Monday, November 24, 2014

Theatrical Review: Mockingjay-Part 1

Date: Sunday November 23, 2014

Time: 12:15pm
Location: Pocono Movieplex
Party: 3 (my mom, book-to-movie loving aunt and myself)
Duration: 123 minutes (+3 trailers)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Type: young adult, drama, book-to-movie adaptation, action, sci-fi

Returning Players
Katniss Everdeen- Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellark- Josh Hutcherson
Gale- Liam Hemsworth

Plutarach- Philip Seymour Hoffman
Finnick Odair (District 4)- Sam Claflin

Beetee (aka "Volts") (District 3)- Jeffrey Wright

Haymitch- Woody Harrelson
Effie Trinket- Elizabeth Banks
Prim Everdeen- Willow Shields
Caesar Flickerman- Stanley Tucci
President Snow- Donald Sutherland
Johanna Mason (District 7)- Jena Malone

District 13 President Coin- Julianne Moore
Katniss's bodyguard Boggs- Mahershala Ali
Propaganda director Cressida- Natalie Dormer
Propaganda crew member Messalla-Evan Ross
Propaganda crew member Castor- Wes Chatham
Propaganda crew member Pollux- Elden Henson

Opening Remarks and Trailers:

We were 3 of 9 people in the entire theater. A group of two sat several seats in front of us and a family of 4 sat across from us. The interaction was few and far between, but there was one point (I'll mention when) when they clapped.

Going in, I guessed we'd have three trailers. One for the last "Hobbit" movie (our next theatrical venture), one for "Insurgence" (book two of Veronica Roth's series) and one for the newest "Avengers" movie...
I had the number right, but the "Hobbit" trailer was replaced by something else. Most likely, because Lionsgate wanted to promote their movies and didn't want to risk the competition.
Seeing as the closest movie in box office numbers this week was "Big Hero 6" at $20M (compared to  $123 million), such a thing does not currently exist.

"The Age of Adaline" was yet another attempt at the cliché: a person is mysteriously granted with the gift of Eternal Youth and they need to navigate their lives accordingly.
The only big difference here is that the hero is a heroine. Blake Likely to be exact. And the focus is on how she spent her eternity not allowing herself to get involved with people because it only leads to heartbreak over the whole "not aging" thing.
So between a tired plot and Blake Likely (do not get the hype around her at all... but that's mostly because she was the only "Sister of the Pants" had nothing in common with... plus her whole storyline where she flirts with a soccer coach and after sleeping with him, she feels bad about herself... as far as I'm concerned, she ASKED for that heartache by pursing a forbidden relationship)

"Insurgence" was nothing but a teaser trailer... that never happened in the book. To me, it looked a dream sequence or another "simulation". Plus I'm still recovering from the last time I saw it-- Tris crying over her mom dying left me an emotional mess 10 minutes after that death scene... the trailer was her chasing after her mom (who I know to be DEAD) in a floating burning building.

Considering my Downey fangirl status, it might sound crazy, me saying this, but this was my first glimpse of the new "Avengers" trailer. While I found it odd that he committed to the next "Captain America" movie [he's just procrastinating more for "Sherlock 3"], it's really reassuring.
No more of me worrying about the reunion of the "Less than Zero" cast mates [since James Spader will be Ultron's voice] giving way to the "nightmare scenario" of deja vu.
Seriously, though, the trailer looks impressive. We get our first glimpses of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Lots of great action sure to come, the characters being pushed to their limits... my knuckles will be white the entire time :P


Other Opening Remarks

For my previous "Hunger Games" reviews, follow the links below... if that kind of thing strikes your fancy:
Now onto business...

Excluding the people who hate on YA novel film adaptations, there are two kinds of critics of this movie:
1) those who believe "Mockingjay" shouldn't have been split into two movies
2) those who believe "nothing happened"

One movie or two?

I will concede the first point.

