A Little More Action Please (Joy review)

Have you ever watched a bio pic? They usually do an excellent job of both motivating you to do something with your life, and also to make you feel for the character(s) which the story is based upon.

It’s one of those great guilty pleasures of life which most people are okay with accepting as a “good” pursuit of time when watching film or reading a book.

This week we are going to look at a very recent bio pic and see if it hits the mark.




Joy (2015)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Dianne Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini
Director: David O. Russell
released on blu-ray May 3, 2016
****** 6/10


IMDB: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%, Audience Score 56%
The Guardian: ***/*****

David Owen Russell also known as David O Russell is an American director, screenwriter, and producer. He is best known for directing The Fighter, American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook.

This is the third time that Russell has worked with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, and the second time with Robert De Niro.

If you’ve seen anything J Law has been in like ever, then you’ll know she gives a strong performance, and Russell provides excellent direction. But let’s discuss the film in brief first.

Taken from Wikipedia and edited,

In 1989, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced mother of two, working as a booking clerk. She lives with her children, mother (Virginia Madsen), grandmother Mimi (Dianne Ladd), and her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez).

Her parents are divorced, and fight whenever her father shows up. Joy and her older half-sister, Peggy don’t get along but Peggy and father Rudy (Robert De Niro) are very close. Her mom spends all day lying in bed watching TV to escape from her life, leaving Joy to run the household.

After divorcing his third wife, Joy’s father starts dating Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), a wealthy widow with some business experience. While on Trudy’s boat, Joy drops a glass of wine, attempts to mop up, and cuts her hands on the broken glass while wringing the mop.

Joy returns home and creates blueprints for a self-wringing mop. She then convinces Trudy to invest in the product. They make a deal with a company in California to manufacture and Joy also pays $50,000 in royalties to a man in Hong Kong who supposedly has created a similar product. The company repeatedly bills Joy for faulty parts they create, but Joy refuses to pay the fees.

Joy needs a quick, easy way to advertise her product, and is able to meet with QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). Neil tells Joy to manufacture 50,000 mops. Joy is advised by Trudy to take out a second mortgage on her home, in order to pay her costs. The first infomercial fails, but when she goes on QVC, Joy and her product become an overnight success. Things look up for the family, with the mop earning thousands of dollars on QVC.

Joy’s grandmother dies suddenly. Rudy and Trudy send Peggy to California to conduct Joy’s company business. Afterwards Peggy tells Joy that she paid the fees. Joy is angry and travels to California to meet with the manufacturer, who refuses to pay her back. Joy discovers that the manufacturer is about to fraudulently patent her design. Her lawyer reveals that there is nothing they can do to prevent this, and Joy is forced to file for bankruptcy. Joy discovers that the manufacturers have been defrauding her the entire time. She confronts the owner, and forces him to pay her back.

Several years later, Joy is wealthy and runs a successful business. She continues to take care of her father, even though he and Peggy had unsuccessfully sued for ownership. Tony remains a valued adviser, and the film ends with her helping a young mother develop a new invention.

So there you have it, even in the summary of the film, it’s clear that the frontrunner of this story is Joy Mangano, because well, the movie is called Joy after all.

But if you haven’t caught on yet, the ensemble cast is problematic and uneven. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Lawrence gives a great performance, but but we don’t get to see her play off of her natrual chemistry of Cooper, the way it’s promised, and her family is a little bit too zany without the obvious conflict.

Pros: It tells a great story of an underdog gone fierce and her ultimate rise to the top of the pile. You really feel for Joy because Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job portraying her. Russell also has an excellent crafting which provides that title character development.

Cons: The beginning of the movie is dry and doesn’t feel realistic enough to believe in the flawed characters and how Lawrence becomes their matriarch. Also it lacks a lot of humour, and ironically enough joy.

Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes

Points of Interest: While the title character is named Joy, she is not, in fact, a biographic version of Joy Mangano. Russell created an everywoman with Joy Mangano as the base, and interwove it with stories of other women changing their lives.

It is an interesting film because it does an excellent job to drive the growth of it’s title character, but because the story is fabricated and not handled in such a way to really develop it’s supporting cast realistically, and with the odd humour of life, it doesn’t quite reach it’s goal.

