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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If My Life Were a Movie

What if your life were a . . .  movie?

OK, I agree . . . that’s a highly implausible possibility, but who says we can’t be dreamers? I’m not one for self-indulgence, but every now and then, it’s fun to imagine what my life would be like if it were a movie . . .

Cast List

Female Lead (playing me)

  • First choice: Emma Stone
  • Second choice: Anna Kendrick
Reason for choices: No actress who is my age has handled dorkiness (House Bunny), drama (The Help), or comedy (Superbad) better than Emma Stone. She’s miles prettier than I am, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else able to play me. My second choice is Anna Kendrick because she’s great at playing awkward. And well, sometimes, I am just awkward.

Male Lead (playing opposite me)

  • First choice: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
  • Second choice: John Krasinski
Reason for choices: Who else but Joseph Gordon-Levitt? I love him in every film he’s in. I think he brings something new and fresh to the table in all of his roles. That, and he’s hot. John Krasinski looks like the everyday guy that almost any girl wouldn’t mind falling in love with. I know I wouldn’t mind.

Dear ‘Ol Dad

  • First choice: Colin Firth
  • Second choice: Steve Carell
Reason for choices:  After seeing Colin Firth in What a Girl Wants, I knew I would be perfectly fine if he were my dad. On the other hand, Steve Carell is an entirely different choice. He can make the littlest things entertaining, yet he still has an endearing side to him that would make him an excellent father figure.

Mother Dearest

  • First choice: Susan Sarandon
  • Second choice: Meryl Streep
Reason for choices: It’s hard to describe what it is about Susan Sarandon that assures me she would make the perfect mom. She just seems like she’d be an awesome, fun mom. Meryl Streep is my second choice–I think I’d like her just for all her cooking in Julie & Julia, even though Julia’s a character. She seems like someone who’d have a lot of wisdom to offer.

Really Strange, But Awesome Sibling

  • First choice: Andy Samberg
  • Second choice: Adam Scott
Reason for choices: Andy Samberg embodies “strange, but awesome,” in my opinion. He has a bit of a douchey side to him in most movies he’s been in, yet he’s hilarious as heck on Saturday Night Live. Between Parks and Rec and Friends with Kids, I could only imagine Adam Scott as the perfect second choice to play a funny, but awesome older brother character.  

Crazy Uncle

  • First choice: Jim Carrey
  • Second choice: Jack Black
Reason for choices: Jim Carrey is known to be one crazy, hilarious dude, although I think he has a great handle on dramas too. He’s great at playing a variety of characters. Is it really necessary for me to explain either of my choices in this category? You tell me!

Villain of the Story

  • First choice: Ryan Seacrest
  • Second choice: Kristen Stewart
Reason for choices: Ryan Seacrest may sound like a nutty first choice for the villain, but one has to imagine he has to have some anger and frustration from hosting American Idol. Plus, I’d love to see the guy let loose and go crazy. Kristen Stewart . . . she already has the face down. She looks angry at the world.

Comic Relief

  • First choice: Aziz Ansari
  • Second choice: Neil Patrick Harris
Reason for choices: Aziz Ansari is hilarious. Few will ever deny this. Although I had a rather late introduction to him (30 Minutes or Less), he is comedy gold. From being an avid fan of How I Met Your Mother, I’ve learned that Neil Patrick Harris is one of the funniest dudes out there. Either making cameos or playing some small role as comic relief would be awesome.

Director

  • First choice: Marc Webb
  • Second choice: Nancy Meyers
  • Third choice: Cameron Crowe
Reason for choices: I’m still really all over the place with who I would choose as director. Hence, why I chose three different people. Marc Webb is responsible for directing one of my favorite movies of all time, and many of you already know what that is–(500) Days of Summer. For someone to incorporate that much reality into a film, with well-developed characters, yet somehow still include a musical dance number and make a film as endearing as it is? I can’t imagine a better director. Nancy Meyers is another fun choice because I’ve very much enjoyed several of her films, especially The Holiday and It’s Complicated. I think she really knows how to make a full, in-depth film with a female protagonist without making it feel too chick-flicky or overly romantic. She seems to be one of the few female directors out there who really has a specific vision, and when you see the film, you know that it’s a Nancy Meyers film. My final choice is Cameron Crowe. He would have been my first choice if I thought he could incorporate more comedy, but I see Crowe as a director who has a lot of heart and definitely some drama. And that’s what I love about him.

Film Composer

  • First choice: Hans Zimmer
  • Second choice: Nancy Wilson
  • Third choice: Henry Jackman
Reason for choices: Hans Zimmer is a master. He’s brilliant at developing new, ear-catching themes that outlast even some of the films he has scored for. Ultimately, Zimmer is my first choice to score a film. Nancy Wilson, although more of a rocker with far less experience, is still a talented musician with the ability to create a beautiful score, such as her work for Elizabethtown. Henry Jackman may sound like a strange third choice–I mean, why shouldn’t I choose someone far more experienced, like James Newton Howard or Alan Silvestri or Danny Elfman, all of whom I love? Jackman may has less experience, but he’s great at what he does. And he’s newer to the film score drawing board, similarly matching myself in that I’m still young. After falling in love with his work on X-Men: First Class score, I decided he would be a great back-up plan.

Theme Song

  • First choice: “Uncharted,” by Sara Bareilles
  • Second choice: “Ironic,” by Alanis Morisette
Reason for choices: I’m not as great as coming up with a good theme song. Instead of thinking long and hard about it, I just picked a couple songs in my library that I like a lot. I think both songs describe a lot of my own feelings about my life, so that’s helpful. I guess I could have chosen “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness. Wahaha.

