Jennifer Lawrence

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Marvel Movie News

Jennifer Lawrence Rumored For Fantastic Four

It’s claimed that Jennifer Lawrence will be in the Fantastic Four movie and that it films soon in Australia. Australia’s The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence is expected to arrive in Australia to film the Fantastic Four film for Marvel Studios. It’s further claimed the Marvel superhero film franchise is set to “bed down” in Australia “for the […]

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Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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Starved

A Film Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

 

I appreciate what the Hunger Games film adaptations started off doing.  They put women to the forefront of an action/adventure, special effect driven saga typically reserved for the boys club and the story unfolded in a way where themes of female empowerment did not equate to male enfeeblement, thus avoiding a battle of the sexes on the internet for every reason under the sun.  The first two films were entertaining, had interesting characters and had a few nuggets of social commentary regarding the state of the western world.  Unfortunately, Mockingjays part 1 and 2 were devoid of the energy and passion that spring boarded this franchise as they were the cinematic equivalent of gearing down so as not needing to apply the brake to the approaching intersection of completion. 

As a result, I give thanks that the Hunger Games film franchise has been finally put to rest.  I am all about seeing film entertainment focused on main characters that are not exclusively white and male.  However, the way Jennifer Lawrence’s cash cow put out to pasture couldn’t have been more underwhelming, and I am legitimately vexed because despite having the budget, talent and production value to truly put this fiction on the same level as the likes of Star Wars, Avengers and Harry Potter; the opportunity was squandered.  To be clear, I am speaking only in terms of the quality of this film’s narrative and not its pocketbooks, which are certainly being stuffed with gobs of tween cash having already banked over $200 million in domestic sales in 11 days.  Even with this handsome sum (not to mention zero competition at the box office) Mockingjay Part 2 is running behind the pace of its predecessors, and I can’t help but think that more people than not were truly dissatisfied with how it all ended.  I will quote my fiancé regarding this film’s 3rd act: “The climax sucked.  I cried a little.  I got bored.  And then it was over.” 

There are two other aspects of this film that kept me looking down at my watch waiting for it to end well before its 3rd act even had a chance to lay into me.  First, Katniss Everdeen stopped being an interesting character two films ago.  I totally engaged with her desperation during the first film.  I was completely in sync with her rage over being manipulated (especially at the end) of Catching Fire.  Then these Mockingjay films came along and mothballed Katniss’ mojo.  Part of the problem is that Katniss is written to never be comfortable let alone fully accepting of her role as a revolutionary icon, let alone a base participant in the overall conflict of Panem.  Only when Katniss has no home to return to does she begrudgingly accept her greater role with half-hearted enthusiasm vainly masking her only motivation: protecting her friends and family at all costs.  The blame for this offense lies at the feet of Jennifer Lawrence and director Francis Lawrence.  Where Katniss’ defiance, anger and frustration would naturally be approaching critical mass, her character is presented as a back seat driver who endures inevitable victory as if she knew all along, thus finding no real need to demonstrate passion.  Not having read the books, I cannot tell if Katniss ever drops the selfishness, indecisiveness, self-loathing and general mopey attitude, but this status quo is fully maintained in both Mockingjay films.  Hell, just looking at Jennifer Lawrence during the climactic “arrow strike” sequence couldn’t have screamed a millennial “whatever, why am I even here?” any louder even if the filmmakers tried.

The second thing that never sat well with me in this film is that although we are constantly following Katniss’ journey towards the Capitol, this adventure is actually not important to the overall plot.  Everything significant happens off camera in the hopes that the audience can simply connect the dots back to Katniss in some meaningful way.  Her journey certainly has more personal meaning by aiding her mind in choosing between Gale and Peeta, but even that element gets scuffled because she and her spec ops unit are too busy dodging death traps in areas of the capitol not on the front lines of combat?  What?  The fact that Katniss’ sham of a final mission is so resolutely inert makes perfect sense how this film ends in the very definition of “insult to injury.” 

Action Style

When the cast finally gets around to opening fire and throwing a punch, it actually isn’t too bad.  I simply wished there was more of it.

4/6

Action Frame

Plenty of low and high angle dynamic shots feature a series of tracks, pulls and pans during both action and dialogue sequences.

4/5

Lead Performance

Jennifer Lawrence is still J-Law, but that’s no excuse for mailing in anything even at this point in her career.  The girl on fire has been doused!  Josh Hutcherson is credited for all the points in this category.

3/6

Supporting Performance

Donald Sutherland is great.  Julianne Moore is zzzzzz.  Liam Hemsworth has only one facial expression.  And I hope Mahershala Ali gets more roles in a leading capacity.  Nothing but love for House of Cards!  Also, I’d like more Woody Harrelson please.

3/5

Music

Passable, but not inspiring in any way.

3/6

Sound F/X

Actually quite good, especially in the sewers!

4/5

“Moving” = 21/33

Digital F/X

This entire franchise has maintained a dedicated “less is more” approach to the use of CG.  As such, the moments where spectacle and the impossible occur are much more impactful.  Still, I’d rather see a bit more.

5/6

Special F/X

Most of the CG required close coordination with the stunt and pyro teams to show the effects of an ever-changing, hostile environment on our heroes.  This was an effective partnership that obscured the lines between CG and practical effects.

4/5

Costumes

Our tributes aren’t interviewing with Stanley Tucci in this film, thus the range of spectacular design concepts are limited to the mundane. 

4/6

Hair & Makeup

See above.

3/5

Exteriors

The outskirts of the capitol are as drab as the inner bunkers of District 13.

