The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1

Director: Francis Lawrence

Screenwriter: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, and Suzanne Collins

Based on Novel by: Suzanne Collins

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

The Hunger Games has made one of the most successful jumps from page to screen in recent memory, with the film adaptations generally satisfying even hardcore fans of the young adult novels they’re based on. Casting, musical score, special effects, and thematic interpretation were all extremely well done in the initial movie and the excellent sequel, Catching Fire. But since the moody, unreliably narrated Mockingjay is considered by many to be the weakest book in the series, many’s excitement for the movie that opened on Thursday has been tinged with apprehension. My own personal hangup was primarily with the decision to split Mockingjay into two parts; while The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were paced around the titular arena battles, Mockingjay has a distinctly different tone and a plot that isn’t nearly so cut and dried. With traumatized Victors and much of what’s defined the series up to this point obliterated, tonal shifts are in order at this point in the story… and Mockingjay has achieved them pretty soundly. The days of teenagers battling each other to the death are over, but the excitement, suspense and emotion the franchise has already established are alive and well in the latest installment.

The Speculative Post's Review

All three Hunger Games movies so far have a combined running time of 411 minutes, which is nearly seven hours of Katniss Everdeen shooting a bow and engaging in love triangles. I attended a screening of the three films, in a row, at a local theater last Thursday; when watched in quick succession, these movies really feel their length, and by the end of Catching Fire I was ready to shank the rude, fidgety people sitting behind my friend and I. The downsides of this experience were tired eyes and the imposition of having to complain to the theater about guests behaving badly; the upsides were free tickets and seat reassignments for our trouble, and also, probably more importantly, the ability to compare Mockingjay to its predecessors with all of the films fresh in my mind.

Last year’s Catching Fire ended on a cliffhanger; rescued from the deadly arena she destroyed by a group of rebels, including the former Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and her curmudgeonly alcoholic mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), our protagonist Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) was informed that her home, District 12, had been bombed to oblivion by the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Mockingjay picks up precisely where the previous film left off, following Katniss, her mother, and her sister as they are reunited and begin to rebuild their lives in the underground District 13. The first two movies don’t devote nearly enough time to establishing 13’s reputation and history (they exported nuclear weapons and are essentially in a cold war with the government), but if the indulgent Capitol looks like Washington D.C. collided with Ancient Rome, the strict and sparse District 13 calls to mind Soviet Russia, with drab jumpsuits and a “needs of the many” mindset that is constantly enforced. President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is 13’s poised and charismatic leader, and she needs Katniss’ help if the uprising against Snow is to be a success. That means gaining the support of other terrified, oppressed Districts through propaganda centered around the liberation symbol of the Mockingjay, but unfortunately, the Capitol is doing the same thing with Katniss’ ex fiance and joint winner of the Hunger Games, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). As Katniss tries to balance her support of the Rebellion with her concern for Peeta, her visceral hatred of President Snow, and a struggling romance with her old flame Gale (Liam Hemsworth), the stakes are higher than ever, and nothing will ever be the same again in her crumbling world.

Mockingjay represents a departure from the general structure, pacing, and themes of the last two films. It’s essentially a war movie, with two clearly defined “sides,” but thankfully the film does an excellent job of making District 13 feel like the lesser of two evils rather than the good guys by default. Julianne Moore is a commanding onscreen presence as the sympathetic but quietly dangerous President Coin, insisting that she wants to bring back democracy… while leading her followers in fist-pumping chants reminiscent of an eerie hivemind. The design of the bunkers, stairs, and ladders of the District’s structures is clever and striking, but the movie spends ample time in other locations. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire didn’t spare many scenes to dwell on Districts other than 12 throughout the fictional world of Panem, and the scope broadens significantly and refreshingly in Mockingjay to put some of the most uplifting moments of sacrifice and rebellion in lives other than those of the main characters. Combined with the haunting soundtrack, the centerpiece of which is the Lumineers-arranged “The Hanging Tree” performed by Jennifer Lawrence, there are some very beautiful and emotionally hard-hitting moments here. Even more than the other two films, Mockingjay has a definite spirit, one that builds and wanes according to Katniss’ mood, whims, and occasionally badass lines. (“Fire is catching!” she roars at one point, addressing President Snow. “If we burn, you burn with us!”) When so much depends on her commitment to the Rebellion’s cause, it makes a lot of sense and the effect can be the pinnacle of what cinema was designed to achieve.

Catching Fire was pretty thrilling throughout; despite ending on a grim note, it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch, packed with suspense and colorful action. Its sequel, conversely, is not a feel-good holiday film in any sense of those words. Many darker aspects of Panem’s world find a mouthpiece in Mockingjay, from the existence of Avoxes (dissenters who have had their tongues cut out and are programmed to be submissive, mute servants) to President Snow’s practice of prostituting especially desired Hunger Games Victors for political favors. The attractive Finnick speaks with somber candidness about this happening to him, and it’s perhaps Sam Claflin’s finest moment in a role he captures fantastically, one of many that convinces Katniss and viewers alike that Snow’s monstrous reign can’t end quickly enough. It’s also a moment that earns the film’s PG-13 rating just as effectively as the remains of Katniss’ District, strewn with piles of charred bones and skulls crunching underfoot.

