CGB Review of X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

So the next time you take a trip to Cairo (I’m sure you’re planning on it), be sure not to resurrect any all-powerful mutants.  If you’ve seen the movie already, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

This is my review of X-Men Apocalypse!

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Apocalypse is known as the first mutant to ever come into existence.  In addition, he is also all-powerful and able to transfer his consciousness into another person’s body so that he can continue to live on.  Yikes!  As you can imagine, when Apocalypse resurrects and begins gathering followers (including the disheveled Eric/Magneto) to do his bidding, Professor Charles Xavier, Mystique and their allies must bring Magneto back to the Light and put an end to Apocalypse’s plan for world destruction.

The Hits
Oscar Isaac is excellent as Apocalypse.  While he’s not as terrifying as, say, Captain Vidal (Pan’s Labyrinth) or Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Black Mass), there is an unsettling chill to his character.  Also, I did think it was interesting how his “transferring-his-consciousness-to-another-person” thing resembles demonic possession; not so much in the prologue, but in the third act when [SPOILER ALERT] he tries to transfer his soul into Charles Xavier’s body and Charles is valiantly resisting becoming possessed by the malevolent foe.
There are a lot of good scenes that work well on their own and the engaging action is well-choreographed.   The action is filmed in a way where you can actually see what’s happening between the characters who are in combat.
Nightcrawler is like Finn from Force Awakens: Absolutely lovable!  There’s an innocence and innate goodness to him that makes him endearing.  It is a little cliché that he’s being presented as a “demonlike creature whose actually a good guy while his angel counterpart is one of the bad guys” thing, but that overdone irony is not emphasized very much.  I was actually relieved when Apocalypse turns Angel’s wings silver because Angel’s previously white wings looked uncomfortably similar to Archangel Michael’s wings.  Oh, and did I mention that Nightcrawler is Catholic?  Yep, he be a Catholic mutant!  🙂
Quicksilver is also an awesome character!  He’s basically a less crude Wade Wilson/Deadpool; witty, cool and confident.  Luckily while he has some similarities to Deadpool, he’s not a blatant carbon copy of the character.
While I, as a Jennifer Lawrence fan, am getting a bit tired of J-Law always playing the “strong woman who is strong because she has to be” archetype (don’t believe me?  Watch Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games series; don’t even bother with watching Joy), I did like her arch as Raven/Mystique; the reluctant role model who is looked up to after standing up to Magneto in X-Men: First Class, but who personally looks upon that episode in her life as a tragedy.  Also, I just gotta say it: Her hair in this movie was rockin’!  I guess I just really like the “structurally-messy” look.  🙂

The Misses
It seems as though there was supposed to be a “Mystique redeems Magneto” subplot somewhere in the script because Mystique keeps acting as if she is responsible for bringing Magneto back to the side of good and truth.  If this is the case, then it wasn’t well-conveyed.
So I saw this movie with a friend of mine who has seen it twice already.  Even though we both enjoyed the film, we both have one issue with the script: Pacing and story structure.
Yes, the pacing in this movie could have been better.  While individual scenes are intriguing by themselves, the movie itself never completely comes together as a cohesive narrative.  Some scenes feel separate from each other and even unnecessary at times.  To be fair, the story comes together in the third act, but 50% of this movie could have used some polishing.

X-Men Apocalypse is an intriguing mess.  The overall story is scattered, but the good performances, suave villain and sequences within the narrative kept my attention all the way through.

Since this is the third Superhero movie review where I’ve name-dropped Saint Michael (see my reviews for Winter Soldier and Batman v. Superman), I’m gonna end this review with Saint Isaac Jogues because why not?
So Saint Isaac Jogues, pray for us.

CGB Review of American Hustle (2013)

I loved Silver Lining Playbook and I despised Joy, so I had no idea what to expect from this David O. Russell flick.

This is my review of American Hustle!

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Between this and Joy, I’m starting to see a pattern with David O. Russell films: His movies can be hard to summarize.  Alas, I will do the best I can to provide a summary.
American Hustle is the wild story of Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists who are forced by F.B.I agent Richie DiMaso to set up elaborate sting operations on corrupt politicians, which include Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Carmine Polito.  While that’s going on, Irving must balance his tumultuous romance with Sydney and his troubled marriage to Rosalyn, an unstable woman who may have Histrionic personality disorder (“a mental condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves…” https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001531.htm).

