Tag Archive: Jennifer Lawrence


This year’s already seen the release of three major superhero films and it’s hard not to get burnt out on their familiar tricks. But the release of the year’s fourth big budget superhero movie – X-Men: Apocalypse – proves that the genre still has some life in it. The X-Men franchise has always been a step above most other comic book franchises and that’s mostly because of their choice in cast and directors. This may not be the best film in the franchise (that title still belongs to 2014’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past) but this is still a great film filled with awesome visuals, great characters and memorable action. It’s easily the year’s best blockbuster so far and the best superhero movie to come along since its predecessor.

Thousands of years ago, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rose to power as the world’s first mutant. He had the ability to transfer into different bodies whenever he wanted and this allowed him to absorb numerous powers from other mutants. But he was eventually buried at the base of a great pyramid and he stayed that way until 1983. When he once again awakens, he sets out to purge the world of any non-mutants by recruiting four followers that he imbues with great power: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As Apocalypse begins to cause mayhem and destruction around the world, it’s going to take Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and a bunch of younger heroes to stop him.

It’s a fairly simple story of good versus evil and a nice change of pace from the complex themes of other entries in the franchise. A lot of the film relies on the portrayal of the villain and Apocalypse is one of the most memorable supervillains to come along in quite some time. Although he may be unrecognizable in the role, Isaac’s performance is perfectly menacing and powerful, while the design of the character is memorable and kind of frightening. The fact that they achieved this look through makeup and avoided using CGI or motion capture adds such a deal of weight to the character. He really feels like a legitimate part of the X-Men world and this focus on practical effects is what makes Apocalypse so much more intimidating than other powerful supervillains that are created using digital effects (Marvel’s Thanos comes to mind). Although his character and motivations are somewhat underdeveloped, he’s still a villain that commands the screen.

Praise then must go to director Bryan Singer, who continues to prove that his entries are easily the best in this franchise. It’s actually pretty crazy that he’s able to balance so many different characters, all of whom are given their moments to shine. The story and structure is admittedly a little all over the place, but it never feels confusing or bloated, even with a nearly two and a half hour runtime. The X-Men films simply feel more grand and cinematic than the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the majority of this is in the hands of the director. It also doesn’t hurt things that Apocalypse is a really dark film, more so than most people would be expecting. Children are killed, men get their heads lopped off by Apocalypse and, in one stunning sequence, Magneto even tears apart Auschwitz in a fit of rage. It’s safe to say that you may want to think twice before bringing your kids to this one.

Another reason why this movie might not interest children is its general lack of action. Some fanboys might be disappointed by this, but I found the focus on characters and story, rather than action and explosions, to be refreshing. But the action that is here is still very well done and much more memorable than in any other superhero film so far this year. The final extended action sequence is commendable in how all of the characters are able to work together and really feel like a team. Singer’s able to make the action easy to follow and the final thirty minutes of this film are much better than the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War that everyone seemed to be raving about. But the best action in the movie once again comes from Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who uses his speed to rescue an entire school from an explosion. Set to the tune of “Sweet Dream” by Eurythmics, it’s funny, visually interesting and a heck of a lot of fun. The scene may be a retread of his standout sequence in Days of Future Past, but it’s a retread that I had a blast with.

This franchise has always featured a great cast and Apocalypse is no exception. McAvoy continues to grow into the role of Professor X, delivering a performance that fits right alongside Patrick Stewart’s, while never feeling like a simple impression. Fassbender’s Magneto is put through the emotional ringer in this thing and he delivers what might be his best performance in the trilogy as a result. Lawrence once again does a fine job with the role of Mystique, but her portrayal is nowhere near as good as Rebecca Romijn’s in the original trilogy. Newcomers to the team include Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Out of the newcomers, Smit-McPhee is probably the best, although there’s something to be said about Turner’s ability to portray such a complex character.

