Movie Review: The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ray Liotta
Running Time: 140 minutes

The Place Beyond the Pines is an incredibly ambitious project that tackles many different themes and storylines in its near 2 1/2 hour running time. It is a crime drama that focuses on two separate families, brought together by one earth-shattering event.

The film is split into three very distinct acts, each one focusing primarily on one or two characters.

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]

Act one most closely resembles a thriller, and it puts the spotlight on Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman with a traveling gig at local state fairs. While in the town of Altamont in upstate New York, he meets up with an ex-lover, Romina (Eva Mendes), who promptly tells him that he has a one-year-old son. Floored by this news, Luke immediately quits his job so he can stay in town and help raise his child.

Unsurprisingly, there aren’t too many decent-paying options for a heavily-tattooed and undereducated worker, so he begins exploring other options. It doesn’t take long for him to settle on a life of crime — more specifically, robbing banks. Luke has the mindset that getting a bunch of money will allow him to win Romina back and have a traditional American family. If only it were that easy.

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]

Act two focuses on Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a rookie police officer who has his own set of problems. He is struggling to cope with an incident on the job, and he’s also quickly finding out just how hard it is to be a “good cop” in a department already embroiled in corruption.

The third act is quite different in tone, and it is set some fifteen years ahead. This act introduces us to the sons of Glanton and Cross (played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, respectively), as their lives become intertwined. There is a lot of teenage angst at hand here, but also some rather intriguing self discovery.

It is impossible to go into too much detail without giving away crucial plot elements, but the way the stories are connected is fantastic. We are given plenty of time with every major character in the film, and even though they all make their share of boneheaded decisions, it’s still easy to become attached to them.

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]

This is a testament to both the writing and the cast. Ryan Gosling’s Glanton is almost an evolution of the Driver character from Drive, and his mannerisms and reactions are perfect while performing his daring heists. Bradley Cooper does a serviceable job as the bright-eyed newbie cop, but perhaps the best performance of all comes from young Dane DeHaan. Best known for his work in the HBO show In Treatment or the 2012 film Chronicle, DeHaan is startlingly effective here, and he is continuing to show he has a bright future in the business. The supporting cast is terrific as well, with Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood and Rose Byrne all playing small but critical roles.

The Place Beyond the Pines suffers slightly from the transition of a thrilling opening act into a more straightforward drama, but it’s still a highly entertaining film overall. The lengthy running time is not an issue, and not once did I grow bored; how could I, with its constantly shifting narrative? Director Derek Cianfrance deserves major credit for bringing such a wide encompassing picture to fruition.

8.5/10

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]
Director: David O. Russell
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker
Running Time: 122 minutes

Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy by definition, but it is presented in a way that most in the genre are not.

Bradley Cooper (in a surprisingly subdued performance) stars as Pat Solitano, a former high school teacher diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After an eight month stay in a mental hospital, Pat is released into the care of his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver). The only thing on Pat’s mind is a desire to reconcile his failed marriage with his ex-wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), who now has a restraining order against him due to a previous violent outburst.

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

While having dinner at a friend’s house, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who is going through a very rough patch as well (her husband just passed away in Iraq). They begin a peculiar relationship in which Pat attempts to communicate to Nikki through Tiffany. She agrees to help him if he will enter a dance competition with her, something she never got to do with her late husband. This shaky agreement works as a sort of therapy for both of them, as both seem to come to grips with their respective mental illnesses at the same time.

Familiar conventions of the romantic comedy genre eventually arise, particularly in the film’s final act, but the journey to this point is anything but conventional. Director David O. Russell’s inclusion of mental illness as an integral part of the storyline is a bit of a ballsy move, but he manages to portray both characters and their traits in a sensitive light.

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

The chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence is electric, with both turning in what may very well be the best performances of their careers. It’s shocking that Lawrence is just 22 years old — she has the presence of a seasoned veteran in this. Perhaps most exciting is seeing Robert De Niro return to relevance with one of his greatest roles in years. His take as the OCD diehard Eagles fan shows glimpses of just how Pat Jr. began struggling with his own mental issues. Chris Tucker even has a small role that is worthy of a mention, largely because he is not as obnoxious as usual.

Silver Linings Playbook deserves credit for bringing something new to a tired genre, and even though it falls back on familiar tropes, it’s still a strong effort with a likable set of characters.

8/10

Movie Review: The Hangover Part II [2011]

The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II [2011]
Director: Todd Phillips
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

By all accounts, 2009’s The Hangover was a rousing success. It grossed a stunning $467 million worldwide and received generally positive acclaim from both critics (78% on Rotten Tomatoes) and casual moviegoers alike. Therefore, a sequel was inevitable. Two years later, here we are with The Hangover: Part II, a second effort that follows the original formula right down to a T.

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha are back playing the same group of guys in the original Wolfpack. This time around Stu Price (Helms) is getting married in Thailand. Stu’s planned “Bachelor Brunch” is laughed at by his bros, and he is persuaded later that evening to go out for a beer. Of course, one beer turns into god-knows-how-many, and the fellas wake up with massive hangovers with similar predicaments as the last film.

The Hangover Part II

In lieu of a missing tooth (as in the first), Stu now has a face tattoo identical to Mike Tyson’s. Alan (Galifianakis) has a shaved head. Doug (Bartha) wisely abandoned the group after the aforementioned one beer, and he is resting peacefully at the resort. While Doug went missing in the first one, that honor goes to 16-year-old Teddy (Mason Lee), Stu’s future brother-in-law who joined in on the debauchery. His disappearance is even more frenzied because one of his fingers was found on the coffee table. Throw in a monkey in place of the first movie’s baby, and swap Las Vegas for Bangkok, and you essentially have the same comedy with a different coat of paint.

While the lack of originality is somewhat disconcerting, this comedy formula still works. Raunch is piled on to the point of excess, but that is what these type of comedies are all about. As one might expect with a movie set in Bangkok, more emphasis is put on the seedy underbelly of the city. Sex and drugs are heavily on display, and there is one extended scene at a strip club where Stu gets a little too friendly with a ladyboy. There is so much lewd behavior on hand that Zach Galifianakis swore never to show this movie to his mother. If you’re offended easily, you will want to skip out on this.

The Hangover Part II

There are some obvious issues with the movie. The acting is lackluster at times, especially when the group is actually at the wedding resort. Stu and his future wife Lauren (Jamie Chung) have no chemistry, and her performance is about as bad as they come. Ken Jeong is back as Mr. Chow and is as annoying as ever. I still don’t get the appeal for that guy, and I’m not sure why his micro-penis needs to be shown in both movies. Also, the ending wraps things up a bit too neatly, with huge problems being dismissed far too easily.

As it stands, The Hangover Part II is a darker, even raunchier version of the original, and it stays true to the form. Chances are if you liked the first one, you will like this as well. The movie has lost some of its charm, but it still provides enough laughs to keep things entertaining throughout. I’m not sure a third sequel is necessary, however.

7/10