Silver Linings Playbook – Movie Review

Silver Linings PLaybook movie poster

For all matters and purposes, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie that shouldn’t technically work. It struts the line of a cliche romantic comedy so dangerously close that it could wander into those realms very easily. The premise isn’t groundbreaking. Very little about it is out of the box enough for it to be as brilliantly exhilarating as it turns out to be.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a former history teacher who found out his wife was cheating on him and ends up in a mental institute to treat his bipolar disorder, as part of a court deal. Eight months later, his mother (Jacki Weaver) goes on a limb and gets him out. His father (Robert De Niro) is an undiagnosed obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan. Set on getting back with his wife who issued a restraining order against him, Pat decides to get his life in order. But the disorder proves harder to control at times. It is then that he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow with her fair share of problems. The odd couple strikes a friendship where they feed off each other’s woes and troubles in a brutally honest manner, be it by enumerating the drugs they take without one stutter, by going for jogs around their neighborhoods, by making scenes on Halloween outside a local diner, by Tiffany proposing sex to which Pat objects, by Pat believing Tiffany, the self-proclaimed slut is crazier than him, or by rehearsing to a dance competition that Tiffany wants to participate in.

I was surprised by Bradley Cooper who gives a terrific performance. He portrays the disorder his character is having perfectly. The transfers between episodes of mania and depression is subtle and striking. He delivers his dialogue at a breakneck pace and never falters. His performance is energetic, never subdued, is a true revelation.

On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence, the movie’s acting highlight, gives a tour de force performance as the deeply troubled widow with layers upon layers of concealed rage to her character. The dysfunctional chemistry she brings to the table is absolutely brilliant to watch. You forget for the entirety of the movie that the woman you’re seeing on screen is only 22. She plays a character way above her age perfectly. She portrays her character’s angst, sadness, grieving and resiliency to perfection. She delivers the movie’s funniest moments in moments that shouldn’t even be funny. In Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence is simply spectacular and has proven herself to be, yet again, our generation’s most promising new actresses.

The movie’s supporting cast also does well. While Jacki Weaver’s role doesn’t have much character development and is more important in its subtlety as the mother who had to deal with her son’s illness for years and the wife who had to cope with her husband’s obsessive compulsiveness, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in years as the father who cluelessly believes in his son. All in all, the people of Silver Linings Playbook can act and there’s no reason three of them should not see Oscar nominations for what they accomplished here.

David O. Russell, who gave us The Fighter a couple of years ago, has to be commended for maintaing the balance that Silver Linings Playbook shows. His knack for having dialogue-driven movies works well here. However, Silver Linings Playbook is not perfect. The supremely strong first half gives way to a less stellar second half in which the movie loses focus at times as it starts juggling way too many things at once, instead of focusing solely on what was making the movie work in the first place: Pat and Tiffany.

So much could have gone wrong with Silver Linings Playbook. The portrayal of mental illness could have easily turned into a PSA. The romantic part of it could have easily become dreary. The dysfunctional family could have easily turned grating. But all of those don’t happen. Instead, the movie has a sense of rawness mixed with like-ability that makes it oddly refreshing. Silver Linings Playbook is one of my favorite movies of 2012 so far simply because it’s not a color-by-number movie. It is untidy. It’s random. It’s all over the place sometimes. But you still watch it. And you go out of it feeling happy and smiling because Silver Linings Playbook is brilliant.

9/10

A Dangerous Method – Movie Review

Psychology and cinema have a long history together with the former often shaping the latter into delivering movies of great caliber. Last year’s “Black Swan” was a manifestation of that: a psychological thriller examining the darkness of human nature. In A Dangerous Method, psychology is literally in center-stage as this is a movie about how two of psychology’s most influential scholars came to their theories: Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

David Cronenberg’s new cinematic feature opens with an exquisitely chilling scene. Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is in the back of car shouting her lungs out as two men barely restrain her as they take her to a mental institution to be examined by Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), who’s attempting Sigmund Freud’s (Viggo Mortensen) new method of treatment, called psychoanalysis. Spielrein is an unhinged Russian aristocrat who wants to become a doctor while Jung is eager to prove himself to his colleagues and the community and would, therefore, make Spielrein his main case. To his patients, Jung is superior. To his colleagues, he is always inferior. And it’s from there that his need to prove himself arises. Soon enough, Spielrein is “cured” but instead of letting her have a clean break with her sexual fantasies, Jung immerses himself in them, whipping her before having sex with her, putting a strain in his marriage where the sex is “tender” to which Spielrein offers that she “can be ferocious.” Meanwhile, Jung debates with Freud in numerous correspondances on how to improve psychoanalysis, featuring the dissolution of the relationship between them.

