Survivor Series (2014) Review

Apparently the Survivor Series kickoff show started on the hour, not on the half hour, so I missed 30 minutes of it. It’s okay. Bad News Barrett showed up and said that he’ll usher in a new era if The Authority loses tonight. Oh, and there was a match.

Fandango (with Rosa Mendes) vs. Justin Gabriel

Fandango won. I didn’t see it. I predicted it right, though. You wouldn’t have someone else return with Fandango and then bury Fandango with the other returnee.

I also got to see Cesaro cut a promo about being neutral. He hypes up the main event but reminds us that he’s not on either side. But he’s still supporting Team Authority. He’s interrupted by Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger — even though Swagger’s supposed to be too hurt to compete tonight, hence why he’s not in the main event tonight.

Cesaro vs. Jack Swagger (with Zeb Colter)

Swagger and Cesaro doesn’t make any sense as a match right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not appreciated. It’s a slower match than you’d hope for given the competitors, but then it is on the pre-show, and therefore the expectations aren’t high. The match isn’t bad. It is short, is competitive, and has a nice finale. Swagger wins with an ankle lock.

Match Rating: **1/2

That concludes our pre-show. Well, a shot of Vince McMahon showing up at the arena concludes the pre-show. He’s in the building as an on-screen character tonight.

In fact, Mr. McMahon kicks off Survivor Series. Why? Because the card only has five matches and we need to fill time. Vince promises a show we will never forget. And with that, he brings out his daughter, Stephanie, as well as Triple H. They are The Authority, and if Team Authority loses in the main event tonight, The Authority will no longer be in power.

Stephanie gets a mic first and says she feels such love from her father. The Authority won’t let him down tonight. Soon enough, John Cena comes down to the ring. If his team loses, all the non-Cena members are fired. Cena really doesn’t have anything to lose tonight, Triple H reminds him. It’s true. If Team Cena loses, John Cena will still be fine. Stephanie tells us that she’s still calling the shots from the head office even if The Authority loses. She asks for her father’s confirmation of that, and he tells her that’s not really true. The Authority won’t get to have any influence over WWE Superstars. There’s only one person who could bring The Authority back into power, and that person is … John Cena.

Fatal Four-Way WWE Tag Team Championship Match: The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso) vs. The Miz and Damien Sandow vs. Los Matadores (Diego and Fernando, with El Torito) vs. Stardust and Goldust

So, only two men are in the ring at one time. If you want to get in, you have to hope that an opponent gets close enough so you can tag yourself in, or that they’ll tag themselves out. This stops it from being such a mess of men. It’s still a bit of a mess, but that’s understandable. The story of the match involves nobody tagging in Damien Sandow, because that’s whom the fans actually want to see.

The match is routine and not particularly interesting. It’s only fun because of Damien Sandow and he fans’ desire to have him tagged in. Otherwise, the crowd was understandably dead.

The finish comes after a four-person tower of doom leads to an Uso splash which is then capitalized on by Damien Sandow, who tagged himself in. Miz and Sandow are the new champions.

Match Rating: **1/2

Adam Rose and The Bunny are shown backstage next in what’s an advertisement for WWE action figures. Rose tells us this is how they’re going to settle their differences. The Bunny wins. They’re interrupted by Titus O’Neil and Heath Slater, who are apparently still a tag team. Rose and The Bunny are going to face Slater Gator tonight, because this is how low on the card we have to scrape in order to fill the card.

Survivor Series Elimination Match: Paige, Cameron, Summer Rae, and Layla vs. Natalya (with Tyson Kidd) Naomi, Emma, and Alicia Fox

Natalya and Paige start off, which means that’s the only real wrestling we’re getting from this match. The faces eliminate all three non-Paige heel Divas. Paige then tries to escape, but she’s stopped. Naomi eliminates her in a clean sweep. It was not good.

Match Rating: *1/2

We recap the pre-show and then go to its analysts, because WWE needs to kill time, given that there are only four matches left to fill out two hours. They hype up the main event and then recap the Dean Ambrose/Bray Wyatt feud.

Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt

This is a brawl. You don’t get a technical match from these two, so don’t expect one. It’s filled with punches, kicks, and bodies colliding violently. It’s an even match, one filled with lots of the aforementioned as well as a couple of big spots.

