RIORI Redux: David O Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” Revisited

 



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 (2013)

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.

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.


Rant Redux (2019)…

Okay, I owe you all an apology—now and future ones also—for trying the pull the wool here over Playbook. I had established The Standard as, well, a standard for all movies skewered here at RIORI as to how and why they got here under my hot little, petulant microscope. To review for the jillionth time, any movie—supposedly “mediocre”—that stumbles onto this blog meets a specific criteria to rush this frat: been made/released between 2000 to now, had disappointing box office returns, received mixed reviews and therefore generated perhaps unwarranted notoriety based on said wobbly criticism, and/or (the biggie); Suffered a general lack of “box office mojo.”

Playbook had none of that. It was well received, a box office success, was nominated for and earned a few awards and in turn had some mojo; Playbook escalated middling character actors Cooper and Lawrence into the upper echelon of Tinsel Town Treatment. Lawrence got her Oscar, and later Cooper got to voice a not-raccoon with a hair trigger and score Lady Gaga. One outta three ain’t bad…I guess (and talk about a bad romance).

*back to the hurling bottles thing*

It was years ago, and I had so many movie opinions I needed to smear, angry-monkey-fecal-like-sling at my adoring non-audience. I feel into a trap that virtually all FaceBook denizens do: regard my opinion as gospel. And by the dictionary, I also felt that my feelings were honrdt and implicitly received as truth.

Yeah. Nope. And as for myopic ego…well, all of you entrenched in social media have one, too. I apologize and I don’t. I apologize for lying and not following my own rules but not since most of us online do just that as gospel. And no, I did not weep at Grumpy Cat’s death. I was too busy being concerned about paying my bills and not regarding non-white people south of Texas as potential ISIS recruits.

*bonk. Kelly Clarkson!*

To conclude, I misused my blog as soapbox to encourage folks to see a film they had already seen, enjoyed and applauded when Lawrence stumbled onto the stage. My bad. It was drunk and I was late. I apologize for the hoodwink, and apologizing as ugly naked as this is in the blogosphere is catch-as-catch-can (BTW; the origin of that term stems from old school wrestling, namely repel your opponents with your hands any way to wear him down. You’re welcome).

Wait. There is one more thing: although the review of this offbeat character study was accurate, one observation was a little off. That whole bit about mental illness being sexy money in Hollywood? True, but like dinner at the local, reliable, cheap-o, red sauce pizza Italian joint it’s all about the presentation, not the dish.

I wasn’t kidding when I explained that I have bipolar disorder, and like other select films that interpret mental illness accurately and in an enlightening way, you gotta go pretty afar from the norm to get my attention about filming stories surrounding such touchy stuff. A lot of on screen mental ills are depicted by ciphers who a destructive to their costars as Snidely Whiplash pestering Penelope Pitstop (how’s that for dating me?); drab tragic figures that are simultaneously fragile and volatile. Or worse, just plain nuts and that’s all. I brought up my condition in the original view because the film got experiencing the disease more or less correct and in a palpable way. Unlike another film frisked here, The Informant!, where our protagonist has bipolar and his unchecked disease leads to irrational behavior and acts that are his undoing. I didn’t care for it much, mostly due to star Matt Damon’s delivery of the character and his issues. I know the flick was supposed to be satirical; I shouldn’t’ve had to watch the thing through the fingers of a terminal facepalm.

I liked the sympathetic eye cast on Pat. Yes, he is ill. Yes, he committed a violent crime. And yes, he’s gonna struggle the rest of his days keeping emotions in check at an arm’s length from his family who doesn’t exactly “get” what Pat’s all about. In other words, he’s not to be pitied, nor never shown that way. He’s just trying to keep his sh*t together. That’s me everyday. Hell, that’s you everyday, trying to keep your cards shuffled and the lumps out of your gravy. That reliability Cooper summoned up made the bipolar less of a plot point and more a of character trait. Not flaw, as most films of this ilk, even good ones (EG: Rain Man, The Best Years Of Our Lives, Good Will Hunting et al) often portray. Pat’s bipolar is now a fact of life due to screwy mixes in his brain cocktail. Yeah, he’s messed up. How he delivers the goods is as if, “Yep. You too?” Of course.

I forced my folks to watch Playbook with me to offer insight into how I feel everyday. They liked it a lot.

They also did not “get it.”

That’s what you get for leading people along, I tell ya.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: rent it. Silver Linings Playbook is a very good movie that had absolutely no business roaming around RIORI’s turf. I apologize again. I have Standards, after all.


Next Installment…

It’s auspicious to ask What Just Happened? revisiting this DeNiro diamond in the rough. Can one go too far off the map into indie territory and still regard a movie as mediocre?


 

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RIORI Redux: Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” Revisited


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The Players…

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Max von Sydow, with Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley and Ted Levine.


The Story…

US marshal Teddy Daniels’ latest case takes him to a forgotten corner of New York’s fog-shrounded waterways. His assignment? Investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. But not long after landfall, it appears to Teddy his efforts are going to by compromised by the evasive resident psychiatrist…as well as his disturbing visions.


