BARE BONES: PASSENGERS (2016)

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PASSENGERS (2016)

Painfully generic Sci-fi/romance has the starship Avalon making a 100+ year journey to a new home world with it’s crew and passengers in hyper sleep for the trip. The ship sustains some damage during a trip through an asteroid field…guess, there is no safety contingency for that…and one of the results is the early awakening of engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) about 90 years too early, with no way (conveniently for the story) of getting back to hibernation…I guess no safety contingency for that either. After a year of loneliness, Jim reviews the ship’s passenger logs…a bit creepy…and finds and falls for pretty Aurora Lane and decides to awaken her, too…even creepier. Faster than you can say The Love Boat, the two fall head over heels, till the damage to the ship becomes critical and now they are the only hope of saving the lives of everyone sleeping on board…and did I mention that Jim is conveniently an engineer?

As directed by Morten Tyldum from Jon Saithts’ hopelessly cliché script, this is a dull and predictable flick despite Lawrence and Pratt having some real chemistry. Everything happens for convenience, whether to help or hinder our couple, like Lawrence Fishburn’s Captain waking up just long enough to point our couple in the right direction before leaving the scenario, or just the right miscommunication at the wrong time allowing Aurora to find out her awakening wasn’t an accident. And that is another mistake, having Jim cruelly and selfishly awakening Aurora to suffer his own fate, just for company, is something we can never forgive the character for, even if Aurora does…and it’s no surprise in this dreck that she unrealistically will. The FX are top notch and the cast give it their all, but a weak script and by-the-numbers direction sink the Avalon far quicker than any asteroids. Would love to see Lawrence and Pratt in a far better flick; they were good together.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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FIRST TRAILER FOR SCI-FI EPIC PASSENGERS!

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Big fan of both Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, as well as Sci-fi flicks, so this 12/21/2016 release has my attention…and now it has a trailer too! Film is written by Jon Spaihts and directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game).

Source: Youtube

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DATE MOVIE: LIKE CRAZY (2011)

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LIKE CRAZY (2011)

With the tragic passing of actor Anton Yelchin, I thought I’d pay tribute by posting a review I wrote pre-blog about this charming romantic drama he was in with hotties Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence. I chose to resurrect the Date Movie column, thought it was originally created, as obvious by the rating system below, to showcase horror flicks that were good for watching with that someone special. This isn’t a horror flick, but is a good date movie nonetheless…

Like Crazy is a emotional and sometimes heartbreaking tale of two college grads in a long distance relationship. American Jacob Helm (Anton Yelchin) and Brit Anna Gardner (Felicity Jones from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) fall in love when they meet in school in L.A. But when Anna violates her student visa to stay with Jacob, she is forced to go back to England and is banned from returning. The couple must now try to decide if their love is strong enough to make this relationship work or move on with their lives.

Like Crazy is an emotional roller coaster as we watch the heartache and indecision that Jacob and Anna go through. They want to be together, but enter other relationships when they are apart. They can’t seem to walk away from each other, but can’t wait till Anna’s visa problems can be worked out. Director and co-writer (with Ben York Jones) Drake Doremus creates a tumultuous relationship that really draws you in. He really makes you believe these two are in love, but at the same time, presents two young people who may not be ready for what true love means. It is very realistic at times in portraying the turmoil of being in a relationship strained by outside elements and the indecision of one’s own heart. For those looking for a romantic drama where everything wraps up in a neat and happy little bow, you may be in for a reality check.

The director draws excellent performances from stars Yelchin and Jones and even draws sympathy for those they bring into their lives and hurt with their indecisiveness. Jacob with sweet and loving Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) and Anna with her yuppie boyfriend Simon (Charlie Bewley) who wants to marry her. They refuse to be honest with other about their other relationships while they work to settle the problems that keep them continents apart. All adding up to one big question… are either of them ready to truly be in love and deal with all that comes with it?

Like Crazy may portray the story of a difficult love far more realisticly than the average romantic may care for but, it is an emotionally engaging and sometimes heartbreaking tale of first real love. I highly recommend it for indie film fans and for those who like their romances Hollywood cliche’ free. If you are a fan of Yelchin or any other of the cast members, I also recommend it for their work in it, too!

