The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One – 

Movie Breakdown: The Hunger Games saga continues in this sequel that finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) faced with a decision that could sway the fate of a nation. In the wake of the Quarter Quell, the Hunger Games have been changed forever, and Katniss ends up in District 13. Her courage having inspired a nation, the brave young heroine heeds the advice of her friends, and sets out to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Meanwhile, Katniss’ fragile alliance with President Coin (Julianne Moore) could lead to disaster. (Jason Buchanan, Rovi)

To my readers: let me be honest from the start, I love the Hunger Games books. I’m willing to look past the total miscast of the major role of Peeta and still recommend the entire Hunger Games movie series, including the latest installment, Mockingjay, Part One. While I enjoyed this movie, I would recommend seeing at least Catching Fire (the previous HG film) first, as this movie lacks enough explanation of the plot for it to stand on its own.

Mockingjay Part One starts with Katniss attempting to adapt to her new life in District Thirteen, picking up right after the end of the previous film. Katniss, along with fellow tributes Finnick (Sam Clafin) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) have been saved from the arena and brought to District Thirteen, previously thought to have been destroyed by the Capital. Peeta (her fellow District Twelve tribute) has been taken by the Capital and that becomes a central issue for our main character, Katniss. Former Head Gamemaker Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffmann), along with President Coin, are intent on using Katniss as the face of the revolution, no matter how much she protests. The movie tells the story of this next phase of trilogy, exploring the character of Katniss without Peeta and her natural instinct to mistrust the new form of government she’s experiencing in District Thirteen and with President Coin. This is a set up film, meant to prepare the viewer for the final installment of the series, something that has become all too common in book-to-movie productions. While being an avid fan I appreciate the level of detail and set up created with this film, as a standalone film it could be quite boring.

Again, while I enjoy this film, there is almost no way that a viewer who hasn’t read the books or seen the previous movies could keep up with the plot. That aside, it is a well executed movie and the special effects are spectacular. Creating the horror of firebombed District Twelve with gut-wrenching detail and the hyper modern landscape of the Capital with searing perfection, it’s visually stunning and properly precise.  The underground living in District Thirteen feels dank, ominous and cramped, eliciting a feeling of claustrophobia in the audience.

Even though I know the books in great detail, I found myself gripped with fear during Peeta’s daring rescue from the Capital and the firebomb attack in District Eight. The sense of building dread envelops the film and the characters. The evil of the Capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is clear to the audience and has built the base for the final film. On its own, the film doesn’t stand up, but it works as a part of the series and does a great job of setting up the final installment.

My verdict? See it! True fans will appreciate how close the script sticks to the book.

Neighbors: Dave Franco > James Franco. (Rental Review)

Movie Breakdown: A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next door to a fraternity house. (IMDB)

My first at home review is of the movie Neighbors, starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and Zac Efron. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, the movie follows the perspectives of new parents Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne), frat president, Teddy (Efron), and his frat vice president, Pete (Dave Franco). Both Mac and Teddy are in denial of the inevitable impending change in their lives, which bonds them initially over some beers and psychedelic mushrooms. After Mac calls the police during a rowdy party the next night, the war between neighbors ensues.

Stoller clearly loves physical humor, this movie had many similarities to his other outings, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. I loved the supporting cast, Dave Franco as the frat vice president Pete and Ike Barinholtz as Mac and Kelly’s friend Jimmy were highlights. Franco’s Pete was my favorite, his De Niro imitation from Meet the Parents was laugh out loud funny. Jerrod Carmichael’s frat brother Garf was also a favorite, with his clueless one liners and Samuel Jackson imitation.

Was this movie a must see? No, but it was a fun romp for anyone looking for a mindless hour and a half. Don’t watch this movie for a great social commentary on being a parent or college kid. But I enjoyed both perspectives and would watch it again if it were on Netflix.

My verdict? Go see it! (But only if it’s free)

Gone Girl: Marriage, Intrigue, and Ben Affleck’s Penis.

Movie Breakdown: On the Occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. (Written by Twentieth Century Fox)

So you’ve heard the buzz about Gone Girl and you either fit into one of two categories: Read the Book or Didn’t Read the Book. Either way, you’ll be entertained by this film. Directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne, former NYC residents who have moved back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri. The movie unfolds as a combination of current day and past tense vignettes, describing in detail the relationship of Nick and Amy. This is one movie that stays very close to the book, thanks to author Gillian Flynn also writing the screenplay. Ms. Flynn knocks it out of the park with her first screenplay, fully capturing the tone, story and mood of the book. If you haven’t read the book, you’ll spend the first half trying to figure out what really happened, the sign of a great storyteller.

This is not a movie to see if you want to leave the theater feeling good about life.  But visually, the movie is stunning and you leave feeling a bit unsettled, which is exactly right. The casting for this movie was spot on, Neil Patrick Harris has an awesome turn as Desi Collins, a man who can wear a fitted suit like a boss. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend half the movie trying to figure out where you’ve seen the actress who plays Margo Dunne, Nick’s twin sister. (She plays Nora on HBO’s the Leftovers, in case you were wondering). Overall, it was perfect, with the exception of the underused Patrick Fugit as Officer Gilpin.

Oh, and Ben Affleck’s penis? Yep, it’s there. Not a vital piece of the story, but it’s almost a game trying to figure out when you are going to see it. I’ll leave it at that.

My verdict? Go see it!