Bray Wyatt gets a microphone midway into the match, to fill up time. Wyatt says they’re both special, and they could rule the world together. Wyatt then gets a couple of chairs into the ring, one of which the referee removes, the other of which Ambrose gets. Wyatt wants Ambrose to hit him. So Ambrose does. Wyatt wins by DQ.

Match Rating: ***

Ambrose gets a table after the match. Wyatt is put through it with an elbow drop. Then Ambrose grabs another table, which he lays on Wyatt and then hits the table with a chair. Ambrose then throws a whole bunch of additional chairs into the ring. And then he gets a ladder. It’s almost like the next PPV is built around tables, ladders, and chairs. Ambrose climbs the ladder, but doesn’t jump off it. It’s a very big ladder, so that’s a good thing.

The Authority meets with the team backstage, promising all the rewards if Team Authority wins tonight. I still can’t think of a kayfabe reason as to why Triple H isn’t in this match himself.

Adam Rose and The Bunny vs. Slater Gator (Heath Slater and Titus O’Neil)

I’d like to remind you that this is a PPV, not an episode of Superstars. The match is mediocre and not worthy of being on a PPV. Not at all. The Bunny wins with a dropkick. Adam Rose looks mortified, as do I.

Match Rating: *1/2

We’re then “treated” to a Roman Reigns interview. Team Cena is then shown backstage. It’s pep-talk time. Everyone seems to care except Erick Rowan, who is busy playing with a Rubik’s Cube. He eventually notices and tells us that Team Cena needs to win.

WWE Divas Championship Match: Nikki Bella (with Brie Bella) vs. AJ Lee

Uh, so, Brie kisses AJ and then Nikki hits the Rack Attack and that’s the match. Nikki is the new Divas champion, and that’s all the match we get.

Match Rating: *

Brie looks genuinely happy for her sister after the match. There’s no post-match attack or anything; that’s literally it.

Survivor Series Elimination Match: Team Authority (Kane, Mark Henry, Luke Harper, Rusev, and Seth Rollins, with Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Lana, Joey Mercury, and Jamie Noble) vs. Team Cena (Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan, Ryback, Big Show, and John Cena)

Big Show knocks out Mark Henry right off the bat, faster than Nikki beat AJ. Why did nobody break up the pinfall? Who knows? Then the real match starts. It gets good. Then it degenerates into chaos, which allows a cheap Curb Stomp from Rollins onto Ryback, followed by a big kick and a pinfall by Rusev. Ryback was out first for Team Cena, despite being the most heavily sought-after free agent leading into the PPV. How does that make any sense?

Rusev goes for a running splash on the announcer’s table, but misses and gets counted out. That’s how he gets eliminated, because you can’t have him pinned or submitted.

The match then gets even more chaotic. Rollins keeps coming in when he’s not supposed to, everyone attacks anyone available, and Erick Rowan winds up eliminated. After Rowan is eliminated, Big Show gets into the ring with John Cena, and Big Show punches Cena. Cena gets covered by Rollins and is eliminated. Big Show shakes Triple H’s hand, and then leaves, letting himself be counted out. Dolph Ziggler is the only one remaining.

Ziggler winds up pinning Kane after being taunted and toyed with by all of Team Authority. Ziggler also manages to roll up Harper for a three-count. It winds up coming down to Ziggler and Rollins. Rollins and Ziggler have some incredible near-falls. The match went from good to great as soon as Ziggler was the last one on Team Cena remaining.

Ziggler had a victory, but Triple H pulled the referee out at the last second. Noble and Mercury then beat up Ziggler while there’s nobody to stop them. Ziggler manages to beat them up on his own, though. Rollins uses the chance to ambush Ziggler, but Ziggler counters into another Zig Zag. A referee runs out and Triple H attacks him, too. Then Triple H beats up Ziggler. What’s stopping Ryback/Rowan from helping Ziggler at this point? Nothing. Triple H eventually gets a third referee to come out, after putting Rollins on top of Ziggler.

But then Sting’s music hits. Sting is actually here. He walks down to the ring, and that apparently makes the referee stop counting a pinfall. Sting attacks the referee, who for some reason left the ring. Sting and Triple H have a staredown for a good long while. Triple H eventually tries to attack Sting, but Sting dodges and then hits a reverse DDT, which some people call the Scorpion Death Drop. Sting then puts Ziggler onto Seth Rollins, leaves, and a referee gets up and counts it, leaving Team Cena victorious, thanks to Sting.