I remember coming home one night and my parents were watching this movie.  “How’s the movie?” I asked.  My mom gave it a thumbs down while my dad had fallen asleep.
After watching this flick, I can see why.

The Hits
This is what film reviewers called “an actor’s piece.”  It’s the kind of the film that is made specifically to showcase an ensemble cast of A-list actors.  I kept watching this flick for the performances.  I commend Christian Bale for putting on all that weight and he sells the character of Irving as a scheming, self-preserving con man.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn is the only character I cared about.  With a believable Boston accent, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Rosalyn as an endearing basket case.  She is manic without becoming annoying, immature without coming off as too childish, and incredibly sympathetic.  Honestly, I wish the movie was told from her perspective.  I could watch her confrontation with Amy Adams’ Sydney over and over again.
The costumes, hair styles and make-up in this movie all resemble the craziness of the late 70’s and early 80’s.   If there’s one thing David O. Russell does really well, it is dressing his actors in a way that captures the mood of the era that his movie is set in.
Finally, I would like to point out that David O. Russell does handle his unlikable characters correctly.  Basically an unlikable character is made easy to root for if:
A. They get their comeuppance
B. They are forced to rise above their flaws.
C. Their reasons for being scum is well explained.
American Hustles takes Option C by writing Irving and Sydney as survivalists.  These characters are con artists because they have both grown up knowing the world to be a cruel and corrupt place where survival is the only option.

The Misses
It’s pretty obvious that Amy Adams doesn’t curse often in real life.  Granted, cussing excessively isn’t exactly a desired talent, but if you are making a movie and you want your actors to use choice language, make sure that they’re convincing at it.  Also, and I don’t mean to pick on the talented Ms. Adams, but was her character written to be British or American?  She keeps changing her accent sporadically.  This makes sense when she is pretending to be Lady Edith Greensly, but when she keeps changing accents during an intense argument with Irving, it comes off as odd.
Oh, Bradley Cooper, I don’t like picking on you (I’ve done it three times now with Aloha, Burnt and Joy), but am I the only one who feels that Bradley Cooper didn’t have much to work with in this film?  Irving, Sydney and Rosalyn are fleshed-out, but Richie (Cooper) and Carmine (Renner) are only identifiable by their hairstyles and not by their personalities.
It has been said that you can make a good story about anything.  However, to pull this off, good writing is a requirement.  American Hustle is a case of great actors trying to make do with a scrambled story.  Just like Joy, American Hustle is the equivalent of walking in on an intense conversation between strangers and having absolutely no idea what’s being said.  I was totally lost during the first five minutes of American Hustle and that’s because it throws us into a convoluted argument between characters we’ve just met.  A storyteller doesn’t have to spell out every minute detail, but there need to be some clarity about what’s going on and what’s at stake.  I couldn’t be engaged in the story because it’s poorly structured with gigantic leaps in time and too many characters.  By the second act, scenes either go on for an eternity or move so quickly that you’ll miss something if you blink.

If you enjoy movies that showcase a large cast of A-list actors, then you might like American Hustle.  However, personally, I could only be invested for so long before the scattered story became difficult to follow and I just stop caring.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.

CGB Review of Joy (2015)

Two hours after seeing Joy…

ME: (walks into living room, sits on the couch in a exasperated fashion)
MOM: What’s wrong?  How was the movie?  You saw Joy right?
ME: (Tired nod) Yeah, I did…
MOM: Jennifer Lawrence, right?
ME: (Takes Fandango ticket out of my pocket) Oh, yes!  I saw Joy with (rips ticket in half) Jennifer Lawrence–(rips ticket again) filmed by–(rips violently) David stupid O’Russell–(throws shreds on the couch) with Bradley Cooper!  (Takes deep breath)
MOM: So…it wasn’t very good.
ME: (Stands up) This is the worst movie of 2015.

This is my review of Joy!

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Let me tell you what this movie was supposed to be about.  Joy was originally the true life story of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano.
Then director David O’Russell said, “Nah, that’s not interesting enough.” So now Joy is a film loosely based on the life of Ms. Mangano (they never use her last name in the movie for reasons I still don’t understand) with the other stories of different businesswomen mixed in with Joy’s story.