What little action there is to break up a film that’s more tactics than execution feels obligatory, as if it was shot to fill a quota out of fear that audiences would get bored. With a more modest running time than the series’ first two films, Mockingjay doesn’t quite carry that risk… but there’s no denying that of all the Hunger Games movies, the third one is perhaps the most baffling to split into two parts. While it provides a lot of space for filler, characterization, and paying attention to relationships that were rushed or neglected in the previous installments, Mockingjay is the book where comparatively little happens and Katniss is a fractured, post-traumatic mess for much of it. It feels less like the writers thought two movies were absolutely necessary to resolve the series, and more like they’re reluctant to let go of the cash cow status The Hunger Games is experiencing. That being said, it’s hard not to be impressed; having read the book it’s based on, I had a lot of questions about how on earth they’d turn something so seemingly unfilmable into a decent movie. If Part 2 manages to be this well-crafted, I wouldn’t hesitate to call The Hunger Games’ adaptations as collectively strong and successful as the Harry Potter movies.

December 2014 Book Releases

by: Janea A. Schimmel

ed. by: Gayle Cottrill

Well, folks, we’ve reached the end of the year. Sadly, we’ve also reached the part of the year that publishers keep the expected big sellers away from. Which means, my friends, that this month is the month of the midlist author. While there are a few authors on this list who have certainly hit the big leagues, there are also some on here who would have a hard time making a list otherwise packed with authors like Robin Hobb, Lev Grossman, and Brandon Sanderson. Happy reading!

Returning Contenders:

Debuts:

Returning Contenders:

1. Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction, Ed. by Ben Bova and Eric Choi

Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Genre: Hard Science Fiction

Carbide Tipped Pens is an anthology of new hard SF stories that follow the classic definition of the genre, in which some element of science or technology is so central to the plot that there would be no story if that element were removed. The aim of the editors was to collect stories which emphasize plot, character, science, originality and believability in equal measure, not only to entertain readers but also to educate and to return the sense of wonder of the Golden Age to a new generation of 21st Century readers.

2. City of Eternal Night by Kristen Painter

Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Series: Crescent City #2
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Magic and mystery collide in this second installment of the new urban fantasy series by House of Comarre author Kristen Painter.

Still coming to terms with their unexpected partnership, Augustine and Harlow have a tentative truce. With Harlow slowly working to accept being fae, Augustine still learning how to be Guardian, and feelings growing on both sides though, they do not have an easy road ahead.

But when a young girl is stolen from the Mardi Gras Exemplar Ball -- the biggest fae event of the year -- Harlow and Augustine must put all their issues aside to bring her home alive. Harlow's father, Braziano, is of course their number one suspect, but evil lurks in every corner of the city and time is running out. Their only choices: Either find a way to rescue the girl, or Augustine must die.

3. Darkness Falls by Keri Arthur

Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Series: Dark Angels #7
Genre: Urban Fantasy

The search for the last key to the gates of hell has begun, and half-werewolf, half-Aedh Risa Jones is in more danger than ever—and one misstep could prove ruinous. It's only a matter of time before Madeleine Hunter, the dangerous head of the vampire council, begins her hunt for complete domination. And for Risa, that comes with an alarming ultimatum: hand over the last key to Hunter or, one by one, her loved ones will die.

Now, it’s a race against time for Risa to save those she loves, and to stop Hunter's apocalyptic plan to open the very gates of hell.

4. The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnik

Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Genre: Military Science Fiction

The Democracy is at war with the alien Traanskei Coalition. War hero Colonel Nathan Pretorius has a record of success on dangerous behind-enemy-lines missions, missions that usually leave him in the hospital. Now he's recruited for a near-impossible assignment that may well leave him dead.

At the cost of many lives, the Democracy has managed to clone and train General Michkag, one of the Traanskei's master strategists. Colonel Pretorius and a hand-picked team must kidnap the real Michkag if they can, assassinate him if they can't, but no matter which, put the clone in his place, where he will misdirect the enemy's forces and funnel vital information to the Democracy.

Against the odds, Pretorius, along with Cyborg Felix Ortega, computer expert Toni Levi, convict and contortionist Sally "Snake" Kowalski, the near-human empath Marlowe, the alien Gzychurlyx, and Madam Methuselah - the Dead Enders - must infiltrate the Fortress in Orion, accomplish their mission, and escape with their lives.

5. On Her Majesty’s Behalf by Joseph Nassise

Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Series: The Great Undead War #2
Genre: Alternate History, Zombie

The outrageously inventive follow-up to By the Blood of Heroes-Inglorious Basterds meets Dawn of the Dead in this steampunk alternate history World War I zombie novel

At the close of 1917, the Germans introduced a new type of gas, T-Leiche-"corpse gas"-a revolutionary weapon that changed the war. Instead of killing the living, T-Leiche resurrected the bodies of the dead.

