The Hunger Games

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Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2



A Film Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2


I appreciate what the Hunger Games film adaptations started off doing.  They put women to the forefront of an action/adventure, special effect driven saga typically reserved for the boys club and the story unfolded in a way where themes of female empowerment did not equate to male enfeeblement, thus avoiding a battle of the sexes on the internet for every reason under the sun.  The first two films were entertaining, had interesting characters and had a few nuggets of social commentary regarding the state of the western world.  Unfortunately, Mockingjays part 1 and 2 were devoid of the energy and passion that spring boarded this franchise as they were the cinematic equivalent of gearing down so as not needing to apply the brake to the approaching intersection of completion. 

As a result, I give thanks that the Hunger Games film franchise has been finally put to rest.  I am all about seeing film entertainment focused on main characters that are not exclusively white and male.  However, the way Jennifer Lawrence’s cash cow put out to pasture couldn’t have been more underwhelming, and I am legitimately vexed because despite having the budget, talent and production value to truly put this fiction on the same level as the likes of Star Wars, Avengers and Harry Potter; the opportunity was squandered.  To be clear, I am speaking only in terms of the quality of this film’s narrative and not its pocketbooks, which are certainly being stuffed with gobs of tween cash having already banked over $200 million in domestic sales in 11 days.  Even with this handsome sum (not to mention zero competition at the box office) Mockingjay Part 2 is running behind the pace of its predecessors, and I can’t help but think that more people than not were truly dissatisfied with how it all ended.  I will quote my fiancé regarding this film’s 3rd act: “The climax sucked.  I cried a little.  I got bored.  And then it was over.” 

There are two other aspects of this film that kept me looking down at my watch waiting for it to end well before its 3rd act even had a chance to lay into me.  First, Katniss Everdeen stopped being an interesting character two films ago.  I totally engaged with her desperation during the first film.  I was completely in sync with her rage over being manipulated (especially at the end) of Catching Fire.  Then these Mockingjay films came along and mothballed Katniss’ mojo.  Part of the problem is that Katniss is written to never be comfortable let alone fully accepting of her role as a revolutionary icon, let alone a base participant in the overall conflict of Panem.  Only when Katniss has no home to return to does she begrudgingly accept her greater role with half-hearted enthusiasm vainly masking her only motivation: protecting her friends and family at all costs.  The blame for this offense lies at the feet of Jennifer Lawrence and director Francis Lawrence.  Where Katniss’ defiance, anger and frustration would naturally be approaching critical mass, her character is presented as a back seat driver who endures inevitable victory as if she knew all along, thus finding no real need to demonstrate passion.  Not having read the books, I cannot tell if Katniss ever drops the selfishness, indecisiveness, self-loathing and general mopey attitude, but this status quo is fully maintained in both Mockingjay films.  Hell, just looking at Jennifer Lawrence during the climactic “arrow strike” sequence couldn’t have screamed a millennial “whatever, why am I even here?” any louder even if the filmmakers tried.

The second thing that never sat well with me in this film is that although we are constantly following Katniss’ journey towards the Capitol, this adventure is actually not important to the overall plot.  Everything significant happens off camera in the hopes that the audience can simply connect the dots back to Katniss in some meaningful way.  Her journey certainly has more personal meaning by aiding her mind in choosing between Gale and Peeta, but even that element gets scuffled because she and her spec ops unit are too busy dodging death traps in areas of the capitol not on the front lines of combat?  What?  The fact that Katniss’ sham of a final mission is so resolutely inert makes perfect sense how this film ends in the very definition of “insult to injury.” 

Action Style

When the cast finally gets around to opening fire and throwing a punch, it actually isn’t too bad.  I simply wished there was more of it.


Action Frame

Plenty of low and high angle dynamic shots feature a series of tracks, pulls and pans during both action and dialogue sequences.


Lead Performance

Jennifer Lawrence is still J-Law, but that’s no excuse for mailing in anything even at this point in her career.  The girl on fire has been doused!  Josh Hutcherson is credited for all the points in this category.


Supporting Performance

Donald Sutherland is great.  Julianne Moore is zzzzzz.  Liam Hemsworth has only one facial expression.  And I hope Mahershala Ali gets more roles in a leading capacity.  Nothing but love for House of Cards!  Also, I’d like more Woody Harrelson please.



Passable, but not inspiring in any way.


Sound F/X

Actually quite good, especially in the sewers!


