RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 12: Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” (2006)


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The Players…

Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane.


The Story…

Fred Arctor is an undercover cop—a narc—in a world where almost everyone is addicted to Substance D, a drug that produces split personalities in its users. “Fred” sets up an elaborate sting to nab a notorious drug runner named “Bob.” But when almost everyone is a D addict, and its makes you schizo, then how can one tell who’s really who? Especially when it comes to your personal identity, or whoever you are that day.


The Rant…

Phillip Kindred Dick: What is reality? The universal muse of the late sci-fi writer. Most if not all of his work wrangled with this question. As far as I know, three of his works have been translated to film. There was this little known work called Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Later on the book was adapted for the screen, entitled Blade Runner. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The film was a real sleeper that eventually knocked the socks off of a generation of movie-goers that were too young to see said film in an actual theater. This seminal feature was a key example of Dick’s muse in action.

Later there was this Spielbergien effort called Minority Report that refused to generate the Hollywood dollars requiring it to be big hit, despite having Tom Cruise attached to it. It was another take on how Dick’s philosophy regarded human’s responses to seeing their potential future. Even though the film handily addressed the whole yin-yang of stimulus/response, it was awash in a sci-fi, crime caper guise that was too loud to let Dick’s voice be properly heard. It was still pretty good though, regardless.

Now we have this film, A Scanner Darkly.

Richard Linklater: What the hell is happening…ah, who cares? Indie darling of the mundane. All of his work has dealt with, or rather shrugged off this question. First there was Slacker, which garnered some attention, as well as a few honors. The follow-up Dazed and Confused, criminally ignored at the box office upon release, eventually repealing any critical scorn a full twenty years later to earn the Criterion Collection special treatment with double disc set with all the bells and whistles. It sold well.

All Linklater’s films tackle the human condition, usually in the form of ongoing dialogue reflecting his characters personalities despite them all being two-dimensional. His actors are generally reactive, only displaying any unique personality traits when in context with of other characters reactions. No one really initiates anything in his movies, only responds. His Waking Life is a ideal example of his oeuvre, where the “protagonist” spends the movie simply just listening to others speak about academic as well as pop philosophy. Linklater’s films seldom have a plot; they’re only interconnecting vignettes spliced with My Dinner With Andre-like commentary. Most are pretty good though, BTW.

And now this film, A Scanner Darkly.

Me: I streamed this? A humble yet snarky blogger of film criticism using free social media like a cheap, lazy podium upon which to spout prophetic about this culty film here and the failed blockbuster that. All of my work a big, smelly fart.

And yet this film, A Scanner Darkly.

The first thing that grabs you about this movie is that, “Hey! It’s animated! Woo-hoo! Bring on the dancing squirrels!”

Stop. Put down the pipe. There’s a bit more going on here. You may have to, regrettably, sober up. The thing is called rotoscoping.” an animation technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, for use in live-action and animated films, like this one. In other words, turning live-action into cartoons. Linklater conducted a brilliant job here. After the first half hour, if yer not rockin the ganja, the background blends into the foreground into an oily montage of shadows and strangely patterned textures (especially with the actors’ faces). It can get a little unsettling at times also, not mention just plain trippy. And honestly, I’m not so sure that the “scramble suit” or hallucinogenic sequences would’ve worked as well outside animation. In simpler terms, Scanner’s not a cartoon, but a graphic novel coming into life.

You regularly abstemious (look it up) users out there might have taken note of the phrase “the background blends into the foreground.” How rotoscoping works, at least by my by eye, is that you tend to look out for the still shots in the frame that unconsciously grounds you to the forescape of the moving characters. In simpler terms, Keanu seems more like Keanu when he’s got a background behind him, be it in the scramble suit or curling his arm around Donna/Audrey/Hank? That’s how I saw it. Then again, I had no access to Substance-D…


Keanu portrays undercover cop/dealer Fred/Bob. A narc/dealer trying to get to the bottom of a Substance-D ring in LA using a stealth “scramble suit” to infiltrate the dealer’s inner circle. Problem is twofold, Substance-D makes you schizo, but also heightens your sense of “reality,” depending on the circumstances. Fred/Bob hunts down the drug cookers in the form of the manic Barris (Downey) and paranoiac Luckman (Harrelson). Fred/Bob infiltrates their stupid ring. No, I mean stupid. These guys are idiots. How this pair failed to get shot out of general principle is beyond me. I mean, watch the bicycle scene, really. Get it? Good.

