The Girl on Fire pt. 3 - The Mockingjay Has Risen

I rarely see movies in the theater.  It's not that I don't like theaters; in fact, I LOVE them!  But I'm the kind of person who feels a movie is not complete without some nachos, Sour Patch Kids, and a Cherry Coke (or even better, thank you Coke Freestyle machines, a Lime Coke).  And I just can't afford that kind of extravagance these days. (I, at one point last year, agreed to cover the food for my group of three, while my little brother bought the tickets.  He spend under $30.  I spent well over $50.  Never again.).  So, anywho, I generally stay clear of theaters.  I might have gone to three different shows in 2011, and I'm just guessing at that.  Only once, in my entire life, have I seen a movie twice while it was still in the theater: E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.  I was four.

At the time that I am sitting and writing this post, I have seen The Hunger Games four times.  It has been a very interesting progresssion, in terms of what I've gotten out the movie each time.

March 23 (midnight premiere) - sensory overload, in the best possible way.  My eyes were riveted on the screen, and I forgot I was even in a theater with two of my best friends.  For me, it was all about anticipating the next scene.  How are they going to show that?  What will they do in that scene?  I can't wait for the cave scene.  And God forbid, Laura, DO NOT CRY when Rue dies! (I didn't, BTW).

March 24 - I went with two people who have not yet read the books, interested in knowing what they got out of the film.  I tried to watch it through their eyes, as if I didn't already know the story.  When all was said and done, and my friends asked their questions, I was pleased to see that we had picked up the same missing details.  Nothing major, mostly little things I've already talked about in my earlier posts.  There was nothing in their questions that surprised me.

April 1 - this was the first time that I have ever gone to see a movie by myself, and I think I may have converted to a solo viewer.  No one to distract me, no one to worry about.  I watched the film intensely, tracking nuances, subtleties, background noise.  Several times, I literally reached for the remote control as I would when watching any movie at home, intent on rewinding a few frames to catch another look at a facial expression, hear the delivery of a specific line one more time, or get a better view on a certain piece of set design.  I had to laugh, somewhat embarrassed at myself, after about the fourth time.  I was definitely in the zone.  I'm not sure what zone it was, but I was in it.  It was a very enlightening way to see a movie.

April 6 - again, I went with two people who have not read the books.  They are also two people that can turn any movie into a comedy.  The cave seen will never be viewed the same way again.  (Peeta: "Well, say something."  Ok, I will: "Stalker."  And then there was, "Can Polly say 'toast?'"  which is a reference to a movie we saw together right after my 15th birthday, and a reference that was just as inappropriate for this film as it was for the original.  There were others, some unrepeatable in mixed company.  Either way, I'm pretty sure you had to be there to get the humor.)  Humor aside, they had the same basic questions as my other newbies, so I remained pleased with the execution of the story.  I felt like a proud Mama bear when I got home and saw them posting on various social networks about how much they enjoyed the movie.  They are now reading the books.

Four trips.  Four viewings.  It's not over yet.  My mother hasn't seen the movie, and is only about halfway through the first book.  At this rate, she has plenty of time to finish it before the film hits the local 2nd-run theater.  I'll go with her to see it then.  That will make five.  I don't have plans to see it any other times, but I make no promises.

I've mentioned, both in this blog, and in personal conversations, that I was really unsure of the casting for The Hunger Games. As studio stills and film clips made their way to the masses, I found myself sitting back, saying, "Well, this might just work out, after all." But there was still a part of me, hidden deep down inside, that was worried that the movie adaptation of what has become one of my all-time favorite books would fail - miserably.

I feel like I've now seen the movie enough (four times) to make valid points for/against the actors chosen for each character.  And here lies my breakdown:

The Tributes
Cato - Alexander Ludwig
Cato, in the book, is fierece, brutal, murderous and monstrous.  He is large and scary.  Xander Ludwig is 6'2", maybe 170lbs, and with a smile so big, I can't imagine ever feeling the need to run from him.  Xander as Cato is 6'2", 200lbs, a glowering, hulking, frightening Career Tribute.  The only time he smiles in the movie is when he's chasing down, or celebrating, a kill.  Xander is nowhere near what I pictured of Cato when reading the book, and yet, he was perfect.  Even more, he came across as a wonderfully vulnerable young boy in the final cornucopia scene, reminding us again that this is a story about children.

Clove - Isabelle Fuhrman
In my mind, Clove was a female version of Cato.  Hulking, brutish, frightening in every possible way.  Isabelle Fuhrman is a willowy slip of a girl, constantly smiling.  Isabelle as Clove terrified me.  She made Cato look like a puppy dog.  There was no redeeming quality to the character, which is exactly what I needed to see in her.  I'd rather meet Cato in a dark alley.