“Moving” = 21/33

Digital F/X

This entire franchise has maintained a dedicated “less is more” approach to the use of CG.  As such, the moments where spectacle and the impossible occur are much more impactful.  Still, I’d rather see a bit more.


Special F/X

Most of the CG required close coordination with the stunt and pyro teams to show the effects of an ever-changing, hostile environment on our heroes.  This was an effective partnership that obscured the lines between CG and practical effects.



Our tributes aren’t interviewing with Stanley Tucci in this film, thus the range of spectacular design concepts are limited to the mundane. 


Hair & Makeup

See above.



The outskirts of the capitol are as drab as the inner bunkers of District 13.



If you are going to go dark, go all the way.  Those were some of the cleanest service tunnels and sewer systems I’ve seen from Hollywood.


“Picture” = 21/33


Being Part 2, the actual hook is carried over from Part 1 which leaves the viewer understanding that we’re still at war with the capitol and Katniss is still a propaganda proxy.



I used to believe in Katniss’ personal anger towards President Snow two films ago.  The only real conflict is her inner struggle to choose between the hunky boy and the pretty good looking friend – which is a decision somewhat taken out of her hands.



One of the least satisfying and surprising endings in the history of film.



Down to earth, intimate and not riddled with made up fictional jargon.  I just wished Katniss had something more significant to say all the time.



There’s way too much happening off screen that Katniss has nothing to do with that forces the viewer into too many leaps of faith plot-wise.


Character Uniqueness

Nothing new is happening with Katniss as a character.  Peeta’s transformation from homicidal boyfriend back to the baker with political aspirations is quite interesting, but of course, there’s not much screen time devoted to it.


Character Relatability

After three films of Katniss being put through the ringer physically, emotionally and spiritually (and still breathing) one would think that even the most common of human beings regardless of sex, age, ethnicity or personal talent would be capable of ascending to a version of themselves that is greater than their own personal agenda.  Perhaps it is the lesson of The Hunger Games [films] that sometimes the crucible has no effect on us?


“Story” = 16/34

Overall MPS Rating: 58/100

The “girl on fire” couldn’t be further away from going out in a blaze of glory.  Mockingjay Part 2 is an adventure without energy, passion and the will to succeed which it cannot make up for with plot twists of convenience to divert the viewer’s attention.  These journeys don’t always have to end in victory, but the protagonist must have something radiating from inside that makes the hero/heroine’s path worthwhile even if an audience cannot identify or sympathize with him or her.  It is a reliable failure of Hollywood filmmaking that culminates when lackluster performance intersects unfocused direction.

Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Too Hot To Handle
A Film Review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
By: Lawrence Napoli