Regardless of Bob’s? Fred’s? Whoever’s deep cover, he becomes dependent, not addicted (there is a difference here) to Substance-D (to whit, this critic is unsure if the drug even exists) and drifts between a comfortable reality (work, girlfriend [Ryder], car), an uncomfortable reality (work, girlfriend, car) and a substitute reality (farm). WTF? And there’s some work, a female and a combine involved.

Or is there? Dun-dun-duuun. Goddam it Phil Dick…


Dick was never appreciated in his lifetime. He was more or less a cult writer. So much so that he had the dignity to die before Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? translated to the silver screen as Blade Runner. It became a beloved film decades after he got some common sense and kicked off. Him dying did great by his rep. Only Frank Herbert did somewhat better.

Ahem.

About the goddam movie. Visually, well, that’s the only trump its got going for it. There’s a very cool premise locked up in visual haberdashery (again, look it the hell up). Keanu is as wooden as ever. The only roles he seems to get stuck with is Neo, a Ted Logan clone, or a Neo clone. Or a Neo clone. He might be able to stretch (might be able to) if he’s taken out of the fantasy/sci-fi genre. He did pretty good in the goofy rom-com Something’s Gotta Give, hitting on Diane Keaton. But here he’s still stiff, struggling. So is Winona Ryder as Bob’s sorta girlfriend, who later turns out to be…ah, you’ll see it. Only the secondary characters of Downey, Harrelson and Cochrane do anything to spice up this film based almost solely on visuals.

I could go on, but this film committed the ultimate sin in my movie-watching mind: it bored me. Despite all the cool visuals, it was boring. It was like a stupid Michael Bay movie sans the big budget: lots of things to look at, and not much else. Listen Linklater, Waking Life was a bold, intriguing experiment, albeit not very cohesive. That was the point. I got that. This time out, continuity, acting and plot should’ve been the point. You culled from a very smart author whose works already translated to film quite handily. You already got your rewards, now try not to beat us over the head with the trophy.

Seven years from now…


The Verdict…

Rent It or relent it?: Relent it. Take your time if you must. Watch it as a fan of Linklater’s, like me. Drink some espresso. You’ll need it. I figure if you go hunt down the book, like always, it’ll be more rewarding. Don’t fear, Dick’ll stay dead.


Stray Observations…

  • Rory Cochrane: Linklater stalwart.
  • “There is no sheep.” Thanks, Neo.
  • Robert Downey, Jr.’s , manic delivery has worked for almost thirty years. Amazing. This schtick has never gotten old, and is malleable enough to fit into any type of film. I suppose that is what constitutes good acting.
  • Hey! It’s Alex Jones! Hide yer wimmen’s uterus…
  • Again, I’m not sure the “scramble suit” would’ve worked as well outside traditional animation. Nowadays, every animated film gets plucked off an iPad for seamless symmetry. The kaleidoscopic effect was so weird, so “primitive” that anything otherwise might have ruined the subplot if it were anymore refined.

Next Installment…

Tom Cruise approaches Oblivion. As well as Tom Cruise.


 

RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 11: Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” (2005)


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The Players…

Bill Murray, Jeffery Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton.


The Story…

After being dumped by yet another girlfriend, serial bachelor Don figures simply he’ll be alone forever. It’s probably easier this way. But when an anonymous letter arrives one day and tells him he has a 19-year-old son out there, Don sets out on a cross-country journey to confront his past—and a few old flames in the process. Mom’s out there, too, you know.


The Rant…

First off, I want to apologize for the last installment. It was hastily written under the influence of alcohol and hubris. Mostly alcohol. Also having one of your most fave rock n’ roll icons die of cancer would sour anyone’s day. If I were a professional, I would say that the last installment was very unprofessional. But I’m not, so I’ll simply say sorry for being a dickhead. Okay? Good.

Anyway, on with the show.