Glimmer - Leven Rambin
Glimmer is the beautiful, sexy Tribute, arriving for her Tribute interviews in a see-through slip of a dress.  Leven Rambin pranced onscreen with the tousled blonde hair and short sexy dress (albeit not see-through) that I pictured when reading the scene.  While her character has very little development in the story, the detail that is provided was matched wonderfully with the actor.  I was already a big fan of Rambin's, and this portrayal has me excited to see more (look for her as Clarisse in the upcoming Percy Jackson movies).

Marvel - Jack Quaid
Reading the books, I never had a definite feel for who I thought Marvel was.  He was a Career, but outside of that, he just existed within the framework of the story.  Jack Quaid's version of Marvel reminds me, oddly enough, of the Marvel character of Hank McCoy/Beast.  Kind of geeky, very cute, looks innocent enough, but don't turn your back on him, because he'll turn on you.  In reality, I enjoyed Jack's portrayal of the character.  Marvel was a fan of the Games, thrilled be able to participate in his favorite sporting event.  Being who I am (obsessive, and very much a Fan), I understood the fanaticism of the character.  But mostly, I just enjoyed looking at Jack.  He looks so much like his dad, one of my all-time favorite actors.

Thresh - Dayo Okeniyi
Thresh is big and scary.  Dayo is big, towering, and has a beautiful smile.  Dayo as Thresh is big, and silently scary.  I love that Gary Ross kept Thresh as more of a background character - the lack of screen time made his appearance at toward the end that much more powerful. (And please don't get me started on the controversy over Thresh and Rue's skin color.  Am I the only one who read the book???  And even if the race wasn't specifically mentioned, who really gives a flying frak what color their skin is?  I really hate racism!)

Foxface - Jacqueline Emerson
All I really got out of Foxface in the book was a sly, red-headed Tribute.  She's sneaky and smart, as shown in her ability to get through the booby-trapped Cornucopia, and in the way that she hides IN the Cornucopia the night before the Feast.  Jacqueline Emerson played that off very well, but I wish there had been an opportunity to develop the character just a bit more.  I can't fault Jackie's performance, however; she fit the character perfectly.

The Capital
Caesar Flickerman - Stanley Tucci
Stanley Tucci has 92 acting credits.  I've seen about a tenth of those.  My favorites are probably The Devil Wears Prada and Burlesque.  His characters in each of those movies steal the show from the main stars.  His portrayal of Caesar Flickerman, the TV host of The Hunger Games, is at times hilarious and eerie.  While reading the book, I pictured a cross between Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest.  With Stanley Tucci, that's exactly what we got.

Claudius Templesmith - Toby Jones
Honestly?  I barely noticed this character in the book.  I barely noticed him in the movie.  I like Toby Jones, but this character did nothing for me.

Seneca Crane - Wes Bentley
Let me just start out by saying: Jack Durrance, The Four Feathers.  I love Wes Bentley!
I thought Seneca Crane was fairly one-dimensional in the book.  This is nothing against Suzanne Collins and her writing.  Only so many charaters can be fully developed in a book of less-then-400 pages.  I really expected the film version of Seneca to be the same: flimsy, a fluff-piece.  I was shocked.  Wes played him as both a pawn and a schemer in the Games.  However much I hated him as the Games progressed, as he engineered the various obstacles, as he reveled in the deaths of the young Tributes, I couldn't help but feel that his (perceived) death at the end of the movie was very unfair.  He was simply a man doing his job, in a society so removed from morality that they find a murderous, gladiatorial frenzy admirably entertaining.  It's, by no means, right.  But how many things do we put up with now, things that would have been subject to severe punishment 100 years ago?  Again, it doesn't make those things right or fair or moral.  But it shows the shift in societal thinking that begins to allow the unthinkable to become the norm.  In Wes Bentley's hands, Seneca Crane comes off as human, a man that may actually be redeemable under the correct influence.

District 12 support team
Cinna - Lenny Kravitz
Rock God plays Fashion God.  How apropos.  Cinna is Katniss's rock in preparation for the Arena.  Haymitch may be her mentor, but it's Cinna who offers her true support.  Plus, he wears gold guyliner.  Mr. Kravitz appears on screen in a simple black outfit, close cropped dark hair, several hoops in each ear, and the aforementioned guyliner.  All he had to do was stand there, and I loved him.  But even better, he made Cinna the kind, caring, father-figure I was hoping for, the one person who could (almost) put Katniss at ease.