Whereas the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes superhero movies, the X-Men franchise features films that just happen to be about superheroes. They’re superior in almost every way including visuals, story, score, performances and direction. Singer has great control over the material and his direction is so strong that it will make you wish he could direct every superhero film from now into the foreseeable future. As a fan of superheroes, these last couple years had me losing faith that this genre could wow me again. But, luckily, X-Men: Apocalypse is the superhero movie we’ve been waiting for.

X-Men: Apocalypse receives 3.5/4

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Movies are certainly a business, but they’re also an art form. It’s understandable that the people behind them want to make money, but they also shouldn’t let their corporate greed get in the way of the film’s quality. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was split into two parts, most people thought that it was an understandable decision. With the book clocking in at over 700 pages, this decision seemed to be made because there was simply too much content to pack into a single movie. But now movie studios have become savvy to this idea and lately the decision to split a final installment into two parts seems to occur just so they can make twice as much money. The final installment in The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, isn’t even the longest novel out of the three. After having watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, it’s clear that the decision to split this franchise finale into two parts was a poor one. Not only are moviegoers only getting half of a movie, but the half of a movie that they get is slow, boring and incredibly uneventful.

Following the events of Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been picked up by members of the rebellion and brought into District 13’s underground bunker. While there, she reconnects with old friends including Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Finnick (Sam Claflin). She also meets President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), the head of the rebellion. With the help of Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), they convince Katniss to become the face of the rebellion. They send her out onto the battlefield and film her for a propaganda video. But Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is being held in the Capitol by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Katniss doesn’t want to do anything until they’re able to rescue him.

I realize that the summary that I just wrote feels very slim, but that’s literally all that happens in the movie. This is only the first act of a three act story and it’s been stretched out into a 2 hour film. Where the film begins and where it ends is essentially the same place, with only a few minor differences. If Mockingjay had been made into one film instead of two, the events that occur in this film would have occupied the first 30-45 minutes. This is the first Hunger Games film without any appearance of the actual Hunger Games and there’s hardly any action to substitute for it. This is a film that’s all about setup. While this could have been interesting, the political strategizing that’s going on here is so basic that it fails to garner any interest. It also doesn’t help that the majority of the runtime takes place in an underground bunker that’s bland and uninteresting to look at.

How long will studios be able to get away with this? We never used to see films get split into two parts, but now it seems like every major blockbuster is using this idea. It makes sense from a business standpoint, but from a creativity standpoint, it’s shallow and ultimately pointless. Maybe it’s time that moviegoers start a rebellion, much like the one that we see in Mockingjay – Part 1. We could strategize in an underground lair, before we march up to the bigwigs in Hollywood and force them to end this nonsense. We’re getting tricked into buying two tickets for a single movie and we won’t stand for it any longer. Who could we have as our Mockingjay symbol? Jennifer Lawrence probably wouldn’t do it, because I’m assuming that she’s making twice as much money from these movies as well. Maybe someone from the Harry Potter franchise could join our cause. That series is the only one to do a two-part finale well, so maybe they’re just as outraged at what The Hunger Games, Twilight and Divergent are doing. I certainly wouldn’t mind having Emma Watson as our Mockingjay symbol.

Even though this film is adequately directed by Francis Lawrence and features some fine performance (Julianne Moore is a welcome addition to the cast), there’s just nothing to get excited about. In fact, the only great part of the movie is the Lorde song that plays over the end credits. The song , entitled “Yellow Flicker Beat”, was written by Lorde and Joel Little and it perfectly captures the tone of the Hunger Games franchise. It starts off slow and quiet before turning into a kicking pop song that’s more exciting than anything in the film. Lorde is the best pop star working today; she’s just 18 years old, has only released one album and she’s already put veteran stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to shame. She has such a unique voice and her songs never feel like they’re trying to appeal to the masses. Just look at a song like “Royals”, which goes against the fame and fortune that most pop songs are built upon. Lorde curated the official soundtrack to go along with Mockingjay – Part 1 and it’s good to see that the song she provided  is just as good as anything on her debut album, Pure Heroine.