You know what’s highly desirable in Hollywood?  To own an insanely popular license, adapt it into a series of very lucrative blockbuster films and continue to draw interest in current and future installments from every audience outside the fanboy/girl core thanks to a contractual alliance with (arguably) the most popular individual in Hollywood today.  Oh yes, Lionsgate snagged itself two gems in The Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence and both continue to pay dividends thanks to Catching Fire’s global take of about $678 million dollars over a budget of $130 as of December 11, 2013.  Unfortunately, “bigness” and popularity alone do not always translate into quality and often allows the consumers of particular media to be very apologetic thanks to those two important elements that compose “true value” in contemporary Hollywood productions.  
That is not an admission that I personally didn’t care for this movie; quite the contrary.  Catching Fire is a superior “Hunger Games” experience from a visual perspective thanks to a much larger production budget than the original.  For a story that takes place in the somewhat, not-so-distant future, I never felt that The Hunger Games showcased the kind of world where superior technology permits the aristocratic minority to dominate the impoverished majority.  Catching Fire addresses this early and often throughout its run time by displaying more pyro, larger digital set pieces and more CG visuals.  This film also demonstrates more accomplished combat and action sequences such as its version of “storm troopers” actually being physically imposing, more energetic training montages than throwing heavy things at stationary targets and much more danger during the actual games than a bunch of teens/tweens stalking each other with swords and spears.  As far as contemporary action/adventure films go, Catching Fire looks, sounds and feels like a more proficient blockbuster.
Where I’m beginning to lose a little interest is in the presentation of this story within the confines of a two and a half hour film.  Adaptation is an exercise in tough decision making for the screenwriters(s) so there’s always going to be a number of details, subplots and characters that simply do not come to fruition.  Unfortunately, the screenwriting trend in Hollywood’s adaptation movement is to include “as much as possible,” which puts a priority on Easter Eggs and sacrifices screen time better used on cinematic exposition and character development for an audience not already familiar with the story.  There are too many moments where references are being made (such as the makeup of this society, the importance of the games, the significance of the districts, the tributes, etc.) that simply has not been well established in the ongoing film or its predecessor, and I can’t appreciate any of these new details.  Catching Fire’s story is one that communicates a comprehensive plot and a continuation of the trials of Katniss Everdeen, but it’s also one that is devoid of any interesting subplot for any character not played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Katniss is involved in every meaningful moment on the screen.  No supporting characters outside of the villains have any meat to them and this takes away from the other thing that makes Katniss interesting outside of kicking ass with a bow and arrow: her love triangle.  Yes, the audience gets chapter 2 in the pseudo affair of Katniss, Peeta and Gale, but neither boy has a dramatic identity onscreen that isn’t fully dependent on Katniss’s presence.  This may not be the case in the books, but this is the best example of an interesting movie conflict that merely gets paid lip service due to time limitations and priorities placed elsewhere.  
Performances by the cast are fairly adequate all around, but I was somewhat surprised to find an actor such as Philip Seymour Hoffman involved with this kind of big budget, mainstream extravaganza.  I suppose every major actor needs a fat paycheck every once in a while (just kidding, Philip), but his role in Catching Fire, like every other adult’s over the age of 20, doesn’t require any deep emotional exploration and isn’t afforded any real opportunity to do so even if the actor was interested.  It’s not exactly the kind opportunity a king of the indy scene salivates over, but he brings veteran charisma and composure to Plutarch Heavensbee as does Donald Sutherland for President Snow as the primary antagonists of this film.  Lenny Kravitz once again produces a regal and heart-warming performance as Cinna and Woody Harrelson thankfully steps into more of a leadership role than the loveably drunk, Haymitch has been thus far.  Unfortunately, these adults do not elevate beyond the status of window dressing for the featured young adults in almost the exact same manner the veterans that composed the Harry Potter films were utilized.
Liam Hemsworth is given a few more minutes of screen time in this film to prove that his character, Gale, has some romantic feelings for Katniss and he manages to deliver a revered stillness to his performance that would make anyone raise an eyebrow over the fact that he appeared in an Expendables film.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that the chemistry he shares with Jennifer Lawrence remotely approaches “sultry,” but there’s a reason for that I’ll discuss later.  Josh Hutcherson continues to refine his keen ability to switch between the natural state of Peeta (somewhat unsure of himself and his feelings) and Peeta’s on air personality for reality TV (brave, confidant and charismatic).  Josh has to contend with more characters requiring screen time in this film, but the fact that he shows that his character knows how to play the political game of these Hunger Games is satisfying to the audience even if he isn’t exactly the most accomplished combatant.  
As expected, Catching Fire is a showcase for Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen for all the obvious reasons.  She continues to portray an empowered, young woman in a harsh reality that is on equal (if not superior) footing as all the guys.  Her best moment of this film is when she gives a speech at the district that her friend Rue (who dies in the first film) was from that shows the audience the exact kind of personality that makes Ms. Lawrence endearing in real life: raw emotion with a matter-of-fact, no BS delivery.  Unfortunately, Katniss is not called upon to be her true self too often in this film as the constant surveillance of Capitol TV requires her to act the façade of her “fake” romance with Peeta and her shift from sincerity to “talking head personality” in front of the fictional cameras is evident to the audience.  All things being equal, this role equates to fishing with dynamite for Jennifer Lawrence.  She’s attractive, trendy and sassy and that’s more than enough to portray a character like Katniss, but I really could have used more moments of her patented blend of sincerity in Catching Fire because Lawrence is just plain good at it.
Catching Fire is an entertaining adventure for anyone interested in checking out some neat special and visual effects.  It features an upgraded production value that becomes quite evident when our tributes are put to the test in a much more dynamic arena than previously shown in the original Hunger Games.  This fictional world is not fleshed out particularly well as much of its references and the overall state of the setting are glazed over as quickly as possible which is unfortunate seeing how Katniss and Peeta begin this film by visiting every district on their victory tour.  Sure, we get how every district outside of the Capitol is poor and subject to armies of thugs, but there’s no real distinction among any of them that they could all be District 12.  If you can look past the light details and a number of flat characters, this can be a fun film to watch.  The violence continues to be neutered in favor maintaining that PG-13 rating despite the subject matter revolving around making entertainment out of watching people slaughtering each other on TV.  Risking harsher imagery to deliver a more poignant story might lose the film’s money demographic and if it’s one thing that Hollywood won’t do, is mess around with the prescribed money formula for its various adaptations.
Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

