TIFF 2012 – Silver Linings Playbook Review (Dustin SanVido)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, and Chris Tucker

Directed by David O. Russell

Being a self-confessed football junkie, I have eagerly anticipated the latest film from David O. Russell, if not simply for the fact that the subject matter is something that I could easily relate to. To my surprise, I found so much to enjoy in The Silver Linings playbook that had nothing to do with the subject of football. Boasting strong performances from the entire cast (yes, that includes Chris Tucker), a perfectly written and assuredly directed feature from David O. Russell that falls in line with his best work.

We’re introduced to Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper in a career defining performance) as he’s being released from a psychiatric facility in Baltimore into the care of his loving mother Delores (Jackie Weaver) and football obsessed father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), who reside in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Eagles football is a cornerstone of the Solitano family, it is not only enjoyed for sport but also as Pat Sr. makes a modest living as a bookmaker. We learn that 8 months ago Pat had an explosion of violence in his home after discovering his wife’s infidelity, and as a plea bargain to avoid jail time, admitted himself into the care of said facility. Pat has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and it shows early and often. Pat is a complete mess, obsessively fixated on returning home and picking up his life where he left off. While reconnecting with his family and friends he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawerence), a widow who is avoiding the pain and emotions of her situation by masking her problems with sexual promiscuity. It is in Pats’ delusions of rekindling his marriage where a friendship between the two psychologically torn individuals is born and where the majority of the film takes place. This is not only a romantic comedy, but also a genuinely engaging story of one man’s personal redemption and discovery of self-worth.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

This was the second performance from Bradley Cooper I have seen at this year’s festival and I was happy to see his potential begin to be realized. I have always liked him since I saw him all those days ago as a student on several iterations of Inside the Actors Studio. Here he is completely believable as a man who is barely grasping his reality and is unwilling to let go of his failed marriage, trying to fit it into the context of whatever situation he finds himself in. Bi-Polar disorder is a tremendously difficult illness to live with and one that is sometimes easily dismissed. Cooper’s realization of the illness is a strange mix of sadness, humour, rage, manic energy, and comic wit. I can also use that exact description to define the performance of Jennifer Lawerence. This is another fantastic role for the actress who is quickly ascending the Hollywood ranks through an eclectic mix of difficult indie roles and mainstream to blockbuster fare. Her excellent dramatic skills are only bested by her cagey and beautifully innocent looks. This seems like it has another Oscar nomination written all over it.

It is with the utmost happiness that I can inform you, not only did Robert Deniro seem to actually try to act with enthusiasm in Silver Linings Playbook, instead of traversing the script on cruise control, but his scenes are the best part of the film. The majority of the emotional moments for Pat in the story are shared with his father, and it is endearing to watch as Pat Sr. tries to reconnect with his son the only way he knows how, through their mutual love of football. In fact, football plays an important role in the narrative as many set pieces take place around the fact that an Eagles game is being played, or at Lincoln Financial Stadium for a wonderful scene later in the film. It is very telling to me that I enjoyed this film so much, considering the team featured in the film is the bitter rival of my beloved Dallas Cowboys.

Silver Linings Playbook is also filled with likable yet flawed supporting characters provided by the rest of the cast. Everyone from Pat’s psychiatrist (Anupam Kehr) to Tiffany’s sister Veronica (Julia Stiles) to Pat’s fellow mental patient Danny (Chris Tucker in his best performance since Baumont Livingston in Jackie Brown), everyone has a moment to shine and leave a strong impression that resonates throughout the runtime.

This is easily David O. Russell’s least stylized and most accessible film to date. I was quite happy that he seemed to want to be more faithful to the source material and hold back on bringing the material into his kind of film, although not without including some of his well documented zoom shots. Continuing to overcome his behind the scenes notoriety as a difficult artist to work with, his latest film is a excellent addition to an already great body of work.

Although it is clear by the end a romantic story is at the heart of Silver Linings Playbook, the film manages to strike a perfect balance of drama and humour that just about anyone can find something to love, much like its characters. It is rare that a romance unfolding over such a short time can be so organic and believable. Bravo to the filmmakers. This is a film that I look forward to revisiting in the future, I highly recommend checking this one out. Upon finishing this review it left me to wonder: the last time this David O. Russell made a romantic comedy (Flirting with Disaster), he followed it up with Three Kings, a film I consider a masterwork. I wonder what’s next on the horizon…

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HOT DOCS 2012 – Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (Paolo Kagaoan casts a fictional version of Glow)

Hot Docs 2012 (Toronto)

Paolo here. Kirk and I keep seeing the same movies, which is going to be a problem unless we do doubleheaders all the time during the festival.