Match Rating: ****

Ziggler stumbles up the stage and is greeted by John Cena, who is no-selling his injuries like a champ does. The crowd begins to chant “goodbye” to The Authority, who are left in and around the ring, speechless and upset. Stephanie tells the fans that this is not over, presumably because we’re setting the stage for Triple H/Sting at WrestleMania.

The Good: Team Cena/Team Authority. Sting. The kiss. Ambrose/Wyatt.

The Bad: Rose/Bunny vs. Slater Gator. Divas Elimination Match. Nikki/AJ.

Match of the Night: Team Cena vs. Team Authority.

Prediction Score: 4/6.


Reach Me

On almost every conceivable level, Reach Me is a failure. I can’t think of anyone who could look at this movie and think that it’s worth seeing. Obviously someone thought it was worth releasing, but in all honesty, for most of the talent involved, it would have been better to keep it shelved until it could be stealthily released into the bargain bins at your local supermarket. Seriously, this is some of the worst filmmaking that has been released in 2014, and this is a year that saw That Awkward Moment get a theatrical release (although this is better, slightly).

Lacking a plot, purpose, or any discernible themes, Reach Me instead decides to throw a bevy of actors at us, all of whom are playing incredibly one-dimensional characters — and playing them poorly — and giving them a few scenes in which they get to act terribly and do absolutely nothing of interest, and then call the film “inspirational.” I’m sorry, but no. Just because all of the characters are technically impacted by a self-help book doesn’t mean that the film is at all relaying those messages to the audience.

There isn’t a leading character or story, because you can pay actors less if you only make them film four scenes that barley have any relevance to anything. The most well-known actor is probably Sylvester Stallone here playing — get this — a gossip-site editor. No, really. How ridiculous does that sound on paper? Well, it’s worse in the film. Thomas Jane reprises his role as The Punisher (kind of, although he’s not called that in the film). That’s kind of fun. He kills bad people, though, and does so out of the kindness of his heart or something. These two characters might interact once, if at all.

There’s also a self-help book, written by a man played by Tom Berenger. Teddy, I think is the character’s name. He is, ironically, afraid of crowds, so he won’t do any press, despite the book helping lots of people. A journalist, Roger (Kevin Connolly) hopes to seek him out. Meanwhile, a gangster (Tom Sizemore) is having his bodyguards (Omari Hardwick and David O’Hara) find a guy who owes him money. The bodyguards read the book and are having second thoughts. And … there are more storylines.

None of them will resonate, none of them have any purpose, and the way they connect to each other is through this book, whose passages are read to us and sound basically like standard self-help affair. Few of the messages within are actually relayed to the audience through the character’s actions, and when they are it’s done as superficially as possible. You won’t care.

Almost as important: Reach Me is really, really boring. Not much happens. People talk about nothing in particular — there isn’t much inspirational to be found in their conversations, either, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn. They each only get one personality trait, and once you find that out, there’s nothing else for them to offer as characters. To be fair, some of them are in the film for such little time that this is all you’d learn anyway. Actors like Kelsey Grammer and Danny Trejo have a grand total of one scene each.

How did a film like this attract this sort of cast? It’s painfully bad from start to finish. It’s toneless, directionless, pointless, and not worth your time. The actors seem like they were given the bare minimum and forced to improvise. Was that how thin the script was? Even so, the same person directed and wrote the film: John Herzfeld. Was the film butchered by a studio? It’s hard to imagine that a director who has worked for 30+ years would wind up with something this horrible.

Reach Me is without purpose, direction, and it is a bore from start to finish. Its characters are one-dimensional and have nothing to offer, and the film as a whole aims to be inspirational but will fail to resonate with practically anyone who watches it. There are lofty aims to be found in Reach Me, but it seems way out of the filmmakers’ talent to even come remotely close to achieving them. This is the type of film that should’ve been scrapped, not released. It does nothing for anyone involved or anyone subjected to sitting through it.


