Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Jennifer Lawrence”

Passengers

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st January 2017

3 stars, Rated M, 116 mins

The set-up for Passengers is pretty great, and the startling setting and gorgeous rendering of space travel initially suggest this is going to be a worthy blockbuster.

The Starship Avalon is on a 120-year journey through space to Homestead II – a new colony to be inhabited by the ship’s 5000 civilians who are seeking a new life away from Earth. Viewers who have flown long-haul in ordinary aeroplanes will be wistful, since these travellers lie in induced hibernation for the duration, scheduled to awaken only at T minus four months in order to enjoy leisure activities such as you’d see on a 6-star cruise ship, and to prepare for their new, Utopian existence.

Unfortunately, something causes passenger Jim Preston (the popularly charismatic Chris Pratt) to wake too soon. Nine decades too soon. Facing a lonely life and certain death before the vessel reaches its destination, Jim’s future now turns on an ethical dilemma.

Passengers’ strong points include its aspirational, futuristic production design and the casting of Jennifer Lawrence against Pratt, which was surely predicted to be chemistry on tap. But better than these two put together is Michael Sheen as the cliché-spouting android bartender. And of course, the interstellar setting promises much, including Gravity-esque space walks and a terrific scene which aptly demonstrates the importance of actual gravity.

passengers

Sadly, despite these wonderful opportunities, the plot lets it down. The initially gripping “How could this happen?” is even tantalisingly dangled in the film’s tagline “There is a reason they woke up”. Well, yes there is – but it turns out it’s not something you can really build a film around. So screenwriter Jon Spaihts (who co-wrote the brilliant Doctor Strange and the disappointing Prometheus) relies heavily on Pratt and Lawrence’s romantic qualities instead. As a result, what could have been exciting like Total Recall or Sunshine (films that this one evokes) instead fails to even reach Titanic heights/depths (another movie alluded to in Passengers – Jim the engineer is a lower class of passenger than Lawrence’s Aurora, and his question “Do you trust me?” is a sure nod to the famous “I’m flying!” scene in the doomed boat drama).

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum made the multi-award nominated The Imitation Game and the terrific Scandi thriller Headhunters, so it was fair to assume he had the chops to handle a big-budget space adventure. Granted, purely as big-screen entertainment, Passengers does deliver some spectacle and engagement – but with a more developed conceit, it would have been great to see what a $110 million budget could really have bought.

 

Advertisements

X-Men: Apocalypse

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016

There are many reasons why this X-Men movie should have been better than it is. For starters, there’s the cast of genuinely fine actors (myriad Academy Awards and nominations between them) who are deserving, just by dint of turning up on set I’d have said, of a much better script. Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) returns as Magneto, James McAvoy dons 1980s pastel sweaters and shoulder pads as the now wheelchair-bound Xavier, while Jennifer Lawrence gets to retain her more fetching human shape than Mystique’s peculiar azure physique. Most importantly, Oscar Isaac makes his Marvel debut as the eponymous villain (wait, what?? That’s right – “Apocalypse” refers not to the state of the world ending, but the guy who attempts to make it happen.) Isaac has been the Next Big Thing for a couple of years now.

Secondly, Bryan Singer is still in the director’s chair of the movies he propelled to comic book superstardom back in the early 2000s. The guy gave us The Usual Suspects, for goodness sake! He handled Tom Cruise in Valkyrie! This man’s no slouch in the smart-blockbuster department.

But while it has some snazzy set-pieces – top honours going, as in X-Men: Days of Future Past, to Quicksilver’s clever, Eurythmics-accompanied scene – X-Men: Apocalypse is mainly notable for the worst dialogue you’ve heard since, well, the 1980s. In setting the film in that seminal era, presumably to capture and thrill its target audience of long-time comic fans, the movie’s writers do things very on-the-nose: visual gags are pointed out by close-up camera work; hairstyles and clothing feel self-consciously worn; and the Egyptian-set scenes feel like a nod to Indiana Jones and other teen movies of the 80s with all the mystical chanting and ritualistic shenanigans. Rather than pleasing, it’s simply dated. (Despite this, it’s apparently a decade where the CIA could get photos developed in less than 24 hours.)

