Superb Scenes With Seanc

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Director: David O Russell

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jackie Weaver

There are always at least a few movies a year that at first glance appear to be typical Hollywood fare, but manage to bring something a little more original and nuanced to their story. Silver Linings Playbook is one of those films for me. I really love the characters in this movie. Our two protagonists are each dealing with mental illness, each have lost their spouses, and each have difficult family dynamics to deal with. What strikes me most about the two main characters is their devotion. How Pat's devotion to his wife plays out over the course of the film is especially endearing.

There are some problems with this film. As expected in the final act the movie falls into some romantic comedy tropes. There are not many things that frustrate me more in a movie than characters being thrust into contrived situations that could be solved by a simple conversation, and we see this a couple of times in Silver Linings. We also get an unexpected twist right before the third act that not only feels out of place in the story arc but also is completely unnecessary. My last major issue with this movie is a trigger that we learn Pat has very early in the film. as soon as we are given this information we know that it will be used as a plot device later in the film. Sure enough it is but thankfully only once , and the experience is relatively painless.

All of the supporting characters in Silver Linings look at Pat and Tiffany as if they are different, as if they are time bombs waiting to explode. As the story progresses and we see the flaws in many of the supporting players, most notably Pat's father and brother and Tiffany's sister and brother-in-law, we see where many of their issues came from. We also see that all of us have some sort of psychosis even if it manifests itself in different ways. The primary remedy is building our relationships with an understanding that they will be as imperfect as we are. This is the main theme in Silver Linings Playbook and ultimately what makes this an engaging film worth visiting.

Director: Akira Kurosawa

This was my first Kurosawa film and I was not disappointed. I am not one to talk about film length very often, I think a film should be however long it takes the director to tell the story. I will admit however when I fired up Seven Samurai on Hulu and 3:46 appeared at the bottom I was very worried. Making it through a 1954 foreign language action film of this length did not seem like something i was ready for. Kurosawa however doesn't waste a scene in this film even if many scenes are a little more on the nose than I would prefer.

My problems with the film are the same problems that I have with a lot of classic films. All of our characters are one dimensional which makes them fairly predictable. We know what purpose they will serve in the plot almost from the moment we meet them, to the point where we can predict which characters are probable to live and which will likely die.

I also have an issue with the portrayal of the peasants in this film. The peasants are the center of our story and are treated with disdain by all of the characters around them. While this is understandable in the context of the film, I felt throughout that Kurosawa treated them the same way. Every peasant, except possibly one, in this film is treated like a fearful moron. Often they are seen running around aimlessly babbling incoherently to each other. When they do engage our heroes in conversation they have nothing to add to the process that is transpiring. There is no better evidence of this than in one of our seven heroes. As soon as we meet this character we know he will be a part of our group, yet he is always treated like a punch line. He is treated like that by the other characters because he is written like that by our story teller. In one of the plot twists midway through the film it is revealed he is a peasant. This comes as no surprise because of the seven samurai he is the most peasant like. Each character must fit into a stereotype.

What engaged me in this film is the glimpse into the culture as well as the cinematography. For a movie made in 1954 it looks amazing. We are transported into this world through the landscapes, through the poverty that is portrayed visually, and through the way the characters interact with one another. Kurosawa also does a fantastic job with the action in this film. In a movie that the plot revolves entirely around a village protecting itself it would have been easy to just piece action scene after action scene together. Kurosawa never does this, the action is always handled in a very intelligent way. Giving us just what we need to get the next part of the story.

Overall I enjoyed this film quite a bit, and am looking forward to seeing more of Kurosawa's work. I am reluctant to give classic films like this star ratings, as they rarely engage me the way they need to emotionally to warrant consideration in my favorites, or multiple viewings. This film reminds me of Citizen Kane in that I respect it more than I love it, and will probably reference it more than I will watch it.