It may seem like I’m getting off topic here, but that’s happening for a reason. There’s simply not a lot to discuss with this film. I can only talk about how uneventful it is for so long before I begin to sound repetitive. It feels like the filmmakers are treading water, stretching a film out even when they know that they shouldn’t. It’s just a shame that the executives in charge of splitting the movie will still get away with it. The film is bound to make millions upon millions of dollars and Part 2 will probably make even more money. So that’s why I’m calling for a revolution. Let’s recruit Emma Watson, organize our members and march to Hollywood so we can tell these producers what we really think of their greedy decisions. Mockingjay – Part 1 is the first bad film in the franchise and it’s all because somebody wanted to sell twice as many tickets.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 receives 2/4

ImageIn less than 15 years, the X-Men franchise has produced a grand total of seven films, which is nothing short of an impressive feat. These films have ranged from quite good (X-Men: First Class) to downright awful (X-Men: The Last Stand), but the franchise failed to have a truly great entry until now. X-Men: Days of Future Past takes the long running superhero franchise to new heights with a dark storyline, fantastic action, plenty of emotion and strong performances from a cast that we have grown to love. This is the X-Men movie that we’ve been waiting for.

Beginning in the future, sometime after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, mutants are being wiped out by an army of robots known as The Sentinels. Not only are these Sentinels targeting mutants, but they are also targeting humans who have helped mutants or may give birth to mutants in the future. Because of their ability to adapt to changing conditions, these enemies are far too powerful for mutants to defeat. In order to prevent this future from ever happening Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973. They tell Wolverine to find their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the creator of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an event that ultimately triggers the dystopian future that they currently inhabit.

Most time travel movies are bound to have plot holes and continuity errors when you really stop to think about the plot. Don’t dwell on this aspect too much; it’s inevitable. The story by Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman may be complicated, but screenwriter Kinberg pieces it together with minimal fallout. The opening fifteen minutes rely heavily on exposition to set up the plot, but this is mostly forgivable because time travel can be a pain to wrap one’s mind around. Once everything is set up and Wolverine travels back to the past, confusion is practically non-existent and only a few distracting time travel questions arise throughout the course of the film.

Returning to direct his first X-Men film since 2003’s X2, Bryan Singer successfully blends both the cast from the original series with the cast from X-Men: First Class, without the film feeling convoluted. The film could have easily felt like it was trying to throw in too many characters, but Singer negates this problem by spending ample time exploring each character and their current state before moving onto the action. Several mutants who were featured prominently in First Class are notably absent here and while their exclusion was almost certainly done to prevent the film from feeling overloaded, their absence is felt and the quick explanation as to why they are gone feels disappointing.

This isn’t a film of nonstop action, but a film of characters and story. The action sequences never feel forced, feeling instead like a natural continuation of the story, making them all the more satisfying. Singer knows that the most important aspect of action sequences is to fill them with characters that we care about, which makes them all the more engaging. Due to their impressive size and strength, every scene involving the Sentinels is extremely intense and the visual effects that make them come to life are quite convincing. A prison break sequence is one of the film’s highlights, effectively mixing action and humor into a very enjoyable scene. Finally, the film’s climactic moments are a sight to behold, mixing together multiple threats, characters and timelines into a battle that has to be seen to be believed.

Returning for a seventh time as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman continues to be great in the role. Wolverine’s sense of humor is always intact and a late scene showcases Wolverine at his most emotional and Jackman genuinely pulls it off. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to excel as the young Professor Xavier and Magneto. The two of them have great chemistry together, making every scene of theirs fascinating. Having much more to do this time around than in First Class, Jennifer Lawrence successfully turns Mystique into the sexy warrior that she was in the original trilogy. Because he is a man who threatens with words and ideas, Peter Dinklage steals practically every scene that he is in as Bolivar Trask. The returning cast from the original trilogy all do a fine job in their future scenes, although several new characters who are introduced in the future timeline aren’t given any development beyond their unique abilities.