The Rant (2013)

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before? Of course you have. You’re having it right now. You’re reading another one of my screeds here at RIORI buttered with my signature ribald, snappy repartee. Welcome back!

Seriously though, before I delve into the déjà vu enigma some more, I think I need to clarify something. These reviews were reserved for films that “had a dubious reputation or lacked box office mojo.” Shutter Island definitely did not suffer from a lack of mojo. When all was said, done and tallied, this little film walked away with over a hefty $128 million at the box office. This little psych-thriller here had a budget of around $80 million. Not bad. Didn’t hurt that it was directed by Scorsese and starred his current protégé DiCaprio.

What did hurt Island in my view is based on this story I heard from a friend of mine. Let’s say she had an interesting experience when seeing this movie in the theatre. Seeing. Not saw. As in “during the movie proper.”

Hm. BTW, we ain’t talking about yelling at the screen as if the actors can hear, or some nabob yakking on his phone. We’re talking about a dissatisfied customer. If any movie, successful or no, could upset a viewer in frustration then the movie gets the autopsy here. That and another buddy of mine insisted I see it and blog about it. You’re welcome, Rios.

So anyway, here’s what she told me:

It was your typical Friday night out at the multiplex. The big deal release at the time was Marty’s Shutter Island, which I heard was Marty’s first psycho-thriller (Cape Fear doesn’t count. That was a remake). The turnout was big—full house. My friend found a seat at the back of the theatre; that what was left that night, the place was so packed. It inadvertently gave her the cat’s bird seat to witness what would transpire later on.

About halfway through the film, a patron, obviously displeased, got up and shouted to no one in particular, “Does anyone f*cking get what is f*cking going on in this film?!” This outburst generated a bigger audience reaction than the action of screen. He threw his popcorn to the floor, spat out a few more profanities and promptly stormed out of the theatre. I think she mentioned something about even Leo losing his motivation. One could make the argument that Scorsese’s latest film succeeded in creating psychological tension, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. Well, for the sake of this installment it sounded like a dubious enough rep for me.

Sigh. I wish I had gotten as torqued as that angry stranger in the darkness with his strewn popcorn.

I too, after sitting through this movie, had similar sentiments. And a feeling of déjà vu. I had seen this movie before. Or at least, this kind of movie. And despite the trademark storytelling verve Scorsese imbues into most of his movies, Island was based on very few original plot lines.

But before I get all bitchy, first here’s the good stuff.

I don’t know who the location scout was for the movie, but they did a brilliant job of finding an ideal setting for madness. The whole sanitarium compound has a great, Lovecraftian feel. Craziness dripping from every pore. Even the main characters seem a little…off, as though a reflection of the island’s inhabitants. Slow tracking shots makes whole scenes seem isolated from reality. You really can pilot Teddy about the complex with the sense of solitude. And not the kind you want. Creepy is the watchword.

There’s some brilliant editing, especially the flashback sequences to Teddy’s army days and wife’s tragedy. Things seem to flow pretty well also, albeit a bit quickly. At certain points some scenes seem rushed, especially when Teddy and his sidekick Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, who is a solid presence) are casing the joint. Speaking of acting, Kingsley’s performance is at his most sinister here, vacillating between paranoid and professional. This is a guy who you can’t f*ck around with, because he can see all and know all on the island. Shiver.

Second, the bad stuff. The main offense? This film is unoriginal. I could not shake that feeling of déjà vu watching it. I knew that this kind of story has been told before, and not just in the typical, snobby, “there are only so many plots out there yadda yadda blah.” No. I had seen this movie before, a dozen different ways. The best and immediate example I can recall is with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I could cite quite few more films (without revealing the plots) that have used the exact same formula that Island employs. Angel Heart for one. The Machinist—which I reviewed here before—is another. The whole psychological “lost time” gimmick has been used with varying degrees of success before. But it has been done before. You would think Scorsese would have figured that out by now.

Shutter Island suffers greatly from déjà vu. This all had been done before. And it’s a real shame, because there’s a great deal of capital Q quality in this film. The acting’s good. The casting great. The atmosphere is suitably creepy. But the film lifts dozens of tropes from other films that may have done it better. It doesn’t make sense knowing of Scorsese’s encyclopedic knowledge of film technique that he cut Island the way he did. Maybe he was just f*cking around, nodding and winking to Hitch. I hope so, rather than f*cking around at the audience’s expense, not unlike represented by the anonymous, angry filmgoer’s philosophy. As for me, the only “lost time” I got from this movie was 2 hours and 18 minutes.

So…

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before…?


Rant Redux (2019)…

This movie was another recommendation by a co-worker who got hip to what I was doing online (no, the legal, orangutan-free stuff) and threw me this curveball: namely a film wrote and directed by an esteemed, successful director starring his latest protege, an esteemed and successful leading-man type guy who was once King of the World. Sounded promising. I like Marty’s films, and Leo has been a sturdy character actor for over a decade even before Island hit theaters. And a noir mystery to boot? What would go wrong?

