Posts Tagged ‘jennifer lawrence’

Hey, Marvel, what’s next? Because frankly, I’m not entirely sure what we’ve got here. Is director Matthew (Kick-Ass) Vaughn’s X-Men:First Class a reboot? A standard-issue prequel? A sidebar item before we get back to the main story? It’s never made entirely clear, and frankly between this and last year’s X-Men Origins:Wolverine, it’s hard to say exactly where this license-to-print-money cinematic franchise is going. Which is not to say that it’s a bad flick in and of itself. It’s pretty decent, and in fact starts off almost looking like it’s going to be a serious shot in the arm for the property in general. But by the time it’s over, even though what we’ve witnessed is by any standard a pretty solid superhero flick (that starts to fizzle a bit the longer it goes on, but a lot of them to do that so we won’t hold that against it too terribly much), we’re no more clear about just what the next X chapter is going to be than we were when it started.

Because frankly there’s not much point in a sequel to this one. The story of a young Professor x (James McAvoy, who’s usually a pretty solid actor but here seems to be more or less mailing it in ) and Magneto (portrayed by Michael Fassbender, who delivers a sterling performance and has by far the best material to work with here as a Holocaust surviving-mutant who’s hunting down the Nazi monsters responsible for the murder of his mother, either directly or indirectly — and who, at certain angles, bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Ian McKellen, so kudos for a terrific casting job here, fellas) and how they assembled and trained the first mutant superhero team in preparation for a conflict with a seriously evil (and apparently immortal) son-of-a-bitch named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, in a terrific scenery-chewing turn), who’s manipulating the Cuban missile crisis in order to bring about World War 3 and the destruction of mankind/takeover of Earth by mutantkind, and how Xavier and Magneto came to go their separate ways at the close of said ordeal, is pretty much an open-and-shut story. And enjoyable, mostly entertaining one, to be sure, but not really an open-ended one.

There are some surprises along the way, and some diversion from established comic-book continuity that will certainly enrage some fans and thrill others, but on the whole you never get the sense that you’re watching the rebirth of a legend here or something. It’s just backstory filler. Good backstory filler, competent backstory filler, at times even enthralling backstory filler (especially the opening concentration camp scenes), but backstory filler nonetheless.

Which isn’t to say that anyone apart from McAvoy seems to be just going through the motions. Vaughn has adopted a swingin’ ’60s visual sensibility, particularly in the “time marches on —” montage-style scenes, that¬† works quite well , is terribly theme-appropriate, and also, frankly, exhudes a type of playful fun. Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone fame tunrs in a terrific performance as the young Raven/Mystique, who in equal turns pines longingly after Xavier but sees more worth in Magneto’s vision for the mutant’s future. January Jones, despite having a name that instantly marks her for being drawn and quartered on mere principle alone, is coolly confident as the sexy Emma Frost (although she looks a lot better from a distance and, sorry to dwell on the physical, just sort of looks weird in some of Vaughn’s lingering close-up shots). Rose Byrne is supremely competent, if unspectacular, as CIA liason/potential Xavier love-interest Moira MacTaggart. Oliver Platt does his — well, Oliver Platt — as — errrmmm — Oliver Platt (his G-Man character doesn’t have a credited name). And the story is certainly clever even if it does lose some momentum early on and never really gets it back.

But the whole thing’s also a bit schizophrenic. It starts off looking like it’s headed for Christopher Nolan-style superhero realism and ends with ridculous code names for the characters and an agonizingly-drawn-out, way-too-OTT scene of Xavier getting shot that might pack more dramatic wallop if we actually thought he might die, but seems just plain self-indulgent since we know that he doesn’t and this is how he ends up in his magic wheelchair.

