review

REVIEW: Mockingjay Part 1 Is The Ultimate Game Changer

Screen-Shot-2014-09-10-at-11.21.40-AM

** THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE!**

The Hunger Games Franchise: Come for the action. Stay for the bigger, more important message.

KATNISSIf you’ve been following reviews for Mockingjay Part 1 so far, you’ve probably noticed some media outlets griping about the change of pace or fewer action sequences or the lack of the games. But The Hunger Games has always been about more than just the games. The first two films did an excellent job conveying the danger and inequality in Panem through the games, but the story cannot simply be the games, otherwise the whole message Suzanne Collins intended for her audience is lost. The franchise is about the tragedies of war but also the need to question society’s parameters and to fight against injustice, even if it comes at a personal cost. That’s right, folks– We’re moving past the “Whoa, all these people are in a bubble trying to kill each other!” pull and into legitimate political thriller territory.

Mockingjay Part 1 is a tantalizing slow burn. Its pacing, emotion, and action are different from the other films, but in the best way possible. It starts out dark, ends pitch black, and finds moments of levity, anger, sadness, and just about everything else in between. As Katniss attempts to adjust to life in District 13 and reluctantly accepts her role as the voice of the rebellion, a new story element unfolds into something much deeper. Katniss and District 13 go back and forth in the ultimate game of cat and mouse with President Snow, one in which everyone they know is a pawn. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone supporting her in District 13 is really truly on her side, either. The result is a harrowing journey to incite a revolution, one that featured fewer action sequences but kept us more emotionally invested than any Hunger Games movie before it.

Mockingjay-Part-1-Phillip-Seymour-Hoffman-and-Julianne-MooreThere’s a stunning tension created throughout the film by the entire cast. Jennifer Lawrence proved herself as our Katniss long ago, but earns new respect as she handles Katniss’ fragile emotional state with realism and care. Donald Sutherland is an absolute maniacal genius now that he has a chance to flex those baddie muscles. Julianne Moore is a smart, welcome addition as President Coin, who plays beautifully off the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee. The decision to keep Effie in the story was a stellar one and Elizabeth Banks is more perfectly Effie than ever before. Liam Hemsworth plays Gale with much more vulnerability and depth than recent promos have suggested– the rage scene is definitely there, but many others prior to that make it easy to see just how truly torn he is. However, if there’s a “Stepping Up To The Plate” award for this movie, it goes to Josh Hutcherson. Peeta’s transformation is gut-wrenching and visceral, the stuff that makes your breath catch in your throat every time he comes on screen because the agony and instability feels so real. It’s the first time in the series Josh has really been asked to be something beyond the caring, careful version of Peeta we all know so well and he exceeds expectations.

There is still action in this film but it isn’t scene-to-scene as it was when Katniss fought off danger after danger in the arenas. However, please don’t confuse less action with a plodding pace. This movie’s action sticks in your brain and feels much more warranted than in previous films. It is not, as the games were, for anyone’s entertainment. Even in the scenes without explosions and hovercrafts and arrows flying, there’s still plenty of things happening and for us, the entire film felt like it moved very quickly, faster than its actual run time.

mockingjay-part-1-peeta-beatenBecause this movie is a Part 1, you’re not going to get instant gratification around every turn (another sticking point for critics, it seems). But ask yourself– Did you really with The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, either? Francis Lawrence, Danny Strong, and Peter Craig used the opportunity to get more in depth with the story very wisely. Rather than being thrust into District 13, there’s a world-building that you don’t always get in film. President Snow and Plutarch in particular benefit from the books expansion into two parts, in terms of both screen time and character development. Boggs, Cressida, and the film crew are also rewarded a richer understanding than we’d expected. Random gushing: Elden Henson as Pollux was easily our favorite part of the film crew without saying a word, though everyone else played their part very well too.

For all the guessing in the world at the ending, we will only tell you this: You know the ending, but you don’t. You’ll leave the theater feeling charged up and overwhelmed, already eager for the final film.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the film is perfect. We have a few gripes but realize that in the grand scheme of things, they’re pretty minor. We’ll nitpick at a later date because to do so would be to spoil everyone. Even so, we know that Lawrence Squared and the rest of the team have delivered us a stellar film that is sharp and thought-provoking.

We can’t wait to discuss it with all of you!

DYSTOPIAN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Murder Complex’ By Lindsay Cummings

Every now and then, we get the awesome opportunity to read and review a book that fans of The Hunger Games may love.

Today, we’re checking out a new YA release from author Lindsay Cummings, The Murder Complex. The book is on sale starting TODAY and features all the staples of a good dystopian: corrupt governments, mysterious back stories, and steely characters out to save society (and themselves).

13576132

In the not-so-distant future, Meadow Woodson and Zephyr James live in a world of turmoil. When the cure to disease was discovered, the world thought it was a godsend. Instead, it led to overpopulation and desolation as the government collapsed and citizens fought over the quickly dissipating resources. Our protagonists are born into a police state that hardly manages to keep its people alive on the feeble rations they offer, but insists that it’s for their own safety and makes it impossible to escape.

