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Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

(2012)
6 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

When I saw writer-director David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012) with my family in the theater, I thought it was the best film I've seen that entire year. I liked the performances, I adored the writing and the directing, and I enjoyed pretty much everything about it. Now, I've finally seen it from beginning to end for a second time one to two years later. And how did it hold up? It was still good, but it's no longer the great movie that I originally thought it was. While the acting by the all-star cast still holds up, there are certain details in the story that hold up significantly better than others. Before we address what does and doesn't work in this flick, let's recap the plot from the beginning.

Bradley Cooper portrays Pat Solitano Jr., a man with a bipolar disorder who has recently been released from a mental health facility and now has to live with his parents (Jacki Weaver, Robert DeNiro). He learns that his wife has moved out of their place, but is determined to reconcile with her after the event that got him into the facility in the first place by getting his life back on track. He plans on doing so by losing weight, reading literature his wife teaches to kids, and seeing the good (the "silver lining") in all that he experiences regardless of how challenging it may be. His plan is somewhat successful, that is until he meets Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a recently unemployed widow who is also mentally unstable. Because his wife has a restraining order against him, Pat reluctantly makes a deal with Tiffany that if she gives a letter to his wife from him, he'll be her partner in an upcoming dance competition.

What ensues for the rest of the picture is Pat struggling to maintain balance between his commitments with helping Tiffany and being there for his family. An important detail that should be mentioned is that Pat's dad (DeNiro) thinks that his son is a good luck charm because whenever he's home, his favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, always win. When he isn't, they lose. Because of this, it's difficult for Pat to keep his cool since he's going to dissatisfy someone either way. If he's not there for Tiffany for practicing the dance, she gets furious. If he's not there with his heavily superstitious dad, he's discontent as well. By the way, when I say that his dad's superstitious, I mean he's freaking obsessed with the Eagles. He's willing to bet all the money he's saving for opening a restaurant on the Eagles winning a game, that's how much he believes in his team and in Pat. And you wonder why I'm modest.

The funny thing I've picked up upon a second viewing of this flick is that even though Pat's the one that just got released from the mental institution, the people in his life are crazier than he is. I know people that are obsessed with sports, but I haven't come across anyone who's willing to bet everything just for the sake of one team winning a game like Pat's dad. Let's not also forget that likable nut known as Tiffany, who comes out of nowhere to scare the crap out of Pat during a jog around her neighborhood, has seemingly non-existent dinner table manners, and gets non-sensibly mad for no particular reason sometimes. Whether or not it was David O. Russell's subliminal intention to make his family and friends even crazier than Pat remains to be seen. But honestly, I'm not complaining, because it's actually a nice comedic touch in that it adds to the irony of Pat's current lifestyle.

It should also be noted that as Pat and Tiffany spend more time together, they apparently start to form a romantic bond. And honestly, that's my main problem with this film upon second viewing. For me, this is another one of those films where it would have been more appropriate if the writers just made the romance a friendship instead. Personally, I never saw a credible romance here so much as a credible friendship where they try and help each other out. This can best explain why I'm so mixed on the ending. On one hand, I love the payoff with their performance at the dance and their reactions to their scores. Without spoiling anything, it makes me feel better about what I've accomplished so far even if it isn't anything amazing. On the other hand, the last couple shots of the film feel rushed. I think this has to do with the fact that what Pat and Tiffany do together for 75% of the time is argue towards one another. It would have been a better romance for me if they did less arguing and more connecting.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is blessed with a highly talented all-star cast including Bradley Cooper as the main character trying to maintain a "silver lining", Jennifer Lawrence as his enjoyably psychotic girlfriend, and Robert DeNiro in a passionate supporting role as Pat's Eagles-obsessed father. Chris Tucker has a funny supporting role as a friend of Pat's from the mental institution who always keeps getting sent back because his release forms apparently didn't come through. That's Paul Herman in a solid supporting role as Pat's father's gambling friend Randy. You may recognize him as Vincent Chase's accountant from the TV series "Entourage". Everybody in this cast does their part.

