Manipulating ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’

Director Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” begins much like Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber’s 2004 picture, “The Butterfly Effect.” Its heroine/hero is running from the past.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has a lot to be running from. Memories of her time in both the 74th annual Hunger Games and the third Quarter Quell. Death threats from Panem’s oppresive tyrant, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Stings from tracker jackers and screams from jabberjays. Her post-traumatic stress keeps her up at night.

Still, she claws desperately at a future like a cat chasing after a laser light. She can see the ray of hope in her grasp, but it’s as empty as a hologram.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” — based on the bestselling young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins — picks up where “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” left off. Katniss and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) are rescued by a group of rebels led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her second-in-command, Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

As the film opens, it appears as if Katniss and Finnick have traded one prison for another. They are the rebels’ weapons — lured into a propaganda scheme to stir rebellion throughout the districts. Their loved ones, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutchinson) and Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson), are separated from them — residing in the clutches of the Capitol.

“I wish they were dead,” Finnick soberly tells Katniss. “I wish they were all dead and we were too.”

This sets the tone for director Lawrence’s grim picture. Katniss’ home resembles the aftermath of an earthquake — a mountain of skeletons and debris. Meanwhile, we’re privy to messages from the Capitol: public beheadings throughout the land. Bombings of sick and injured at hospitals. It’s as unsettling as watching a child execute two adult soldiers in broad daylight.

But war forgives extreme actions. While the rebels may be fighting a cruel and unjust dictator, they are like ISIS — hijacking the public channels of communication. Instead of Twitter and YouTube, these rebels breed discontent via outdated TV airwaves. Katniss is seen shooting flaming arrows at Capitol planes. “If we burn, you burn with us,” she says. This precedes a scene where a group of rebels lure a group of Capitol police into the woods in order to bomb them.

Like any war, though, history’s written by its victors.

The Hunger Games’ victors move us. Lawrence with her “performance” as Katniss, the “girl on fire” in the rebels’ propaganda films and Claflin as the sexy Finnick Odair, keeper of Capitol secrets. They’re talented actors, but you have a feeling that they’re being pulled on a leash.

This becomes apparent when Katniss is rehearsing her first propaganda, repeating words the rebels have scripted for her. Katniss is behind a glass, much like she was when she was trying to impress Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) during the 74th Hunger Game. A committee consisting of Coin and Heavensbee watch and examine her words and costume. They discuss her, but they don’t really see the girl behind the glass. All they see is a symbol — a false figurehead that they can manipulate: Katniss Everdeen, the mockingjay.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -Part 1” is directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, based on Suzanne Collins’ book. 

My month in movies theatres

You’ve probably been noticing that I’ve been writing a lot more recently. I was inspired by Sarah Lyall’s piece in the New York Times last month — where she saw 12 movies in 12 different NYC theaters in a span of 48 hours — and decided to try my own version of the social experiment.

My own personal goal: See as many of the 2015 Academy Award-nominated films in different Western New York theaters while spending as little money as possible. With those paramenters in mind, I gave myself a month. Here are the results:

feb 17:10 p.m.: 2015 Oscar-nominated live action shorts at the DIPSON EASTERN HILLS CINEMA 3 (Williamsville, N.Y.)

I’ve always felt at home in indie theaters (Cinemapolis was one of my favorite haunts when I lived in Ithaca, N.Y.) and the Eastern Hills Dipson is one of my favorites. Just off the I-90 East and a few blocks from the Regal Transit Center Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Eastern Hills Dipson has always felt welcoming in its familiarity. Perhaps it’s the comforting pastel-green walls or their array of intelligent and intriguing films, which includes this year’s Oscar-nominated shorts. Or perhaps I enjoy how empty the Eastern Hills Mall usually is, giving me cover in the darkness. It certainly wasn’t empty Sunday night. The slush-filled parking lot was packed with cars and there was even a queue to buy tickets.

With my student ID, $7.50 granted me passage to five foreign films that may made me laugh, cry and think. “Parvaneh” made me feel contemplative; “Butter Lamp” made me feel reflective; “The Phone Call” was sad; “Aya” was perplexing; and “Boogaloo and Graham” made me feel happy and nostalgic. That’s the power of cinema, well-worth the cost.

feb 31:50 p.m.: “Boyhood” at the DIPSON MCKINLEY MALL 6 (Hamburg, N.Y.)