3/6

Interiors

If you are going to go dark, go all the way.  Those were some of the cleanest service tunnels and sewer systems I’ve seen from Hollywood.

2/5

“Picture” = 21/33

Hook

Being Part 2, the actual hook is carried over from Part 1 which leaves the viewer understanding that we’re still at war with the capitol and Katniss is still a propaganda proxy.

2/4

Conflict

I used to believe in Katniss’ personal anger towards President Snow two films ago.  The only real conflict is her inner struggle to choose between the hunky boy and the pretty good looking friend – which is a decision somewhat taken out of her hands.

2/4

Resolution

One of the least satisfying and surprising endings in the history of film.

1/4

Dialogue

Down to earth, intimate and not riddled with made up fictional jargon.  I just wished Katniss had something more significant to say all the time.

4/6

Exposition

There’s way too much happening off screen that Katniss has nothing to do with that forces the viewer into too many leaps of faith plot-wise.

2/5

Character Uniqueness

Nothing new is happening with Katniss as a character.  Peeta’s transformation from homicidal boyfriend back to the baker with political aspirations is quite interesting, but of course, there’s not much screen time devoted to it.

4/6

Character Relatability

After three films of Katniss being put through the ringer physically, emotionally and spiritually (and still breathing) one would think that even the most common of human beings regardless of sex, age, ethnicity or personal talent would be capable of ascending to a version of themselves that is greater than their own personal agenda.  Perhaps it is the lesson of The Hunger Games [films] that sometimes the crucible has no effect on us?

1/5

“Story” = 16/34

Overall MPS Rating: 58/100

The “girl on fire” couldn’t be further away from going out in a blaze of glory.  Mockingjay Part 2 is an adventure without energy, passion and the will to succeed which it cannot make up for with plot twists of convenience to divert the viewer’s attention.  These journeys don’t always have to end in victory, but the protagonist must have something radiating from inside that makes the hero/heroine’s path worthwhile even if an audience cannot identify or sympathize with him or her.  It is a reliable failure of Hollywood filmmaking that culminates when lackluster performance intersects unfocused direction.

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Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Too Hot To Handle
A Film Review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
By: Lawrence Napoli
 

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You know what’s highly desirable in Hollywood?  To own an insanely popular license, adapt it into a series of very lucrative blockbuster films and continue to draw interest in current and future installments from every audience outside the fanboy/girl core thanks to a contractual alliance with (arguably) the most popular individual in Hollywood today.  Oh yes, Lionsgate snagged itself two gems in The Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence and both continue to pay dividends thanks to Catching Fire’s global take of about $678 million dollars over a budget of $130 as of December 11, 2013.  Unfortunately, “bigness” and popularity alone do not always translate into quality and often allows the consumers of particular media to be very apologetic thanks to those two important elements that compose “true value” in contemporary Hollywood productions.  
 
That is not an admission that I personally didn’t care for this movie; quite the contrary.  Catching Fire is a superior “Hunger Games” experience from a visual perspective thanks to a much larger production budget than the original.  For a story that takes place in the somewhat, not-so-distant future, I never felt that The Hunger Games showcased the kind of world where superior technology permits the aristocratic minority to dominate the impoverished majority.  Catching Fire addresses this early and often throughout its run time by displaying more pyro, larger digital set pieces and more CG visuals.  This film also demonstrates more accomplished combat and action sequences such as its version of “storm troopers” actually being physically imposing, more energetic training montages than throwing heavy things at stationary targets and much more danger during the actual games than a bunch of teens/tweens stalking each other with swords and spears.  As far as contemporary action/adventure films go, Catching Fire looks, sounds and feels like a more proficient blockbuster.
 
Where I’m beginning to lose a little interest is in the presentation of this story within the confines of a two and a half hour film.  Adaptation is an exercise in tough decision making for the screenwriters(s) so there’s always going to be a number of details, subplots and characters that simply do not come to fruition.  Unfortunately, the screenwriting trend in Hollywood’s adaptation movement is to include “as much as possible,” which puts a priority on Easter Eggs and sacrifices screen time better used on cinematic exposition and character development for an audience not already familiar with the story.  There are too many moments where references are being made (such as the makeup of this society, the importance of the games, the significance of the districts, the tributes, etc.) that simply has not been well established in the ongoing film or its predecessor, and I can’t appreciate any of these new details.  Catching Fire’s story is one that communicates a comprehensive plot and a continuation of the trials of Katniss Everdeen, but it’s also one that is devoid of any interesting subplot for any character not played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Katniss is involved in every meaningful moment on the screen.  No supporting characters outside of the villains have any meat to them and this takes away from the other thing that makes Katniss interesting outside of kicking ass with a bow and arrow: her love triangle.  Yes, the audience gets chapter 2 in the pseudo affair of Katniss, Peeta and Gale, but neither boy has a dramatic identity onscreen that isn’t fully dependent on Katniss’s presence.  This may not be the case in the books, but this is the best example of an interesting movie conflict that merely gets paid lip service due to time limitations and priorities placed elsewhere.  
 
Performances by the cast are fairly adequate all around, but I was somewhat surprised to find an actor such as Philip Seymour Hoffman involved with this kind of big budget, mainstream extravaganza.  I suppose every major actor needs a fat paycheck every once in a while (just kidding, Philip), but his role in Catching Fire, like every other adult’s over the age of 20, doesn’t require any deep emotional exploration and isn’t afforded any real opportunity to do so even if the actor was interested.  It’s not exactly the kind opportunity a king of the indy scene salivates over, but he brings veteran charisma and composure to Plutarch Heavensbee as does Donald Sutherland for President Snow as the primary antagonists of this film.  Lenny Kravitz once again produces a regal and heart-warming performance as Cinna and Woody Harrelson thankfully steps into more of a leadership role than the loveably drunk, Haymitch has been thus far.  Unfortunately, these adults do not elevate beyond the status of window dressing for the featured young adults in almost the exact same manner the veterans that composed the Harry Potter films were utilized.
 
