Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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DIR: Francis Lawrence • WRI Peter Craig, Danny Strong Pro: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell, Mark Yoshikawa • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

There’s something almost redundant about writing a review for a movie like this – a blockbuster ending to a beloved series with marketing on hyperdrive doesn’t need much else to sell tickets. These types of instalments can sometimes feel critic-proof, which is what leads so many of them to be sloppy and… well… just not quite good enough.

Splitting the final book into two movies, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, was certainly the right idea – and not just in terms of moneymaking. Mockingjay carries the most action of the series, as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) comes face to face with her inescapable destiny; an all-out war with the Capitol of Panem. However, the book also carries the emotional weight of the story as Katniss struggles with her intertwining destinies, discovering that there is no ‘right’ decision in war, and that suffering for both you and your loved ones is unavoidable. This salient point, probably the most devastating in this series of young adult novels, is lost in a movie that glories in tactical victories and focuses too heavily on Katniss’s love-triangle with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Despite its long running time (137 minutes), the movie can’t seem to decide which story it wants to tell more – Katniss Everdeen: war hero, or Katniss Everdeen: lovesick teenager.

That’s not to say the movie is a total wash, as many of the scenes are handled extremely well, and the characterisations are generally spot on. Taken as a standalone, minus the weight of its source material, Mockingjay Part 2 draws all of the threads of story together to a satisfying conclusion. It brings us clearly from Katniss’ beginnings as a volunteer tribute in the first games to her final stand against a tyrannical system of government. Peeta’ rescue from the clutches of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the last movie, resulting in his brainwashing and attempted murder of Katniss, adds a seamless flow between both parts, and the film hits the ground running. The trouble might be that there is just too much story to tell, and characters like Johanna (Jena Malone) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) fall by the wayside in an attempt to make sense of Katniss’ journey. Still, we spend enough time with Katniss and Gale, Katniss and Peeta, Peeta and Gale, and Katniss by herself to gain insight into how the events of the previous three movies have set the scene for the concluding chapter.

The sad loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, during the shoot forced his character to take a back seat, but Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch Abernathy) and Julianne Moore (as President Alma Coin) ably fill the crucial moments with appropriate gravitas. Fans of the books will no doubt delight in pivotal scenes – the storming of ‘The Nut’ in District Two; the sewers of the Capitol; the Star Squad’s propos – while mourning the loss of others. Those who have followed the movies will get closure on their character’s stories, with enough surprises and shocking twists to keep interest high throughout the running time.

Exciting by times and definitely entertaining, the film has done enough to finish the series with a bang, but hasn’t quite lived up to its own hype. With so much talent at their disposal, a cast of fantastic actors, the budget to recreate terrifying mutts and epic battle sequences, a rock-solid narrative to work from, and an army of fans ready to be enraptured, Mockingjay Part 2 disappointingly falls short of its own potential.

Sarah Griffin

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is released 20th November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Official Website

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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DIR: Francis Lawrence  WRI: Peter Craig, Danny Strong  PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems  ED: Alan Edward Bell, Mark Yoshikawa •  MUS: James Newton Howard  CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 follows on from the previous two offerings and follows the now standard tease of splitting the final instalment of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels into two separate movies. In Catching Fire, we witnessed Katniss’ disruption of the Quarter Qwell games and subsequent ‘rescue’. The film opens with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) still in recovery after her ordeal, struggling to come to terms with those who were left behind.  We learn about the destruction The Capitol has waged on all of the Districts – most notably Katniss’ own District 12.

 

This instalment is essentially a set-up for the final film. Whilst there are some intense action sequences, this film is more concerned with character development as we see Katniss slowly come to terms with her new status as a figurehead for the rebellion. Meanwhile, Liam Hemsworth’s Gale has wasted no time in becoming an action hero which leaves him just enough spare time to still wonder if his unfortunate love triangle will ever be disbanded.

 

Readers of the trilogy will wonder why it was necessary to split the final book into two movies, and cinemagoers will undoubtedly feel the same. This movie is, in-essence, a 123-minute trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two as it spends a great deal of time getting us up to speed with our protagonists and accustomed to new characters whilst building toward the film’s only true reveal which is certain to have fans lining up to see the final instalment.