As the clunky narrative battles to include too many concurrent threads, X-Men: Apocalypse often feels like two movies – the well-acted, serious one with Fassbender speaking convincing Polish, and a throwback to the 80s gate-crashed by a Sith Lord. Entertaining in parts, unfortunately it makes for a less than satisfying whole.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 22nd November 2015

The first Hunger Games was terrific: fresh and exciting, the unsavoury tale of children being coerced into killing children paved the way for how Young Adult dystopia should look, and then spawned too many similarly-themed franchises. The second instalment had its charms (mainly in the wardrobe department) but when Hollywood hit upon dividing the third and final book into two drawn-out movies, it hit a bump in the road.

Mockingjay – Part 2 picks up where its predecessor left off, with our heroes living in District 13 as they form a plan to storm the Capitol. Meanwhile, Katniss is determined to fulfil her own mission by killing the now ailing President Snow (a benign-looking Donald Sutherland who just isn’t evil enough to warrant taking revenge on).

But for a finale, it’s just a bit boring. Apart from watching the team weave its way through the booby-trapped city (these set-pieces provide the only jolts of excitement in the whole film but are indeed nicely executed), the viewer’s biggest stimulus will be matching up what they see on screen with every dystopian trope they’ve seen in the last three years. It’s hard to remember what Katniss and Crew have been up to when they all dress like Abnegants in Divergent. The battle-torn city has echoes of Inception, while the creatures they flee from evoke the Cranks who terrorise those other persecuted teens in The Scorch Trials. The screen lights up only when Jena Malone spits out some delicious bitterness – otherwise, the film’s sole aspect of human interest is the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, which isn’t getting any less equilateral.

Granted, your heart thuds a little to see Philip Seymour Hoffman gracing the screen for one last time (his death during filming meant that a pivotal emotional moment had to be delivered by another character), and Julianne Moore is her usually reliable self, albeit in a one-dimensional part – but Mockingjay 2 is disappointingly low-key considering its importance to this extremely successful trilogy. As my companion said, as the credits rolled: “Well, that didn’t really sing, did it?”

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 23rd November 2014

It’s not that this is a bad movie, but it’s simply not as good as it should be.

The minute the “Hunger Games” books hit the bedside tables of young adults everywhere, a movie franchise was a given. The page-turning, dystopian treatise about young people fighting one another to the death in a gladiatorial contest constructed by an evil Big Brother is now into its third of four cinematic parts.

The first movie set the scene nicely, catapulting a starlet named Jennifer Lawrence into the big-time (and rapidly her first Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook once Hollywood realised she could turn her hand to any role). Unusually, the second film Catching Fire was widely regarded a knock-out, mixing dynamic exposition with another bout in the arena of certain death. It left us on a worthy cliffhanger and with a whole year to anticipate Katniss Everdeen’s fate.

Having directed the second installment, Francis Lawrence (no relation, one is obliged to point out) has slackened the reins on this drawn out and somewhat ponderous sequel which seems designed merely to fill in narrative time before the grand finale of next year’s Mockingjay Part 2.

The performances are solid (bolstered without doubt by the presence of heavyweights Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the darker, distinctly pessimistic tone may inveigle viewers whose threshold for interminable teen love triangles is set low. Stylistically, this episode evokes Ender’s Game and aspects of Edge of Tomorrow, with Katniss recast as the saviour of the rebellion (complete with stirring promo videos and an Angel of Death costume).

However, the earnestly slow pace undermines some key turning points which deliver neither the pathos nor the character shifts they ought to. Although we are spared yet another rendition of arena combat (they couldn’t trot that out for a third go), it’s at the expense of any drama, intrigue or excitement.

