Tag Archives: Jennifer Lawrence

Red Sparrow

I really didn’t want Red Sparrow to be the dud everyone says it is, but.. yeah it is. I mean, I’ve got love right off the bat for a hard R rated spy flick released by major studios, and this one earns it’s R rating so much so that it’s nasty business to sit through. I just wish it had the aptitude to be more than a cold, unremitting series of events that go far beyond unfortunate. More than anything I’m just proud of Jennifer Lawrence for taking on such a dangerous, vulnerable role, she’s a natural born star and any project she’s attached to is lucky to have her. She just had the shitty luck of her immense talent being drowned in a sea of sadism and ultimate boringness here, which is a shame. Playing a Russian ballet dancer who’s career is cut short by an injury, her shady pervert uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) recruits her for Sparrow School, a twisted spy academy that focuses on sex as a weapon, where she undergoes rigid, perverse training under the stern watch of Matron (Charlotte Rampling, terrifying). This is all run by the government in secret, and soon she becomes involved in a confusing cloak and dagger operation involving American agent Nate (Joel Edgerton), which frequently sees her in degrading, sexually violent situations that seem a bit excessive after a while. I’ll always champion R rated films and there’s some wicked bloody action here involving her training, but the lurid psychosexual stuff is kind of sickening and seems tacked on like a pornographic sheen. The cast is alarmingly first rate, with work from Joely Richardson, Ciaran Hinds, a bored looking Jeremy Irons and a drunken cameo from Mary Louise Parker. No one seems to really fit into the story though and the film struggles to hold our attention beyond just being in shock and actually giving a shit about the story, which is grey and lifeless. It also can’t decide on it’s setting either; everything about the film screams 70’s/80’s Cold War era, until Rampling’s character refers to the West as fixated on shopping and “social media”, which sounds suspiciously like a line that was added in reshoots to try and update a preexisting setting, the worst kind of continuity error because it’s deliberate. There’s literally not a single cell phone visible at any time!! Cmon guys, get your shit straight. It’s sad because there’s a lot of sumptuous atmosphere here that goes to waste, as does a magisterial score by James Newton Howard. The biggest crime here though is how great Jennifer Lawrence is in the role, and how royally the film just lets her down. She’s resilient, tough and smart running down a gauntlet of predators, assassins and danger, but none of that is as good as it sounds, and she deserves better.

-Nate Hill

David O. Russell’s Joy

There’s something inherently engaging about a self made success story, an attractive quality that David O. Russell employs to great effect in Joy, his most recent, and my most favourite of his films so far. He’s a fascinating director who’s work always has an oddball quality to it, whether worn obviously on it’s sleeve (I Heart Huckabees, of which I’m not a fan), or subtly funnelled into a genre picture (the excellent war flick Three Kings), there’s just an undercurrent that’s decidedly south of normal humming through his whole filmography. Joy is one part hyper-dysfunctional family drama, one part autobiographical rise to fame with a hefty dose of comedy thrown in the mix. Jennifer Lawrence has beyond proven her solid gold talent as a miraculous leading lady by now, and she’s the acting equivalent of a truckload of C-4 here as Joy, a self made millionaire who’s persistence and strength in spirit led to her pioneering a revolutionary cleaning product. It’s loosely based on several true stories, but Russell is more intent on letting his actors run wild and giving us a frenetic ‘fly on the Wall’ glimpse into Joy’s upended family life. She’s basically the rock to all of her kin, the only one with a sane hair on her head and her priorities in order. Her dad (Robert Deniro) is an irresponsible man child in a tailspin of a midlife crisis, her mom (Virginia Madsen) is an unpredictable basket case, while her ex (Edgar Ramirez) deludes himself about a would be singing career. They all live at home, contribute not a penny to the household, plus she’s got a young daughter to look out for as well. Quite a situation to be in, and the only one standing in her corner is her loving grandmother, played warmly by a brilliant Diane Ladd. The film isn’t so much about plot as a measurable substance and more just how things happen from scene to scene via chaos and commotion. Everyone is so verbose, fired up and out of control that we spend swaths of time simply listening to them argue and rant before realizing we’ve been discreetly subjected to character development the whole time, a clever, patent aesthetic that Russell also used in his American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook. Joy dreams of a less crazy life for her daughter, and her miracle mop invention may just be the ticket there, if she can avoid her whole unruly clan tagging along for the ride. Bradley Cooper is great as a stern patent kingpin, and the scenes that show how television sales play out at headquarters have a studious, hypnotically meticulous rhythm to them that show Russell in full stylistic swing. The show belongs to Lawrence though, who’s a captivating wonder in every scene, her fever pitched exasperation at the people around her a tangible force of nature, her resilience and determination a source of inspiration. I like this film best of Russell’s filmography because it’s the most focused on people rather than plot. In Silver Linings, which is a lovely film don’t get me wrong,

the characters were believable and true, but they still serviced the plot which was rooted in an obvious theme of mental illness. In American Hustle, The shtick was conmen and their world, the characters sourced from that and existing to run on that racetrack. Joy is about an everyday girl who patents a kitchen mop. It’s benign, barebones and just lets the characters roam in a daily life arena that’s relatable, malleable and feels down to earth.