Quite a bit. But not with the movie; within the blogger’s palsied mind.

You saw how I was playing up the deja vu aspect of both the film and my impression thereof? Kept bitching I’ve seen this before, this type of plot. I was right, but not in a cynical sense. Observe:

You ever see a film you just didn’t “get” upon your first viewing? Yeah, sure, the flick was all right, but you walked away wanting. Something felt amiss, unsatisfying. And some imp of the perverse kept poking your temporal lobes insinuating that you (dum dum dummm) missed something? You dolt, you should’ve never refilled your Cherry Coke at the soda fountain at the beginning of the second act, but that super-fangled thingamadoo has over five jillion soda options where could concoct tonics that have no place in nature you don’t give a sh*t, right. But still, orange-cherry Sprite with almonds!

But I digress. We’ve all seen films like that. They make us feel stupid. Not insulted like whatever sugar-coated bile Michael Bay keeps conning the general public into consuming. No. Movies that make you second guess. On the whole, I kinda like that. It’s usually a good film that makes you question it, rather than question yourself, “Lord, what have I done?!? Will the sun come up tomorrow? Will they cancel breakfast? And who is they anyway? Mommy…” When a good movie makes you feel as if you missing something, you may have well did…for now. Give it a moment, an hour, a week. It’ll come to you.

Me? Got a few examples. Might’ve mentioned the phenom before. Like with The Blair Witch Project. The final scene stumped me, until I was perched on the end of my bed, wondering what the f*ck did I watch last night? That guy REDACTED when the camera crapped out. I sat up. I remembered earlier in the film.  I solved the puzzle without rearranging the stickers. I got it. In the endgame it wasn’t a waste of a ticket and I ain’t that so dumb after all, Jenny.

Perhaps you like the cut of my jib. You get it. Ain’t it fun? Here’s another one: when me and my stepkid watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo for the first time. Vertigo is considered Hitch’s finest achievement, ‘tho it took years for the dilettantes to play catch up. The stepkid was into murder mystery films at the time, so I set up a double feature of Vertigo and Read Window. After watching Vertigo we did a double take at each other. We didn’t get it. It wasn’t bad, but there was something amiss. Oh, well. I plopped Window in the machine shortly after (saw it many times over already. Yes, I set her up) and she really dug it. But Vertigo challenged us, and we didn’t “get it” outright. Oh, fie.

Took me half a damned year to trip the tumblers. At our time of viewing, Vertigo usurped Citizen Kane as the best American movie ever. I was baffled as to why…until I got it. If you are familiar with the demented comedy stylings of the late, great Andy Kaufman, then how Vertigo delivered its package might be analog to the Man On The Moon’s pranksterism; the joke was always on you. Once you figured that bit out, and you weren’t a blockhead, you got the joke. Hitch was f*cking with your sense of reality with Vertigo, and therein lay the mystery to be solved, which was impossible. Did this all happen, or was Jimmy Stewart so delusional that he didn’t know he was delusional? Terry Gilliam’s dystopian time travel movie 12 Monkeys followed the same line. Quite well I may add.

Lastly, and since we’re deconstructing a Scorsese film, his apology Oscar awarding winning The Departed pulled a fast one. In the final scene how did Dignam know to  REDACTED  Sullivan? It might’ve has something to do with all that journaling REDACTED did and ultimatly got mixed in the mail. I caught The Departed in the theatre with a pair of my low-life buddies, us scratching our heads over how Dignam knew? We nodded assent in confusion and headed out to our respective cars to head on out to our choice watering hole to further dismantle the film.

It dawned on me a mile down the road. I caught up with them at the immediate red light. I honked and they rolled down their window, “What?!?”

I rolled down my window, sat on the sill and hollered at them: “It was his REDACTED!”

They screaming in forehead-slapping laughter, and we tore out of there. Good night spent. I needed a new seat belt thereafter. Thank God for duck tape and crossed fingers.

Now. Speaking of both Hitch and Marty, we arrive at Shutter Island. This is what I missed the first time out. I missed this: homage. It took me an eon to realize that Island was designed to be an homage to both film noir and Hitchcock. Which is why, to me, it felt so familiar. So deja-vu. Sorry, Rivers. I was unfair, and needed the edge of my bed for a little.