Effie - Elizabeth Banks
In doing research,  I discovered that I've seen several movies that Elizabeth Banks has been in.  Maybe, if I go back and watch them again, her characters will stand out more, but I honestly don't remember her at all.  Most of the characters WERE small, so I was probably just paying more attention to the main characters/plot/themes.  But this lack of recognition allowed me to go in with no preformed opinion of her acting ability.  I don't think it would have mattered if I'd HAD an opinion.  I can't imagine anyone playing Effie in quite the same fashion.  The clothes, the hair, the makeup, those may have been set design, picked by someone else.  But Banks took them and made them Effie.  She created the voice, the walk, the facial expressions.  She was the sad humor in a bleak world, the Panem version of a social climber.  I will never be able to look at mahogany in the same way again.

Haymitch - Woody Harrelson
I grew up watching Woody Harrelson on Cheers.  He was always my favorite character.  After the show ended, Harrelson went on to have a pretty lucrative movie career, playing a variety of characters.  From Billy Hoyle in White Men Can't Jump to David Murphy in Indecent Proposal to Pepper in The Cowboy Way to Dusty in A Prairie Home Companion to Steve Schmidt in Game Change, Harrelson has played a variety of characters, and has played them all well.  Perhaps my favorite character, of all he has played, is that of Capt. Stone in The Messenger.  Amazing partner to Ben Foster's SSgt. Montgomery.  What is interesting about the character of Haymitch Abernathy is that I could look back at the characters Harrelson has played before, and pick out traits from various ones, and think, "That is Haymitch.  That'll be great!"  Haymitch is the humor of Woody Boyd (Cheers) and the "good" bad guy of Carson Wells (No Country for Old Men), with a tiny bit of Mickey Knox (Natural Born Killers) PTSD built in.

Prim and Rue
Rue - Amandla Stenberg
Amandla Stenberg has got to be one of the most adorable young actors out at this time.  I have seen none of her other works (there are a few), but I can already believe that she has a career ahead of her.  What more is there to say other than "Great job!"

Prim - Willow Shields
Willow Shields might be the youngest member of the main cast, but she is by no means any less of an actor.  Like Amandla (above), I've not seen any of her other work.  But if I have to judge based solely on her portrayal of Prim, I'd say she's on the rise.  Not just anyone could have played the sweet, innocent Prim, on the screen for maybe 12 minutes, and have her haunting the thoughts of the viewers for the remainder of the movie.  I was afraid I would cry when Rue died, but I never expected to fight with tears when a) Katniss volunteers, and b) Prim and her mother are forced to leave Katniss after a final goodbye.
Please note, I DID NOT cry.  But it was close.

Gale, Peeta and Katniss
Gale Hawthorne - Liam Hemsworth
I said, originally, that I was not a Liam Hemsworth fan.  What that really meant was I had never seen him act, and really, is he anything more that a pretty face?  Since then, I've seen The Last Song and, obviously, The Hunger Games.  I liked The Last Song, I really did.  He did a great job as Will Blakelee, matching very well the character in the book.  But for the most part, the character arc in the movie isn't much more than a rich/pretty-boy, slumming-beach-bum with a past, who is afraid to follow his own dreams.  So however much I liked The Last Song, I was left with doubts as to how well Liam would do at playing Gale.  Maybe it's just me, but put some clothes on a pretty-boy, change his hair a bit, and it's amazing how different he seems.
Watching Liam onscreen as Gale, I never once thought of him as anything but the guy I'd want by my side if I were out hunting in the woods.  I also flashed back to my best friend growing up, Mikey, remembering times he'd frustrate me, make me laugh, do something sweet just for the hell of it, be my shoulder to cry on, my confidante.  But most, I remembered when Mikey left for Air Force basic training, and hugging him goodbye.  And how he many times left it up to me to communicate to his family how things were going with him.  Watching Gale and Katniss sitting in the field on the hill, sharing a roll, speaking their minds, I sorely missed those days shooting hoops with Mikey, or working on his truck, needing only to be together to be satisfied, easily reading each other's minds, content to coexist.  I feel sorry for those who've never had a Gale/Mikey in their lives.  So, Gale may have only been onscreen for 15 minutes, but Liam made that 15 minutes worthwhile.

