[Screen It]


(2014) (Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore) (PG-13)

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Action/Drama: In a post-apocalyptic world, the former teenage winner of a televised battle to the death competition must contend with the ramifications of being chosen as the figurehead leader of a growing rebellion against her nation's president and his totalitarian government.
In the undetermined, post-apocalyptic future, the government has long controlled the populace of Panem by dividing them into twelve districts. Each year, there's a televised event known as the Hunger games where one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 are selected to compete in a battle to the death. It's designed as entertainment for the masses, but really to show the people that resistance against the government would be futile.

In order to prevent the unlikely winners of the 74th Hunger Games -- teenager Katniss Everdeen (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) who didn't kill her last competitor or "tribute," Peeta Mellark (JOSH HUTCHERSON) -- from becoming figureheads for such a resistance movement against his totalitarian government, President Coriolanus Snow (DONALD SUTHERLAND) ordered a special Hunger Games comprised of previous victors. But like before, Katniss turned the tables on Snow's plans and managed to ruin his goal.

When she woke up from that, she discovered that his former game maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN), was actually a rebel conspirator headed with Katniss' mentor and former Games winner Haymitch Abernathy (WOODY HARRELSON), fellow competitor and tech genius Beetee (JEFFREY WRIGHT) and another competitor, Finnick Odair (SAM CLAFLIN), to District 13, a rebel stronghold run by President Alma Coin (JULIANNE MOORE). She also learns from her former boyfriend, Gale Hawthorne (LIAM HEMSWORTH), that Peeta and two others were captured by Snow's forces, and that TV host Caesar Flickerman (STANLEY TUCCI) is using Peeta as a pawn in government propaganda clips.

With the aid of stylist Effie Trinket (ELIZABETH BANKS) and under the encouragement of President Coin, Plutarch and others, Katniss agrees to make her own clips -- filmed by a TV crew led by Cressida (NATALIE DORMER) -- to counter Snow's message and to encourage the downtrodden in the various districts to rise up against their oppressors. She must then contend with being the chosen figurehead leader of the resistance, all while worrying about Peeta and his strange behavior.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Back in the 1987 Oliver Stone financial drama "Wall Street," the super slick corporate raider Gordon Gekko famously stated, "Greed is good." To a point, he was and remains correct in that the desire for money is what keeps our economy running. But it's when that desire ends up superseding everything else -- often to the detriment of associated aspects -- that everyone but the bean counters suffer in some form or another.

That's long been argued about Hollywood, especially once the corporate world took over the artistic one, although the industry was always about making money (just to cover costs on the most basic level, and to make talent and investors rich on a higher plane). Of recent, we've seen JRR Tolkien's "The Hobbit" -- a novel around 300 pages long (depending on the edition, physical print size, etc.) -- inexplicably turned into three movies all clocking in at more than two and a half hours.

Considering the first two have already grossed a combined $2 billion worldwide and the third will certainly handsomely add to that total, it was a wise financial decision. But many people, yours truly included, have complained that the films feel padded rather than possessing an organic structure necessitating more than seven and a half hours of total running time.

Methinks the padding issue will also come up in discussions about splitting the third entry in Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" series into two films. After all, the first book (374 pages) was turned into "The Hunger Games," the second (at 391 pages) also got just a cinematic one-off with "Catching Fire." But following the Gekko principle, "Mockingjay's" 390 pages have somehow necessitated two movie installments. The first, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" arrives this week, while part deux will show up around this time next year.

Having not read any of them, I can't say for certain that the third novel wasn't filled to the brim with enough story to necessitate such a split. Yet, after sitting through the just over 2-hour long adaptation, I can attest that, yes, it indeed feels padded, seems like a teaser for the final installment, and thus come off as the weakest of the entries so far.

There's really not much to the plot that takes up where "Catching Fire" left off last year. Following all of the action (not to mention the intriguing if disturbing premise of the original), scribes Danny Strong and Peter Craig have focused most of the plot on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, natch, reprising this cash cow role) being earmarked as the figurehead of the resistance movement against the totalitarian government run by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, with considerably less to do this time around in the part).

She's now situated in the militarized District 13 that's ruled by President Coin (Julianne Moore joining the fold), and Snow's former game maker (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) is now working for the other side and wants to use the teen in propaganda clips to rouse the downtrodden. At the same time, oily TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) is doing the same from the other side, but he's using Katniss' companion (Josh Hutcherson) in attempts to talk people out of resisting, all of which leaves Katniss confused about this sudden change of heart and about face in terms of central policy support.

The likes of Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jeremy Wright and others reprise their roles, but have much less with which to work this time around. Liam Hemsworth at least gets a rescue mission sequence late in the film, but that and a few other brief moments of action are about all that's present to break up and shake up what otherwise becomes a considerable amount of dramatic monotony, courtesy of returning director Francis Lawrence. Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) is as good as always and gets a few key scenes to play up the emotional aspect of what's occurring, but I'm hoping there will be a bit more meat on the role for her to gnaw on in the next chapter.

And that holds true for the overall film that indeed has too much filler rather than substance. What's present isn't awful, as I can't say that I was terribly bored at any given point, and diehard fans will clearly eat it up -- and thus, on schedule, salivate greatly for the concluding course. I just wish there were more here to justify and thus compensate for what otherwise feels like a money-grabbing stretch. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 18, 2014 / Posted November 21, 2014

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