-MonsterZero NJ

… that equals 3 and 1/2 on the Date-O-Meter!

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Anton Yelchin 1989-2016

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REVIEW: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

While X-Men: Apocalypse is not the worst of this series, it may be the dullest. The film opens in ancient Egypt where a powerful being, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is about to transfer his consciousness into another body when he is betrayed and buried beneath the ruins of a great pyramid. We then cut to 1983 where he is dug up by a cult of mutant worshipers and set free to resume his plan of…you guessed it…world destruction and domination. Now Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and rebel hero Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must somehow stop the first and most powerful mutant with only a group of young students and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) at their sides. Worse still, En Sabah Nur has gathered a strike force of his own, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and only needs one more piece to carry out his apocalyptic plan…Charles Xavier.

As this is the fourth X-Men flick directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg, co-written with Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, we see a series in definite need of new creative blood. The story is just another powerful villain looking to annihilate mankind yarn, directed very by-the-numbers by Singer. Gone is the cleverness from his first two flicks, as well as, the energy and the fun. The film plods along for 144 minutes, taking itself way too seriously and we only see a spark of life in the last few moments, when the young members of the team must step up against a god-like being…though a god-like being that never really impresses or exudes much menace. And that is another big problem with this flick, En Sabah Nur…or Apocalypse…is a boring villain. He is never frightening, nor do we ever truly feel the power he is supposed to have. He’s just some blue guy who wants to rule the world…yawn. Even his sidekicks, including the usually impressive Magneto, are given little to do, but stand glowering behind him, till the climactic battle and even then only Olivia Munn’s Psylocke shows a little promise, despite being as underused as the rest of them. Add to that a detour into William Stryker’s (Josh Helman) lair, which serves no purpose other than to give a certain familiar face a cameo and adds at least twenty minutes to an already overlong flick. Remove the sequence entirely and it would have no bearing on the story. Even Stan Lee’s usually amusing cameo is dull, though at least we get to meet his real-life wife.

There are some positive points. There is some solid action and the FX are spectacular, even though the whole city destruction thing has been done to death in recent superhero flicks. Evan Peters has another movie stealing scene as Quicksilver and should get his own movie at this point. Mystique’s graduation to team leader works well and Lawrence again shines in the role, as does Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, who has a bit of a scene stealing moment of her own in the final conflict. One of the few moments to show some life and have impact. Newton Thomas Sigel returns with some crisp cinematography and John Ottoman from X2 and Days Of Future Past again scores the soundtrack…of which also contains some cool 80s tunes.

The film has a big cast and the recent regulars like McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult, Byrne and Lawrence all perform their roles well and we wish they were given something more challenging to do. Oscar Isaac is sadly underwhelming as En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse. He just doesn’t project any power or malice, as the supposedly first and most powerful mutant. It is almost as if he was phoning in the part. Evan Peters is once again amusing as the smart-ass Quicksilver and thankfully he has a bigger role. Sophie Turner is good as young Jean Grey and in her big scene evokes the kind of power Isaac could have used to make his villain memorable. As for the rest of the newbies, Jodi Smit McPhee is fun as Nightcrawler, Tye Sheridan is fine as the new Cyclops, Ben Hardy is given very little to do as Angel, so it is hard to really comment on his performance, Alexandra Shipp shows potential for Storm and Olivia Munn, as mentioned previously, makes an impression as Psylocke, even if she is underused.

What can be said? It’s not an outright bad movie like Last Stand, but even that had some fun stuff in it. While this is a better made and written film, it is also a very drab, uninvolving and overlong one. At least Last Stand had the decency to be less than two hours long. Our main bad guy is heaps of dull and his world destroying plot is heaps of been-there-done-that. On a plus note, the FX are as well rendered, the action is well staged and the recast favorites work well enough, with Sophie Turner standing out. There are a few good new characters such as Olivia Munn’s villainous Psylocke and another fun sequence with the scene stealing Quicksilver. A ho-hum entry in a series which has too many interesting characters to run out of gas quite yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 sexy but underused Psylocke’s.