Relationships are hard. Believe me, I know. I’m in one. Sometimes I can recommend it. Other times, meh. But here’s a relationship that hopefully none of you will ever have. One with yourself. It’s ugly, and gets stale really fast…


Poor Don Johnston (Murray). He sucks at relationships in a habitual way. Can’t stay with one woman for any appreciable amount of time, and sure enough, they all eventually leave, sick of his sorry ass. Seems Don is trapped as a career bachelor, hopelessly stuck in an affair with himself and his past. And he’s a chump for it.

One day, Don receives an odd letter in the mail. A pink letter. No name. No return address. Handwriting unfamiliar. Message damning. It’s from an old flame, casually informing Don that he has a 19-year old son by her, whomever she may be. This lights a fire under his ass, and Don seeks out his security expert neighbor Winston (Wright) for advice. Of course, who else? He recommends to Don that he goes through his little black book of memories and seek out any female potential leads from his past to locate his quarry. Sure. Seems logical. So with nothing but hazy recollections of his failed relationships as his guide, Don goes on a cross-country adventure hunting for the mother of his mystery son.

And he finds out that each relationship ended for a reason. Sometimes a very good reason…


This movie did not clean up at the box office. Blame the director.

Jim Jarmusch has been long derided or complemented (depending on who you ask) as an indie darling. The long tracking shots. The signature fade out. The quirkiness. Jarmusch has never made any big coin from his films. His reputation almost precludes this. And I’m a fan of his work. Flowers is a pseudo art house film, not meant for all audiences despite how charming and unintentionally funny Murray is.

Not to mention that I’m a fan of Bill Murray, especially his “late period” stuff, when he hung up screwball for leading man as average Joe. If Murray here were anymore disconnected, his head would fall off. He is as wry as ever, lugging around that look on his face that screams befuddlement and self-absorption. Carrying that ridiculous bouquet of pink flowers (get it?) as his calling card, going door-to-door to all his exes, each one getting worse and worse than previous? It all but practically shouts “kick me.” And Bill is a delightful stooge with a bullseye taped to his ass. It’s really all an exercise in vanity as well as hopelessness. You never get a feeling of rooting for Don, and you don’t have to. He’s not likeable in any immediate way, but as I said before, it’s Murray, and he’s always charming.

Rounding out the cast is a flighty Sharon Stone, a vacant Frances Conroy, an aloof Jessica Lange and an outright hostile Tilda Swinton (whom I couldn’t even recognize at first glance). It’s as if each woman represents a chapter in Don’s life of bad breakups and past mistakes. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. No hidden subtext there. As a tonic, Jeffery Wright is hilarious as Don’s “life coach” and guide on his journey of self-discovery and madness. I don’t know what accent that is he’s using, but it’s oddly appropriate.

This whole movie has a surrealist Wes Anderson kinda feeling, maybe because of Murray. Little touches here and there painting different flavors of bizarre domesticity play out like a reel of Don’s history of crawling up his own ass. Maybe this film is about self-discovery. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale. Maybe it’s the oddest road trip movie ever filmed. I don’t know. What I’ve learned after watching Flowers is this: don’t chase down your past. What you may find is nothing more than yourself. That can be ugly.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. But hard choice this. Jarmusch’s films are decidedly not for everyone, especially those who have short attention spans. Let’s say if you’re a fan of Jarmusch, then see it. It’s got all his trademarks, good and bad. If you’re not a fan…What the hell, rent it anyway. It’s an interesting little piece of cinema, and consider it training wheels for other quirky indie films out there.


Stray Observations…

  • Bill Murray has mastered the hangdog. I think you could trace that all the way back to Carl Spackler from Caddyshack infamy. Something about Murray’s eyes when he delivers dialogue.
  • “Don’t worry. I’ll monitor your house everyday.” We all need a neighbor like Winston. We do. Save the accent.
  • “I’m a stalker. In a Taurus.”
  • That’s Murray’s actual son with the scene outside the cafe. The whole film’s about a family affair, right?

Next Installment…

Keanu Reeves looks through A Scanner Darkly. Whoa.


 

RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 10: Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened?” (2008)


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The Players…

Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, John Turturro and Katherine Keener.