Though they survived the killing fields of France, the danger has only just begun for veteran Captain Michael "Madman" Burke and company. They've just been assigned a new mission: rescue Princess Veronica, the sole surviving member of the British royal family. But Kaiser Manfred Von Richthofen, the undead Red Baron and new leader of Germany, is determined to find Veronica as well.

In the devastated, zombie-infested city of London, Burke and his men will face off in an unholy battle with their most formidable opponent yet: a team led by none other than his infected former right-hand man, Sargeant Moore. If they don't succeed, all of Britain will fall into undead Central hands.

6. Stonehill Downs by Sarah Remy

Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Genre: Fantasy

Malachi is the last of his kind—a magus who can communicate with the dead, and who relies on the help of spirits to keep his kingdom safe. When he's sent to investigate brutal murders in the isolated village of Stonehill Downs, he uncovers dangerous sorceries and unleashes a killer who strikes close to home.

Avani is an outsider living on the Downs, one of the few survivors from the Sunken Islands. She has innate magics of her own, and when she discovers the mutilated bodies of the first victims, she enters into a reluctant alliance with Malachi that takes her far from home.

But Mal is distracted by the suspicious death of his mentor and haunted by secrets from his past. And Avani discovers troubling truths about the magus through her visions. She could free Malachi, but first they must work together to save the kingdom from the lethal horror that has arisen.

7. For a Few Soul’s More by Guy Adams

Release Date: December 30th, 2014
Series: Heaven’s Gate Trilogy #3
Genre: Steampunk, Weird West

The uprising in Heaven is at an end and Paradise has fallen, becoming the forty-third state of America. Now angels and demons must learn to get along with humans.

The rest of the world is in uproar. How can America claim the afterlife as its own? It’s certainly going to try as the President sets out for the town of Wormwood for talks with its governor, the man they call Lucifer.

Hell has problems of its own. There’s a new evangelist walking its roads, trying to bring the penitent to paradise, and a new power is rising. Can anyone stand up to the Godkiller?

8. Low Midnight by Carrie Vaughn

Release Date: December 30th, 2014
Series: Kitty Norville #13
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Low Midnight spins out of the series on the wave of popularity surrounding Kitty's most popular supporting character, Cormac Bennett, a two-minded assassin of the paranormal who specializes in killing lycanthropes.

In his first solo adventure, Cormac, struggling with a foreign consciousness trapped inside him, investigates a century-old crime in a Colorado mining town which could be the key to translating a mysterious coded diary… a tome with secrets that could shatter Kitty's world and all who inhabit it.

With a framing sequence that features Kitty Norville herself, Low Midnight not only pushes the Kitty saga forward, but also illuminates Cormac's past and lays the groundwork for Kitty's future.

9. Macaque Attack by Gareth L. Powell

Release Date: December 30th, 2014
Series: Macaque Trilogy #3
Genre: Science Fiction, Humor

The Spitfire pilot monkey Ack-Ack Macaque faces a world on the brink in this adventure, the conclusion to his astonishing trilogy.

In the thrilling conclusion of the Macaque Trilogy, the dangerous but charismatic Ack-Ack Macaque finds himself leading a dimension-hopping army of angry monkeys, facing an invading horde of implacable killer androids, and confronting the one challenge for which he was never prepared: impending fatherhood! Meanwhile, former journalist Victoria Valois fights to save the electronic ghost of her dead husband and reclaim his stolen soul from the sands of Mars.

10. Tejano Conflict by Steve Perry

Release Date: December 30th, 2014
Genre: Military SF

At the end of the twenty-fourth century, war is fought in a civilized manner: Each side hires mercenaries to engage in combat in specifically designated areas. To the victor go the spoils—whatever they may be…

After a couple of assignments involving more intrigue and skulduggery than the Cutter Force Initiative ever wanted, the unit is looking forward to being part of a straight-up, short-term industrial war on Earth.

Cutter agrees to a support role offered by an old Army comrade who’s now a general in a larger military force. The pay is good, the unit happy. All they have to do is basic ranger stuff: sneak and peek, shoot and scoot.

But what starts out as a corporate fight to occupy a valuable piece of contested territory quickly goes sideways, and once again Cutter and crew find themselves in the middle of situations in which things aren’t as they seem, and the unit must determine the truth—or lose more than just a battle.

The Debuts:

1. Into the Night by Suzanne Rigdon

Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Genre: Urban Fantasy

When Selina Baker, a coordinator for a Boston non-profit, goes out on the town with her friend Jess, she never expects to meet the man of her dreams. And she certainly never expects him to be undead.

When things go from flirty to majorly flawed on her first date with James Lawton, he is forced to save her the only way he can--by killing her. Selina suddenly finds herself in the mix with the creatures she thought were made up solely for late-night TV. Into the Night follows Selina’s transformation from a wallflower into an impulsive and dangerous new vampire. With no choice in the matter, Selina becomes trapped between a new man, his wary brothers, and his cruel and controlling Queen, who wants nothing more than to watch her suffer. Selina must walk the fine line between adjusting to her new powers, life after death, and following the rules--all while avoiding disaster.



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