NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Holiday 2015 Movie Reviews: Hunger Games, The Night Before & More

The holiday movie season is here, and that means a flood of great (and not-so-great) film entertainment for your viewing pleasure. I’ve done my best to sort the tripe from the treasure, hand-picking one film each from four different genres — action/adventure, animation, comedy and drama — to check out on your days off.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2”

Action/Adventure

This fourth entry in the “Hunger Games” series sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) take the war for Panem to the Capitol itself, gaining an opportunity to confront the diabolical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) at last.

The higher focus on action does mean we see less of our favorite characters, like unflappable Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and clever Plutarch Heavensbee (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman), but the greater focus on Katniss and brainwashed beau Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) allow Lawrence and Hutcherson to turn out their deepest and most affecting performances as these beloved characters.

Perhaps best of all, this unflinchingly grim, mature portrait of war — and its willingness to venture into tense political territory — doesn’t pull punches for the sake of its target audience, a thing to be savored in this era of diminishing returns.

“The Good Dinosaur”

Animation

It’s not even in the same stratosphere as “Inside Out,” which came out earlier this year, but director Peter Sohn’s contribution to the Pixar catalog is a good-natured and gorgeous little Western.

The story reverses the roles of human and beast, following young Apatosaurus Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) and caveboy Spot (Jack Bright) as they attempt to find their way back to the mountain where Arlo’s family lives. Along the way, they find ways to bridge the communication gap between species (Spot, as part of the role reversal, is the one lacking language) in the movie’s best tearjerker of a scene, and discover they have more in common than they might have otherwise thought.

The movie’s thin plot and intermittent exchanges of dialogue might make this a bit of a slog for adults in the audience, but at least they’ll have plenty of eye candy to look at in the meantime — Pixar renders their most stunning, lifelike scenery yet here.

“The Night Before”

Comedy

HHH

You’ve got to hand it to him: Seth Rogen may have played the chubby, druggy slacker-dude a few too many times in his career, but he hasn’t exhausted the laughs he can get with his lovable loser character. This time around, he’s Isaac Greenberg, the oafish BFF to two other goofballs by the names of Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie).

Ethan lost his parents in a car accident fourteen years ago, so to cheer him up, his friends created an annual Christmas tradition of silly slackerdom: Chinese food. Intentionally bad karaoke. The piano at FAO Schwarz made famous in Tom Hanks’ “Big.” But now, with Roberts taking care of a superstar career in the NFL and Greenberg with a baby on the way, it may be time for Ethan to face the music: his friends are growing up.

Oh, all right, so the premise is unoriginal and the quality of the jokes is uneven, but there are too many belly laughs here for anyone to care. One particular sequence, involving a series of explicit photos sent to Rogen via text message, had me seeing stars and gasping for air.

“Creed”

Drama

Who’d have guessed that this de facto “Rocky VII” could be not only good, but the best in the series since John G. Avildsen’s 1976 original? Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) quits his white collar job just after getting a promotion, and his mother senses the reason why: he’s going to fight. She knows this obsession with violence well, because she’s the widow of the late Apollo Creed — Rocky’s rival-turned-pal who died in the ring with Ivan Drago in the absurdly schlocky “Rocky IV.”

But the movie spares us flashbacks and plays it straight, which allows us to believe in the characters — for the most part, anyway. Although we’re never quite convinced of Johnson’s (later Creed’s) motivation, his camaraderie with Stallone’s iconic boxer — who, naturally, trains him to take on his father’s legacy — is surprisingly poignant, and the relationship he nurtures with quirky singer-songwriter Bianca is a worthy match for Rocky’s decades-old romance with Adrian. Yeah, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan isn’t up there with the original Creed, Mr. T’s Clubber Lang and Drago as a great over-the-top villain, but this is one movie that can survive on the virtues of its heroes alone.

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