It should be no surprise that under such a strict regime, the murder rate is higher than the birthrate. But as Meadow and Zephyr learn, it’s more than just coincidence.

If you like tough chicks who tell it like it is and will do anything to survive, you’re going to love Meadow. She is one of few who come from a mostly in tact family, mainly due to her father’s aggressive survivalist training. It comes in handy in a society where everyone is trying to kill you for your possessions and Meadow takes it all very seriously after the death of her mother. While not always the most relatable character, she is calculating and efficient in her survival skills as she navigates through her new job as a government lackey and slowly discovers their disturbing secrets. She doesn’t always seem phased by the moral dilemmas she faces, still you can’t help but root for her. Her soft side comes out through her relationship with her family, especially her little sister, Peri, who is a bit more fragile, but those moments are pretty rare. If you dig Katniss and Prim moments, you’ll probably feel the same about Meadow and Peri.

Despite coming from a much more complex background, Zephyr is the vulnerable character everyone will really relate to. Though he knows how be tough, he doesn’t necessarily want to be. Where Meadow is naturally hard-edged, Zephyr has a gooey center full of feels. As a ward of the state, he is forced to clean up and dispose of bodies after murders in the community. What his friends don’t know is this: He’s also committed quite a few of them. Of course, it’s not because he wants to. Something snaps in his mind and forces him to do it. Unlike Meadow, killing bothers him immensely. And he’s on a mission to stop himself from killing again, no matter what it takes.

When their two worlds collide, the action unfolds rapidly as they encounter more danger than ever before. The action is really enjoyable. Meadow and Zephyr make a great team and the characters surrounding them give the story personality, especially Koi, Orion, and Talan. The back story can be a bit hard to follow at times, but the story’s slow reveals are a great way that the author amps up the tension and suspense.

While The Murder Complex sometimes feels reminiscent of other books we’ve read, it’s a really strong debut from Lindsay Cummings that may just gather up its own fandom among YA book lovers!

CHECK OUT THE MURDER COMPLEX TODAY!

Want some more great book suggestions? Check out the VV Recommendations page!

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE Review

Don’t worry, you’ll still get your reaction post! It just so happens that we’re all so busy seeing the movie, we can’t find a time for all three of us to get together and TALK about it. It’s a good problem, no?

In the meantime, we’re going to give you a conventional SPOILER-FREE review to go alongside the reaction post to come!

Effie, bigger and bolder!

Effie, bigger and bolder!

Let’s start from the very beginning (a very good place to staaaaart)! When Katniss and Peeta win 74th The Hunger Games and return to their new home, broken and distant. They’ve survived, but they’re tentative friendship turned showmance is tepid at best after Peeta learns Katniss’ true motivation. Not to mention that they’re both plagued with PTSD.

It all leads up to The Victory Tour, which is where Francis Lawrence really gets to sink his teeth in and show us what this movie is made of. We don’t see much of the individual districts, but we’re offered a few shots that serve as shining examples of the bigger budget and Francis’ eye for detail.

Gale gets his rebellion on

Gale gets his rebellion on

This movie is mostly character driven, which we found super refreshing. Without adding significant film time (THG and CF are actually the same length), we see Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Effie, and Show’s roles expanded. It’s not just extra lines– the characters seem richer, with deeper personalities and more individual significance outside their relationship with Katniss and Peeta. Some people weren’t thrilled that other scenes were fast-moving, but we think it was worth it to get some character development in there.

It’s at the end of the Victory Tour that we meet Plutarch Heavensbee, portrayed with gusto by Philip Seymour Hoffman. You can’t help but marvel at his unprecedented political savvy and manipulations. He doesn’t lose his cool for a single moment and meanwhile, we were totally freaking out.

Chemistry-wise, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta seems more organic and palpable this time around. It goes without say that Jen and Josh are both extremely talented actors and dear friends in real life, which translates beautifully. That being said, Catching Fire is significantly more Gale-centric. Jen and Liam have presented a strong case for Kale/Gatniss/whatever else we want to call them. Their relationship plays off as a look at two friends falling for each other, brought together by the stress of impending rebellion, but still plants hints of what’s to come in the Mockingjay films.

catching-fire-stills-101113-1

Family feels

When the Third Quarter Quell is announced, we finally get some new victors! And what a group they are! Sam Claflin is our Finnick. He embodies the character’s dramatic preening and sensitive soul with a stunning fluidity that we doubt we could have gotten out of many of the laughable fan suggestions that came out during casting. And it doesn’t hurt that he is really, really, ridiculously good-looking. Jena Malone is able to capture Johanna’s anger with such ease and honesty that you know it’s her true spirit, not just an act. Jeffrey Wright gives a master class in acting as he transforms so perfectly into unusual techie extraordinaire Beetee, but Amanda Plummer gets the scene-stealer award for her zany portrayal of Wiress. And Mags? Forgetaboutit! We all want to adopt Lynn Cohen as our new grandma!

