Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review: Mockingjay, Part I

I watched this movie about two weeks ago now, and I've been busy. It will be out of theaters soon, if it isn't already. *slaps own wrist*

I'm going try to be more careful in the future.

Mockingjay Part I was, at least for me, equal to Catching Fire, which I found to be several times better than The Hunger Games. 

In Catching Fire, the main weakness was the last fifteen minutes, where it was unclear as to how and why everything was happening. They under-explained some crucial pieces. In Mockingjay Part I, the main weakness is the first five minutes. It starts a bit awkwardly, and takes a bit to build up steam. 

The main problem I see people having with Mockingjay is that it is a very different movie than its predecessors. The previous movies had moments of drama, then building suspense and mystery, and finally, the long action set piece of a third act. Mockingjay is nothing like that. It is slower, more deliberate, more evenly paced. Some people may be thrown that in many ways, it feels like a Drama more than anything else. But I want to emphasize that slow and dramatic does not mean bad. 

The directing is good, if a bit workmanlike. I seem to remember being impressed with the directing of Catching Fire, and that initial "Ooh" was lacking from my watch of Mockingjay. However, there were two major improvements I noticed--continued improvements from the last.

In the original, you actively notice in every action scene that the action is being edited for content so that teens can watch it without losing their lunch. You still get a bit of this in Catching Fire, mostly after the games start. But in Mockingjay Part I, I didn't really notice this, with one understandable exception. There is very little if any distracting shaky-cam, which was the main editing tool of the previous movies.

In addition, the scenes that are without Katniss are as much joy to watch in this film as the scenes with her, and are an integral part of the movie. In the first, they felt like an intrusion, and in the second, they were a distraction. But in Mockingjay, every scene that strays from the main character is an improvement, and the best way that the story could be told on screen. 

The acting was good. Jennifer Lawrence continues to give the same Triple-A performance that has rocketed her into superstardom. Josh Hutcherson goes through a powerful physical transformation over the course of the film that leaves me wondering to this day how much effects might have been involved. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman turned in a nuanced performance. Julianne Moore, while doing marvelous work, failed to give me the same chills that I got from reading the character in the book. 

But the real star of this movie was Elizabeth Banks as Effie. She stole every scene she was in, to a degree that I haven't seen in a film since Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in the Dark Knight. She deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for what she's done in that film. 

The music works well, and I would even venture to say that it's very good, but I don't remember much of it now outside of the song that has gone wild on the radios. 

The plot is almost a tight political drama, with maybe some war drama thrown in, all on a background of Dystopian Sci-Fi. After the first few minutes, the plot is a constant, driving force, building toward the conclusion. And what a conclusion! Even knowing what would happen, I found myself completely on edge.

Overall, I was very very happy with the movie! True to Catching Fire, I walked out completely satisfied, which is such a rare and wonderful experience in a trip to the movies. 8.5 it is. 



Willow Shields, as Prim. I originally found her very wooden, and worried about her ability to pull off her slightly larger role in Mockingjay. Thankfully, she's improved by orders of magnitude. I found her good in this, if not great. 

Hoffman as Heavensbee: Watching him onscreen was eerie. I've seen his career from an episode of Law and Order and Red Dragon, through Capote and Doubt, and after Robin Williams, he is the celebrity whose loss I most acutely feel. A selfish part of me wonders how much he'd gotten done in the second part, and how that will affect the final plot of the second part. We see some instances of him manipulating President Coin in Part I, so I'm assuming they haven't dropped/cut that subplot. 

"Are you, Are you, Coming to the tree?" The scene with the dam was jaw-dropping. Better-implemented than the book. And I don't say that often. 

They cut Cinna's assistants out altogether, which I think was a big mistake (one of the few gripes that kept me from saying it's better than Catching Fire). In the book, Cinna's assistants have been prisoners of District 13. They haven't been well-treated. There's suggestion of torture and abuse. District 13 is more than meets the eye. I think they meant to replace this with Effie and Heavensbee's dialogue in her rooms. When he suggests that she is no more a prisoner than anyone else in the district, one has to wonder: If they wanted, could a citizen from 13 leave? Or, in the end, is 13 as tyrannical in its own way as the Capitol?