That being said, here’s what I learned seeing with a well-squeegeed eye: Island is a tribute, an homage, an experiment regarding “The Master Of Suspense.” To say that Scorsese is a film historian as well as acclaimed director is akin to describing oxycontin as “relaxing.” The man’s a cinematic encyclopedia; he’s done his research. Again the reason that Island gave me deja vu upon initial viewing was because, well, this kind of story had been done before (eg: Hitch’s Vertigo, as well as Nolan’s Memento, Welles’ The Third Man and a good chunk of the Jason Bourne movies): displaced hero stuck in their own imagination and everything, everything may or may not be a delusion. On a very basal, relatable tableau there was an ep of Star Trek: TNG (quit groaning) entitled “Frame Of Mind” where Cmdr Riker was trapped in a nightmare of his own making just to anchor himself to reality, which he a bit of trouble crawling out of. Our Teddy Daniels is cut from the same bolt as Riker, Scotty Ferguson, Leonard Shelby, “Harry Lime” and Matt Damon/Jeremy Renner/Joey Sack O’Donuts whatever. It’s a good device, which is why it pops up in so many suspense films. Marty understood this trope, gave it his own spin, smiled and hoped you liked it. Once I crawled out my arse and smelled my poop, I got it.

I guess it goes to say that a smart director knows his way around a tried-and-true suspense device like displaced person-or-persons unknown. And it took a dumb, rube movie critic to catch up.

Gonna smack him upside his melon when I see him next.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overrulled: Rent it. I again say sorry, Rivers. I got it now. A technical, loving tribute to Hitch well done is always a treat. That doesn’t mean I want my mind f*cked over every time. I’m still recovering from Detective Pikachu.


Next Installment…

We thumb through the Silver Linings Playbook again to find (shocker) the blogger was trying to hoodwink you. What Standard?


 

RIORI Redux: Martin Campbell’s “Green Lantern” Revisited


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The Players…

Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong and Tim Robbins.


The Story…

Hal Jordan, an ace test pilot, is chosen by galactic peace-keeping force the Green Lantern Corps to become their representative on Earth. Now wielding a mighty power ring, Jordan soon learns that with great power—

Wait a minute. That’s some other guy. What Jordan needs to figure out now is how to get the damned ring to work, not piss off his employer/occasional girlfriend any more than he already does (and excels at) and keep a malevolent space entity at bay from devouring Earth’s populace.

To this, flying untested fighter jets seems preferable, and a lot safer.


The Rant (2013)

I’m a comic book head. I adore comics. I collect them and read them on my days off. Every Wednesday is comic book day, and that’s when I head off to my local comic shop, where Jeff, the curmudgeonly proprietor, waits with my haul. I go pick up the weekly adventures of costumed heroes the likes of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Daredevil. All Marvel characters. In case you haven’t heard, Marvel’s had quite a bit of success in translating their books to cinema. I’ve seen a few of them myself. It’s no real matter, though. I prefer my superheroes on paper than film anyway. Call me a hipster (I dare you).

That’s not to say that Marvel’s cinematic endeavors haven’t been entertaining. The first two Spider-Man movies were awesome (I’ve heard the third was eh. It might be a RIORI candidate down the line). Iron Man was thrilling. Hell, the second X-Men film brought tears to my eyes (really, and shut up). I guess it really comes as no surprise than in Marvel’s 70-plus years of publishing, somebody with cash to blow in Hollywierd would get the smarts to do big screen versions of these guys in tights. It’s paid off well, too. Almost to a fault. In any event, Marvel’s been cleaning up at the box office, and good for them.

DC—Marvel’s “distinguished competition”—has had a harder time at it, so I’ve heard. In case you didn’t know, DC’s been the publisher with the longest teeth. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. Those lady and gentlemen.

Not to mention Green Lantern. My favorite DC character. The only DC character I followed regularly. Sure I loves me some Spider-Man and X-Men, but if you were into epic sci-fi action and intrigue, GL was the best place to go for many years. The pages were like Star Trek met Star Wars met Law & Order met Fringe met—right. That and a metric sh*t-ton of insane art. Green Lantern’s world—universe—was big with a capital big, and the writers and artists were very aware of the job they had to do. And did quite admirably for many, many years.

So when I caught wind that (finally) GL was going to make it to the big screen, I was both happy and hesitant. Simply put, most DC characters that make it to Hollywood get treated scattershot. Don’t get me wrong. There were the delightful first two Superman movies with the late, great Christopher Reeve. There were also the two Batman films with the brooding and surprisingly convincing Michael Keaton. Later on came the fantastic reboot starring Christian Bale. The successes with the few others? Not so much. For instance, I’ve already covered the up and down adaptation of Alan Moore’s (though he’d been wished to remain anonymous) Watchmen, which my wife, oddly enough, enjoyed by the way. To this day I don’t know how she managed to both A) stay up that late and, B) respect the character that was Rorschach) which…

Where was I? Oh yeah, Green Lantern…

DC hasn’t been as a hot a commodity for the silver screen as Marvel characters have been. But Hollywood must have been champing as the bit to get the glorious sci-fi universe that was Green Lantern to the box office. I hoped so. It had the pedigree for a fantastic sci-fi adventure, replete with alien worlds and creatures, engaging stores to unfold and, yes, a great deal of opportunities for CGI scramblings. Yet despite my enthusiasm for the prospect of GL being rendered on the silver screen, in the end-run I couldn’t bring myself to go the multiplex. Why? I mean, why man, why?

