Underworld & outer space

‘Mockingjay,’ ‘Interstellar’ two worth watching in 2014

by Willie Krishke

I think one of the reasons big corporate studios love serial movies (trilogies and so forth) is because once you’re hooked into a series, you’ll go see it to the end, whether or not the movies are any good, even if it’s out of nothing more than a yearning for resolution. (I think the “Twilight” series proved that conclusively.) When it comes to the “Hunger Games,” I thought the first movie was entertaining enough, even if it was a sanitized version of the Japanese classic “Battle Royale.” It was the second movie that got me hooked, and that’s why I saw “Mockingjay, Part 1.” This is the worst of the lot, by far, but damn if I haven’t already made up my mind to see “Part 2.”

Not that it’s a bad film exactly, but Suzanne Collins’ determination to follow Katniss down the rabbit hole of revolution has gotten darker at every term, and by this point it’s taking us some really depressingly glum places. This is not a happy movie. Or a pretty movie, or a satisfying movie. It opens, for heaven’s sake, with our brave, resourceful heroine cowering in a storage closet and begging everyone to just leave her be. It doesn’t get better from there.

After cracking the sky open at the end of “Catching Fire,” Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up underground at the beginning of “Mockingjay.” She is in the secret realm of District 13, not destroyed after all, but building a resistance movement to take down the Capitol. Julianne Moore is the President of the Rebellion, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, once her man inside, is now something like her Director of Communications. They need Katniss to make a series of propaganda films to motivate the other districts to join the Resistance, but Katniss, so inspiring in the Games, is terrible, terrible, terrible when trying to recite lines in front of a camera. (One of my favorite things in movies: watching a good actress, like Lawrence, play a bad actress. It’s always worth a laugh.)

To make matters worse, the Capitol has Peeta, and he’s making a series of propaganda films for that side – and it’s not clear if he’s being coerced, or worse, into doing so. Every time his face lights up the big screen, Katniss turns to goo and wonders if she’s doing the right thing. She convinces the resistance to launch a rescue mission, but what they find will really pull your stomach out through your feet. And that’s where the film ends.

This movie is a test: can we take away everything that made you want to see the first two Hunger Games films: the Games themselves, the fantastic costumes, the romantic tension between Katniss and Peeta – and still make you watch it?  The answer is “yes” – but “Part 2” better pull us up out of the dark in spectacular and heartwarming ways, or I’m going to feel like this trudge through ­ the mud wasn’t worth my while.

You always know when you’re watching a Chris Nolan film, whether it’s about a masked vigilante or a guy with no short-term memory trying to solve his wife’s murder. There’s nobody else in the movie business who can make total confusion so enjoyable and entertaining.

In “Interstellar,” Nolan plays with a lot of the same pieces he played with in “Inception.” Time speeds up and slows down, characters operate entirely without a safety net, are often unsure where reality begins and ends. But this time the whole thing is (supposedly) based more in science than in fiction.

Matthew McConaughey, who has been in so many movies in the last 18 months that he must only ever see his family over Skype, plays an astronaut who sets out from Earth on a desperate mission to find a new habitable planet, and only sees his family over Skype. In a not-too-distant future, all organic life on Earth is dying thanks to something called “the blight,” and everyone has become corn farmers. But McConaughey has his eyes on the heavens, and on his daughter Murph’s bedroom, where some mysterious entity seems to be trying to communicate with him by knocking books off the shelf.

Turns out who or whatever entity is communicating with them has also managed to open up a wormhole to another galaxy, where there are several promising planets to replace Earth as humanity’s home. Though, if you ask me, who or whatever this superior entity is, it doesn’t take humanity all that seriously. The wormhole is out by Saturn, so it takes the astronauts several years just to get to it. And then when they do, the promising planets all orbit a black hole, which makes things all kinds of complicated. I mean, seriously? There weren’t any potentially habitable planets anywhere in the vast universe that didn’t orbit a time-distorting black hole?  And you couldn’t put the wormhole just this side of Venus? It’s sort of like telling a homeless guy “I found you a place to live ... I’ll send a car to a location 50 miles from where you are, so start walking. And by the way... your new house is in Iran. You’re welcome!”

Or maybe it’s all the ploy of a director who likes puzzles as much as he likes stories, and likes stories that work like puzzles better than anything. Because when you’re watching “Interstellar,” you’re not thinking about how overly complicated everything is.  You’re thinking about how in the world McConaughey and company are going to get from point A to point B, and how much it is going to cost them. 

Alongside last year’s “Gravity,” it’s pretty remarkable that we’ve now got two movies in two years that pay homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and in my opinion, surpass that film as entertainment. “Interstellar” may not be as tightly wound and intricately constructed as “Inception,” but it’s still, easily, one of the best, most interesting, fun films to watch in 2014.