I thought Silver Linings Playbook was quite the solid film too. I gave it a 7.5/10 upon first viewing and it's my favorite thus far of the oscar contenders.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke

Let's get the tough stuff out of the way right away. I don't feel that Zero Dark Thirty is "pro torture" on any level. Bigelow presents torture as an element of what transpired in the CIA's search for Bin Laden. Our protagonist never appears to be completely comfortable with the process, and while she does receive a name through this process there is no evidence that she would not have received this information otherwise. I also find irony in the fact that all the controversy surrounds the CIA's interrogation technique and not the invasion of a home where people are shot in the back, and where Bin Laden may or may not be.

While I did not love this movie as much as some have, I did enjoy it a lot and feel overall it is a well above average film. The performances are very good across the board. Clarke and Chastain are the standouts. Again I feel that overall the excellence of Chastain's performance is being overstated, she is none the less giving an above average performance. My problem with the film lies entirely in the pacing of the first half. This is a procedural and we are given lots of important information through the first half, but for me it felt a little slow getting there. I enjoy slow and contemplative, if I am getting a lot of character development in the process. Here however I feel the characters, while not uninteresting, are slightly under developed.

The final third of this film is the highlight for me. Watching Chastain's intensity ramp up as she gets closer and closer to her goal was immensely entertaining. When we are introduced to Seal Team Six the intensity steps up another notch as we know we are getting closer to our goal. There are also some nice lighthearted moments as Chastain's character interacts with the Seals. Finally we get our climactic scene and it is the best action that I have seen in a theater since I can remember. Our final shot is well earned, and the best ending to any movie in 2012. Bigelow once again has more than proven herself in a male dominated genre. I look forward to seeing whatever she may do next.

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

The story of a man on trial for impersonating a famous director at the expense of an Iranian family. Kiarostami expertly weaves intrigue into what could have been a rather bland narrative. It's hard to get a sense of what is real and what is not, and there in lies the beauty of Kiarostami's dialogue.

While the way this story plays out will surely intrigue you, it will also prohibit you from ever being emotionally tied to any of the characters or the story. Ultimately I want to know how things end up for the main character and the family, but I don't care what happens to any of them.

Our sense of reality is further blurred after the final verdict comes in.The outcome that we have expected is flipped around and where we end up is not at all where we expected to be. Ultimately I enjoyed this film and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a strong dialogue driven movie.

Director:Abbas Kiarostami

In normal Kiarostami fashion he takes what is a straight forward mundane narrative and weaves in intriguing relationships and dialogue. Our protagonist is on a mission and needs assistance with his task. He circles what seems to be a relatively small work site in his vehicle looking for the right person. As he interacts with the characters he chooses, most of whom turn him down for various reasons, we get more questions than answers.

Although each person is picked up for the same purpose, each are very different people. Why he would choose them and their perspective on his situation is what drives the film. Through each encounter we are given little glimpses into the main characters life. More times than not we are left wondering if he knew the outcome before they entered his vehicle, and if he has had previous relationships with them.

Although we are left wishing that we had more information on what set our main character on his quest, we have real investment on how it will end. As in other Kiarostami films we are given a quite ambiguous ending. In Taste Of Cherry the journey is the thing and that is good by me.

Director: David France

How To Survive A Plague follows the group ACT Up as they fight the powers that be and their response to the Aids epidemic. The group wants more money to be put into Aids research. They want access to experimental drugs the FDA will not approve. They are more than willing to humiliate anyone they view as the enemy to prove how serious they are. Mostly they just humiliate themselves.

In my estimation you must show two sides of a subject to consider yourself a documentary. We see maybe two or three shots of various politicians saying slightly inflammatory things and this is the only opposing perspective we receive. Then in the the final half hour of the film we see our heroes admitting that most everything they did during the first hour and a half was misguided, but they redeem themselves with their actions at the end. There is no evidence in this film that the group Act Up had anything to do with the progress that has been made in Aids research. Their is also no evidence in this film that the politicians that they demonize stalled Aids research in any way. I'm sure that this film is getting the positive publicity that it is because it revolves around the scariest most deadly disease of the last 30-40 years. However if you are going to pass your film off as a documentary, as pure fact, and not an editorial then you need to give me some facts to hold on to. This is no documentary.

