Tag Archives: jennifer lawrence

Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

dfn-xmen_apocalypse_ver18-300The best superhero movie of the year (so far), X-Men: Apocalypse is a reflection of director Bryan Singer’s strength in storytelling.

Based on a screenplay by Simon Kinberg — with story credit to Singer, Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris — X-Men: Apocalypse makes it easy enough to pick up the story threads from the film’s two immediate predecessors in the long-running series. The initial sequence follows on directly from a post-credits scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past, providing an origin story for the titular, all-powerful mutant En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Events then move forward to 1983, ten years after the main thrust of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The primary heroes are introduced: Mystique, aka Raven (Jennifer Lawrence); Professor X, aka Charles Xavier (James McAvoy); and Beast, aka Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). They are soon joined by neophytes Nightcrawler, aka Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee); Jean Grey (Sophie Turner); Cyclops, aka Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), as well as the more experienced Quicksilver, aka Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) and Havok, aka Alex Summers (Lucas Till), the older brother of Cyclops. There’s also the human CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who stumbles upon the resurrection of Apocalypse.

The heroes are introduced as Apocalypse gathers his villainous forces. He needs only four: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). In the decade that has passed since the previous episode, Magneto has attempted to live as a human, moving to Poland, getting married, having a daughter, and taking a job at a steel factory. Things do not work out, however, making him ripe for Apocalypse’s overtures.

On paper, the film to this point sounds rote and mechanical. On screen, however, it is anything but that. Singer is marvelous at creating a universe that makes superheroes feel very human. For the most part, they do not consider their powers to be a positive but a negative, something to set them apart from mankind as objects of ridicule and fear.

The thrust of the current trilogy acknowledges the many reasons the mutants have to be unhappy with the state of affairs on Earth, and with their own place in it. Yet it argues in favor of selfless service, of putting the needs of others ahead of their own. True, Moira is one of only two non-mutants who play any kind of role in the movie, and both are kept in the background.

Yet the shared humanity of the mutants unites them in opposition to Apocalypse. Humans have their faults and cannot always be trusted, but compared to Apocalypse, who is determined to wipe away the vast majority and allow only the strongest to survive to build a new civilization with him as their leader, well, humans don’t seem so bad after all.

Despite its title and overall theme, X-Men: Apocalypse maintains a doggedly optimistic viewpoint, incorporating character-based comic relief to keep things from feeling too oppressive. The film also benefits tremendously from Singer’s ability to direct exciting action sequences that are easy to follow from a visual standpoint and also inform the characters and overall narrative. Every scene has a point to make and a purpose to advance, which keeps the film engaging throughout its running time.

Based on comic book characters as it is, X-Men: Apocalypse exudes an essential simplicity — the good guys must defeat the bad guys — and enhances that to the next level of storytelling with elegance, polish and power. That makes it a compelling and satisfying experience.

The film will open in theaters throughout Dallas/Fort Worth on Friday, May 27.

Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2’

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‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’

Jennifer Lawrence emerged as a movie star less than four years ago with her sterling performance in The Hunger Games. She has been much the best thing in the series since then, and that remains true in the final episode, hereinafter referred to as Mockingjay — Part 2 .

Picking up where Mockingjay — Part 1 left off, the new film finds Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) recovering from injuries she suffered at the conclusion of the previous episode. Now it is time for the rebels against the dictatorship of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to push through into the Capitol and overthrow the government, and Katniss is eager to join the battle and deliver the death blow of revenge upon the evil Snow. Katniss is held in check, however, by President Coin (Julianne Moore), who insists that Katniss remains most effective as a spokewoman and rallying cry for the rebellion. Meekly, Katniss agrees.

Katniss is assigned to a media unit, reuniting her with loyal friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), her other friend Finnick (Sam Claflin), and stern director Cressida (Nathalie dormer), all under military command. An early battle does not go well, and Katniss ends up in charge of the group, which is soon joined by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the childhood friend and tentative romantic partner of Katniss who was brainwashed into opposition to her. Peeta is slowly recovering, but is still shaky, and is otherwise as wishy-washy as ever.