Genre

  • Primary genre: Comedy
  • Secondary genre: Drama
  • Optional addition: Musical number
Reason for choices: No matter how I look at my life, through the big highs and lows, there always seems to be someone who finds things about me hilarious. I’ve always been attracted to people with a good sense of humor, comedy TV shows and movies, and I’ve even attended a small share of stand-up comedy.

What can I say? Sometimes I think the greatest escape to reality is surrounding yourself with people and media that can make you laugh. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve also had my share of drama. And I mean, honestly, whose life doesn’t at least have a little unwanted drama in it? And just because I love musicals so much, I think there just has to be musical number thrown in, just for good measure.

I tried to think of some nifty titles, but nothing came to mind. So I guess all of THAT will just have to do. I must admit, I had a tons of fun putting this together. So now, it’s YOUR turn, people!

If your life were a movie, who would you cast as yourself? and opposite you? Any specific director or cinematographer or costume designer you’d demand? What kind of genre would it be? Share it, or copy and paste mine and fill it in with your own choices! Add and take away what people you would include. What do you think of my choices? 

AEOS Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

And . . . I’m back! It’s felt like forever since I blogged on AEOS, and I’m happy to be back after a very rough month. How’s everyone been? I’ve been able to check out posts by several of you when I’ve found the time. Bear with me as I get my footing again these next couple weeks. Originally when I set out to blog regularly, I didn’t take into account how difficult it would be to post that regularly with my current schedule. This time around, I plan to post 2-3 posts/week. If I ever reel more than that out, then I will just count myself lucky 🙂 OK, let’s get on with it already . . .

The most recent film I have watched has been rookie director Rupert Sanders’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Expectations were flying high with all the marketing and comparisons to that of the inferior Mirror, Mirror, the other of two takes on the fairytale classic. What can I say? I felt let down. A below average rating on Rotten Tomatoes (46%)  confirmed that this Snow White fell short of the mark, despite having some positive aspects to it.

Chemical Imbalance

There probably isn’t a better way to describe the film than that is was all over the place. The tone, the score, the characters . . . everything was constantly shifting, lacking an overall center to bring the film together as a whole. There was an imbalance that made the film fall flat. The actors did the best they could to show heart and express emotion, but I didn’t really care because they were under-developed. The script really dragged the story down, not giving the actors much to work with in the beginning, using recycled plot devices to carry the story through.

What came as a big disappointment to me was the score. I normally dig the work of James Newton Howard, even when I don’t care for the movie he scored for. But in this case, the score was all over the place, reflecting the movie’s primary issue.

Character Actors

Charlize Theron is one impressive character actor. She seems to know exactly how to play your average, everyday gal, as well as an evil queen desperate to retain her beauty. The make-up transformations were stellar, showing the effects of her aging. Theron embodied the necessary evil to play this creepy character.

Then you have an actor like Chris Hemsworth, who is still establishing himself, having only been in a few films and being known primarily for another character, Thor. I thought Hemsworth did a pretty good job. Although he was never known as anything more than “Huntman” and rocked an accent that made it difficult to detect what he was saying in parts, he did what he could with what he had to work with. Hemsworth lacks no heart or emotion in expressing himself, and that came through in his Huntsman performance.

As for Kristen Stewart . . . given my high dislike for the Twilight series and her association with it, it makes it difficult to judge her without making some kind of comparison. Unfortunately, she probably won’t be able to ever separate herself fully from the films. But putting that aside (as much as is possible!), I found myself impressed with the physicality of her role. Although a stunt person probably filled in for a lot of the hard parts, I can imagine the role was physically difficult for her, whether she was riding a horse, fighting, swimming, jumping off a cliff, or sliding into a sewer. As for the acting? There was a deafness to her performance. I really felt like she tried, but ultimately failed in giving a great performance. Perhaps with more opportunities she will be able to slowly slip away from her Twilight association and move into roles with more depth. That being said, I think Stewart wasn’t terrible. And that’s an improvement.

Channeling Aragorn

I couldn’t help but feel like Stewart was channeling Aragorn from Lord of the Rings during the second half of the film. Rallying the troops, leading the Duke and people into battle (without proper head gear, no less), and being crowned queen in the end. I was ready for her to look at the hobbits dwarves and say “You bow to no one.”

There were other moments when I felt like I was watching a rip-off version of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but perhaps so many films borrow and share themes, that it was difficult to not have those thoughts while watching. When Snow White and crew came riding in on the beach, I felt like the they were attempting to breech Helm’s Deep. The relationship between Snow White and the Queen made me think of Harry Potter and Voldemort. My sister did not appreciate my continuous commentary on such comparison during the film. I digress.

Saviors and Sinking Ship

The visuals were the savior of the film. Both the visual and special effects were stunning. The queen’s aging, the mirror, the scene in the fairy world–all were captivating to watch. One scene in particular that I appreciated was when the Queen tricked Snow White by channeling the Duke’s son. It was the first and only time I found myself surprised the entire film. I already knew Snow White would somehow kill the Queen by blocking with one arm and stabbing her with the other until her soul left. Too bad. I wasn’t even trying to call plot points.

Aside from the visual prowess, the film was average at best. I credit screenwriters Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock for dragging down the already sinking ship.

What did you think of the film? What parts did you like, and which ones could have been better?