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THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 1

This is obviously Lionsgate’s attempt to reap even more profits from the lucrative young adult franchise spawned from Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy by following the formula made familiar from the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series by dividing the final book into two pictures. (“Mockingjay Part 2” is scheduled for release a year from now.) But the result is a dark, rather dreary picture that’s all wind-up and no delivery, a tedious time-filler that merely takes up space between the superior “Catching Fire” and what one hopes will be a return to form with next year’s conclusion. Simply put, this third edition of the “Games” is likely to leave you hungry for more action.

In this curiously pallid installment indifferently directed by Francis Lawrence, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in Panem’s District 13 after being rescued in the aftermath of the Quarter Quell. There she finds rebellion simmering against the Capitol and its cruel President Snow (Donald Sutherland)—a movement that has coalesced around District President Coin (Julianne Moore). Coin and her confidantes, publicity specialist Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and scientific genius Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright), plan to use Katniss as the Mockingjay, the symbol of revolution who will inspire the people of all regions to unite and rise up against the injustice represented by Snow

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Unfortunately, Katniss is so distraught over the fact that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the boy she came to love during their time together in the games, remains a captive in Snow’s evil hands that she refuses to cooperate—until, of course, she does, but only under the condition that an effort will be made to rescue him.

Much of the rest of the film consists of Katniss alternately making propaganda commercials for the rebellion while sniffling over Peeta, who periodically appears on Capitol television urging her to lay down her arms. With the exception of a few forays outside, she’s ensconced in a bunker-like structure with the population of District 13 as well as her home-town pal Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), a hunk who’s obviously smitten with her, and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), an erstwhile rival from the games who’s also bemoaning the capture of his love Annie (Stef Dawson) by Snow. Old standbys like her former trainer Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and erstwhile press escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), both now in the rebel camp, also make appearances, mostly to offer her words of encouragement

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But the claustrophobic nature of the setting, continually shot in gloom, leaves the picture feeling as stranded as the rebels are. There is one sequence when Katniss, Gale and a film crew headed by hard-nosed Cressida (Natalie Dormer) venture out to a rebel field hospital which is then bombed by two of Snow’s aircraft (the sole occasion when our heroine unleashes one of her arrows), that offers some genuine excitement. But another, in which the base is attacked by a fleet of bombers, is meant to get the pulse racing, but it’s mostly dull stuff since the assault is shown entirely on radar screens )a means of saving money on special effects, perhaps, but a pretty cheesy one). It’s also undone by an absurd digression about Katniss’ dull-as-dishwater sister , appropriately named Prim (Willow Shields), who puts herself in danger by going off to save her pet cat as air-raid sirens are wailing. Will she make it back to the lower level before the huge metal doors close, stranding her outside the safe zone? This ridiculous scene is intended to generate suspense, but is more likely to cause you to stifle a laugh. A final attempt to excite—a special-ops mission to free Peeta led by Gale—also fails because it’s photographed in almost total darkness and explained afterward. And the concluding twist is so predictable it barely deserves the name.

Under these circumstances Lawrence, who’s invigorated the previous installments in the series, comes across as little more than a weepy lass pining away for her fellow, and the rest of the cast is similarly ill-used, with Moore forced to deliver a passel of high-minded speeches while Hemsworth puts on the stalwart pose of a jilted suitor and Hutcherson is reduced to brief periodic appearances designed to make Katniss weep a bit more. (The last of these, incidentally, seems at odds with what’s ultimately revealed about the character, but one supposes it’s necessary to preserve the story’s sole surprise.) On the other hand, Claflin makes a fairly strong impression, especially toward the close. Among the remaining adults Harrelson, Banks, Sutherland, Wright and Stanley Tucci (as TV MC Caesar Flickerman, who appears with Peeta on his broadcasts) seem to be coasting here; only the late Hoffman juices things up a bit by adding a bit of elfin humor to his delivery.

Technically the production is solid if unexceptional; the earlier installments gave far greater opportunity for outstanding visual work, but cinematographer Jo Willems and production designer Philip Messina do what they can within the limitations imposed by the narrative. James Newton Howard’s score is forgettable.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” can be summed up in a line that Coin speaks to Heavensbee as the Capitol’s assault on District 13 begins. “It’s going to be a long night,” she tells him. The movie may actually only a bit over two hours, but it seems to drag on longer than “Gone With the Wind.”