Liam Hemsworth is given a few more minutes of screen time in this film to prove that his character, Gale, has some romantic feelings for Katniss and he manages to deliver a revered stillness to his performance that would make anyone raise an eyebrow over the fact that he appeared in an Expendables film.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that the chemistry he shares with Jennifer Lawrence remotely approaches “sultry,” but there’s a reason for that I’ll discuss later.  Josh Hutcherson continues to refine his keen ability to switch between the natural state of Peeta (somewhat unsure of himself and his feelings) and Peeta’s on air personality for reality TV (brave, confidant and charismatic).  Josh has to contend with more characters requiring screen time in this film, but the fact that he shows that his character knows how to play the political game of these Hunger Games is satisfying to the audience even if he isn’t exactly the most accomplished combatant.  
 
As expected, Catching Fire is a showcase for Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen for all the obvious reasons.  She continues to portray an empowered, young woman in a harsh reality that is on equal (if not superior) footing as all the guys.  Her best moment of this film is when she gives a speech at the district that her friend Rue (who dies in the first film) was from that shows the audience the exact kind of personality that makes Ms. Lawrence endearing in real life: raw emotion with a matter-of-fact, no BS delivery.  Unfortunately, Katniss is not called upon to be her true self too often in this film as the constant surveillance of Capitol TV requires her to act the façade of her “fake” romance with Peeta and her shift from sincerity to “talking head personality” in front of the fictional cameras is evident to the audience.  All things being equal, this role equates to fishing with dynamite for Jennifer Lawrence.  She’s attractive, trendy and sassy and that’s more than enough to portray a character like Katniss, but I really could have used more moments of her patented blend of sincerity in Catching Fire because Lawrence is just plain good at it.
 
Catching Fire is an entertaining adventure for anyone interested in checking out some neat special and visual effects.  It features an upgraded production value that becomes quite evident when our tributes are put to the test in a much more dynamic arena than previously shown in the original Hunger Games.  This fictional world is not fleshed out particularly well as much of its references and the overall state of the setting are glazed over as quickly as possible which is unfortunate seeing how Katniss and Peeta begin this film by visiting every district on their victory tour.  Sure, we get how every district outside of the Capitol is poor and subject to armies of thugs, but there’s no real distinction among any of them that they could all be District 12.  If you can look past the light details and a number of flat characters, this can be a fun film to watch.  The violence continues to be neutered in favor maintaining that PG-13 rating despite the subject matter revolving around making entertainment out of watching people slaughtering each other on TV.  Risking harsher imagery to deliver a more poignant story might lose the film’s money demographic and if it’s one thing that Hollywood won’t do, is mess around with the prescribed money formula for its various adaptations.
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Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Crazy Good

A Film Review of Silver Linings Playbook

By: Lawrence Napoli

This film was released in theaters December 25th of last year, and we are currently a week removed from the Academy Awards where Jennifer Lawrence officially, beyond any shadow of a doubt, was established as a serious, marquee actress who may be young and attractive, but has legitimate acting chops.  Ms. Lawrence is the reigning best actress in a leading role for her part in Silver Linings Playbook, but I was surprised to see that this film still had multiple show times at the Regal Cinemas down the street.  Films that come away with multiple Oscars do tend to get an extended run at theaters so in the post holiday months of lesser interesting releases, the timing was right to see the evidence.  Spoiler alert: Little Miss Hunger Games deserved her Oscar gold as the film is a dialog driven drama that doesn’t have a lot of action or effects to produce entertainment through spectacle.  This is an actor’s film and Ms. Lawrence joins a robust cast that brings a multitude of raw emotions to the forefront that is very entertaining, thoughtful and worthy of your hard earned dollars.

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Are you talkin’ to me?

David O. Russell is the writer/director of this film that deals with the difficulty of lesser mental disorders, and by “lesser” I mean anything that isn’t schizophrenia, multiple personality or Charles Manson-bag-of-cats-crazy.  I’m talking about bi polar disorder, depression, post traumatic stress and diagnosed conditions of that ilk that don’t require the individual to be institutionalized to be treated.  The approach Russell takes to the tenor of this story is much lighter than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but is no less difficult to handle, especially from those affected by the collateral damage of a suffering individual.  In fact, the story begins in a fairly heavy-handed manner to the point where I wondered how the humorous trailers that promoted this film would be integrated at all.  Until it was and the balance between gravity and levity is maintained throughout which keeps the pacing up without feeling like it’s a dead sprint to the finish line thanks to moments of reflection. 

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Taking a time out to teach white people rhythm.

I found it interesting how Russell related the struggles of Pat (Bradley Cooper) and his family to the city of Philadelphia and its love/hate relationship to its various sports franchises.  Individuals and the connection they feel with “their team” could very easily be described as a subtle psychosis that may lead to bad behavior and this leads to some very fun comic moments in the film which explores the ritual of the fan and its relation to team success.  The connection between the people of Philadelphia and its teams is undeniable and that history of disappointment and despair is a significant correlation with Pat’s personal struggle which introduces a familiarity to the audience and an easy opportunity to feel sympathy for everyone.  Regardless of someone’s race, profession, position and mental stability, sports can bring people equilibrium in Philadelphia, but not necessarily passivity.  As with Pat, the animosity and potential explosiveness always remains, but finding a means to deal with those emotions via positive outlook, exercise and positive relationships is the order of the day and carries a hopeful message throughout the entire story.

