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Tue07172018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Writer-director Darren Aronofsky is a nut, and his latest film, Mother!, is one helluva nutty movie.

The film’s star, Jennifer Lawrence, is currently dating Aronofsky, a fact that infiltrates the mood of Mother! because the film takes aim at relationships, in a rather nasty way, among its many targets. Those targets also include the Bible, narcissism, celebrity, art, family, smoking and … oh yeah, motherhood. By the time Mother! is over, you might not know exactly what went down, but you know that what happened was rather cynical … highly stylized, loony, entertaining cynicism.

Lawrence plays Mother, an apparently kind-hearted partner to Him (Javier Bardem). They live in an old-style country house out in the middle of nowhere. Him is a writer, going through some major writer’s block and occasionally speaking of having lost everything in the past to a fire. He has some sort of crystalized object on a stand that he claims empowered him to move on after the fire. It’s in a room nobody is allowed to enter alone.

They live a quiet life in their little Eden, with Mother preparing meals while Man tortures himself, unable to produce a single word of his next great work. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s Man (Ed Harris), soon to be followed by Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a strange couple who wind up houseguests, thanks to Him’s hospitality—much to the chagrin of Mother.

Man and Woman invade Mother’s space, with Man huffing cigarettes and frequently vomiting from illness while Woman swills alcohol and asks Mother extremely personal questions. Eventually, Man and Woman’s two sons show up; if you’ve read the Bible, you can perhaps guess what happens when the whole family is under one roof.

Then … well, things get a little weird.

After a rage-inspired sex session, Mother becomes pregnant, and Man is suddenly fertile with ideas. He writes his next big thing, and their home is besieged by agents, fans, religious zealots, paparazzi, former Saturday Night Live cast members, policemen, soldiers, terrorists and fire. Mr. If there’s a takeaway from Mother! it’s that Aronofsky doesn’t have a pleasant attitude toward celebrity. Or Sunday school.

Lawrence lets it all go here, delivering her rawest, and sometimes angriest performance to date. Her character starts off placid and collected, but as more people show up, and more things get broken in the home she has quite literally put her heart and soul into, Lawrence’s Mother ratchets things up to psychotic levels. There’s something seething under the surface with Mother, and Man’s refusal to kick the invaders out of their home brings it up.

Bardem brings a “golly, gosh, gee whiz” quality to Him, interspersed with his own scary outbursts. (I’m thinking both Lawrence and Bardem went to therapy after wrapping this one.)

Harris is great as the first unwanted guest, clearly dying from something, but still able to do naughty things with the wife while the door’s open. Pfeiffer owns her role; this is her best work in years. She only has a few scenes, but all of them, especially one with Mother in the laundry room, leave a mark. The same can be said about Kristen Wiig, who takes a few minutes of screen time late in the film and kills it.

This is the second Aronofsky take on biblical themes. He treated the story of Noah like it was The Lord of the Rings a few years back, and now he’s treating it like Rosemary’s Baby meets The Shining. The film deals with creation in a way that ties into art, the universe, broken sinks and being left out of somebody’s will.

At times, the film is absolute chaos, but Aronofsky, the master behind Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan and The Fountain (another of his creationism meditations), keeps it all under control. Longtime collaborator Matthew Libatique provides impeccable cinematography yet again, making a total rebellion inside a country home look somehow realistic and perhaps even possible.

If you like your stories and scares straightforward, Mother! may frustrate you. However, if you have been having recent conversations about that puzzler that was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and you’ve watched Aronofsky’s The Fountain more than once, Mother! might be right up your alley.

Mother! is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Two of Hollywood’s biggest and most lovable stars labor away in Passengers, a pretty but dumb movie that doesn’t have the guts to be as ugly as it should be.

Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a mechanic dedicated to starting a life on a distant planet. He and 5,000 other passengers are in suspended animation aboard a ship taking a 125-year journey. That ship has an unfortunate encounter with a meteor shower, and Jim’s sleeping pod awakens him … with 90 years to go on the trip.

What to do? Jim soon realizes his plight. He’s fortunate in that the ship is a cruise ship, so it has a nice gym, OK food and pretty suites. The novelty runs out after a year, and a lonely, Robinson Crusoe-looking Jim (with a terrible fake beard) gets it into his head to do a very bad thing.

