Film Review “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 137 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

It’s a sad day for diehard fans of the “Hunger Games” series, while people like me will remember it for its long drawn-out speeches about war and the long clarifying conversations about the plot after heroine wakes up after getting knocked out. The conclusion to the much beloved series doesn’t go out with a whimper, but it doesn’t go out on a high note either. The “Hunger Games” movies will end as they started, just alright; nothing spectacular.

“Mockingjay – Part 2” picks up right after the ending events of “Mockingjay – Part 1”. Peeta (Hutcherson) has been brainwashed by the Capitol and Katniss (Lawrence) is in shock that man she once began to develop feelings for expresses hate and displeasure to the mere sight of her. Meanwhile the resistance, made of all the Districts, is planning their final assault on the Capitol. They’re led by the suspicious President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).

Coin plans to keep Katniss safe and out of harm’s way, mainly wielding Katniss as a propaganda piece, much like Katniss was in the first “Mockingjay” movie. That doesn’t sit well with Katniss who stows away, joining soldiers on the front line as they prepare for an invasion. Her ultimate goal for this final chapter is to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) with her own bow and arrow.

The real fun, a block by block journey through the heart of the Capitol while alluding deadly booby traps and fighting creatures, doesn’t come until we trudge through long bits of tediously familiar dialogue. The middle of “Mockingjay” should have come sooner, or at least began the movie. Teasing the inevitable action for half an hour is disingenuous for fans and viewers of the movies, adding to the complaint that the “Mockingjay” sequel is too long. While parts of “Mockingjay” work on a superbly entertaining level, too much of it feels like unnecessary filler.

The excessive length takes away from the main theme of the movie, which is fairly basic: war is hell. For being a somewhat anti-war movie, it seems to solve a lot of its problems through violent conflict and murder. The hell aspect of that statement gives viewers some of the series best emotional scenes. The mature content of how painful and heartbreaking war can be, isn’t explored enough. Its message about how difficult the civilian toll during war can be, on either side of the battle, is sandwiched between expositions, taking away from the gut punch it should be. For a series that prides itself off its adult themes, it seems to misjudge how to present its most interesting topic in its final movie.

Overall, I’m not disappointed that I watched these movies. At times I quite enjoyed them, and I think that the series has multiple, bold adult messages directed at an audience with a young, developing mind. Like the others, I have to praise the acting throughout. It’s the best of any young adult franchise, save for the “Harry Potter” series. At the end of the day though, “Harry Potter” handled the split of its final book into two movies, incredibly well, while “Hunger Games” overcompensated for how much content they had to stretch into four hours. “Hunger Games” is another instance where the story would have been much better off as one impactful final movie than two alright flicks.

“The Hunger Games: The Exhibition” Opens in NY at Discovery Times Square

When you think of fictional places you’d like to visit, the dystopian districts of The Hunger Games’s Panem might not seem like the most obvious vacation choice. Nevertheless a walk through that world, based on the films spawned from Suzanne Collins’s wildly popular book series, is now available right in midtown Manhattan. The Hunger Games: The Exhibition has moved into Discovery Times Square where fans will be able to explore the props, costumes and interactive features through January 3rd 2016.

After a welcoming video from Elizabeth Banks both as her character Effie Trinket and herself, the exhibition takes visitors chronologically through Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) journey from the impoverished District 12 to the excesses of the Capitol and into the games and the ensuing rebellion. Each room is fully immersive and ripe with small details to appreciate. I knew I was in good hands right from District 12 when I saw Primrose Everdeen’s shirt (worn by actress Willow Shields) was left perfectly untucked.

The exhibit is a bit of a hybrid insofar as it invites fans to immerse themselves in the actual world of Panem via interactive features like sitting down with Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant Cesar Flickerman but then it also takes a step back with informative signage to look at the artistry and designers responsible for the film’s creation.

Another clever touch is the moral dilemmas the exhibit challenges guests with along the way. Much like Katniss, fans are faced with several options in how they’ll face the harsh world of Panem and they’re able to make a decision that will then be tallied in beads for the duration of the show. It will be interesting to see how those choices stack up and I appreciated how many opportunities for hands-on analogue interactions there were rather than solely relying on digital screens.

For me however, the standouts of this exhibition are really the costumes. They’re central to Katniss’s rise to power in the series (with the help of her talented stylist Cinna of course!) and the films have done justice to their importance from the humble mockingjay pin to Katniss’s jaw-dropping wedding gown from Catching Fire. That gown from designer Trish Summerville is displayed in proud contrast with her original leather get up.

Like all good tourist attractions, you inevitably exit through a gift shop that’s just as thought out as the exhibition, with no district left unrepresented–I confess as a Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) fan, I picked up a District 4 pin and left just a little more hyped that the finale of the films is yet to come.

The Hunger Games: The Exhibition is open now through January 3rd 2016 at Discovery Times Square, 226 West 44th Street NYC. Tickets range from $22.50-$29.50.
The final film in the series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, opens in the US on November 20th.

