adventure fall movies

Some (Okay, One) Movies to See This Weekend, November 21, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014 Rob Samuelson

This weekend is light on quantity for new releases. The only one you're guaranteed to see in every theater is the latest in the Hunger Games series, so let's talk a little about that.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of the best science fiction adventure movies of my generation, and possibly the best sci-fi/adventure sequel since The Empire Strikes Back. The first film in the series of adaptations of Suzanne Collins's young adult dystopian books was good, if overly attached to straight translation and in love with unnecessary shaky cam cinematography. But the sequel expands and enlivens the universe, raises the stakes to revolutionary levels, and it makes you feel what's going on in these tortured survivors' heads as they are dragged into a prefabricated and deadly media circus to pay for their deceit in the first film. It has as much discussion of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the insane demands we make of our warriors as it does visceral, popcorn-chomping fun.

And now, with the third (of four) release upon us, we'll see if returning director Francis Lawrence can recapture some of the magic of the second. It looks impressive and huge, which is to be expected for what is now a billion dollar franchise, but also for a story about a full-on revolution in the futuristic Panem. Whether the filmmakers have been able to coax a workable dramatic structure from only using half of a book, I'm not sure. But after their last effort, I am more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The returning cast includes Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence as possibly the best protagonist in modern franchise filmmaking. All the trailers have shown a further cracked Katniss being required by her revolutionary admirers to take up arms against the oppressive government, and nobody, including newcomers Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer, and the revolution's mastermind, Philip Seymour Hoffman – in, sadly, one of his final screen appearances – think she can do anything beyond being almost catatonic. That will be a fascinating arc to see unfold, and hopefully it will be relatively resolved by the end of Mockingjay – Part I.

And if we need to wait a year for the movie to feel complete, oh well. We still get half a sci-fi action film with some huge thrills.

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