Darke Reviews – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

“I volunteer as tribute!”

If you were to have a vote on the top 10 iconic lines from film in the past decade, or even this millenia, surely this should make it near the top. It is a powerful line and powerful moment that introduced us to the world of Panem and Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire. That was a mere three years ago, I have to admit I was shocked when I remembered how recent it was, as it feels like we’ve been living with Katniss and Peeta far longer. Studios have been looking for a franchise to come along and be as strong as this one; with only middling successes with Divergent and Maze Runner, which let’s face it pale by comparison.

So three years and approximately, 1.1 billion dollars later – where do we stand?

Let’s face it. I could stop the review here. If you’ve seen the others, you will be seeing this as well. I could (and will) go on about technical aspects of the film, but regardless of what I say anyone who is engaged this far with the franchise isn’t about to stop now. So this review won’t be a breakdown of the director (Francis Lawrence), writers (Suzanne Collins, Peter Craig, Danny Strong), or even the actors really. I want to talk about how I felt watching the movie. Things I realized.

I was mildly invested at the beginning after the lackluster feeling Part I left me with, but at the same time I have 6 hours + with these characters most of whom I like.  I had a conversation before the film about who I like and don’t, and while Gale drew the short straw as someone I dislike and Peeta was close second, Haymitch, Cinna, Finnick, Beetee, Johanna topped the list as my favorites. Where was Katniss? Well earlier in the week there was another Facebook conversation about Katniss, and I can be quoted as:

She IS a prop. She is also a survivor, she will do whatever it takes to live, but the reason she is important in the narrative is that she is the Noble Sacrifice. The martyr. She is 100% done with the world by the end of the first film. She still is a prop for other people with little action of her own volition other than defiance. That said, I enjoy the movies. The first book is ok. Is she a bad icon? Yes. But she’s one of the few film icons girls really have and there are traits worth praising.

I may have been mistaken. I think she is one of the truly strongest young female characters in film. She is a survivor. She started taking initiative. She took agency for her own life at every opportunity. Yes she needed help, but so do we all. What matters most about Katniss – she is one of the few characters we get that feels human. While Jennifer Lawrence was 23 when the first film came out Katniss wasn’t. She was still a child. She was a victim who refused to let herself be a victim. She was a child. She was a child who watched an even younger child be murdered in front of her and REFLEXIVELY killed another human being. They let that show. A few in character years later and she is breaking. There’s a speech near the beginning of the film that I adore as it tells you everything you need to know about her for the rest of the film. Jennifer Lawrence sells every bloody moment of pain, of fear, of weakness, of rage, and of being “done”. It’s all there in her performance.

Most importantly she is human. She reacts like a human. She reacts like a good person. She is one of the most “Real” characters in film. That needs to be celebrated.

So where does Katniss sit now as the franchise comes to an end? She’s still not my favorite overall, but she’s up there. I think this movie changed a lot of my opinion on her as I finally watched her character finish her arc. I was satisfied. I felt that things were complete.

For their part, everyone else’s arc concluded the way I think they should have. Each actor did a good job conveying what they needed to and each had enough charisma on screen to make me care one way or another.

On my more typical technical aspects, I think the movie may have been ten minutes too long. A few shots just lingered into awkwardness. A few shots felt extraneous.  The effects were top end from make up experts such as Ve Neil (Face/Off), and others who have won on Face/Off as part of the crew. The opening effect is one of the most solid I’ve ever seen and the movie really doesn’t let up on those practical effects the rest of the running time. The CG Hounds were…ok. They looked like left over stock footage from the garbage that was I Am Legend. I forgive them, a rare thing with effects work,  as they are meant to be artificial.

TL;DR?

The movie is 100% Serviceable. It’s the ending that needed to happen. It has no real surprises. It’s the right conclusion for the right arc. It WORKS. More film writers should watch this to learn how to nail the final act; something so many many fail at.

It didn’t have an emotional gut punch like other films do, but I also have no regrets here. I have no real qualms with this film. I don’t think it’s the greatest. I don’t think it’s the most fun. It is what it needs to be.

