third and final act of the first book. The games took up half the film. Many little moments were lost within the first half of the film, most likely the plan being – let’s really make the “the games” the movie. I hope they don’t botch up the second film like this.

What Did Work

I was more than content with everything else in the film. Clocking in at a little over 140 minutes, The Hunger Games still felt short to me in comparison to reading the book. The adaptation of the story from book to film, however, along with its flaws, was still crafted with sharp attention to detail and articulated in a way not to bring justice to the book, but more so to the story and its characters. Going into The Hunger Games, I expected to experience more low points than high. Happily proven wrong, here are the points I consider high in the film.

  • The Entire Supporting Cast – Perhaps one of the strongest supporting casts to graze the screen of a teen series turned major film–Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland–these were the people who really made The Hunger Games a hit aside from the incredible Jennifer Lawrence heading them.
  • Every Scene with Caesar Flickerman – Every scene with the blue-haired Stanley Tucci on screen was met with laughter. Since The Hunger Games is told entirely from Katniss’s perspective, we miss out on everyone else’s personal thoughts. Not so in the film. Flickerman serves not only as host and questioner of the tributes, but also as something of a news anchor who worked as narrator, offering updates every now and then. This was well-placed in the script, aiding to the pacing of the film and answering questions of those who haven’t read the book.

  • Casting – I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times. The casting worked really well in The Hunger Games, despite the highly questioned Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Winter’s Bone is enough to support the widely-ranged actress, and her performance in The Hunger Games speaks only more of her talent to capture the necessary emotions as well as play out the action scenes. Josh Hutcherson has an innocent presence on screen. Perhaps because he’s a little shorter and has the cutest face ever, but he looks the part of Peeta enough. His acting backed the casting choice.
  • The Games – The Games section of the film was the focus of the film, and easily the best part. Full of intensity and grit, viewers sense the dire situation Katniss and Peeta are in. It’s life and death, and it’s kids we’re dealing with here. Ross really placed the heart of the film into this section, unmasking the rage of the characters, dotting the film with more attention and detail here than anywhere else.
  • Movie Additions – Watching Seneca Crane administrate actions behind the scenes or seeing Haymitch snatch a deal from sponsors on behalf of Katniss and Peeta were treats for those who read the books. We were able to appreciate the element of surprise, too, in the crafty, creative way President Snow killed off Seneca Crane in the end. It’s rare to admit that a movie scene added to the story rather than take away from it.
  • Rue’s Death Scene – Perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the film, the raw emotion Katniss emitted, the flowers decorating Rue’s body, the signal Katniss gave toward the camera, the uproar in District 11 following the death–a powerful scene in a seemingly depressing story–followed the book pat, refusing to give a PG version of what happened.
  • Attention to Detail  While some parts could have been stronger, I must admit there were little details only readers would especially appreciate. Notice how Katniss always tied herself in a tree to sleep so she wouldn’t fall out? Appreciate that Katniss decorated Rue’s body with flowers? See that white rose on President Snow? Katniss’s orange backpack? Cinna’s gold eyelids?

Favorite Moments

  • The powerful scene featuring the uproar in District 11
  • A rock that turned out to be . . . Peeta?!?! (The name Peter is translated in the Greek, meaning “rock.” Ironic much?)
  • The theater erupting in laughter when the camera panned on Gale watching Katniss kiss Peeta.
  • Rue in the tree signaling the trackerjacker hive to Katniss.
  • “I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on you.” –Cinna
  • “That is mahogany!” –Effie
  • Peeta: “You’re our mentor. Don’t you have any advice?” Haymitch: “Yes. Embrace the probability of your imminent death.”

Final Thoughts/Queries

  • MPAA Rating – My biggest question and thought following my first viewing of The Hunger Games regards its MPAA rating. Yes, it was rated PG-13, so some parts had to be cut back to take away from the grisly violence of kids ultimately killing each other. I have to wonder what the film would have been like had it been rated R in terms of violence. Roger Ebert mentions in his review how it’s actually silent in the opening part of the games, with kids dropping like flies. While the scene is powerful, I tend to wonder if the sound was taken out in order to keep the PG-13 rating. It only makes sense to keep the rating no higher than PG-13 in order to not cut out the target audience of the film. But if there were an extended or R-rated version of the film, I wonder which scenes would be different. Would Clove actually cut Katniss’s lip when she has her pinned down? Would Peeta actually have a far more severe leg injury? Would we hear the effects of an arrow piercing a child, or a knife cutting flesh?
  • The Bar Is Set for Sequels – With the growing success of the film, how will the sequels play out? Will they pale in comparison, or will they rise above? Compared with other series such as Harry Potter, whose finale rated high, will The Hunger Games be able to top itself in its sequels, or go down in popularity?
  • Will Gary Ross Continue? – Unless I have misheard (a high possibility in itself), no director is set for Catching Fire, although a release date of November 22, 2013 has already been announced! Should Ross direct the sequels? I certainly think so. Other series have proven that a consistent continuity strengthens–not diminishes–from film series.

OK, folks. Lots of questions for you now. First, what did you think of the film? Second, what did you like, and what disappointed you? Have any favorite moments? Consider the final thoughts and add your opinion.

The Hunger Games Official Trailer Released!

As of early this morning (on Good Morning America) and now on iTunes movie trailers, the first full trailer for The Hunger Games has finally been released. This is extremely exciting news for all the fans (like me!) left wanting after the extremely short and unrevealing teaser from the VMAs.

Enjoy!

The really cool news is that it looks like Gary Ross is striving to follow the book as much as possible. We get a glimpse of the Gale and Katniss hunting, the reaping, and then Katniss and Peeta’s journey to and training at the Capitol. I also think it has an interesting soundtrack that didn’t pick a Muse or Radiohead or popular song for the background. I’m beginning to think Jennifer Lawrence might even be able to be believable as a teenager with the makeup (lack of) on her character. From the trailer, it looks like Lenny Kravitz is going to make an awesome Cinna, and Elizabeth Banks looks like an eery, spot-on casting for Effie Trinket. I’m hoping they give the Haymitch character (played by Woody Harrelson) the screen time he deserves. He plays such an important part, and we got only a very small snippet of him on screen. It looks like President Snow and Seneca Crane are going to have their characters explored more on screen than they were in the book.

I hope the wait isn’t too bad. Because the wait for the second film in the series is going to be even longer–not coming out until November of 2013!?!