On the whole, then, X-Men:First Class would be a lot more effective if it knew what it was, and what part in the overall ouevre of the series it was supposed to be filling. As it is, it feels like nothing so much an an enjoyable, generally-well-executed diversion, that does the best it can given its rather not-completely-thought-through remit. Where it all goes from here is anybody’s guess, and while you’ll more than likely be pretty entertained by this movie(I certainly was), you won’t come away from it with any answers about where the X-Men concept is headed in the future, and that’s something that the powers that be at Marvel and 20th Century Fox need to start figuring out fast before they kill their golden goose not so much through incompetence as sheer aimlessness. What’s next, indeed.

So, the Oscars are tomorrow night. And Winter’s Bone isn’t gonna win Best Picture. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t gonna win Best Actress. And the venerated Academy, as always, will totally blow it. While Natalie Portman is up there taking her bows for Black Swan, just know this much — she didn’t deserve it. And when The Social Network or The King’s Speech is crowned the year’s best film, know, likewise, that they didn’t deserve it.

Did you see Winter’s Bone? Because you really should. I’m going to mention that time and again here, so get used to hearing it. The marquee at the Uptown theater here in Minneapolis billed it as “The Ozark Third Man,” and truthfully that’s a pretty apt description. While not wanting to give too much of the plot away, let’s just say that a story comparison with the Welles classic is pretty much inevitable since it revolves around a hell of a lot of intrigue and so-thick-you-can-cut-it-with-a-knife-suspense as teenage accidental-head-of-household Ree (Jennifer Lawrence, in a seriously incredible performance) searches for her lost father who disappeared into the underworld of crystal methamphetamine manufacture just as his family’s Ozark lean-to faced foreclosure and the inevitable sheriff’s sale.

Ree’s mom is a basket case that doesn’t know up from down, so it’s up to her to both find her old man and somehow keep it together for her mom, herself, and her younger siblings. It’s not an easy task, to put it mildly, and her only “assistance” comes from her seriously creepy uncle, another meth-head named Teardrop (John Hawkes, in a killer role that absolutely drips with bad karma) who looks like he might just kill our intrepid young heroine at the drop of a hat in spite of the fact that we keep hoping against hope that there’s some drop of human decency buried inside him somewhere.

Anyway, Hawkes is great, but this is Lawrence’s show all the way. I’ve never seen her in anything before, but we’re sure to see her again and again the years to come, because she flat-out owns both this role and, more generally, the film itself. She’s brave and vulnerable, steady and anxious, fearless and terrified — and delivers it all with more subtlety and nuance any of her more celebrated peers are capable of on their best days.

To be sure, director/co-writer Debra Granik and her screenwriting collaborator Anne Rosellini deserve a lot of the credit here for authoring such a compelling character and constructing such a taut narrative around her(and cinematographer Michael McDonough earns a serious tip of the hat for his capturing of the dark majesty of the rural southern Missouri locations so well —and by the way,¬† a great many of the bit-part players and extras on display here are genuine locals), but Lawrence is really asked to carry an exceptionally heavy load here and she more than succeeds in that task.

As each layer of this mysterious onion is peeled back we’re left with ten new questions for every answer we get, and you know things are bound to get only worse before they get better, the only real question is just how fucking deep this whole mystery goes and what finding the answers out is really going to mean for Ree and her family. You won’t dare turn away, I’ll tell you that much.

And that’s about all you’re going to get out of me, to be frank. Winter’s Bone is a film about which the less said, the better. You literally can’t bear to give anything way to someone who hasn’t seen it. I just hope my sparsely profuse (okay, I know that’s a contradiction, but give me a break, will ya?) words of praise are enough to whet your appetite to get up off your ass and see this flick ASAP. And if you’re still not sold on it, then how about if I tell you that there’s a cameo appearance from Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee, as well? That oughtta do it.

Winter’s Bone is available on DVD and Bluray from Lionsgate as well as on demand at Amazon and on most cable and satellite systems (which is how I saw it so I can’t really comment on any specific DVD extras or technical specs, sorry). How you choose to see it, though, is less important than just plain seeing it, and doing so as quickly as possible.