The result is a clusterflick narrative, a projectile idea vomit, an overacted and overdirected story with so much going on that I gave up caring about any of the characters long before the credits rolled.

The Hits
Bradley Cooper, why do you keep showing up in my bad movie reviews? Do you think I like picking on your work?
The only good parts were the few and far between scenes with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.  They are the only people in this entire production who knew what they were doing.  The three coherent scenes were the ones they were in.
Before I go into Super Saiyan rant mode, I will say that if you grew up with a ridiculously dysfunctional family, I guess you might relate to Joy and her struggles.  If anything, this movie does attempt to capture the chaos of a quirky, yelling family.
However, if you are a person who has trouble staying focused, this movie will not be kind to you.  Here is why…

The Misses/Everything Else
Have you ever walked in on a conversation where the people involved knew what they were talking about, but no one was filling you in on the things being said, so you’re stuck and surrounded by competing voices? Imagine enduring this scenario for TWO HOURS!
Focus is an urban legend in this movie’s universe.  David O. Russell uses fifteen different filming styles in just the first act alone.  The editing is frenetic, the story is riddled with way too many leaps in time and there are two random dream sequences that come right out of nowhere and are never mentioned again.  Less is more, dude!
The dialogue is all trailer-fodder (i.e. catchphrases that are great for the movie’s trailer, but have no reason for being there in the finished film). It’s not even clunky expositional sentences; it’s just a random collection of words that no one would ever say in real life.
All right, I’m going to say what every other reviewer has said: Jennifer Lawrence is too young to be playing a divorcee with young children.  She is playing a woman who invented the Miracle Mop in her mid-30’s.  Jennifer Lawrence is unable to give a fleshed-out performance because every other actor around her seems to have guzzled down eighteen cups of coffee before coming on set and are suffocating the screen with over-the-top performances.
Joy’s family is insufferable to watch.  Robert de Niro is the despicably selfish father who berates his ex-wife in front of his grandchildren, Virginia Madsen is the weak, TV-obsessed mother who never once asks Joy, whose roof she is living under, “Hey, can I help you out in any way?” Joy’s sister Peggy, played by Elisabeth Rohm, is annoyingly bitter.  Not once do any of these unlikable people get their coumppence or rise above their flaws to band together as a family.
One more thing: Joy has two young children and she is wonderful to her daughter Christie, but basically ignores her son Tommy.  Now I’m not a mother myself, but I was getting pretty mad at Joy for casting her young son off to the side with no explanation.

This movie was practically begging me to walk out on it, but I said, “No. I’m going to stick with it.  It has to get better.  It just has to…”
To my dismay, it never did.

This being Bradley’s third strike (see my reviews for Aloha and Burnt) and Jennifer’s first strike, it is with a heavy heart and a pounding migraine that I cast Joy into the nether regions of atrocious cinema.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to heal my brain by seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a good movie) for a second time.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, pray for us.

CGB Double-Feature Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2

The series may be over, but the fire it started will burn forever.

This is my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2!

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is the third/fourth and final chapter in the Hunger Games film series.  This is where Katniss must cope with the trauma of the Games while being the reluctant symbol of the uprising against President Snow and the Capitol.  In Part 1, Katniss is psychologically tormented by Peeta Mellark’s imprisonment at the Capitol.

Yes, this is a first-ever double feature movie review here on Catholic Girl Bloggin’!  I will have to say good-bye to this film series that I fell in love with just three years ago.

Let us begin.

Part 1 Hits
Jennifer Lawrence is amazing as usual.  Her performance tells me that to her, Katniss isn’t just another character she’s being paid to portray; Katniss is a person she respects and understands. This movie allows Katniss to fall apart and descend into her trauma, and Jennifer Lawrence knew how to deliver some powerful acting without getting too carried away (i.e. overacting). I cried three times during this movie, and two of those times were because of Jennifer Lawrence’s facial expressions and inflections. When an actor can make me feel distressed over the fate of fictional characters, that’s the sign of a strong performer.
This movie really knows how to sum up its supporting characters in a few scenes or less. Effie Trinket’s first scene in the movie is the best summary of her character that I’ve seen since the last two films. Haymitch’s entrance into the plot is downright awesome. I will say that I was wrong about Julianne Moore being miscast as President Alma Coin. Nope, she was the right choice. She manages to be semi-warm and welcoming, while carrying an iciness that Katniss can sense from a mile away.
If you’re a fan of House of Cards or any genre involving political intrigue, then you’re gonna like this movie. President Snow has made my Favorite Villains List. I would put him at #3 of that list. He is one evil son of a gun. The villain who can hurt you without being in the room is a dangerous person. I thought it was smart for both District 13 and the Capitol to use propaganda as their weapon of choice.