Peeta Mellark - Josh Hutcherson
I can't honestly say I've always been a Josh Hutcherson fan.  I've never disliked him, but I've never watched a movie he was in just because he was in it.  That being said, I've seen a few of his movies: Motocross Kids (I think I was bored at the time), bits of Zathura, Bridge to Teribithia (one of my favorite stories, plus Anna Sophia Robb is just a great young acto), Journey to the Center of the Earth (another one of my favorite stories, and I think I've seen every film version of this book that has been released), The Kids Are All Right.  I've been waiting impatiently for the release of Red Dawn (huge Adrianne Palicki and Chris Hemsworth fan!!).  So, you see, poor Josh has gotten the shaft.  That said, I've enjoyed his performances in everything I've seen.  Enjoyed them enough to feel, right off the bat, that Josh was going to do well as Peeta.  I was not disappointed.  Several scenes stand out to me: 1) the Reaping/in the car to the train station - one of the little details in the book show Peeta's shock, his reaction to the situation, through tears.  Josh's acting is subtle here, but the emotions are there, 2) Peeta's monologue - I've seen some of the other takes of this scene, where the lines are spoken at a faster clip.  The final cut, the deliberate pauses, really give a depth to Peeta.  He may play to the camera, he may be scared of the future, but he's very self-aware.  He's not doing anything without a good reason.  If you think about it, it's great foreshadowing for his initial actions in the Games - he teams up with the Careers for a reason, and 3) the final scene, when Katniss and Peeta are being crowned.  Watch it carefully.  There's a moment when you see him behind Katniss and President Snow, and there's a moment of realization where you can tell he realizes that there is something going on to which he is not completely privy.

Katniss Everdeen - Jennifer Lawrence
Where do I start?
Well, let me just put this out there: I have a girl-crush on Jennifer Lawrence.  I am not ashamed of this.  Guys can have man-crushes.  I can have a girl-crush.  I've never felt the need for one before, but times have changed.
Before being cast as Katniss Everdeen, I'd never heard of Jennifer Lawrence.  My little brother is a film snob buff, and is always watching these little known indie flicks that I have never heard of.  When I told him she got the part, he said something to the effect of, "Oh, yeah, she was in Winter's Bone.  I still need to see that, heard it was good.  She was nominated for an Oscar." My thoughts were more along the line of, "Who cares if she was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, I despise most of the movies 'those people' vote for, our tastes are so completely different, and besides, she's probably just like all the other young, blonde actresses out there.  All that really matters is, Is she going to screw Katniss up?"
I proceeded to watch The Burning Plain, The Poker House, Winter's Bone, Like Crazy and X-Men: First Class.
Oh. My. God. The girl can ACT!
Many times, I will watch a movie, and will be very aware that it IS a movie, and the people on the screen are actors playing a part.  There isn't a movie I've seen Lawrence in where, if nothing else, her character didn't pull me in, where I forgot where I was and what I was doing.  She makes the characters come alive.  And often, she does it with a subtlety that is phenomenal.
In the first part of my review, I said that the first official trailer eased a lot of my fears over the casting decision for the character of Katniss.  However, too many times I've seen a movie, only to discover that the best scenes were shown in the trailer.  Rest assured, this was not the case with The Hunger Games.
Everytime I see this movie, I'm blown away, once again, with the depth of Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Katniss Everdeen.  And I believe it's only because of seeing the movie so many times that I can truly appreciate what she has done for this iconic charater.
While this is not an exhaustive list, the following scenes are indicative of the subtlety Lawrence brings to a role:
- in the meadow, there is a point where Katniss turns to Gale and gives him a brilliant, open, honest smile.  Katniss smiles a few more times in the movie, but never with the easiness displayed when it is just her and Gale.  The smiles are forced, or awkward, or self-conscious, or biting.  They fit the scene each and every time.  Who knew that a smile could convey so much?
- in her Capitol apartment, when Katniss is switching through the various viewing windows beside her bed, follow the reaction when the woods come up on the screen.  Lawrence's reaction is so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable, and that is what makes it so powerful.
- with Cinna, just before entering the tube to rise into the Arena, Katniss is shaking uncontrollably.  Again, it's very subtle, because it's not overdone, or over the top.  The idea is for our attention to be focused on the dialogue, the hug, the Mockingjay pin.  But anyone in their right mind would be flippin' terrified at what lay ahead of them, and I'm sure that most of us would also be shaking like leaves in a windstorm.
You may have noticed I the word (or variations of the word) subtle several times when talking of Jennifer Lawrence.  That's because so much of her power comes, not in the in-your-face acting (though I still get goosebumps EVERY TIME I hear her voice crack as she yells, "I volunteer!"), but in the little-noticed, almost-unseen traits and quirks she gives to her characters.
I may have been unsure at first, but no longer.  Jennifer Lawrence IS Katniss Everdeen.
There's a great interview with Jennifer where she says, in reference to The Hunger Games, "I think the movie is great, but their biggest mistake was me." Jen, let me assure you:  The best decision, of all decisions involved in The Hunger Games, was casting you as Katniss.  And if you're taking BFF applications, I'm SOOOO in.

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