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BARE BONES: THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY P.1 and ST. VINCENT

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THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (2010)

After seeing David Robert Mitchell’s much acclaimed horror It Follows, I decided to check out his first feature film, a teen-centric comedy/drama. Flick takes place in the Detroit suburbs and tells the story of a group of teens on the night before school starts as they wander back and forth between a number of sleepovers looking for love or simply to punctuate the last day of summer vacation. The film is enjoyable and is more of a low key flick than the usual bombastic Hollywood style teen movies. This works both for and against it, as while it is more realistic and spares us the usual cliché melodrama and slapstick that a lot of teen flicks have, the drawback is that none of the characters are particularly interesting and nothing particularly interesting happens. It has a charm to it and the cast are all very convincing, so it is overall a pleasant watch, but kind of forgettable at the same time. Does exhibit more of Mitchell’s skilled shot composition that made It Follows so effective. Worth a look, especially if It Follows made you a fan of Mitchell’s. An enjoyable little movie, but maybe a little too understated for it’s own good.

3 star rating

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THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY p.1 (2014)

I liked the first flick, but found the second installment to be a darker, more depressing retread. While this installment takes the story in a different direction with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) now sequestered in the rebel stronghold and being pressured into becoming the figurehead of the rebellion, it’s still bleak, depressing and filled with overblown melodrama. There’s a few decent action sequences and Lawrence does her best with the material, but make up your minds…is Katniss a strong force to be reckoned with, or a weepy emotional mess that seems on the verge of a breakdown. She switches back and forth from scene to scene. Production value is strong and Francis Lawrence gives it a bit more of a steady pace than the meandering Catching Fire, but the film still failed to really hold my interest or attention. Never read the books and the films don’t inspire me to do so.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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St. VINCENT (2014)

I really enjoyed writer/director Theodore Melfi’s comedy/drama about cranky, down-on-his-luck, alcoholic spinster Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) whose life changes when he gets a new neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and begins to babysit her young son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) to get some much needed cash. Sure, we’ve seen this story about a kid who changes the life of a bitter, angry, older character before, but it’s done so well here and mixes the schmaltz perfectly with some laugh-out-loud humor. Murray is in top form and McCarthy, who I am not a fan of, proves she can be more than just a female Chris Farley. Best of all is young Jaeden Lieberher who really shines and tugs the heartstrings as the awkward Oliver and a scene-stealing Naomi Watts as Vincent’s pregnant Russian hooker associate, Daka. She is absolutely hilarious. The cast all have a great chemistry together, especially Murray and Lieberher and the film never goes overboard with the sentimental bits or the comedy. In fact the sentimental moments really resonate, such as the scenes with Murray and his Alzheimer afflicted wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell). A really good movie and maybe a bit of an underrated/under-appreciated one!

three and one half stars rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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REVIEW: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

I really liked X-Men: First Class, it was a great way to reboot a series that had stumbled a bit and put together a really solid cast in both familiar and new roles. I was actually a little disappointed when I heard Matthew Vaughn had passed on the next installment, but remained hopeful upon hearing original franchise director Bryan Singer would return to the director’s chair. But sadly all the fun and energy that Vaughn gave his retro entry and even the spark and intensity Singer gave his first two films is, for the most part, lacking in this overlong and somewhat tedious entry that takes until it’s final act to really get going and by then it’s too little too late.

The complicated Terminator-ish story takes place in a bleak and war-torn future where mutants and any human who may have the potential to give birth to a mutation, have been hunted down and almost completely destroyed by the ruling power and their army of robot Sentinels which detect the mutant gene and eliminate those with it. But there is a slight hope. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have devised a plan to used Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) power to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to his pre-adamantium body in 1973 to contact their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and try to get them to work together and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the Sentinel’s inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and setting in motion events that will lead to the war that has ravaged the Earth and caused so many deaths. But at this point in history Xavier and Magneto are not allies and Mystique has gone rogue and Logan may only have hours to change the course of time before their time in the future is up… did you get all that?

