Jennifer Lawrence

February 23, 2016

The Simplistic Reviews 2016 Oscar Prediction Podcast (Ep. 65)

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY

You’ve heard from the experts…now hear from the madmen from Simplistic Reviews as they predict who will and who should win at the 2016 Oscars.  Don’t worry, the boys do their best to skate around the #OscarsSoWhite issue.  What, are you kidding?  They tackle it head on with enough irreverence that even Spike Lee flinch.  They also tackle other topics like R rated animation, Jennifer Lawrence on the precipise of being hated, and Harvey Fierstein…a lot of Harvey Fierstein.  All that and more on the Simplistic Reviews Oscar Prediction Podcast

NOTES
Harvey Fierstein in Independence Day
Morgan Freeman Car Accident

MUSIC
Hot Shot By Saun & Star
Across 110th Street By Bobby Womack
Strawberry Letter 23 By The Brothers Johnson

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February 17, 2014

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: February 2014 Edition

In a desperate attempt to gain some respectability, The Simplistic Reviews Podcast has on special guest from Insession Film, JD Duran.  But in only twenty minutes, the boys corrupt this once reputable man to the point where he is setting fire to the Academy Awards, partially stalking Jennifer Lawrence, and verbally berating Will Smith.  All in a days work for Matt, Justin, and DJ.  Enjoy this corrupting episode of The Simplistic Reviews Podcast….oh…and the boys conjure the ghosts of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock…yeah…that happened.

 Show Notes:
Unicron
Winter’s Tale
Mission Impossible III
Almost Famous
True Detective Tracking Shot
Key & Peele Liam Neeson Commercial

Music Notes:
Birds & Brass By Sort Of Soul
The Great Escape Theme By Elmer Bernstein
Lawyers, Guns, And Money By Warren Zevon
The Best By Tina Turner


FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.
Click HERE to listen to podcast

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December 6, 2013

Early Returns: American Hustle

SILKY

American Hustle – Silky

The name David O. Russell can evoke a lot of emotions, especially if you talk to either George Clooney or Lily Tomlin.  The man has the special talent to bring both the best, and worst, out in people.  While there is no doubt Russell can be called a total prick, there is also no doubt that the guy has been putting out quality films since “Spanking the Monkey” all the way back in 1994.  Almost 20 years later, Russell has released his most refined, and silky, film to date in “American Hustle,” starring the likes of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Russell’s newest muse, Jennifer Lawrence.

“Hustle” is the tale of two con artists (Bale and Adams) who are forced to join forces with an FBI Agent (Bradley Cooper) who has entirely too much to prove. The unlikely trio set out to uncover corruption that involves a fake sheik, members of Congress, the Mafia, and a local mayor of Camden, New Jersey, played by Jeremy Renner.  Throw in a nagging wife, played wonderfully by Lawrence, and those are the basics of “Hustle.”

While I might have just simplified the plot for spoiler’s-sake above, the film is much more than your standard grifters-on-the-run-from-the-law story.  I’d liken “Hustle” very much to “Goodfellas” in it’s storytelling and use of the 1970s as the backdrop.  I also mention “Goodfellas” in it’s use of a very interesting cameo that I won’t mention, again, for spoiler’s-sake.

While I will commend Russell for his direction and vision, the acting really shines in “Hustle.”  I have no doubt in my mind that all four main actors, Adams, Bale, Cooper, and Lawrence, will be up for Oscars come February.  I’ll even go as far as saying that this will be Adams’ Oscar year.  Her turn as Sydney Prosser is magical, and proves that Adams is one of the best actresses in the business that still seems to be overlooked.  Lawrence steals the show in the scenes she’s in, and the same goes for Cooper.  Bale is the rock of the film however, and provides a calming cool to the insanity that seems to swirl around him.  Renner is fine in his role as Mayor Carmine Polito, but one of the best unsung performances will go to Louis C.K, who plays the brow-beaten boss of Cooper’s unhinged FBI Agent.