Starving for Summer in 2012

A Film Review of The Hunger Games

By: Lawrence Napoli


[[wysiwyg_imageupload:1158:]]Is Hollywood land trying to make March the new beginning of the summer blockbuster season?  The reason I ask is because the hype that has preceded The Hunger Games is very close to rivaling The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.  However, hype alone, does not a successful blockbuster make.  It must have story, it must have intrigue, it must have star power and it must have spectacle.  The Hunger Games has all these and one more x-factor worthy of identifying: it has a major draw for young women 13-21.  Oh yes ladies and gentlemen, the woman’s blockbuster is here to stay and it’s doing something its previous manifestations have not.  Titanic (1997) and the Twilight Saga (2008) raked in the cash thanks in most part to droves of young women making multiple runs to the cinema, but those films largely appealed to classic romanticism of heterosexual feminine tendencies by featuring good looking young men as the main characters who were equal parts strong and understanding.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, taps directly into girl power featuring a young woman as the protagonist who has an incredible ability to inspire young women in addition to men in a very leveled, respectable, non-cheesy or over-sexualized manner akin to Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). 

Young adult novels seem to be Hollywood’s second favorite gold mine of creativity next to comic books.  This trend worries me seeing how Hollywood is looking for every excuse on Earth to not have to generate original content.  However, if executed properly, the adaptation can still be wonderfully entertaining.  I found this to be the case for The Hunger Games despite not having read the books or knowing anything about the mythos.  That does not mean I found the story to be a flawless presentation.  Quite the contrary, the screenplay was riddled with plot gaps, glaze-overs and incomplete/irregular explanations.  This film attempts to present some generalized global conflict as the situation that necessitates the existence of said “Hunger Games” as a means of maintaining law and order.  Simply put, a few lines of text narrated by Donald Sutherland before the movie began was quite pathetic, and did nothing to lay out the social desperation facing the individual districts of what we presume is the former United States.  As an extension to that criticism, “hunger” itself is never developed as a specific plight on the populace, rather, a coincidence of extreme poverty and under-development, thus explaining how District 12 (at least) is a bit of an Amish paradise. 

The script by Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins fails at establishing the boundaries of this fictional world, but where it succeeds is in every scene that features Katniss Everdeen (our heroine) as a young woman well beyond her years in terms of responsibility, tact and boldness.  Every scene the audience bears witness to endears them further to Katniss as a character because her actions and words are prototypically good without being “goody two-shoes.”  Katniss needs to be tough in this unforgiving world, and has no problem making life and death decisions, but I feel she is written as almost too good at times.  Every decision she makes (even the one that lands her into trouble in the first place) always seems to work out with very minimal personal sacrifice.  I attribute this convenience to her “beginner’s luck” in taking the first steps in the transition from District 12 nobody to global symbol of hope and victory.  I fully expect the follow up films to The Hunger Games to involve more cerebral/personal struggles for Katniss beyond strangers that want to murder her because seeing how the hero reacts to failure demonstrates true character.  Regardless, this film pulls out all the stops to make you love Katniss for her innocence, her irreverence and her ability to adapt. 

Visual effects in The Hunger Games are nowhere close to being on the same level as Twilight, let alone Harry Potter.  Granted, this film doesn’t involve super-powered freaks or magic, but it does feature a stark contrast in technological prowess between the worlds of “The Capitol” and “District 12.”  For instance, a hover train is used to transport our protagonists to where their fates are to be determined, but it was seen only briefly from an aerial angle and at a great distance.  I feel that closer shots or dynamic pans and tilts to showcase the train would have left the audience at the same loss for words as Katniss herself upon boarding and traveling on such a marvel.  Then there was the “are they organic or are they digital” monster dogs towards the end of the film that weren’t particularly well detailed in any way which reminded me of the atrociously generic “hulk dogs” from Ang Lee’s failed adaptation of Hulk in 2003.  The one impressive example of visual effects was the “clothes on fire” effect used on two separate occasions to (once again) make Katniss more attractive to both her virtual audience and the real one in the theater. 