-Nate Hill

Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!

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The President is a liar and a rapist.  Hurricanes rain down biblical style wrath the likes of which this country hasn’t seen in generations.  Man’s inhumanity to man is a relentless drumbeat of daily headlines, and basic civility between those who agree on almost but not quite everything seems ready to collapse at any moment.  This is the world of 2017, and this is the world that birthed Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! A defiant howl against what feels like the breakdown of society itself, the film isn’t crafted for the faint of heart, nor should it be.  Audiences and critics are rejecting it in droves if opening box office numbers and review amalgamation sites are to be believed, perhaps expecting the mainstream horror thriller the ad campaign deviously promises and then being truly horrified at the ugly Dorian Gray-style mirror the film holds up to America’s face, filled with corrupted beauty and mob mentality madness.  There’s no doubt that you the viewer are meant to walk out of the theater in a brutalized silence, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a high wire act masterpiece.

Aronofsky’s quite comfortable swimming in the same dark waters that Lynch, Bunuel and many other surrealists dive into with regularity; he’s made a career of it, and on occasion even found critical and box office success doing it, as in the identity bending Black Swan.  With Mother!, he’s doubled down on a symbolism filled nightmare scape, mixing and matching plenty of horror tropes (a disturbing house, plenty of blood, stranger danger galore) but never allowing the flow to fall into anything approaching a genre comfort zone.  He’s taken the angelic face of Jennifer Lawrence and turned it into a trap for all of us, with the camera locking in on her increasingly confused, angry and frightened visage throughout—while the lead performer should be our guide throughout the story, she’s given no tools to work with, no road map, no explanations, so neither are we.  Javier Bardem is her chilling man child of a husband, an artist whose focus on adulation over accomplishment serves as a cutting parody of the aging celebrity with a trophy wife as well as a none too subtle nod towards the current resident of the White House.  As their pristine renovated home turns into a demonic bacchanal, with characters blinking in and out of existence and humanity portrayed as little more than an internet comment section run amok, Aronofsky drags the viewer alongside Lawrence into chaos and madness with relentless glee.  It’s this glee at how emotionally disturbing Mother! is that I suspect is putting off many theater goers; sometimes the first swipe at a piece of art this brazenly obtuse yet intimate is so effective that it sends its audience screaming for the exits.  Have great faith that, while you may be repelled by what the film puts you through, it’s all very much part of the plan.

Last year audiences had the same disdain for Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, a similarly singular workout that never commits to being a “horror movie” until it’s so far beyond that definition that it’s achieved True Art status, which isn’t supposed to be easy and rarely tries to be.  That film’s disgusting deconstruction of America’s dedication to surface above all else is mirrored in the layered but loud assault on our society’s treatment of the planet and each other in Mother! It starts with a telling sequence that I’ll not spoil here, but hints at cycles of behavior that are as old as time, and as inescapable.  Darren Aronofsky blew through the first draft of this script in five days by his account, and the resulting film feels every bit the guttural reaction to 2017 that you’d expect from one of America’s leading provocateurs.

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“I’m not saying the universe is evil but it sure has a nasty sense of humour.” – A review of Passengers by Josh Hains

The following review contains mild spoilers that will describe events that occur during the first 25-30 minutes of the movie (the first act). If you do not wish to read what could be considered spoilers to some individuals, you can skip the fourth paragraph.

Science fiction, as a genre within the medium of film, has always been built on ideas, either that reflect societal issues or political stances, or that ask audiences thought provoking questions about Life, time, space, and our own morality codes. Since Gravity was released in 2013, I have asked myself what I consider to be a rather important question with each new science fiction epic related in the years since: does this story break new ground, does it try something different, or have I seen it all before? In the case of Gravity, I came to the conclusion that the story didn’t break new ground at all, though apparently there were possibly some ground-breaking methods behind the construction of the movie. Interstellar broke new ground, presenting us with the theoretical concept of astronauts travelling through a black hole in search of a new planet to colonize after mankind’s way of life ceases to be a sustainable enterprise. The Martian asked what would happen if a man was stuck on Mars for 4 years, how would he survive, and how would we get him back to Earth, and showed us with a great deal of scientific accuracy, how this might occur.