The first movie we saw together is Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, about an all-female wrestling league of the same name that ran in between 1986-1990 and had short-lived revivals afterwards. Kirk’s review is also on the site and out respect for him I’ll forfeit mine. Although I’ll say that the movie has too conventional of a structure and its ‘feminist’ self-projections are kind of wonky for me, but I smiled and laughed more at this movie than any of the ones I’ve seen this year. And more importantly, it’s one of the few docs that can be source material for a feature film.

This idea came to me when the doc put its focus on Mt. Fiji and I kept thinking about Gabourey Sidibe, not just because of the size issue. Mt. Fiji as a character would be interesting to play, having the jovial, lovable quality despite of her toughness in the ring. She’s also had her share of health troubles after GLOW’s short run, which can make for some captivating drama.

What about the rest of the roles? Yes, GLOW fans, those wrestlers are irreplaceable. Many of the GLOW girls were healthy, Carrie Otis/Tia Carrere types with a Joan Jett/Jem doll kind of attitude. Exoticism and diverse body types are missing in the actress pool today. But here are some suggestions.

For the good girls:

Tina Ferrari (Her real name, never revealed on the doc, is Lisa Moretti . She also became WWE Champion ‘Ivory’. She apparently was the focus of GLOW’s second season) – Lyndsy Fonseca. She’s known more as Bob Saget’s daughter in How I Met Your Mother but she was also in Hot Tub Time Machine, where she fearlessly climbed on John Cusack and then stabbed him with a fork. For training, that’s not bad.

Americana – Alison Brie. She shares the spotlight with the ensemble cast in Mad Men. This season her character Trudy is becoming more comfortable as a suburban housewife. She already gives hints of what she might become when she gets older. This will be helpful in any project with plots involving long time spans, if the movie chooses to show both the 80’s and the GLOW girls on present day.

Babe the Farmer’s Daughter – Hayden Panettiere. The actress has to be rewarded by being the best part of the hot mess known as Scream 4, and that reward should mean more work.

For the bad girls, whose personalities often had to do with fictionalized countries of origin:

Godiva (She actually made an appearance after our screening and still looks like the way she was in the 80’s) – Jennifer Lawrence. She proved that she can do a fake British accent in The Hunger Games, which is important because Godiva wasn’t really British. Besides, the other thing she proved in The Hunger Games was kicking ass.

Matilda the Hun (Who was often matched against Mt. Fiji) – Samantha Morton. Morton often plays vulnerable types but she showed her bad side in that scene in The Messenger where she tries to scare off men who were trying to recruit her son into the military. It might not be a bad idea to see another side of this actress.

Colonel Ninotchka (A bad girl who sometimes turns good) – Oksana Akinshina. Most of the accents in GLOW were fake (I was also thinking about blonde Emma Stone when I saw her) but what about casting a real Russian for a Russian role? You might know her in the Bourne series but her presence in Hipsters is impeachable and she can no longer be Russia’s cinematic secret.

Hollywood and VineChrista B. Allen and Emily Vancamp. Allen played young Jennifer Garner twice. The  first time she did it was in 13 Going on 30 as a young girl in 1987, in her short scenes embodying what it’s like to be young in the 80’s. And I included her Revenge co-star Vancamp because I’m boring.

Heavy Metal Sisters/ Chainsaw and SpikeKristen Stewart and Alison Brie. Both have been punks and rebels before, Stewart playing Joan Jett and Brie as Woody Harrelson’s troubled yet wise daughter in the underrated Rampart. And yes, guys, when she gives a crap, Kristen Stewart can act, okay?

Little Egypt – Nasim Pedrad. She finds different ways to play a whack job every week in Saturday Night Live, so why can’t Kristen Wiig’s heir apparent jump start her career with a movie like this?

Dementia – Mae Whitman. Tough girl cred: The fourth evil ex in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Palestina – Alia Shawkat. Tough girl cred: Playing bassist in The Runaways.

And for the characters ‘behind the scenes:’

GLOW co-founder Jackie Stallone (yes, Sly Stallone’s mother owned a wrestling league) – Barbara Hershey. She was intimidating enough as Natalie Portman’s mother in Black Swan but what about being a coach to more young women?

Mondo Guerrero, brother of Eddie and part of the Guerrero family of wrestlers. He trained the girls the proper wrestling moves and taught them how to evince pain. – Edgar Ramirez.

Tony Cimber, son of Jayne Mansfield, brother of Mariska Hargitay, director of the GLOW episodes who Mt. Fiji had a crush on – Emile Hirsch. Where has this guy been?

GLOW co-founder and President David MacLane – Vincent Kartheiser. That smarmy smile of his can only be described as perfect.