I’m delivering a spoiler of sorts here, but if you’ve seen commercials for this movie, you know that Jennifer Lawrence is in it, and her character has to enter the plot at some point, right? Besides, you can’t really spoil what stinks already.

Jim, after exhausting all conversation possibilities with the ship’s android bartender (Michael Sheen), opts to wake up Aurora (Lawrence). What’s more, he doesn’t tell her why. He also doesn’t tell her that he studied her for a good long while, and woke her up because he thought she was really smart and, yes, super hot. In one year of isolation, he’s become a freaky creep.

Where does director Morten Tyldum go wrong, besides having a really hard name to spell? He’s working off a Jon Spaihts (also hard to spell) script that insists upon being happy and triumphant, while it would probably work better as some sort of horror movie.

These characters are essentially lost in space and given a lonely death sentence, yet the film fights for ways to make it a sappy love story between Jim and Aurora. Oh, sure, Aurora gets a little pissed about the whole waking-her-up-to-die thing, but the script calls for Jim to be some sort of hero rather than her captor.

The movie shows Aurora getting angry, but she eventually comes around, because, you know, it’s Chris Pratt, and he’s really cute. Had some portly weirdo with snot coming out of his nose woken her up, this would’ve been an altogether different movie. Passengers seems to say that if you are really good-looking, you can do unspeakably awful things and get away with it.

Hmm. Actually, the movie might be onto something here.

Still, even if there’s a shred of truth to the whole good-looking-folks-get-the-best-of-it premise, this would’ve been a better movie had Aurora taken a beeline to the weapons room and went on a Jim hunt. To be a love story, Aurora’s awakening needed to be an accident as well. By allowing Jim to do this horrible thing and essentially get away with it, the movie blows an opportunity be something other than a pretty picture.

The movie is good-looking for sure, and I really liked the design of the ship. That’s one of this film’s few redeeming qualities—that, and the fact that Jennifer Lawrence really can act, even when she’s in a junk movie. She can almost salvage the most-mundane dialogue and make it sound good. Almost.

It’s very appropriate that the year is ending with a big, vapid, underwhelming blockbuster, for this was the year when there were many of those. Passengers won’t frustrate you so much for what it is, but what it could have been.

Imagine if somebody like Stanley Kubrick got hold of this premise. Oh man, that would’ve been a movie to be reckoned with. Instead, we get a pretty space opera with a happy ending.

Passengers is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After scoring a huge critical and box-office success in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past—Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise—20th Century Fox wisely brought the director back for X-Men: Apocalypse.

However, in an utterly baffling move, Fox cut the budget for the current installment, while padding the cast and upping the action. (Well, this is the studio that screwed up The Fantastic Four, so maybe the shortchanging of a reliable franchise isn’t all that surprising.)

The result: Portions of the movie look much sloppier than Singer’s usual offerings, with quite a few moments featuring cut-rate-looking CGI. The movie alternates from looking great to looking terrible. The flaws eventually pile up, and while there are some nice, enjoyable stretches, X-Men: Apocalypse is a mess in the end, despite powerful work from Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and a great performance by new-to-the-franchise Oscar Isaac as the menacing villain, Apocalypse.

Before the opening credits (which, by the way, look like shit), we get a quick back-story for Apocalypse. En Sabah Nur, an ancient Egyptian, morphs along with some sort of ancient mystical being, thus becoming the world’s first mutant, or something like that. He’s then buried under a crushed pyramid for centuries. Cue the cheap-looking opening credits.

Cut to the 1980s, 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past. A bunch of random people are standing around chanting in the pyramid ruins, and En Sabah Nur awakens as Apocalypse, a blue monster that looks like a cross between Jeff Bridges in Tron and the Emperor from Star Wars. Even though he’s buried under a bunch of makeup and voice modulation, Isaac makes every moment count. He looks like he’s having a lot of fun.

The same goes for Fassbender, whose Erik Lehnsherr has been masquerading as a mild-mannered factory worker in Poland since the events in Washington, D.C.; he’s happily married with a daughter. Erik is loving life—but when Apocalypse awakens, he causes an earthquake that jars something loose at the factory. Erik stops an object from falling on a friend, thus blowing his cover—and starting a series of events that leads him toward becoming the evil Magneto.