Survivor Series (2014) Predictions

With only 6 scheduled matches, one of which only has one competitor and the other of which I don’t think has even been announced on television, this year’s Survivor Series looks a little disappointing on paper. Its main event build has been confused and had a last-minute stipulation added — even though the match’s contracts had already been signed — and most of the WWE’s top stars are in the match, which means the undercard is as weak as it can be. I mean, one of these six matches has Fandango against a TBA opponent, and I believe it’s scheduled for the pre-show. We have two Divas matches, one of which is “heels vs. faces” that hasn’t had a single second of build on Raw or Smackdown. There are only two championship matches, one of which is “every tag team we have available” squaring off, while the other is the Divas Championship, which has had a less-than-interesting build thus far. I’m not excited for Survivor Series.

Fandango vs. TBA

Prediction: Fandango wins.

Random Thoughts: I’m not even 100% sure this is a match that’s going to happen. We’re told Fandango was going to return, but I’m not positive anyone said he was getting a match. Regardless, it’s listed on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is never wrong, so let’s assume Fandango has a match. He’s the only one advertised for it, and he’s being called the “new and improved” Fandango, so he has to win, doesn’t he?

Fatal Four-Way WWE Tag Team Championship Match: The Miz and Damien Sandow vs. Stardust and Goldust vs. Los Matadores (Diego and Fernando, with El Torito) vs. The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso)

Prediction: Goldust and Stardust retain. Los Matadores are here because we needed another tag team and the division sucks, The Usos have nothing left to do as champions, so they have no reason to win it, and Miz and Sandow will bicker and that’ll lead to them losing. Goldust and Stardust retaining is the only logical choice I see.

Random Thoughts: I know fans have been wanting The Ascension to debut for some time now, and with the tag team division on … well, it’s on full display here, since this is it, I think this would be the perfect time for such a thing to happen. Maybe not at the PPV, but on Raw the next night, perhaps.

WWE Divas Championship Match: AJ Lee vs. Nikki Bella (with Brie Bella)

Prediction: Since Total Divas is in its off-season, and therefore we won’t confuse viewers by having different champions on the various shows — since tape delay ruins that, apparently, and WWE doesn’t want that — this is the perfect time to pull the trigger on a Nikki Bella title reign. I see her winning this match.

Random Thoughts: The wildcard here, of course, is what Brie Bella will do. It’s her last night as “Cinderbella,” which means she still technically needs to obey her sister. Maybe, perhaps, she’ll want to, and we’ll get a reunited Bella Twins stable. Or, more likely, she won’t, and we’ll get a Bella vs. Bella feud over the Divas Championship for a month or two — or perhaps longer. That could be a WrestleMania feud.

Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt

Prediction: This one could go either way, but I think Wyatt needs the win more. I mean, his former stable-mates are main eventing the PPV, while he’s stuck in a lackluster feud with Dean Ambrose. That’s not bad, by any means, but he could really use the victory here. I think he’ll get it.

Random Thoughts: Shouldn’t this feud, I don’t know, feel more like these men hate each other? Instead, we’ve only gotten vague promos nobody can follow over and over again. Sure, there was that one attack by Wyatt, but otherwise this feud has been treated like it’s not particularly important by WWE. It’s not something I’m looking forward to, really, and I should be.

Survivor Series Elimination Match: Emma, Naomi, Alicia Fox, and Natalya vs. Paige, Cameron, Summer Rae, and Layla

Prediction: Another 50/50 match. Paige is the only one in this match with genuine credibility right now, so her team will probably win. But, then, she does have Cameron and Summer Rae on her team, so who knows? I’ll still pick the heels.

Random Thoughts: So, Paige attacking Alicia Fox made her into a face, huh? Okay, then. Would it kill WWE to at least tell us this match was happening. I didn’t find out until I saw it online. Now, maybe it was shown for a brief moment on TV, but I certainly didn’t notice when that happened. It’s a filler match that exists to kill time, and there’s really no reason to care about it. I guess that’s why it hasn’t been promoted. The thing is that it could matter if WWE cared.

Survivor Series Elimination Match: Team Cena (Ryback, Erick Rowan, Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, and John Cena) vs. Team Authority (Seth Rollins, Kane, Rusev, Mark Henry, and Luke Harper)

Prediction: There are two ways for this to play out. Cena’s team could win, and The Authority will be disbanded, or The Authority will win, will try to fire Team Cena (except Cena, of course) on Raw, and they’ll be stopped either by the fact that contracts were already signed, or Vince McMahon will veto the situation. Honestly, I’m hoping the latter happens, although it’s much more likely that Team Cena wins, if for no other reason than “Cenawinslol.”

