Tag Archives: Jennifer Lawrence

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) 3.9/5 (7)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.9
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender

Director Bryan Singer brings an assured and classy touch back to the franchise he helped forge in this surprisingly gripping fantasy sci-fi in which two versions of the same X-Men are united across time in an epic showdown to save the Earth against a future army of robot “Sentinels”. Superbly balancing the multiple threads to the story so that the main plot pulses steadily and clearly from start to finish, X-Men: Days of Future Past counts as a rather impressive feat of story-telling. With Patrick Stewart’s “Prof. X” and Ian McKellen’s “Magneto” on one side of the temporal divide, their successors (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively) on the other, and Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” straddling the two, we move between a nicely realised 1970’s and a desolate future as the older X-Men attempt to alter their own history and preclude the invincible Sentinels from ever coming into being. On the technical front, this movie is pillared by some genuinely striking action set pieces opening with an elegantly edited showdown between mutant and robot and peaking with an acutely impressive prison-break in the bowls of The Pentagon. This latter sequence, wryly soundtracked to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”, involves Evan Peters’ delightfully impish “Quicksilver” making a high speed mockery of the famous building’s security in a whirlwind of smile-inducing not to mention brilliantly conceived mischief-making. Alongside this brief cameo of what very well might prove to be the franchise’s most lovable character, what really sets Days of Future Past apart from the myriad of modern superhero movies is the sophistication of its construction. Though most of the future mutants offer mere cameos, Singer makes the most of their personalities and powers, deftly interweaving their trials and tribulations with those of their past counterparts and culminating in a suitably rousing finale. Given how uninspired and formulaic the genre has become, it’s genuinely refreshing to come across a simply well made movie.

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Winter’s Bone (2010) 4.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.8
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Duration: 100 mins
Director: Debra Granik
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt

Daniel Woodrell’s novel is given a pared down but respectful treatment in this assured adaptation and surprise 2010 hit. Jennifer Lawrence puts in a “star is born” performance as Ree, a self-sufficient 17 year old from an impoverished mountain family and surrogate mother to her younger siblings in the absence of her criminal father and her mentally ill mother. Having grown up in a culture of lawlessness, she tries to keep her brother and sister away from the local business of meth production but supporting them with no means of income isn’t easy. Things hit breaking point when her father puts up their home as collateral for his bail bond only to go missing on his release. This forces Ree to track him down if she is to keep a roof over her family’s head. However, every where she looks, she is met with resistance and outright malice as she’s warned away in increasingly severe fashion. Only her locally feared uncle (John Hawkes) seems willing to help, if reluctantly so in the beginning.

Set in the back end of the Ozarc mountains, Winter’s Bone takes us into a world that movies don’t visit too often and such is the attention to detail that, despite the obviously rich dramatisation, Winter’s Bone at least feels very authentic. As such, writer-director Debra Granik is able to, quite sneakily, make the experience of that world as central to the movie as the plot is. She allows the film to rest on those moments that distinguish the characters’ way of life from their socialising and their dialogue even to the manner in which they get their food. There’s no doubt that this makes for a more engaging film but at times, she and her co-writer Anne Rosellini go too far with the regional dialogue. Making it centre stage and stretching its use beyond that which seems probable eventually takes too much attention away from the plot and the film can lose momentum from time to time. Her direction shows greater sturdiness making maximum use of a minimal budget by utilising the bleak landscape of wintertime Missouri to enhance the coldness of the script and frame the entire film with a desolation and wildness. The sense of outsiderness in Ree’s community is thus accentuated as, more and more, we get the feeling that these people have been, at best, living in parallel with the rest of the 21st century.

This is a dark portrayal of a way of life so palpable and so fraught with foreboding that it feels more like a thriller than a drama. But a drama it is for the essence of the story is Ree’s strength of purpose. Refusing to feel sorry for her predicament, she soldiers through the film driven by an unwilting desire to do what her family need her to do. It could make for a rather plain performance in the wrong hands but so dexterous is Lawrence that she’s able to reveal enough nuances as she goes to give Ree’s focused pursuit some genuine texture.

The edge to this film is provided by its support cast with Hawkes showing yet again why he’s one of America’s most underrated actors in an intense but well judged turn as the vicious but ultimately caring uncle. Dale Dickey is similarly impressive as the battle axe matron of a powerful local family and while her character’s actions get a little silly towards the end, she helps substantially in painting the film’s more menacing tones. Winter’s Bone isn’t the easiest watch given its no holes barred storyline and bleak direction but it’s deeply compelling and, regardless of its few missteps, it carries you right through to the end. It ran out a deserved winner of 2010’s Sundance Festival’s Grand Jury Prize and helped make the career of one of acting’s brightest talents but be warned, Walton’s Mountain it ain’t!