 

Katniss’ trademark fierceness is somewhat lost here – she becomes a Shadow-Katniss as she struggles with having left Peeta behind. I can’t really judge her considering a recent quiz assured me that I would last no more than a day in the Hunger Games, but it is disappointing to not see the full force of such a well-loved character.

 

Jennifer Lawrence might be the world’s sweetheart at the moment, but it is Josh Hutcherson’s performance as Peeta, who has been captured and taken to the Capitol, which takes precedence here. Despite only appearing briefly he is utterly changed and his character takes on a multitude of nuances, which will endear him to audiences. There is an over-reliance on bonding moments between characters that have already had two movies to become close.  Welcome changes from the books were the additional scenes featuring Effie Trinket who is so effortlessly portrayed by Elizabeth Banks.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is certainly not the strongest of the franchise but sets up the finale perfectly and ends at a point which will have both fans and newcomers to the series crying out for more.

 Ciara O’Brien

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

122 minutes

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is released 21st November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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DIR: Francis Lawrence  • WRI: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt • PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell •  DES: Philip Messina •  MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland

The first instalment of The Hunger Games was an entertaining adaptation of the first novel in the series of three. The unique concept of the novel and its futuristic setting was enough to keep the story moving. However, it was the undeniably charismatic charm of its lead Jennifer Lawrence that brought heart to the story. Lawrence (along with her Oscar) and her fellow cast mates return with Catching Fire to see if they can replicate their success, this time with director Francis Lawrence (I am Legend).

Catching Fire is actually an improvement on its predecessor, the story is darker with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) beginning to look outside of her immediate situation to see the harsh reality of the people of Panem’s lives. Rebellion is on the horizon and the bleakness of their world is apparent. While the danger for Katniss and her partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in the first film is confined to the arena where the Hunger Games are conducted, in Catching Fire the danger is omnipresent and cannot be escaped.

We join Katniss and Peeta when they have survived the Hunger Games of the first film and are now being paraded in front of the districts to calm the mounting disquiet of the inhabitants. The creepy President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has plans for their demise and the threat of a real war is increasing. The inevitable love triangle is not as important a storyline as in other teenage blockbusters, with it being almost an inconvenience to the strong female lead of Katniss. In a post-Twilight world it has been a delight for audiences and critics alike to have a female lead like Katniss, whose concerns stretch a lot further than which boy to pick, and she is the polar opposite to the weak Bella Swan.

The only failing with the film is its length, at nearly two and a half hours it does drag in the middle, with the period in the arena the tightest and most exciting. The time in the arena brings home the themes of dystopia and is truly scary at times with all contestants out of their depth and fighting for their lives. Catching Fire is what a blockbuster should be like, and the male heroes of Superman, Batman and countless Marvel films could learn a thing or two from the ever-natural appeal of Lawrence. I, for one, hope Lawrence can keep this success rolling into its final two films.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

12A  (See IFCO for details)

146  mins

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is released on 22nd November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire– Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Red Dawn

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DIR: Dan Bradley • WRI: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore  • PRO: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen  • ED: Richard Pearson •  DES: Dominic Watkins • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck

Remakes continue to take up time on cinema release schedules. They’re nothing new, but there’s always a reason behind them. Sometimes it’s a property that thrives on reinvention. Other times, it’s allowing the story to be told fully with more resources, better cast and direction. Others, it’s simply a money-making experience; all involved need a quick buck and remaking a film is the way to do it. With Red Dawn, there is nothing redeeming about it. The original Red Dawn, scripted and directed by Communist-hating John Milius, is something of a cult favourite. Where the original is now viewed with a sense of irony and humour, this remake is something entirely different.

