By Dave Montalbano
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games literary trilogy has been stretched out to four separate stories on the cinematic big screen. This practice of stretching out the final book began with the Harry Potter series (worthy) and continued with the Twilight series (unworthy). Mockingjay is a 400 page young adult novel, which means that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay –Part 1 is full of exposition that should lead to an epic big screen grand finale.
In the previous motion picture, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) challenged the federal status quo with an act of public defiance. Mockingjay opens with Katniss adjusting to her new role as a rebellious public symbol – the Mockingjay. Her new title is a creation of rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her agent Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Katniss, Alma and Plutarch are in direct conflict with ongoing villain President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
In her previous act of defiance, Katniss lost track of her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her ally (and possible love interest?) from the government sanctioned Hunger Games. Now, President Snow uses Peeta as a government propaganda pawn to confront the growing rebellion. Katniss is put in an emotional vice as she tries to separate her public obligations with her personal needs.
Director Francis Lawrence does an excellent job presenting this conflict for Katniss. It helps that Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect conduit for audience empathy, for much of this story is told through her eyes. We have watched young Katniss age in the past two years; the stress and betrayals are revealed on her face. With this type of emotional connection, the well-directed action scenes take on more depth and one eagerly awaits the grand finale with part two next year.
As we wrap up 2014, mainstream critics are presenting their top films of the year, with The Grand Budapest Hotel being consistently nominated. By the end of the month, this film will be on cable. Much like his previous motion pictures Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tennenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel is another peak into the vision of Wes Anderson. With high brow cinematography and low brow comedy, this film tells the tale of M.Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge with contacts everywhere. Art theft, international intrigue and the onset of a world war … this film has something for everyone.