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I am not a crazy football fan!

The one weakness of this film happens to be the concept of character.  The primary reason for this is that virtually every character is exposed for having some semblance of psychosis to them regardless of their perceived stability.  Again, this leads to some funny moments, but also lumps everyone in the same boat which has an androgynous effect on the cast.  For instance, the primary relationship between Bradley Cooper’s Pat and Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is the engine for the whole movie, but they are both victims of stressful circumstance left volatile as a result of relationships ended under extreme duress.  Sure, this leads the audience to identify this as an ironic “match made in heaven,” but also gives us a relationship between two characters that are too similar.  Yes, every character deals with their feelings in different ways, but everyone releases their negative energy with violent outbursts.  Perhaps it takes “crazy” to know “crazy,” but I would have liked a bit more separation.

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If I scream louder than you does that make me a better actor?

This, however, does not take anything away from the exceptional performance by the entire cast.  Every acting category for Oscar gold is represented by an actor from this film.   Chris Tucker, back from a 5 year hiatus from Hollywood since Rush Hour 3, lends a novel contribution to a fairly white-washed cast.  He doesn’t come close to approaching his comic genius of Friday or Rush Hour, but shades of his deliver are felt whenever he pops up on screen and they always inspire a smile.  Jackie Weaver plays Dolores, the mother of the family who is clearly at her wit’s end when it comes to holding her family together and while her performance is very admirable, could easily be summarized by varying displays of “deer in the headlights.”  Her performance is heartfelt, but debatable when it comes to her Oscar nomination.  Most of you will remember John Ortiz from Fast & Furious, but his role as Ronnie is easily the most hysterical because he opens up to “crazy” Pat whenever he appears and he reveals himself to be a bit crazier as he shifts from successful family man to stress-induced-life-crushing-his-soul-man seamlessly.   Anupam Kher brings some stability as Pat’s psychologist Cliff Patel, but his transition from respectable doctor to raucous Philadelphia Eagle fan is amazing.  And I cannot forget Robert De Niro as the father, Pat Sr. whose Oscar nominated performance in a supporting role was a perfect balance of drama and comedy and has a very touching moment when he attempts to connect with his son when the frustration of his ailment reaches its peak.

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These are not throw-away moments.

Bradley Cooper may not have won for best actor, but he is more than deserving of his nomination the effort he put forth in Silver Linings Playbook.  His second collaboration with Robert De Niro required Cooper to run the entire gambit of human emotion, but he is required to be loud, obnoxious and aggressive for most of the movie.  However, it is when his character makes a connection with his love interest, where Cooper’s ability to pull back and relay subtle moments of humility and self reflection where his true skill is on display.  I did not particularly care for his Oscar clip showing one of his aggressive rants as evidence of his proficiency, but it gave the Academy Awards, as a show, a nice change of pace.  Bradley Cooper is a fine leading man who will be considered for future dramatic roles, but I feel he needs a specific role to inspire a great performance similar to what Ray did for Jaime Fox’s career.  Cooper may become a “great” actor one day, but he’s not quite there yet and there’s a difference between great actors and great performances.

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Crazy, sexy, chemistry.

Jennifer Lawrence; ‘nuff said.  What else can be said of this young actress who seems to be doing it all right in her career thus far?  Despite her excellent performance in this film, I still maintain her nomination for Winter’s Bone as a complete and utter fluke, but what she gives in Silver Linings Playbook is the furthest from.  Again, her character is mirrored by Bradley Cooper’s in many ways, but there is something to her particular gaze on screen.  It is difficult to describe, but I feel her character’s eyes like daggers, but she balances this piercing effect with inept frustration and defeated depression.  Yes, she still looks and seems far too young for Bradley Cooper in this film (especially at the end in her Dancing With the Stars outfit), but this sentiment is negotiable.  What sold her performance as Oscar worthy was not the collective of scenes she shared with Cooper, but her extended scene of contention with Robert De Niro and she does not back down for a single moment.  Lawrence matches De Niro’s aggression and feeds off the energy they share in the moment.  Any other 20-something actress would have probably been intimidated into a lesser performance.

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She’s the real deal.

Silver Linings Playbook is many things as a film.  It is a good drama.  It features fine performances.  It has some thoughtful social commentary.  It is a great “date night” movie.  But it is also breaks the mold when it comes to prototypical film demographics.  Having seen this film in the theaters two nights ago, I was stunned to see the seats filled at 80% capacity.  I was also impressed by the makeup of the crowd as well.  Certainly there was a healthy compliment of middle agers and seniors, but there was an equally significant showing of younger/teen women in the audience and that is 100% attributed to Jennifer Lawrence.  As she progresses in her career, I predict she will have this similar kind of barrier breaking effect that will draw more men to her romantic comedies and more women to her action films (X-Men: First Class/Hunger Games).  This is perhaps the greatest value in attaching Jennifer Lawrence to your cast.  Silver Linings Playbook is truly worth checking out.  You will be entertained and you will be impressed.

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Movie News Reviews

2013 Oscars: Results, Opinions & Fallout

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Oscar Fallout 2013

What the hell just happened?

