The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

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This slow-burning prequel tells the origin story of Coriolanus Snow, the future president of Panem. The 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) — future president of Panem, eventual tormentor of Katniss Everdeen — begins “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” with his stomach growling. This slow-burning prequel by the franchise’s returning director Francis Lawrence rewinds six and a half decades in the life of the despot (played in the other films by Donald Sutherland) to find young Snow tinkering with the 10th Hunger Games, a rinky-dink massacre hosted by a weatherman (Jason Schwartzman). (Katniss would suffer the 74th.) Only its designer (Viola Davis) sees the potential in developing a Grand Guignol. Aggrieved that the outer districts bombed his hometown and obliterated his family’s wealth, Snow is hungry and he’s playing two strategic games. First, he must convince his snobbish schoolmates that he belongs among the Capitol’s well-fed elites. Second, he must ace his final project: Boost the blood bath’s ratings by coaching a sacrificial tribute into a telegenic star. As class assignments go, it’s a candy bar fund-raiser combined with caretaking a hard-boiled egg.

Fortunately, Snow is assigned a stunner named Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), the only girl in the coal-mining District 12 who wears mascara. Better still, upon being selected for death, Lucy Gray belts a bitter shanty. Surprise! This is (moderately) a musical. Once we stop snickering, things improve. We even enjoy the later numbers in which Zegler, launched into fame as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” downshifts her Broadway pipes into a reedy, expressive Dolly Parton twang.

Genres:Action, Adventure, Drama
Director:Francis Lawrence
Cast:Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis

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