The McKinley Mall Dipson is a little hard to find if you don’t know exactly where to look. It’s located at the McKinley Mall plaza — right off the Mile Strip Road/Blasdell/Orchard Park exit off the I-90 West. That’s the easy part. The theatre isn’t connected to the mall, but located all the way in the back (yes, past the J.C. Penney’s and Sears). Its marquee sign is missing a couple of its letters and its selection is a little old, but this theatre does have a parking lot. It also happens to offer some of the cheapest prices in Western New York. $2 granted me access to Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated time capsule, “Boyhood,” a film that transported me to my childhood and made me re-examine things from an adult’s perspective. Oh, so, this is what parenting sort-of feels like.

feb 7 1:30 p.m.: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” at the NORTH PARK ART CINEMA (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Located on Hertel Avenue just past North Park Street, the gorgeous North Park Art Cinema fits in well with the Buffalo revival. The 1920s-era theatre was just restored last year. The result: a work of art. A red, white, blue and yellow marquee protrudes in front of the building, reminding you of the streets of the theatre district in New York City. Across the street, sits a Spot Coffee and (if you’re lucky) the unmistakable bright green of a Lloyd’s Taco truck. The only downside is that it’s hard to find parking — especially on a Saturday afternoon. I ended up finding parking a block away on one of the side streets and had a lovely walk over the unshoveled sidewalks.

Inside, $5 transported me to Asia, where I learned “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” directed and co-written by Isao Takahata. The theatre itself was fit for a princess. It’s elegant with red walls, high ceilings, and heavy wooden doors. The centerpiece, though, is its celestial domed ceiling — beautifully painted with horses, carriages and angels. In my jeans, sweatshirt and winter coat, I felt underdressed.

feb 1012:35 p.m.: “Birdman” at the REGAL TRANSIT CENTER STADIUM & IMAX (Williamsville, N.Y.)

This is where I went for midnight premieres of “The Hobbit,” “Skyfall,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Ender’s Game,” and other big blockbusters. You can get lost in new dimensions when staring at the Regal Transit’s incredibly large IMAX screen. It’s so big that it’s hard to look at the full picture without sitting in the back rows.

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

The theatre itself is very modern, resembling a space ship. The 3D IMAX theatre towers over the red Regal marquee. It’s lobby is bathed in neon lines: red, yellow, purple. There’s even an air hockey table in the corner. This is the type of place I think of when I picture a stereotypical movie theatre.

So it was interesting to experience theatre at the movies. “Birdman,” after all, is a movie about a play, and director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu transcends definitions. While movies can be pricey these days (it’s close to $20 bucks for an IMAX screening), they’re still much cheaper than a Broadway ticket. Yet Michael Keaton’s phenomenal in “Birdman,” displaying himself nakedly (both literally and figuratively) on the stage. My cost to see his performance: $5.

feb167:40 p.m.: “Still Alice” at the DIPSON AMHERST THEATRE (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Photo Credit Qina Liu

Photo Credit Qina Liu

The Amherst Dipson sits across from UB South campus next to a McDonald’s (here, student tickets cost $7.50). It’s a cozy theatre that has a selection of Tazo tea at their snack stand. You can just sink into their plushy lounge seats in their lobby, staring at the beautiful painted mural on their wall. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplain greet you when you walk in. Their likeness emerge from a painted film strip and projector. Meanwhile, their portraits hang in the bathrooms. Marlon Brando leans against a tree. A motorcycle is about a foot away. James Dean is staring off into space with the collar of his peacoat flipped up. “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today,” the quote reads below him.  That’s how Julianne Moore’s character in “Still Alice” lived. She desperately tried to hold onto her dreams as her memories were disappearing to Alzheimers:

“I am not suffering,” she says in the film. “I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once. So, ‘live in the moment’ I tell myself. It’s really all I can do, live in the moment. And not beat myself up too much… and not beat myself up too much for mastering the art of losing.”

feb1711:55 p.m.: “Selma” at the REGAL ELMWOOD CENTER 16 (Buffalo, N.Y.)