With an incredibly emotional third act that showcases an enthralling and touching score by John Ottman, X-Men: Days of Future Past could serve as a fitting finale to the long running franchise. While this isn’t the case (X-Men: Apocalypse is already scheduled for a 2016 release date), it speaks to the effectiveness of this film. Days of Future Past has the characters, action, humor and sense of fun that combine to create one of the best superhero films in years.

X-Men: Days of Future Past receives 3.5/4

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The Academy Awards are this Sunday night and they are bound to bring their share of joys and disappointments. To combat the disappointment that I feel when my favorites don’t win, I decided to hand out my own awards to the films that I believe are most worthy. Here you will find my favorites of 2013 in categories ranging from Best Actor to Best Original Song. Agree with my choices? What categories would you do differently? Let me know in the comments below!

If you are interested in viewing my top ten films of 2013, click here

 

Best Director

Ethan Coen & Joel Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis

Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

Abdellatif Kechiche – Blue is the Warmest Color

Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

 

Best Actor

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio- The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips

Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station

 

Best Actress (TIE)

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Adèle Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Color

Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha

Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks

 

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

James Franco – Spring Breakers

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

 

Best Supporting Actress

Scarlett Johansson – Her

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Léa Seydoux – Blue is the Warmest Color

Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station

 

Best Original Screenplay

American Hustle – David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen

Her – Spike Jonze

Inside Llewyn Davis – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Nebraska – Bob Nelson

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years a Slave – John Ridley

Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

Blue is the Warmest Color – Abdellatif Kechiche

Captain Phillips – Billy Ray

The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter

 

Best Cinematography

Gravity

12 Years a Slave

Prisoners

Spring Breakers

Inside Llewyn Davis

 

Best Art Direction

12 Years a Slave

Gravity

The Great Gatsby

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Her

 

Best Visual Effects

Star Trek Into Darkness

Elysium

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Pacific Rim

Gravity

 

Best Sound

Gravity

All is Lost

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Captain Phillips

12 Years a Slave

 

Best Original Score

Gravity

12 Years a Slave

Frozen

Saving Mr. Banks

Her

 

Best Original Song

Atlas – Hunger Games

I see Fire – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Let it Go – Frozen

Ordinary Love – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Please Mr. Kennedy – Inside Llewyn Davis

 

Best Animated Film

Despicable Me 2

Frozen

Monsters University

 

Best Editing

12 Years a Slave

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Inside Llewyn Davis

Prisoners

ImageDirector David O. Russell brings a sense of undeniable fun to the holiday movie-going season with American Hustle, a film that is (sort-of) based on the FBI ABSCAM case of the 1970s. Viewers looking for a serious, by-the-numbers historical drama should look elsewhere; this film is less about the story and more about Russell and the incredible cast that he has assembled. Despite a few minor hiccups in the narrative, the rest of the film is pure, unadulterated cinematic ecstasy.

Christian Bale stars as Irving Rosenfeld, a suave and intelligent con artist. At a party, he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and the two immediately fall head over heels in love with each other. Rosenfeld eventually tells her how he makes a living and, to his delight, she wants in. Prosser adopts an English accent to convince people that she has Royal banking connections and the two of them work together, taking money from gullible investors. Everything is fine, until they are busted by a group of FBI agents led by Richard DiMasso (Bradley Cooper). But, luckily, DiMasso gives them a deal: he will grant them immunity if they go undercover and help bring down four major cases. The cases eventually lead them to a group of corrupt politicians, led by Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). All seems to be going well, until Rosenfeld’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence) comes in and threatens to spoil the entire operation.

Having rewritten the script that was originally penned by Eric Warren Singer, Russell gives a tongue-in-cheek treatment to what could have otherwise been an overly serious film. His past two films (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) were both Oscar nominated, but Hustle is easily his best work thus far. He’s a director, working at the top of his game, who refuses to hold anything back. His constant use of tracking shots gives the film a heightened sense of energy. This is a film that greatly benefits from the time period that it takes place in. Yes, there’s even a disco scene.