Random Thoughts: We know that people like Ryback and Dolph Ziggler are not getting fired any time soon, which kind of kills the intensity that the match has. This last-minute stipulation should have been made weeks ago, not on the go-home show before Survivor Series. The Authority very well might be disbanded, but I hope not. I like Triple H and Stephanie McMahon as on-screen personas. That’s why I’m hoping Team Authority wins but Vince McMahon stops the firing, and a power-struggle storyline begins.

Well, this is a much shorter prediction post than normal. Thanks, WWE, for not having the talent to fill in a full PPV. Whatever. The main event will probably be good, the Tag Team Championship match will be a spot-fest, and the Divas match will likely be great, for a Divas match. We’ll find out on Sunday. Oh, and I hear Sting will be there. That alone might make it worthwhile viewing.


Smackdown Review (November 21, 2014)

Spoilers follow for the November 21st episode of Smackdown.

We’re just a couple of nights from Survivor Series, which means we’re in for lackluster matches, minimal story build, and only a small attempt to actually make us watch the PPV, which is free for all new subscribers to the WWE Network, as long as you don’t live in the UK or Canada (and probably other places), and as long as you haven’t previously been giving the WWE money, because if you’re a current subscriber, you’re being forced to pay. What’s loyalty, anyway?

The show opens with Triple H being interviewed by Michael Cole. Triple H is here to hype the PPV, obviously, but he also offers a new stipulation for the main event, which previously only had an effect on The Authority. But before we find out what tat is, Triple H invites the non-Cena members of Team Cena out to the stage, so they can hear a taped interview in which Cena answers whether or not he’s responsible for his team — you know, given that he hasn’t once come out to defend them. Apparently he does, although the interview really doesn’t make that clear. Triple H then announces that if Team Cena loses, all four non-Cena Team Cena members are fired. So, I guess we know who’s winning at Survivor Series, then. Unless, of course, Vince McMahon comes out and vetoes that call. That’d be swell.

Rusev and Lana then come down, since Rusev is in a match next.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev (with Lana)

A relatively back-and-forth match between Ziggler and Rusev, with Ziggler actually getting in a good chunk of the offense, and reminding us that Rusev is actually really good at selling. Rusev’s un-pinned and un-submitted streak doesn’t end here, though, as he kicks out of a Zig Zag and gets the pinfall victory with his massive kick.

Match Rating: **1/2

Kane talks to Cesaro backstage. Kane tells Cesaro to take out Erick Rowan tonight, despite both of these men having some of the worst current win-loss ratios. You could send almost anyone over Cesaro at this point and have a better chance at succeeding.

The Miz and Damien Sandow vs. Los Matadores (Diego and Fernando, with El Torito)

Goldust, Stardust, and The Usos are all on commentary, so you know that this match isn’t going for recieve much of the focus. Add in Damien Sandow on the apron, and you really aren’t going to have much of a match. Sandow and Miz fight a little bit, continuing to tease a breakup, both non-competing tag teams are attacked at ringside, and a matador eventually wins with a cross body splash.

Match Rating: **

Dean Ambrose is out next to cut a promo. He tells a story about his childhood and survival kits. He tells Bray Wyatt to run away. Wyatt then interviews on the TV screen, from a jail cell, pretending to be Ambrose’s father or something. It’s hard to keep track of what Wyatt says.

Brie Bella (with Nikki Bella) vs. AJ Lee

AJ Lee comes out dressed as Nikki Bella, much like Brie was dressed like AJ did on Raw. Brie and AJ have a pretty good match. It’s filled with some silly antics involving AJ’s costume, but even outside of that, it’s competitive, has some athleticism, and is pretty entertaining. AJ winds up winning with a rollup.

Match Rating: **1/2

Cesaro vs. Erick Rowan

So, the Divas get to have an exciting, competitive match … and then we get this, which is a squash that lasts for what feels like less time. Cesaro spends most of the time selling or attempting foolish sleeper holds, while Rowan does power moves. The finish comes when Rowan puts Cesaro in a Torture Rack, and Cesaro taps out.

Match Rating: *1/2

Luke Harper comes down after the match, teasing a faceoff between the two, but it doesn’t happen.

Team Cena is interviewed backstage next. Well, all the non-Cena members, because John Cena doesn’t do Smackdown. They’re asked about the new stipulation. They’re not backing down; they’re even more focused.