It should be watched. It was a good movie. Not just ok, but actually good.

 

Darke Reviews | The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I (2014)|

Most of you are readily familiar with my reviews, for those new to the page bear with me. I love writing reviews. They are a hobby which I want to turn into something more. There are movies of course which I watch and wonder “whats the point?”. In some cases it is because it is so bad no one wants to see it. In some cases it is so obscure even if you wanted to see it you couldn’t. There are some films, which despite my best efforts you will see *coughs* Bayformers *coughs* and Hollywood will take as a check to make another despite anything else. Then there are movies like Mockingjay.

In Hollywoods ever growing quest for a chance to milk a franchise for every drop of its sweet, precious, blood they have taken to a new trend of splitting the finale film into two. Twilight, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and even Marvel is doing it with the Infinity War. Though it has not yet been announced the Divergent finale, Allegiant will probably be split in two. I would be surprised if it wasn’t. Don’t get me started on the Hobbit where we took one movie and made it into three. Of the ones made already, Hobbit included, the first of the films tends to have an issue.

It’s dull.

Not saying it is a bad movie, but that they use the film to lay all the groundwork for the epic finale. There’s enough action you are not entirely bored. You are already invested in the characters thus far and for once you do get a deeper amount of time with most of them, but at the same time they lack a certain punch. They lack a real weight because you know they aren’t over. Mockingjay is no different. Oh there’s some action here, but not to the level or intensity we’ve gotten used to. This one tries for more emotional punches and a lot of focus on Katniss after the events of the past two movies.

The story of course is by Suzanne Collins who also adapted it for the screen. There’s two screenplay credits with The Town’s Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Strong was Jonathan on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but has also become a talented writer with Lee Daniels’ The Butler as a written by credit. So with the idea of this particular story needing to be told in mind, these two men are a perfect choice. They do have a keen sense of drama and how to use action to accent it and that is what Mockingjay is – a drama with action added to ease the tension that is building for us until Part II.

Good writing only takes you part of the way with Francis Lawrence taking up the directors chair again after his success on Catching Fire. I also think we get to see his weak points a bit more, much like we did with I Am Legend. We have a very solid film here, with very solid – well – everything. The movie is just lacking something and I think thats a combination of the director, writer, and producers not having a clean and clear idea on how to appropriately split the movie into two. We also have enough tonal shifts and pacing issues in the movie to make it a bit jarring at times. The opening to close shifts just a bit too much and it runs a bit too long in the tooth.

Saving it from these technical, production, and directorial issues are the actors. Ok. Actor. Jennifer Lawrence. 1 Academy award, two nominations and two Golden Globes, with one additional nomination make us think she might be a good actress. This movie reminds us she is. She carries the film and is beautifully doing what she does. Every emotion feels real. Nothing is phoned in or left to chance with her. She just is that good and has no choice but to carry the movie as the rest of the cast, while good, don’t have nearly enough development or screen time. I would have rather seen more of Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks Effie, and certainly more of Sam Claflin’s Finnick. That boy exudes charisma even when he is pulling it all in. Hutcherson, Hemsworth, Sutherland, Hoffman, Moore, and Tucci all do well enough and really could phone it in if they wanted to. Hutcherson does get a few beats and I enjoyed what I saw there. For my Natalie Dormer fans, yeah there is not enough Cressida, but what we do get is excellent and a huge departure from her Tyrell role. All of the actors do well with what they were given. I can’t say I am a fan of Hemsworth but honestly, I am finding more and more I am not a fan of the Hemsworth clan outside of Thor. All of the power in the film resides with Lawrence. Banks and Harrelson get some shining moments that I wanted so much more of that I was disappointed I didn’t get it.

Not much to talk on the technicals. Nothing new, but at the same time nothing bad either. Actually, I type corrected. The make up effects. Flawless. Not surprised with Ve Neill in charge. Season 1 Face/Off winner Conor McCullagh gets a credit as Key Make Up Artist, with my personal favourite Face/Off contestant Laura Dandridge having a special make up effects artist credit.  Glen Hetricks Optic Nerve studios was also involved. We are all better for it. There are a few choice shots were some amazing talent were needed and the effects are subtle going through it so they were worth mention. I know this is a review of Hunger Games, but I have to give credit to Face/Off for actually furthering careers of really talented people.