Obviously, the film has a very complicated story that involves time travel which, always sets up it own set of difficulties, but considering that the film avoids being a mess, is more of a plus. The problem here is not the story details or the logistics of time travel and changing the course of history, but the deadpan tone with which the usually competent Singer directs this affair. Gone is the energy and fun of the first two X-Men films he directed and instead is a very by-the-numbers presentation of what should have been a fun and suspenseful tale. There are a few entertaining bits like Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) speedy and clever way of getting our heroes out of a jam, but the film really has no spark until it reaches it’s climactic act and then we get a bit more of the movie we wanted to see, but it takes over 90 minutes of mostly ho-hum sequences to get there…sequences that should have been very tense and exciting but aren’t. The pace is also slow for a superhero film even one with a plot of such dire importance as this. And maybe that’s it. Singer just seems to take this story just a little too seriously and we rarely get those little witty character moments that made the previous film’s so fun. The camaraderie between the characters just isn’t there. Maybe it’s Simon Kinberg’s script based on a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn that simply was too bleak and left out a lot of the fun. Either way X-Men:DOFP just really lacks something till the final scenes and, to be honest, wasn’t very involving till then. I was never bored, but was never fully drawn in. For the most part I was along for the ride, but never really interested in where it was going… and I should have been.

Again Singer works with a very large and familiar cast, but unlike his previous X-Men adventures, the cast here seem to be going through the motions from Stewart to Lawrence to Jackman to McKellen and most of his principles. There is no real passion or energy in their performances despite having all played their roles before save Dinklage. They all seem like they are just performing by the numbers with the only person really giving his role some pop is the young Peters with his smart aleck Quicksilver and sadly his screen-time is limited. Even the usually excellent Fassbender seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. There are plentiful mutant cameos, some familiar and some new, but few of them really resonate other then the amusement of seeing that familiar face or someone intriguing and new. And the new characters, aside from Quicksilver, are really given very little attention, certainly not enough to endear to us to them. Is it possible that these actors have tired of their roles?

It’s not all bad. It is tedious though I never actually got to the point of being bored. The film really did pick up in the last half hour for a pretty decent finale in Washington D.C. that interweaves with the battle raging in the future, though it certainly can’t hold a candle to the Washington D.C. set finale of the Captain America sequel The Winter Soldier and could have had a little more suspense and intensity. The FX are top notch and the scale of the film seems fairly large especially when the action finally starts. Newton Thomas Sigel is back doing the cinematography though, since the film is set in the 70s, I did miss the retro look of John Mathieson’s cinematography on First Class. And maybe that is what one of the problems is, that the film is set in the 70s, but never really felt like it… like, say American Hustle did. John Ottman returns to score from X2 and also did the film editing…busy man…and his score is adequate but a bit uninspired.

So, overall, X-Men: Days Of Future Past may not be an outright disappointment, but it is a letdown and certainly could have been much livelier considering the importance of what was transpiring. Maybe the whole back in time to fix the future thing has run it’s course, or maybe Singer’s time away from Xavier and company has dulled his passion for the material…or maybe it’s still too familiar to elicit a stronger passion. Either way, it’s not the worst X-Men movie, but far from the best. Also stars Nicholas Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy.

2 and 1/2 X-Men.

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REVIEW: AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

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AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

