Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Jennifer Lawrence in a disappointing half-movie, a vampire in the Iranian wild west.

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Mockingjay
Lionsgate

The new Hunger Games film might have been a pretty good war movie, if there were an actual war in it. But there's not. Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, the concluding novel in her Hunger Games trilogy, tells the story of an uprising by the citizens of Panem against the tyrannical President Snow. However, in the manner of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, the screen version of Collins' book has been stretched, for purposes of profit-maximization, into two movies. And so The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is essentially a prequel to the presumably more exciting wrapup still to come in Part 2. Although Mockingjay was filmed as one long picture, that second installment won't be released for another year. So when this movie comes to an end—or just stops, actually—in the midst of an emotionally fraught scene, we're not tantalized so much as simply annoyed.

You'll recall that at the end of the last movie, Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the beloved kickass of the brutal Hunger Games overseen by Snow (Donald Sutherland), was being flown out of the Quarter Quell arena to the rebel stronghold of District 13. Now she has arrived, and the rebel leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore), and turncoat Games designer Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) have big plans for her: they want to use Katniss as the face of their revolution. To this end, she is assigned a video film crew and a punked-out director named Cressida (the series' best new character, played by Natalie Dormer), who take her out into the ruins of the various Districts to shoot rebel-rousing TV propaganda spots.

There's quite a bit of this on-location filmmaking, with the result that the story's visual palette—once enlivened by the colorful decadence of the Capitol—is muffled into drab expanses of smoking rubble and sprawling skeleton fields. And the story's most enjoyably flamboyant characters have been similarly reduced. The bizarre wardrobe of Stanley Tucci's manic game-show host, Caesar Flickerman, has been seriously dialed down; and ditzy fashion victim Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), now also resident in District 13, mourns the loss of her wigs and glitter, and deplores the general dearth of style in her new surroundings. ("I am condemned to this life of jumpsuits," she says.) None of this is a lot of fun to look at.

Meanwhile, Katniss spends much of her time fretting about her quasi-boyfriend and Games partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who's still being held in the Capitol (where he appears to have sold out to the government side). This plot point is a problem the movie can't resolve. As has been the case throughout the franchise, we can't understand why Katniss would be in any way interested in the bland and anti-sexy Peeta when her old friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth)—a classic sensitive hunk—is so clearly available to take his place. In addition, Katniss' concern for Peeta results in her spending quite a bit of the movie in po-faced mopery. She rouses herself for some pretty exciting action scenes—shooting an enemy fighter jet out of the sky with her high-tech bow and arrow at one point—but the warrior girl of the first two films, so formidable in the vicious Hunger Games battles, is little in evidence.

Returning director Francis Lawrence can't be blamed for the movie's chief structural flaw—the decision to hack one film into two—and he constructs at least one memorable sequence: a rebel rescue mission that's staged like an outtake from Zero Dark Thirty. The cast is still filled with fine actors, and they don't condescend to the pop-blockbuster material. But it's depressing to see Jennifer Lawrence, a stirring action hero in the previous films, so diminished here. And it's too bad that some of the series' best performers—especially Tucci and Banks, and Woody Harrelson as Katniss' mentor Haymitch Abernathy—have been confined to what are basically cameo appearances. Saddest of all is the trivial use of Hoffman, who's wasted once again in this final role of his career (he died during filming).

The movie is a pre-sold hit (the first two films grossed more than $1.5-billion dollars worldwide). But it might have been a more gratifying experience had it been presented, along with its forthcoming sequel, as a single three-hour film. Even the most devoted Hunger Games fans may walk away from this awkward installment still hungry for more than it delivers.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home at Night
Kino Lorber

This Sundance hit is billed as "the first Iranian vampire western," but that's a little misleading. The picture is a horror-movie first, of sorts: there's a skateboarding vampire, for one thing, and a lively electro-pop score. The characters are pimps and prostitutes and drug addicts, and one of them drives a vintage Thunderbird convertible. Could all of this really be happening in Iran?

Well, no. The actors are either Iranian or Iranian-American, and they do speak in subtitled Farsi. But director Ana Lily Amirpour, who also wrote and edited the picture, was born in England and raised in Bakersfield, California; and the "Iranian" town in which her story is set—"Bad City," she's called it—is actually not far from Bakersfield. Here we see a James-Dean-like young man named Arash (Arash Marandi) and his junkie dad (Marshall Manesh, from How I Met Your Mother) running afoul of the town's drug-dealing pimp (Dominic Rains), who in turn delights in making life hellish for a hooker named Atti (Mozhan Marnò). Shadowing these characters is a mysterious woman (Sheila Vand) who glides through the night in a chador (which strikingly suggests a traditional vampire's cape) in search of love or blood, whichever offers itself first.

There's not much more to the story than that, but as filmed by Lyle Vincent (in beautiful high-contrast black-and-white), it has a dreamlike pull. The movie is a fresh vision, but it also seems to be the sum of the director's many influences, from the spaghetti-western guitars of Ennio Morricone and the lurid oil pumpjacks of Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark to the deadpan glumness of Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch (whose longtime sound designer, the late Alan Splet, is saluted in the film's industrial soundtrack rumblings). The film feels a little long, even at 99 minutes, but it's an impressive debut. And assuming that Amirpour can subsume all of her obvious influences into a personal style, it'll be really interesting to see what she comes up with next.