Part 2 Hits
Jennifer Lawrence always has been and forever will be Katniss Everdeen. She brings Katniss’ character arch full circle with a locked-down, quiet performance.  Along with being stunningly beautiful, Jennifer Lawrence brings a sense of vulnerability to her gravitas as she effortlessly brings Katniss to life one last time.
The heart of the franchise is Katniss and Peeta’s relationship.  I love the chaste and tender nature of their bond.  Their ordeal in the first Games and in the Quarter Quell have bound them to each other.  Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson both sell Katniss and Peeta’s care for one another with the believable depth of their performances.
While the pacing can be punishing for moviegoers who prefer stories that move faster, once the action starts, it will take your breath away.  The traps that Katniss and her crew have to go through are everything that you would expect from the extravagant, excessive Capitol.  There’s one great, nail-biting sequence that takes place in the sewers.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you’re going to love this scene.  Though if you suffer from clausterphobia as I do, then you might want to shut your eyes when Katniss and company first walk through the very narrow tunnel which has the ceiling really close to their scalps.  It only takes them two minutes to walk through the tunnel, but clausterphobia-sufferers might feel a tad uncomfortable.
President Snow…good Lord, this guy is diabolical.  Donald Sutherland is having the time of his life playing Snow.  I have enjoyed watching his rivarly with Katniss over the course of the series and I do hope that Mr. Sutherland continues to play villains from here on out.

The Misses with Parts 1 & 2 
Everything wrong with Mockingjay has to do with the fact that it was split into two parts.  The actual book Mockingjay is only 390 pages and is in fact one page shorter than Catching Fire, which is 391 pages.  Because of this, both film do suffer from filler-riddled scenes.  If you’re not a fan of films that take their time, both films might test your patience.
It seems as though the weaknesses of the Hunger Games franchise remain unimproved.  Prim still lacks presence outside of being a plot device, Gale is not fleshed out very well and the two-part split means sitting through some filler.

All that being said, let the record show that I feel Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 are actually better than the book itself.  The filmmakers knew they had a huge challenge facing them in making a dialogue-heavy book with minimal action and making it cinematic.  I feel that director Francis Lawrence and everyone else involved stepped up to the plate and brought to us a truly satisfying conclusion to an influential series.

This brings us to the end of the CGB Hunger Games Extravaganza.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing and reviewing my favorite film series for you guys and gals.
Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor always.

 

Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Hunger Games (2012) (Part 1 of the CGB Hunger Games Extravaganza!)

Happy Hunger Games month and may the CGB reviews be ever in your favor.
By the way, I just realized that this is Jennifer Lawrence’s third appearance here on CGB (see my reviews for Silver Linings Playbook and Serena).

This is my review of The Hunger Games!

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I am a mega fan of The Hunger Games trilogy.  I am also blessed that my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law are also HG fans.  This trilogy got me through my first semester of college and I’ve read all three books multiple times.  Alas, I am so glad to launch Hunger Games month on Catholic Girl Bloggin’!
Anywho, so in the Hunger Games, America is now called Panem, which comes from the Latin, “panem et circenses,” meaning “bread and circuses.”  The country is divided into twelve segregated districts all controlled by the Capitol.  Every year, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the twelve districts are selected for a televised fight to the death known as The Hunger Games.
Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old denizen of the coal-mining District 12.  If this story took place during Jesus’ ministry, District 12 would be an exile for lepers.  It’s the poorest, most looked-down-upon district.  Katniss is a fatherless teenager who basically runs the Everdeen household by being the primary caregiver of her twelve-year old sister Primrose “Prim” and doing all the work that her emotionally-fragile mother can’t bring herself to do.
On the day of the Reaping, when tributes are selected for the Games, Prim’s name is called.  Unwillingly to let her little sister be slaughtered, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place, a move that could arguably be interpreted as paying homage to Saint Maximilian Kolbe.  Katniss finds herself thrown into the entertainment culture of the Capitol and ends up in the ultimate fight for her life as a Hunger Games tribute.
I saw this movie during my first year as a LifeTeen Core member with my fellow Core members.  We all dressed up in camoflague attire (keeping up with the HG theme), carpooled together and headed for Arclight Hollywood for the premiere. We were so excited when all the previews were done and the opening sequence began AND…

Two and a half hours later, we walked out of the theater with very mixed feelings.