American Hustle is the new film from Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell that he co-wrote along with Eric Warren Singer based on Singer’s original screenplay. It uses the infamous ABSCAM sting operation of the late 70s as a basis for the fictional story of con-man extraordinaire Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his lover/partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who have a fake loan operation set up where they charge customers, who are too risky for the banks, an un-refundable $5,000 fee to get them approved for loans that they never actually get approved for. Despite Irving’s unease, Sydney accepts a fee from Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who turns out to be an ambitious FBI agent. But, Dimaso is out for far larger prey and forces Irving and Sydney to set up a con to catch bigger criminals in order to earn Sydney’s freedom. The deal is to catch 4 criminals and they are free but, Irving cooks up a scheme to catch all 4 crooks at once and soon they are on the trail of the mayor of Camden, N.J. Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and a bunch of US Congressman in a scam involving funding the rebuilding of Atlantic City as a gambling mecca with money from a fictional Arab Sheik (Michael Peña) and the bribes these men give/accept to set it in motion. But, Irving may have gotten himself in over his head as the more corrupt officials and criminals DiMaso thinks he can catch, the bigger the con gets and the more people it involves, such as Rosenfeld’s emotionally troubled wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and dangerous mob boss Victor Tellegio (a cameo I won’t spoil here). And the more people that get involved, the more relationships get entangled and the more complicated things get till the whole thing threatens to come down on Irving’s head. Like Silver Linings, Russell takes a serious toned story and fills it with a lot of sly humor and a large cast of eccentric, multi-layered characters… and despite the clever story, it is the characters that really charge this enormously entertaining and smart flick. He creates a large group of very real people who all have various reasons and motivations for doing what they do. Each character is manipulating others for their own purposes and Russell gives his great cast some really complex, colorful and yet very human characters for his actors to bring to life. And it is the life these actors bring under Russell’s guidance that elevates a really good movie to near brilliance. Christian Bale has given some simply great performances in his career ever since getting everyone’s attention at the age of 12 in Steven Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun and he simply takes it to another level with his brilliant… and I don’t use that word often… performance as the con man who’s gotten involved in a con even he might not be able to pull off. Amy Adams is equally brilliant as Sydney, Irving’s lover and a woman who might even be better then he at the con game as she too gets caught up in the increasing size of the sting in order to keep herself out of prison. Jennifer Lawrence gives another Oscar worthy performance as Irving’s unbalanced and unpredictable wife who gets drawn into the con but, with her own agenda. Cooper once again shows some amazing growth as an actor and creates a portrait of a man ironically getting greedy when it comes with catching the greedy. His FBI agent is ambitious and relentless and his disregard for playing by the rules seems to increasingly blur the line between himself and those he’s trying to catch. Jeremy Renner finally gets a role worthy of the acting ability he showed in The Hurt Locker and The Town as Camden Mayor Polito, a man who truly believes he’s doing what’s best for the people even if it includes backdoor deals and payoffs. His sincere belief that he is doing what’s right and his genuine likability causes a confusion in Irving that could sabotage everything. And that’s another thing that elevates this film from being a routine thriller… and this flick is far from routine… is the complications that arise from the relationships that form between various members of the scenario such as Irving and Carmine, Richard and Sydney and Rosalyn and a mob enforcer. The game becomes so real and people get so involved in their roles that emotions flow and relationships form… or do they?… this is a con game after all. And that’s what makes this such an entertaining movie as you believe in the character relationships portrayed by the top notch cast and yet, you’re not completely sure if it’s not part of the game. And that is part of the fun. All I will tell you is that it’s a real treat to watch this great cast pull the wool over each other’s eyes, manipulate each other and you, the audience as well. And if all that doesn’t convince you, all the great 70s nostalgia and music, ads perfect atmosphere to the whole film. The music in particular is like another character and the songs placed perfectly. I can never hear Wings’ Live And Let Die again without thinking of Jennifer Lawrence. Altogether this is a wildly entertaining and intelligently written flick with a tour de force performance from it’s entire cast. Sure there are a few slow spots but, everything else is such a delight, one can forgive a few moments to catch their breath. A real treat especially if you are worn out by superheroes, Hobbits and over abundant CGI and are looking for some more substantial to enjoy with your popcorn. A blast from David O. Russell!

4 stars… doing some of their best work!

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REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

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THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

