Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 23, 2015 4:30 pm 
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Happily ever after

The Hunger Games is finally over. It is certainly greedy of the filmmakers of this like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hobbit and the Divergent series, to split their last volume into two parts to double their final box office profits. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 was obviously a chopped-off piece of something. It was flat and meandering (like Maze Runner 2 -- but that's another story). However, unlike the always cheesy and steadily deteriorating "Twilight" movies, The Hunger Games goes out as a class act. Its final sequences are beautiful.

They are a winning combination, we have to admit: a nice balance of big closeups and grandiose fake architecture; of intense violence and breathless discussions of plot points. This last film is less fun than the earlier ones but also less overblown and absurd and rather sweet. There is of course no "Game" anymore, though the blasphemy of conducting one is discussed. The "revolution" is going on, the war of Panem, the Capital is destroying districts, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are at odds, Peeta having been reprogramed to hate Katniss, Katniss now the chosen recruiter of rebels, now recovering from Peet's almost choking her to death. District 13's rebel President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is lurking around with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the (even for this series) preposterously named Plutarch Heavensbee lurking beside her looking hauntingly grey and unreal, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland, looking grayer too) is spitting blood.

What has actually been going on? Well, this is, I remind you, a fanciful Young Adult novel series blown up into a glossy blockbuster franchise. Which is to say that, in my view, it doesn't have to make sense. And so what is going on is simply, in a way, that it is winding down, easing its fans out. (Of course to its millions of passionate fans, it all does make perfect, specific, sense.) I'm suggesting you may consider it a lot of hokum. As a YA movie franchise what The Hunger Games did have to do was have exciting, scary action, a hint of love interest, and charismatic characters. As is more than clear in the movie version, they're like action figures, these characters; and if she didn't have a virtual franchise going on as it is with David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper (which got her her Oscar) Jennifer Lawrence would have become a superstar with this emblematic Katniss role.

There are lots of minor emblematic figures in The Hunger Games, but ultimately, of course, it's all about Katniss -- and Jennifer Lawrence. A mistress of the bow and arrow, Jennifer/Katniss is an Amazonian young woman, a Diana of the woodlands. Jennifer is vibrant, athletic, luminous and sexy. (And now she is in the X-Man films: some people get all the jobs.) It's incredible to realize that it was only five years ago that Jennifer gained notice through a film festival hit, Debra Granik's sterling but small hillbilly drama Winter's Bone. Actually she already had ten credits at that point, though most were from television. She was just waiting to burst forth. She had star written all over her. It's still hard to know if she is really acting or just exuding energy, with a lot more held in reserve that she's not yet released.

The Hunger Games -- Suzanne Collins' creation -- is the best trashy YA series ever transferred to the screen. It is replete with colorful weirdos played by experienced actors like Tucci, Harrelson, Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Hoffman, Amanda Plummer, Jeffrey Wright; the list goes on. And then the young and pretty ones, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, and the rest. There are these two tiers in the cast. The young ones keep the young audience watching, or the older guys and girls oggling, and the older ones give the cast heft and character, the loopy, fascistic production values of the exploitive "Games."

Irish actress Paula Malcomson, who plays Katniss' mom, has a particularly nice brief turn in this final segment, and she's nicely turned out -- which leads us to what's The Hunger Games' most notable feature: how stylish and stylized it is for a mainstream franchise. The absurd freakish outfits, which derive from the fact that this is about a media culture, which presents all its national events as big glossy shows meant to satisfy the masses; and at times, the spectacular mise-en-scène. This is like some High Camp kind of 1984, totalitarianism with glitzy outfits. It could have referred to Leni Riefenstahl a bit more, actually, but fascism's penchant for grandiose production numbers is its essential feature, with the various updated, tech-savvy versions of gladiatorial contests thrown in as the gory, high-body-count pièces de résistance.

But the last part: what is it about; how's it different? Well, there is a lot of running around -- which unfortunately links it to Maze Runner 2. There are all sorts of plot twists, some of which I probably missed; anyway it wouldn't be fair to reveal them all here. A large part of the action takes place in the sewers under the Capital, but then we, and Katniss and her remaining crew, come up and blend in with a lot of Capital citizens being herded along. This enables the filmmakers to show off another array of bizarre, colorful costumes. I only wished Bill Cunningham could have been there to do street fashion photography for the Sunday New York Times. Later there is some impressive architecture. Finally, President Snow is to be executed by Katniss. We can't reveal how that turns out. What we can reveal is that in a final flash-forward we're plunged down into a sun-dappled pastoral scene that could be the England of Jane Austen and Peeta and Katniss are together, a loving couple, with babies. What happened to the Capital? To the districts? I don't know; ask Susanne Collins.

Anyway, the final sequences are very, very classy. If only the action sequences had not gone on so long, and been so much like other scenes of that kind, and been so boring. But The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -Part 2 leaves one with pleasant memories -- and even images to ponder. As does the whole series.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, 137 mins., has had an unprecdented series of November international premieres (which must have worn the cast to a frazzle to attend) in Berlin, London, Paris, Madrid, Beijing, Stockholm, and Los Angeles, from 4-16 Nov. 2015; and many more. It looks like dozens of countries. US theatrical realese 18 Nov. (NYC) and 20 Nov. (the rest).

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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