Joy

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“American Hustle”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

After the success of the half-great “Silver Linings Playbook” and the terribly overrated “American Hustle,” filmmaker David O. Russell again calls on his reliable acting twosome, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, for the least accessible of their films together. Based on the true-life story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano (Lawrence), the single mother who invented such products as the Miracle Mop, Russell’s film is dragged down by a confusing tone, but makes up for it with a satisfying look at the way Mangano built her business empire from the ground up. Although it’s obvious Russell would like Lawrence’s Mangano to emerge as the female version of Michael Corleone, there’s simply not enough unforced conflict to create a true sense of struggle. Where the film is most convincing is during the QVC portions of the story. Who knew ordering a set of Huggable Hangers on TV could be so exciting?

American Hustle

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams
Directed by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Eric Singer (“The International”)

As David O. Russell’s career trajectory continues to move upward, it seems he’s getting more freedom to make the films he wants to make. After the huge success of last year’s deeply personal “Silver Linings Playbook,” which garnered eight Oscar nominations and one win, Russell heads backs to the 70’s with the con-artist film, “American Hustle.”

“American Hustle” tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his accomplice Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who are forced to work for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after they are caught running an illegal business. As more prominent people become involved and things become more dangerous when they try to bring down a local mayor (Jeremy Renner), too many loose ends, including Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), could bring the entire operation to a head.

Much will be made of the cast, reuniting many veterans of Russell’s previous films and all principle actors being Oscar nominees or winners. As an admittedly impressive collection, the ensemble is certainly solid, but mostly unspectacular. Bale who gained nearly 50 pounds for the role is the best of the bunch, as a pudgy con artist with a terrible comb-over. As with many of his latest films, Bale disappears into the role and carries it with ease. Cooper is fine and Adams is hit or miss, with her fake but purposely imposed British accent becoming a little grating at times. For most of her career, Lawrence has been impressive at convincingly playing characters above her actual age. It might be the hair and costumes associated with the 70’s, or just her characters general life situation, but in “American Hustle,” Lawrence finally feels and looks too young for a role and is a little bit distracting.

“American Hustle” starts out with a bit of background on Bale and Adams’ characters and makes use of a dueling voiceover that bogs the film down and subsequently makes the film slow to get into. Once “American Hustle” gets going, Russell has a clear goal for presenting a playful and comedic tone, which is something that – for the most part – fails. Though the humor is a bit subtle, most of the jokes fall flat and there are only a few legitimate laughs in the film, mostly involving stand-up comedian Louis CK in a small role.

Russell does a few things right in the film. He nails the setting of the 70’s and there’s clearly an energy of filmmaking that transferred over to his actors. The issue here is that Russell appears to have had the intention of crafting something grander and more clever than what it actually is. Unfortunately for Russell, the film plays off as a by-the-numbers con movie and frankly, something akin to a second-rate Martin Scorsese film.

Silver Linings Playbook

November 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“The Fighter”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“I (heart) Huckabees”)

In another light, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) might be thought of as a quirky, but excessively optimistic guy. Searching every situation for a “silver lining,” Pat thinks positively, works hard, and is dedicated to reaching his goals. But things aren’t that black and white. Pat has bipolar disorder, which means that his optimism is more like mania and his goals are delusional. Serious mental illness might not seem like a topic that is ripe for comedy, but thanks to a razor sharp script and career defining performances from its leads, “Silver Linings Playbook” nails the perfect tone dealing with a serious subject.

After spending time in a mental institution following a violent incident, Pat returns home to try to win back his estranged wife. In the process, Pat runs into Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) who is herself trying to overcome the death of her husband. As they get together and find out all the ways they are screwed up, it becomes clear that if they are going to get what they want, they’ll need to help each other along the way. Meanwhile, Pat’s superstitious Philadelphia Eagles obsessed father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) tries to keep their relationship close by spending time watching football games together.

Cooper is nothing short of amazing in a role that is simply in another league from anything he’s done in his career thus far.  Not only is Cooper very funny as the unfiltered Pat, but he is also able to capture the darker parts of mental illness with precision. It would be a crime if Cooper didn’t walk away with at least a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. Part of what makes the film so successful is the flawless chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, who is also on top of her acting game. Fresh-faced enough to play a teenager in “The Hunger Games,” Lawrence also shows that she can play older and mature in a role that calls for a strong presence and strong sexuality, while matching Cooper laugh for laugh.  Not to be outdone by the young talent of the two leads, De Niro delivers his best performance in ages as Pat’s father.  With all of his superstitions and the inability to communicate outside the realm of football, De Niro’s performance is honest and a welcomed return.

Other than superb acting across the board, the greatest success of “Silver Linings” is David O. Russell’s script. It’s fast, sharp, funny, touching, essentially everything one could ask for in a screenplay. Though Cooper’s personality is greatly enhanced by his outstanding performance, his character is enriched by great dialogue, especially in arguments with Lawrence. Russell is also able to capture Pat’s mental illness pitch perfectly in moments of total meltdowns.  Though the film’s ending is telegraphed and a bit predictable, it is completely fitting and the reaction of the characters is well worth any sort of contrivance. “Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t particularly flashy in its visual direction, but Russell certainly makes up for it with an Oscar caliber screenplay.

While the film has the tendency to get a little messy at times, it is never bothersome. In fact, in many ways it mirrors the neurotic personality of its leads, which ultimately becomes part of its charm. Don’t be fooled by the confusing ad campaign that markets the movie as some sort of sports romantic comedy. While the film does feature a fair amount about football, (in highly rewarding ways, by the way) at its core, “Silver Linings Playbook” is not only about mental illness, but two wounded people trying to help each other out. With top-notch acting, especially from Cooper and an offbeat screenplay, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a smash hit in the making and appropriately enough, providing its own silver lining to a disappointing year at the movies.