Tagged: Jennifer Lawrence

Box Office Democracy: Passengers

One of the easier ways of showing that you’re a sophisticated consumer of entertainment is to lament that nothing ever changes in Hollywood.  It’s true that the entertainment machine doesn’t particularly care about artistry as much as it cares about profit, and that the easiest way to make that profit is by giving people what they’ve already enjoyed, but that doesn’t mean things don’t change.  A movie released today isn’t like a movie released 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even 10.  Passengers is a movie that was written in 2007 and took nine years to produce… and in that time it’s become as much of a time capsule as the frozen people the movie is about.  Passengers wants to be about the far future but instead is a relic of the past.

I’m just going to go full on in to spoilers from here on out.  I think you should probably skip Passengers but if you want to go and if you want to be surprised this is your exit.  Thanks.

I could never get over the fact that our main character Jim (Chris Pratt) essentially murders the other lead Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) when he purposely wakes her up from suspended animation to spend whatever portion of the 90 year journey they survive through.  I get that we’re supposed to feel Jim’s desperation and later in the movie they slap an analogy about how a person that’s drowning will pull other people down with them, but it never satisfied me.  The catalyst for the entire events of the movie is an incredibly selfish act.  They try to wave it away with rationalizations and by giving them a big thing to fight against and the characters get over it, but I never did.  Our main character is an obsessive stalker who escalates until he irreparably changes her life without her knowledge or consent.  I would watch this as a thriller or a horror movie but it falls flat as a quirky romance.

After the story fails to hook you, Passengers doesn’t have a lot to offer.  The looming menace lingers on the edge of the story so gingerly that it feels like it’s afraid to pull focus, so when it becomes the big deal in the third act it seems thrown together.  We go from little glitches and malfunctions to one catastrophic breakfast to the whole ship is going to explode right now.  It felt like they knew they needed a big third act and that they couldn’t make it come out of nowhere, but they never much cared to make it all make sense.

Perhaps it’s just because the rest of the movie never quite clicked for me, but I felt like I had so much time to nitpick the lazy construction of the universe.  Why would an essentially unmanned ship filled with people in suspended animation not simply fly around the giant asteroid field?  Why is this ship not programmed to wake up a mechanic or something when systems start to fail?  Why are the crew members we see older men?  If you consider that a round trip takes 250 years and the crew is only out of suspended animation for a few months on either side wouldn’t that mean that after a few voyages they would be thousands of years old?  250 years ago we were riding horses and lighting candles, how are these technologies relevant enough to do multiple centuries-long voyages?  Why was the observatory programmed to give facts about a part of the journey that no one would be awake for?  Every movie has these problems, no script will ever be tight enough to escape silly questions, but Passengers was slow enough and irritating enough that I spent a lot of time sitting there in the dark asking how any of it made sense.

I keep coming back to the idea that it took nine years to make this movie.  Maybe in 2007 I would have found this movie cute or romantic or even non-horrifying.  I’m much more weary of romance stories starting with fucked up behavior than I was then.  I’ve simply gotten used to a higher caliber of Hollywood science fiction over the last few years.  Passengers is a movie that I’m not sure anyone is asking for, so it lingers like an unwanted guest.  It’s overstayed its welcome and it needs to go.

Box Office Democracy: X-Men: Apocalypse

The X-Men movies have a fairly high average quality for a franchise going in to its sixth entry. In fact, with the exception of a Brett Ratner directed monstrosity of bloat and pettiness, there isn’t a truly bad film to be found in the bunch. For a stretch of my college career I would have told you X2 was the best superhero movie ever made. I would have been wrong— Unbreakable was a lot better and Spider-Man 2 has held up better over the years if we’re talking strictly licensed fare. But this is a franchise that means something to me so it’s a shame to see them start to slip a little bit. Not that X-Men: Apocalypse is a bad movie or anything, but it’s a frustrating one in many respects and one that could be pointed to some years down the road as the beginning of the end of X-Men as a quality, bankable, brand.

