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Long Goodbyes 

Sequels, traditions and vendettas

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HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2. With each successive installment, The Hunger Games movies have generated less excitement, more speechifying and a great and terrible mountain of revenue. This, the worst offender among them, is thankfully the last of it and, in an ironic twist, likely to be the most commercially successful. (This two-part finale business is, of course, representative of a blatant cash grab trend. Adapting the final book in the series into two overlong movies has required some serious stretching and padding of the material).

Picking up just where Part 1 precipitously left off, Part 2 drops us into the middle of an ever-escalating conflict in Panem. Rebel forces, now rallied around figurehead Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), continue to push toward the capitol, even as government forces devastate more and more districts in reprisal. The rebels have managed to rescue Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who was being held captive by the malignant President Snow (Donald Sutherland), but Peeta still exhibits dangerous signs of mind control. He is conscripted to join Katniss' propaganda unit as it makes its way into the heavily booby-trapped capitol, producing pro-rebel materials along the way. This process is complicated, of course, by the plethora of aforementioned booby-traps. The squad finds itself in series of ever-more perilous scenarios, none of which are governed by a concern for story, continuity or drama.

The gravest offense committed here is in the omission of a compelling narrative. Like the previous three movies, Part 2 is impressively staged and opulently appointed, but more than any of the others it is also oppressively boring. It so lacks interest and excitement that the torpor feels cultivated, intentionally devoid of any sort of cinematic pleasure. In theory, we should already be invested enough in the characters that further development of their identities and relationships is unnecessary. But in reality, there is so little to this narrative (in spite of its morbidly obese running time) that it is difficult to care. Lacking even the wrong-headed speechifying that characterized Part 1, this is an aimless, dull insult to the audience. The best thing about it may be that it is consummately forgettable. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE NIGHT BEFORE. I've mentioned, probably too often, my love for Christmas movies. I also tend to go in for the half-smart stoner comedies of Seth Rogen and his writing/producing partner Evan Goldberg. What can I say? They make me laugh. Still, I reserved my enthusiasm for this one, having learned long ago that even an apparently air-tight set-up can be ruined in the execution. Not so, in this case. The Night Before is exactly what it appears to be: a raunchy, foul-mouthed, episodic buddy comedy; and it works.

Isaac (Rogen), Chris (Anthony Mackie) and Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have spent Christmas Eve together every year since Ethan's parents were killed by a drunk driver 14 years ago. This year, Isaac, now a lawyer with a baby due any minute, and Chris, an NFL player experiencing a late-career resurgence, have decided it's time to retire the tradition. Ethan, whose life has stalled a bit, reluctantly accepts their decision, but not before he snags three tickets to the exclusive, mythological Nutcracker Ball: the white whale of New York City holiday debauchery. The three decide to go out with a bang, armed with a box of psychedelics and a ridiculous limo. As the night progresses, they each confront their own fears and weaknesses in a series of ridiculous but generally authentic-feeling events.

Co-written and directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50), The Night Before succeeds in balancing drug-based, hard-R comedy with genuine insights into contemporary masculinity, societal expectation and growing up in one's mid-30s. Fun and funny, well-acted by a likeable cast, festooned with Christmas decorations and clever cameos, it could be the antidote to the seasonal affective disorder brought on by The Hunger Games. R. 101m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

SECRET IN THEIR EYES, adapted by Billy Ray from the 2009 Best Foreign Language Oscar winner from Argentina, El Secreto de sus Ojos, tells two halves of a story separated by more than a decade. In early 2002, a joint counter-terrorism task force convenes in Los Angeles. They are tasked with the surveillance of a mosque suspected to harbor a terrorist cell. In the midst of the operation, the daughter of investigator Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) is raped and murdered. Fellow agent and friend Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) begins an unsanctioned investigation and finds the killer. With help from deputy District Attorney Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman), with whom Ray is in deep, unrequited love, the killer confesses. Because he is an integral part of the mosque investigation, though, the DA refuses to prosecute him.

Thirteen years later, having long since left law enforcement, Ray returns to Los Angeles. Claire has become District Attorney. Jess, hollowed and withered by her daughter's death, is a lead investigator. Ray has spent the intervening years searching for the killer and, convinced he has found him, implores Claire to re-open the case.

Secret in Their Eyes showcases the powerful actors in its cast, and works reasonably well as an old-fashioned thriller. The approach to the material is a little tame though, almost antiseptic, so in spite of some powerful moments, it doesn't sustain enough tension to be truly compelling. And the twist ending, laid at our feet so summarily, undoes the cumulative effect of the rest of the movie. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

Previews

CREED. Sorry, not the band. An ailing Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) gets in the corner of his old pal Apollo's son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) — what else is Apollo Creed going to name his kid? — a young fighter with a chip on his shoulder, a name to live up to and a training montage to film. R. 101m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Animated interspecies buddy movie set in an alternate universe in which dinosaurs and humans coexist. With Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. PG. 100m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

SPOTLIGHT. True-life drama about the rampant sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic church and the team that broke the story at the Boston Globe. Starring Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams (who are nearly as attractive as real journalists). R. 101m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN. A hump-less Daniel Radcliffe gives Igor's take on the body-snatching, monster-making adventure and laboratory bromance with the good-ish doctor, played by James McAvoy. With a pale and nasty Andrew Scott. PG13. 109m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

BROOKLYN. An Irish immigrant is pulled between her roots back home and the new life and inter-cultural romance she's started with a swell Italian-American fella in New York. (Love story aside, swoon over the 1950s costuming.) PG13. 111m. MINOR.

Continuing

LOVE THE COOPERS. A pile-up of talented actors (John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei) do their best in a wreck of a holiday-family-dysfunction comedy that, surprisingly, takes itself too seriously. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY.

THE MARTIAN. Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut in a compelling, exciting and life-affirming space drama. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE. Snoopy and the gang put their enormous heads together again for this animated feature. Spoiler: He may try and kick that football again. G. 93m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.

SPECTRE. Daniel Craig returns for more sharp-suited globe trotting and plot foiling with nods to classic Bond films. Innovative action and plenty of thrills and gadgetry, but heavy on the soul searching. With Christoph Waltz and Lea Seydoux. PG13. 148m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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John J. Bennett

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