Director: Bart Layton

This documentary follows the disturbing story of a family and their missing 13 year old son. They think their life has returned to them when their lost son is found in Spain. This is just the beginning of one of the most outlandish stories of crime that you will ever hear.

The details of the events are given to us in little bites. Each step more bewildering than the last. Each new player makes us wonder how anyone could be so blind, careless, and just plain stupid. There are a couple of intriguing twists in the last third of the story that make this film worth the watch. There is one shot in particular where no dialogue is used that perfectly sums up this film. But overall this documentary simply plays out like a high concept episode of 48 Hours.

2002 Director: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund

City of God follows the fortunes of a group of children growing up in a poor, crime infested part of Rio de Janeiro. The story centers mainly around two characters. Each with very similar lives, but who take vastly different paths. This juxtaposition is what drives the narrative in City Of God, and what makes it so compelling.

Rocket feels out of place in the world he lives. He wants to be a photographer. We know from the moment we meet him that he longs to rise above the horrendous poverty and crime that envelopes him. He stands out in this world, others are naturally drawn to his soft temperament and demeanor even if they don't realize the reason. Rocket does not readily have the means to rise above this world so consequently he comes across many stumbling blocks in his life. One of the more interesting sequences in the film is when Rocket concludes that he has no other options than to resort to the life most of his peers have. How this decision plays out results in some of the more lighthearted moments in City Of God. While Rocket's path may not be more interesting than others in the story, it is the most sympathetic.

Li'l Ze is the polar opposite of Rocket. He doesn't long to rise above this world, he longs to rule over it. The perverse crime and violence he sees all around him doesn't hinder him, it compels him. Li'l Ze earns the kind of respect that comes from brute force, and he learns these tactics at a frighteningly young age. If Li'l Ze is going to be a criminal he is determined to the most powerful criminal in the City of God. This is his only motivation, and what he allows to define his existence.

There are many other characters in City Of God. This film has lots of moving parts. However most of the other players move within the framework of the two main characters. Rocket and Li'l Ze are the black and white of the movie, while the other characters represent the shades of gray. It is an interesting way to tell a story, and works exceptionally well here.

If I have an issue with City of God it is with the way the movie was shot. We get very few static shots in this film. Everything is quick cuts and shaky camera. While this style never completely keeps me from enjoying a film, it can detract from my enjoyment some. It is very hard to get a sense of time and place when this style is employed, City if God was no exception to this. It also make it difficult to differentiate between the good and bad acting within this style. I suppose this can work positively for the director, but I still consider it a detriment.

Overall I would consider City of God a great crime drama. The story is extremely well told, with many interesting memorable characters. This is the kind of movie that is still with you weeks or months after you see it. I am looking forward to revisiting it in the future.

Director: Allen Hughes

Broken City is a predictable, unimaginative thriller. Admittedly there were things to like in the first third of the film. The premise is pretty standard fare, but there are a couple of relationships that had me feeling that the movie was headed somewhere. Of particular interest was Billy's (Wahlberg) relationship with his girlfriend and her family.

Broken City soon fall of the rails however. What could have been an entertaining puzzle to watch fit together is handed to our protagonist on a silver platter. There are 2 or 3 scenes that are so ill conceived they destroy any chance that this film had of making viewers or the characters put forth any intellectual effort at all. A film with Crowe, Pepper, and Chandler has to work pretty hard for me not to enjoy it. Whalberg and Jones are both also more than capable if given the right roles. All are wasted here, and what we are left with is another forgettable Hollywood thriller.

2012 Director: Leos Carax

Holy Motors is a day in the life of a performer. We see Oscar (Lavant) picked up by his driver/assistant, he is told that he has a certain number of appointments that he must attend throughout his day. Soon after we learn that at each appointment he is to play a new character. Who he is performing for and why he is performing is for the viewer to decide for themselves. There in lies my problem with Holy Motors. There is no narrative to speak of, and there is no character development. Unless of course you consider the fact that Oscar becomes exhausted from all of his appointments character development.