The Story…

Ben’s a harried film producer, and as his latest undertakings instruct, he’s forced to placate a lunatic director, a temperamental actor and an out-of-control production while also courting a studio head and contending with his ex. Both of them. Just a typical week in the life in ol’ Hollywierd.


The Rant…

First off, sorry. I’m in a pissy mood. My back’s f*cked up, my wife’s mad at me for some offhand comment and Lou Reed f*cking died. Does this set the tone for this week’s review? Yep, and too goddam bad. The wife never cared for Lou Reed anyway. But just wait until f*ckin’ Thom Yorke dies. Then maybe I’ll bleed.

Ahem. Hi!

I know next to nothing about how Hollywood runs. From what little I do know is that it runs on money. Big, stupid money. On a budget that compares only with US Air Force cafeteria expenses. Most of the cinematic casual expenditures come out of our collective wallets in the form of tickets, streaming and popcorn. Who really gets paid through all those ducats? Well, actors for one. Overall, they’re the reasons why we go to the flicks. Sometimes we go for the directors, those who spindle the tales that keep us webbed in. The Spielbergs, the Scorseses, the Lucases…those cats. But you know who really keeps us glued?

The producers. The money behind the money. Money behind the likes of poor Ben…


Ben (DeNiro) is a wayward Hollywood producer who’s reputation is far more valuable than any increment of money he earns on a project. And the word “project” serves as an acceptable epithet for any film that’s gonna tank before it reaches the cutting room floor. As for what has presently been laid at his feet, Ben’s gotta make a marketable film out of an artsy-fartsy ‘aueter’ piece of sh*t. Oy, I’ve seen them many times over. Maybe you have too. Listen, just because they went to Cannes doesn’t mean they’re all winners. Pulp Fiction won the Palm d’Or, for example, a fine piece of f*cking filmmaking if your attention span is that strained. And I liked Pulp Fiction. F*cking Beetlejuice went to Cannes, so shut up. And if you are enamored of Beetlejuice, you take this f*cking blog WAY too seriously.

Anyway, about Ben. He’s been trying to restore his place in the pantheon of power players in Tinsel Town. And failing gloriously. He’s a passing presence in his second marriage, the one with two kids. An offhand glance with his first marriage, the one with the moody teen (portrayed by a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart). And a total misfit amongst his true family of agents, fellow producers, directors, and petulant actors (Willis and Penn). Hung up and overstretched, what’s a flayed Hollywood producer whose worth more dead than alive can do?

Lose his sh*t. DeNiro is good at that…


One of my favorite films? Taxi Driver. DeNiro is at his epoch at losing his sh*t in that film. Second is Mean Streets. Third is GoodFellas. Fourth is The Untouchables. Fifth is whatever he’s kicking at that time. Sixth is Taxi Driver.

You get the idea.

What Just Happened? is my umpteenth favorite movie of DeNiro kicking the sh*t out of someone. It’s the first for me rooting for Bob to kick himself in the ass. And boy, does he deserve it.

Never have I seen Bob act quite so callous, disconnected and callow as I did in this hour and 45 minutes. And quite humorously too. ‘Though not quite as humorously as most may gage. Barry Levinson’s work has always been funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but snicker-worthy. To my immediate mind, the only overtly funny movie the man has ever made was Rain Man and that won an Oscar, so he scored big there. I guess. Well What Just Happened is a loss leader. You saw the cast. You read the goofy plot. It was based on an esteemed producer’s autobio.

This flick barely made a million at the box office. With that pedigree? The hell?

They all must have been in on the joke. This film was culled by said book of the same name, a tell-all in a library of tell-alls. And the Rogue’ Gallery was delicious, too (go fig). Keener as the shrewd agent, sharp as ever, took great relish in cutting Ben down to size. Character actor Michael Wincott, always a stitch, somehow transcended Tarantino and Vincent Gallo in only two scenes. Toss the final edit wheel over this way, please. And do modern film producers really use BlackBerries in this day and age? I dunno. I ain’t a producer. What do I know?

This review has been sh*tty, I know. I’m just too tired, drunk and bent up to give a clean polish here. All I can say is this: it’s probably easier working behind the stage in Hollywood than in front to make a worthwhile statement. If this concept appeals to you, then go stream the film.