Apocalypse builds an army of four (like the four horsemen), including Magneto, Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn). They jet all over the Earth in some sort of energy bubble (kind of like Bill and Ted in their phone booth), eventually winding up at the school run by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Xavier has a power that Apocalypse craves—and this leads to all sorts of wham-bam, chaotic showdowns involving crumbling buildings and telekinetic battles.

With all of this going on, Singer tries to make time for a back-story involving Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) while also upping the screen time of Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Oh yeah, the film also features an upstart actress by the name of Jennifer Lawrence, doing her Mystique shtick. There’s even memorable sequence involving Quicksilver (this time set to a Eurhythmics song) during which the guy with knives shooting out of his knuckles makes a big, if forced, cameo. In other words: Singer tries to do too much, and the movie wears out its welcome with its 144-minute running time.

The weakest of the new entries is Turner as Jean Grey. The Game of Thrones actress is simply outmatched by the talent around her, and fails to make her Jean Grey compelling. She’s just kind of pouty and grouchy. Lawrence is fine as Mystique, but her storyline feels tacked on.

Had the movie spent a little more time with Magneto and cut back on some of the characters, X-Men: Apocalypse could’ve been another worthy entry, thanks in large part to Isaac. It’s ultimately a near-miss, and the worst movie in a franchise that hadn’t previously delivered a bad film. (Yes, I was OK with the third one.)

Whatever happens next, it might be time for Singer to take a sabbatical from X-Men.

X-Men: Apocalypse is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Joy is a goofy and uneven yet entertaining showcase for Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers a fun and strong performance as the title character.

Joy has a tough life, with a mother (Virginia Madsen) addicted to TV, and her divorced husband (Edgar Ramirez) and father (Robert De Niro) sharing her basement. She’s working crap jobs—but an idea for a revolutionary mop gets her onto TV and eventually changes her life.

Director and co-writer David O. Russell reunites with his Silver Linings Playbook star, and the results are a bit strange, to say the least. Lawrence puts the proceedings over the top with the sort of commanding performance that has become routine for her. De Niro has fun in his standard dad role; his roles in David O. Russell films are his best in years.

Isabella Rossellini gets her best role since Blue Velvet as the De Niro character’s rich girlfriend who finds herself bankrolling Joy’s mop scheme. Bradley Cooper barely registers as the TV executive who gives Joy her break, although that has more to do with his lack of screen time rather than the power of his performance.

It’s a good ensemble in service of a movie that is a little beneath them—but it all comes together for something that is worth seeing for the talent involved.

Joy opens Friday, Dec. 25, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Heavy action is back in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2, a satisfying—albeit super-dark—conclusion to the saga of Katniss Everdeen.

This whole Hunger Games thing could’ve been a super-drag without the presence of one Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. There are moments in this film, and throughout the saga, that suffer a bit from subpar writing—yet Lawrence makes any dialogue sparkle, no matter how mundane it may be. She is an actress who slices through the screen and smacks your face with her every gaze and word.

This film picks up exactly where the last one left off, with Katniss getting her neck tended to after a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) tried to choke her out. Peeta is in a bad place thanks to evildoer President Snow (Donald Sutherland); he’s as unreliable as a friend who dropped some very bad acid. He’s prone to spells during which he wants to kill Katniss, which makes things difficult as she leads Peeta and a squad of rebels on a mission to wipe out Snow for good.

Peeta is on the mission despite his altered state thanks to rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who wants the squad to film him and Katniss for propaganda purposes. Katniss is instructed not to engage with the enemy and simply to film videos to inspire the rebel troops—but we all know circumstances will call for her to raise the bow and arrow.

Part 1 was a more laid-back affair, while this chapter amps up the action, especially in the second half. There’s an underground sequence during which Katniss and friends must battle mutants that look a little like the cave creatures from The Descent. It’s during this sequence that returning director Francis Lawrence lets us know that Part 2 will easily be the darkest and nastiest film in the franchise. It pushes the PG-13 rating to its very limit.