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American Hustle (2013) 2.38/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 87.8
Genre: Crime, Gangster
Duration: 138 mins
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

As much as great scripts inspire great performances so do great directors. That we have seen fewer and fewer Stanley Kowalskis, Michael Corleones, and Jake LaMottas in the last 30 years is a testament not necessarily to the lack of great actors but perhaps the lack of great writers and directors or at least the lack of all three elements at the same time. Well fret no longer because 2013’s American Hustle represents as explosive an intersection between all three elements as we’ve witnessed probably since Goodfellas. “Seminal”, “sublime”, “iconic”, “defining” are just some of the superlatives that might swirl through your head while watching David O. Russell’s latest claim to directorial greatness. A near perfect immersion in the era and (partly fictitious) personalities of one of American history’s most infamous sting operations, the ABSCAM operation.

Christian Bale stars as the best conman in America, Irving Rosenfeld, who moves from one small time scam to another always staying off the radar. Amy Adams is the love of his life and partner in con artistry who eventually gets them in trouble when an eccentric FBI agent in the form of Bradley Cooper arrests her and forces the two experts to help him bring down a bunch of corrupt politicians and even the casino backing mobsters. What could go wrong? Well nothing – apart from Irving’s bipolar wife (a hysterical Jennifer Lawrence), a nice guy mayor (a brilliant Jeremy Renner) whom Irving is forced to double cross, and an infamous mobster who takes a dislike to Irving from the start (Robert De Niro in classic form).

The first thing to strike you about this film is its authenticity. Linus Sandgram’s cinematography, Judy Becker’s production design, and Michael Wilkinson’s costume design help largely in setting the era under the auspices of Russell’s urbane vision. Along with the (thankfully) less obvious and excellent source music, Russell channels his sterling cast’s performances through this visual aesthetic and wraps the whole thing up in several quietly impressive innovations in camera angles, editing, and overall narrative construction. The performances are universally meritorious with the five leads rating as exquisite but in different ways to each other. Cooper and Lawrence are wired to the moon with the former doing particularly well in bedding his character’s temperament in a believable personality. It’s a gleefully incendiary turn with a fair dose of humanity to make you feel for him. Lawrence’s character is more extreme in her mania and wasn’t required to play it as close to the ground as Cooper did. She has less screen time than Bale, Cooper, and Adams too but her few scenes are a riot of alcohol-fuelled insecurity-bridging mayhem.

Bale, Adams, and Renner have most of the straight acting to do. Adams is genuinely terrific in imbuing her character with a difficult conflict while Renner shows a charming level of humanity in his clever turn. Bale, on the other hand, does nothing short of deliver the best performance in a gangster movie since De Niro’s Jimmy Conway. From his barely noticeable hunch, his biting attitude, his touching concerns, to the intonations in his Bronx accent, he is simply sublime. The plot hinges on his quality and while Russell arguably spreads the story too thin by spending too little time on him, Bale ties it all together with his understated acting manoeuvres. The only other thing as exciting as watching him work is De Niro’s single scene in which he tantalises us with a powerfully intimidating piece of work that recalls the menace of his very best gangster roles.

At the feet of these acting masterclasses is Russell and Eric Warren Singer’s pitch, tone, and cadence perfect script which from very early on binds us to the principals. Picking up where Pileggi and Scorsese left off, it streams the narrative around not two but three cast narrations. The intimately autobiographical tone of Henry and Karen Hill is very much present but even more tapped in that regard as conversational like pauses become emotional lacunae in which Russell paints a far more intricate picture of personhood. It’s an immensely effective narrative adaptation and it sets the bar for the remainder of the film’s direction.

Intricacy is the key here as themes of friendship, rivalry, passion, fear, and above all, duplicity are brought together in unprecedented manner. It’s dramatic, it’s tense, it’s gripping, and thanks to that searing script, there are some impeccable moments of black humour littered throughout. There’s not much action compared to other gangster classics and both the heartbreak and payoff is more emotional and cerebral than we are used to seeing but the manner in which Russell weaves his tapestry is at times spellbinding. Yes, the story is large in scope and it feels like Bale’s Irving should’ve featured even more centrally than he did and yes, his seems like a persona we are not used to rooting for but, at all times, Russell looks to have an ace up his sleeve. Whether you believe he played it too late or not might be disputed but his timing undisputedly has one hell of an effect. And isn’t that what storytelling is all about?

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