my take on Silver Linings Playbook

Through about the first half of Silver Linings Playbook (now in theaters), I was mildly entertained and content with the growing expectation of good things unfolding as the movie progressed.  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are players in a story with a depth somewhere between Three’s Company and a typical Frasier episode, spread out to a full 2 hours.  Likable characters and a certain marginal cinematic quality elevate it a little over a television sitcom, but barely.  I am not phrasing that correctly.  There are some very good sitcoms out there that might take offense.

I just confirmed on IMDb that the catchy and popular song used to promote this movie, “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers, is never used in the movie.  These guys should be sued for perjury as far as I’m concerned.  That really steams me.  I’ve never heard of a movie being so heavily promoted with a piece of music that has zero connection to said movie.

Now, the talk of Oscar acting nominations is surprising.  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do, I think, what the short-sighted filmmakers ask of them, but that equates to nothing at all exceptional.  Even Robert DeNiro is boring and wasted in the cardboard cut-out role he’s given; his spin in Meet the Fockers is high art compared to this.

The more I’ve thought about this movie, the more I dislike it.  Contrived, artificial, one-dimensional characters and story contribute nothing of lasting value.  Silver Linings Playbook is utterly forgettable, mildly entertaining pabulum, as lame as its lame title.  Give it a year, nobody will remember this movie.  Honestly, it could not even deliver a single “wow” scene that people can talk about.  The good news?  It’s not the worst of the year.  3/10.

Ergo, Argo

I had seen the preview and commercials for this one many multiple times, and at no point became any more interested in watching it than my level of complete ho-hum humdrum upon seeing the preview the first time.  Somehow, like a scheming politician, my feelings toward it evolved to the point that it seemed the singularly best option last Sunday night, especially considering the mediocre reviews that Hitchcock was receiving.

My initial aversion to watching Argo had a lot to do with the way it was marketed, to play up the farcical aspects: Ben Affleck, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are out to make a silly fake movie as part of a ridiculous scheme to extricate a group of hostages from the Iranian embassy crisis of 1980.  I didn’t even like the title.  I was thinking some kind of post-modern Marx brothers nonsense, all failing miserably.  Part of why I decided to go see it over Lincoln (which I will eventually see, before or after it wins Best Picture (assuming it is not unseated by Les Miz)) and Hitchcock was the South Park bump and generally very good reviews, with a 95% Tomatometer score.  South Park commands a lot of respect for me — after all this is where I learned what both Mormons and Scientologists believe — so I figured heck, I’ll give it a chance, how bad can it be?

Argo

Argo

Although there are good and well-placed comic moments in Argo, this is not the farce I expected.  It starts off informing viewers that it is “based on” a true story, an effective ploy to invest the viewer further into the plot.  What follows is not a comedy, but a story of attempted escape and survival, with life and death consequences.

And it succeeds.  It begins with an exciting depiction of the overtaking of the American embassy in Tehran, with a perfect amount of background information to make us understand why the Iranians are so pissed off at Americans.  From there the movie does not let up, but nor does it become fatiguing.  In building toward the climax, Affleck (who also directs) does rely on over trod, worn-out movie mechanisms — this is where I think the “based on” a true story aspects come in.  But unless you’re a jaded movie critic like myself, you won’t give these moments a second thought — at least until you’ve left the theater.  Argo‘s two hours fly by quickly; it is engaging, entertaining, exciting and funny, and will be revisited come Oscar time.  8/10 and a guaranteed one of six dozen movies the Academy nominates for Best Picture, or how ever many they decide to nominate this year since they are completely spineless.

Stick around for the end credits, for some photo comparisons between cast members and those they depict, and a few words from Jimmy Carter.

Notes on Adventureland

Adventureland (2009)  is hardly the comedy it is marketed as, but I suppose could be called a romantic comedy.  If you’re looking for laughs on the level of Superbad, don’t come-a knockin’ in Adventureland.  It was billed as a follow-up to Superbad, also directed by Greg Mottola.  But the difference here is the producer — this is no Judd Apatow production, which would signal a comedy along the lines of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, etc., and Superbad — Judd Apatow is probably the biggest comedy making machine working today, and he’s very good at it.  At some point I’ll write a post highlighting outstanding comedies including his.