In addition to a surprisingly high body count, Part 2 hits hard with its “Don’t trust the government!” message. While we already knew President Snow was quite the scumbag, this film adds another surprising villain to the mix. (Yes, all of you readers of the book knew what was going to happen, but my ignorant, non-HG reading ass got taken by surprise when I saw which way things were going.)

This includes the last screen performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who didn’t quite finish his planned scenes as Plutarch Heavensbee, but did enough for editors to put something convincing together. Plutarch actually makes his exit via a letter to Katniss in a surprisingly poignant move. Hoffman, in his few scenes, commands the screen like no other. It’s lousy that he isn’t with us anymore.

The most improved Hunger Games franchise performance award goes to Sutherland, who took Snow from a preening goofball in the first chapter to someone deliciously villainous by the final film. Like Hoffman, Sutherland only has a few scenes, but they are powerful. Snow’s last two encounters with Katniss are bone-chilling.

Hutcherson does good work as a twitchy Peeta, while Liam Hemsworth is bit humdrum as Gale Hawthorne, the other man after Katniss’ affections. The Hawthorne character winds up being, more or less, useless and disposable by the final chapter. Jena Malone has a couple of good scenes as crotchety Johanna Mason; during one of them, she sports an impressive bald head courtesy of special effects. (She apparently used a stunt head.) Her character’s hair seems to grow back awfully fast, though.

So that’s it for now with The Hunger Games, although I’m sure somebody’s working hard to come up with a way to continue the franchise, just as they did with the Harry Potter universe and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can’t keep a multi-billion dollar franchise down.

I ultimately wound up liking The Hunger Games phenomenon after a crap start, but I am happy to see Lawrence totally free to do other things, like David O. Russell’s soon-to-be-released Joy. She’s only 25, and she’s just getting started.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 is playing at theaters across the valley, in various formats.

Published in Reviews

Things take a darker, more underground and perhaps more understated turn in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. While the film is a step backward from the rousing Catching Fire, it’s still a sturdy installment.

After being rescued at the end of Catching Fire—shortly after destroying the Hunger Games for good—Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken underground to join the rebellion. Rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the reluctant Katniss as a propaganda tool to inspire the masses against the Capitol and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Katniss is getting a little grouchy at this point, exacerbated by the fact that Snow has imprisoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and is using him as a propaganda tool. Televised interviews with Peeta and Caesar (Stanley Tucci, playing my least-favorite character in the series) suggest that Peeta wants the resistance to lay down their arms and accept the Capitol. He’s being labeled a traitor.

In exchange for help rescuing Peeta, Katniss agrees to assist with the resistance and be their “Mockingjay.” In the film’s best sequence, Katniss is asked to perform in a staged, studio production of what’s supposed to be a rousing, call-to-arms propaganda piece. Alas, Katniss can’t act.

It’s decided that a more realistic approach would do, so Katniss goes above ground, where a couple of decent action sequences ensue. A TV crew is embedded with her, and they capture Katniss in real action alongside District 12 friend and semi-love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, awarded more screen time in this installment).

Mockingjay—Part 1 is the result of taking the final novel in the popular Suzanne Collins series and splitting it in half; after all, more movies equal more dollars. However, I didn’t feel like the material was being stretched out in a detrimental way—like, say, what’s happening with the Hobbit movies. This film has plenty moving it forward, and I like where it ends.

There’s a cliffhanger, for sure, but it’s a cliffhanger with just a one-year wait. In my day, we used to wait more than THREE YEARS for the answer to a nasty movie cliffhanger. My junior high school grades suffered due to the malaise brought on by The Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger. I think it truly damaged me, and may be why I hate parties and am not married.

Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, now a part of the underground movement, isn’t allowed to drink anymore, so he’s grumpier than Katniss. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has also gone underground, where she is no longer adorned with extravagant wigs, gowns and makeup. It’s actually a pleasure to really see Banks, who takes the character to new places without her powdered face.

Moore is a welcome presence, as she often is in movies. Sutherland has really progressed with the Snow character; I didn’t like him all that much in the first movie. (Actually, I didn’t enjoy much of anything in the first installment.) In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman is strong as Plutarch, the double-agent architect of the Hunger Games now helping the resistance. Hoffman completed filming before his passing, so we will see him in Mockingjay—Part 2 as well.