I expressed my annoyance with "The Deathly Hallows" (in the first half of the book, nothing really did happen, I couldn't wait for it to be over) being split in half... an opinion I later reversed since part 1 was really well done.

The same thing with "Breaking Dawn"... I felt they were copying the Harry Potter thing by doing two movies... I felt like they could have done it in one, but then we'd have to rush through all the new vampires. I also appreciated the "good-bye" treatment in the beginning (set to "Bella's Lullaby") and end (set to Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years").
...hey, I'm a Twi-hard, I love these characters... the very least Harry Potter could have done was erupt into cheers and celebration when Voldermort was finally defeated [you know, like at the end of "Return of the Jedi"]

"Mockingjay", I had the same reservations about... and don't even get me started on the latest announcement about "Allegiant"... why prolong the inevitably painful ending by splitting into two movies? The studio hears money while I hear my insides screaming.

I read "Mockingjay" over two years ago, so I don't remember much about it... other than the beginning, middle (where this movie ended) and the end/epilogue.
So as far as rating it as a book-to-movie adaptation, I'm a little out of my depth :P
but as with the above mentioned links, I strongly recommend reading the books beforehand... otherwise, you're at a disadvantage.
Not just being in the dark about what happens, but forging a relationship with these characters.
You can get caught up in the disbelief that anything happens in this movie, but if you don't know the characters or allow yourselves to get to know them, you might as well be wasting your time.


When President Coin (Julianne Moore) says "the games destroyed her" in the trailers, she really wasn't kidding. Katniss is a mess when we first see her. Refusing to sleep because all of the nightmares. Also still very incensed that Haymitch went back on his word to save Peeta over her.
In fact, she goes on about that for the first half hour of the movie until the President agrees to her "demands"-- rescuing the hostages (Peeta, Johanna and Finnick's girlfriend Annie) at the early opportunity and giving them a full pardon.

Much of the movie is spent making propaganda videos. The trick is visiting some of the districts and capturing Katniss's reactions as they happen. [Haymitch hatches this plan since reading from a script clearly wasn't cutting it] Meanwhile, we see members of District 7 (Johnna's lumber yard district) and 5 (hydroelectric) fight back against the Peacekeepers in response.
We meet four new characters, all refugees from The Capitol. Castor and Pollux (as Greek mythology would suggest) are brothers, but one is an Avox (he had his tongue cut out as punishment). Pollux still manages to charm Katniss with only his smile.
Cressida is tough-as-nails (half her head is shaved and tattooed... that's pretty bad-ass) and very business-like. Up until the final video (where Katniss refused to go on), I found her very accommodating to her.

Outside of Peeta's captivity, the biggest conflict in the film comes from The Capitol. They're presenting Peeta as a "voice of reason," trying to convince the people to stop their revolution. So District 13 isn't exactly a fan of him (or Katniss's condition to give him a full pardon).
And The Capitol is the only place in Panem not broadcasting District 13's videos. So it's up to Beetee (District 3's survivor of the Quarter Quell Hunger Games) to find a way to break past the security system that--ironically--he invented himself.

Team Peeta vs. Team Gale- Part 1

As a member of Team Gale, there were a lot of great moments I enjoyed this movie. Gale getting more screentime than he had in the previous two movies COMBINED. He and Katniss appear to be getting closer, but all the while, she's fixated on saving Peeta.
I love their combined screen time, but in the back of my mind, I knew this wasn't fair to Gale.

As for Peeta... I didn't quite see the transformation he went through during this movie. My mom and aunt talked about him losing weight-- something I didn't see until he was finally rescued. But his face looked increasingly gaunt, as if they were beating him up in addition to using him as a puppet for the Capitol.
Then at one given moment, once the propaganda clips finally reach the Capitol and he sees the destruction of District 12, he comes out of his trance long enough to warn District 13 on an oncoming military assault.

