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 Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]
Director: Gary Ross
Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Runtime: 142 Minutes

I don’t know what’s more shocking — the fact that a movie about kids killing kids has been a monster box office smash, or that author Suzanne Collins claims to had never heard of the Japanese cult hit, Battle Royale, before writing The Hunger Games. Of course, stories about people killing people for the sake of sport are hardly anything new. Before Battle Royale, there was The Running Man, and shortly after its release came Series 7: The Contenders. While an intriguing concept, it is amazing that such a violent storyline was written with young adults in mind.

Set in a dystopian environment, The Hunger Games shares its name with an event set up by a repressive government. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are selected from each of twelve districts via a lottery to become participants (or “tributes”) in the games. The goal is to be the last person standing. If not, you’re dead.

The Hunger Games [2012]

We follow Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old who boldly volunteers to take the place of her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who was initially elected to participate. The other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who we later find out is in love with Katniss. Since The Hunger Games event is presented as a television broadcast, the creators try to stir up a romance between these two for those watching in the districts. In fact, the creators have full access to the games and can alter the environment in order to pique the interest of its viewers. This adds an interesting dynamic to what is essentially a spectacle of murder.

Although 24 children are selected as tributes, we really only get to know two (Katniss and Peeta). This fits in line with the idea that nearly all of them will die, but it does not translate well to the film. When one minor character is killed off, director Gary Ross tries desperately to tug at our heartstrings, even going so far as to show an extended, impromptu burial. While fans of the books may appreciate this scene, it felt forced to me and I was rather apathetic about it all.

The Hunger Games is a PG-13 movie, which is a tad peculiar considering its violent concept. Ross is able to get away with this in part because of the sped-up action scenes. We rarely get a clean look at any deaths mainly due to an overreliance on “shaky cam” techniques. Some of the fight/action scenes are almost unbearable to watch because of this, and it is hard to tell what is actually happening. I get the reasoning for going PG-13, but I can’t help but feel the movie would be improved if the action sequences were better executed (i.e. more graphic, matching the theme of the story).

The Hunger Games [2012]

The movie’s greatest asset is its cast, led by the surprisingly badass Jennifer Lawrence. Her stock has been rising steadily over the last couple years, but this role has just taken her to another dimension. I can’t think of a better lead for this film. Other noteworthy inclusions are Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic mentor, Stanley Tucci as the vastly entertaining MC of the broadcast, the stern Donald Sutherland as President, Elizabeth Banks as the eccentric Effie Trinket, and Lenny Kravitz as fashion extraordinare Cinna. Even Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are competent in their roles.

While I don’t quite get all of the hype surrounding The Hunger Games, I still enjoyed the film well enough. The lack of character development is disappointing, as is the overuse of the shaky cam, but underneath there is still an absorbing sci-fi story with a unique dystopian setting.

7/10

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class [2011]

X-Men: First Class [2011]

X-Men: First Class [2011]
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

I feel obligated to admit right away that I am not much of an X-Men fan. I know very little about the series and its characters, and I have only seen the original 2000 film. It’s not that I am opposed to the series in any way, it’s just that I could never be bothered to dig into it. Until now.

X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the original movies, and it focuses on the origins of the groups led by Professor X and Magneto. This concept intrigued me quite a bit simply because it would tell me, a non-fan, how exactly everything came to be.

X-Men: First Class [2011]

The movie takes place predominantly in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A young mind-reading Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) meets a fellow mutant, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who shows him that he is not alone in the world. Their paths intersect with Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender) who is on a revenge mission to kill the Nazi bastard (Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw) who murdered his mother. The two future leaders team up and recruit a bunch of other mutants including Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) and Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones) to take out Shaw and his small band of accomplices, the most noteworthy being Emma Frost (a terrible January Jones), who are now attempting to start World War III.

While the majority of the characters get their fair share of screen time, the bulk of the action is placed on Professor X and Magneto. McAvoy and Fassbender are more than up to the task for their roles, as they both deliver strong performances with impeccable chemistry together. The acting is generally pretty good all around, except for the aforementioned January Jones, whose only duty is seemingly to show off the movie’s required amount of cleavage. Jennifer Lawrence in particular is quite good as Raven, and she is certainly building momentum after last year’s brilliant performance in Winter’s Bone. I also enjoyed Rose Byrne’s role as a CIA agent who is working with the mutants.

X-Men: First Class [2011]

X-Men: First Class doesn’t have any major “holy shit” moments and relies more on dialogue than action, but it still moves at a brisk pace even considering its 132 minute run-time. I found the back story to be quite fascinating, and this movie has inspired me to continue delving into the series — something the 2000 film couldn’t even do. While I feel more could have been done with the film’s 1960s setting, it still made good use of the ongoing Cold War and offered an interesting fantasy alternative as to what really happened. As far as summer blockbusters go, this is one of the better ones to come out this year.

8/10