The Hits
Jennifer Lawrence.  Need I say more?  She was born to play Katniss.  Her smokey eyes pop any time she goes brunette, she has the youth and vunerablity to portray a teenager while also having the strength and maturity that Katniss needs in order to be taken seriously by the adults around her.
In fact, all of the casting choices are top notch.  Josh Hutcherson is capable and believable as fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark, Woody Harrelson embraces his role as the hardened, drunken, weary-from-living Haymitch Abernathy and Elizabeth Banks delivers a both classy and fun performance as the always-stylish Effie Trinket.  I really appreciate how Ms. Banks watched Audrey Hepburn films and channeled Hepburn’s acting style when playing Effie.  This keeps the innocently superficial Effie from being flanderized.  For the record, flanderization is a TV trope that can also apply to cinema, defined by the TV Tropes website as “The act of taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character. Most always, the trait/action becomes completely outlandish and it becomes their defining characteristic” (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Flanderization).
Even though he only has a few scenes, Doland Sutherland is terrifying as President Coriolanus Snow, the dictatorial ruler of all of Panem.  His deep, authoritative voice is enough to send chills down my spine.  Fun fact: Donald Sutherland emailed to director Gary Ross a three-page letter titled “Letters from the Rose Garden” that outlined his [Sutherland’s] arguments for why he should be cast as President Snow.  In three pages, Mr. Sutherland discussed power, Ted Bundy and his own interpretation of President Snow.  I know that if I was a director and got a three-page magnum opus from THE Donald Sutherland, I’d cast him in my movie, too.  Also, as a bonus feature, I will post the letter at the end of this review!  🙂

The Misses
This is my least favorite of the films.  Why?  Because as my brother and sister-in-law pointed out, this movie really should have been called “The Hunger Games: Sparknotes Edition.”  The issue is this movie has the major scenes from the first book (Katniss hunting, Katniss volunteering as tribute, the training montage, interviews with Ceaser Flickerman, etc.), but there are way too many changes to the point where you begin to wonder if they even read the book at all.  I don’t want to go into SPOILER territory, so I’ll just say this: How Katniss gets the iconic Mockingjay pin not only requires the elimination of a supporting character, but happens in a way that wouldn’t fly in a tyrannical regime.  There’s a comic relief ancedote during the Reaping that doesn’t happen in the movie.  There are quite a few supporting characters in the books who are completely dropped from the film. In the book, there’s a crucial line of dialogue delivered by Peeta’s mother that serves as character development for both Katniss and Peeta.  This line is never said by Mama Mellark or even mentioned by Peeta to Katniss in the film.
I counted exactly 31 changes that they made to the story, and sure enough, I’m not the only person.  Check out this list by Film.com which outlines the 31 changes that I’m talking about.  http://www.film.com/movies/differences-between-the-hunger-games-book-and-movie

All of that being said, The Hunger Games is still a good intro into Katniss’ world. The major scenes that need to be there are present, the casting is excellent and the action is intense and exciting to watch.  While it’s not as stellar as the later films, The Hunger Games is a worthy entry into the HG film saga.

As promised, here is Donald Sutherland’s “Letters from the Rose Garden.”

Dear Gary Ross: 