Seriously, think about a cast of 18-35 actresses, both known and unknown, beating each other up and occasionally performing politically incorrect sketches and rapping. It’s the worst idea ever but it’s also going to be awesome.

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The Hunger Games Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hunger Games (2012)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bently, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.

Written by Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray and Gary Ross

Directed by Gary Ross

 

Hello All,

Let me preface this by explaining I am a big fan of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy of books. I want to put that straight up front, because as much of a fan of this film I may be I cannot tell how this will play to someone uninitiated. There are parts of the film that rely heavily on the viewer’s knowledge of the books in the name of streamlining the story a bit to keep it moving at a solid pace. That said I may now proceed to gush over the things they did oh so well.

The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian alternate future where the nation of Panem is divided into 12 Districts, each of them ruled over by the extremely rich and powerful Capitol. 75 years prior to our setting there were 13 districts that all tried to revolt against the Capitol and failed. As a way of keeping the districts in check and dissuade any ideas of further rebellion, The Hunger Games were created. The Games pit two “tributes”, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18, from each district in a fight to the death where only one survivor is to be named victor.  As we open the film it is the 74th Hunger Games and the day of the “Reaping” where the Capitol sends their representatives to pick the two tributes from each district for the games.

Our Heroine is 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), a skilled hunter due to her frequent excursions into the forbidden zone to hunt wild animals to provide food for her mother and sister after the death of her father. Her best friend Gale (Hemsworth) often accompanies Katniss into the forbidden zone to provide for his family. Katniss has her name entered over 20 times for the reaping this year, Gale over 40. Katniss’ younger sister Primrose aka Prim (Willow Shields) has turned 12 and will be entered for the first time, and beyond all odds Prim’s name is the one chosen. Katniss, determined to protect Prim at all costs, volunteers to take her place. In the spot of the male tribute Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), another 16 year old classmate of Katniss’ is chosen. After a brief family visitation they are whisked aboard a train off to the Capital to prepare for the games. Along the way they meet their representative/publicist Effie Trinket (Banks) and former Hunger Games victor from District 12 and their mentor, the constantly drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson). Once arriving the tributes are scrubbed down and prepared for their exhibition to the masses of the Capitol. Katniss develops a special relationship with her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz in a role changed drastically from the book) who helps her gain the “sponsors” desperately needed to survive. They are interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Tucci, brilliant as usual) on live television the evening before the start of the games where Peeta drops a bombshell. After a tearful goodbye with Cinna, Katniss is thrust into the Games where all the rules are off and she truly is alone, or is she…

Director Ross does an excellent job at keeping a very brisk pace going because there is a lot of ground to cover here. Lawrence is pitch perfect as Katniss, though she looks much older than 16 and knowing this the filmmakers are very savvy to only mention her and Peeta’s age in passing just once allowing for some ambiguity with the viewers. Hemsworth has very little to do, and his character really doesn’t become a major player until the third book anyways, but Thor’s little brother proves he can emote well enough to get the character’s feelings across. Banks, Harrelson, Tucci, Sutherland (as President Snow), Bentley (Seneca Crane) and Toby Jones in a small role that will become much larger in the following films, perform extremely well, especially Tucci and Bentley. Alexander Ludwig comes off strong as the District 2 heavy Cato and Isabelle Furhman is phenomenally creepy and menacing as Clove.

There are some minor missteps, and I do mean minor, with the most glaring coming in the form of Peeta. I’m not sure the fault lies entirely with Hutcherson, as it may also have been the way director Ross had wanted it to be, but the movie Peeta is nowhere as engaging and personable as he is on the page. He is described as a pure charmer in front of a crowd and while we see glimpses of this they are small glimpses only. Also, Peeta’s character losses a lot of dialogue/screen time with the streamlining of the “love triangle” story within the movie, which may have been a factor. However, the decision to streamline this aspect of the story also helps the film tremendously. Also, as expected, some characters from the book and things are left out with the translation to the screen, but this was to be expected.

The biggest concern going in for most was would they play down the violence (they did, but it’s still effective) and ramp up the love story, targeting it directly to the “Twilight” crowd. I am VERY happy to say this is NOT the case. The Hunger Games manages to keep its grit and intensity and does not stray to the sappy melodrama permeated in the Twilight films. And while I have no idea why anybody wants Miss Bella Swan, let alone two suitors, I have no doubt why two males would be determined to win Katniss’ affection, in fact I wonder why there are not more.

In the end The Hunger Games the film is a great success, definitely worth your money. I will be more than happy to pay to see this again. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the first Blockbuster of 2012. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Til Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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