The Elmwood Regal looks exactly the same as the Transit Regal. The only thing they’re missing is the Transit’s big IMAX tower (but they do offer 3D screenings). Of course, there’s nothing like Oscar season to drive up box office movie sales. “Selma” ticket sales rose 200 percent after they got the Oscar nomination. There was a line when I went to buy my ticket ($5). The people in front of me braved the cold Buffalo weather to go see “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” But the spacious theatre for “Selma” was also packed. I wondered what they thought as they watched the on-screen battle between David Oyelowo’s MLK and Tom Wilkinson’s LJB. Was this how they remembered this part of history? How many of them lived through the the march from Selma to Washington and saw the massacre on their black and white TV screens firsthand? While “Selma” ended with the inevitable signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight felt unfinished.

feb194 p.m.: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” at the FOUR SEASONS CINEMA (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)

Although the Four Seasons Cinema in Niagara Falls, N.Y., sounds like a hotel, it is a museum, filled with the history of classic Hollywood. A Big Lots and other factory stores hide it from view, but you can see remnants of its former glory. Housing six theaters, the cinema’s halls are like Hollywood’s walk of stars. The oak walls are adorned with iconic posters of old-time movies and its stars: Orson Welles “Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz,” the Marx brothers in “Duck Soup,” Humphrey Bogart in “Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”; Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind”; and Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil. Next to them rest black and white portraits of Shirley Temple, Aubrey Hepburn as well as a shrine dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. This is part of its charm. The theatre may look a little old and its floor tiles may yellow with age, but these stars will be stay forever young on the silver screen. Perhaps someday, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” franchise will join them.

Four Seasons Cinema

Photo Credit Qina Liu

9 p.m.: “Whiplash” at the AURORA THEATRE (East Aurora, N.Y.)

Aurora Theatre

Photo Credit Qina Liu

Against the -6°F Buffalo temperatures (which froze Niagara Falls), the Aurora Theatre’s marquee sign was a bright blinking beacon — like a lighthouse calling all who were lost. Tickets here cost $8 (they’re slightly cheaper for seniors) and with one, you can enter this 1925-era theatre.

The theatre’s gorgeous, with heavy mahogany doors and two indoor concession stands. There’s one stage with a theatre that can seat 650 people.

What we got was a concert, conducted by director Damien Chazelle. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller were the main artists, performing an 107-minute duet called “Whiplash.” There were no intermissions within this concert, but when the music finally stopped, they got a standing ovation.

feb26

4 p.m.: “McFarland, USA” at the AMC MAPLE RIDGE 8 (Amherst, N.Y.)

I’m not used to being asked if I have a preference for where I want to sit when buying my movie ticket ($5.99), but that’s what makes the local AMC unique. This theatre also contains red plushy recliner loveseats, which makes you feel like you’re at home. Of course, I was far from home. “McFarland, USA” director Niki Caro takes you to the poor mostly-Hispanic California town of McFarland, daring us to dream bigger.

7:30 p.m.: “Wild” at the MOVIELAND 8 THEATRES (Cheektowaga, N.Y.)

The projectors at the Movieland 8 theatre don’t always work. (Full disclosure, I tried to see “The Wolf of Wall Street” here last year and the film quit without getting past the first 20 minutes. “Unbroken” also wasn’t working when I stopped here to see it earlier this month.) But despite that and the older movie selection, the movie prices here are cheap (ranging from $2-$4). It’s one of the reasons I come here. Thursday night, I got lost in the deserts and woods with Reese Witherspoon, who starred as author Cheryl Strayed in the memoir-to-movie “Wild.” She reminded me of how empowering it can be to be out on your own — whether it’s to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or to see 14 movies in theatres within a month.

‘Red Rising’: building a legend

Perhaps “South Park” perpetuated the myth that “gingers have no souls.” Or perhaps the stereotype’s actually came from Biblical times. Whatever the case, 16-year-old Darrow of the Lambda clan is a ginger. Or, as society calls him, a “Red.”

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

“Red Rising”
By Pierce Brown
416 pp. Random House. $15.96.
2014.