Of course, those who have read the books or seen the previous films should see this one – but be warned: Mockingjay Part 1 is not going to set the world on fire.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 25th May 2014

Unless you’re a loyal fan of the comic adaptation genre, you may be feeling a little fatigued or even disillusioned by the thought of another X-Men movie. Admittedly, it’s probably because Marvel seems to put out a new superhero story every couple of months, and we’re only just recovering from being slammed by Captain America’s shield and strung up by Spider-Man’s webbing.

To be fair, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the first in a few years, since Kick Ass director Matthew Vaughn took audiences on a trip back in time to the true origin story of the mutants as they first found one another in X-Men: First Class (2011).

And he did a great job, casting young British heavyweights James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the young Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively, and laying out a convincing tale of How Things Came To Be. It was incredibly satisifying to watch the youngsters get to grips with their accursed talents and transform into their young adult selves. With a witty script, exhilarating set-pieces and a terrific set-up, First Class transported Vaughn from his status as Guy Ritchie’s right-hand man (back when Ritchie was still an exciting filmmaker to watch) into a worthy director in his own right.

I’ve not kept up with the political wranglings that determine which Hollywood maestro gets to direct which tentpole movie, but for some reason Vaughn wasn’t picked for the Future Past team, losing out to the franchise’s first director, Bryan Singer. This is still great news – Singer made his mark with The Usual Suspects, one of the greatest crime movies of modern times, before helming the first two X-Men films. He wisely gave up his director’s chair for the following movies (including the Wolverine spin-offs), perhaps one reason those seemed to lose panache as the 2000s rolled by. So it’s nice to see Singer’s still got it, capitalising on Vaughn’s fresh take to deliver a tale which (appropriately) ties the series’ early history into where we find it now.

The conceit of Days of Future Past is an oldie but a goodie: a team member (here Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) is sent back to 1973 to warn the juvenile versions of Xavier and Magneto that unless they get over their feud and join forces, an historical event to be perpetrated by one of their own will have an irreparable effect on their future, resulting in the internment and extinction of the beleaguered mutant population.

With McAvoy and Fassbender back on screen, still calling each other Charles and Erik, (a sweet touch which at times serves to ground their predicament and their fine acting in something altogether more human and serious than your typical comic book scenario), we’re treated to more “origin” moments, including the thrilling introduction of Quicksilver whose ability to move like lightning is demonstrated in an exhilarating scene which actually sets the bar too high to be reached thereafter. Jennifer Lawrence, whose Oscar nominations stack up during each X-Men hiatus, plays a key role once again as Raven/Mystique, effortlessly wonderful whether sporting a pout and a blonde hairdo or bringing down several US marines with one high kick.

As in First Class, the 1970s make for an aesthetically enjoyable era to be transported back to, with waterbeds and lava lamps and a great soundtrack to boot. One particularly nice touch is the use of 16mm cameras to render civilian footage of the mutants fighting in the streets of Paris, evoking the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination (which is also cleverly referenced in the script). Well-paced and well-acted, although the story meanders slightly in the middle it is by all accounts still gripping, aided no doubt by Raven’s incessant shape-shifting which keeps us on our toes. And to top off the excellent casting, we get Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage as the baddie entrepreneur, Bolivar Trask, resplendent in oversized glasses (and not a cloak in sight), his voice as deep and menacing as any Bond villain.

With the Inception-like layers of past and present (evoked all the more thanks to Ellen Page’s presence), some of the plot threads may not have the strength of Spidey’s web, but Days of Future Past is a great-looking, thought-provoking continuation of the mutants’ tribulations.

Silver Linings Playbook

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd March 2013

A welcome change from the media’s usual ineptitude at representing mental illness (if anyone calls Gollum “a twisted schizophrenic” again, I shall scream), in this excellent adaptation of the bestselling novel by Matthew Quick, the challenges of mental ill-health are portrayed accurately and with respect. Eschewing the overt “craziness” of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Quick’s protagonists are as relatable as our own family member or colleague, and their experiences authentically relayed.