Held back from release by MGM’s financial woes, Red Dawn has been in the media for all the wrong reasons. Having the film heavily edited to accommodate the Chinese market – the original invaders were supposed to be the Chinese Army ‘repossessing’ American land / loans – and, as mentioned, being held by back MGM going under, it’s not surprising that Red Dawn is already infamous. Chris Hemsworth plays Jed Eckert (the role originally filled out by Patrick Swayze), a Marine returned from Iraq to his hometown of Spokane and living with his father, Tom Eckert (Brett Cullen, originally Harry Dean Stanton) and his younger brother, Matt (Josh Peck, originally Charlie Sheen). The North Koreans (yes, really) soon launch their invasion and begin their assault on Spokane and the American East Coast. Fleeing into the woods, Jed and Tom, together with a group of B-list teen actors (Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Josh Hutcherson) form a guerilla resistance and start fighting back against the North Koreans.
Dan Bradley, who previously worked as a stunt director for the Bourne trilogy, Quantum of Solace and countless others, shoots and cuts with a decent sense of pacing. Some of the action sequences are delivered quite well and wouldn’t look out of place in any other blockbuster. The problem here, however, is that he’s been let down by comically bad acting and laughable dialogue. Josh Peck, in particular, is devastatingly bad as Hemsworth’s brother and has all the charm of a toothbrush. Likewise, Hutcherson simply says his lines and waits to react. The screenplay doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The North Koreans invade – then what? Why haven’t they done anything else? Why did they only invade the East Coast? Why don’t we see any more of the invasion? Where are the Army? Had Dan Bradley been given a superior script and better actors, he could have made a fairly decent action film. Instead, Red Dawn is straight-to-DVD tosh that doesn’t have anything going for it.

Brian Lloyd

12A (see IFCO website for details)

93mins
Red Dawn is released on 15th March 2013

Red Dawn– Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Hunger Games

Franchise Alert!

DIR: Gary Ross • WRI: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray • PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling • DES: Philip Messina • Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks

Fans of Suzanne Collins’ hugely successfully series of books have been on the defensive since this adaptation is being referred to as ‘Twilight meets The Running Man‘, whereas those previously unaware of the tween-lit hits are seeing this movie as little more than “Battle Royale with all the violence taken out, and replaced with a love story.” As it turns out, both descriptions are vaguely accurate, but in no way is that necessarily a bad thing.

Katniss Everdeen (a perfectly cast Jennifer Lawrence) is living in the coal-mining town of District 12, one of the poorer districts of a Panem, a futuristic, post-war America. In order to keep the population in line, every year the President (Donald Sutherland) organises The Hunger Games, where a boy and girl aged between 12 and 18 are picked at random from each district, and all 24 teens are placed into a huge arena to hunt and kill each other on live television. When her frail younger sister is picked, Katniss volunteers to take her place, and heads off to the Capital with fellow District 12-er Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

From here Katniss and Peeta are primped and prepped for The Hunger Games by a host of well-known actors (Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and a scene-stealing Elizabeth Banks), all of whom help bring weight or levity when and where required. Then it’s off to the arena, and all hell breaks loose…

The worrying 12A rating had some folk concerned that the pretty-darn-violent novel would be toned down some, and while it never goes for OTT gore, there are more than enough stabbings, bludgeonings, poisonings, impalings and neck-snappings to put those worries to rest. Intensity is the name of the game here, with director Gary Ross going all Paul Greengrass with shaky, handheld camera-work getting up close and personal with every fight scene. And when the film slows down to take an emotional beat, those are perfectly handled too, with one scene in particular that should have the entire audience wiping away a tear.

As an adaptation, the movie is a massive success, thanks its fantastic cast and amazing production design, as well as Oscar®-worthy make-up and costume designs, and while there are some omissions and alterations from the novel, it’s nothing that will ruin the experience. But as a stand-alone movie, it does have some minor problems. While it doesn’t feel as long as its epic 142-minute running time, it is a movie that has A LOT of story to tell, which can sometimes bog the tempo down a little bit. Also, side-lining someone as talented as Toby Jones and someone as handsome as Liam Hemsworth into virtually non-existing roles seems like something of a waste. But these are minor niggles when compared to the triumph of setting up such a complicated universe so well, and leaving the audience wanting more, which they’ll get when sequel Catching Fire hits cinemas in November 2013.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Hunger Games is released on 23rd March 2012

 

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