There is one positive in Holy Motors, and that is Denis Lavant. He transitions flawlessly from one character to the next, and portrays each character convincingly. I would say that Lavant is giving my second favorite performance of 2012, next to Day-Lewis in Lincoln. However once again my issue becomes that I am given no reason to care about any of the characters he is portraying. It's as if I am watching a very good audition. If I was casting a movie I would hire Lavant, if I'm looking to enjoy a film for two hours, no thanks.

Holy Motors is deliberately bizarre and surreal so there is an audience that it is appealing too. I am just not that audience which I'm sure is no skin off Carax's back. For me Holy Motors is simply artistic masturbation.

2012 Director: Craig Zobel

Compliance is the chilling true story of a young fast food worker who is accused of stealing from one of the restaurants patrons. A phone call is made to the restaurants manager, who is then requested to assist in the investigation. The entire story takes place within the confines of the restaurants back room. What transpires over the course of a couple of hours will have you running to the internet to see how much of this true story was fabricated for dramatic license. The answer appears to be none of it. Which is not only bewildering but also terrifying.

For a film that is made by a relatively unknown writer and director and stars relatively unknown character actors Compliance is very well done. Zobel does a good job of giving us a sense of the environment that the characters reside in through subtle static shots. We are also given short glimpses into the characters lives which is allows for us to connect with them enough to be invested in the outcome of the story. This becomes very important as the story builds, and most of the characters become unsympathetic. Zobel also does a nice job of building the tension and drama in the movie. If you read about these events separate of the film you will have a hard time believing that any human could ever be so ignorant as these characters. However the events are a slow burn and Zobel does a great job of illustrating this. You will still be left shaking your head, but the events do seem more plausible as presented here.

While Compliance is not a life altering movie it is very well done and worth your time. Compliance is a story that evokes sympathy, anger, and bewilderment all at once. That is a story worth telling.

March 2013 Director: Sam Raimi

It's March and there is finally a film released in 2013 that I was looking forward to going to the theater and watching. My expectations for this film were not super high, I certainly would never expect it to live up to the original which is one of the greatest films of all time. I expected a respectable origin story, great visuals, and maybe a few easter eggs thrown in for fans of the original. With Raimi directing two of the better young actors working today, and two other more than capable actresses I didn't feel that my expectations were too high. I was blown away...with how poorly this film turned out.

In two hours plus there is no story here that we don't already know from the original material, none, the screen writing couldn't possibly have been lazier. The acting is bad, soap opera bad. Some may possibly give Franco or Williams a pass because of the material. However no one will give Kunis a pass when she is transformed into the wicked witch of the west. If you need a reminder of how an over the top stereotypical witch should be played go back and watch a few minutes of Margaret Hamilton's version.

There are several new characters introduced, as expected and as there should be. Unfortunately not one of them worked. Some are introduced for humor, some to tug at the heart strings, and some for plot devices. Not one of them is effective, and none of them are memorable.

Probably most disappointing of all were the visuals of the film. I know the 1939 version probably doesn't actually look better, but the fact that I had that thought several times during the course of the movie gives you a glimpse into how poor the visuals were. The only exception was the opening credits and first 20 minutes of the film. All this was the black and white portion of the movie. These are the only moments where it is not obvious that the actors are on a sound stage going through the motions.

The Wizard Of Oz was perfect family entertainment. Whimsical, humorous, frightening, and endearing. The characters were one dimensional, yes, but they were fun and we cared about them. Oz The Great And Powerful is none of these things. All I wanted was a glimpse back into aspects of the original. Instead I received my worst theater experience since Spiderman 3. Wait who was responsible for that one?

2011 Director: Asghar Farhadi

From the opening scene of A Separation I knew I would enjoy this film. The dialogue is smart and ambiguous. The shot is framed so that all your attention is focused on the two characters, you are hanging on every word. Invested in what emotion they are conveying and thus invested in them as characters right from the beginning. So it goes with A Separation a dialogue, character driven Iranian film that will have you invested throughout.