Though the central romance may not be for everybody, "Silver Linings Playbook" is above all else a confidently made comedy-drama about a man trying to get his life back on track, even if the people that will help him may not be the best role models. But, that's life. One moment, you're on top of the world. The other, it takes psychos to help psychos.

Frozen

Frozen

(2013)
6 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Man, is it great to have Disney back in top form again. With the exceptions of "Wreck-it Ralph" (2012) and "The Princess and the Frog" (2009), I haven't seen any of Disney's newest animated features since "Treasure Planet" (2002). This is mainly because I couldn't get interested in seeing the films they were producing for the past decade. And with the possible exceptions of "Tangled" (2010) and "Winnie the Pooh" (2011), I don't have that much interest in doing so either. On top of that, Pixar was the king of animation for a while with films like "The Incredibles" (2004) and "Up" (2009). So naturally, when the hype behind their latest animated feature "Frozen" was that it was the studio's best since "Beauty and the Beast" (1991), you bet that I was going to see this movie with reasonably high expectations. And I'm pleased to say that it didn't disappoint.

We follow two royal sisters named Anna (Kristen Bell, from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") and Elsa (Idina Menzel) with the latter having the ability to create ice and snow. Anna and Elsa are very close to each other, but a childhood incident causes Elsa to be closed off to Anna mainly for her protection and the fact that her icy powers continue to grow. A couple years have passed and the day of Elsa's coronation as the Queen of Arendelle has arrived. When Anna announces her engagement to a prince she just met, an argument ensues between the two sisters that results in Elsa running away, unleashing eternal winter on the kingdom, and building an ice kingdom of her own. Determined to restore her connection with Elsa, Anna sets out to search for her and comes across some colorful characters along the way. She's joined by a mountain man named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a talking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

"Frozen" is a landmark animated feature from Disney for many reasons. For starters, its computer animation is impressively extravagant, especially with the crystal-like textures on the ice and the rich, velvety textures on Anna's green dress. These little details and more like them really make the animation pop out. Also, the film's music and songs are the best from the Disney Studios in a long time. The music and songs were written and composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and the score was done by Christophe Beck. Among the film's memorable tunes, the most special songs include "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" and "Let It Go". No matter which song you think is the best, I guarantee that they're all more memorable that any musicals that have come out in the past decade.

Probably the most significant reason why "Frozen" is such a milestone for Disney has to do with specific details to the story itself. First of all, "Frozen" marks the first Disney animated feature to date that is about the relationship between two sisters. What's even more impressive than that distinction is that the film's screenwriter/co-director Jennifer Lee executes this crucial part of the story perfectly. Lee wisely makes the decision of avoiding the trap of making Elsa an all-out villain and instead making her as human and sympathetic as Anna. It's very rare to pull over a narrative move such as that, especially in a Disney flick, but it really works well here since it compliments off of other bold moves that this story takes. For example, the moral of the story as implied with the ending shows us that there's more behind the meaning of true love than we think we know from all the other Disney fairy tales we've seen. Without giving too much away, it's very refreshing to see an ending like this in a Disney film.

The conclusion of the story between Elsa and Anna is especially rewarding because they develop these characters so well beforehand. Particularly with Elsa, I liked how she struggles to bottle her emotions after this childhood incident shown early in the film and the effects that it has on her personality throughout the majority of the film. As she has a more difficult time controlling her emotions, her powers get more powerful which in turn becomes more dangerous. She lets her overprotection of Anna get in the way of their bond to the point where they've hardly been in each other's company in years. This trait regarding Elsa is clever since it plays off of the optimistic, playful, caring and fearless personality of Anna very well.

And give the Disney Studios credit, it's not every day you see a fairy tale from them in which the characters say you can't just marry someone you just met. This is ironic seeing that that's exactly what happened in the other fairy tales Disney told. And though Anna and Kristoff do initiate a romantic relationship together, the film still stays true to what it's saying to the audience. Regardless, their chemistry still works well even if the dialogue can get a little too awkwardly modern at times. The reindeer and the snowman actually work pretty well as side characters go. They're given solid comedic material and they don't overstay their welcome. While the prince that Anna becomes engaged to is decent, the twist to his character really comes out of nowhere and doesn't work that well for my liking.