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

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What can I say?  Oscar night is a magical night.  It’s my Super Bowl night and I was really anticipating the results of this evening because the films up for contention were much more interesting from top to bottom than last year.  I was also intrigued to see how Seth MacFarlane would host such a gala event and his selection makes a lot of sense, right?  He’s been celebrated for being the ring master behind Family Guy that has delivered countless laughs that poke fun at anything and everything, but particularly, the “ridiculousness” of American pop culture.  In a way, his selection is quite ironic because The Academy Awards represent a hallmark in Americana that he wouldn’t mind completely ripping into for its elitism, shallowness, and plasticized prima facie.  However, this stage represents an opportunity for his irreverent comedy to keep this show fresh and significant to the movie patrons of the future.  Considering the extra attention this evening is receiving for the political films that are the frontrunners this evening, I fully expect a Brian Griffin moment from Seth where he makes an observation that is neither too hilarious, nor too poignant and everyone pauses for consideration.  That being said, Seth will either soar with the eagles or crash and burn and melt and leave a really bad smell afterwards.  How did it turn out?  Read on Cosmic Book News faithful, read on.

[Red carpet observation: What was the deal with all the white girls getting the memo regarding the requirement to show up with equally white dresses?  Noteworthy exceptions to this were Jennifer Anniston, Catherine Zeta Jones and Nicole Kidman.]

 

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Opening Ceremony

I really appreciated Seth’s rip on The Artist right off the bat.  It also didn’t take long for Seth to get a few “ooo” moments for the jokes he made: Chris Brown/RhiannaAnd then Captain Kirk appears?  Ok so, it led into Seth’s first musical number (pre-recorded, but pretty funny about all the women we saw the boobs of), but the little dance number between Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron was unexpected, but completely adorable.  Then Daniel Radcliffe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth perform a short rendition of “High Hopes.”  Obviously Harry Potter has Broadway skills, but who knew Robin could sing, too?  This led to a skit of MacFarlane hitting on Sally Field in a “Flying Nun” costume.  Meh.

 

Octavia Spencer presents Best Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

Big surprise #1.  I really was not expecting this and I’m pretty sure no one else did either, but I guess someone has to continue feeding the Taratino machine that sweet sustenance of credibility.  Shame on me, I didn’t see Django Unchained yet, but I’ve heard nothing but mixed reviews concerning it.  That’s not a knock on Christoph Waltz who is deserving of such recognition based on the excellence he displayed in Inglorious Basterds.  Still, this may be a sign to come that Lincoln the pre-show favorite to win it all, might be snubbed all together.   

 

Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy present Best Animated Short Film – Paperman (John Kahrs).

What is it with comedians being earmarked for animated presentations?  What is it with them totally flubbing what they have to say in the process?  Rudd and McCarthy should have just played it straight because Paperman was one of the best animated shorts I’ve ever seen because it was quite touching in its simplicity and inspiring in its fantasy.

 

Best Animated Feature Film – Brave

What a surprise.  Disney Pixar takes the category made for Disney Pixar films.  Yawn.  Moving on.

 

The Avengers Assemble!  And they present Best Cinematography – Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)

Please do take a box office bow, gentlemen.  But where are the mighty Thor and the seductive Black Widow?  Excellent live chemistry was displayed by the group in attendance led by Tony Stark himself.  I just wished they could have been given more time to do their thing.  Guess I’ll just have to wait for The Avengers 2.  Good for Life of Pi, but the cinematography had better look great when the whole film is practically CGI.

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They also present Best Visual Effects – Life of Pi (Bill Westenhofer and co.)

I’m sure glad they brought The Avengers on the stage to be completely ignored by The Academy.  I get the distinct impression that something very weird is happening and that weirdness could be Life of Pi winning a heck of a lot more than it was projected.  Cue the orchestra for its first awkward play-off for a long running acceptance speech.  The Jaws theme completely drowned out Westenhofer just in time for the camera to cut to Nicole Kidman who frowned in disapproval for the classless move.  Still, everyone should have a go to “wrap up” comment to avoid being cut off.

 

Jennifer Aniston and Channing Tatum present Best Costume Design – Anna Karenina (Jacqueline Durran)   

Jen welcomes Chan to the waxed actors club.  Didn’t really need to know that one, but I’m glad a period piece won this award because they’re made to do exactly that.

 

Best Makeup and HairstylingLes Misérables (Lisa Westcot and Julie Dartnell)

Production value was big, big, business for Les Miz.  Costumes in that film were very well done and I expect Oscar gold in production design for this film as well.

 

Halle Berry presents the 50th Anniversary of James Bond

A nice little video montage of Bond’s greatest moments on film was nice, but nothing a freshman in college couldn’t compile on Final Cut Pro.  But then Shirley Bassey comes out of the floor to sing the Goldfinger theme quite masterfully; so much so that her rendition surpasses the original in every, single way.  You go girl!  Standing O: deserved!  Hopefully we get more of this with Adele waiting in the wings to do the Skyfall theme.

 

Kerry Washington and Jaime Fox present Best Live Action Short Film – Curfew (Shawn Christensen). 

I understand the need to thank The Academy for supporting the more obscure categories such as this, but it would be better if The Academy showed some real love to this category by making some comprehensive programs for those interested to actually see these little nuggets of gold.

 

Best Documentary Short – Inocente (Sean and Andrea Fine). 

So, the subject of this documentary was homeless last week and so shame on Hollywood for not getting artists like her seen and heard?  How about shame on humanity for allowing atrocity like hunger and homelessness to exist anywhere!  Look, I’m happy they won, but let’s have some solutions before pointing fingers.

 

Ben Affleck thanks Seth for the constant ribbing and presents Best Documentary Feature – Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chin).

I’m glad that the one documentary that didn’t cover absolutely depressing material won, but I really hate the Jaws theme being used (AGAIN) to play people off their speeches.  It’s starting to get annoying.