TL;DR?

As I said before, there are movies like Mockingjay. Face it, you are already invested and nothing in my review will stop you from seeing it. Nor should anything in my review stop you from seeing it. You need to for the finale which by all accounts should be filled with enough action and intensity to make you want to cry.

If you haven’t gotten into Hunger Games before, this one is NOT the one to start with. Then again who starts with the 3rd movie out of four?

Otherwise, yeah go see it and be the completionist. It is a solid film but suffers what I now dub The Deathly Hollows curse. Good but not great. Solid, but not quite fun or entertaining. It exists as a filler and placeholder for additional material coming soon to a theatre near you. I did enjoy it, but I wasn’t blown away by any one thing.

So there we go. May the odds be ever in your favor.

 

Darke Reviews | The Quiet Ones (2014)

I told you guys I would be watching more horror movies, a genre I have long since avoided. Mostly because the films haven’t interested me. Partially because of nostalgia for my golden age of Horror. So marking the second theatrical review for me of this genre is the Possession Horror – The Quiet Ones.

As it seems to be, from what I can tell in the trailers, films like this are set as a period piece. They are also nearly always (it seems) based on “actual events”. Commence eye rolling. The original screenplay was by Tom deVille, who has only a few TV episodes and a short to his credit prior. Then, there are three writers credits over his. Craig Rosenberg (After the Sunset), Oren Moverman (The Messenger, I’m Not There), and John Pogue (US Marshalls, Rollerball (2002), Ghost Ship). Three writers credits and once again the rule holds true. You can see all the different hands in the film and that at no point they agreed on how the story should go. Is it science? Is it supernatural? What are the rules? Are there rules?

Pogue, was also the director and that may also be the problem. Ok, its not a problem in that he is able to receive elevated performances from all of his actors. Actors who mostly aren’t known, but even Jared Harris shows an interesting range of emotions and mental states as the film progresses. Some credit must go to the director. Blame for the movies pacing also goes to the director. One should not be watching a movie and look to their viewing partner and go “what time is it?”. I was trying to figure out how long I was watching it and how much longer it would go. But Jess, it’s a slow burn film. Slow burn implies things happen. It implies that the film is building tension. It implies that at the end of it there will be a climax worth having a reaction to. A reaction that isn’t “what the heck were you thinking?” This had none of that, its simply flat.

That isn’t to say I don’t care about the characters. Sam Claflin (Finnick from Hunger Games) and Olivia Cook (Bates Motel) are actually the best thing this movie has going for it. At times I thought Claflin was Nicholas Hoult with his wide eyed expressions, but I cared what happened to him. I cared about his emotional state and actually respected the haracter he was playing, because of his performance. Cook, looking fantastic with black hair, reminded me of Eva Green in how she moves her mouth and the slight facial tics she affected through the film. Her range is actually quite something. I would look forward to seeing other work for her so she can progress as an actress. The ability to flip your emotions, and be believable, like a lightswitch should not be discounted.

That being said, even good acting cannot save a movie that fails at the most primal aspect of a horror movie. Tension. I felt none. The final act of the movie came closest and was most intriguing. I have a little bias to it, but thats another story. I just wish they had taken another route. Yes, it was loosely based on an actual experiment from Toronto in the ealy 1970s. Paranormal experimentation in the 70’s is about as trustworthy as a politician trying to win an election. On top of that the “based on” conceit is all but utter garbage unless there’s actual evidence from the event. That means they could have gone even further with this and didn’t.

TL;DR

If you are a horror junkie, go ahead and see Quiet Ones. Otherwise I found this a good place to take a nap for an hour and fourty minutes.

That may be my shortest TL;DR ever. Anyway, next week we begin the summer blockbuster season (and pretty much more reviews from me than I can shake a stick at) with Spider Man 2.
Complete aside – if I were to hold a contest for a pair of movie tickets, would you fine folks be interested?