But the aspect of this film that is going to really get people talking is the cast. Christian Bale has, yet again, transformed himself to suit his performance. Even with a large gut and a laughably bad comb over, Bale remains quite the charmer and he gives us a reason to sympathize with a scumbag criminal. Amy Adams gives one of her fiercest and most unrestrained performances to date as Sydney Prosser. Prosser is a New Mexico native who fakes an English accent for the majority of the film and Adams is so convincing in the role that viewers will have to remind themselves that her character is not actually from Great Britain. Bradley Cooper is hilarious as estranged FBI agent Richard DiMasso and Jeremy Renner wonderfully portrays Mayor Carmine Polito as a good guy who has simply gotten mixed up in something bigger than he is. Despite all of these great performances, it is ultimately Jennifer Lawrence who ends up stealing the show. As Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Lawrence adopts a fierce east coast accent and completely plays against type. She’s a train wreck of a character who can barely take care of herself, let alone her young son. Lawrence is screamingly funny in the part, chewing up every scene she is given, but never going too far over the top.

The film takes a little while to fully hit its stride and there are a few plot points in the film’s third act that feel overly convenient, but the story is not what is on display here. David O. Russell is asking viewers to take a trip back to the 70s and enjoy the party. The goofy hairstyles and the use of slow motion shots should feel cheesy, but, for some reason, everything works. With a smart sense of humor and a catchy soundtrack of classic 70s tunes, American Hustle is one party that viewers do not want to miss out on.

American Hustle receives 3.5/4

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I recently rewatched the original Hunger Games to prepare for this review and I realized that it isn’t quite as strong as I remember it being. Sure, it’s well directed and it makes good use of its large budget, but there were simply too many problems with the film’s narrative. Because of this, I was worried that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire would not live up to the massive hype that the public has bestowed upon it but, luckily, it is a huge improvement over the original film. Vastly greater in terms of story, scope and sheer ideas, this film proves to everyone what all of the fuss has been about regarding this young adult franchise.

Having cheated the system, the two winners of the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are forced to go on a victory tour of all twelve districts. Before the tour begins, Katniss is visited by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who informs her that she must continue her romance with Peeta, so that their act of defiance appears to have been done out of love and not out of rebellion. For a brief moment, Katniss and her family appear to be safe. But with the 75th annual Hunger Games approaching, no one is safe, not even previous Hunger Games victors.

It’s a given that Catching Fire was bound to make a boatload of money regardless of the film’s quality, so it is even more admirable that this second feature in the insanely popular trilogy has been treated with the utmost care. Director Francis Lawrence is able to inject the film with an excitement that the previous installment simply didn’t have enough of. The stakes are higher and things get exciting much, much faster. Credit must also go to series author Suzanne Collins and screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt for expanding upon the universe set up in the original film with much more adult themes and concepts.

One of the most obvious improvements in this installment is the development of the characters in the Hunger Games themselves. In the first film, other than Katniss, Peeta and Rue, none of the contestants in the Games were given any depth of character. They were simply bland caricatures, used to advance the plot from point A to point B. In Catching Fire, while not all 24 contestants are able to be developed, a good majority are at least given some type of characterization. Many of these new characters are among the most interesting of the entire series with Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Johanna (Jena Malone) being among the clear standouts. This is not only a testament to the film’s fine writers, but also to the great performances from the entire supporting cast.

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson give solid lead performances, allowing the audience to experience the pain and horrors of this dystopian society along with them. Liam Hemsworth gets a much larger role in this installment as Gale Hawthorne, but his much larger role also places extra emphasis on the film’s love triangle, which is, in my opinion, one of the weakest aspects of the series. No fault of the performers, this is a plotline that feels far below what the rest of the series is trying to achieve.

I hesitate to spoil anything that occurs in the second half of the film, but I will say that the 75th annual Hunger Games are far more exciting and interesting than the 74th. This basically sums up the entire quality of the film, because The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is far more exciting, engaging and relevant than its predecessor. The film’s ending will leave both casual viewers and diehard fans of the franchise hungry for more.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire receives 3/4