[Best MacFarlane joke of the night so far: “The cast of Prometheus tells us, what the hell was going on there?”]

 

Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain present Best Foreign Language Film – Amour (Austria).

Yay Austria, but then Seth MacFarlane thanks the orchestra and there’s a moment where everyone thought he was joking about it as they played behind his presentation.  One word: awkward.

 

Catherine Zeta Jones performs All That Jazz

If her singing was, in fact, live singing, then color me impressed.  If she was just lip syncing it, oh well, everyone’s doing it and I’m less impressed.  Still, she had to record it at some point.

 

Jennifer Hudson sings a number from Dream Girls

This number certainly sounded live because we could all hear her breaths as she swung the mic dramatically away from her mouth.  Jennifer’s a professional singer and she won an Academy Award for acting as a singer in this movie, so it better be live because it certainly kicked all sorts of ass.

 

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The cast of Les Misérables performs together.

I really enjoyed the staging of this musical number which incorporated everyone’s entrance (and I mean EVERYONE) as they rallied around One Day More.  Yeah, yeah, Russell Crowe still did his thing, but they sounded great as a collective.  Screw you Adam Lambert.  If you thought they were so terrible, get all your friends together and make your own musical adaptation. 

 

Mark Walhberg and Ted present Best Sound Mixing – Les Misérables (Andy Nelson and co.). 

I guess Ted had to do all the comic heavy lifting because Marky Mark was having none of it.  It makes all the sense in the world that a film requiring the balance between sound, dialogue, sound effects and background music would win this award.  No other film had such a heavy sound mixing burden.

 

Best Sound Editing – WTF?  (No BS, but a tie?)  Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall.

I can’t remember a tie for an Oscar in recent memory and it only ever happened twice before: once in 1932 for the best actor and a second time in 1968 for best actress.  And now it’s a third . . . for best sound editing? 

 

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Christopher Plummer presents Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway

Sitting next to her Les Miz costar, Hugh Jackman, Anne makes a nice gesture acknowledging every other nominee as well as the Wolverine himself.  She got so much hype for winning this award, but it was hype well deserved because it was an amazing performance. 

 

Sandra Bullock presents Best Film Editing – Argo (William Goldenberg)

It took a while for Argo to make any kind of splash but here it is.  And speaking of firsts, people winning their first awards seems to be the theme of the evening.  This doesn’t look good for the likes of Daniel Day Lewis.

 

Adele performs Skyfall

So we all know this song will win the Oscar later on in the evening right?  I’d just like to make note of the fact that Adele sings so well in that voice when she’s as British as the day is long.  Regardless, it was another inspired performance by a “true” singer which is actually better than the recorded version for the film.

 

Daniel Radcliffe and Kristen Stewart present Best Production Design – Lincoln (Rick Carter and Jim Erikson).

Another Oscar frontrunner picks up its first award and although this film did not involve any fantastic settings or highly stylize set pieces, the effectiveness of the production design was no less impactful.  By the way, if Stewart injured herself some way, why is she determined to hobble around like the walking dead (pun intended)?  Her constant grimacing was kind of annoying, so let’s get her some assistance and I don’t just mean from the Actor’s Studio. 

 

George Clooney presents In Memoriam

The obvious somber moment of the evening plays out like normal, but then opens up to Barbara Streisand singing Memories as only she can.  All that can be said is that she gave us all a beautiful and heartfelt performance.  Streisand is the epitome of dignity and class.

 

Some of the cast of Chicago present Best Musical Score – Life of Pi (Mychael Danna).

Chalk up another for the Ang Lee’s production, but it is unfortunate that no one on his cast or crew can pronounce his name correctly.  Pi is seems unstoppable at this point.

 

Best Original Song – Adele’s Skyfall

Good for Adele, but once again, no surprise here.  Anyone else signing this song, however, doesn’t bring the attention required to take home the victory. 

 

Charlize Theron and Dustin Hoffman present Best Adapted Screenplay – Argo (Chris Terrio).

Argo’s writer makes the first political statement of the evening giving a nod to nonviolent means of solving international problems.  Perhaps that message will get across to the US government, but it is not this day.

 

Best Original Screenplay – Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino).

Nice leather tie Q.  It was an interesting move to thank the power of his characters for his writing.  Although I will say that this year’s films were certainly better overall than last year’s, but I’m not necessarily thinking that this year was, in fact, the year for the writers.  Battleship and John Carter still happened this past year.  What about them?

 

Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda present Best Director – Ang Lee (Life of Pi).

Yes!  More redemption for the terrible Hulk.  With so many awards going Pi’s way, this really wasn’t a surprise.  Thanking Taiwan is interesting in that it’s dangerously close to thanking our good buddies in China who are having a blast hacking our databases for industrial espionage, crushing our economy with slave labor and probably prepping for WW III.  How much money do you think Lee’s production paid his two crews in India and Taiwan?

 

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Jean Dujardin presents Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook).

Holy *ucking sh*t!  Don’t get me wrong, I love Jennifer, but wow.  She had the hype, she had The Hunger Games and she has the whole of Hollywood eating out of the palm of her hand.  She is talented, she is capable, but she better not screw up the good fortune she’s found early on in her career.  Many actors have long careers with zero recognition and honorary Oscars do not count.  Christopher Plummer taught me that.  Good for you Jennifer, but you still have two more Hunger Games to muddle through.

 

Meryl Streep presents Best Actor – Daniel Day Lewis.

About damn time!  The most deserving winner for the most perfect category: this man became Abraham Lincoln.  No one else can claim this level of immersion.  Daniel offered up the best acceptance speech of the evening with a good dose of comedy.  Cheers Daniel!  Keep making and taking incredible roles.  