Like I mentioned before, this is Russell’s “Goodfellas.”  Loosely based on actual events, Russell weaves a story that has you guessing until the very end, and much like Martin Scorsese does in most of his films, music plays a major part.  Russell picks some of the best music from 70’s, and makes Duke Ellington, and his music, one of the points of attraction between Bale and Adams’ characters, and it makes sense in the scheme, no pun intended, of things.  Jazz artists like Ellington had to improve all the time, it’s the heartbeat of jazz, improvisation, and you can say the same thing for people running cons; constant improvisation.  The allegory is fantastic, if you catch it, but it’s not entirely relevant to the overall plot, just a cute little thing that Russell throws into his film.

At it’s core, “Hustle” is a caper film in the spirit of “Jackie Brown” and “Catch Me If You Can.”  It has spunk, heart, and like I said before, is silky smooth, with plenty of style to spare.  Best film of the year?  Let’s not quite go there yet, but if “Hustle” is any inclination of the films to come the rest of 2013, we should be in store for plenty of treats the rest of the month of December.  Christmas comes early with “American Hustle.”

Fun Fact:  The story of “American Hustle” is loosely based on the events of ABSCAM, in the late 1970s and 1980s.    

November 23, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (DJ’s Take)

STEADY

See what I did there?  I made a joke about the shaky cam used in the first Hunger Games movie in comparison to its usage in this film.  A cheap shot, I know.  However, STEADY can also be a word attributed to several things about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the franchise in general.

 My biggest takeaway from the first Hunger Games was that everything up to the games was surprisingly new and interesting.  But when the games started, the film became a missed opportunity.  Whether that be from the…(ahem)…nauseating shaky cam…or the violence getting scaled back for the rating…or the rushed narrative.  The film only scratched the surface of what it meant to kill someone innocent, someone you know, or someone you love in order to survive.  A subject I don’t think we’ll ever properly explore in a film from this series.  The sequel Catching Fire left me feeling the same way I felt after watching the 2003 film The Matrix Reloaded.  It was a sequel that gave me more of what I loved in the first film, less of what I didn’t, threw in a direction altering twist, and ended so abruptly that I was sickenly desperate for more.  Unlike The Matrix films, The Hunger Games franchise has always had an established blueprint.  It also has expectations nowhere near as unachievable as the ones the Wachowskis were faced with.  So, my hopes for this franchise’s conclusion don’t feel as futile.

I’m typically skeptical of any Young Adult novel film adaptation.  Mainly, because their stories are usually formulaic, shallow, and just not made for me.  From Twilight, to The Mortal Instruments, to the upcoming Divergent, to even Harry Potter.  The subject matter of those films never struck me as having anything deep about them.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a Y.A. idea that actually has interesting material.  War, oppression, rebellion, gladiatorial combat, political appeasement of the masses, questions on morality, self sacrifice.  I could go on.  Material like this is probably why the films have attracted arguably the best ensemble cast of any Y.A. adaptation.  And why its main character is played by inarguably the best actor.

I hate Jennifer Lawrence.  No, not in the way you think.  I hate her for the fact that she is such a rare, real, STEADY, good actor, that she can convince me of literally anything.  I try and stay objective when I see her work, but I’m captivated by her characters the instant she starts doing her thing.  Every time there is a moment in Catching Fire where I’m sure the material will be too ridiculous or ponderous for me to stand, Lawrence comes in and totally blows me away with her honesty.  There is a scene where she is speaking about the fallen tribute Rue, and god help me, I found my eyes welling up with tears.  It is a scene meant to tug at your heartstrings with all the subtlety of a semi-truck.  And yet, I was astonished at how perfectly personal Lawrence plays it.  Katniss’ grief for Rue was played out mostly in silence in the first film.  Here, you finally get to listen to her describe her sadness and guilt and rage for what happened to Rue in one brief speech.  And Lawrence delivers it with not one false beat.  There are several instances like that in the film where I should groan and roll my eyes.  But the performances of Lawrence and Sutherland and Harrelson and Hoffman and even Hutcherson and Hemsworth are strong enough to sell this world.