For a film that is meant to be about something as controversial as children killing children (for any reason), this film is surprisingly light on the action.  Of course, there is a very good reason for this, and it revolves around the fact that this film is rated PG-13.  With most of the kills happening off camera, and the ones that are seen being displayed exclusively in extreme close-ups, there really isn’t much combat displayed on the screen.  If the audience was shown this level of violence from medium shots and wide angles, this film gets an R rating — oh and by the way, loses all that filthy, ridiculous money it made on its opening weekend.  All of the violence and brutality is more implied rather than plainly observed, and that hurts the pacing of this film.  Perhaps the book paints a more thrilling fight for survival, but what the audience observes is more of a deadly game of hide and seek with an over-emphasis on the hiding.  Viewers beware: This is the unfortunate effect that the business of Hollywood has on the fiction of Hollywood which often results in the declawing of more dangerous (and interesting) source material.  If The Hunger Games film franchise wants to make the same kind of waves the novels did, the violence and the action must be upgraded.  

I was astounded at the amount of A-list talent attached to this picture outside of the teen-looking main characters.  Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson all have small, supporting roles in the same manner the adult thespians that populated the Harry Potter films supported its up and comers.  They all did fine jobs with extremely limited opportunities to shine, but the one marquee talent that left the biggest impact in terms of performance was the one not considered an actor in the first place: Lenny Kravitz as “Cinna.”  Yes, you read that correctly.  This rock and roller plays an image/fashion consultant to Katniss to aid her in playing the game outside the game of survival: gaining sponsors for third party aid inside the kill zone.  No other character embodies an adult’s perspective on the games as both compelling and barbaric.  Kravitz displays full confidence in his character’s experience in giving his “tributes” the best chances to survive while developing a genuine concern for Katniss as more than a sacrificial lamb.  His performance is so genuine that every line he delivers to Jennifer Lawrence feels like he is speaking to his actual daughter, Zoe, in real life.  This positive relationship is so vital for The Hunger Games because rich adults and poor children are clearly at odds in this unforgiving, fictional world, whether the children realize it or not.

Josh Hutcherson’s performance as Peeta, the romantic interest/co-tribute of Katniss does a fine job of complimenting her as a character.  Clearly, the role of Peeta is designed to develop a degree of stereotypical role reversal to his female counterpart.  Peeta wears his emotions on his sleeves, is more artistically attuned, is easier to talk to and is slightly less courageous than Katniss.  Josh excels in not overplaying the degree of “weakness” his character shares in relation to Katniss which is vital in maintaining the credibility of “girl power” in this film.  Peeta’s true strength lies in his sense of self and his limitations, and Josh relays this with an everyman’s candidness that only results from decent chemistry with his costar.  The one criticism I have for Josh, is the same I have for Ms. Jennifer Lawrence: The romantic sparks don’t exactly sizzle between them in this film, but then both actors were born in the 1990s.  Take that observation for what it’s worth.  A greater sense of comfort with each other should yield a more rewarding (and less awkward) relationship on the screen in subsequent sequels.

As for Jennifer Lawrence, I can say with full confidence that she is the queen of 2012’s blockbuster films.  Her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone (2010) yielded an Academy Award nomination for a performance in a leading role.  What’s interesting to note is that her character in that film is eerily similar to Katniss in The Hunger Games.  Both are stuck in the wilderness, both behave as parents to their parents, and although they are victims of circumstance, they take steps to do something about it.  Jennifer Lawrence defines confidence and command, and had she played Mystique as thus in X-Men: First Class, that character would have been more compelling than a jealous bimbo straight out of the valley.  But I digress.  Few young, American actresses could do the character of Katniss Everdeen justice without making her something she is clearly not.  Amanda Seyfried would make Katniss too sexy, Anne Hathaway would make Katniss too old, Amanda Bynes would make Katniss too goofy, Blake Lively and Megan Fox would be laughed at, Hayden Panetierre is too perky, and Kristen Stewart is too homely.  Jennifer Lawrence is just right because not only is she beautiful, but she actually has talent, and her appeal in The Hunger Games is refreshingly unisex.     

True girl power is not the concept of women simply being stronger than men; it is women showing an ability to surpass men on neutral ground (literal or figurative) without handicaps on either side.  Jennifer Lawrence and The Hunger Games represent Hollywood’s best attempt to present this idea as a blockbuster in recent memory.  I identify with Katniss not as someone I’d like to have sex with (i.e. the way Hollywood pushes women 99.9% of the time), but as an anonymous nobody that does the best she can with what she’s got and be damned if anyone else tells her otherwise.  I respect that idea because I strive for it.  In this day and age, where so many powerful forms of suggestion pervade our thoughts and minds, a little reminder about the strength of an individual’s will can be quite moving and empowering.  And guess what?  Women can make this idea just as inspiring as men, just not G.I. Jane (1997).

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