Lawrence doesn’t get to strut her action-heroine stuff as much in this installment (although she does shoot down a plane with an arrow). She’s required to emote more in this one, and a couple of her moments are actually a little overwrought. I’ll blame director Francis Lawrence for the film’s more awkward moments, because I don’t want to blame Jennifer Lawrence for anything. She’s just so damned delightful!

Diehard fans: You already know how Mockingjay will end, so buck up and calm down. I heard people actually crying in the audience, because they were pissed with the cliffhanger ending. Just go read the book again, or practice a little thing called patience. It’s all going to be finished up in next year. Everything is going to be OK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The X-Men franchise has taken the time-travel route made popular by James Cameron’s Terminator movies and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) partakes in a unique form of time-tripping—and the result is the best film in the series since X-Men 2.

Another big contributor to the awesomeness of the latest installment is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair. Singer piloted the first two X-Men films; he has a nice command of the characters in both their old and younger incarnations. It’s good to have him back.

The film starts in the future, where the likes of Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine have been reduced to hiding out in a dark, apocalyptic world where their enemy is a vicious robotic force called the Sentinels. Things are looking bad for the mutants.

However, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has perfected a form of time travel in order to mess with the Sentinels. It involves time-traveling in one’s own mind back to a particular point in memory where the traveler can mess with the fabric of time. She can only send somebody back for a few minutes or so due to brain trauma—but then it strikes the X-Men that Wolverine has instant healing powers.

Wolverine therefore travels back to the early ’70s, before the Sentinels go into production, and before Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) commits a murder that will doom the future. It’s a nice chance to see Wolverine with his bone claws again, and it creates an opportunity to combine the two recent X-Men casts.

Most of the action takes place in the past, so the X-Men: First Class cast gets most of the screen time. That means more of the terrific Michael Fassbender’s take on Magneto, who is being held in a prison underneath the Pentagon for allegedly having something to do with an infamous magic bullet. James McAvoy actually steals the show as young Xavier/Professor X, who has found a solution for his crippled legs—but it has a truly bad side effect.

Peter Dinklage has a pivotal role as a creator of the Sentinels; Dinklage always adds a level of class to any project. The film also allows a funny take on Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho), who finds himself in the middle of the whole mutant public-relations fiasco.

While Lawrence gets plenty of screen time as Raven, we never do see Rebecca Romijn as Mystique. We do get a brief, brief glimpse of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. (More scenes wound up on the cutting-room floor, according to Singer.) There are more than 30 seconds of Halle Berry’s Storm in the film, which means there’s more Storm in this movie than anybody really needs.

A welcome cast addition is Evan Peters as the speedy Quicksilver. One of the film’s best sequences involves how it looks to Quicksilver, through his eyes, as he rearranges a gunfight with his fingertips in a half-second. We see it in slow motion, with much comedic detail. It’s brilliant.

This film basically allows the X-Men universe to jettison X-Men: The Last Stand, a film made by Brett Ratner; it was not a favorite with fans. I didn’t hate the movie, but it stands alongside the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine as one of the weakest movies in the series.

As is the case with Star Trek, the whole system has been reconfigured with X-Men, and all options are open for future films. Is there chance they can use the whole time-travel thing on the Matrix movies, and fix those screwed-up sequels?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is playing in regular and 3-D formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

David O. Russell continues his impressive directorial roll with American Hustle, a semi-comedic look at the notorious 1970s Abscam scandal. Russell is shooting for Scorsese-style glory here, and while the style of the movie seems copied at times, there’s no denying the power of the ensemble cast.

Bradley Cooper scores laughs as a pathetic FBI agent looking to make a name for himself, and Christian Bale looks great in a combover as the conman forced into an alliance with the law. Amy Adams gets one of the strangest roles of the year as a con artist pretending to be British—and she pulls it off quite nicely. Jennifer Lawrence steals every scene she’s in as a seemingly dim Long Island housewife. You also get Louis C.K. as Cooper’s field boss. (He canceled a show for which I had tickets to make this movie. I was pissed then, but after seeing how good he is here, I’m OK with it now.)

The film falls a little short of greatness due to its sometimes carbon-copy feel, but the cast pulls it out of the fire. It also has the best usage of Robert De Niro as a bad guy in many years.