In Pierce Brown’s post-apocalyptic debut fantasy/sci-fi novel, “Red Rising” — which takes place more than 700 years after man first toiled on Mars, Colors are everything. As a Red, Darrow’s lower than the fiery-red dirt he spends his day mining under the city of Mars. As a Red, he’s the proletariat, the simple-minded working class, “the backs in which all the other Colors are built on.” But his Hell is eased by smartly disguised Edward Bernays-style propaganda.

“They told us we were man’s only hope,” said Darrow. “That Earth was overcrowded, that all the pain, all the sacrifice, was for mankind. Sacrifice is good. Obedience the highest virtue….”

They, of course, are Hitler’s visions of a superior master race. The Aryan Golds are Darrow’s oppressors, ruled by ArchGovernor Nero au Augustus. The Golds are born faster, stronger, smarter, crueler, bigger and more beautiful — commanding the fleets and highest offices of political power. They are the Machiavellian gods of this futuristic dystopia — who reward and punish (but mostly punish). That’s what they did to Darrow’s father and his wife, Eo.

But, as history has told us again and again, people aren’t happy with suppression. Look at the French and American Revolutions. The Civil Wars. Hundreds and thousands of men have died (and still do) for their ideals.

Brown (who would be a servant in the social hierarchy he created) weaves together a tale of legend, drawing heavily from Greek and Roman myths. The Red clans are letters from the Greek alphabet. The Golds are named after characters from Shakespeare plays: Cassius (“Julius Caesar”), Julian (Julius, “Julius Ceasar”), Antonia (Antonio, “The Merchant of Venice”), and Titus (“Titus Andronicus”).

Darrow’s odyssey teaches him about love and revenge, peace and war. Darrow’s Helen was stolen from him. So Darrow (which come from Old English rather than Latin origins meaning spear) is transformed into a weapon: a Trojan horse infiltrating the Gold empire.

“Red Rising” is reminiscent of many other stories: Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and Glen A. Larson’s “Battlestar Galactica,” just to name a few. But these stories, like the Greek and Roman myths, are just as important as the works of Homer and Virgil, Plato and Aristotle. Someday, we might not remember where these myths originated from, but rather the stories that kept them alive.

“Red Rising” is the first book of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. Its sequel, “Golden Son,” was released January 6, 2015. 

Hurray for the Riff Raff: singing against the grain

“Like an old sad song/ you heard it all before,” sings 28-year-old Bronx native Alynda Lee Segarra. That’s certainly true about Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s single “The Body Electric.”

The song’s beautifully simple repeating melody reinforces it’s haunting lyrics — allusions to the murder of 14-year-old African American Delia Green.

We’ve heard this sad song sung as ballads from Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan; however, Hurray for the Riff Raff retelling (like Maurice Ogden’s famous poem “The Hangman”) questions the injustice and encourages political discourse.

Perhaps that’s what NPR‘s Ann Powers gravitated toward when she declared Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “The Body Electric” as the “political folk song of the year.” 

The song certainly has a hook. “Said you’re gonna shoot me down/ put my body in the river,” Segarra sings over the strumming of a guitar. The mysterious pronouns immediately places us into the murder-mystery (which might also explain the success of “This American Life’s” immensely popular podcast, “Serial”).

Or perhaps protests just fire us up. The Mike Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions brought millions to the streets all across America. Meanwhile, “The Hanging Tree,” the political rebellion song penned by Suzanne Collins, scored by The Lumineers’ Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz, and sung by Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” movie, was played more than 2 million times and downloaded more than 200,000 times within the first full week of its release. 

Segarra and her New Orleans-based band does what the narrator of “The Hangman” failed to do. Her voice cries out against the atrocities — from the murder of Delia Green to the death of Trayvon Martin. The only questions is: will you do the same?

You can donate to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s The Body Electric Fund here: http://bit.ly/thebodyelectricfund

Money collected will be donated to The Trayvon Martin Foundation, the Third Wave Fund and other charities. 

‘Snowpiercer’: Bong Joon-ho’s Pandora’s box

Hope is hard to find when you’re trapped in a cold iron box — surrounded by sickness, violence and 1,000 lean starving bodies with no room to move. But hope is there — buried in Pandora’s box.

