Silver Linings Playbook

silver linings playbookAgain, I find myself talking about a movie that was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and received the Academy Award for Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).  I saw this one a few days after the ceremony as well.

This movie is brought to life by the same director who gave us The Fighter, a surprising-to-me movie that I enjoyed.   Here, David O. Russell gives us the tale of a man trying to piece his life together after its disintegration due to his mental issues related to being bi-polar.  We are not forced into an “origin” story – rather, Russell trusts his audience to pick things up as we move forward.  What unfolds is a story that avoids becoming overwhelmingly dramatic and instead allows us to understand each character.  In the hands of a lesser director, this could have easily turned into a Lifetime TV movie.

Bradley Cooper gives an outstanding performance as the main character.  Within the first 10 minutes it is obvious as to why he received a Best Actor nomination.  He could have easily won it had Daniel Day Lewis not done Lincoln this year.  Robert DeNiro does well, but I am not certain it was worth a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  The most intriguing performance to me was Chris Tucker’s – he actually showed that he can dial things back and if given good material, turn in a good performance.

The standout is Jennifer Lawrence without a doubt.  She held her own acting alongside Cooper and DeNiro, and maybe even showed them a few tricks.  This is reminiscent of Amy Adams’s performance in The Fighter.  Lawrence has a long career ahead of her if she keeps getting the variety of roles she has so far that allow her to show her range.

My advice:  Big screen is not necessary, but you will not waste money if you do go see it on one; definitely check it out as soon as you can…

Argo

argoIt seems a bit presumptuous to review a movie that has just received the Academy Award for Best Picture.  Sadly, I did not see this one until a couple of days after the Academy Awards ceremony.  This review will instead focus on what I feel made it a good choice for the Academy Award.

First area of discussion is the direction.  While I am not sure if he should have won, Ben Affleck definitely should have been nominated.  Affleck’s directing choices made this movie what it is.  The choice to film it as if it was being filmed in 1979-1981 was brilliant.  This gave the movie a feel of realism that today’s cameras would have missed.  I liked the inclusion of the 70s/80s style Warner Bros logo; that one touch helped establish the look and feel of the movie.  Affleck went for as close to reality as he could get in casting and cinematography.  I did like the inclusion of the side-by-side comparisons of cast and scenes to real-life documents that played through the closing credits – it reinforces the attention to detail that Affleck put into making this story come to life.

Casting was also key to this movie working.  Several known character actors and names appear throughout the movie and deliver each time.  Affleck faced a daunting challenge in not letting any of these actors run away with the movie while getting the most out of their performances.  Directors wanting an example of how to work with a large ensemble and producing a good product should have this as one their top 5 examples.

My advice:  See it on the big screen if you can to get a good feel for the cinematography – if you choose to see it at home, that is fine – just make sure to see it…

A Good Day to Die Hard aka Die Hard 5

die hard 5In various reviews on this site, I have been pretty vocal about how studios, directors, and actors should know when to call it a day on a franchise.  The bigger the movie, the bigger the disappointment can be.

After Die Hard 3 (Die Hard with a Vengeance), I felt a lot of disappointment.  Some of the elements from the first two were gone, and the movie felt like it had to top the action of the ones before it.  When Live Free or Die Hard aka Die Hard 4 came out, it felt like the franchise was starting to recapture the mojo, even though the stunts were over the top.  So I felt some excitement when the head of Fox Studios announced on the Jim Rome show in 2012 that a new Die Hard was coming.

Fast forward to Feb. 13, 2013…

What was shown on the screen was a Die Hard movie in name only – it did not contain any of the true hallmarks of Die Hard movie.  The fifth installment finds John McClane in Russia trying to help his son.  Of course everything goes wrong, and McClane has to save the day…

…or does he?

What makes the original Die Hard work is that McClane is just a guy stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to keep his family safe.  He is the anti-Rambo, the anti-Terminator – He is you or me just trying to survive.  Even though the thread of this character identity fades with each sequel, it is still there.  In the first four, McClane did not try to get into danger until he was already there.

Not true for this installment.  McClane chooses to go to Russia with no plan on how to help his son.  He intervenes in chases that did not concern him.  When he finds out the truth about his son, it doesn’t have any affect on him.  I guarantee you my dad would have had a stronger reaction.   The villains are so bad that they start killing them off early just to keep the audience entertained with “action.”

