Mockingjay Part 2

Rating:

SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION

Main Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson

Director: Francis Lawrence

Hollywood Squares 2000th Show 1974 PD

I’d quite prefer to host these Hollywood Squares, but no such luck.

I received a telephone call this morning from an absolutely lovely man named Rinse or Rance or some such in response to my offer to the Republican National Committee to host their latest tea party. I am sure I can show them just how gracious entertaining is done. Mr. Rinse was most kind saying that he would very much like to take me up on my offer of Chateau Maine but rather than just serve tea, he would like me to moderate and host a candidates’ debate. It’s been a while since I flexed my forensic skills but I was on the debate team in high school, winning the district championship with my learned dissertation on ‘Boulder Dam: Amazing Achievement or Concrete Catastrophe?’. Handling a few questions about current politics should be easy in comparison.

Of course I have no studio space at Chateau Maine to handle the nine candidates that are expected to show up and the front hall is full of my ‘Salute to Syrian Refugees’ Christmas decorations. I could use the front lawn I suppose, but that would mean displacing the living nativity. In keeping with the Middle Eastern theme, I did try to get some genuine Syrian refugees for the nativity this year but their visas are held up in congress somehow. Not being able to get Syrians, I have hired a very nice extended Korean family who don’t mind standing there in heavy costumes for hours while cars circle the drive to see them posed in tableau based on the works of Giotto, Fra Filippo Lippi and Salvador Dali, the thousands of cunningly placed LED lights playing the heavenly host, and to enjoy my recording of O Holy Night on continuous loop. This leaves the back terrace overlooking the canyon as the only possible space for holding a debate. It will be a tough squeeze to get nine podiums in but I’ve had a brilliant idea. I called an old friend down at King World productions and they’re allowing me to rent the old Hollywood Squares for promotional consideration and free tickets to the Hollywood Hills Holiday Tour of Homes. I think it’s absolutely brilliant as the set will have less of a footprint, hold nine candidates quite easily, and we’ll have room for the camera crew and my moderator’s station. I’ll get my people on it tomorrow.

With all that worked out, it was time to relax with a film. Normy and I had not been to the Cineplex for a matinee for some weeks so we decided to head on down and take in a film with a convenient start time. This happened to be Mockingjay Part 2, the fourth and last film in The Hunger Games trilogy which has been arriving in annual installments since 2012. This film covers the second half of the last of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels about a far distant American continent which has become the totalitarian regime of Panem, a world in which the vast majority of the population, organized into twelve districts, is subjugated by a corrupt and decadent capital which seems to have arisen on the site of Denver, Colorado. The first film, The Hunger Games, introduced us to our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and hero Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as they are trained to compete in the titular gladiatorial type combat in which twenty four young tributes enter an arena and only one emerges victorious. The second film, Catching Fire, finds Katniss and Peeta back in the arena after manipulations by the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who wants to eliminate Katniss from being a symbol of resistance and hope to the people. By the third film, Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss has become a leader, not just of resistance, but of full-fledged revolution under the aegis of President Coin (Julianne Moore) of the somewhat mythic thirteenth district.

As Mockingjay Part 2 opens, Katniss, along with her on again off again boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and old arena ally Finnick (Sam Claflin) have succeeded in rescuing Peeta from torture and imminent death in the dungeons of the capital. However, Peeta has been damaged by his experiences and is highly unstable. For propaganda purposes, Katniss, Peeta, Gayle and Finnick are assigned to a squad invading the capital, led by Boggs (Mahershala Ali) and Jackson (Michelle Forbes). Their progress against the diabolical traps set by the capitol denizens and game makers is to be filmed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and her team and used to rally the far flung inhabitants of the various districts into supporting District 13’s invading army. Needless to say, things go awry and Katniss decides the best way to victory is for her to assassinate President Snow in person and the game is on. Will she achieve her objective? Will she be able to decide between Gale and Peeta? Will the audience leave the theater feeling like the story has concluded? All comes to one sort of conclusion or another by the final reel.

I have viewed all of the films in the series and have had very mixed feelings about them. They have had great virtues, particularly in the central performance of Jennifer Lawrence who has carried the franchise with steely nerve from the beginning, but each film has been undone by bad writing or directorial choices. The first film was marred by herky-jerky hand held camera work which was, I suppose, designed to emulate Katniss and the other tributes’ disorientation at being thrust into the capital and the arena, but only succeeded in inducing nausea in the cinema going public. That poor choice led to director Gary Ross being removed from the franchise in favor of Francis Lawrence who helmed all the other films including this one. Catching Fire was marred by a repetitive theme and plot and by too many characters being introduced without enough time to learn who they were, much less care about their fates. Mockingjay Part 1 gave us a surfeit of plot without giving the characters we root for enough time to live and breathe. It also suffered from the absence of one of our major heroes throughout most of the film for plot reasons.

This time around, there are two major detractors. The first is a screenplay which, while serviceable and faithful to the original novel, leaps into the middle of the storytelling without giving us any time to recall where we are in the exposition. If you don’t view the prior three movies the week before seeing this one, you will have absolutely no idea what’s going on. And don’t even attempt to see this film if you have not ever either read the books or seen the other films. A dozen characters appear in the first fifteen minutes with no explanation as to who they may be and what their relationships might be to Katniss or to each other. Other characters who have had a detailed backstory and a time to make a significant impression in the past (Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jenna Malone) are reduced to now you see them, now you don’t cameos.

Then we get to the substance of the film, which is basically a none too exciting quest where we follow an intrepid band of characters while they are picked off one by one in gruesome ways. (Well not too gruesome, they have to maintain that PG-13 rating). This leads to the second major flaw in the film. Whether it’s a deliberate choice to obscure the violence from sensitive audience members or whether the cinematographer (Jo Williams) is merely incompetent is unclear. Either way, the film is one of the darkest in recent memory. Even daylight scenes are full of greys and shadows which, when viewed with the dark uniforms most of the cast wears, make it nigh on impossible to tell what’s going on. And then there’s the half an hour or so we spend in tunnels and basements.

Director Lawrence’s staging of the big action set pieces (a trap full of flowing oil, the bombing of a flow of refugees) is also such that we have no idea where to focus and the storytelling becomes completely unclear.

The film is salvaged by the continued strong central performance of Jennifer Lawrence. She is fully committed to the role and allows us to see much of Katniss’ conflicting emotions in simple movements of her eyes. The supporting cast is well chosen and do well with their parts but very few of them have enough to do to make much of an impression. When one major character is killed toward the end of the film, we don’t have much of an emotional response as she’s only had about three minutes of screen time. I suppose a recommendation on this film comes down to your need to complete a set. If you can’t bear to leave the story unfinished, by all means see how it all turns out, but only at matinee prices. If you don’t care, skip it and take in something else.

Wedding fiddle player. Medical supply stow away. Perfidious presidents. Gratuitous evil slimy grey things. White rose. Sign language. Gratuitous tigress. Enraged mob. Unnecessary epilogue.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

To get the full Hunger Games experience, start with the trilogy of novels:

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