I’m not certain when it became the decree from on high that every X-Men film had to be a period piece but with three in a row and a fourth on the way that definitely seems to be the way things are going. It felt revolutionary with First Class, these characters are timeless in their way and putting them in some historical context is a great way to show off the multi-faceted nature of the material (it’s also a great way to not have to pay some of your more expensive actors but that’s neither here nor there). Days of Future Past was also fun; the time-travelling Wolverine made it all feel a bit more earned, plus it was a great excuse to retcon away some of the worst bits of X-Men: The Last Stand that no one cared for. Now it’s starting to feel a bit unnecessary with another movie another decade later. I’m no longer feeling like these are timeless characters and instead they’re starting to feel dated; like the X-Men are nothing but a nostalgia act. The best X-Men comics I’ve ever read have felt cutting edge, like they were happening six months from now not thirty years in the past. I get that all storytelling eventually feels dated, but at this point I would much prefer them working and reworking things so that older stories felt new instead of constantly telling me how old and quaint the X-Men are.

I understand that if we accept the premise that every X-Men movie has to be a period piece, that recastings will have to be a constant part of the franchise (although all the people from First Class sure don’t look 20 years older but whatever) and I generally like the new blood. Sophie Turner is a great young Jean Grey, although it’s certainly possible the casting is trading on some good will borrowed from Game of Thrones. My only critique of Tye Sheridan as Cyclops is he’s a bit of an emo stick-in-the-mud, but that’s also my critique of Cyclops the comic book character so maybe he’s actually perfect. My only real beef is with casting Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. You have one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood riding a hell of a run and you put him in a big suit under a ton of makeup and have him just recite dialogue that would have felt cliché in comics 15 years ago. It’s a staggering waste of an incredible talent. Even my fiancée, a dyed-in-the-wool Isaac fangirl, didn’t even recognize him in the movie until I pointed him out.

It’s not the kind of thing I like to complain about, but I was quite struck with how much the final battle looked like it was taking place in a studio lot. I know that they can’t actually film in a destroyed Cairo or anything but a bunch of people in costumes with no bystanders and some generic looking rubble looks a bit too much like a SyFy channel original movie for my taste. I don’t even know how to fix it and I’m sure I’ve seen a dozen action sequences shot in lots this year alone, but something about this one had me thinking the tour tram could drive by the background at any moment.

I know I’ve crapped on this movie a bit here but I want to emphasize that the stuff the works works so well. Michael Fassbender is amazing as Magneto, displaying a tortured depth to the character that honestly surpasses Ian McKellen’s wonderful but more scenery-chewing effort. Jennifer Lawrence has made Mystique into a character more interesting than her comic book counterpart, and while I’m not entirely sure it lines up narratively with all her other appearances she carries the film through all its bumpy stretches. All of the stuff that’s been working since the reboot still works… it’s just the connective tissue is getting worse and the formula feels a bit more tired. This series needs a kick in the ass, and not in the way a film set ten more years in the future is going to do. Maybe the next Wolverine will be great though.

The Tweeks Get the Feels with Mockingjay Part 2

As you know, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 opened last weekend. It’s the Hobbited trilogy of the books by Suzanne Collins and stars our spirit celebrity Jennifer Lawrence, along with Liam Hemsworth (who used to be our favorite Hemsworth, but we can’t pick just one anymore), Josh Hutcherson (he’s Anya’s favorite of all), Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (RIP) and lots of others, we’d be here all day.

There’s so much to say about the final installment of the Hunger Games movie franchise…except we can barely speak…THE FEELS! That Heffie scene! Finnick! Finnick & Annie! Prim! Pollux! The Epilogue. Watch the video as we try to get make sense of this very Tweeks Approved movie and get a few words in about the trailer for The Divergent Series: Allegiant.

Box Office Democracy: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

The Harry Potter franchise is, of course, a cultural institution. It was the formative literary experience for a generation of young people and a monstrously successful film franchise. Unfortunately, it also popularized splitting a climactic book in to two movies; a practice that has since gone rampant leading to the division of the very thin Breaking Dawn into two films to cap off the Twilight series, the ludicrous extension of The Hobbit in to three endlessly bogged down movies, and now The Hunger Games is left to limp across the finish line with Mockingjay Part 2, a film that struggles to justify its existence and ends up feeling bloated and insubstantial.

It serves the narrative but there’s so little of what I enjoyed about the Hunger Games movies up until this point. There’s very little Haymitch so there’s no opportunity to enjoy Woody Harrelson one more time. Effie Trinket gets a role I believe was absent in the books so we can get a fleeting glance at Elizabeth Banks. There are similarly small parts for Donald Sutherland, Jeffrey Wright and Stanley Tucci. Basically any incidental character that helped shape this film series is pushed to the side so we can get more of the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, and those characters as presented in these films are far and away the least interesting choices— and while Jennifer Lawrence is trying her damndest to make this material sing, Josh Hutcherson doesn’t get enough room to sell a very complicated character arc, and Liam Hemsworth is just far too bland.

