A Mixed Bag

HUNGER GAMES - Mockingjay – Part II 

Katniss Everdeen is back, her bow and arrows ever at the ready. Okay, so the books are beloved icons of young adult readers. And the first two/three were [just] tolerable as movie experiences, helped along by the luminescent Jennifer Lawrence, the circus-y emcee Elizabeth Banks, plasticized Stanley Tucci, the guru in nasty-mode Woody Harrelson and the unctuous, evil Donald Sutherland as President Snow. Josh Hutcherson is a mystery: why was he cast, of all the testosterone running wild in LA? He seems always slightly dyspeptic in all the lensers of the franchise.

Panem is still in rebellion mode, one district against the other, with Katniss the reluctant rebel leader. Her task: bring together the factions to fight not each other, but Pres. Snow, hostile-benign dictator.

In this go, the last of the 4-part franchise, the beautiful behind-the-scenes Coin is played by Julianne Moore, and one is momentarily upset by the sight of the now-deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman in his continuing role.

War between the districts is still ongoing, with .Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour plotting to use Everdeen to their ends, feigning support of the rebels, should they succeed.

The credit roll provides an explanation of why it all seems arid: There are more set dressers than there are stunt people. The movie looks like a set-dresser’s paradise, but it doesn’t ring true on any level. The advent of hunky Liam Hemsworth is eye candy, but every scene is subsumed to Lawrence, far more sophisticated in her poise than her age would allow. If not JenL:aw, then Peeta, who is wonky here and flashed in and out of schizo episodes, hovers nearby lest Hemsworth snatch away his beauty, Ms. Bow ‘n’ Arrow. For all the expensive star real estate, Hoffman, Banks, even Hemsworth had relatively vestigial roles in the lengthy pic.

Ultimately, it all feels ginned up and uninspired, for all the premier-night excitement and the giant IMAX screening venue. Who cares, after all, about this overextended sci-fi or fantasy story of scarcity and cage-fights?

Don’t go Hungry: Save your $20.


Directed by Tom McCarthy

As this essentially true story unspools, based on material accumulated  during the past half century in Boston (and elsewhere), you don’t have to see flashy costumes or exaggerated makeup, battles and automatic machine-gun ‘pods’ exploding or vast  oceans of inky death licking at the heels of the film’s protags, as you see repeatedly in the CGI-dominated Mockingjay.

For news junkies, it is impossible to see the gathering of evidence from disparate sources on the closeted paedophilia scandal that has rocked the Church for decades and not think of its filmic forebear. All the President’s Men, a masterful pastiche of actors recapping the Nixonian theft of papers from the oppo political party, concerned the Watergate ‘caper’ that spelled the downfall of one of our noted presidents. The emergence of that story is now a sort of hallowed skirl through politicking and what not to get caught doing, was for months stymied by efforts to spike it as a story, blown up, in the end, by the Washington Post. There, editors had little patience for the Deep Throats and silenced witnesses, and could not be persuaded there was a story worth exposing.

In retrospect, any one of the endless skein of hydra-headed scandals of the present administration dwarfs the Watergate chapter of American news-and-political agit-prop almond chew. Here, too, over a period of several years spanning 1972 through  9/11 and forward,  the papers were not interested in  in-depth exposes of the all-powerful Boston Church. The unwholesome clerical misbehavior, molestation and paedophilia revealed by dogged legwork shown here brought down holy hell, as it were, on the Archdiocese that shadows all of Catholic Massachusetts.

This is no spoiler, because the major stars have been on all the late-night shows  talking about the legitimacy of the story -- though adults will not be surprised. What is exciting is the gradual, and adult, work of the  ensemble actors -- the great Liev Shreiber as the only Jew among the entire panoply of lapsed Catholics at the Boston Globe, and his Spotlight cadre of indomitable reporters, including  marvelous Michael Keaton, the irresistible Rachel McAdams -- who is treated with dignity and egalitarian respect throughout, a  nice change -- white-haired John Slattery as Ben Bradlee, Jr., extremely scenic liar-for-hire Billy Crudup as one of the legal eagles who profited for years from the burying bad behavior cottage industry -- plus various and sundry character actors who show their acting chops while not chewing the scenery.

Spotlight is unfailingly interesting, without the pyrotechnics. Moreover, it shows journalists who still report and do the pavement pounding, so viewers see how stories come together, after the tough, slogging work of investigation, checking sources, revisiting tight-lipped lawyers, and making sure the full tale is buttoned up.

Evident, too, is the neither-black-nor-white nature of news today: On the one hand, the Church does many excellent things for people needing comfort. On the other, they consistently looked the other way for decade after decade. And played hob with both documentation and the law.

You pray devoutly that there are people doing the work of angels documenting the malfeasances of the current administration, for next year’s blockbuster reveals.

One of the standout films of the season.