Lewis Allan Reed: RIP, 1942-2013.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Despite all it’s craftsmanship, the film committed a mortal sin. It was boring. Clever? Sure. Amusing? Kind of. Engaging? Hardly.


Stray Observations…

  • “Stress. Builds up. See you later.”
  • Willis looks like a homeless Santa with that beard.
  • DeNiro really trimmed down for this role. What for?
  • “Feet are connected to the soul.” So are shoes.
  • Wait. Is that the Police playing at the funeral?
  • Nothin’ like slaggin’ on ol’ Hollywood at Cannes to get a standin’ O.
  • “Life’s not bad. I’m in France.”

Next Installment…

Bill Murray goes door to door peddling Broken Flowers. Dumbass.


 

RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 9: David O Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)


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The Players…

Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker, with Johnny Ortiz, Julia Stiles and Shea Wigham.


The Story…

After a stint in a psychiatric hospital, bipolar Pat has no choice but to move back in with his Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed family. While he tries in vain to reconcile with his estranged wife, Pat meets Tiffany who’s just as unstable as he is. Like attracts like and all that. Tiffany hears Pat’s plight and offers him a deal: she’ll get in touch with his wife of him if he’ll do her a favor. Pat’ll do anything to fix his marriage, but wait…

Swing dancing? Really?


The Rant…

This may be my most personal review to date. Bear with me.

Two things before I get started. The first is practical. For the previous eight installments, I have based these reviews on the principle of “lack of box office mojo either/or of dubious reputation.” From now on, I shall refer to this criterion simply as “The Standard.” It’ll save time, and for those who need an explanation, please read my homepage. Don’t forget to Like it.

The second thing is trying to explain away how an Oscar-winning film like Silver Linings Playbook meets The Standard. I mean, it cleaned up at the box office. It earned several accolades. The star of the freakin’ Hangover films got an Oscar nod, before God. How does this movie meet the criteria?

The subject matter. A lot of folks who saw the film (at least folks I met) claimed that although the movie was good, Cooper’s acting was overreaching. His manic delivery was exactly the stuff of the Method, and I guess current audiences find that old hat. It works, yes, but these days people with a vestigial attention span demand the shiny. It’s still entertaining though, even if wide of the mark. Then again, what do the majority of filmgoers know what it’s like to endure a manic episode? Right.

Mental illness has long been a favorite well for Hollywood to dip from. Whether it’s Ordinary People for survivor’s guilt, The Deer Hunter for PTSD or The Silence Of The Lambs for sociopathy, crazy sells well at the ticket taker. The stuff’s a guilty pleasure for the gentry. It’s like the car wreck on the highway. You just gotta look—be witness to the wreck and ruin—and at the near back of your mind thank your lucky stars that that ain’t you. Being in the presence of an individual suffering from mental illness, be it depression, bipolar disorder, even outright psychosis is akin to the car wreck scenario. Sure, you’ll sneak a peek, but you’ll then recoil and be glad to not get any of it on you. It’s sort of a malign guilty pleasure for most.

Most well-healed folks figure they don’t ever have to worry about the crazy label. Life is normal for them, or for whatever passes for normal. Yet there are thousands of people out there who have to deal with the misfiring spark plugs upstairs every waking moment, yet still have to maintain a life. They don’t necessarily suffer in silence, but feel silenced all the same, especially against all those stares. Unless such sh*t ends up on the cover of People—and Heaven forbid Kim and Kanye’s spawn grow up to suffer from an eating disorder—then it’s in the public interest. Following that lead, how’s that for a dubious reputation?

As I was saying, Playbook made some waves with its depiction of bipolar disorder suffered by the lead Cooper. From personal experience, I say its depiction was straight on. This may get a little too personal, even for a blog, but I don’t really care. Others, I have found, have posted far more intimate and nuttier stuff than I would ever regard as appropriate. You ever truly look deeply at some of these profile and/or cover pictures? I mean, c’mon.