Add major league casting to the mix, and you have a powerful and affecting film. Bradley Cooper (sincere, charismatic and devastatingly credible) is Pat, recently released from eight months in the local psychiatric hospital into the supportive arms of his long-suffering mother (Jacki Weaver) and superstitious bookkeeping father (the best Robert DeNiro has been in more than a decade). Pat experiences bipolar disorder, and erratic behaviour saw him estranged from his wife prior to hospitalisation. Committed to proving he is “better” and getting her back, he enlists the help of headstrong Tiffany, herself battling demons following the death of her husband.

The core cast members have been nominated for four of the film’s eight Oscars (Jennifer Lawrence, at only 22, is up for her second best actress gong after Winter’s Bone. She won the Golden Globe, and when you see her owning a scene against a legend like DeNiro, you know why). Cooper, the hunk from dumb comedies like The Hangover, finally gets a meaty role with complexities he is more than capable of juggling.

Director David O Russell (up for best adapted screenplay and director) shoots this as he did The Fighter, with grainy photography of sun-spared Philadelphian streets. This is the real world, even if its characters sometimes seem higher-strung than most.

Silver Linings Playbook is a surprise gem which certainly manages to see the bright side of life.

The Hunger Games

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 25th March 2012

When director Gary Ross was handed this latest young adult literary adaptation to turn into a blockbuster movie, he must have known the odds were in his favour. Eight years since his last directorial outing (racehorse story Seabiscuit), Ross not only co-wrote the script with the book’s author, Suzanne Collins, but has crafted an excellent rendition that should see its growing legion of fans deeply satisfied.

For those who haven’t read it, The Hunger Games delivers us from the swamp of angsty vampire teen fiction and throws its readers into a whole other sort of peril: a dystopian future in the North American country of Panem, where 12 districts labour all year to support the fortunate few who live in the Capitol, and whose punishment for past revolution results in the annual sacrifice of two dozen young people, who must fight to the death on reality TV.

District 12’s plucky young heroine is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, back hunting and skinning animals like she did in her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter’s Bone). With fellow “Tribute” Peeta, she enters a specially created arena where mere children must shoot arrows and throw spears, using their wits or perishing in gruesome ways. Meanwhile, in the real world (such as it isn’t), vibrant media personalities and the Tributes’ own support teams watch and commentate.

As always, Lawrence is terrific while Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right) is the perfect Peeta. Star-studded support includes Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland, with Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks clearly having a whale of a time.

The story’s Orwellian conceit is ideal for cinematic interpretation, and it is exciting to see the rendering of the book’s extreme poverty versus opulence and over-stylised costuming. The dizzying hand-held camerawork is initially a bit overbearing, but certainly sets the discomforting scene.

Readers will know there are two more books in the series, and ought to leave the cinema hungry for a sequel.

Like Crazy

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 29th January 2012

How far should you go to be with The One who’s not around versus the Good Enough who’s present? This is the question tacitly posed in Like Crazy, the story of a British exchange student who falls for an American boy and the perils of seeking a life together.

Chalet Girl‘s Felicity Jones is terrific, mature all of a sudden, as Anna, while Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek prequel) is convincing as the young man who finds he’s in love before he’s ready for the commitment required to keep that ardour alive. With a lot of to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic, Anna and Jacob fight, split up, try to shake one another, try again, and generally keep us guessing as to how things will end up. To some extent the fickle action undermines any attempt to present more than a cursory look at the depth of love. What makes it work, however, is the naturalistic, unhysterical acting (the conflicts are authentically heartbreaking), and the realistically plotted script.

It’s not as potentially draining as it sounds, largely thanks to entertaining performances from Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead as Anna’s parents, though there’s too little screen time for the brilliant Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone).

Post Navigation