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Loosely based on the life of entrepreneur Joy Mangano, David O. Russell’s Joy is a bit of a mess on the surface. It has such great ideas centered around a riveting main character, yet getting there is a bit sloppy. While the performances are riveting like always – we’d expect no less from Russell – the plot suffers from an over reliance on exposition. The result is a mixed bag of underdeveloped and overdeveloped emotions, but it’s nothing the Miracle Mop can’t clean up.

The structure of the film is as unorthodoxly ‘biopic’ as they come. While the film is technically based on the life of a real woman, the film is dedicated to the ‘true stories of daring women,’ Joy herself is an amalgamation of the creative spirit women like her possess. She’s a thinker, a dreamer, and the film makes that known to us since the beginning. The exposition and narration from Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) helps ease us into her world and introduces us to her unpredictable family. But this is a misstep from Russell, breaking the “show, don’t tell” rule. It works in some ways, as Joy and Mimi are the only normal members of the clan, adding a unique perspective to the mix, but at other time it’s an overbearing device that doesn’t treat its audience like adults.

The beginning of Joy gets us acquainted with Joy and her family, including her two children, father Rudy (Robert DeNiro), mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), and sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm). They’re an interesting bunch, Russell is no stranger to these kinds of family dynamics, and the characters work well as foils for Joy. Joy’s a doer, always thinking and making things with her hands, but her dreams have been sidelined by her family. Her father Rudy’s new girlfriend Trudy, the effervescent Isabella Rossellini, helps Joy get her invention off the ground, and from here the film begins to gain traction.

Joy isn’t known as the “Miracle Mop” movie, as it’s neither a biopic nor a prestige drama. Joy’s invention is groundbreaking, to be sure, but the film isn’t interested in exploring angles related to product development or business strategy. It’s Joy’s film at its core – the supporting characters are mostly background noise – and the film gets most of its emotional mileage from the decisions she makes towards making her dream a reality at her personal and professional expense.

The film’s highlights take place at QVC, when Joy takes her product to executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) and pitches it to the station. It’s here where the film really delivers, both thematically and creatively. The beautifully shot scenes of Joy presenting at QVC put Lawrence to the test, as she must lay it all on the line in such a vulnerable situation. She goes through an array of emotions so complex in this short time that it cements the Lawrence-Russell partnerships as one of the best in the business. The colors of the studio are contrasted with the brights of the kitchen set itself, and it sings.

From here until the finale, Joy settles back into its not-so-interesting role of a murky story about a woman of ideas. Most of the conflict revolves around problems with her manufacturer in Texas, another patent owner of a similar mop, and her family who keeps bailing her out of debt. If Joy had taken more risks thematically and relied less on small random bursts of plot development to keep up the pace, we could have been looking at something special. Joy is still a good film, but it could have been a great one. Inspiring performances (one of Lawrence’s best) and well-developed characters keep the film aloft, and Russell’s direction has never been better, but a murky script holds Joy back from being the hot item this Christmas.

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Posted by on December 26, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2


And thus ends the Hunger Games franchise, not with a bang but with a somber, reflective finale. The young adult series has managed to be more than above average among its peers, and Part 2 of Mockingjay is no different. Apart from a few missteps, Part 2 is a fitting send off, with some of the series’s best action sequences with characters we’ve come to know over three great films.

I was one of those who cried wolf when Mockingjay was to be split into two parts, and perhaps I can still see a case for it, but this would work much better as a three-hour film including bits of Part 1. Regardless though, we pick up right where we left off, with virtually no room to breathe. The rebels of District 13 and their mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, are planning to storm the Capitol and overthrow President Snow. Complicating things is Peeta, under the influence of the Capitol after his torture in the previous film.

I’ve always admired the Hunger Games franchise’s ability to show the not-so-glamorous effects of war. The series always manages to remain topical, and Part 2 of Mockingjay explores the most relevant stuff to date. Gone are the Hunger Games, a deathmatch between tributes of all 12 districts, only mentioned in passing in this film, but their everlasting effects resonate all over Panem. Here is a nation that has had enough of tyranny, and its citizens are willing to go to desperate measures to end it.

In its depiction of the war-torn Capitol, Part 2 feels like a completely different film from the others. Katniss and her squad attempt to invade the Capitol, but are thwarted right and left by “pods,” little traps set by the Gamemakers (in a little mini-Hunger Games). These scenes give us most of the action, and boy is it good. One trap sets off a pool of black sludge that obliterates everything in its path, leading to some exciting sequences. Director Francis Lawrence has gotten confident in directing his team of young actors, and he can trust them to deliver in these scenes.

Unfortunately, Part 2‘s finale leaves a bit to be desired. After the consistent first half, ending in a brilliant wade through the sewers of the Capitol where our heroes are attacked by mutts (the clear highlight), the film sort of fizzles out. It’s here where most of the faults of the novel Mockingjay are really felt, as the film doesn’t have the impact that it should. There are many deaths throughout the film, many of them our favorite characters, but the film doesn’t seem interested in exploring the impact that these deaths have on our characters. I get that there isn’t much time to grieve, war isn’t pretty, etc. But this blasé attitude leads to a finale that just burns out. It all culminates in one of the most predictable final scenes I’ve ever seen. In reading the books, what Katniss does is unexpected, yet in the film it’s all too obvious. Leading dialogue and poor writing end up making what should be a shocking scene into one you’re just begging to be over.

None of this is the fault of the actors, though, who continue to flesh out these characters and make them well-rounded. Principally is Jennifer Lawrence, who has grown just like her protagonist. She goes from timid District 12 worker to defiant tribute to rebellious victor, and the transformation shows in Lawrence’s performance. She doesn’t exactly have “that scene” this time around, but Katniss has been beaten down by war, and Lawrence’s face shows that. Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson flesh out Katniss’s love triangle, and they continue to give solid performances, with Gale providing as Katniss’s sounding board and Peeta her rock, but they’re hardly the most interesting of the bunch. But Part 2 belongs to Donald Sutherland through and through. He sinks his teeth into President Snow, making a villain you love to hate. He’s so vile, so malicious, and an outstanding scene in his greenhouse (beautiful by the way) reveals new shades of his character.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is an uneven film, but it’s a fitting finale. Despite a weak final thirty minutes and an epilogue mainly designed to be fan-service, Part 2 is a culmination of the themes explored over the last four films. They’ve become commentaries for society in very accessible and teen-friendly ways. Great performances have given us new stars who we’ll definitely be seeing more from, and the Hunger Games’s legacy will definitely be paying dividends for years to come.

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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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