Cuz I figured they’d screw it up. The GL universe is so vast and varied that there would be no room, even in a comic book head’s imagination, to do it justice. That and Green Lantern ain’t exactly a household name like Supes and Bats. I don’t know many kids with bedsheets sporting images of Kilowog pounding Manhunters into rusty slag. That is, it’s not like I snoop around in kids’ bedrooms. Not since “the incident.”

Well, whatever. Shut up, kids. Like I said: GL’s a second tier character, despite being a key member of the JLA. That don’t mean much to Hollywood execs who—probably hailing from Warner Brothers, DC’s parent company—wanted to jump onto the Marvel money-making movie machine. I can almost imagine the discussion in that Warner Bros. boardroom:

“Marvel’s making a killing with all their movies!”

“Well, we’ve had some luck with Superman and Batman…”

“Yes, but they’re icons. People know all about them. What we need is a superhero that most folks’ve never heard of.”

“Like who?”

“Someone who’s flexible. Someone that we can warp.”

“Um, Star Trek‘s a Paramount property—”

“Quiet! What I’m saying is we need some cape that is unknown. Untested. Green.”

“Uh, sir? I think I have an idea…”

So then came the film. And our (ring) fingers were crossed.

I will warn and re-warn you that I have a soft spot for Green Lantern. No one was more enthusiastic than I to see the GL universe translated to the screen. In the final analysis, was I pleased? Despite all the bad press the film earned, I can only respond this way:

Sorta. Here we go.

The movie’s opening says it all, and is overall accurate by comic book history. Keep in mind this is coming from a comic book head to boot. The images are boldly ripped from the comics from the past decade. Shamelessly, I might add. That’s a good thing. Fan service. That’s a bad thing. Fan service. Never in my time that a comic book superhero movie needed so much dialogue and visual cues to explain what needed to be explained. Well, that with the assist of a lot of red wine.

Of course, I got it all within the first 12 minutes. I timed it (I am that lonely). And throughout the film they kept keeping on hammering the same note. Yes, Hal Jordan in a fearless pilot. Yes, he has an attitude. Yes, he has a smart-ass mouth with a demeanor to match. And yes, he has the critical ability to overcome fear (that key component to grant entry into the GL Corps). And that third thing is the film’s greatest flaw. Stilted dialogue. Ryan Reynolds should act with as little dialogue as possible. Fortunately, he does. But he does have to talk once in  while. Therein lies the tragedy.

Once and again Reynolds seems awkward here, unsure if he’s a pilot or a ladies’ man or a superhero. He’s only good as a physical presence, which oddly enough Campbell may have recognized since that most of the best scenes are when Reynolds is robbed of dialogue. Even the post superhero act of saving the day at Carol Ferris’, Jordan’s former flame and current employer, is delightfully cheesy and self-aware, so much so that Reynolds’ character is cut short. It’s pretty funny.

The film’s kinda predictable as far as superhero tales go. Reynolds indeed seems awkward at times, like his lines were written for someone else. On the flipside, as far as dialogue goes, Blake Lively is very smart, whereas the polar opposite, Tim Robbins as the Senator, as always plays sleazy very well. The best dialogue seems to be spoken by the supporting cast in Hal Jordan’s new sci-fi family (e.g.: Kilowog is mighty cool).

As if you haven’t figured it out, Lantern gets heavy on the exposition. How the lines are delivered is key in keeping this film aloft. Despite it being a sci-fi adventure, there sure is a hell of a lot of chit-chat going on here. I suspect it might have something to do with introducing an unwitting American studio audience to a semi-obscure superhero, and water wings are needed. Still, the chatter is at least lively, funny and relatively unobtrusive. It’s a tempered version of “show, don’t tell.” Yeah, there’s a lot of telling, but it’s in an interesting, bouncy, almost comic-booky way. Hey! Who’d’ve thunk it?

On technical side Lantern was directed (handily, I might add) by Martin Campbell, the man that brought us the very cool James Bond reboot Casino Royale and Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007, GoldenEye. That alone lends the film some props. Martin’s a guy who understands how a franchise works outside the proverbial box. Lord knows how much coin was laid out for him to direct this film. In the final analysis it was worth every penny. A smartly spent budget and solid directing goes a long way in a would-be summer blockbuster like Lantern, even if the revenue was less than stellar. In these days of big budget movies run amok with GCI and crazy locations scouted, every farthing matters. Considering Campbell’s steady hand, Warner Bros. was able to sleep easy, at least with that factor.

The greatest accomplishment this film can claim is being able to coax Ryan Reynolds to quit acting like Ryan Reynolds. Lo and behold, he isn’t acting like a smartass (prime example: Waiting) 24/7! He plays the innocent for once, and it’s a really welcome thing. I mean, considering the circumstances his character was plunked into, would you humble yourself? He actually holds back on the smarm and freaking acts a little! Y’know, with emotions other than smug. Right! Just don’t talk so damned much! Listen to your supporting cast! There you go! Ah, it’s like Sprite enema. Now granted, no awards will come of this, but then again, it was squeezed out from a guy who directed James Bond for f*ck’s sake. It’s such a nice change of pace you forget it’s Ryan f*cking Reynolds up on screen, slingin’ the ring, if only for a little while. In simpler terms, Reynolds made a decent Hal Jordan. Not good, but decent.