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Jack Nicholson presents Michele Obama who both present Best Picture – Argo (Ben Affleck and co.).

Ben’s co-producers took a specific time out to thank and re-thank Ben Affleck for his directing contributions to the film as a final “stick it” to The Academy.  Argo is deserving of this victory because of the story.  Please refer to my review concerning the historical accuracy of the actual event, but I don’t care if it was or wasn’t.  I want to be entertained and if the story is compelling enough, I will do research to find the “real” real story.   

 

The Host?

Let’s make this quick.  Seth did not sink or swim.  He did not exactly impress, but he did a respectable job.  All of his jokes simply took jabs at anyone in attendance and I was expecting some evolution of that strategy during the show.  It wasn’t terrible, but it got boring at times.  He did not succumb to the temptation of breaking into Family Guy voices at all.  That’s saying something, I guess.

 

The Big Loser

Zero Dark Thirty.  This movie should have gone home with absolutely nothing because sharing a tie for best sound editing, of all categories, seems like a door prize.  James Bond took home more Oscars than Kathryn Bigelow’s production this year.

 

The Big Winner

This was a little more difficult to arbitrarily designate, but it has to be Argo.  Certainly Life of Pi won a lot and for a while, it looked like it could go all the way.  But, the controversy of Argo as a production makes for a better story, right?  If it were nominated for more categories, it probably would have taken home more gold.  I’m just glad Affleck didn’t bust into his kegger acceptance speech from Good Will Hunting.  He came close, but pulled it back.

 

The Wrap Up

There were some twists and turns, some surprises and “no duh’s,” but overall I think this was a successful Academy Awards.  It’s still too long and there’s no way to address this issue without seriously thinking about cutting categories that get live presentations during the show or perhaps losing the musical performances.  I’d prefer the former because the performances really do add quality entertainment value.  At the same time, I really hate the orchestra playing people off with Jaws.  How about adding an “enhanced experience” for people to follow at home on their computers, tablets or smart phones to experience some of the trimmed fat in future shows?  

Did your favorites win?  Does The Academy have a clue?  Do you just want Jennifer Lawrence’s phone number?  Hollywood can still make amazing films when it wants to, so hopefully we can see better films at the theatres and when that happens, I hope to see you at the movies.

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Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

Starving for Summer in 2012

A Film Review of The Hunger Games

By: Lawrence Napoli

           

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:1158:]]Is Hollywood land trying to make March the new beginning of the summer blockbuster season?  The reason I ask is because the hype that has preceded The Hunger Games is very close to rivaling The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.  However, hype alone, does not a successful blockbuster make.  It must have story, it must have intrigue, it must have star power and it must have spectacle.  The Hunger Games has all these and one more x-factor worthy of identifying: it has a major draw for young women 13-21.  Oh yes ladies and gentlemen, the woman’s blockbuster is here to stay and it’s doing something its previous manifestations have not.  Titanic (1997) and the Twilight Saga (2008) raked in the cash thanks in most part to droves of young women making multiple runs to the cinema, but those films largely appealed to classic romanticism of heterosexual feminine tendencies by featuring good looking young men as the main characters who were equal parts strong and understanding.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, taps directly into girl power featuring a young woman as the protagonist who has an incredible ability to inspire young women in addition to men in a very leveled, respectable, non-cheesy or over-sexualized manner akin to Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). 

Young adult novels seem to be Hollywood’s second favorite gold mine of creativity next to comic books.  This trend worries me seeing how Hollywood is looking for every excuse on Earth to not have to generate original content.  However, if executed properly, the adaptation can still be wonderfully entertaining.  I found this to be the case for The Hunger Games despite not having read the books or knowing anything about the mythos.  That does not mean I found the story to be a flawless presentation.  Quite the contrary, the screenplay was riddled with plot gaps, glaze-overs and incomplete/irregular explanations.  This film attempts to present some generalized global conflict as the situation that necessitates the existence of said “Hunger Games” as a means of maintaining law and order.  Simply put, a few lines of text narrated by Donald Sutherland before the movie began was quite pathetic, and did nothing to lay out the social desperation facing the individual districts of what we presume is the former United States.  As an extension to that criticism, “hunger” itself is never developed as a specific plight on the populace, rather, a coincidence of extreme poverty and under-development, thus explaining how District 12 (at least) is a bit of an Amish paradise. 

The script by Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins fails at establishing the boundaries of this fictional world, but where it succeeds is in every scene that features Katniss Everdeen (our heroine) as a young woman well beyond her years in terms of responsibility, tact and boldness.  Every scene the audience bears witness to endears them further to Katniss as a character because her actions and words are prototypically good without being “goody two-shoes.”  Katniss needs to be tough in this unforgiving world, and has no problem making life and death decisions, but I feel she is written as almost too good at times.  Every decision she makes (even the one that lands her into trouble in the first place) always seems to work out with very minimal personal sacrifice.  I attribute this convenience to her “beginner’s luck” in taking the first steps in the transition from District 12 nobody to global symbol of hope and victory.  I fully expect the follow up films to The Hunger Games to involve more cerebral/personal struggles for Katniss beyond strangers that want to murder her because seeing how the hero reacts to failure demonstrates true character.  Regardless, this film pulls out all the stops to make you love Katniss for her innocence, her irreverence and her ability to adapt. 