So Joy doesn’t run on all fours throughout it’s arc. But that doesn’t mean it can’t get to its destination nor does it mean that we should discount it as a great example of overcoming adversity. It just doesn’t fit a perfect mold as a film. If you’re a fan of Jennifer Lawrence I have a theory that you won’t be disappointed by her performance, but if you like the Lawrence/Cooper tag team, I can tell you it’s not really there.

Should you give Joy a chance? Yeah I think so. But there are lots of better bio pics out there. See you tomorrow with some wisdom friends.


A Tale As Old As Time (Testament of Youth review)

What is that expression? It is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all? I think that’s an apt point when considering this week’s film review.

Can you imagine experiencing intense feelings of love, pain, and anger all while under constant threat of death? Not only for you, but for loved ones as well.

That’s what this story attempts to tackle.



Testament of Youth (2014)
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Dominic West, Emily Watson
Director: James Kent
released on blu-ray October 20, 2015
******** 8/10


IMDB: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%, Audience Score 79%
The Guardian: **/*****

Testament of Youth is a war memoir written by one Vera Brittain (1893-1970) and published in 1933. It happens to be the first instalment in a series of four accounts she wrote over the course of her life. Testament of Youth, followed by Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience, then the unfinished work title Testament of Faith (also Testament of Time).

It is literally a classic story at this point in our history because it tells us of Brittain’s experiences during WWI and embodies not only a woman’s account of war but also the aftermath of it and how it effected her ability to produce a career as a writer, especially in a time when educated women were few in number.

But does James Kent do the story Justice?

I would argue yes based on his track record. He has been involved in several biographies over the past decade and even had a hand in a biopic on John Wayne in the 80’s. Some notable examples are Gianni Versace, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, HG Wells, and Agatha Christie, not to mention accounts of 9/11 and the Holocaust.

Spoiler alert, it made my girlfriend cry, and I also suffered from some sweaty eyeballs, so be warned.

But let’s get into a bit of the story.

Vera’s tells a story which is an eye witness account of the first World War as it happened in Great Britain. The movie deals with themes of love, loss, dreams, war, life, honour, and family, among others.

The story starts with a young Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) spending a great deal of time with her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and his two friends Victor (Colin Morgan) and later Roland (Kit Harington) to follow her dreams of becoming a writer. This is particularly challenging for her as she is still quite young, and very strong minded with feminist viewpoints that rub up against most people she encounters, in particular her parents. She eventually takes the exams at Oxford and prepares to take the train there with Roland, as he has plans to write as well.

Unfortunately war breaks out almost immediately on the eve of their first semester, and Roland decides to head off to war to support his country. As does Edward and Victor after Vera convinces her father (Dominic West) that it is Edward’s right to defend their way of life. She eventually changes her mind about writing too and enlists as a nurse, all while falling in love with Roland.

They both become increasingly involved in the war efforts at danger to both of them, and as Vera becomes one of the nurses who tends to enemy soldiers, she learns a great deal about loss and the problems with declaring sides and assuming evil in other people.

This is a story of growth and remembrance, and embraces the ideas Brittain wrote about in her memoir whole heartedly. Much of the primary story remains intact, and elements like Roland’s poems to Vera are quite poignant.

I dare you not to be impacted in your heart of hearts.

I can’t write too much more about the story without ruining it for you. I recognize that the story has been around for almost 90 years, but I hadn’t read the book myself previously, and I suspect a great many of you readers haven’t either. But I think I just might after having experience this condensed version of the account.

Pros: While it has a slow burn at the start of the film, I think it serves the story well, as there is a lasting impact of the key events as the story comes to a conclusion. Kit Harington is quite good in his role as Roland, and the relationship between Victor and Vera is crushing as well. Also the ghosts that haunt Vera are well done.

Cons: The story isn’t driven by action at all, and there is no real violence or crude behaviour, so it can be challenging to feel the feelings at times.

Runtime: 129 minutes

Points of Interest: The film was shot throughout different areas of England making it a very authentic viewing experience. There is a really well done speech at the end of the film, which you should pay close attention to. Did I mention the ghosts yet?

What else can I say? I don’t normally participate in war films, because as another reviewer said, it can be filled with genre candy, and if that isn’t to your taste then you may be surprised when sitting through this one. I am very glad to have been born into a time when something as grand, terrifying, and awful as a world war did not happen, but I think that films like this serve a very important role as reminders to be grateful for what we have, and to recognize the futility of war.

So what do you think? Am I nuts? Leave some comments!