A Dangerous Method boasts what I believe is a brilliant and highly interesting trailer. But simply put, don’t let the trailer fool you into thinking this is more than a historical and biographical movie. It’s a history book on screen, which makes it boring, redundant and, eventually, pointless. The production feels disconnected. The movie’s pace is slow and when it picks up it’s only for a few minutes.

For a movie about emotions and feelings, the movie also doesn’t offer much in that department. Apart from a great performance by Keira Knightley who outshines both male leads, the movie is stark, grim and too safe. For a movie about psychoanalysis and the repressed sexual urges of Man, there’s simply too little of that… there’s too little visceral emotions in there for it to have any credibility outside the historical realms it’s featuring.

Let’s talk about Knightley. I mentioned the opening scene for a reason. The second half of that scene features Knightley blowing you away with her twitching, writhing, screaming, laughing…. She’s hysterical in front of your eyes and she does such a good job at it that it’s hard to think A Dangerous Method won’t be a great movie, even with her extending her jaw to cringe-inducing measures as if trying to pull that coveted golden Oscar statue towards her. But then as Jung begins his movie-long analytical character, coupled with an even more analytical approach from Freud, whatever emotion brought to table by Knightley is diluted beyond recognition to form an emotionally disembodied movie about emotions. Through the rest of the movie, even as she’s cured, Knightley retains an element of craziness to her character that keeps you on guard whenever she’s on screen. You get to certain points where you wish the Jung-Freud sequences had been rewritten to feature her: less historical accuracy, more in-depth approach, more emotions, more crazy.

As mentioned earlier, Fassbender and Mortensen’s characters are simply a psychology book in reading. Some of their script can be found in a psychology book somewhere even verbatim, perhaps.  But both actors do their best with the characters they were given. Taken in absolute value, the performances are good enough to pull this movie as it is. But when you expect much more from a movie dealing with Freud, Jung and psychoanalysis, you want the script itself to be more out of the box and their performances to be crazier.

It might be that I had too high expectations but A Dangerous Method seriously underwhelmed and disappointed me. Not only does this movie have no award-season chances (or limited chances at that) but it poses the question of how many times could the Freud-theme be handled in cinema before finally getting it right? You’d think a director like David Cronenberg would be good enough to bring the crazy of his previous movies to a movie about crazy. But it looks like it’s not the case. And ultimately, there’s nothing dangerous about A Dangerous Method except the one word in its title.

Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win (And Who Should)

The time of the year is here and in preparation for the big event tomorrow, I have decided to post my Oscar predictions.

For the full list of nominees, click here.

Best Picture:

- Who will win: The King’s Speech

- Who should win: Inception.


If you had asked me a month ago what movie was the clear favorite for best picture, I would have easily answered “The Social Network” but having not lost a single guild award it was nominated for and with it building momentum by the minute, it’s hard to see how the movie that is nominated for 12 Academy Awards will lose. However, regardless of the exquisite movie that is The King’s Speech, no other movie apart from Inception deserves this. Out of all the nominated movies, it’s the one that was the most ground-breaking this year and while many believe ground-breaking is not a criteria to warrant a best picture win (I still think Avatar was snubbed last year), in this case it does because Inception is a masterpiece.

Read up on my reviews of Inception and The King’s Speech.

Leading Actor:

- Who will win: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech


- Who should win: James Franco for 127 Hours


This category has 5 nominees. One of them has a 99% chance of winning, James Franco has a little less than 1% and the rest is divided among the other 3. Colin Firth has led a remarkable campaign and if he doesn’t win this tomorrow, it will be the biggest upset of the evening. While brilliant in his portrayal of the stuttering king, I believe James Franco had one of the best acting performances of the year. The whole movie he’s nominated for is built upon his performance, so much in fact that removing his performance out of the equation would render his movie bland. Colin Firth’s performance, while still remarkable, relied heavily on his interaction with Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, which makes Franco’s solo act the more fascinating.

Read up on my review of 127 Hours.