Mockingjay — Part 2 is a movie about a journey, which allows plenty of time for platitudes to be exchanged and for multiple conversations to drone in the foreground as the group presses onward in the background. Director Francis Lawrence is an experienced journeyman with no particular flair for the action sequences, which are spaced by screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong so that they occasionally break up the talk, talk, talk.

Through it all, Lawrence adds sparks and spunk, enlivening scenes whenever she appears. That’s to the benefit of the movie, since she is (unofficially) on screen for more than 90% of the time. Katniss is the embodiment of a resolutely sullen teenager, who yearns only to do the things that she likes to do, namely, hunt animals with her bow and arrow and spend time with the ones she loves without having to talk to anyone unless she wants to do so, occasionally.

A stronger installment than its predecessor, Mockingjay — Part 2 proves that Jennifer Lawrence can carry a movie with ease, which makes it worth its weight in gold.

The film opens wide through Dallas on Friday, November 20.

Review: ‘Serena’

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in 'Serena'
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in ‘Serena’
After the successful and magnetic pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in both Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013), there’s no reason to believe the third time isn’t the charm as well. That’s the first mistake of Susanne Bier’s woefully overcooked dramatic western, Serena, which places the pair as fierce lovers along the front lines of America’s expansion in rural North Carolina during the 1920’s.

Struggling to keep his construction company afloat during an especially trenchant railroad-clearing job through those Carolina hills, head honcho Pemberton (Cooper) has to deal with all types of problems. If it’s not the local sheriff (Toby Jones) protesting the project for strictly personal reasons, it’s the dissolute courage of his partner Buchanan (David Dencik) whose determination is broken by mounting debts and repeated accidents to the workers.

During a trip back home to Boston, Pemberton meets and falls head over heels for local girl Serena (Lawrence). Their torrid relationship is explained quickly in the first few minutes. After all, Serena isn’t really a romance, but a black-hearted examination of how corrupt and infested love can manipulate someone even with the best intentions.

Once settled together back in rural North Carolina, their relationship changes. Serena begins to take charge of the construction operation through insidious methods, namely aligning herself with the gritty, stout accomplice of her husband named Galloway (Rhys Ifans). Feeling as though he just stepped out of a Sergio Leone western, Ifans’ character is the most allegorical, serving as a guide for Pemberton’s failed attempts to track and kill a black panther that’s been rumored to be roaming the area. Like everything else in his life recently, Pemberton is searching and waiting for something magical, but it’s the harsh natures of reality that eventually catch up with him. And oh do they ever.

Written by Christopher Kyle (based on a novel by Ron Rash), director Susanna Bier seems like the right person for a passionate exploration of madness and murder based on her previous dour efforts, but everything in Serena feels rushed and disjointed. We’re barely acclimated to the relationship between Cooper and Lawrence before things shift into film noir territory, followed by the potboiler thriller aspects of the final third involving past lovers and burning homes. It’s all too much, too fast. The rumors of being heavily re-edited and sacked onto a studio shelf for more than two years seem to have honestly drained the life and coherence from it.

All of this is a shame since the idea of manifest destiny and the geographic/emotional tolls it unleashes has been the subject of some complex films, like Robert Altman’s masterpiece McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and Michael Winterbottom’s The Claim (2001). What is it that causes people to go crazy in the wilderness? Is it the suffocating locale, prone to scathing winters and humid summers? Or is it the rugged sense of alienation and the stressful idea of standing on the precipice of an unscathed territory?

Like those previous films, Serena longs to answer these vivid questions, yet its strained seriousness avoids any real artistry and settles for being a histrionic soap opera instead. While Lawrence delivers screams, rants and Shakespearian plots of revenge, everyone else looks bored with the whole affair. I understand Cooper and Lawrence are currently filming a fourth film together. Maybe four times is the charm instead.

Serena opens in limited release on March 27th

Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’

Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1'
Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’

When Jennifer Lawrence gets fired up, she commands the screen, demanding attention with the vigor of her voice and the determined look on her face. She may be angry in that moment, or coquettish, or mournful, or sympathetic, but whatever her emotion might be signaling, underneath that is a steely composure that refuses to allow her to capitulate.

