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Entries in Liam Hemsworth (2)

Thursday
Nov202014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Ever since the final story in the “Harry Potter” film series was split into two movies, other popular franchises based on young adult novels have followed suit. From “Twilight” to the upcoming “Divergent” finale to this week’s “Hunger Games” entry, it has become common practice to milk every dollar possible out of their fanbases. While smart from a business point-of-view, such a tactic typically means the storytelling suffers. To date, each first entry in these splits have expectedly felt like the first half of a whole story. But whereas “Harry Potter” had some meat to it, the first part of the final installment in the “Hunger Games,” subtitled “Mockingjay,” has none. The film is a cash grab through and through, taking about 30-45 minutes of dramatic narrative and lengthening it to a plodding two hours. And that’s the least of its problems. Despite two solid entries in the popular franchise, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” fails to deliver in nearly every regard.

The story picks up where “Catching Fire” left off. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has essentially destroyed the Hunger Games and has been picked up by the rebels who intend to overthrow the Capitol. To do that, they need to get the people from each district on their side, so the rebel president, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), and her right hand man, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), convince Katniss to be the face of the rebellion, their Mockingjay, and they set out to make propaganda films they can broadcast all around the Capitol.

That is more or less all that happens in this part one of the “Mockingjay” story. It shoehorns in certain themes, particularly in its exploration of totalitarianism, but they fail to resonate. While a story about government intrusion and control over its people is not a bad one, it’s one that has been explored to death, especially in recent years when the US government arguably overextended its rights after 9/11. “Mockingjay” doesn’t do or say anything particularly different, or even well, instead opting to be what amounts to a rather basic “corrupt government vs. righteous rebellion” story.

Even if just looking at it from an action perspective, even if you go in just trying to satisfy your most primitive, visceral desires, “Mockingjay Part 1” won’t satisfy. The Hunger Games from the previous movies are over and the rebellion has begun, but their focus on propaganda films means much of the action happens at a distance, Katniss merely hearing about it or seeing it after the fact and subsequently expressing her frustration on camera, which the rebels use for future broadcasts. The fear, the thrill, the mystery, the intrigue; they’re all gone, replaced with unenticing answers and a glacial narrative pace.

Ultimately, its pseudo-intellectualism is the most prevalent aspect of “Mockingjay,” at least from a story perspective. Unfortunately, its visuals don’t do much to pick up the slack. The colorful eye candy from the two previous films are muted to drab grays and browns here; count yourself lucky if you pick out the fleeting moments of actual color. Though the aesthetic switch compliments the darker tone of the film, it nevertheless makes the movie a visual bore. It is possible to make a tonally dark movie with a dark, muted color palette without compromising the actual beauty of the film. The later “Harry Potter” entries are great examples of those films. “Mockingjay Part 1” is not.

Worse yet, the dialogue is full of some of the most heavy handed ramblings you’ll hear all year, as Katniss and her cohorts proselytize incessantly like loudmouthed doomsayers on a college campus. Lawrence is a terrific actress, but even she can’t elevate her dialogue from the drudgery of the page it was conceived on. When she isn’t talking, the supporting characters don’t do much better as they speak obvious truths, seemingly to appeal to the dumber viewers in the audience. After one character gives a very clear warning to the rebels, another yells out, “A warning! That was a warning!”

There are a few tense scenes, but they either pale in comparison to similar sequences in other films or they fizzle out before anything really happens. The finale in particular ends up going nowhere and the one would-be frightening scene where bombs are dropping overhead recalls 1942’s terrific “Mrs. Miniver,” and it reaches not even a tenth of the drama and fear that movie instilled in the viewer.

There’s not much going on for the majority of this film, but just when the story finally begins to gain some momentum, it abruptly ends. Though it sets the stage for a hopefully more exciting final installment—and when coupled with it, perhaps this first half will fare better—as a standalone product, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is a monumental dud, a huge nosedive in quality that is unprecedented in other major franchises. It’s unworthy of the venerable “Hunger Games” name and most certainly unworthy of your time.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 receives 1/5

Thursday
Apr012010

The Last Song

If you're like me, a lot of movies have lost their zest to you. After seeing and writing about hundreds of films on this website, I've gotten to the point where the majority of films are so predictable I could tell you what happens in them scene by scene based soley off the trailer. They all follow a formula set by the dozens and dozens of precedents before them. Nicholas Sparks book adaptations are perhaps the easiest to decipher. If you've seen The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe or the recent Dear John, you're familiar with the endings. As I watched his latest, Miley Cyrus helmed feature, The Last Song, I couldn't help but continually ask myself: who's going to die in this one?

Cyrus plays Ronnie Miller, a rebellious teen on her way down south to live with her father, Steve, played by Greg Kinnear, for the summer. She's a hardened person, already convicted of shoplifting, and she has a "down with authority" attitude. You can tell because she has a nose stud and wears leather boots. Watch out Lindsay Lohan! You may have some competition.

Ronnie has a little brother named Jonah, played by Bobby Coleman, who is accompanying her on her stay. While he is excited to see his father, a person he has spent little time with since the divorce, she can't wait to go home. She hates her dad because he left her, but while there she meets a strapping young lad named Will Blakelee, played by Liam Hemsworth, who starts to turn her world around. Through him, she becomes happier and starts to reconnect with her father, but with only the summer to spend there, will she be able to find true happiness?

If you take the time to really think about what happens at the end of these movies, you'll realize that all of them, with the exception of The Notebook, end without the relationship lasting. It almost seems like Sparks is a jaded lover, pessimistic from bad experiences brought on by past flings.

Without saying how, The Last Song ends in a decidedly different way, not closing the book on the story for good, but rather implying future events. While it may not reach the height of The Notebook (and is barely recommendable by any standard of quality filmmaking), it's a sweet story with an ending that really works, sans the cheese.

The biggest problem with Sparks' book-to-movie adaptations is that they never know when to quit. Instead of letting the emotion pour through naturally, they shove it in your face and try to force you to feel sadness. This is no deviation. I cared about all of these characters. Their performances were good and their chemistry was excellent. Cyrus and Hemsworth seem like naturals together (as they should since they are dating in actuality) and the father/son relationship between Greg Kinnear and little Bobby Coleman is as precious as can be. When tragedy struck (as was inevitable), I cared. I didn't want the events to play out this way. The movie had done its job. It had me in its grasp, so why so maudlin? Why take the emotion you've just spent the last hour and a half building and crush it under the weight of schlocky sentimentality?

What started as a somewhat uneven, but still solid little tearjerker went the way of Nights in Rodanthe and A Walk to Remember. At the end, when I was supposed to be sad, I was fighting back laughter solely so I wouldn't ruin the experience for any of my movie going patrons who may have been tricked by its overemotional gushing.

As the credits rolled and the lights came back up, however, I still found myself content with giving it my stamp of approval. It's funny, it's sweet, it's meaningful and it goes to show that you must learn to forgive those who have hurt you before the chance passes. It's nothing special, but there's something in The Last Song that keeps its heart beating despite its problems.

The Last Song receives 2.5/5