NEXT: Blaming Israel for Palestinian violence is racist: it denies that Arabs are moral agents

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  1. Trilogy–you movie studios keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  2. Given that Mockingjay, the book, is about twice as long as it needed to be, it’s no surprise.

    1. I don’t think the book was twice as long as it needed to be, I think the problem is that Collins had absolutely no clue where to go with either the story or the characters and was so rushed by the publisher to crank out something to capitalize on the success of the first book that she just shit the first thing that came to mind on the page.

      The basics of a really good story are still there, she just botched the implementation and this is one case where I really hope the movies producers DO NOT stay faithful to the book but rather than they add a whole lot more into the story to fix the problems that were so evident in the book.

      That said, from the review Loder wrote it sounds like in the first movie at least they havn’t done that

      1. I hope so, too.

        I was hoping that “Part 1” would add stuff not in the books. Maybe scenes of the District 13 forces freeing the other districts, with “Part 2” focusing on the Capitol. The third book was definitely a slog, but it had a lot of good ideas. Execution. That’s where the problem was.

        In other news, Lawrence is also a talented singer.

  3. “However, in the manner of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, the screen version of Collins’ book has been stretched, for purposes of profit-maximization, into two movies”

    That’s not near as much stretching as the Hobbit – which got streched into 3 movies.

    1. Atlas Shrugged?

      1. You’re right. Atlas Shrugged and the Hobbit are absolutely comparable in length.

        -_-

        1. The “Atlas Shrugged” movies were so consistent that in each one, Dagny Taggart was played by a different actress.

  4. The ending to Mockingjay (book version) should gladden the hearts of all libertarians. Hope the last movie remains faithful to the book.

    1. The ending is complex and heartwrenching. I also hope the movie stays true.

      It’s not really a happy ending.

      1. The biggest problem with the ending is that what Katniss went through was in the grand scheme of things not really all that horrific. People deal with far more horrific problems all the time without becoming the basket cases that she does throughout the 3rd book.

        Sure, what she has to deal with looks pretty bad to am American teen audience who have never had to deal with a hardship worse than their parents buying them a used iPhone 5 instead of an iPhone 6 for christmas but she doesn’t enter the same ballpark as stuff people like John McCain had to endure.

        1. Well, I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but I think what she went through is pretty horrific in all three books.

          In the last book, she’s dealing with the idea that she’s responsible for entire cities being wiped out. She’s dealing with the fact that someone she loves (Peeta) has been tortured and drugged into a state that he never fully recovers from. And then, she sees her beloved sister incinerated by a weapon that her friend Gale invented. Seems pretty awful to me, and my teen years are memories from long ago.

        2. Oops, in my comment I had the word “spoilers” between my paragraph, but I put in angle brackets and so it disappeared.

  5. If Lawrence of Arabia was released today, how many parts would it be smashed into? Movies used to be art, now they are just another shit product.

  6. I can only assume Kurt Loder did not read the books. If he did then he would understand that thats how the 3rd book went down. She is a girl thrown into something she never asked for and does not want … Not as exciting, Katniss is conflicted, destroyed by the losses she has experienced….. Of course 1 Movie 3 hours in length would have been better then breaking it into two seperate movies … at least for the moviegoer/Fan.

  7. I also think Loder did not read the books. He seems not to understand the subtleties related to Gale/Peeta that drive Kantniss’ behavior. I think this movie should be solemn because the events in the story are so solemn. The last books is not exactly a rah-rah good-beats-evil feel good story.

  8. Even with their minor faults, I enjoyed the first two books of the Hunger Games. Book three, on the other hand, was a mind-numbing slog.

    1. Lord, I agree that the 3rd book dragged a bit. But, I think Collins tried to take on very weighty issues that maybe were too much for the vehicle: the corruption of ideals (Gale), the psychological terror of war (Peeta/Katniss/others), the loss and sorrow of war and how to go on (the ending).

      I love these topics and ideas so I forgive the book for many of its sins.

  9. Dystopia is the new utopia for young adults. goo.gl/TvfPGu

  10. My wife and I saw Mockingjay Friday afternoon and enjoyed it. Acting was good, special effects were good, and if you think the ‘average American moviegoers’ will flock to a three- or four-hour Feature Show, you’re out of your ever-lovin’ minds!f

    1. I don’t see the studios financial disincentive in releasing the two movies a month apart. Especially if the first movie ends with little wrapped up.

  11. my co-worker’s step-sister makes $69 hourly on the internet . She has been out of work for nine months but last month her pay check was $13181 just working on the internet for a few hours. Go Here this site….

    ????? http://www.netjob70.com

  12. my neighbor’s aunt makes $75 /hour on the laptop . She has been laid off for 7 months but last month her pay check was $18092 just working on the laptop for a few hours. read the article………. http://www.payflame.com

  13. “… the beloved kickass…”

    Except she’s not. She’s a passive bystander to most of the action. Constantly being rescued or saved from having to make hard decisions. She’s an insult to the “kickass chick” genre.

  14. The fact that this isn’t really an Iranian film, but an American film done in Farsi makes this to me, a subtle slap in the face to Americans, given that Iran has been making war on us for 35 years. I’ll avoid it just out of protest. You’re living in America, benefitting from American prosperity and freedom, make your g*ddamn movie in English.

  15. most of you must have seen the movie the hunger games ,and do you like Jennifer Lawrence? i think she is so cool and works hard in the movie ,her performance is perfect

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