Home » New films: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, plus five other moviebriefs
Film Review

New films: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, plus five other moviebriefs

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Directed by Francis Lawrence

The “Hunger Games” franchise finally limps to a close in this second-half of the adaptation of the third book in the trilogy. And that description largely captures the problems of the film, as there should never have been a fourth installment in the three-part story.

“Mockingjay – Part 2” starts exactly where Part 1 ended, just after Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) almost strangled Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in the medical facilities of District 13. This also demonstrates the same problem as there was no clear endpoint or beginning between the two films, just a fairly arbitrary break in the action of what is essentially a single adaptation that would run in excess of four hours if it hadn’t been split into two parts. But the story doesn’t warrant an adaptation of that length and Part 2 feels like the last hour of a film that has been stretched to more than twice that duration.

This is especially frustrating to watch as much of the film follows Katniss and a small team as they fight their way towards the Capital, despite the major action in the war taking place away from them. For much of running time, she feels more like an observer in her own story than the protagonist. And for anybody who has the misfortune to watch Part 2 without having watched Part 1 first, most of the characters and developments will remain a mystery as they’re not reintroduced or re-established for this last outing.

As has always been inevitable, Katniss eventually has her confrontation with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) but at that point, “Mockingjay – Part 2” launches into a series of so many endings that it feels like the film could have stopped at any of five or six different moments. In that sense it’s reminiscent of “The Lord of the Rings,” which also had what felt like multiple endings, but that story was so epic that it had many more character arcs and plotlines to close out, whereas here it’s tedious and feels repetitive.

All of that said, if you’ve been following the series since the beginning, it does provide a sense of completion. But it’s worth noting that, whereas the centerpiece of the action in the first two films were the actual Hunger Games tournaments, the third book isn’t structured around such an event and so it would likely feel different even if told in one sitting. And after two sittings, it just feels like an indulgent bid to sell twice as many tickets for not nearly enough content.


Moviebriefs

In “Brooklyn,” Saoirse Ronan plays a young Irish woman whose sister arranges for her to emigrate to the US during the 1950’s, so that she might have a better life than their small home town has to offer. However, the ocean crossing is challenging and New York City is huge, cold and impersonal, and she struggles with homesickness. Then, just as things are stabilizing, circumstances back home change and instability takes over again. It’s a beautifully made and well-acted film that captures a sense of time and place on both sides of the Atlantic, but I found myself bothered by both the story and central character. Ronan’s Eilis, although well-portrayed, acts in ways that aren’t entirely likable or sympathetic, which is problematic as the entire film revolves around her. If you like Eilis throughout the film, you’ll probably like the film also. But if, like me, you don’t especially like her choices in the third act, then the entire project rapidly loses its appeal.

The most impressive opening of the week is “Spotlight,”which tells the story of the Boston Globe’s first focused coverage of the scandals within the local Catholic Archdiocese, including the systematic shuffling of abusive priests from parish to parish. The strong ensemble cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and Liev Schrieber, all of whom are excellent and intense in their respective roles. The film does a good job of capturing the mood and politics of the overwhelmingly Catholic city as well as the outrage of those uncovering the magnitude of the story they’ve had handed to them. It also serves as a reminder of the value of serious and time-consuming, investigative journalism – something which seems to be losing ground as newsrooms cut back on staff and rely more heavily on limited wire services and pool reporters. In that sense, “Spotlight” highlights both the original story and the coverage of it, both to great effect.

In contrast, the most disappointing opening is “Secret in Their Eyes,” a thriller that largely fails to thrill with a cast that raises expectations far beyond its ability to deliver. Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in this story about a criminal investigations team tasked with counter-terrorism duties who unexpectedly face a gruesome tragedy among their own. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with the uncovering of the murder interspersed with events 13 years later, as one of the team is convinced he has finally found the killer. It’s not a terrible film, it’s just decidedly slow and mundane and might have been a good candidate for an online release, if not for the A-list names that might have made such a strategy seem like even more of a failure than just a weak box office performance.

Sacramentan Brie Larson plays a young mother in the week’s most unusual film, “Room.” Due to circumstances best left for the film to unveil, she has had to raise her son Jack in the single small room of the film’s title. This has caused her to describe all of existence to Jack in terms of the room itself, which represents the extent of his reality, as opposed to what she tells him is the imaginary world seen through the television screen. This warped perspective is challenged when leaving the room becomes a sudden possibility and she has to very quickly re-educate Jack and reshape his worldview. It’s a truly fascinating look at what it might take to remain sane and raise a relatively well-adjusted child under such extreme conditions and raise the obvious “What would I do?” questions. It’s not always an easy film to watch and it’s likely to attract a fairly niche audience, but it does what it does extremely well and will likely haunt viewers for days or weeks to come.

Rounding out the week’s multitude of genres is “The Night Before,” a raucous, drug-fueled buddy movie that manages to channel the classic “A Christmas Story” with a neighborhood weed dealer as the window to Christmases past, present and future. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan and Anthony Mackie play three friends who have spent their Christmas Eves together for years, ever since Gordon-Levitt’s Ethan lost his parents. But things have changed – Mackie’s character is a famous athlete and Rogan’s is about to become a father for the first time – so this year’s misadventures are likely to be their last, which adds pressure to make them memorable. This is helped enormously by Ethan’s discovery of tickets to a legendary party they’ve always wanted to attend. “The Night Before” is loud, funny and touching – at least it is if you’re inclined to find extremely awkward vomiting and stoned sexting as hilarious as the filmmakers obviously do. Fortunately, I enjoyed it all enough to have a good time and it’s probably a safe bet for fans, especially fans of Rogan and Gordon-Levitt.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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