Seth Rollins and Kane (with Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble) vs. Big Show and Ryback

The match isn’t particularly good, in large part because three of the participants are Ryback, Kane, and Big Show. It’s more focused on Team Authority coming out and the brawl afterward, anyway. After a slow, mediocre match, Team Authority attacks the faces, causing a disqualification, and then an all-out brawl happens.

Match Rating: **

Everyone attacks everyone, Team Cena comes down to join in, and eventually Triple H gets a chair and cleans house. Team Authority ends the show looking strong.

The Good: New stipulation for Survivor Series. Brie/AJ.

The Bad: Cesaro/Rowan.

Match of the Night: Brie Bella vs. AJ Lee.


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1

From the end of the first Hunger Games movie, we knew that there was an inevitable way for it to end. There is going to be a revolution. The government — here called “The Capitol” — is evil and repressive, and you can’t let them maintain power forever, can you? So, here we have Mockingjay, which was a single book that has been split into two films, because Harry Potter and Twilight proved that you can make a lot of money doing that, even if you don’t necessarily get good movies. There is no better way to prove that Hollywood is a business, not a way to make good art, than looking at how it splits up films like this.

The story, this time out, focuses almost solely on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who now lives with her family underground in District 13, somewhere we previously believed had long been destroyed. After the events at the end of the last film, District 12 has been bombed to smithereens, so 13 was the only safe place to survive. Of course, its mayor, Coin (Julianne Moore), and the returning Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have plans for her. They’re going to use Katniss as a way to further inspire revolution.

Katniss isn’t entirely on-board, especially when she sees Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) on the television sets, saying exactly the opposite. But she’s coerced, and then the rest of the film is about her trying to convince the other districts, through a series of propaganda, to fight back against the Capitol. That’s about it. There’s about 45 minutes of story stretched into two hours in Mockingjay — Part 1.

Now, there is at least a small arc to the plot, and it does have a beginning and a conclusion, but the fact of the matter is that this is half of a movie whose content and pacing has been slowed down in order to make you wait another year and spend another $12 in order to view it. There isn’t a lot here, and after you watch it, you find yourself still waiting for the inevitable revolution. Not much of consequence happens in Mockingjay — Part 1, especially when compared to the previous Hunger Games installments.

That doesn’t mean it’s boring. Watching Katniss wander around bombed-out locales or delivering inspirational speeches isn’t going to be dull, especially with how invested you presumably are by this point in the franchise. But it does feel thin, and it’s not likely to bring about the same level of emotions that earlier films. One scene has Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, relegated to a very background role) asking the characters what moments were Katniss’ most inspirational. If audiences are polled with the same question, none of them are going to be from this movie.

Fans hoping for a lot of action will be disappointed. There’s one bombing scene that’s kind of exciting, but that’s about it. A raid happens late in the proceedings, but it’s terribly dull, especially in comparison to how much potential it had. And that’s it. Mostly, we’re talking about revolution, how horrible the government is, and how Peeta must be being controlled, because how could he say things like “a war will result in mutual annihilation,” even though that could be a very likely result?

Because Mockingjay — Part 1 focuses primarily on Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence is front and center. She seemed more awkward this time around. Part of that is intentional — her character isn’t entirely sure how to be a revelatory leader — but even in other scenes, like quiet talks with her close friends, something seemed off. It’s her worst Hunger Games performance, anyway. Everyone else, even those who had primary roles in earlier films, are very much in the supporting cast here. Elizabeth Banks returns for a few scenes, Woody Harrelson hangs around for a bit, Josh Hutcherson appears mostly on TV, and Liam Hemsworth … should stop being in movies. The trio of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and Jeffrey Wright provide reliable “good” cast members, while Donald Sutherland and Stanley Tucci are about the only evil Capitol members we get to see.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 is easily the weakest of the Hunger Games movies, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s got about 45 minutes of plot stretched out to two hours, which means it’s slow-paced and not a whole lot of consequence happens. It’s all building up to the next installment, which means that it’s a must-watch for anyone planning to see how this series ends. It’s full of politically fueled speeches and people looking somber, all while stuck underground waiting for the real action to start. The penultimate Hunger Games suffers from the problems most of these “Part 1″ films have, but that also means that the series’ finale is likely to be great. Here’s hoping.