ROSEWATER

Jon Stewart’s temporary break from his “Daily Show” gig has resulted in a solid, committed but cinematically not terribly imaginative film about the incarceration and interrogation of Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari in his native Iran in 2009, purportedly on charges of spying. Anchored by a strong performance from Gael Garcia Bernal, “Rosewater” obviously represents a labor of love for the faux newsman-turned-filmmaker, and emerges as a sober, thoughtful addition to the corpus of serious pictures about those unjustly imprisoned under oppressive regimes.

It was, in fact, Bahari’s appearance on Stewart’s show that got him into trouble in Iran. During a visit to the country to cover the presidential election in 2009, he agreed to appear in a sketch with Jason Jones, one of the ersatz correspondents on “The Daily Show,” who actually went to Tehran to film some typically buffoonish footage. Jones pretended to be an American spy and asked Bahari some typically inane questions, to which the Iranian offered serious answers. But Iranian authorities caught wind of the episode and took it to suggest that the reporter was actually taking to an espionage agent. They picked him up at the home of his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo), where he was staying, and took him in for extended questioning by a “specialist” (Kim Bodnia), who was under pressure from his boss to secure a quick confession (and whom Barahi’s dubbed Rosewater after a scent from his childhood that the man led him to recall). It didn’t help that he had also been consorting with some supporters of the anti-establishment candidate, and had photographed protest demonstrations that had broken out after the dubious results announced that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won in a landslide against reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi .

In any event the government “specialist” didn’t get the fast, easy confession he wanted. Barahi’s ordeal dragged on for more than a hundred days, during which he was subjected to some physical but more psychological torture. Stewart, Bernal and Bodnia portray the grueling business in mostly straightforward, purely realistic style, and do so with admirable directness. They are able to bring some moments of dark levity into the interrogation sequences, particularly in the later stages, when Bahari takes advantage of his questioner’s prurient interest in non-Iranian lifestyles to divert his attention with ludicrous false admissions. And a hint of magic realism comes to the fore in hazily remembered flashbacks and sequences in which the spirits of Barahi’s stronger-willed father and sister (Haluk Bilginer and Golshifteh Farahani)—both victims of oppressive Iranian regimes going back to the Shah—appear to him to encourage him to remain steadfast. And there are moments, such as an impromptu dance that Bahari does to music in his head, that show his resilience in the midst of his solitary confinement, during which no report of the groundswell of support in the West demanding his release—partially orchestrated by his wife (Claire Foy), who was pregnant when he left for Iran—was kept hidden from him and he was instead informed that he had been abandoned by everybody.

Bernal plays all of this with the intelligence and emotional resonance one has come to expect of him, and it’s characteristic of his—and the film’s—honesty that Bahari doesn’t emerge here as a plaster saint, but as a man riddled with self-doubt and willing to compromise, at least to some extent, to satisfy his captors and win his release. Nor is Rosewater treated as merely a stock villain. As portrayed by Bodnia, he’s depicted as a man under pressure too, although of a less cruel sort, and as a figure blinded by devotion to a regime that relies on terror in order to preserve its ideological basis untainted—as well as a man in a country so shut off from external influences (a fact emphasized by the dissidents’ desire to accumulate as many satellite dishes as possible) that his knowledge of the outside world is almost childlike in its naivete. The rest of the cast offer strong support, with the sad-faced Aghdashloo certainly standing out as a woman beaten down by the repeated losses her family has suffered.

For the most part Stewart and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski emphasize the claustrophobic nature of Bahari’s confinement in Evin Prison, keeping the images close-in while carefully positioning the camera to maintain the captive’s predicament of being cut off completely by the dank, barren walls. But in the exteriors that occur primarily in the first act, before the arrest, they make good use of Jordanian locations to create a real sense of place, even though it’s not actually Tehran. Occasional insertion of contemporary news footage adds to the feeling of authenticity, and the contributions of editor Jay Rabinowitz and composer Howard Shore add to the picture’s immediacy.

There’s a sense of relief at the end of “Rosewater,” when Bahari is released. But any sense of triumph is accompanied by the realization that many remain imprisoned and oppressed in Iran. (Scenes of him leaving many of the Mousavi supporters he met before being arrested now languishing in prison themselves, as well as bittersweet reunion with his mother, are important in that respect.) Stewart hasn’t made a contemporary version of “The Shawshank Redemption”—his is a tough, gritty portrayal of the trials of a single man brutalized by a system that continues to mistreat many more. It won’t bring about the change one hopes for in Iran, of course, but if it contributes to public awareness of the realities there, it will have served a useful function. And, of course, it’s a great personal story, well told.