Movie Review: “Joy”

Starring
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Elisabeth Röhm, Édgar Ramírez, Virgina Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd
Director
David O. Russell

David O. Russell has developed a repertory of players akin to “American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy. Including Russell’s new film “Joy,” Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper have been in each of his last three films, while Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Elisabeth Rohm have been in two of his last four. Russell had some hiccups with actors early in his career (George Clooney and Lily Tomlin come to mind), so it’s nice to see that Russell has found the balance between the directorial process and ego management, and that is crucial to a director’s continued success. If you have a reputation for treating actors poorly, you will no longer have good actors auditioning for your films, or accepting your calls.

With “Joy,” Russell has a motherlode of talent ready to carry the weight, but his own script undercuts them. It begins with an “American Hustle”-style bolt of adrenaline, but it quickly shifts into ‘kick the shit out of Joy’ mode for the rest of the movie. Joy is dealt a terrible hand, and the movie’s message seems to be that that is why she became a success, that it was her awful family that gave her the drive to succeed. So for you parents out there who are encouraging their kids to think positive and believe in themselves, we’re all clearly doing it wrong. If you want your kids to be super-rich, you clearly have to raise them to be sociopaths.

Joy (Lawrence) was encouraged at an early age by her grandmother (Diane Ladd) that she was meant to use her creativity to do greater things for her horribly broken family. She has a half-sister Peggy (Rohm) from her father Rudy’s (De Niro) first marriage, and by the time Joy married singer Tony Miranne (Edgar Ramirez), Rudy was on his third marriage, which of course ended in divorce. Now divorced herself with two kids, Tony living in the basement, and her mother (Virginia Madsen) watching soap operas nearly nonstop, Joy has yet to act on her promise, until a moment on the boat of Rudy’s new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) gives Joy the idea of a lifetime: a mop that people can clean without touching the strands. Joy draws it up with the help of her daughter, and meets nothing but disapproval and resistance from the people who have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from her success.

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Movie Review: “Aloha”

Starring
Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, Danny McBride
Director
Cameron Crowe

Thus far, optimism has reigned supreme in this summer of moviegoing. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was about finding hope and redemption in a wasteland, “Tomorrowland” championed positivity, and now the king of sincerity himself, Cameron Crowe, has given us “Aloha.” The director’s latest effort is a Cameron Crowe film through and through – a heartfelt, funny and honest, albeit a little messy, romantic comedy.

Like most of Crowe’s protagonists, Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper) isn’t the man he once was, a washed-up defense contractor looking for a comeback. His boss, famed billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), is planning on launching a satellite out of Hawaii, and it’s Brian’s job to make sure the launch goes according to plan. Professionally and personally, the cynical Brian runs into more problems than he expected. For starters, his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) is now married to John ‘Woody’ Woodside (John Krasinski) and has two kids. Old feelings for Tracy arise when Gilchrist reunites with her, in addition to new ones for his babysitter/partner, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), an ambitious pilot who sees Brian for the man he used to be and the man he could become.

There’s actually more to “Aloha” than that plot description. There are a lot of moving pieces in Crowe’s script, and it takes time for them to become a cohesive unit. The details of Brian’s mission are a tad hazy at first, and his relationship with Allison is initially rushed, as she falls for him a little too quickly. But by the time the second act rolls around, Crowe and the cast are mostly smooth sailing.

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Movie Review: “American Sniper”

Starring
Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Keir O’Donnell
Director
Clint Eastwood

There are some amazing stories that have come from the ashes of the Iraq War, but so far, it appears that Kathryn Bigelow is the only person capable of making them pop on the big screen. Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” has a whale of a protagonist, a carefree good ol’ boy who gave up his easy-going existence to serve his country and became one of the most decorated soldiers in American history. Sadly, the movie about his life does little to separate itself from its Iraq War movie brethren, save for the occasional moments where our hero has qualms about killing complete strangers. It is perfectly enjoyable, and it is well made, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. To add insult to injury, the off-camera ending feels like a cheat.

From an early age, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was raised to be the kid who protected the bullies from the sheep. He was a good shot and, as an adult, he enjoyed his simple life touring as a rodeo cowboy, but after watching 9/11 unfold on his TV, he volunteers for military service. The recruiter suggests the Navy SEALS, and Chris impresses his superiors with his marksmanship. Chris is assigned to assist a troop of Marines as their eyes in the sky, as it were. The job was not easy – his first two confirmed kills are as brutal as it gets – but Chris excels at it, and before long, his fellow soldiers are calling him The Legend. The Legend, however, is having issues dealing with the moral dilemmas that come with his work, and the ‘don’t be a baby’ aspect of his military training leads him to internalize much of his anxiety, at the great expense of his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their children.

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Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker
Director
James Gunn

Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most moviegoers (if Iron Man used to be considered a B-list character, then the Guardians are on the D-list), but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, the bigwigs at Marvel clearly saw something in his earlier work (the horror comedy “Slither” and the superhero satire “Super”) that suggested he was the right man for the job, and Gunn has definitely repaid their faith in him by producing the best possible version of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and one of the most purely fun Marvel movies to date.

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, a member of an intergalactic group of thieves and smugglers who was kidnapped from Earth as a young boy. When he’s sent by his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious orb, only to double-cross him in order to keep the artifact for himself, Quill becomes the target of a power-hungry alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who’s made a deal with the Mad Titan Thanos (the purple-skinned figure teased at the end of “The Avengers”) to give him the orb in exchange for destroying his enemy’s home planet. After he’s captured and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together a little longer in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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Potential 2014 Best Picture Nominees

With the full Academy Award nominations due January 16, 2014, the time has come to start sizing up favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Voters’ tabulations will determine between five and ten films up for the top prize. From familiar directors and stars to surprising breakout performances, this year’s crop features these films and any of a number of other dark horses. On March 2nd, the Oscars will be broadcast on DirecTV Chicago and through many other U.S. cable providers.

12 Years a Slave

The epic narrative about slavery stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free African American man from the north who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the plantation master in Louisiana who purchases him. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano also star in this gripping true story, directed by Steve McQueen (director of Shame).

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