Power. That’s what this is about? Yes? Power and the forces that are manipulated by the powerful men and bureaucracies trying to maintain control and possession of that power?
Power perpetrates war and oppression to maintain itself until it finally topples over with the bureaucratic weight of itself and sinks into the pages of history (except in Texas), leaving lessons that need to be learned unlearned.
Power corrupts, and, in many cases, absolute power makes you really horny. Clinton, Chirac, Mao, Mitterrand.
Not so, I think, with Coriolanus Snow. His obsession, his passion, is his rose garden. There’s a rose named Sterling Silver that’s lilac in colour with the most extraordinarily powerful fragrance – incredibly beautiful – I loved it in the seventies when it first appeared. They’ve made a lot of off shoots of it since then.
I didn’t want to write to you until I’d read the trilogy and now I have so: roses are of great importance. And Coriolanus’s eyes. And his smile. Those three elements are vibrant and vital in Snow. Everything else is, by and large, perfectly still and ruthlessly contained. What delight she [Katniss] gives him. He knows her so perfectly. Nothing, absolutely nothing, surprises him. He sees and understands everything. he was, quite probably, a brilliant man who’s succumbed to the siren song of power.
How will you dramatize the interior narrative running in Katniss’s head that describes and consistently updates her relationship with the President who is ubiquitous in her mind? With omniscient calm he knows her perfectly. She knows he does and she knows that he will go to any necessary end to maintain his power because she knows that he believes that she’s a real threat to his fragile hold on his control of that power. She’s more dangerous than Joan of Arc.
Her interior dialogue/monologue defines Snow. It’s that old theatrical turnip: you can’t ‘play’ a king, you need everybody else on stage saying to each other, and therefore to the audience, stuff like “There goes the King, isn’t he a piece of work, how evil, how lovely, how benevolent, how cruel, how brilliant he is!” The idea of him, the definition of him, the audience’s perception of him, is primarily instilled by the observations of others and once that idea is set, the audience’s view of the character is pretty much unyielding. And in Snow’s case, that definition, of course, comes from Katniss.
Evil looks like our understanding of the history of the men we’re looking at. It’s not what we see: it’s what we’ve been led to believe. Simple as that. Look at the face of Ted Bundy before you knew what he did and after you knew.
Snow doesn’t look evil to the people in Panem’s Capitol. Bundy didn’t look evil to those girls. My wife and I were driving through Colorado when he escaped from jail there. The car radio’s warning was constant. ‘Don’t pick up any young men. The escapee looks like the nicest young man imaginable’. Snow’s evil shows up in the form of the complacently confident threat that’s ever present in his eyes. His resolute stillness. Have you seen a film I did years ago? ‘The Eye of the Needle’. That fellow had some of what I’m looking for.
The woman who lived up the street from us in Brentwood came over to ask my wife a question when my wife was dropping the kids off at school. This woman and her husband had seen that movie the night before and what she wanted to know was how my wife could live with anyone who could play such an evil man. It made for an amusing dinner or two but part of my wife’s still wondering.
I’d love to speak with you whenever you have a chance so I can be on the same page with you.
They all end up the same way. Welcome to Florida, have a nice day!

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

CGB Review of Serena (2015)

I just realized that this is Bradley Cooper’s fourth appearance on Catholic Girl Bloggin’ (see my reviews for Aloha, American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook). I swear that’s a coincidence, though it doesn’t hurt to see his chizzled face and those baby-blue eyes more than once.

Before I ramble on about my crush on Bradley Cooper, this is my review of Serena!

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These two have insane chemistry.

Serena tells the story of timber industrial tycoon newly-weds George and Serena Pemberton.  The film chronicles their passionate marriage, the rise of their logging business, and their inevitable downfall as George must reconcile with his past that involves an illegitimate child with a worker and Serena must cope with a devastating event that shakes the foundation of their love.

So this movie has a very shaky production history.  Long story short, the filming finished up in 2012, but director Susanne Bier took more than eighteen months to edit and polish the final product.  It was submitted to a film festival in London, and then it bombed at the UK box office.  Finally it got picked up by Magnolia and had a limited theatrical release and a VOD (video on demand) slot.  There’s a reason I bring this up, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

I’ve watched this movie twice; once in a hotel and last night on Netflix.  This film is like Courageous; there’s a lot of good stuff here and there’s also quite a few hiccups.

The Hits
I think it’s safe to say that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence should keep doing movies together.  Their performances show that they enjoy each other’s company and love working side by side.  I like that the movie shows us that George is enamored with Serena without having other characters tell us outright, “She fascinates him, can’t you tell?”   The first act shows us how ideal their marriage is; George is tender with her and respects her intellect.  Serena stands by his side and works with him as a competent business partner.  Their relationship is centered around their admiration of each other and the combining of their goals.  Think Ella and Prince Kit from the live-action Cinderella movie if they ran a business together.  The movie succeeds at being an observant character study of George and Serena, these two people who think the world is theirs only to have it come crashing down on them.  All of the performances from the likes of Toby Jones and Rhys Ifans are top-notch, but it’s Cooper and Lawrence who bring home the bacon.  I will admit that after they were so electric as Pat and Tiffany in Silver Linings, it was a little jarring to see Cooper and Lawrence giving subdued performances.  However J-Law is believable as the capable, steeley feminist Serena while Cooper brings out his American Sniper chops as George, a once self-serving man who is softened by his marriage.