It’s the fire in Curtis’ (Chris Evans) eyes as he patiently plans for rebellion. It’s the rumble in Edgar’s (Jamie Bell) belly as he hungers for steak. It’s the desperation in Tanya’s (Octavia Spencer) voice as she searches for her son, Timmy (Marcanthonee Reis). And it’s the feeling in our gut as we watch Bong Joon-ho’s two-hour dystopian film, “Snowpiercer.”

Inspired by Benjamin Legrand, Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” “Snowpiercer” takes place in 2031 — 17 years after man’s remedy for global warming froze the earth. Humanity survives on Wilford’s (Ed Harris) sacred ark — a transcontinental train seated by social class. At its head is Wilford, the train’s divine engineer, and Wilfred’s mouthpiece Mason (played by the excellent Tilda Swinton). It’s caboose contains the dirty and destitute, yearning for a better life.

Captain America’s spearheading this revolution, trading his red, white and blue titanium shield for an inconspicuous wool hat. Evans’ almost unrecognizable in the hat and dark beard and you quickly forget his more popular on-screen persona. By the time he takes off his hat, revealing short, dark hair, he’s Curtis, the mysteriously reluctant leader in this fictional uprising. That’s a testament to the smart costume design by Catherine George and the work of the hair and make-up team (Linda Eisenhamerova, Chris Lyons, Gabriela Polakova, Paula Price, Matthew Smith, Bobo Sobotka and Jeremy Woodhead).

Under their direction (and Swinton’s acting, of course), the androgynous Swinton resembles a cross between “The Hunger Games'” Effie Trinket and “Harry Potter’s” deranged temporary headmaster Dolores Umbridge.

“Would you wear a shoe on your head?” says Mason. “I am the head. You are the shoe… Know your place.”

As Mason compares a shoe to life on Wilfred’s train, she holds a shoe in her hand and slowly twists it — as if its were a moving locomotive and she, the conductor.

Like his friend Park Chan-wook’s (“Stoker,” “Oldboy”) works, Bong’s “Snowpiercer” is visually striking. Bong even draws upon Park’s work. In one scene, Evans fights his way through a train compartment full of butch men in ski masks. It’s reminiscent to a scene from “Oldboy” (2003) — when the film’s hero, Oh Dae-su, fights through an corridor of men.

Written by Bong and Kelly Masterson, “Snowpiercer” (which is the Korean director’s first English language film) echoes the themes of Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Order is the code to survival — even if the fruit of freedom tastes sweeter. Nonetheless, in the grimmest of tales, a glimmer of hope resides.

“Snowpiercer” was directed by Bong Joon-ho and written by Bong and Kelly Masterson.

Magnificent ‘Maleficent’

Fractured fairy tales often recycle the same tropes (look at “Frozen” or “Jack the Giant Slayer”), but Robert Stromberg’s “Maleficent” is a beautiful, new rendition of an age-old story.

Written by Linda Woolverton (who worked on half a dozen Disney movies including “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Alice In Wonderland”), “Maleficent” does with “Sleeping Beauty” what Gregory Maguire did with “The Wizard of Oz.” Woolverton re-imagines the story from the villain’s perspective.

Maleficent (played by Isobelle Molloy, Ella Purnell and the magnificent Angelina Jolie) is a good, peaceful fairy, who guards and protects the magical land of Moors. She falls in love with a human boy (Michael Higgins and Jackson Bews) who becomes a greedy man (Sharlto Copley) that rules the human kingdom.

King Stefan rapes Maleficent to earn his title. And thus, Maleficent becomes Charles Dickens’ Miss. Havisham from “Great Expectations” — the jilted old woman in her wedding dress. Her “Estella” on men is her magic. So she curses Stefan’s only daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), to an endless sleep upon her 16th birthday.

Stromberg — an Academy Award winning visual effects artist whose credits include  “The Hunger Games,“Life of Pi”, “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland” — makes a stunning directorial debut with “Maleficent.” The scenes in the Moors are heavenly — full of vibrant colors and creatures. He (along with more than 500 visual effects artists) shows off Jolie’s high cheekbones, piercing eyes and plump lips.