For the record, I've enjoyed such films as "The Princess and the Frog" (2009) and "Hercules" (1997) without being overly excited about them. For me though, "Frozen" is the best animated, the best written, and the best sung Disney animated feature since "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1996). I'm absolutely certain that kids will eat this film up with joy and adults will really a magical time as well. Let it be known that Disney is back.

City Lights

City Lights

(1931)
6 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

For centuries, we've been living in a world that mostly consists of people trying to fend for themselves and obtain whatever necessary resources they can in order to survive. This mindset of how the world works results in the rich being prosperous and entitled while the poor are miserable and shunned. In short, various developments (whether it's the invention of new technologies or events that make us question the unity of humanity) have made us more selfish and isolated from one another. I'm saying this since I believe the primary reason that silent film legend Charlie Chaplin had a lasting impact is because while he confirms that we live in this kind of world, he pulls off something in his films that's very difficult to do. He somehow reassures us that everything will be okay no matter how hard you fall and that there are still people out there who help out other people. And very few films of Chaplin's have proven this more effectively than his 1931 silent masterpiece, "City Lights".

This silent romantic comedy follows Chaplin's famous Tramp character as he meets a pretty but blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who mistakes him for a millionaire. That night, the Tramp also meets a drunken millionaire (Harry Myers) and saves him from suicide. As a way of thanking the Tramp for saving him from himself, this millionaire immediately considers him a friend and welcomes the Tramp to his mansion. After they go for a chaotic night on the town, the millionaire sobers up the next day unable to recognize the Tramp in the slightest and kicks him out. So, the Tramp runs into the blind flower girl again and starts initiating a special relationship with her. He also runs into the same millionaire a second time and in his drunken state invites him back to his mansion. From there, certain events eventually ensue in which the Tramp does whatever he can to help pay for the blind girl's eye operation by taking advantage of his unusual friendship with this millionaire.

To write, direct or star in a film with or without sound is one thing. But to write, direct AND star in a film that is technically silent yet has a few bits of sound and a musical score is another thing. With "City Lights", Charlie Chaplin had successfully pulled off an intensely strenuous task. On top of the fact that he decided to make a silent picture in the midst of the "talking pictures" becoming the talk of the town, he had to write, direct AND act in this film. Anyone can tell you that it's a monumental responsibility to pull off all three of these tasks and still produce a high quality film. And the reason that Chaplin had rightfully become a major influence on the film industry isn't just because he's written, directed and starred in excellent pictures, but because these pictures are still being enjoyed by modern audiences today even if they are silent. That's the true sign of a timeless piece of filmmaking.

What I particularly loved about "City Lights", as well as with "Modern Times" (1936), is that its direction is emotionally equivalent to an efficient and smooth roller coaster ride. In other words, Chaplin does a fantastic job at switching back and forth between comedic and dramatic moments seamlessly. One moment you're genuinely laughing at the trouble that the Tramp gets into, the other moment you're feeling pity for the troubles he's experiencing. One moment you feel like your hopes are crushed and nothing's going to be okay, the other you feel like all hope is restored and everything will turn out fine. The bottom line is that this is the kind of experience you can expect from "City Lights" throughout.

An example of a scene that demonstrates this emotional experience in action is the boxing scene. The scenario is this. The Tramp has to fight in a "fake" boxing match to win money that will help with the blind girl's financial troubles. A fellow boxer agrees to split the prize 50-50, so that they both technically would win. Unfortunately, this boxer has to bail out of the match since the police are on to him and the boxer that the Tramp has to contend with now says that the "winner takes all". And throughout the match, the Tramp uses a hilarious strategy to try and win the match by hiding behind the referee as much as he can. I won't reveal anything else at this point to those who haven't seen the film yet and want to. All I can say is that this entire scene is representative of the film as a whole: a film that walks steadily on a fine line between comedy and drama and pulls it off perfectly.