Francis Lawrence’s direction continues to be the best part of this franchise. There are two superb action sequences in this installment: a sewer chase with a bunch of vaguely lizard-like zombie-esque monsters and a stunning battle sequence late in the film. The chase through the sewer and the fight sequences it contains is the best this series has ever seen, we finally get beyond the moral dilemmas and have every prominent character just let loose in a furious violent crescendo. By contrast, the battle scene late in the movie shows how small and insignificant the principal characters are, as they just sort of amble onward as the explosions and gunfire destroy everything around them and, at the end, they aren’t really a part of this war. It’s a wonderfully shot sequence with the camera fixed on Katniss as the action happens seemingly incidental to the framing of the shot. The chaos builds and builds and the audience can feel the frenetic disarray. These bits are arresting cinema and redeem so much of the little problems this movie has.

I’m going to get in to spoilers from here so consider yourself warned.

One big problem is that the story in both Mockingjay films is weaker than the ones that came before them. The idea that invading a city is really just like another Hunger Games is a silly conceit, but it’s one the movie inherits from the books. The way the film deals with the death of Prim is somewhat less excusable. Prim is killed suddenly, out of nowhere and the moment is given no air with which to breathe, to affect the audience. The movie barrels forward from that moment to the end credits with an inexplicable momentum considering how long we’ve lingered on so many more trivial moments. It’s hard to accept the big choices that come after if we don’t have a proper lens to see how this has affected Katniss. If this was the only way to get the scene with Katniss and Snow in the greenhouse I suppose I can accept it, it’s one of the best films in the series, but I bet I could have cut five minutes somewhere else to give this gigantic moment a little more space to resonate.

I’ve grown to appreciate The Hunger Games quite a bit since I grudgingly enjoyed the first film three and a half years ago. The first film was an admirable adaptation of a tricky book and the second film was an honest-to-goodness triumph of the genre, easily the best of the young adult book adaptation films, and a genuinely excellent movie. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to watch the wheels fall off from there a little bit. Taking the weakest book, the one least-liked by fans, and turning it in to two films has been an artistically questionable decision but it’s even taken a financial toll on these last two installments. Mockingjay Part 2 had a weaker opening than Part 1, which was weaker than Catching Fire. While we aren’t quite in the realm of failure here, it’s a bump in prestige to watch this franchise lazily bounce after soaring to such great heights. I hope this doesn’t tarnish a set of films that could have been an enduring cultural touchstone— but I’m not sure the odds are in its favor.

Tweeks: SDCC Report Part 1

It’s hard to believe Comic Con was a week ago because we’re still tired from all that running around, squee-ing, shopping, interviewing, and nerding it up.  Here’s a our video report full of our favorites from Hall H (Mocking Jay, Supernatural, Doctor Who), Maddy asking John Barrowman to sing as Captain Jack, the Welcome To Night Vale Tumblr Meetup, and other assorted vloggy goodness. But never fear, there was so much going on last week that this is only Part 1.  We will be back later with our haul, interviews, and observations.

Tweeks: Giving Thanks For Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Effie replaces Fulvia in MockingjayThe Tweeks are definitely Hunger Games fangirls, but how did the first half of the final book in the trilogy stand up in cinematic form?  This week the girls weight in on Francis Lawrence’s job of hobbiting (breaking a literary property into unneeded multiple movies) Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

Box Office Democracy: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

I understand that we can’t put the genie back in the bottle on these two part movies. Harry Potter might have actually needed to make two movies for The Deathly Hallows but Twilight certainly didn’t and what Peter Jackson is doing to The Hobbit will hopefully go down as one of the greatest crimes in cinema. Now we have things like splitting an Avengers movie in to two parts, which is insane when you consider that it’s not an adapted work at all. It used to be important to tell a complete story when making a movie and now audiences don’t care and it’s certainly more profitable to do one big shoot and then get multiple admissions for it. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 does not have enough story for a two hour movie and the character arc is less about real change and more about restating what we’ve seen before. This weak skeleton holds back a movie franchise that continues on an upward trend in quality in direction, acting, casting, and pretty much every other aspect of filmmaking that isn’t shameless profit grabbing.