REVIEW: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

mocking poster

Why, why, why? Oh who am I kidding? The reason is obvious – money. That’s the reason they chose to split the final chapter of “The Hunger Games” series into two movies. It certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen this done. Following the profitable but not narratively beneficial blueprint laid out by “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”, “Mockingjay – Part 1” is the first part of the much anticipated series finale.

The first Hunger Games movie was pretty good although it didn’t convince me that this was a franchise worth following. It was the second movie, “Catching Fire”, that won me over. The characters grow, the stakes are raised, you gain a firm understanding of where the franchise is going, and it ends with a bang. Now enter “Mockingjay – Part 1”, the first part of the final chapter, and a film with nowhere near the pop of its predecessor. It’s not that this is an inherently bad movie. Several interesting things happen. But it is stretched past its limits in order to make this a two-movie ending and the film suffers for it.


All of the cast of characters return led by Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Recuperating from the chaotic conclusion of “Catching Fire”, Katniss wakes up in District 13, the home of the burgeoning rebellion. After a brief reunion with her mother and sister, her is introduced to President Coin (Julianne Moore) who wants Katniss to be the face (AKA the Mockingjay) of the growing rebellion. Old friends Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) encourage Katniss to take on the role and inspire the people.

But Katniss remains unsure, that is until she see is taken to see the carnage and ruins of her home district left behind following an intense bombing by the Capitol. She eventually accepts but only if President Coin agrees to send a rescue team to free a captured Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the Capitol city. Peeta is being used by the noxious President Snow (Donald Sutherland) as a propaganda piece to quell the rebellion. Several other familiar faces return. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is given a bit more to do this time around. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) pops up in a couple of scenes to offer sage-like counsel. Effie (Elizabeth Banks) appears in what is basically a tag-along role. And Stanley Tucci’s wacky Caesar gets very little screen time.


“Mockingjay – Part 1” doesn’t offer a lot in terms of thrills and excitement. Instead it gives us speeches and debates. Then it gives us more speeches and debates. We have long moments of indecision, lots of pondering, a bunch of planning. We visit a few locations (one of them twice where we get the exact same camera shots) and we get a couple of random scenes featuring inspired rebels. But very little spans beyond Katniss’ reluctance in becoming the Mockingjay and the political wrangling by both the rebellion and the Capitol.


To be fair, I did enjoy a lot of the political back-and-forths. I also still like spending time with most of these characters. And Jennifer Lawrence is once again superb. There is nothing glamorous about her role. She attacks it with such conviction and delivers genuine raw emotion. There are also great performances from Hoffman, Wright, and Sutherland who is so playfully vile as the the chief antagonist. Moore was the biggest new addition and she serves the part. But her character is pretty straightforward and generic and she is isn’t asked to show much range.

I know “Mockingjay – Part 1” is considered a part of a greater whole, but as a single movie it disappoints. It felt like a gradual meandering buildup towards a climax that we never get. Even the cliffhanger (if you can even call it that) was shockingly underwhelming. And you can tell that numerous scenes were stretched as far as they could go in order to make this a two-picture conclusion. Yet still there are enjoyable moments, good characters, strong performances, and the knowledge that this is just a set-up to what should be an action-packed final film. But as a single standalone movie, I was definitely hoping for more.


3 Stars

REVIEW: “Broken City”


Lost in the corpulent backlot of 2013 movies is “Broken City”, a political/crime thriller that features a fine cast and a common but still interesting idea. The film marks the solo directorial debut of Allen Hughes who is known for his past works with his brother including “The Book of Eli” and “Menace II Society”. An underperformer at the box office and generally panned by critics, “Broken City” is looked at as a movie that squanders its potential. But is that a fair criticism? In a nutshell, yes it is.

For me, the biggest problem with “Broken City” reveals itself early and persists through the entire picture. There is practically no fire or energy shown in any facet of movie. In a story that should generate plenty of emotional spark, all we get are dry characters, dry scenarios, and a dry ending. There is rarely a charge of life anywhere to be found and the movie seems to wallow in lethargy. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact blame. Is it the direction from Hughes? Is it Brian Tucker’s script? Could it be the actors who seemingly have no interest in what they’re doing?


Mark Wahlberg stars as a former New York police detective named Billy Taggert. Seven years after being forced to leave the department following a controversy and PR nightmare, he works as a struggling private detective. Things get complicated when the New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) hires him to find out who his wife (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with. Little does Billy know that by taking the case he would be catapulted into a complex political web involving the mayor, his opponent for the upcoming elections (Barry Pepper), and the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright).

There is a pretty familiar formula that the movie uses while still trying to do a few things of its own. Unfortunately a lot of time is wasted on superfluous side stories that are never fleshed out to the point of being interesting. The best example of that involves Billy’s aspiring actress girlfriend (played by Natalie Martinez). Her character and their struggling relationship seems shoehorned in to try and add some humanity to Billy. She is present for a short time and then completely drops off the map. It’s also one of those movies littered with lucky timing and all sorts of conveniences. Whether Billy is pulling up just as someone throws out a suspicious bag of garbage or whether he is never spotted while supposedly hiding in plain site.


While the characters are mostly flat and dormant, there are moments where that approach really works. Crowe and Wright have some great back-and-forths generated from the internal rivalry of their characters. Their verbal jabs are stinging and these two great actors have a lot of fun with the animosity. Wahlberg doesn’t get those types of moments. He spends the entire movie stone-faced and rarely shows one ounce of emotion. I’m not sure if it is how he is written or how he was directed, but his character could have been so much better with just an ounce of charisma or personality. That toned down approach turns out to be a problem for every character.

“Broken City” does featuring some great cinematography that captures a variety of New York City flavors. And again, there are a few moments of good crisp dialogue particularly between Crowe and Wright. Unfortunately the lack of zest and the wasted time spent on half-cooked characters doesn’t elevate the film past its already formulaic structure. It’s really a shame because a movie with this strong of a cast could have been better. Instead it’s a forgettable, below-average thriller that deserves its spot in the backlot of the 2013 movies.