I have to start out by saying that I have never read the Hunger Games books and therefor am taking the movies for what they are. That being said, I enjoyed the first film, it was no classic but, it was entertaining and Jennifer Lawrence gave a strong performance as usual. But, sadly the second film based on this trilogy of popular books is a moody and bleak disappointment. Catching Fire picks up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) about to embark on their victory tour to be paraded like show ponies through the districts. But, Katniss’ act of defiance that provoked the unprecedented two winners in the 74th Hunger Games has sown the seeds of dissent throughout the 12 districts and is seen by The Capitol as a symbol of rebellion. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) himself visits Katniss to warn her to play nice on the tour or her family and friends will suffer the consequences. Meanwhile Katniss is suffering from the horrible guilt of having to kill and watch others she bonded with die and no matter where she goes, she finds herself being looked up to as a symbol of hope against the totalitarian government and her own contempt for The Capitol grows each day. Snow’s new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) proposes a solution to their woes… to make the 75th Hunger Game a battle between selected former winners of the games from each district and to make sure Miss Everdeen is not amongst the winners this time. Now, as the wind of rebellion is starting across the districts, Katniss and Peeta must fight once more and this time against proven killers. Will the shell shocked Katniss survive once again or will the country’s hope for freedom be crushed with the death of their symbol of defiance. Catching Fire is this time directed by Francis Lawrence who gave us the moody and bleak fantasy flicks Constantine and I Am Legend and brings that same dark and grim atmosphere to this middle chapter of the book based trilogy and to be honest little else. Fire is a rather dull and by the numbers sequel with a very sedate and bleak look to go along with it’s oppressive atmosphere. I realize this is a story of a land governed by a cruel and iron fisted government who are planning to basically execute the peoples’ first glimmer of hope so, I didn’t expect rainbows and unicorns but, when a movie like this’ best scene involves a dress, then you know there’s not much going for it. Even with Katniss being inserted into another combat, the 75th Hunger Game provides very little action and literally no suspense as it focuses on Katniss and group of allies commiserating in the jungle arena with very little threat save some poison gas and some foul tempered primates. Their actual foes rarely put in an appearance, save when their pictures are displayed above in the sky to signal their demise… most of which prompted this reviewer  to ask “who the hell was that?” And that’s also a problem, we only get to know the participants that are crucial to the plot and the rest are just fodder to try to give the game some urgency and body count… and it doesn’t really work because, we never really care about these people and some we have never even met. To be honest save for a few moments, such as the before mentioned dress scene, I was pretty bored with what was going on. Katniss never seems to be in control like in the first film and spends most of the film pouting or having combat flashbacks and we never get endeared to or behind her like in the first flick. She seems to have lost the strength she gained at the end of the last film. Here she seems to stew in her unhappiness and let others around her do all the work till literally the last few moments of the film. And it’s not until the very last scene do we finally see the fire back in the eyes of the girl on fire… then we are left with an open ending leading into the third flick. Sorry, but for someone who hasn’t read the books, this was completely unsatisfying. The cast all perform their roles just fine with Harrelson once again standing out and giving a strong turn as Abernathy… he has become one of the best actors out there… Sutherland is appropriately slimy and singer Lenny Kravitz also impresses as Cinna. As for leading lady Lawrence, she is good and gives the part a lot of emotional depth but, since most of those emotions require her to pout, cry or have a screaming out-burst, it’s just hard to warm up to Katniss this time. And as for her co-star, like in the first flick , Hutcherson recites his lines with does eyes making his every scene appear like he’s posing for a velvet painting. And does Katniss really love him or the hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth, Thor’s brother) because, I am confused at this point and not sure I care. So, in conclusion, this second Hunger Games failed to get my interest or emotional involvement in the story because, it was just too dark and bleak and gave us a lead character who, instead of being a symbol of hope, looked like she was ready to climb under a blanket on the couch and pout with a gallon of ice cream and a bottle of scotch. And after watching this moody second installment you might want to too! At least the sets and FX were top notch and Harrelson and a few others elevated their performances above the dark cloud that hovers over this flick. Very disappointing.

2 and  1/2 J-Laws!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY JENNIFER LAWRENCE!

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MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse would like to wish a Happy 23rd Birthday to the lovely and very talented Jennifer Lawrence! I’m a big fan and to celebrate this young lady’s special day, we take a quick look back at some of her most popular and best work….

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WINTER’S BONE (2010)

Backwoods mystery thriller is a well made and interesting little film, it does have an incredibly slow burn and it is filmed in an almost documentary style but, that is deliberate on writer/director Debra Granik’s part though, I could see where that might confound and bore the average movie goer but, I was fine with it. But despite it’s slow pace there are some subtly intense moments throughout and leading lady Jennifer Lawrence has a quiet strength and intensity that help her carry this low budget indie quite well on her young shoulders. When all is said and done there really is very little mystery as it’s obvious how it’s going to end up but, what makes the film worth seeing is watching Lawrence’s Ozark teen, Ree make the strong-willed journey to get there. And the film is about the journey and not the pay off. Well done and a great acting job by newcomer Lawrence. Also stars the underrated John Hawkes.