With a more appropriate level of violence this time around, the Career pack actually felt menacing. Bruno Gunn’s guns and his expert snarl were intimidating. Meta Golding has the Enobaria growl down to a science. And despite being living barbies, Cashmere and Gloss were surprisingly badass. However, this group did feel a bit under-utilized given that they were meant to pose an immediate threat to Katniss’ life.

New-Official-stills-catching-fire-35696751-500-310

We feel you, Johanna!

The ending is heart-breaking and devastating and everything we ever wanted it to be after reading the books! We’re not saying the movie was perfect down to the very last detail. There’s a lot to consider and we’re sure everyone will find a little something to gripe about (Don’t we always?), but this movie is an extremely faithful adaptation and for us, the clear winner of the franchise so far. Though we loved Gary Ross’ work, Francis Lawrence provided us with a smart, pulse-pounding, emotional journey that had us thanking him by the end.

How Many Days Until Mockingjay Part 1?!
The Girl With The Pearl

Not Blue Over the Blu-Ray

So here it is, a review of The Hunger Games on Blu-Ray!

The Blu-Ray contains 2 discs plus a digital copy of the movie, which can be retrieved via iTunes or Ultraviolet (stored on a cloud system that can be streamed on your computer, TV or smart device). I wanted to grab the digital copy on iTunes right away so I could watch the movie on my iPad, but it being so early means the site to put the code in to retrieve it is, as of now, still not live. Also along with the iTunes/Ultraviolet code, there is a code for an exclusive virtual item for The Hunger Games Adventures, which I will totally be snagging!

Upon sticking the Katniss disc in, a District 12 seal comes on the screen with a load bar, followed by a slightly epic intro sequence down the Avenue of the Tributes… just to lead into the previews/trailers. The first disc is pretty straight forward. You’ve got the movie (whoop!), set up screen and a special features selection. Oh no, never mind those aren’t really special features.

Now the Special Features disc, aka the Peeta disc. Yes, we’re getting to the good stuff. There are three sections: The World Is Watching: Making The Hunger Games, Featurettes, and Marketing Gallery.

The World Is Watching: Making The Hunger Games is an 8-part behind the scenes look of The Hunger Games, going from the script writing process (Countdown), through to Casting, prepping for the movie (Design and Arena Ready), the actual filming (On Location in Panem), the Effects and Post Production, and finally the weeks leading up to the release (May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor). You can watch them by section or Play All for a nice documentary-like experience.

Needless to say, my favorite sections were the filming of the movie and lead up to release. It was great to get a taste of what it was like for all the actors filming the movie and what the environment on set was like, and the final section of the making-of got me quite nostalgic for the excitement that was March 2012. The more technical aspects explored in the Making The Hunger Games, especially during post production, design, and effects sections, was incredibly interesting to me though. My nerdy self was a little too fascinated by things like how the Capitol gambling emporium scene came about and the recording of Horn of Plenty (I’ve totally been singing the wrong words).

The Featurettes section is pretty much the miscellaneous extras. Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games Phenomenon goes over how The Hunger Games became as big as it is and who knew it would be such a sensation. Cool, but if you’re a super fan you basically knew most of this stuff. Letters from the Rose Garden was SO unbelievable. It goes into Donald Sutherland’s infamous letter to Gary Ross regarding power that inspired the extra President Snow scenes. Controlling the Games goes into the design and filming of the Gamemaker room. Fascinating to see! A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell (famous film critic) is semi-interesting, but again if you’re a super fan quite a bit of it is old hat. The Blu-Ray exclusive, Preparing for the Games: A Director’s Process got my nerd juices flowing as it takes a scene from the movie and plays it along with a shot list Gary had typed up (complete with typos) and storyboard drawings! Finally, you can watch the full Propaganda Film shown at the beginning of the Reaping, which reminds me quite a bit of the Skynet commercial they play at the Terminator 3D Ride at Universal Studios.

Finally, there’s the Marketing Gallery with the theatrical trailers, a poster gallery and a photo gallery. Nothing too exciting or new.

So I’m sure there are tons of questions. Is Suzanne Collins in the Making of? Where are the deleted scenes?! Commentary? No, Suzanne Collins is not in the Making of, but I prefer it that way. She’s known for shying away from the public eye, so I say leave her be. And from speaking with the Lionsgate Home Entertainment peeps, we found out that there are no deleted scenes on the special features because there really weren’t any extra scenes. Had there been deleted scenes they would be there. As for commentary, they knew that if they couldn’t get THE BIG THREE together to do it, it would’ve been no good and there simply wasn’t time as they were super busy promoting the movie.

No surprise to anyone, I’m going to give this Blu-Ray a MUST BUY rating. If you’re here, then you’re a Hunger Games fan (hopefully), and if you’re a Hunger Games fan, you’re going to want as many peeks behind the scenes as you can get! I’ve been quoting certain parts of the special features, and that doesn’t happen with your average DVD’s special features. Also don’t forget to watch the credits for Making The Hunger Games. It’s great, trust me.

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of The Hunger Games on Blu-Ray or DVD on Saturday, August 18th! And don’t forget about the special editions from Costco, Best Buy, Walmart, and Target, not to mention the extras on iTunes!

Also we may or may not have found an Easter Egg or two
Twiffidy