What's even more admirable is that it's all done solely through visuals and background music. Seeing that this is a silent film, it makes sense to incorporate some over exaggerated actions namely Chaplin's clumsiness in the restaurant with the millionaire. Like animated films, silent pictures depend heavily on their visuals in able to help the film express itself more strongly since of course there's no sound to assist the visuals. And most of the time, the only way it can pull off such a thing is by over exaggerating certain actions. By doing so, we can get more of an idea visually of what our main character is experiencing and therefore be able to relate to him more. And Chaplin hits just the right note as far as that's concerned.

Chaplin's silent pictures, especially "City Lights", have lasted more than any other films from the silent era and for good reason. Their stories about persevering to the best of your ability no matter what harsh circumstances you're under have been nothing short of inspiring and uplifting. And no one can fail at seeing that.

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher

(2012)
7 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Have you seen crime thrillers such as "Bullitt" (1968), "Serpico" (1973), or even "Dirty Harry" (1971) which center on cops who go beyond the call of duty and even break a couple laws to bring a person to justice for their crimes? If your answer is "yes", then guess what? You've already seen writer-director Christopher McQuarrie's 2012 crime thriller "Jack Reacher". Actually, let me rephrase that. You haven't just already seen "Jack Reacher" before. You've seen every tired plot point and cliché that this film and other films like it use over and over and over again with no trace of evolving whatsoever. Now, if you were a fan of this typical cop picture formula to begin with and don't mind seeing it countlessly, this film may be fine as far as that's concerned. But for the rest of us who aren't, this is pretty much a long sit.

Tom Cruise plays the title character Jack Reacher, a former U.S. Army Military Police Corps officer who is sent to Pittsburgh to investigate the killing of five innocent people. Based on the evidence that was uncovered (Seriously, are suspects really too careless about tracing their footsteps in real-life as films seem to be implying?), the primary suspect seems to be a former U.S. Army sniper from Iraq. The sniper's defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) asks Jack to assist her in trying to spare the death penalty on her client by looking for more evidence. Jack is reluctant to do so at first seeing that he can't assist the client after his killing spree in Iraq which he needs to be forgotten, but eventually agrees. What follows is Jack getting closer to the truth with the clues and people he comes across and that's it.

There were only a few things about this picture that worked on me. The acting, for example, isn't that bad although it relies on Tom Cruise's star power more so than characters with actual emotional impact. Also, the screenwriters at least didn't force a love story into the mix between Jack and either Helen or a hooker (whom Jack gets acquainted with later in the picture). And at least the writers didn't force Jack to have a mental breakdown to the point where he has to quit the case and then come back again. There are also a few decent scenes that get a good smirk such as Cruise getting out of a moving vehicle and allowing it to run by itself (I think that scene's in one of the film's trailers). Aside from that, nothing - I mean nothing - about this movie was even remotely original.

You know a film's in trouble when the main tagline for its posters says: "The law has limits. He does not." Seriously, is this the best tagline that they could come up with for their movie posters? I'm surprised they even went with one if that's the case. What's sad is that this pitiful tagline sums up the film and its problems in a nutshell. "Jack Reacher" is simply too derivative. The characters are all recycled out of other films of its type. You have the main character who's basically "Dirty Harry" only played by Tom Cruise. Been there, done that. There's also a soldier from the Army who becomes convicted of a crime on the homeland. Also been there, done that. Someone who works alongside Jack on this case may have actually committed the crime. Wow! Been. There. Done. That.

It's not just the story and characters that bore me to death, since the dialogue is written in the most lifeless way possible just like every other film of its genre. I really don't care about the boring protocol or procedures of police detectives and whatnot, and I will continue not to for a very long time. Can't we just have detectives that get straight to the point with what they have to say, please? I knew this film was going to be dull just by watching the trailers. I can't even think about anything else to talk about that's how little this film mattered to me. All I can say to you is just take my advice for what it's worth and skip this one.

Chris' Badges

Intel Hollywood Star Program (July 2012 - December 2012)
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