Zeke Hawkins and Simon Hawkins grew up in Darien, CT. Bad Turn Worse, their first feature film, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the Audience Award at AFI Fest. It was released theatrically by Starz and is currently available on iTunes and On-Demand.
We were excited when Talkhouse Film asked us to write something about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. We were going to get to go to a cool press screening in New York City, sit with famous critics and see a huge, fun blockbuster movie. We love blockbuster movies! (Braveheart, Gladiator and Tim Burton’s Batman are some of our all-time favorites.)
Cut to a month later. It’s cold in Connecticut. Lionsgate has ignored all emails looking for access to an NYC press screening. Is this because they don’t care what the Hawkins Brothers think about their gigantic, global phenomenon? Probably. Is it also because the movie is not very good, and they don’t want too many people to write about it before the theatrical release? Possibly.
Oh well. So we head to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY, to see Mockingjay, Part 1 on opening night with everyone else. First off, the Alamo Drafthouse is awesome. You can order from a full restaurant menu at your seat. And if any of the other theater patrons are annoying, they get kicked out. We believe that the Alamo Drafthouse is the future of the movie-theater experience.
Here’s a little of our Hunger Games backstory. Simon has read all the books and seen both of the previous movies. Zeke has read none of the books and has only seen the first movie. Simon loves the books. He thought the first movie was OK, and he thought the second movie was pretty good. Zeke doesn’t actually remember seeing the first movie. All he can remember is that Gary Ross directed it, and that he loves Seabiscuit.
The crowd is excited, and the theater is sold out. We have to sit in separate rows because there are only single seats available. We make sure to talk to each other as we sit down, so people don’t think that we’re the total creepers who came to see Mockingjay alone. Simon orders a Mexican tofu wrap and a brown-sugar lemonade. Simon is a vegetarian and will most likely try to cut this line [note from Simon — please remove]. Zeke orders mozzarella sticks and a draft root beer. The food is delicious.
Everyone cheers for The Hobbit trailer, and then Mockingjay begins!
Now here’s the thing — just to get right down to it — we are so bored! So, so, so, so, so, so, so bored. Our assignment has backfired. This is worse than a dull, self-important indie drama. Characters talk endlessly about nothing, over-explaining a senseless plot. The music is one-note and somber. There is no levity, despite desperate attempts by Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks to be funny. Jennifer Lawrence won’t stop crying. Zeke has trouble focusing on the movie screen. Simon starts counting the pieces of tofu in his Mexican wrap. Of course, the movie is well made, and we’re sure lots of talented and well-paid craftsmen did their best. But it is so formulaic and uninspired. This is paint-by-numbers filmmaking at its worst. Cue scene where Katniss sings for no reason, and we begin an “anthem of the people” montage. Simon seriously starts to question why he didn’t order cookies for dessert.
Here’s the general premise: Julianne Moore is the president of the rebel movement. Philip Seymour Hoffman is her head PR guy. And Jennifer Lawrence is their inspirational figurehead, Katniss. So they want Katniss to make a PR commercial to unite the people. They use a green screen and a poor script, and, inevitably, the commercial sucks. So they decide that they must take Katniss onto the battlefield, where she is literally risking her life, so that she will witness the bombing of a hospital firsthand, and her “true” reaction will feel more authentic for the commercial. They try to write something into the scene about this battleground being the “safest” of them all, but uh oh… Donald Sutherland (the bad guy) is tracking Katniss! Classic Donald Sutherland.
What??????? This makes no sense!!!!!!! Is there literally no other option besides risking Katniss’s life? This all feels like Tropic Thunder, but without the comedy. Why not try writing a new draft of the commercial’s script? Why not try using real locations rather than a green screen? It’s really hard to act against a green screen. Why not try rehearsing with Katniss rather than yelling at her after the first take? That’s not good direction!
Is this really the foundation of this movie? It can’t be!!!! If Katniss just worked a little harder on her “sense-memory” acting technique, none of the story’s adventure would be necessary. And does no one see the irony here? Mockingjay itself feels oddly similar to the ridiculous commercial that opens the movie. The authenticity that the rebels are seeking in their commercial is what the filmmakers should also have sought in their actual movie.
Within Mockingjay’s adventure, there is also a love triangle. Katniss is torn between Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Gale is a tall, handsome, humble young man who makes heroic and selfless decisions. Peeta is an angry, brainwashed, emaciated troll with hair dyed blonde. It doesn’t really feel like a love triangle. Simon explains that Peeta was much nicer in the other films. Zeke doesn’t care. Katniss just needs to get with Gale and be on her way. But she doesn’t??? Instead, she chooses Peeta, time and again. Does she have a troll fetish? The decision feels so insane that it seems disrespectful to Katniss as a character. (We’re attaching a photo of the three of them below. Try blocking out one guy with your hand, and then move your hand to the other side, and block out the other guy. Seriously?) This is the equivalent of Connie Nielsen in Gladiator romantically choosing her brother Joaquin Phoenix over Russell Crowe.
If you think we’re being hard on Mockingjay, we can assure you that the audience in Yonkers shared our opinion. During the dramatic scenes, audience members kept laughing. To our left, in response to Katniss’s frantic behavior, a man twice said to his girlfriend, “I can’t stand this girl.” At two other points, his girlfriend exclaimed, “This is so stupid!” During a climactic scene, when Peeta weirdly develops superhuman strength, a woman in the back yelled, “Oh, hell no!!!” The whole audience started laughing again. After the movie, in the bathroom line, we heard the words “boring” and “stupid” over and over again.
Mockingjay is even more curious as political allegory. The rebels directly resemble a modern-day terrorist organization like Al-Qaeda or ISIS, with Julianne Moore’s character as a female Osama bin Laden. The Donald Sutherland-led antagonist group is like the Western World, with “the Capitol” as New York City. In the third act, the rebels even attempt a terrorist act that weirdly resembles Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Was this intentional on the filmmakers’ part? It’s hard to say, but it’s pretty crazy if it was, and it’s awfully negligent if it wasn’t. Beyond that, the movie provides a pretty good blueprint for ISIS to gain political power: raping women and making beheading videos is terrible PR; instead, start making videos featuring a charismatic young woman who fights against the horrific despair of Western capitalism.
All in all, Mockingjay’s biggest crime is not that it’s pro-terrorism. Its biggest crime is that it’s pro-boring. The movie splits the book up into two parts, so it doesn’t even feel like a complete story. Whatever. Mockingjay, Part 1 will probably be the biggest movie of 2014. And when Lindsay Lohan becomes ISIS’s new spokesperson, don’t act surprised — you know where they got the idea.