Blu-ray Review “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1”

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore
Director: Francis Lawrence
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Lionsgate
Release Date: March 6, 2015
Run Time: 122 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Unlike the rest of the world “The Hunger Games” franchise, hasn’t delivered for me at all. The first one was just one. I thought that “Catching Fire” was awful and “Mockingjay Part 1” is another long drawn out lead in for the final film. Personally, I love Jennifer Lawrence much more than I did after the first Hunger Games and her character is more likable but the film is not. I will definitely watch the second part of this film to finish the series but expectations are low. I think the whole “Part 1” and “Part 2” business of these epic films are really getting old.

Official Premise: The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.

Lionsgate is delivering this release as a combo pack with a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD copy included. Even though, I am not crazy about the film, the Blu-ray merits are very impressive. The 1080p transfer is gorgeous. The CGI in the film is well-blended. I was most impressed with the audio tracks. First we get a Dolby TrueHD Atmos, which basically translates to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for those units that are not compatible. It is an amazing track that delivers the epic feel that the film aims for. There is also an interesting track, which is a 2.0 Dolby Digital Optimized for Late-Night Listening, not very epic but still a neat option.

The special features are also quite impressive. “The Mockingjay Lives: The Making of Mockingjay – Part 1”: is an eight-part feature-length documentary. If you love these films, this is a must watch. There are two featurettes included. The first is “Straight From the Heart: A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman” and the second is “Songs of Rebellion: Lorde on Curating the Soundtrack”. There is also a music video for “Yellow Flicker Beat” from Lorde. Lastly there is an Audio Commentary from Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson and some deleted scenes.

Film Review “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Julianne Moore
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The final piece of a series is no longer a bloated epic detailing the final time we’ll see our heroes, but now cut in half, with the first part generally being the weaker of the two. That makes it easier to scrutiny because of how much of an obvious cash grab it is by the Hollywood executives hoping to squeeze out those last remaining pennies before finding their next franchise to milk. “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part – 1” isn’t about to break that stereotype, but it comes pretty close.

For a movie that seems to be advertised as an explosive and heart pounding action flick, it’s surprisingly thoughtful. “Mockingjay – Part 1” picks up moments after the events of “Catching Fire”. Katniss (Lawrence) is still nursing some mental scars and having to come to terms with the fact that District 12 no longer exists. It’s nothing but rubble and piles of charred bodies. The visuals of blackened skeletons is enough to paint a horrific picture and further imply the brutal extent the Capitol will go to strengthen it’s iron fist grip over the districts.

Katniss is taking refuge underground in District 13, long believed to have suffered the same fate that has recently befallen District 12. There she meets a military society headed by President Alma Coin (Moore). This is the first introduction of President Alma in the series and while it’s easy to trust the person supplying food and supplies, there’s something ominous about a character who never seems to view Katniss more than a puppet for political manipulation. On the other end, Peeta (Hutcherson) is being used to discredit the defiance that grows in the districts.

Katniss and Peeta are clearly being used as propaganda. While Katniss is used to inspire hope to those fighting, through her fiery eyes of anger and bitter words of revenge, it appears that Peeta is nervously regurgitating lines, but we never see or fully know what purpose the Capital is using him for. “Mockingjay” focuses more on President Alma’s use of Katniss to beat the drums of rebellion in the hopes of getting ubiquitous support for their uprising against the Capital. Luckily this disinformation chess match is interrupted by scenes of retaliation around Panem and a third act covert mission to rescue Peeta.

The theme doesn’t say anything new, but it’s refreshing to see a movie, that’s been coined as “young adult”, use such a mature idea in a very presentable and easy to understand fashion. It’s not difficult to see the positive and ill effects of spin that two warring factions can create. Personally, I was expecting CGI explosions and Jennifer Lawrence whipping her hair all about while firing off multiple arrows like Hawkeye in “The Avengers”, but for what we’re given, it is proficient with it’s message and it simply wets our appetites for an explosive finale come next year.

The big problem with the first part of this oversized first course of Mockingjay is that it feels too much like a prologue to something a lot more monumental. There’s a lot of moving pieces, but a lot of downtime that involves staring, sitting and inconsequential dialogue. The obvious payoff for our two hours of time won’t happen until Part 2, but it’d be nice to have some kind of reward for our investment into the lives of these characters. It doesn’t help that Jennifer Lawrence, who’s shown such a wide range of emotions throughout this series, is a bit limited to angry reactions and fear.

Regardless, if it wasn’t for Lawrence’s commanding presence, this movie wouldn’t have the drive and Katniss wouldn’t radiate bravery. All the regulars are back for this movie, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and the stupendously talented Philip Seymour Hoffman. Without this cast, this movie would have fizzled out like “Percy Jackson” or “The Mortal Instruments”. It’ll be easier to reflect on “Part 1” once the series completes next year. We’ll know if it’s a good enough primer for the grand ending we’re all expecting. For now though, it’s simply an appetizer to keep us content until the main course arrives.