However, come the final three minutes of the movie... after the "big rescue"... Peeta almost kills Katniss in a really traumatic choking scene. Her eyes were visibly bloodshot and after her bodyguard knocks him out, making the screen go completely black, I was terrified the movie would end that way.
Luckily, there was one scene afterwards to help cushion the blow, which it barely does. The final visual we have is Katniss (complete with a neck brace) watches Peeta through the glass having a psychotic episode tied to a bed.

As much as the movies so far have made me more of a fan of Peeta than I was reading the books, I can already feel that old habit coming back-- me spending "Mockingjay"  wishing they just let Peeta die because I felt like he was beyond saving.
Especially going into the climax where they're storming the Capitol and Peeta has another episode that almost gets everyone killed.

I hope the next movie is good enough to spare my feelings and make it easier to accept the inevitable ending. Katniss choosing Peeta and turning her back on Gale because she blamed him for what happened to Prim.

Characters and Other Highlights
Effie Trinket had a tiny role in the book, but I'm really glad they made that adjustment in the movie by giving her a bigger role. The transformation from her being superfluous with her makeup and clothes to trying to bring fashionable accessories to her District 13 jumpsuit... that's worth every minute.
Plus, other than Gale, she's the one friend Katniss feels she has in the wake of this new conflict. Love the scene where she shows Katniss the last sketches Cinna left behind before the Capitol killed him over the Mockingjay dress. Doesn't fully make up for the fact he's gone, but it helped fill that void a bit.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, once again, steals the show for me. He tells it like it is whether you want it or not and usually, he's very on point.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch is a bittersweet venture in the event of his recent death. But his presence felt like it gave the movie an enhanced sense of professionalism and credibility.
Julianne Moore does well on her first outing in this franchise and by the end, we start to see she may not be as clean cut as we were originally led to believe. Despite Peeta's psychological state, she makes an elaborate speech to the masses to call the rescue mission a success... omitting the negatives for appearances.

Jennifer Lawrence, again, embodies Katniss and all her emotions.

Donald Sutherland has little screentime, but his presence is so poignant that the air goes out of the room. Particularly where he leaves a bed of white roses for Katniss, leaving her unwilling to do a final video.

The previous two were really well done.
Her promo that ends with "Fire is catching. If we burn, you burn with us!" and the fiery mockingjay symbol was so inspiring that we clapped.
Then the scene where she's singing "The Hanging Tree" with the mockingjays whistling in the background... powerful. The song was almost stuck in my head by the time it was all over. (We even hear it in the credits after Lorde's haunting "Yellow Flicker Beat").

A Quick Comment on Politics
I thought this subject matter was poignant when I read it a couple years ago :P
It's a little unnerving when you look beyond the film, beyond the escapism and being absorbed by this fictional world, and find similarities in real life.
Speaking as someone surrounded by people who fear we're approaching socialism...

Final Comments
It's not as if NOTHING happens in this movie. Plenty does happen. My attention didn't falter once the entire 2 hours (and change). But that's because I know and care about the characters.
There were a couple scenes where I was on the edge of my seat or holding my breath. One was the assault on District 13 where Katniss and Prim almost don't get past the closing doors because Prim went back for her cat.
Then of course the scene towards the end where my heart was pounding about the inevitable confrontation between Katniss and Peeta. The moment I let myself relax, seeing his face and how battered he looked, I jumped when he attacked and freaked about the cliff-hanger sure to come.

At the same time, it does suck that the movie had no justified resolution.
The Deathly Hallows had Voldermort stealing the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's grave
Breaking Dawn had Bella opening her eyes after she became a vampire.

Katniss and Peeta didn't get their reconciliation yet, so that is a bit of a letdown.
And speaking as someone not a fan of psychological thrillers or possession, how they depicted Peeta's state of mind freaked me out a bit.
If I were Team Peeta, I think I'd be an emotional wreck :P

Grade: A-/B+
It's a tough call.
On the one hand, the movie held my attention the entire time and I enjoyed all but 3 minutes of it.
But on the other hand, the cliff-hanger ending was unsatisfying.
Right now, I'm thinking I might wait on getting the DVD until after Part 2 comes out next year

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