Videophiled: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I’

HUngerGamesMock
Lionsgate

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), the number one box office hit of 2015, follows the lead of the Harry Potter and Twilight series by splitting the final book into two film installments, making this the third of four films. For anyone who has read the books that might seem like quite a stretch, drawing out the first half of an already short novel to feature film length while including enough drama to entice viewers to return for the finale. Maybe my expectations were duly lowered but director Francis Lawrence, who took over the series from filmmaker Gary Ross and raised the bar, and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong turn out a surprisingly engaging film about rebellion, propaganda, media, and the emotional and psychological scars of war, all seen from the point of view of a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who becomes a symbol of resistance simply by surviving with courage, dignity, and compassion.

By this time in the saga, Katniss (Lawrence) has been rescued from the Games and the totalitarian “President” Snow (Donald Sutherland) by the rebellion, which is building its forces in underground bunkers beneath District 13, which everyone thought was bombed to cinders decades ago. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), however, did not escape and Snow and his propaganda team is using him in a propaganda campaign designed to attack the image of Katniss as the symbol of resistance. Julianne Moore joins the series as President Alma Coin, leader of the revolution and a savvy military mind who doesn’t quite understand the power of Katniss for the hearts and minds of Panem. She’s committed but also cagey and cold as a commander, wary about her own authority as Katniss becomes the face of the revolution in a series of pointed propaganda pieces that, curiously enough, work due to the earnest, guileless authenticity of Katniss in the face of the Capitol’s cruelty. Philip Seymour Hoffman (who died before production was completed on the film) and Jeffrey Wright provide the brain trust behind Snow’s leadership and their scenes help give the film added gravity.

Extending the final book across two films is a commercial decision rather than an artistic choice and it shows. The film takes us into strategy sessions and explores the efforts to shape Katniss into a packaged symbol with telling detail that, while interesting, slows the momentum of the story, even with battle scenes and action set pieces spaced through the film. It’s not enough to smother the fire of the film but it does douse Hutchinson (who plays a brainwashing victim with the empty sincerity of a sleepwalker) and Chris Hemsworth, who gets lost in the massive cast and busy script.

Lawrence, however, burns in the role of the reluctant Joan of Arc of the rebellion. She makes us feel that anxious turmoil of a teenage girl thrown into a battle she didn’t choose, both in her heartfelt response to the brutal repression and reprisals of the Capitol and in the private horror of the psychological warfare waged by President Snow to break her spirit and resolve. As the film keeps reminding us, she’s used by both sides and she knows it. But she also understands the stakes of the war. That’s a lot for one person, let alone a teenage girl, and Lawrence doesn’t let us forget it. And her haunting rendition of the song “The Hanging Tree” will linger in your mind long after the film is over.

Jennifer Lawrence as The Mockingjay

Like the disc releases of previous Hunger Games installments and all the Harry Potter films, this disc has taken a Friday release to set it apart from the rest of the week’s releases. So on Friday, March 6, the number one box office hit of 2015 arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD.

Blu-ray and DVD with filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes, and a sneak peek at the second chapter of the other Lionsgate young adult action / rebellion franchise: The Divergent Series: Insurgent. The Blu-ray Combo Pack also features the eight-part documentary “The Mockingjay Lives: The Making of Mockingjay: Part 1,” an in-depth, feature-length piece, and the featurettes “Straight from the Heart: A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman” and “Songs of Rebellion: Lorde on Curating the Soundtrack,” plus bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

‘M*A*S*H’ on TCM

Raw, ragged, mordantly hilarious, and savagely cruel, M*A*S*H (1970) was not Robert Altman’s first movie. The 45-year-old director had been in the business for 15 years, directing over a hundred hours of TV episodes and a few feature films, before shooting the first frame of the film. Yet M*A*S*H in many ways stands as the first “Robert Altman” film. Bustling with spontaneous ensemble performances, captured with a restless camera, and enriched with a dense soundtrack of competing conversations and extraneous sounds, it set the tone and style of his filmmaking for the rest of his career.

The film did not originate with Altman. Screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. discovered the novel, a black comic memoir of life in a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War written by Richard Hooker (a pseudonym for H. Richard Hornberger), and he thought it would make a great movie and a possible comeback project after spending years blacklisted by Hollywood for his politics. His agent, George Litto, took the book to Ingo Preminger, a former agent anxious to move into production, and they sold the package to 20th Century Fox. All they needed was a director, but all the big directors they approached turned them down. Litto was also Altman’s agent and Altman was very interested, but he couldn’t even get a meeting until the A-list filmmakers passed on it.

Ingo Preminger brought in Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, rising stars with counterculture credentials, to play the practical-joking doctors Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest. Gould told Altman that, while he could put on a southern accent for Duke, he felt more confident about another role, Trapper John McIntyre, and Altman made the change. Altman then cast the rest of the film with relative unknowns, drawing from old friends and collaborators (Tom Skerritt as Duke, Michael Murphy, Robert Duvall) and actors from the San Francisco theater community (John Schuck, Rene Auberjonois, Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, and others). The publicity department boasted of fourteen feature film debuts in the twenty eight speaking roles and Altman gave everyone their moment.

Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, October 29

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