3 Birthday Girls!

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X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)

Not very familiar with the X-Men comics so, I am taking this origin film for what it is… and what it is, is one of the best movies of the 2011 summer and ranks with the best of the series so far. A great cast from leads McAvoy and Fassbender to the stunning and talented Jennifer Lawrence as a young Mystique, really make this character driven ensemble piece work. And that’s not to imply that there isn’t action, because there is plenty. It’s just director Matthew Vaughn skillfully mixes both quite well so we get some great action set pieces without ever loosing sight of his large cast of characters or his story. And the film tells the story of the beginnings of the X-Men, especially Prof. X and Magneto who start as friends but, become foes. It cleverly does this amongst the chaos of the Cuban missile crisis of the 60s which is actually a plot by villainous mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) to end humanity so, mutants can take over the world. It’s part superhero flick and part James Bond movie and all the more fun for it. A really well done and very entertaining and smart movie.

3 and 1/2 Birthday Girls!

jennifer 3_1-2 rating

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THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)

I have not read the popular young adult book series that this film is based, which, to me, is a sort of mix of The Running Man and the cult Japanese classic Battle Royale although, writer Suzanne Collins states other inspirations. The story takes place in a totalitarian future where the controlling “Capitol” punishes rebellious districts by staging “The Hunger Games”. Two youths or “tributes”, 1 boy and 1 girl, are selected once a year from the 12 districts and forced to compete in a battle to the death till there is only one survivor. When teen Katniss Everdeen’s sister is picked, she volunteers to take her place. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss and gives another strong performance. Winter’s Bone proved this young lady can act and she proves it once more even with lighter material. She gives Katniss some nice depth and three dimensionality. She is supported by Josh Hutcherson as fellow player Peeta, Woody Harrelson (another strong role, he really has found his groove since Defendor), a barely recognizable Elizabeth Banks and veteran Donald Sutherland. The performances are all good under director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) who also gives us some nice dramatic strength, despite the familiar aspects of the story and while he’s not an action director, the film moves at a decent pace and the action is fine enough for it’s intended young adult audience. More mature movie goers might have wished for a bit more intensity when our teens clash but, it serves the plot well enough. The FX are fine with most of the CGI being well done except for weak rendering of some large predators that appear in the last act. The design of the film’s utopian Capitol seemed like a mix of things we’ve seen before but, not to the point of derivative. The film is more about the characters and director Ross, who cowrote the script with Collins, gives us some well rounded main characters though the secondary characters are weak including the blood thirsty “tribute” Cato (Alexander Ludwig) who serves as the game’s bad guy. Overall an entertaining movie and a far better adaptation then the other young adult phenomenon, Twilight.

3 Birthday Girls!

jennifer 3 rating

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SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a bipolar man who has spent the past 8 months in a psychiatric hospital after beating his cheating wife’s lover half to death. Upon release, Pat goes to live with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and has every intention of trying to rebuild his life and get back with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee) despite a restraining order. But, his plans take an interesting twist as he befriends an emotionally disturbed widow, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who claims to want to help him reach his wife, but, possibly has her own agenda. Silver Linings Playbook is written and directed with a nice offbeat style by David O. Russell, based on a book by Matthew Quick, who crafts a nearly perfect film that is both romantic comedy and emotional drama. He gets fantastic performances out of his cast. Lawrence fully deserves her Oscar as her performance is a tour de force portraying the emotionally damaged Tiffany and Cooper is right behind her as the determined but, still slightly delusional Pat. De Niro gives his best performance in years as Pat’s Eagles loving bookie father and Chris Tucker, in a supporting role as a friend of Pat’s from the hospital, gives the performance of his career. Who knew from Friday and the Rush Hour movies that he had such depth. I really have no major faults with this offbeat flick that is filled with emotion, heart and laughs too. It takes a little time to hit it’s stride but, that’s about it. A great movie that has depth and substance to go along with the heartfelt entertainment. Brilliant.

3 and 1/2 Birthday Girls!

jennifer 3_1-2 rating

An award well deserved and a speech that proves she’s a doll…

*HAPPY BIRTHDAY MISS LAWRENCE!*

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