I suffer from bipolar disorder. Don’t laugh; I’m serious. I have a constant, intrusive internal monologue, often puking out into an external one. There’s the racing thoughts. The low-level paranoia. The occasional raging. The often crushing depression. It’s all there everyday for me, America, and for thousands of others, too. Like Pat, only therapy and meds make life work, and only in a wobbly way at that. It’s tough. And surprisingly enough, Cooper earned an Oscar nod for his portrayal. Yeah, best actor and alla dat.

Why should I say surprisingly? C’mon, this guy made a fortune portraying a guy slogged off on roofies and/or booze for three films for f*ck’s sake. What the hell business does he have starring in an Oscar-nominated film?

Because he sold it. Because he earned it. Because he got it right…


Pat Solitano, Jr. (Cooper) has just spent eight months in a Baltimore sanitarium. Better that than instead going to jail for beating the ever-loving sh*t out of his wife’s erstwhile lover. Understandable. The diagnosis comes clean. Pat has suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder. For a while now. Prone to erratic behavior and fits of rage. Since being hopped up on drugs, therapy and isolation, he finally earns release into the hands of his Philadelphia Eagles fanatic family of superstitious dad (DeNiro), struggling referee mom (Weaver) and good son Jake (Wigham). Now dealing with these three in full force, Baltimore seems preferable.

Pat delves into books and in-group double speak (“Excelsior!”), not-so-secretly plotting to reconnect with his estranged wife Nikki (Brea Bee, a name I refuse to believe is real). He wears his wedding band as a totem, waving it to all willing to watch, as a claim on a life that, frankly, has all but evaporated.

It’s only after an offhand encounter with old buddy Ronnie (Ortiz) and his bitchy wife Veronica (Stiles, who’d I wish to fall on a red hot poker) that Pat accepts a dinner invite and meets Veronica’s screwed up dancer of a little sis Tiffany (Lawrence). She’s been going through some issues of her own. Being distraught and remorseful for her husband’s death, and engaging in a rather dubious mourning recovery, Tiffany inadvertently holds out her hand for Pat’s support.

At first, the already damaged Pat is reluctant to help. However Tiffany offers up a deal. Pat’s wife is off limits due to a restraining order, effectively barring all contact. But Tiff knows Nikki, and can get a message to her proclaiming Pat’s new lease on life. In return for this little subterfuge, Tiffany has always wanted to compete in this dance competition and needs a partner. Quid pro quo.

And here’s where things get sticky, even after Baltimore…


Playbook was a smart, humorous and at times intense movie. A hard combo to work with. According to the dailies, it took director Russell 20 rewrites over five years to get the film just right. Good Lord. It worked though.

Playbook is a mass character study, so we’re gonna talk about our cast. A lot. First, Bradley Cooper really surprised me, just as much as most other critics were (who, unlike yours truly, actually get paid to do this sh*t). His depiction of bipolar disorder was spot f*cking on. The raging, the paranoia, the endless hang-ups. The label of being f*cking nuts. All there. As if to accentuate Pat’s struggles, it rather hurt when in the film the local law came to harass and/or bully poor Pat over the head about his restraining order. Sometimes it felt for just him it being out in public was enough for a drubbing. Car wreck culture and all. Ugh. Even if your brain is firing on all cylinders, it’s hard to watch. It’s also a great method employing “show, don’t tell,” and with a character study, you gotta show a lot of face time.

Something else key was apparent that I often bitch about for lack of in these posts: good pacing. Nothing in Playbook felt rushed. The story folded out as easily as a box of Kleenex, minus the lint. Two-plus hours stretched gracefully into a good evening’s entertainment. Face it, when you’re spending your free time on a film heavy on mental illness it better flow smoothly. Hell, that’s all I (or anyone else) should ask for.

In addition to the excellent pacing, of course the acting was great. There were no minor characters in the film. I know that follows the old saw of there being no small parts, but with Playbook each role was crucial in mirroring Pat’s new life post-hospitalization. A lot of films of this nature have roles that drop off the map halfway through the feature. Not here. “Lesser” roles like Ronnie and his patient therapist Dr. Patel offered insight and warmth (not necessarily sympathy) to Pat’s struggles. It’s a contained circle, one you get comfortable with as it creates a real sense of closure as the film winds down.