My carps with Lantern are mostly minor. Questionable acting, a few plot holes, the need to immerse yourself in back issues, stuff like that. Despite me picking on Reynolds (who does ask for it), there’s really nothing to get in a twist over. If you’re a comic book head however, the screen would’ve been pelted to death by errant popcorn kernels after the aforementioned 12 minutes. If you’re not, as most of you who get sex on a regular basis are, you can lean back and let yourself go along with the ride. Lantern is harmless, and feels like one of those movies that pop on F/X from time to time to fill space and/or kill time.

In fact, that’s just what Lantern does. It sure beats watching Batman & Robin again. Wait. Again? Don’t you people own a streaming Netflix account?


Rant Redux (2019)…

Okay, I’m bearing my balls here. My old review—despite being somewhat accurate, albeit in the wrong way—was written clouded by fanboy fervor. GL is still my fave (and only) DC hero I get behind. Back when the flick slouched into the multiplex I was so glad. Cool! The Green Lantern universe has a sh*tload of s/f gold to mine! And there was Kilowog in CGI splendor, voiced by that guy from the Allstate ads! What could go wrong?

Plenty. Duh.

He was another early comic book movie produced by non-geeks who did not understand how to handle their precious property. Sure, the movie got a few things right (eg: the origin story, the ways of Oa, the aforementioned KIlowog and a nice nod to Abin Sur, Tomar Re and of course Sinestro), the majority of the movie was composed of wasted opportunity. Campbell has a hot potato, and dropped it. Several times.

At this point in movie history it’s safe to say the DC Cinematic Universe is lame. That and it doesn’t exist despite Zack Snyder et al doing their best to catch up with Marvel. Then again, the FOOM has Disney money on its side, and for launching a franchise it’s all about the funding. F*ck, Warner Brothers released the film and it already owned the damned property. Why did the flick become such a straw man? Because of the nascent super hero phenomenon? Um, didn’t Warner Bros fund the original Superman movies, which started back in the 70s? The lesson of history was lost in 2011, and instead panic of being left behind in Marvel’s wake. Throw money at it, hire big stars, write a plot with everything that may stick. F*cking impending Avengers movie.

You can smell the panic nipping at GL‘s heels. On the whole the movie was entertaining. In the details (like cohesive plot, capable actors ill-fit and CGI trying to compensate for proper staging. That and ADD pacing) Warners read the writing on the wall as rushed headlong to spar with the Bullpen. In sum, GL was impatient and also had the audacity to anticipate a sequel (which might’ve been okay provided the box office takeaway said go ahead. It didn’t). Which is why we’re back here.

Now truth be told, and along the curves of the original rant, I did find GL entertaining, however through a set jaw. My fanboy drool palsied my objectivity. It was akin to how pro wrestling fans stand by their heroes histrionics rather than their show. Do you smell what the Rock is cooking? Sure you do. How was he in the ring?

Ummm.

Right. Splash and dash over action. That’s how GL played out: just enough fan service to make you watch, then nothing but a grinding jaw for the film’s duration. Upon review I scanned the crap I forgave against what I should’ve paid attention to.

First of all the casting. I gave Reynolds a pass, and he wasn’t as smarmy as he usually was especially since his dialogue was economic. I still found the supporting cast appealing. But the majors seemed awkward. This was Reynolds second stab in the comic film universe (after Marvel’s Blade: Trinity but before Wolverine: Origins) before striking gold in Deadpool. Call it a dry run for a snarky hero who did not choose his fate. Reynolds awkwardness here was supposed to come across as endearing. Instead his performance was failing upwards. He was fun, but also really wobbly; isn’t a reluctant hero supposed to rise to the occasion? Reynolds does, in fits and starts, and it starts when he introduces himself as GL to Lively’s Carol Farris. How odd she sees through his visage? Reflects the hot potato.

Now. I still say I have I have no real issue with Reynolds. He did his best with what he was dealt. But the supporting cast offered precious little support. Look what we had here: the reliable Tim Robbins, the authoritative Mark Strong, the unpredictable Peter Sarsgaard, Pedro Cerrano and the willowy Blake Lively (four out of five ain’t bad). All the others were grand; Lively was the weak link, and a vital one at that. C’mon, in a superhero flick it’s almost de rigueur for the protagonists to have his gun moll. It’s a stereotype, true, and although Steinman followers may cringe, the sassy, no bullsh*t love interest is a gadget us comic book heads fall for every time (this honor or blame may fall at the pumps of the late Margot Kidder, with her sassy, no bullsh*t take on Lois Lane). Such a device this is in virtually all modern comic book films is that when the heroine may show signs of (shudder) feelings towards our stalwart man-on-the-white-horse the audience writhes in contempt.