I understand that previous director Gary Ross was using shaky cam in an attempt to hide the bloodshed and capture the primal nature of the games.  However, there is a distinct difference between being visceral and being incomprehensible.  Francis Lawrence has a much STEADIER(It’s almost too easy) hand when it comes to the camera.  I don’t just mean the action scenes, though, they are much better.  I mean with everything.  He just seems to have a better grasp on when to hold on an emotional beat, pull back on an enormous set piece, and shake up the visuals during a pulse pounding fight scene.  At least, in a way that I’m used to.  I think Ross, who has done some great work on his earlier films, just had a style that was too distracting for this content.

The one flaw that really gets in the way of Catching Fire’s potential is probably the most integral reason for its drawing power.  And that is the film’s love triangle.  No, I’m not some cynical douche that detests any time a film is inundated with mushy teen romance.  I’m a cynical douche that detests being browbeaten over the head by plot threads, whatever they may be.  I appreciate nuance, timeliness, and skillful integration.  The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale still lacks these things and acts as an obstacle to the story.  Katniss switches back and forth between her love interests to an almost comical extent in this film.  I seriously began to lose track from scene to scene as to where her love currently lied.  The much richer lead up to the games and increased political intrigue gives the story some really strong momentum.  Momentum that is stopped dead whenever the characters are forced to deal with their romantic issues.  I know me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the love triangle plotline is in The Hunger Games is the equivalent of me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the huge red spoiler is on a sports car.  I know why it’s there and I know it appeases the teenage girl demographic.  Yet, it could be scaled back significantly and the ride would be all the better for it.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a strong sequel for any franchise, and continues to easily be one of the more interesting Young Adult novel film adaptations going today.  I hear they are going all Hobbit with the next book by splitting it in two.  Let us hope they can remain on their STEADY pace upward.  Grab your bow…and your pin…and your superconductive metal coil…watch it…tick tock…then tell me I’m wrong.

January 16, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone – Break

We all know Jennifer Lawrence is Hollywood’s new sweetheart, and rightfully so.  She is young, talented, attractive, and someone you would want to hang out with.  She is Julia Roberts without the toothy grin.  She is the girl that all the other girls want to be and all the guys want to be with.  She’s a revelation if you will. When I first got a glimpse of her on the red carpet of the Oscars about two years ago, I really didn’t know what to make of her. She was this young new face with a smart mouth.  Sorry, but I kind of took her for a bitch, like she was too good for the Oscars.  I look at her now, and she is down right adorable and so self-deprecating, it’s irresistible.  I also appreciate the fact that she takes chances, and makes the role her own.  For a perfect example of what made her a star before she became a star was her first major role in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.”

You can call “Bone” a “White Trash Noir.”  Lawrence plays Ree, a 17-year old girl taking care of her two younger siblings without the help of her drug-affected absentee mother and meth-dealing father.  After her father skips town, she finds out that he put their house up for bond and the whole family could be homeless within a week.  Ree takes it upon herself to track down her father and navigate a neighborhood full of drug dealers, murderers, and crooked cops.

The story is simple, but the themes of innocence lost, family responsibility, and loyalty run deep in this film.  In Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree you can see the reason why she was chosen to be the lead in “The Hunger Games” as Katniss Everdeen.  She is a strong female protagonist, probably the strongest female character I’ve seen in years who isn’t a superhero, but she still has a vulnerability to her as she navigates her dangerous world with two younger siblings in tow.  You want to grab her and tell her to stop in her quest for her father, especially when you see some of the people that she has to deal with in trying to find the answers.