Visual effects in The Hunger Games are nowhere close to being on the same level as Twilight, let alone Harry Potter.  Granted, this film doesn’t involve super-powered freaks or magic, but it does feature a stark contrast in technological prowess between the worlds of “The Capitol” and “District 12.”  For instance, a hover train is used to transport our protagonists to where their fates are to be determined, but it was seen only briefly from an aerial angle and at a great distance.  I feel that closer shots or dynamic pans and tilts to showcase the train would have left the audience at the same loss for words as Katniss herself upon boarding and traveling on such a marvel.  Then there was the “are they organic or are they digital” monster dogs towards the end of the film that weren’t particularly well detailed in any way which reminded me of the atrociously generic “hulk dogs” from Ang Lee’s failed adaptation of Hulk in 2003.  The one impressive example of visual effects was the “clothes on fire” effect used on two separate occasions to (once again) make Katniss more attractive to both her virtual audience and the real one in the theater. 

For a film that is meant to be about something as controversial as children killing children (for any reason), this film is surprisingly light on the action.  Of course, there is a very good reason for this, and it revolves around the fact that this film is rated PG-13.  With most of the kills happening off camera, and the ones that are seen being displayed exclusively in extreme close-ups, there really isn’t much combat displayed on the screen.  If the audience was shown this level of violence from medium shots and wide angles, this film gets an R rating — oh and by the way, loses all that filthy, ridiculous money it made on its opening weekend.  All of the violence and brutality is more implied rather than plainly observed, and that hurts the pacing of this film.  Perhaps the book paints a more thrilling fight for survival, but what the audience observes is more of a deadly game of hide and seek with an over-emphasis on the hiding.  Viewers beware: This is the unfortunate effect that the business of Hollywood has on the fiction of Hollywood which often results in the declawing of more dangerous (and interesting) source material.  If The Hunger Games film franchise wants to make the same kind of waves the novels did, the violence and the action must be upgraded.  

I was astounded at the amount of A-list talent attached to this picture outside of the teen-looking main characters.  Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson all have small, supporting roles in the same manner the adult thespians that populated the Harry Potter films supported its up and comers.  They all did fine jobs with extremely limited opportunities to shine, but the one marquee talent that left the biggest impact in terms of performance was the one not considered an actor in the first place: Lenny Kravitz as “Cinna.”  Yes, you read that correctly.  This rock and roller plays an image/fashion consultant to Katniss to aid her in playing the game outside the game of survival: gaining sponsors for third party aid inside the kill zone.  No other character embodies an adult’s perspective on the games as both compelling and barbaric.  Kravitz displays full confidence in his character’s experience in giving his “tributes” the best chances to survive while developing a genuine concern for Katniss as more than a sacrificial lamb.  His performance is so genuine that every line he delivers to Jennifer Lawrence feels like he is speaking to his actual daughter, Zoe, in real life.  This positive relationship is so vital for The Hunger Games because rich adults and poor children are clearly at odds in this unforgiving, fictional world, whether the children realize it or not.

Josh Hutcherson’s performance as Peeta, the romantic interest/co-tribute of Katniss does a fine job of complimenting her as a character.  Clearly, the role of Peeta is designed to develop a degree of stereotypical role reversal to his female counterpart.  Peeta wears his emotions on his sleeves, is more artistically attuned, is easier to talk to and is slightly less courageous than Katniss.  Josh excels in not overplaying the degree of “weakness” his character shares in relation to Katniss which is vital in maintaining the credibility of “girl power” in this film.  Peeta’s true strength lies in his sense of self and his limitations, and Josh relays this with an everyman’s candidness that only results from decent chemistry with his costar.  The one criticism I have for Josh, is the same I have for Ms. Jennifer Lawrence: The romantic sparks don’t exactly sizzle between them in this film, but then both actors were born in the 1990s.  Take that observation for what it’s worth.  A greater sense of comfort with each other should yield a more rewarding (and less awkward) relationship on the screen in subsequent sequels.

As for Jennifer Lawrence, I can say with full confidence that she is the queen of 2012’s blockbuster films.  Her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone (2010) yielded an Academy Award nomination for a performance in a leading role.  What’s interesting to note is that her character in that film is eerily similar to Katniss in The Hunger Games.  Both are stuck in the wilderness, both behave as parents to their parents, and although they are victims of circumstance, they take steps to do something about it.  Jennifer Lawrence defines confidence and command, and had she played Mystique as thus in X-Men: First Class, that character would have been more compelling than a jealous bimbo straight out of the valley.  But I digress.  Few young, American actresses could do the character of Katniss Everdeen justice without making her something she is clearly not.  Amanda Seyfried would make Katniss too sexy, Anne Hathaway would make Katniss too old, Amanda Bynes would make Katniss too goofy, Blake Lively and Megan Fox would be laughed at, Hayden Panetierre is too perky, and Kristen Stewart is too homely.  Jennifer Lawrence is just right because not only is she beautiful, but she actually has talent, and her appeal in The Hunger Games is refreshingly unisex.     

True girl power is not the concept of women simply being stronger than men; it is women showing an ability to surpass men on neutral ground (literal or figurative) without handicaps on either side.  Jennifer Lawrence and The Hunger Games represent Hollywood’s best attempt to present this idea as a blockbuster in recent memory.  I identify with Katniss not as someone I’d like to have sex with (i.e. the way Hollywood pushes women 99.9% of the time), but as an anonymous nobody that does the best she can with what she’s got and be damned if anyone else tells her otherwise.  I respect that idea because I strive for it.  In this day and age, where so many powerful forms of suggestion pervade our thoughts and minds, a little reminder about the strength of an individual’s will can be quite moving and empowering.  And guess what?  Women can make this idea just as inspiring as men, just not G.I. Jane (1997).

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