Now just 24 years of age, Lawrence turns in her third go-round as Katniss Everdeen in the latest installment of the wildly popular book-to-screen series The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. Katniss is recovering from the events in the previous episode, Catching Fire, and so is everyone else. Her call to rebellion against the oppressive central government led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) led to widespread death and destruction.

While uprest continues, Katniss has been kept safe in an underground facility, but now is the time for a propaganda message to be delivered in order to rouse the people toward continued rebellion, leading to overthrow of the government. Katniss eventually accepts the role of spokesperson, working under the direction of President Coin (Julianne Moore) accepting advice from Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and receiving technical assistance from Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), as well as filming direction from Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and costume / hair / makeup advice from Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). In addition, Katniss receives emotional support from her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields), her other friend Finnick (Sam Claflin), and her old trainer Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).

That’s a lot of advisors for one media star, and it’s representative of the nature of the film as a whole. The decision was made to split Suzanne Collins’ novel into two separate films, and while writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong have worked diligently to fill the running time with incidents and a considerable amount of deliberation, Mockingjay – Part 1 adds up to little more than a time-wasting episode.

Director Francis Lawrence stages the action and the talking in a satisfying if conventional manner, but there’s no getting around the essential problem of nothingness that is at the heart of the story. For those who are dedicated followers of the series, the lugubrious concentration on details may be most refreshing. For everyone else, it creates a great hunger for the series to actually, finally conclude.

The film opens wide throughout North Texas on Friday, November 21.

Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Serves Up Connective Tissue Rather Than a Full-Bodied Meal

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’
The highs are higher in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second installment of a futuristic Young Adult film franchise. Director Francis Lawrence, who is especially good with sequences tinged with demonic and/or zombie-ish elements — see, in part, Constantine and I Am Legend — crafts a couple of standout sequences that are dazzlingly memorable.

Of course, then there’s the rest of the movie, which is unable to disguise its function as lengthy, connective narrative tissue between the first episode and the forthcoming third and fourth chapters. According to someone I spoke with afterward, the film does a more than adequate job of summarizing Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name. But it’s much less successful in fleshing out the lead characters, or in doing much more than demonstrating that supporting players have an important role, too, in the outworking of the plot.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her friend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the victors in the previous year’s fight-to-the-death competition known as The Hunger Games, have returned home to the struggling District 12, but they are uncomfortable in their celebrity. For one thing, Katniss faked a romantic interest in Peeta — in reality, Katniss has a thing for Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) — which leaves the love-struck Peeta moping and moaning.

For another, Katniss now knows for a certainty that the Games are a sham, and the totalitarian government, located in the metropolis known as The Capitol, will stop at nothing to maintain its iron-fest rule over the people of the neighboring 12 districts. (All the action takes place in Panem, a nation created in the continent formerly known as North America after an apocalyptic event.) The government is well-represented by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who exudes contempt for what remains of humanity outside his household.

The film is divided almost evenly between events that take place shortly before the next edition of The Hunger Games, and the Games themselves. The lengthy set-up establishes once again that the people outside The Capitol are unhappy with their government, and that the Tributes themselves, as the competitors (drawn by lot) are known, are not happy either.

The Games are where director Lawrence manifests a more exciting approach to the action than Gary Ross, who helmed the first film. Lawrence, cinematographer Jo Willems (Limitless, 30 Days of Night), and editor Alan Edward Bell ((500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man), work together to give the running and chasing and fighting a sense of dark urgency; it’s not that the action is any more comprehensible than before, it’s that there are more pursuits and escapes to track, which lend themselves to greater clarity — and thus more excitement. Whether that’s straight from the source material or an adjustment by credited screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn (aka Michael Arndt), it’s a noticeable improvement.

If someone is looking for a well-crafted slab of blockbuster visual entertainment The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will likely satisfy the appetite. To its credit, it continues to touch on fundamental issues of personal freedom and governmental responsibility. Too bad it chooses to offer no more than a lightly-baked appetizer on those topics. Those will crave something more will go away hungry.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens wide throughout the Metroplex on Friday, November 22.