While Lawrence is great, I also have to tip my cap to John Hawkes, who plays crystal meth dealer, and Ree’s uncle, Teardrop.  Think Walter White if he was from rural Arkansas, only scarier.  He’s the last guy that you want to ask help from, and the last guy you want looking for you if a deal went south.  Hawkes is one of those guys that’s in a lot of stuff but he never reallygets credit.  I remember seeing him for the first time as the Liquor Store Clerk in “From Dusk Till Dawn,” and he pops into movies every now and than and leaves an impressions every time.  I like to think of him as the poor man’s Walton Goggins.  Hawkes was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal in “Bone,” and rightfully so.

If you haven’t already, there’s no reason to not check out “Winter’s Bone.” It’s the genesis of Jennifer Lawrence; where she got her break if you will.  She commands every scene she is in, is a natural, and strikes the perfect balance between tough and fragile.  You never get the sense that she is doing anything for herself, mother or father, she knows that they are all beyond redemption.  Her only care is the welfare of her brother and sister, which in a time where everyone is so wrapped up in their own world, is a welcome relief in film.

Fun Fact:  In the year that “Winter’s Bone” was nominated for Best Motion Picture at the Academy Awards, it had the smallest production budget at only $2 Million, compared to the budget of “Toy Story 3” which was $200 Million, the most expensive film nominated that year.

January 13, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Silver Linings Playbook

CRAZY

And I mean that in a good way.  Silver Linings Playbook, besides having one of the strangest titles for a film ever, is probably the CRAZIEST love story I’ve seen since Punch Drunk Love.  From the very beginning, it snatches you up on a manic roller coaster ride of mental disorder, football, ballroom dancing and strangely enough, romance.  And it completely knocked me over.  We’ve had a pretty great year when it comes to great films and great performances.  Silver Linings Playbook has the distinction of possessing both of those traits.

The film is a Matthew Quick novel adaptation from director David O. Russell.  It centers around Bradley Cooper’s character Pat.  A man with a bi-polar disorder who is desperately trying to better himself in order to get back with his estranged wife.  More than that though, it is a film about acceptance.  Whether that be acceptance of one’s fate or acceptance of one’s illness.  Now, this is not slow burn psychological study.  The film is handled much differently.  The pacing of this film is noticeably frenetic.  The veracity really puts you in the head of someone who has bi-polar disorder.  You are immediately thrust into this world with these characters and barely have time to react to each strange fit of rage or absurd situation.  And it is completely captivating to watch.

It must suck to be Bradley Cooper.  Well, not really.  Ladies love him, his films do well, and he seems to be pretty well liked by his peers.  However, he’s just now starting to get recognized and rewarded for his acting ability.  Pretty boy douchebag roles are now being replaced by roles like this on his resume.  He portrays his disorder in such a realistic and grounded way.  A misconception for playing someone with a mental disorder is to do it over the top.  But its actually the subtleties that really sell it.  And while Cooper has his share of over the top outburst, he nails the small moments where his illness tortures him.  For as good as Cooper is, Jennifer Lawrence steals this film from him.  Its a welcome change to see an actress who can do the schlocky youth fueled films like Hunger Games and X-Men, but also have the range to do deeper, meaningful films like this.  YOU HEAR ME KRISTEN STEWART!?!  CLOSE YOUR MOUTH!  Lawrence is amazing, her chemistry with Cooper is magical, and she pretty much eats Robert De Niro’s lunch acting-wise in a climactic scene.  And not a lazy Rocky & Bullwinkle Robert De Niro.  A trying, solid performing Robert De Niro.  I’d hold up the performances by Silver Linings Playbook’s ensemble cast to every film it’ll be nominated against.  Even Django.

David O. Russell is infamous for being a bit of a hard ass to work for.  However, his abilities as a director are unquestionable.  Especially directing films like this.  Films where the main characters are severely flawed.  Realistically flawed.  But still likable characters all the same.  The way he lets his scenes just play out must be catnip for actors.

Silver Linings Playbook might be lost in the CRAZY award season mix because it isn’t as fun or escapist as its competition.  But I think it will stand the test of time because it is well made, well performed and just a feel good movie.  Slap on a DeSean Jackson jersey…put some money on the Eagles…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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