11/21/14 11:21pm

Photo courtesy of LionsGate

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Opens November 21

More than most dystopian riffs on the subject, The Hunger Games (the first) conveys the shock of seeing entertainment as both a method and an image of suppression, endlessly reenacting the division of a nation. With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (aka The Hunger Games Part 3 Part 1) the series reframes that obsession with media, centering on Katniss Everdeen as the new, authentic face of the uprising. Newly based in the underground bunkers of District 13— where Julianne Moore’s President Coin leads a gray-jumpsuited rebellion with a hidden military—Katniss is recruited to sell the country’s mad-as-hell dissatisfaction to itself for inspiration, while in the capital her butter-bland tele-sweetheart Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is put on TV as an admonitory shill against the fighting.

Francis Lawrence’s gray sequel bumps along with this new tit-for-tat battle of images—“moves and countermoves” as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) puts it—as District 13 and inspired rebels across the land take actions against the capital. Katniss is given a film crew to record her and encourage sloganeering in stirring rubble-strewn locales; Jennifer Lawrence spends a lot of time reacting with horror or indignation at things, or, more poised, coining revolutionary slogans. If there’s a meta-drama here for Lawrence’s own career leaps, it’s not bad: Katniss is asked again and again to can her distinct spontaneity and passion for the people at large, aided by her star handlers, who at one point recount their favorite memories of her heroism, lest any of us forgot. It’s tough to resolve whether the series is trying to be smart about the need for the revolution to be televised—even the toppling of a ludicrous, murderous regime needs an ad campaign—or if the media story is simply a facile device for charting narrative progress.

What vivid distinct detail the series boasts keeps waxing and waning: A suicide mission by ordinary lumberjacks inspired by Katniss is stirring, but it’s part of the usual Hollywood-screenplay puppet-like view of a call-and-response public. The uprising is given an intriguingly discomfiting militaristic aspect—HOOAH! Army cheers in response to Coin’s speeches, for example—but the movie fumbles with its feel for crowds, visually or temperamentally, as so many futuristic predecessors have. Not that any of the young heroes beside Katniss hold much attention: Peeta continues to feel as a hollow as what he is (an industry-created pop star), making Katniss’s Civil War of My Heart between him and nice-guy Gale (Liam Hemsworth) that much less interesting. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) turns up on the side of the rebels with much comic-relief vamping, but also darws fire to much else worthy of parody in a world of bombast and misery.

And what, really, is the uprising like? If The Hunger Games imagines a wonderfully disgusting picture of a stratified country, there’s more effort expended here on hovering jets and vertiginous metal stairwells in bunkers and smoldering rubble than on giving fresh character to the undifferentiated mass of rebels and their lives. Ending with a prophetic-feeling image that has an unnerving power the rest of the film is almost unworthy of, Mockingjay – Part 1 feels more like just another serial adventure than a fully imagined reckoning of Katniss and the uprising unbound.

11/21/14 11:13pm

Photo By Joan Marcus

Lost Lake
New York City Center
130 W. 56th Street

A play that has only two characters is heavily reliant on its two actors and on its central situation. In David Auburn’s Lost Lake, an extremely modest two-character play, Hogan (John Hawkes) is a shiftless guy renting out his ramshackle cottage to Veronica (Tracie Thoms), a widow and mother who is at loose ends. The first scene involves them haggling over the price of the cottage, and this opening is very unpromising. Hawkes and Thoms don’t have any particular chemistry, but they work hard on that problem as the play goes on.

Hogan comes back to fix the hot water tank and take care of some other problems with the place, and the two of them keep talking. And talking. You know perfectly well that these characters would not be talking to each other past a certain point, but they have to keep going because that’s all there is to the play. They have to chat, essentially, until they have revealed something about themselves. And so Hogan keeps coming back because his brother’s wife has kicked him out of their house and he is staying in his car on the property. This freaks Veronica out a bit, but just a bit, because they need to keep chatting about themselves and their past.

This is the sort of play where the people involved probably congratulated themselves a bit over not making it a romance (Hogan makes a half-hearted pass at Veronica toward the end that gets instantly shot down). This is also the sort of play where fear of taking any kind of risk has boiled the whole thing down to a quiet, plodding, digestible little mini-drama, low stakes, carefully structured, like a doll’s house with only two little dolls in it. By the end, it has improved slightly, or deepened, if only because Hawkes is such a fine and soulful actor. In the last scene, he sits on the floor and widens his eyes a bit and lets his talent take over, and it doesn’t even really matter what he is saying because he is in the zone, and he is offering something to us far beyond what the play is tentatively trying for.

Lost Lake is defined not by what it is but by what it is not. It is not a love story, and it is not a drama of any kind, really. It is about two fairly unhappy people who gradually reveal their unhappiness and problems to each other and gain some measure of comfort from that. There’s nothing wrong with a theme like this in theory, but everything has been so circumscribed and tidied-up that all you can feel is the falseness of the set, the lines, the actors trying to communicate with each other. Auburn’s play Proof in 2001 was a memorable vehicle for Mary-Louise Parker, and he has worked sparingly since then. He has skill and talent. What he needs to do is dare to take some chances.

01/15/14 4:00am

The Great Georgiana
248 Dekalb Avenue, Fort Greene

The Great Georgiana has been a long time coming. Owners Dominic Tracy, James Gragg and Chris Connor set their sights on the space back in late 2011 when word got out that the previous occupant, the beloved coffee shop Tillie’s, would close. After some construction-related obstacles, typical pushback from kill-joy community board members, and a brief setback when they were denied a liquor license because the piece of paper stating that they’d requested one wasn’t hung in a prominent-enough place, they’re finally open. 

Despite the tumult of the past two years, the new bar is most notable for how peaceful it is. The lighting is warm and inviting; the music, though deeply uncool by any measure, is a relaxing and strangely enjoyable mix of new jazz and soul. The wood, from the single six-seat high-top to the bar stools and the long row of small tables lining the wall, is dark and unadorned. The patrons who braved the 8-degree temperatures on the night I visited sat in small groups and talked quietly. There’s even a gorgeous old card catalog inthe back. 

It’s an exceedingly pleasant place, though it seems somewhat unsure of exactly what kind of place it wants to be. I suppose it’s a bar, first and foremost, but there’s something about the layout (and the unexpected table service) that says restaurant. The food menu boasts a mixture of small plates and entrée like Beef in a Mother’s Milk stout with caramelized onions and mashed potatoes ($18) and Braised Pork Shoulder with Grilled Tomatillos ($15). We stuck with the small stuff like a cheese and meat plate ($12) with slightly bland prosciutto, a Danish blue cheese, and Delice de Bourgogne, a delicious and creamy French cheese that’s so rich it’s almost indistinguishable from butter. We also had wings ($12), but not your standard variety: they’re baked and marinated in greek yogurt with jalapeño, cilantro and Middle Eastern spices. 

As for the drinks, there’s a solid selection of wines by the bottle or glass, the latter ranging from $7 to $10. The cocktail list is small but well-considered. I had an outstanding bourbon drink called The Hightower ($12), made with Buffalo Trace, fresh lemon and Giffard ginger. The beer list is decent if not terribly exciting. Draft options skew local (or at least regional), with common offerings from Kelso, Captain Lawrence, Empire, and the like. It’s hard to imagine going too far out of your way to visit the Great Georgiana, but the same could be said of 95 percent of the bars in Brooklyn. This is another fine local spot that does many things very well, even if it could stand to do most of them a little better.