Jolie, herself, is radiant in this role — vengeful and glowing with wicked glee as she gifts Princess Aurora. But this Maleficent is also forgiving and fierce; sweet and savage; motherly and mischievous. She saves a raven whom she turns into a man (Sam Riley). And she’s not too different from Khaleesi from George R.R. Martin’s epic “Game of Thrones” saga.

Though Maleficent’s certainly ethereal, she’s more humane than her human counterparts. Copley’s character longs for a seat on the Iron Throne; his obsession with the crown rivals those playing in the “Game of Thrones.” All would be well, of course, if he’d give Maleficent her dragons.

“Maleficent” was directed by Robert Stromberg and written by Linda Woolverton. The movies based on Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” Charles Perrault’s “La Belle au bois dormant” and Jacob and Wilheim Grimm’s “La Briar Rose.”

Food for thought: commercializing ‘The Hunger Games’

I saw the 74th Hunger Games tributes on victory tour more than a year and a half ago.

The context: I was one of the 400 Capitol fans camped outside Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre, awaiting tickets into the black carpet event and premiere screening of gamemaker Gary Ross’ much-anticipated “Hunger Games.”

This was my view of “The Hunger Games” black carpet premiere on March 12, 2012. Photos taken by Qina Liu.

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Like the people watching the 74th annual hunger games — a gladiator-style/survivor tournament where two dozen children fight to the death — on television in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels, I was incredibly moved by 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from district 12, a poor mining town near the outskirts of Panem.

But most of all, I appreciated Collins’ critique of reality and how that played out with the release of each movie.

For those not familiar with the trilogy, “The Hunger Games” echoes the lessons of George Orwell and “ad man” Edward Bernays. Like history has shown us again and again, the wealthy elite few control the uneducated masses. Whereas Orwell (and Machiavelli) showed us how this was done through fear, Bernays showed us how it’s possible to “engineer consent” through love and want. (i.e. The star-crossed lover storyline between district 12 tributes Katniss and Peeta is the sugar that makes Collins’ didactic messages easier to swallow.)

The tragic televised deaths of children serve as a fearful reminder of the government’s control. But they’re also a distraction from society’s problems: the games serve as entertainment, the tributes as celebrities.

“Your job is to be a distraction,” someone tells Katniss Everdeen, the bow-and-arrow-wielding heroine of the franchise, in the second movie.

And you can’t escape “The Hunger Games” universe or its commercialization.

Every TV network and late night talk show host covering “The Hunger Games” premiere had their own Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) or Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) — decked out in designer outfits, echoing Effie’s favorite motto (“Let the games be ever in your favor”) or Caesar’s conversational interview style.

“Team Peeta or Team Gale?” said every reporter, asking which of Katniss’ lovers the fans adored more.

Meanwhile, People Magazine runs glossy pictures and stories of each tribute (and the actor playing him or her). Hot Topic hangs displays of Hunger Game T-shirts and posters; Covergirl has a new Hunger Games-inspired makeup line.

Perhaps most telling is a scene in Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (released in theaters Nov. 22).

Panem President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) is sitting with his granddaughter, who has her hair pulled back into a Katniss-style braid (much like most of the female audience members watching the movie premiere in theaters).

“When did you start wearing it like that?” Snow asks.

“Everyone wears it like that, Grandpa,” she answers.

This emulation isn’t necessarily bad. After all, imagine where the world would be if there were more reluctant revolutionary heroes like Katniss Everdeen.

But “The Hunger Games” are a distraction from some of the world’s bigger problems. Whereas almost one in four people in the U.S. didn’t have enough money to buy food, the first book-turned-movie opened with a record-breaking $155 million in U.S. box offices; the second film, “Catching Fire,” made $161 million during opening weekend, promising to be one of the highest grossing films this November.

And how much food can you buy for $161 million?

That’s 273.7 million pounds of bananas, 25.76 million pounds of coffee, 37.03 million Big Macs, 225.4 million pounds of rice, 249.55 million pounds of potatoes, 48.3 million pounds of ground beef, 1.0948 billion eggs or 128.8 million cans of beers in the U.S..

Think of that the next time you see a Mockingjay pin.