The driving force behind this film is conflict. Nearly every character that comes in contact with each other has some sort of conflict at some point. How they react to the conflict engages us and drives the narrative forward. A Separation also makes nearly every character both sympathetic and unsympathetic at the same time. At any given time we are mostly unaware of who is lying and whether their motives are pure.

As an American viewer I was also quite intrigued at some of the cultural conflict in this film. There is a married couple who are devout Muslims and this informs many of the decisions they make throughout the film. Their conflict as a result of their beliefs is not something that most of us can relate to. Even the religious devout in our culture would not allow these things to become a point of contention. For an outsider this definitely added to my intrigue within the film.

A Separation is a well made intriguing drama. The writing is superb. The acting is very good, especially Maadi. While the visuals are not particularly note worthy, the scenes are framed very well, in a way that engages the viewer. A Separation is a must view for any film lover.

2011 Director: Jeff Nichols

Take Shelter is the story of one man's quest to protect his family from an impending storm. Curtis (Shannon) begins to have premonitions that a storm is coming to destroy his world. These premonitions become so real that Curtis begins to prepare a shelter for the storm. Curtis is also fully aware that his premonitions may not be real. At the same time he is preparing his shelter he is also seeking help for what may just be delusions.

This is the strength of Take Shelter. This film is superbly acted, and the story is laid out with precision. Going through the struggle with Curtis and his family is tense and mesmerizing. We know early on that Curtis is having these premonitions, but the way way Nichols unfolds the story, we are never quite sure when the real storm is coming.

While I enjoyed many aspects of Take Shelter I didn't connect with it in the way I do in films I enjoy the most. Usually I know immediately why I don't connect emotionally with a film, with Take Shelter I am having a hard time pinpointing the reason. Overall I think the story just feels a little dry, and although the tone of the movie is pretty tense the stakes just never felt as high as they could. A fine film, and a worthy watch, but in the end average.

2013 Director: Don Scardino

Full disclosure, I'm a Carell fan-boy, otherwise I wouldn't have gone anywhere near this movie. I should have stayed away. This is the type of comedy that has no appeal to my funny bone whatsoever. This film is trying desperately to be Anchorman but falls flat in every way. The first 20 minutes gives us a glimpse into the two main stars childhood. Presumably to give us some insight into the characters motivation, and to help us connect with them. Strike 1 and strike 2. Why would you spend 20 minutes of a comedy setting up your hero to be sympathetic to the audience if in the very next scene you plan on making him an unsympathetic egomaniac, inexplicable. Every single character in this movie except for Olivia Wilde's is played completely over the top. Correct that. Apparently they were told to play the character over the top, and then crank it up another notch.

Of course all of this is forgiveable in a comedy if it does the one thing that everyone expects, make us laugh. As you can probably already tell Wonderstone fails here as well. Two jokes landed for me in an hour and a half. When the name of Carrey's characters television show is revealed and the scene after the credits start rolling. Except for those not even a chuckle. It's the same way as I feel about The Office post Carell (in case your wondering why I'm a fan-boy).

Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
Ouch! A shame to see such a brutal review for Burt Wonderstone. As a fan of Carell, and a worshipper of Carrey, I had high hopes but yet to see any really positive reviews for it. I've seen a few mentions of Carell perhaps being miscast, that for a character who is quite a douche it would have suited the likes of Will Ferrell or Vince Vaughn better. Also a few people saying that the story feels a bit late in the game seeing as it was 10+ years ago now that street magicians like David Blaine began to pop up

Oh and I thought Take Shelter was a great film.

Maybe Ferrell would have worked better, it seemed obvious that is what Carell was going for. The Blaine references didn't seem dated to me, just not funny. Except for the part I mentioned about the show name, I won't ruin it. Hopefully others will have a different experience. I don't have high hopes for comedies this year either if the trailers are any indication.

Take Shelter might have been an instance of my expectations being too high. I have heard so many great things. I certainly didn't dislike it, just a little dry for my taste. Love those type of endings though.