Passengers asks us some pretty deep and dark questions, such as what would you do if on a 120 year voyage to a new sustainable planet, you awoke from hyper-sleep 90 years early? How would you deal with the situation at hand and the idea that you’ll die before the voyage is over? How would you entertain yourself? Why were woken so early? Is this how your life ends?

The marketing team behind Passengers seems to have struggled immensely with concocting an effective way to advertise the movie to the two audiences who would undoubtedly want to invest in this movie: the science fiction lovers, and the romance-comedy-drama lovers. It’s as if half of the advertising was attempting to appeal explicitly to men with images of thrilling adventure and mind bending physics, while the other half of the marketing was aiming for a female demographic by hyping up the romantic elements and using odd pop-rock music. You can’t sell a sci-fi epic simply off the star power of your two leads, so a delicate balancing act showcasing the thrill and romance dramatics was needed, but sadly never achieved by a lazy marketing team. Thankfully, the movie itself is actually perfectly fine.

Jim Preston is awoken in his hibernation pod on the starship The Avalon, which is transporting 5000 colonists who have volunteered to travel in hyper-sleep for 120 years to Homestead II, a neighbouring planet to our Earth capable of sustaining human life. To his shock, Jim realizes he’s the only person currently awake on the ship because something in the ship malfunctioned and woke him 90 years early. Jim spends the next year of his life becoming acquainted with android bartender Arthur, trying to fix the pod and even send a desperate distress message that won’t reach Earth for 50 years, enjoying some of the luxuries of the ship, and becoming increasingly lonely, bored, unhappy, and suicidal. During a drunken venture through the ship, Jim sees an attractive young woman in a pod named Aurora Lane, and begins going through some of her person a effects, learning she’s a writer and other intimate details. He becomes obsessed with her, and after a bout of indecision, makes the choice to tamper with her pod and awaken her in the hopes of finally having a human companion and possibly finding some semblance of happiness with this seemingly perfect woman.

The dilemma the movie presents, being awoken 90 years early on a 120 year voyage through space, is a unique and thoughtful concept, and it’s interesting to see how our two leads, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) grapple with this concept, and the knowledge that they will die before the voyage comes to a close unless they can somehow figure out how and why they were awoken so early. The actors do a great job of capturing the varying emotions and mental states their respective characters experience during the course of the movie, with Pratt working his trademark charm and sly humour, and even digging deep into some strong emotional work, giving us a performance that might actually be surprisingly stronger than his turn as Star-Lord in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Lawrence is every bit as charming and witty as Pratt, and even doing a splendid job with the more emotional scenes of the movie. This is probably Lawrence’s best work since her Oscar winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook.

Passengers doesn’t have plot twists that pull the rug out from underneath you, and even the real cause of the ship’s continuous malfunctions isn’t even that convincing an idea, or perhaps it’s just a lazy idea altogether, but that doesn’t make this a bad movie. The risks this movie takes don’t come in the form of jaw dropping spectacle or mind bending twists, but rather in the way the movie initially connects two characters in a less than desirable fashion. That this movie had the guts to bring the characters together in such a dark way and sustains that connection for as long as it does, and convincingly so, is worth praise aplenty. It’s really not the bad movie the Rotten Tomatoes collective are making it out to be, and while it’s not shocking or necessarily all that visually impressive compared against Interstellar for example, it is a perfectly fine movie. An unpretentious, enjoyable, entertaining, heartfelt, and thought provoking sci-fi drama, a voyage I won’t mind investing in again when the time is just right.

 

 

 

 

PASSENGERS by Ben Cahlamer

Homesteading.  Many years ago, when land was plenty, the government offered it to people who were willing to till the soil, grow some crops.  Perhaps raise a family.  It was not an easy life.  In fact, you could probably retire today and still be tilling soil.

What in the world does this have anything to do with Morten Tyldum’s (“The Imitation Game”) new sci-fi film, “Passengers”?

Very little or quite a bit; it really depends on your point of view.  The intent of the government was to get people to become productive because they had no other choice:  they were cornered into a unique way of life that not everyone is cut out for.

In Jon Spahits’ (“Doctor Strange”, “Prometheus”) script, the meaning of homesteading, “a lifestyle of agrarian self-sufficiency as practiced by a modern homesteader or urban homesteader,” equally applies to the 5000 corporately-sponsored passengers aboard the Starship Avalon, destined for the colony planet Homestead II.

The trick is that the journey is so long, everyone on board is in hibernation and the state-of-the-art starship is on auto-pilot.  An engineer, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up alone with no explanation and no one to communicate with.  He is eventually joined by author Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). As the only two souls awake on board the ship, they fall in love but not before disaster strikes.  Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia co-star.