Other touches work well to reflect Pat’s picking up the pieces. The choice of music for instance (a pet cinematic enhancement of mine) was exceptional. Led Zep makes for the ideal soundtrack for a mental meltdown. And if your heart doesn’t crack a little for the sequence accompanied by Bob Dylan’s and Johnny Cash’s duet of “Girl From the North Country,” you have no soul (it’s from Nashville Skyline by the way. Go buy the damned album).

Considering the rest of the noteworthy cast, Chris Tucker is a stitch, but not in his mouthy Rush Hour style. He’s the lingering vestige of the sh*t Pat had to deal with and suck up to in Baltimore. He keeps popping up in Pat’s life on the outside not as the Magic Negro, but perhaps as a reminder as to what he was trying to leave behind, despite the fact it’s still stuck in his BP rattled head. He also ends up teaching Pat all about groove. This is important. Delightfully so.

DeNiro was also nominated for an Oscar in this one. It’s the first worthwhile role he’s played in along time, and for his limited screen time, Russell brings out the best in him. Although it takes several scenes, it becomes easy to understand why he got the nod. He’s brusque, he’s hammy, he’s f*cking petulant. He may have inadvertently contributed to Pat’s undoing, him being all superstitious and OCD. Always gambling. He took a gamble on Pat and ostensibly lost. Many times. Bob does lot of pure acting with just his scowly yet puppy dog jowls of his. Haven’t seen that since Casino. I could go on, but it would ruin the sub-plot.

Oddly, Weaver got an Oscar nomination too, although at first it’s hard to figure why. She doesn’t have many lines, and her screen time seems limited to only when Pat and/or his dad are roiling in their own psychological juices. However, she also seems to be the only one who is pointedly aware and truly sympathetic to what Pat has gone and still is going through. Pat’s her son after all. Understanding is crucial in the healing process, and you need that kind of presence to make the story have a tonic to the continuous conflict. In that light, Weaver is in the Goldilocks zone.

And lastly, Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. Ah, her. She won the Oscar, you know. Her Tiffany is nuts, just stark-raving oozing kooky nuts. But just to watch her…I’ll be crude. No I won’t. You can be crude. But hell, she can act, all fiery without chewing scenery and hold her own as if she wrote the script. She has confidence and a strong presence that permeates every scene she’s in, eclipsing star Cooper at times. Simultaneously, she has a particular vulnerability that, if employed in other films, may come across as mawkish. Here it generates a feeling not exactly of compassion, but one more of relatability despite the extraordinary circumstances handed to her. And she can dance. And run at a good clip, too. And oddly enough, heh-heh, so can Pat, just don’t take her to a diner on a first date. You just gotta see it to get it.

I have next to no carps with this movie. Save a Hollywood ending, Playbook was truly compassionate in its execution and acting. Is it because I’m sympathetic? Well, yeah. But only because here’s a film that depicts a hairy subject 90% correct. The remaining 10% is courtesy of Tinsel Town, cuz sumpin’s gotta sell tickets. The story is the car-wreck scenario, but tempered with just enough sugar with the urine that an audience can feel empathy rather than unease or scorn towards the psychologically challenged. It’s simply a cagey nevertheless excellently staged film

Yeah, excellently staged. Smart dialogue. Solid acting. Hall rented. Orchestra engaged. Now it’s time to see if you can dance.

If only somebody had told Lawrence to mind the step.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It earned the Oscar nominations for a reason. Plus renting it’ll keep the rabid, demon, flying monkeys in my head at bay.


Stray Observations…

  • “DeSean Jackson is the man.” Of that I have no doubt.
  • Jennifer Lawrence stares really well. She never seems to blink. Maybe it’s how she nabbed that Oscar. Hell, it worked for Anthony Hopkins, but then again, she has better cleavage. Way better cleavage.
  • “You have poor social skills. You have a problem.”
  • It seems that a small portion of this film was good promo for an iPod. The movie was made in 2012. Who didn’t have an iPod by then? (For those who don’t, just shut up.)
  • For the record, it’s pronounced ‘conk,’ not ‘conch’.
  • “Slow down, Raisin Bran.”

Next Installment…

Robert DeNiro asks the immortal question, What Just Happened?