Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mockingjay Part 1 Movie Review: Even as Katniss is trapped in the role of the Mockingjay, the movie breaks free of its YA roots to take up the mantle of a mature adult war movie

I wore the bracelet and the necklace to the screening, with the clips adorning my bag. The Christmas ornament was a gift that came with my order. If you like what you see, you can ask Jenna from Etsy's Book Geek Boutique to make you a custom order or check out ready-made ones here or on her Facebook page.

Mockingjay Part 1 is not as good as its predecessor Catching Fire but that is to be expected because not only is it adapted from what many have agreed is the weakest book in the trilogy, it is also adapted from just half of it.

It also has many of the problems that all movies with "Part 1" in their titles have, which is too much simmering and too much buildup and just not enough payoff.

One thing that is going for this movie (or not going for it, depending on what viewers' different expectations are for the movie), is that It doesn't feel like a YA movie, it feels more like an adult war movie. And there are no victors, only survivors like Haymitch said in Catching Fire.

Katniss is a shadow of her former self as fans would well know from the book. Far from being freed as a Mockingjay, now more than ever it feels like her wings have been clipped and she is too often left to wait helplessly in the wings for events to unfold. Jennifer Lawrence is fabulous as always, although she is not given enough to do. The scene from her trying to be convincingly arousing in a Propos is hilarious though, and her haunting rendition of the Hanging Tree song will leave audiences humming its tune days after they have watched the movie. You can listen to it here:

However, viewers' sympathy might switch more to her staged-and-now-real romantic interest Peeta. I have always kind of felt that Josh Hutcherson was miscast to play Peeta and I still stand by that assessment. It is nothing against Hutcherson, who is a good actor, although his performance is rather unexceptional here, made worse by the fact that the chemistry shared between Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss and his Peeta throughout the series seem more to be that of a sibling one than that of a romantic couple. Nevertheless, audiences be warned; scenes involving Peeta in this movie would be heartbreaking for fans of The Boy With The Bread.

Handsome Liam Hemsworth as Gale is left to smolder some but he's not really given much to do either. And Katniss is such a strong female character that it feels that she doesn't need a romance to define herself, unlike *cough* Bella *cough* from the terrible Twilight movie series.

Poor Finnick, who is played so winningly by Sam Claflin in Catching Fire, is made a cipher in this movie. The movie focuses on him only when Katniss is in a quandary and need some words of wisdom or advice from him to precipitate a change in her feelings to help prod the movie's progression along. In one of the rare moments when Finnick is finally given more screen time, his powerful speech is criminally ruined by the directorial decision to cross-cut his speech with a rescue attempt. Using a split-screen here would have worked way better and be far more effective.

The role of President Coin, played by Julianne Moore, gets expanded here, and she is made more sympathetic than she is in the book. Julianne Moore is good but not great. And so she continues the trend of casting A-list actresses to play antagonistic roles in YA movies, with Meryl Streep having played the Chief Elder in Lois Lowry's The Giver and Kate Winslet playing Jeanine Matthews in the Divergent trilogy (with the last book Allegiant to be predictably split into 2 parts just like Mockingjay to fatten studios' coffers).

Philip Seymour Hoffman is great as Plutarch Heavensbee as always, but like Lawrence, he is not given enough to do. It is however particularly poignant watching Hoffman embody the role of his character knowing that he just died tragically of heroine overdose not long ago.

Elizabeth Bank's role as Effie Trinket is expanded, although here it's mostly to provide what little comic relief there is in the movie. The other comic relief in the movie comes predictably enough, from Buttercup, Prim's cat.

I did not like Donald Sutherland's portrayal of President Snow this time. To me it felt like he was going overboard and overacting quite a bit. Maybe he was trying to go for unhinged deranged dictator but he never once came across that way to me in the book, especially not in the first half of the book when the Capitol actually has an upper hand over the rebellion.

I have also always felt that Woody Harrelson was miscast as Haymitch but I am finally warming up to his Haymitch. For me, Harrelson turns in a better performance playing a reluctantly sober Haymitch than he was when playing at being a drunkard in the previous two movies.

My favorite new character is the ever luminous Natalie Dormer as Cressida. The rest of her crew, Boggs and the District 8 rebel leader Paylor don't do enough to be really memorable. Jeffrey Wright's Beetee and Willow Shield's Prim are not really memorable in their roles either.

Overall, it feels like a lot of the weaknesses of the book basically just got transposed into the movie. And like the book, the movie is really quite bleak. The movies ends quite close to where I thought it would, but it is a downer of a scene. The ending will probably whet the audience's appetite but most likely will not have them leaving the movie theater on the high that I've experienced after watching Catching Fire on opening weekend a year ago, which is still the best movie in the entire series so far. We'll have to wait a year later until Mockingjay Part 2 to find out if that will remain so.

3 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

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