American Hustle is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A new director, some well-placed cast additions, a brand-new cinematographer and a strong central performance from Jennifer Lawrence make The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a vast improvement over the franchise’s first chapter.

Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and cinematographer Jo Willems (Limitless) get rid of most of the goofy, baroque sheen that made The Hunger Games so annoying. They also have a much better technique for filming action scenes—and as a result, they have made a film that feels quite brutal at times. A film about kids being forced to kill each other should be brutal, and not feel as if it is pulling punches, as the first movie did.

Watching this new film, I was reminded of how the Harry Potter series switched into high gear with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Alfonso Cuarón washed out the color palette and added a new element of darkness to the proceedings. In many ways, Francis Lawrence steals Cuarón’s game—and that’s to the viewer’s benefit. This is an efficient, well-oiled movie machine now.

The sequel picks up soon after the events of the first film, with Katniss and Peeta (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) enjoying a relatively calm, reluctant celebrity life after their rule-bending victory in The Hunger Games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is not happy with the rising popularity of Katniss, and he lets her know that, in person. Soon thereafter, Katniss and Peeta find themselves fighting for their lives again in a rarely invoked tradition of former Hunger Games victors competing against each other.

Gone is that quick-cut, shaky-cam, messed-up way of filming action to mask the violence in what is essentially supposed to be a violent movie. (The movies thus far have been rated PG-13; an R rating would keep many young fans away.) The action is not only easy to follow, but quite exciting. A sequence in which Katniss and friends flee some sort of creeping gas cloud stands as one of the better action scenes this year.

Lawrence takes Katniss to a new, far-more-interesting level this time out. In front of Willems’ lens, she’s looking a little more worn and embittered; I found her believable as a war-torn survivor. She also seems a little more engaged in this movie, as if the new director simply pulled a better performance out of her. Her performance in the first film was fine, but the environment she was put in felt staged. Catching Fire feels more organic.

Sutherland’s Snow gets a chance to be more involved and far more sinister; he is establishing himself as a true villain. Philip Seymour Hoffman climbs onboard as the shady new game master; he’s a far more menacing presence than Wes Bentley and his lame facial hair.

Hoffman is good, but Sam Claflin wins my pick for best new addition to the cast as the preening Finnick Odair. He’s a great, mysterious Hunger Games competitor whose motivations are complicated. He also provides some decent comic relief. Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer also join the cast as competitors, making the group of people in the game far, far more interesting than those in the first film.

In the great tradition of mega-franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire leaves you with a big cliffhanger. Don’t worry; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (two films will cover one book) is merely a year away. Even better news: Francis Lawrence will direct the two Mockingjay films, so they have a solid chance of being good.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jennifer Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, which was released on Blu-Ray and DVD yesterday (April 30), but the best performances in this movie are delivered by Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

I don’t mean to knock Lawrence by saying this; she’s quite good in the film. It’s just that Cooper and De Niro (who were both Oscar-nominated) are a little better.

Cooper plays a man recently released from a mental hospital who is looking to get back with his wife, despite the fact that she has a restraining order against him, and despite her complete lack of interest in his existence. De Niro is on hand as his dad, a superstitious gambler who wants his son to watch football with him, not because he wants genuine father/son time, but because he believes his son provides good luck.

Enter Lawrence as a recently widowed woman living nearby; she’s an equally troubled person who pretty much forces Cooper into her life. The two wind up hanging out much to his chagrin, and eventually find themselves in a dance competition.

It’s much better than it sounds.

Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro all manage to portray people with mental problems while avoiding clichés. Each makes his or her character sympathetic, sometimes tragic, and even a little funny at times.

Director David O. Russell always manages to get great ensemble work (Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings, The Fighter), and this film firmly establishes him as an elite director.

Lawrence is great here, but I would’ve tossed the Best Leading Actress Oscar at Naomi Watts for her work in The Impossible. Cooper was even better, but I would’ve given the Best Leading Actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis (who did indeed win it) and Hugh Jackman before him. However, considering who was nominated alongside De Niro for Best Supporting Actor, I think Bobby D. should’ve gotten his third Oscar.

Special Features: Good movies often have good deleted scenes, and such is the case with this Blu-ray release. You get a bunch of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, and many of them were worthy of the film. You also get some decent behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing