Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 ★★1/2

    For what it's worth, the latest installment in the "Hunger Games" series of films has become nothing more than an exhibition for political thought and conviction. For, that is essentially what is being debated here: Rebels fight for democracyand the elitists struggle to maintain totalitarian (or if you prefer the term fascist) control over a population of individuals deprived of all financial value. Does this premise ring any bells?

    The plot, in its most primitive design, can be described simply as a string of "moves and counter-moves," a phrase used by the apathetic antagonist in President Snow. There is even the presence of promos, which are utilized to inspire both movements and to remind us, maybe even unknowingly, of the upcoming presidential election in 2016. (All that was lacking from each production was the "approved by" message, in case we were already devoid of that knowledge.)

    What "Mockingjay-Part 1" strives to do wellit does soyet in such a way that compromises the film as a whole. Stock characters are employed to do, well, obvious tasks, such as pointing out this piece of blatant information or that one, and they merely fill in the audience as to what is going on. Furthermore, a feline becomes the initiator of an intrinsic metaphor (the meaning of which is revealed by our heroine seconds later) and a plot device, and it is essentially used to create an unwarranted dramatic effect. (Nevertheless, it does rank as one of the most suspenseful instances in the entire picture.)

    Most telling, however, is the cinematography whose sole intention, evidently, is to capture the numerous looks of sorrow and uncertainty on the face of our leading actress. The camera remains static at times, when it shouldn't, and it neglects even the most elementary goals of cinematographic composition. (I guess the filmmaker believes that Katniss is the object of greatest dramatic significance in every frame, even if her only motion is that of a blinking eye.) This provides Jennifer Lawrence with the opportunity to showcase her facial acting skills and the complexities associated with her reaction shots, which are all very homologous in nature.

    Looking back, I was somewhat critical of Lawrence's performance in "Catching Fire," (at the time, I would have described her as an amalgam of Luke Skywalker and Mae West) yet her performance in this film is more than sufficient. The glam days, in which Katniss is primped and groomed to perfection, are over, and we are introduced to a color palette of darker tones or what can be best described as simply gray or black.

    This role, above all, requires a sense of naturalness, and Lawrence excels in this department. She is supremely talented when it comes to manipulating her facial features to looks of agony and extreme torment, even if the script calls for these qualities a little too often. (In fact, these skills are so noticeable because she is forced into a position that justifies them time after time.) Scenes that warrant a sense of warmth, however, are also well-crafted, and the most notable of these involve conversations with her sister, Prim, where Katniss exclaims, "we should do this more often," a sentiment also held by yours truly.

    Of all the existing positives, the addition of Julianne Moore, to what seems to be a stagnant cast at times, is the most noteworthy. Moore brings a definable elegance to the production, and although she steals screen time from Donald Sutherland, the strength of her veteran personality is direly needed. Woody Harrelson is hardly memorable as his one-dimensional character takes a backseat to our leading lady (much like everyone else) and as his, already diminutive, dialogue is further reduced.

    The appearance of Philip Seymour Hoffman is bittersweet; nevertheless, wonderfully engaging. I have never seen a poor outing from him, and this notion remains true even after this showing. It is exceedingly important for the viewer to under no circumstances visually see the actor, in fact, acting. In a sense, one must not see the "wheels in motion." Hoffman exudes this authenticity more than most, and he will be sorely missed in Hollywood.

    As I was leaving the screening, I could not help but wonder as to what force this genre of films and novels will hold in the future. It seems that every year a new series, consisting of a futuristic and rather dystopian world, hits the shelves and empties the pockets of millions of teenagers. My guess is, that in twenty years, the likes of the "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" will be far from our minds. After all, the target audience will be grown, and I'm sure adolescents will have a new craze to indulge in.

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