Spahits’ script should have checked all the right boxes:  characters are well-fleshed out; the set-up was strong; social issues are at the forefront. The focus strayed from sci-fi-adventure to kitschy sci-fi-adventure-romance, where the romance just didn’t cut it. Preston’s reason for being woken up is clear; the emotional side of isolation became a focus instead of allowing his skills to move the character and the narrative forward, leading to the intended romantic angle; a wasted effort considering Jennifer Lawrence’s Lane tried too hard to remain in control, though her reasons for that become clear after a meltdown.  Had Fishburne phoned his performance from Earth, it would have been more convincing then what unfolded on the screen.  In homage to a Kubrick classic, Michael Sheen stole the show; but his role in a pivotal moment just fell flat.  Tight editing by Oscar-nominated editor Maryann Brandon (“Star Wars:  The Force Awakens”) keeps the pacing on track.

The script notwithstanding, there is one redeeming reason why this should be viewed on as big a screen as possible: the special effects.  In the tradition of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Scott’s “Alien”, Tyldum executes a strong, detailed technical look.

From the symmetry of the Avalon to the look and feel of the interior corridors, the hibernation pods, the stars and space around the ship, everything has a very real or visceral feel about it and visual effects supervisor Erik Nordby rose to the challenge brilliantly.  The effects are supported by strong cinematography from the Oscar-nominated Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain”).  His attention to every detail, from lighting of cavernous interior spaces, to changing reflective lighting and exterior shots in space, Prieto’s work only enhances the visual impact.

Oscar-nominated film composer Thomas Newman (“Bridge of Spies”, “Skyfall”) resonates with the luxuriousness of the Aurora and the allure of space exploration.  Some of his dramatic riffs didn’t exactly jive with the onscreen action, but his music served the film well.

“Passengers” had all the right ingredients for a stellar show, its ambition steeped in “Titanic”.  Instead, its ‘Lost in Space’ meets ‘The Love Boat’ with all the drama that that entails.

For the intricately detailed technical effects work, “Passengers” is Recommended.  Aaron Spelling is probably rolling over in his grave.

The Hunger Games: A Review by Nate Hill

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I have never read the Hunger Games books, and didn’t rush out to see this first installment when it was released. I have this thing where I sometimes resist a largely popular project simply because it’s buxzingwith so much hype. There’s a word for that that I resist even more, which starts with H, but good luck getting me to admit to that. Anywho, I did watch it one day on netflix, loved the hell out of it, and have seen every subsequent entry, up til last year’s final one. It’s damn great storytelling that soars on a brilliant extended performance by Jennifer Lawrence, who is the actress of her generation and a genius of the craft no matter what anyone says. People called this a slick version of Battle Royale, and while that may be true, it’s certainly not a bad thing, and not the sole extent of what the franchise achieves. There’s stinging social commentary which both condemns and makes satirical light of modern North American culture. It examines the power of propoganda for both good and bad ends. It looks at the abuse of power, and the potent rise of fascism and fear tactics, and how quickly they can become commonplace. And this is all in a young adult orientated film that stars a strong, unhindered female protagonist. Gives you hope for the world. Lawrence is powerful as Katniss Everdeen, a young woman chosen from her district to compete in the much celebrated and very violent Hunger Games, a death tournament which serves as a purge and reminder to the citizens what it cost them to rebel against their oppressors years before. This is all at the behest of mega villain President Snow (Donald Sutherland oozes quiet malice with every articulate and icy syllable), who lives in the wealthy and decadent capitol city of Panem, a dystopian version of North America. Along with Katniss there’s also Peeta  (but no hummus) a local baker’s boy played by Josh Hutcherson, who really struggles to match the skill level of almost everyone around him, especially Lawrence. They are thrust into the posh and stylized razzle dazzle of Capitol life as they train for the ruthless games, watched over by previous Victor and proud alcoholic Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), as well as preening diva Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks channellig Marie Antoinette crossed with a poodle). The film takes some time to ramp up to the games, but as soon as it does the events unfold in breathless fashion set against a lush wilderness background, each and every member fighting tooth and nail to stay alive against both each other and the obstacles which gamesmasters have placed in their way. Anyone with an intense fear of wasps will want to be warned. A clever riff on the talk shows of our climate is shown, as the competitors are quizzed by Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) a manically hopped up pop personality with a hairstyle that would make a samurai jealous and teeth so white they get accused of stealing oscar nominations. Tucci is truly a well of energy and the proceedings go electric whenever he’s around. Watch for Paula Malcolmson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, a kindly fashion guru who takes a shine to Katniss and designs her a dress to end all dresses. Lawrence carries the entire thing on her mockingjay wings, making Katniss a spirit of unrest, a true symbol of hope and above all, a scared girl tossed into events she can’t possibly imagine navigating. Her performance is most of what makes these films so solid, and they couldn’t have made a better casting choice. Be sure to stay fpr the credits to hear ‘Abraham’s Daughter’, a fittingly grandiose original song by Arcade Fire.