Then the story serves up a location like Chernobyl, a setting rich in possibility.  Sadly it could have been any factory not contaminated with nuclear fallout.  Amazingly, our heroes get wounded and then FALL IN a pool of NUCLEAR FALLOUT WATER.  Do they die or even grow gills?  Nope, they shrug it off like it is nothing.  so now John McLane has gone from every day guy to Superman.

That is not Die Hard…

Sadly, you can tell that Bruce Willis is not even convinced this should be a movie.  He hardly commits to any of the work and cannot even be bothered to say his trademark phrase with any type of conviction.  Maybe he wanted to make sure he would never have to play this role again.

My advice: Skip it – doubt it is even worth watching on cable.  The only thing that made this disappointment bearable is that I saw it as part of a marathon and got to enjoy 4 good entries in the series before this steaming pile of celluloid…

A Very Die Hard Valentine’s Day Marathon

Over the past couple of years, AMC Theaters has done a great job in making going to the movies an event again.  AMC started out by showing movie classics for one day as part of anniversary celebrations.  2012 saw an expansion of that to be marathons of certain movie series: Marvel, Batman, Indiana Jones, and Lord of the Rings.  In each case, the viewer is not only treated to several movies for a reasonable price, but they also get commemorative items and a chance to win prizes.

For Russ’s birthday, I treated him to the Die Hard marathon.  Russ and I are close in age and remember when the first Die Hard hit in our teen years.  Add in the fact that the marathon would cap off with the showing of the newest Die Hard movie and we were ready to go.

I am not going to insult your intelligence by reviewing each movie individually.  Suffice it to say that the first Die Hard is the strongest and that I enjoyed all four that had been released.  One of the first reviews I wrote for this site was Live Free or Die Hard aka Die Hard 4; after rewatching it, I stand by my earlier thoughts.

Russ ended up being the lucky person though; he got the trivia question right to win a complete set of the first four movies on Blu-Ray.

My advice:  Whenever AMC offers up one of these marathons or even a special showing of one movie, make the effort to go – it reminds you why you love movies…

Foul Play

foul playThe night I introduced Lisa to Hopscotch is also the same night that I introduced her to Foul Play.  You could say the theme of the night was action/comedies that have faded from view but are still enjoyable.  Since “Quint” had not reviewed this one, I can talk more about the movie.

I have always mentioned how my parents, Mom in particular, have influenced my movie watching over the years.  There was a brief time in 1980 where I overdosed on movies due to the apartment we were living in at the time having HBO.  During that year, I caught up on James Bond, watched Grease way more than I should have, and watched movies my parents wanted to see.  Goldie Hawn was a favorite of both parents, so it was no surprise that they would watch a movie of hers when given the chance.  This was also the time frame that they started letting me watch more mature movies, where death occurred and certain situations were shown onscreen.  For the most part, I never realized those were there until I was older.

Foul Play is your typical tale of a person caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Goldie Hawn plays a newly single woman (never sure if it was a divorce or just a bad breakup, not that it matters) who is attending the engagement party of a friend.  She avoids being “picked up” by a clumsy stranger played by Chevy Chase.  As she drives home, she picks up a stranded motorist named Scotty.  From here, the story turns from a potential romantic comedy to a murder mystery that has Hawn reacting to upsetting events left and right.  That clumsy stranger played by Chase ends up being the police detective assigned to her case, and predictably, but gladly, becomes her romantic interest.

What makes this movie work is its cast.  Hawn is often portrayed as the ditzy blonde; here she is simply a caring woman reacting to all of the wackiness around her.  If this role were recast as a male today, it would easily go to Jason Bateman.  Chase used this movie to launch himself away from Saturday Night Live; his cockiness and smarm fits well with his character.  Amazingly, though, Chase does a good job of dropping the wisecracks and demonstrating genuine concern when needed.  Burgess Meredith turns in a great comedic turn as Hawn’s landlord and protector.  Brian Dennehy as Chase’s partner does the heavy lifting for the tough guy side of things.  What I always think of when I think about this movie, though, is Dudley Moore’s performance.  While he only has three scenes, those scenes are classic Moore.

My advice:  Pop this in the next time you have a date night where you are looking for something with a little more than the typical romantic comedy – and look for the scene where grandmothers play a form of Scrabble you would not expect…