Now I know what I’m about to write may come across as either cinematic mysogyny of self-appointed, overweight, comic book authority. Maybe both, but I’d rather put myself on the spot as a movie fan. I’ll explain: there are precious few tropes in telling stories, in print or in film, that are tried and true. Not necessarily essential in spinning out a tale, but when they do show up there always has to be an interior logic that works—and works well—within the story. We’ve all seen ’em: from the wizened private eye who’s seen too much to care, to the reluctant hero on a quest to do what’s right but riddled with inner doubt. The tale of revenge, the quest for enlightenment, the need to escape and everything that Tarantino and/or DeMille made bigger and bolder. When it works, the cliches are elevated into avatars of grand story. When done poorly, they remains as…well, just gimmicks, misguided visions and tropes. And in a film populated by an ensemble cast (such as GL had), if one of those avatars falls off the wagon, well the whole story can go ker-thud.

At heart, all super hero movies are the same. A character is gifted with incredible powers and does their best to make ’em work, for good or for ill. Said heroes are defined by their nemesis. Superman and Lex Luthor. Batman and the Joker. Spider-Man and his myriad of rogues reflecting the self-doubt he always carries around, web-slinging or no. They are also defined by their friends and family. Jor-El was rather cagey firing off baby Kal-El to simple, backwater planet like Earth, but that more or less worked out okay. It’s tragic young Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents getting gunned down, but fast-forward later and Gotham is now relatively safer in their memory. Guess that’s all a macho, guy thing. But the comforting, grounding trope that makes these immortals human are a savvy, pragmatic girlfriend or Girl Friday to offer romance, guidance or a combo thereof.

Examples? First Gwynyth Paltrow as Virginia “Pepper” Potts in the Iron Man movies. Sure, we knew from the books that Tony Stark was a lushy womanizer; Pepper was the one woman who saw through Tony’s act, and was never ever gonna tear his armor off to get at Little Tony. In the first movie, that resolve melted away and the crowd cried foul (at least I did, right before the ushers temporarily blinded me with their vicious Mag-Lites). Similar reaction might’ve be roused by the stupid “playground fight/flirtation” scene in Daredevil. Party foul!  Either that or DD was a craptastic movie. Just sayin.’

I’m belaboring this point after seeing many, many, many more superhero flicks because I believe this key dynamic between alpha male superpowers do-gooder needs to kept in touch with reality via the love interest/their Girl Friday. Keep the heroes eyes on the prize but “hey, this ain’t just for you, hon. We got people down here with real jobs.” A good example of this comes not only how Lois teaches Supes how to be human but in the Iron Man comics, his AI is named Friday. Get it? Right. Lively’s Carol Farris had none of that guile. At least not convincingly. She managed to out-Mary Sue Reynolds, and he did a damned fine job of that. Except his was played for laughs. Lively was the wrong pick for two reasons: her character feigned confidence poorly and she ended up marrying Reynolds after shooting was done. You think goo-goo eyes has something to do with the awkward chemistry?

Nah.

Yeah, so Lively was the one real weak link in the chain. I learned that Warners intended GL to be a trilogy; there was a teaser post-credits of Sinestro happening on a yellow ring. Like Lady Macbeth, Carol Farris tried to wash her hands of blood on the screen. And yeah, I know I’m beating up on her right good, but when she can score a role like Glenda in Hick three months after GL dropped, I am flummoxed. Lively is a versatile, charming, funny and smart actress; not only with Hick I found her great in The Town and even that silly lark Accepted. Such a simple, reliable and often effecting plot device misspent from a reliable actress. I’m probably totally off the mark with this theory, but weren’t we glad when Katie Holmes dropped out of the Rachel Dawes role in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in favor of Maggie Gyllenhaal? Me too.

At the end of the day, I guess we can agree that most modern comic book movies are of an ensemble cast; there are no real bit players after the hero and villain. Once that ensemble get fractured everything goes to hell in a bucket. Go on, name an ensemble film that was overall good save whomever (EG: WTF was Jeff Bridges doing in The Men Who Stare At Goats?).

Yeah, yeah. After 100-plus doofy movies fractured under my belt, I let the scales from my fanboy eyes fall away. But do dig this: I still like GL. It’s kinda like how I enjoy broccoli and when I discovered the value of coffee at age 15: first time it’s so weird it’s great! By the time the years roll by and you’ve had enough Birdseye and Starbucks’ triple-whatever…you get it. GL was a reliable modern super hero flick, but it wasn’t as great as the Farmer’s Market or indie cafe’s best.


The Revision…

Rent It or relent it? Overruled: a mild relent it. Green Lantern isn’t amongst the hallmarks of, say Superman II or The Dark Knight. But it doesn’t try to be, so what the hell.


Next Installment…

We put our oars in the water and paddle back towards Shutter Island, Scorsese’s attempt at Hitchcock with Leo attempting Jimmy Stewart circa Vertigo.