The Misses
So what holds this movie back?  Remember what I said earlier about how the director took more than 18 months to finish editing and what not?  Yeah…it starts to show in some of the transitional shots.  After George and Serena first meet, the film cuts to a faraway shot of people dancing, then it just cuts to a close-up of Serena’s smiling face, then it just cuts to her and George consummating their marriage.  Now I’m no film editor, but some of the transitions could have been smoother.  Also because a lot of the actors are attempting late-1920’s North Carolina accents, the audio of their dialogue is hard to hear every once in a while. Finally my biggest issue is that this movie is very, very slow.  Now there is a grace to a movie that is slowly-paced; you get to know the characters more intimately and the movie is allowed to create atmospheric tension.  However the downside is that because the story is taking its sweet time, the conflict that arises lacks a sense of urgency.  I wasn’t invested in the Pemberton’s money troubles or even when one character named Buchanan turns on George because the slow-pacing makes the conflict lag.

Putting aside the techincal flaws, I don’t think Serena deserved the scatching reviews it got from critics.  If I had to rank the four Bradley Cooper movie I’ve reviewed, it would look like this: Gold medal goes to American Sniper, Silver Linings gets the Silver (ba boom pssh!), Serena is given a generous Bronze, and Aloha gets…NOTHING AT ALL!

Saints Felicity and Perpetua, pray for us.

CGB Review of Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

This movie is like being a frog in a boiling pot; you’re burning alive and it feels so good.

This is my review of Silver Linings Playbook!

BRADLEY COOPER stars in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

So this is the first movie I watched on Netflix (I finally got a Netflix account! Hooray!)  Right off the bat, I have nothing but good things to say about this movie. Honest to God, I cannot find a single thing that I didn’t like.  So here is everything right with Silver Linings Playbook!

The chaotic chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is the vehicle that this film drives all the way to the finish line.  Bradley Cooper plays the volatile optimist Pat Solatano, who is hellbent on winning back his estranged wife and getting his life in order after being released from a mental institution.  Just like in American Sniper, Cooper completely disappears into the role of Pat.  His optimism is grounded by his determination to keep his head above water.  Did I mention this movie understands how to write the No-Filter Character arch correctly?  Yeah, well, it does just that.  It’s made clear that Pat is socially-stunted, so what he says to offend other characters never offends the audience.  You believe that he’s not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but has no concept of how his words could be received by others.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Pat’s equally dysfunctional match, Tiffany Maxwell.  Am I the only one who thinks that JLaw should stay brunette?  She looks fantastic with dark hair!  In her first couple scenes, I was getting worried that she was just playing a female version of Pat.  Then came the diner scene.  Tiffany goes off on Pat after figuring out that he thinks she’s crazier than him.  I’m just going to quote her verbatim: “Because I am so much crazier than you.  I’m the crazy slut with a dead husband–hahahahaha!” She curses him out as she shoves all of the plates and cups off of the table.  If you want to experience it, go on YouTube and type in “Silver Linings Playbook diner scene” or just watch the movie.  🙂  Anywho, her rage in that moment sums up her character: Explosive, isolated, and can be only be understood by someone of equal temperment.  Pat is the heavy gust of wind while Tiffany is the rain and thunder.

This movie is so emotional, but not in a forced way.  Why did I compare this movie to being a frog in boiling water?  Because the characters are so well-realized, I actually got distressed during the scene where Pat is tearing up the attic in search of his wedding video, or when he almost gets arrested after Tiffany shouts “he’s harrasing me!”  The two scenes I mentioned are among the tough scenes in this movie.  Because I was so invested in these people, I felt for them, so the bad things that happen to them were difficult to watch at times.  That, my friends, is the mark of a good movie.

Top-notch writing, great chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, and a humanistic portrayal of people who struggle with mental illness make Silver Linings Playbook a home run from start to finish.

Saint Dymphna, pray for us.