Adventureland (IMDb still)

Adventureland (IMDb still)

Here however is more of a serious romantic movie, bringing to mind, dare I say it, Kramer vs. Kramer or Blue Valentine.  No, nothing so dire as those explorations of the dark downside of romantic relationships.  But somewhere between Blue Valentine and Superbad is where I found the tone of Adventureland.  Or perhaps more on target is the tone of something like a Woody Allen piece; there is a smidgen of Woody Allen in Jesse Eisenberg’s James.  There is definitely humor effused throughout Adventureland, but not the hearty LOL-type of an Apatow production.

Starting off in the first 10 minutes of the movie, I thought I had another clunker on my hands.  It does not start with much promise — the beginning few minutes elicited pretty much zero response in me.  The premise is definitely a little tired — Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, on which I’ll later post, and The Social Network) plays James, a recent college graduate who can’t quite afford to go to Columbia University for graduate study, though he’s been admitted.  The solution?  A summer job, of course!  This is the tired part of the story — James trying (briefly, thankfully) to get a job before landing one too easily at the local amusement park, which is the base for the rest of the film’s action.

That action consists of James interacting with some of the various characters who work at the park — largely played for comedic effect — and the burgeoning romantic interest, Em, or Emily (Kristen Stewart from the Breaking Twihard series).  The comedy is sometimes a bit slapstick, but generally a little more subdued than one would expect.  Rather than attempting to force a comedic approach without enough to go on, the filmmakers instead wisely centered this movie on the romantic development between James and Em.  In so doing, Adventureland follows a formula that is hardly unique, but well executed — I found myself engrossed in the story of these characters, who all came across in a genuine way I could believe.  I cared what happened and felt warmly toward them.  And that’s where a movie like this succeeds.

I feel like my write-up here is rambling a bit and not providing justice to the movie, so let me sum up by saying Adventureland surprised me.  I ended up liking it, and think you will too.  Just don’t expect anything like Superbad or Knocked Up.  8/10

Film Note: Neighboring Sounds

Last night I watched a little indie Brazilian film called Neighboring Sounds (O Som ao Redor), in Portuguese with English subtitles.  It circled on a few sets of well-off condo-dwelling denizens of a single city block in Recife, Brazil.  And circled is the right word — this movie presents a few scenes with one set of characters, then a couple with another, then a few with yet another, then circles back to the first set and so on.  This would easily be a good formula for creating a mixed-up mess of a movie, but that does not happen here.

Neighboring Sounds

Neighboring Sounds

Rather, the structure yields a delightful cadence, helped by the strength of the story and the fact that this movie is not trying to confuse the audience by mixing up the characters or plotlines.  As we can easily keep track of the individual stories, the juggling act is held rotating nicely in mid-air.  At no time does it come crashing down.

This movie made me think of a few others — House of Sand and Fog, Amores Perros, Biutiful, and Lakeview Terrace.  A.O. Scott wroteHouse of Sand and Fog, adapted from the novel by Andre Dubus III, is one of several recent movies that try to harvest the terror and grandeur of classical tragedy from the everyday sorrows of contemporary American life.”  Somehow Neighboring Sounds does too.

A.O. Scott provides a very good review of this movie, so I need not go into any more depth here.  For me, this film was fascinating and engrossing, but lacked the payoff that it deserved.  For most of any movie, it is good enough to have that acute sensation of something simmering below the surface, of a great climax about to quickly escalate.  I think now of Mystic River.  Slow simmering, but you know things will boil over — and they do.  Here, though, not enough overtly happens to  consummate the film’s promise.  This is a trend I’ve seen in other movies — simmering tension with implied action.  If the story is good, don’t imply a big payoff — show it to me!  The best movies do and this one did not, quite.  Nonetheless, Neighboring Sounds is a fairly extraordinary movie, with enough to like and enough “stickiness” that I recommend it with a 7/10.  [Trailer Here]