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The Hunger Games Series

The Hunger Games (March 22/12)

Based on the book by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games follows Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen as she's drafted into a brutal fight-to-the-death against two dozen fellow citizens - with the film detailing the character's ongoing efforts at staying alive. Filmmaker Gary Ross has infused The Hunger Games with a low-rent, curiously uncinematic feel that immediately alienates the viewer, with the hands-off atmosphere perpetuated by the director's continuing use of such hackneyed devices as shaky camerawork and extreme closeups. (It doesn't help, either, that star Lawrence delivers a consistently competent yet wholly uncharismatic performance, which ultimately prevents one from wholeheartedly connecting to her character's plight.) There's little doubt, however, that such issues pale in comparison to unconscionable deliberateness with which the narrative unfolds, as the egregiously slow pace heightens the movie's myriad of problems and ensures that the midsection, which primarily revolves around Katniss' solo attempts at surviving, is nothing short of disastrous (ie it's just dull, mostly). It's ultimately the inclusion of a smattering of admittedly positive elements that prevents The Hunger Games from becoming an all-out disaster, with, for example, an early sequence involving Katniss' decision to volunteer in place of her little sister packing the emotional punch that one might've expected (and hoped for). The end result is a seriously disappointing adaptation that's never able to reach the electrifying heights achieved by its literary predecessor, with the movie's abject failure certainly not boding well for the next two installments in the series.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 20/13)

The Hunger Games saga continues with this disappointing and thoroughly underwhelming entry that follows Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen as she's once again forced to battle for her life, with the movie detailing Katniss' ongoing efforts at staying alive alongside one-dimensional characters like Josh Hutcherson's Peeta Mellark, Jeffrey Wright's Beetee, and Sam Claflin's Finnick Odair. It's clear immediately that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, in certain respects, marks a vast improvement over its immediate predecessor, with, especially, filmmaker Francis Lawrence's decision to jettison the inept visuals of the first installment - ie no more shakycam! - instantly ensuring that the movie possesses an appreciatively (and palpably) cinematic feel. Lawrence's slow-going sensibilities, however, prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting to either the characters or the storyline, although, to be fair, it's clear that the movie benefits substantially from the inclusion of several stand-out sequences - including a surprisingly moving scene in which Katniss attempts to pay tribute to a fallen fellow competitor. It's only as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire rolls into its overlong and padded-out midsection that one's attention begins to seriously flag, as the movie has been suffused with a series of less-than-engrossing training sequences that pave the way for an action-packed third act that's neither exciting nor particularly interesting (ie there's too much running and hiding in the dark). And although the film improves in its climactic stretch - there is, finally, a sense of energetic urgency that's otherwise absent - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, anchored by star Lawrence's charmless performance, ultimately comes off as a misguided and hopelessly bloated (two and a half hours!) blockbuster that's rarely, if ever, as entertaining as its source material.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (November 20/14)

The Hunger Games series hits its nadir with this padded-out and mostly superfluous entry, as the movie, which details the growing rebellion led by Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen, spends the majority of its often interminable running time spinning its wheels and laying the groundwork for the next (and mercifully final) installment. Filmmaker Francis Lawrence, in attempting to expand Suzanne Collins' novel into two features, employs an aggressively lethargic pace that's compounded by a tedious, uneventful opening hour, with the movie's first half comprised almost entirely of sequences in which characters plot their next move. (The lackluster atmosphere is compounded by Lawrence's less-than-vibrant visual sensibilities, with the film, for the most part, unfolding in oppressive darkness.) It becomes clear, then, that the entirety of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1's opening two-thirds could've easily been condensed into a five minute prologue, with the movie unable to overcome its pervasively worthless feel until well past the one-hour mark - after which point filmmaker Lawrence offers up an admittedly exciting stretch detailing the rebels' SEAL Team Six-like efforts to free several prisoners. It's an exciting, dynamic interlude that stands in stark contrast to the dreary nature of everything preceding it, with the movie subsequently building to an expected cliffhanger that seems to promise a much more entertaining final installment. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1's ultimate failure is especially disappointing given the stellar work by star Lawrence, as the actress manages to infuse her character (and, by association, the entire proceedings) with an emotional core that's otherwise entirely absent - with the end result a shameless cash-grab designed to extend the life of this profitable series.

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© David Nusair