The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is more than just a bridge to next year’s finale. Things happen. Characters grow.

Having rebuked President Snow (Donald Sutherland), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes an ally of the rebels. Realizing her power, she agrees to be a voice for those opposing Snow. President Coin (Julianne Moore) leads the opposition with key advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Heavensbee drafts Katniss for a series of videos, directed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones). Cressida has a Skrillex haircut and a long vine tattoo on her left side—it’s a distinctive look. (Heavensbee’s guidance reminded me about Hoffman’s role as another crafty political consultant in The Ides of March.)

After scripted attempts at a propaganda clip fall short, Katniss and crew go on location for passionate, ad-libbed speeches that rip the Capitol crew to shreds. There’s also an action segment where Katniss takes down a fighter jet attacking District 8 with a well-directed arrow (with an explosive tip).

All the while, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is ensconced in the Capitol with several other survivors from the most recent Hunger Games. Like Katniss, Peeta is a media tool. Every time he appears on the Capitol’s TV feed, she watches intently.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 brings new versions of certain series characters. Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is now sober and not happy about it, thanks to Coin’s prohibition of booze. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has doffed her outrageous wigs and dresses for a do rag and olive drab jumpsuit. Hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is still more like a big brother to Katniss, but there appears to be something stronger between them this time.

Among the questions unanswered in THG: M1… Is Peeta’s call for the rebels to stand down sincere or is he just saying these things to save his skin? Is Snow being overly cocky as he plays mind games with Katniss and the rebels? Do the rebels have necessary firepower to take down the Snow regime? Will Coin turn out to benevolent or will power corrupt? And will Katniss and Peeta ever be a real couple? Stay tuned—Part 2 comes your way in exactly one year!

 

 

 

 

 

A Most Wanted Man

 

A Most Wanted Man is a movie that asks two questions: 1. In the spy game, can you trust anybody? And 2. Will Philip Seymour Hoffman win a posthumous Oscar? (Answers are “no” and “maybe.”)

Günther Bachman (Hoffman) is a chain-smoking German espionage schlub working on a plan to expose—and halt—an operation that’s transferring money from to terrorist organizations. A new arrival in Hamburg from Chechnya is central to Heinrich’s scheme. Gunther is working angles with a variety of players, managing to manipulate certain activities but needing cooperation to make other pieces fall into place.

Martha (Robin Wright—with black hair!) is an American spy whose motives are parallel to those of Gunther’s. Annabel (Rachel McAdams) is a lawyer who helps conceal Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) from authorities who would deport him back to Chechnya before he can get his hands on a large sum of money. Tommy (Willem Dafoe) is the banker whose efforts are vital to Gunter’s plan.

Hoffman’s acting skills are top notch as usual but this is not the kind of role that screams for an Oscar nomination. However, his untimely passing coupled with the admiration of his talent by the movie community, could lead to year-end honors. Some online commenters have called PSH’s German accent into question, but Sally Field and Tom Hanks won Oscars with unauthentic Southern accents, so that issue should be moot.

A Most Wanted Man has a story that requires strict attention to the cast of characters and their respective needs and wants. No running out for more popcorn during this film—too much going on. A Most Wanted Man is not a likely crowd-pleaser. But if you enjoy a dark, heavy spy film, and/or you are a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting, don’t miss it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Master

Joaquin Phoenix steps up as a strong contender for a Best Actor nomination with his portrayal of a damaged man with anger issues and sexual obsessions in “The Master.”

This is not a movie for everyone. Although it is being booked in multiplexes, as well as art houses, “The Master” will challenge many and leave others unsatisfied. Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson, whose last film was “There Will Be Blood,” has assembled a film that is, above all, compelling. It’s one that has already generated much discussion with more to come.

“The Master” is more about its characters than its plot. The film is a series of episodes, some of which move slowly. In these episodes, we see how the film’s characters respond to the things life throws their way.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the title role. His character, Lancaster Dodd, is patterned after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder and leader of Scientology. Dodd, like many others in the movie, takes an immediate liking to Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell.

Quell falls under Dodd’s spell and embraces The Cause, Dodd’s quasi-religious movement. Dodd is similar to numerous charismatic leaders we’ve encountered in history, some of whom can be seen on your TV every week. Dodd is, however, a generally likable guy, even though he serves up mumbo jumbo about “past lives.”

Quell becomes a member of Dodd’s entourage and Dodd begins to “work” with Freddie. Is it therapy or is Quell a guinea pig for Dodd’s techniques?

Eventually, Quell breaks away but in the end returns to Dodd, who is then in England. Dodd’s reaction to seeing Freddie again brings up questions about the true nature of their relationship.

Among the supporting cast is Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife Peggy. She wields her power from the sideline. She supports Dodd in his quest to grow support for The Cause but makes sure he has her input.

One more thing: most of the movie is set in the year 1950 and the clothes are terrific.

Should you see “The Master?” Yes, if only to witness Joaquin Phoenix’s mighty acting skill. Even if you don’t like “The Master” as a movie, this performance will astound you.