Monday, November 24, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Francis Lawrence); Violator (Dodo Dayao)

Muck One

(Warning: story and plot twists discussed in close detail)

Francis Lawrence's The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1 moves away from being a pale imitation of the Battle Royale movies to being a pale imitation of dystopian revolt movies,* and I'd say the change hasn't improved the franchise much.

* If we play fast and loose with definitions and off the top of my head: Alphaville; Children of Men; Death Race 2000; Fahrenheit 451; Metropolis; 1984 (the Michael Radford version); Planet of the Apes (the Franklin J. Schaffner version); Punishment Park; Serenity; Sleeper; the recent Snowpiercer; The Tenth Victim; Zardoz. All more visually striking or more conceptually inventive or just plain funnier.

What, Star Wars? Not a big fan

Might help if the rebels were smarter, their plotting more cunning--but as led by Julianne Moore (suppressing her beauty and natural charisma as President Coin) the rebels are too dim, too straightforward in thinking, too grey at the temples. The revolt has entered a new phase, that of propaganda: not exactly the most entertaining of struggles, but one could at least wish for an intelligent one.

I mean--why broadcast Capitol propaganda straight to your own people when you know the results are going to be demoralization and dissent (look at the way they react to Peeta's interviews)? Why assume Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in his anti-mockingjay broadcasts is sincere, or a coward (no one ever heard of narcotics, brainwashing techniques?)? And the way Donald Sutherland's President Snow conducts himself--his sly confidence, the way he seems to think the whole thing an entertaining game--you know the rebels don't have a chance.

 Why (while we're still talking dumb moves) when faced with moat and bridge do the troops run down said bridges without even body armor for protection (we're not still fighting the Civil War, are we?)? And that skirmish in the forest? Not sure I'd want to climb a tree, not with a soldier with an assault rifle close behind.*

*Worse, the tactics work, thanks I'd say to plot armor and extensive digital massaging and tweaking in the editing room (Arrow against aircraft? Really?). Which I find not a little insulting--they seem to assume we won't notice.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss does okay, but considering how good she was in more adult fare like American Hustle, you can't help feeling she's lowballing; Philip Seymour Hoffman (this had to be his last work?) makes sly comic mileage out of being the smartest guy in a room full of the clueless; the aforementioned Moore is too much of a professional not to play Coin as directed--a waste really. Natalie Dormer--she of cat eyes and sexy sardonic mouth--has to shave half her head (I suspect to keep her from outshining the movie's putative star); like Moore she too is largely wasted
It's more than just the nits, of course; just not sure I'd want to inflict Young Adult literature--on print or in the big screen--on any young adult I actually know. That wishy-washy combination of daring and protectiveness...of dipping the toe in a provocative subject (kids in gladiator contests) yet keeping the characters simple and not a little romanticized, the action mostly wholesome (you don't really see a lot of blood in these games and god forbid you even mention sex), the line between good and evil clearly drawn.*

*The Giver I'd say was the best of the lot, mainly because it goes easy on the high-powered weaponry and big explosions, and because it's directed by Philip Noyce--y'know, a real filmmaker. 

If I had a young adult I wouldn't bother giving these books to them; maybe point them to the movie titles I mention above, or toss them my copy of Camp Concentration. Just saying.

The Hellbound Jail

Dodo Dayao is mostly known to be one of the most stylish Filipino film bloggers around, but not just that, not anymore; now he's a filmmaker, and his first feature--a horror film--is a real mindbender.

You spot his sources of course--call the film the love child of Kurosawa Kiyoshi and John Carpenter (Precinct 13, indeed), among others. I admire the variety and eclecticism of his sources, the same time I'm not sure it's a truly original style (need to think that over a bit). Unlike most horror films nowadays he avoids the quick cutting and handheld camera footage so fashionable in recent horror flicks in favor of the slow burn, the largely static camera setup where the image is just this side of inexplicable. Then you realize what's really going on, or (worse) don't know what's going on at all, in which case there's nowhere to run--not to the next room, not to the next shot, not anywhere

And when the shot finally hits the fan and the narrative kicks into high gear, he comes up with an...interesting...way of evoking quick-cutting, fast-moving action onscreen, without actually cutting that fast. Clever really. 

I'd say this beats stuff like The Conjuring or even The Woman in Black (with which it has more in common) only saying Dayao is better than Wan or Watkins is so obvious it isn't even funny. Good stuff folks, and if Cinema One Originals ever gets around to screening it in their cable channel, or issuing a DVD,  I'd write a fuller article




Quentin Tarantado said...

Warning: Spoilers
No, it looks like Hunger Games Mockingjay Part TWO will be Hoffman's last.
By the way, read the Wikipedia summary of the trilogy. The villain is not Snow, it's Coin. Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland are both gonna die in the end.
Or don't. It's really a terrible plot in summary so I can only imagine what reading the book is like.

Noel Vera said...

"will be the last"

Unlike the producers, I'm taking them as a single piece of ordure.

"The villain is not Snow, it's Coin"

She should be tried for bore crimes.

Curious Adventurer said...

I thought I was fine reading your critique until I read Quentin's comment. Spoiler alert!!!

Noel Vera said...

Most of my posts have this preface:

"(Warning: story and plot twists discussed in close detail) "

I feel I have to talk about all aspects of a movie. I'm not writing for someone who wants to find out if it's a good pick or not, but for someone who's seen it, and wants my take on it.

Noel Vera said...

And I hate the word 'spoiler,' so I write it the way I write it.