Category Archives: Jennifer Lawrence

A review of ” The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2″

Just yesterday I reviewed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so I thought it appropriate to review the other movie I saw last week, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Seeing these two very different movies within days of each other was an interesting experience, to say the least.

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Unless you’ve been on a long interstellar journey, you have probably heard of The Hunger Games books and the movies based on them, starring Jennifer Lawrence. It is the story of Katniss Everdeen, forced to fight in the gladiatorial Hunger Games in a far-future, post-apocalyptic tyranny that encompasses what is now North America (‘Panem’). In the course of the four movies (based on three books) Katniss inadvertently becomes first a symbol, and then a leader, in a rebellion against the despotic Capitol.

The first movie, The Hunger Games, was excellent; the second movie, Catching Fire, was even better. The third movie, Mockingjay Part One, was good but something of a prologue, with the final payoff coming with Mockingjay Part Two. Essentially the two Mockingjay movies are the story of the rebellion against the Capitol and Katniss’ not-always-happy role in it. The rebels manage to overthrow the Capitol, but at great cost and suffering, and the end of the fighting is realistically ambiguous.

The movie resonated strongly with me, and frankly, I liked it a good deal more than I liked The Force Awakens. Partly this is because Mockingjay 2 seems especially pertinent to the real world we live in today– despite the futuristic setting, there are scenes that could have been pulled from Syria or Iraq or Libya today. Right now millions of people around the world are engaged in actual struggles, either non-violent or armed, against actual tyrannies. And, to be blunt, it resonates even more with what could be our own future in this country, if certain hateful and megalomaniacal individuals and groups gain actual political power. We live in scary times, and a movie that warns us against tyranny is particularly timely.

Another part of why this movie worked for me is Jennifer Lawrence. This young woman is interesting even when she’s in a film that I don’t particular enjoy (e.g. American Hustle), and I don’t think I’ve seen her turn in a bad performance yet. She brings some serious vulnerability and conviction to the role of Katniss, and if the previous three movies had not already welded us to her emotionally, Mockingjay Part Two would do it. Her pain at her losses in the war, including her sister Prim (you saw the spoiler warning, right?) is raw and brings home the cost of war, even war in a good cause. Someone has called Lawrence the next Meryl Streep, and I find it hard to dispute the suggestion.

The core of the movie’s action is Katniss’ attempt, against orders, to penetrate the Capitol in order to assassinate President Snow, the head of the despotism. This is part revenge and part an effort to kill the snake (and end the fighting) by cutting off its head. The fight to break through the traps the tyrant has put in her path is horrible, and the cost is high. Katniss finally tries to infiltrate Snow’s palace even as the Capitol’s resistance begins to crumble, which means that she sees up close the suffering of the Capitol’s residents at the hands of the rebels. It’s a powerful moment, as the Capitol’s children get caught in the cross-fire. Mockingjay Part Two is essentially an anti-war film, and the climactic scene of the fighting drives its point home hard.

The ending is not then presented to us with a neat and tidy bow– instead, the film touches on a question that plagues all revolutions– how do you ensure that you do not merely replace one tyranny with another? Katniss, given the task of executing President Snow, instead assassinates District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore), who, as it turns out, committed a gratuitous act of murder in the last battle in the Capitol and in the aftermath is positioning herself as the new Snow. In the book Katniss is put on trial for this– in the movie she is exiled back to the ruined District 12, her home. This is one of only one or two places where the movie left me with questions, but they are pretty minor and don’t affect my appreciation of the movie as a whole.

The very end of the movie, an epilogue years later, is bittersweet, hopeful and powerful. Its power is enhanced by the soundtrack by James Newton Howard, to which I will doubtless be listening for many years to come. It is just about the perfect conclusion to a movie about a struggle for freedom, love, and healing.

Highly recommended.

“American Hustle”– a reaction

My wife and I, in the interest of seeing as many Oscar-nominated films as possible before the awards, went to see American Hustle today–

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Let me get some things out of the way first– this film was well written, well-produced, and the entire cast did an outstanding job with their characters. In particular, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were incredible. Everyone nominated for an Oscar for this film are deserving. In addition, I did enjoy the bits– especially the music– that helped recreate the atmosphere of the late-1970’s and gave me a few minutes of warm nostalgia.

Okay, that’s out of the way. On to my reaction.

I freaking hated this film.

Note: I am using the word “freaking” because my wife made me promise not to use the very special words I learned in the US Army. There may be children or sensitive people reading this blog. I am honoring that promise, but because of it, my language will not convey the full force and vigor of my repugnance for this movie.

American Hustle is a fictionalized account of the Abscam scandal, in which the FBI entrapped several politicians into taking bribes from a fake Arab sheikh to facilitate building a New Jersey casino. The focus is on Christian Bale and Amy Adams’ character, small-time grifters who are coerced into assisting the FBI.

Here’s the problem I have with this film– with the exception of one or two minor characters, every character is a con-artist or a criminal of one sort or another– even the FBI. I had no sympathy for or identification with anyone, except for Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.), the immediate supervisor of off-the-wall FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Thorsen literally gets beat up in the film trying to rein in DiMaso, and to me seems to be the only sane person in the asylum. The problem is Thorsen is mainly just there as a foil for DiMaso’s lunacy.

Let me try to explain this, although I may not be able to do so in a completely rational manner. I am not, for example, in some sort of moralistic high-dudgeon “this is a terrible example and they should be presenting uplifting moral messages’, blah, blah, blah. Okay, the world’s filled with crooks, I get it. Portraying that is valid. And I am not someone who needs a saccharine/Disney happy ending on every film (see my post on A Man for All Seasons). Instead, it all has much more to do with a personal quirk.

I have long known that for me to enjoy a book or a movie, I usually need to connect to some character I find sympathetic. Luke Skywalker, Ellen Ripley, Witt (Jim Caviezel) in The Thin Red Line, somebody. If I am forced to watch a film in which I find no one sympathetic, no one I can root for, I often react with repulsion, especially if the fictional world is also injected with cynicism. If I try to read a book without sympathetic characters, I generally throw it against the wall well before the end.

I found none of the major characters in this film sympathetic, nor did I see anyone I wanted to emerge triumphant. As a result, for me watching this movie was quite painful. If I had been alone, I would have walked out well before the mid-point. I was surly, angry and muttering in resentment when I came out of the theater. It left me depressed; I felt as if I could kick puppies and crush butterflies. I lost two hours and nine minutes of my life I will never get back; the only plus-sides were the The Wind Rises trailer in front of the film and the fact that we got into the movie on gift passes.

I have had this kind of reaction to other films, most particularly Chicago (I have sworn eternal hatred for everything Bob Fosse). For me American Hustle has that same sense of sleazy cynicism, unredeemed by any character I give a damn about.

I know this personal quirk probably indicates a flaw in my creative make-up, most likely that I lack depth in both my appreciation of, and my ability to create, a work of art. If so, so be it– this quirk doubtless is the visible sign of some inward, well-seated personality trait. At my advanced age I have no desire to try to change it, nor to fit my writing into a box it doesn’t fit. Besides, I would hate being nauseous all the time.

So you can just chalk this all up to the limitations and prejudices of an old codger set in his ways. For my part, now that I’ve got this out of my system, I still have the sense that I need to clear my palate. I thought of Man of Steel; but our local PBS channel is showing Aliens, which should just about do the job.

Aliens— now there’s a freaking film.