“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1”
There is an eight-hundred pound gorilla in the cinemas this week, one of those movies expected to be such a boxoffice powerhouse that studios are afraid to open any other major films against it.
It’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” (wide release), Lionsgate’s attempt to reap even more profits from the lucrative young adult franchise by following the formula made familiar from the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series by dividing the final book into two pictures. (“Part 2” is scheduled for release a year from now.)
The result is a dark, dreary picture that is all wind-up and no delivery, a tedious time-filler that merely takes up space between the superior “Catching Fire” and what one hopes will be a return to form with next year’s conclusion.
In this installment, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in Panem’s District 13 after being rescued in the aftermath of the Quarter Quell. There she finds rebellion simmering against the Capitol and its cruel President Snow (Donald Sutherland), under the leadership of District President Coin (Julianne Moore). Coin and her confidantes, publicity specialist Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and scientific genius Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), plan to use Katniss as the Mockingjay, the symbol of revolution who will inspire the people of all regions to unite and rise up against injustice.
Unfortunately, Katniss is so distraught over the fact that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the boy she came to love during their time together in the games, remains a captive in Snow’s evil hands that she refuses to cooperate — until, of course, she does, but only under the condition that an effort will be made to rescue him.
Much of the rest of the film consists of Katniss alternately making propaganda commercials for the rebellion and sniffling over Peeta, who periodically appears on Capitol television urging her to lay down her arms. With the exception of a few forays outside, she is ensconced in a bunker-like structure with the population of District 13 as well as her home-town pal Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a hunk who is obviously smitten with her, and Finnick (Sam Claflin), an erstwhile rival from the games who is also bemoaning the loss of his love. Old standbys like her former trainer (Woody Harrelson) and erstwhile press escort (Elizabeth Banks), both now in the rebel camp, also make appearances.
But the claustrophobic nature of the setting, continually shot in gloom, leaves the picture feeling as stranded as the rebels are. One sequence, in which the base is attacked by a Capitol fleet of bombers, is meant to be exciting, but it’s mostly dull stuff since all the action is shown on radar screens.
It’s also undone by an absurd digression about Katniss’ dull-as-dishwater sister, who puts herself in danger by going off to save her pet cat as air-raid sirens are wailing. Will she make it back to the lower level before the huge metal doors close, stranding her outside the safe zone? This ridiculous scene is intended to generate suspense, but is more likely to cause you to stifle a laugh. A final attempt to excite — a special-ops mission to free Peeta — also fails because it’s photographed in almost total darkness. And the concluding twist is so predictable it barely deserves the name.
Under these circumstances Lawrence, who has invigorated the previous installments in the series, comes across as little more than a weepy lass pining away for her fellow, and the rest of the cast is similarly ill-used, with Moore forced to deliver a passel of high-minded speeches. Only the late Hoffman juices things up a bit by adding a bit of elfin humor to his delivery.
In fact the movie can be summed up in a line that Coin speaks to Heavensbee as the assault on District 13 begins. “It’s going to be a long night,” she tells him. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is actually only a bit over two hours, but it seems to drag on longer than “Gone With the Wind.”
One of the few films daring to go up against the “Mockingjay” juggernaut is “Citizenfour” (Angelika), a documentary about Edward Snowden.
But Laura Poitras’ film is not a journalistic recap of Snowden’s leaks about the U.S. government’s “data collection” programs and their political impact. It’s a real-time record of how Poitras and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald met him in Hong Kong and the three strategized about the best way to release the information he had purloined. In the background, they deal with the government’s efforts to identify the leaker and track him down, which lends some suspense to the story even though we all know how it turned out.
Whether you consider Snowden a hero or a villain, “Citizenfour” provides a portrait of the man and his motivation different from any you have seen before.