 

RIORI Redux: Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist” Revisited


Image


The Players…

Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, John Sharian and Michael Ironside.


The Story…

Industrial machinist Trevor Reznik has been suffering from insomnia for a year. His physical and mental health have all but wasted away. So much that when he keeps finding cryptic Post-Its creepily popping up in his apartment suggesting his next courses of action, he asks himself is it just the lack of sleep, or has his mind really gone? Who’s leaving these notes? What are they trying to say? And what’s with the kooky new guy at work who knows too much about Trevor’s plight? It’s impossible to keep it all clear.

If only he could sleep on it.


The Rant (2013)…

Ever have insomnia? Sure you have. I’ve had many a sleepless night, none of it romantic. And the next day…well, let’s just say that sleep dep’ makes everything really neat. The sunlight seems brighter. The sounds seem noisier. The idea of breakfast makes you wanna puke. Or that’s just your vacant stomach demanding caffeine. Anyways, you plum don’t feel like yourself. It feels like a second reality. The kind you wish you could wake up from.

If you’re a casual watcher of psycho thrillers, this film’s for you. Otherwise it requires an attention span. Like I said, Bale is a fright, both physical (especially physical) and mental. Quick to rile, slow to even out, paranoid and prone to rage. Like I said, the ravages of insomnia. What’s amazing about this film is how deep Bale’s commitment was to this role. He’s tense, intense and minus pretense (how’s that for pseudo-alliteration?). A tragic figure of his own undoing. His capacity for frothing rage in the face of paranoia is just a shade over the top. That’s a minor carp overall. But it’s also kinda handy since there is not a single scene which Bale is not in. You really ride along with Reznik’s character, through the ugly and the…other stuff.

The only problem with this film is the pacing, and it’s not by much. Bale is so quick to rile it becomes bookmarks for each chapter of the film. Don’t get me wrong, Bale nails paranoid anger very well, but when it repeats itself to the point of minute-on reaction, well the novelty runs thin after awhile.

Otherwise the acting was impeccable. It was difficult not to relate to any of the characters. Like I said, Bale embodies the sleepless nights and the trippy days we’ve all had because of it. He carried the whole film, and quite well and tastefully too. Strong shoulders, even in light of the juicy paranoia that Reznik starts to inhabit well too quick.


Rant Redux (2019)…

The above take on The Machinist was direct and concise. Upon review, it was too direct and concise. There was a lot more going on beneath the surface with this movie, which was its raison d’etre; all is not as it seems.

Uh, duh.

In retrospect, I’m gonna dub Machinist‘s style as “Hitchcock with teeth.” Fangs is more like it. It’s an engaging, unpleasant mystery minus any McGuffin. To review, that was a term Hitch himself coined describing the plot device that drives the story. Kinda like the schematics to the first Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope, or the titular Maltese Falcon. Can insomnia be considered that? I guess kinda sorta not really, but Reznik’s lack of sleep does push the story along. Following that line of logic, and Anderson’s tip of his sombrero to the Master, it’s the grimy, creepy atmosphere that drives the plot. The sticky, ugly cramps of not knowing if your awake or dreaming. More to the point, it’s that icky, universal feeling of being too damned tired to think straight. You know when you can’t sleep and all you can think about is getting to sleep? It bites. No slang here. Andersen delivers Hitch with teeth.

The hardest part to take in Machinist is how everything comes undone/comes into focus at the very butt end of the third act. In the last twenty minutes—if that—the true story comes at you with a slap. Wake up. The climax rightfully undoes what we have be watching for the past 90 minutes, and you realize all that was window dressing, entwined with a psychotic, nightmare mystery. I felt generally disturbed at the finale.

And cheated. Machinist tried to follow the same tack as Nolan’s Memento, but without the clever gimmick of amnesia. Most of us have never suffered terminal short-term memory loss; all of us have suffered from insomnia, and in a weird way the side effects are low-level similar. The hazy, gauzy disconnected world of Reznik reflects ours after no sleep for too long (kinda like Hell Week when I was rushing my fraternity, and that’s another story). In simpler terms, and us as the audience: “The f*ck is going on here?” It’s not out of frustration, not stemming from a hard-to-follow Lynch/Tarantino hybrid, not even old school Hitch bamboozling you with Vertigo.

Nope. Machinist preys on the warped perceptions of reality that come about after wrestling with your sweaty pillow and losing. What I’m getting at is Machinist is creepy, curious, terse and uncomfortable. And crams a lot of mystery in a rather short running time. It’s one of the those flicks you gotta rewatch to “get it.” If that.

There. I think that fleshes things out a bit better than Christian Bale’s gaunt frame. Now get some sleep. Again.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: rent it. Watch it twice to appreciate its Hitchcock love letter. After a good night’s rest, doy.


Next Installment…

Through a cracked mirror Ryan Reynolds seemed like a good choice as Green Lantern. It was a case of fanboy blogger’s very green writing. Shut up.