Leading Actress:

- Who will win: Natalie Portman for Black Swan


- Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone


With acting, it’s ultimately a matter of taste. I believe all of the nominated actresses are deserving of a win and it ultimately comes down to the role you preferred and out of the nominated five actresses, the one that struck a cord with me was Jennifer Lawrence in her portrayal of the struggling teenager in the dark Winter’s Bone. Natalie Portman is winning this, the only dark horse being Annette Bening for The Kids Are Alright.

Read up on my review of Winter’s Bone.

Supporting Actor:

- Who will win: Christian Bale for The Fighter

- Who should win: Christian Bale for The Fighter

To think this is the same man who played Batman in Nolan’s reboot of the franchise is daunting. He portrays his pale, drug-addict character brilliantly. He has already grabbed most of the awards related to this category and he’s the obvious frontrunner.

Read up on my review of The Fighter.

Supporting Actress:

- Who will win: Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech


- Who should win: Amy Adams for The Fighter


Out of all the acting categories, this looks like it’ll be the closest one. Up until very recently, Melissa Leo was viewed as the obvious frontrunner in this but leading an Oscar campaign, where she printed out posters calling Academy members to vote for her, has left some people turned off. Add to that an exponentially increasing momentum for The King’s Speech coupled with a BAFTA win for Helena Bonham Carter followed by a brilliant speech and you might have a recipe for an upset. Regardless of that, my favorite out of the bunch remains Amy Adams for her role as the girlfriend trying to guide her significant other to find himself. A very plausible dark horse in this race is the young Hailee Steinfeld who, in my opinion, should have been nominated in the best actress category for her role in True Grit.

Best Director:

- Who will win: David Fincher for The Social Network

- Who should win: Christopher Nolan for Inception

The person who should win this isn’t even nominated. Yes, I’m glaring at the non-existent Academy member that might end up reading this. And for that, this category is almost a lock now for The Social Network’s director even though it looks like Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, is giving him a run for his money.

Read up on my review of The Social Network.

Animated Movie:

- Who will win: Toy Story 3

- Who should win: How To Train Your Dragon

I’ve honestly enjoyed both movies and Toy Story 3, being nominated for best picture as well, is winning this. But my heart goes to How To Train Your Dragon, an animated movie inviting everyone to break away from stereotypes and closed bubble that society enforces upon us.

Cinematography:

- Who will win: Inception

- Who should win: Inception

No other movie deserves these technical awards because, simply, Inception was groundbreaking.

Film Editing:

- Who will win: The Social Network

- Who should win: Inception

Inception, again, isn’t even nominated here. But can you imagine watching that movie if the editing hadn’t been as top-notch as it was? It would make the near-incomprehensible movie basically “Einsteinian”. Out of the nominated movies, two come to mind with strong editing and those are: The Social Network and 127 Hours. In the latter, strong editing serves as a way to take the character away from the two rocks between which he’s stuck, allowing for some really good double-camera work and allowing the viewer to further immerse himself in this story to which he already knows the ending, making it even more fascinating to watch. The Social Network has some really great editing as well as it tells three different stories going on at different times and manages to merge them together in a very coherent way. I believe, because of buzz, The Social Network has the edge.

Visual Effects:

- Who will win: Inception

- Who should win: Inception

Even though Harry Potter is nominated for this and my heart wants it to win, the clear frontrunner here is Inception. And it’s not my bias speaking: an upside-down city, dream within a dream within a dream within a dream construct, a whole glacier-like city in limbo… no other movie deserves this as much as Inception and it will win it.

Adapted Screenplay:

- Who will win: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

- Who should win: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

The Social Network’s strength is its screenplay. It’s witty, fast and engaging. Aaron Sorkin deserves this.

Original Screeplay:

- Who will win: David Seidler for The King’s Speech

- Who should win: Christopher Nolan for Inception

I think this could go either way between both names. Inception won at the Writer’s Guild Awards but The King’s Speech was not eligible for a nomination. I want to see Christopher Nolan win this but I have a feeling it will be another casualty of a King’s Speech sweep.

Original Score:

- Who will win: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for The Social Network

- Who should win: Hans Zimmer for Inception

After winning the Golden Globe, I believe The Social Network’s score has the momentum to take this. But I still stand by the brilliance of Inception’s score. Hans Zimmer has come up with a masterpiece that isn’t being recognized enough.

There are many more categories, of course, but I believe these are the ones most people care about.

Blue Valentine – Movie Review

Overall, a good movie. There were points where I thought it was great. It’s all about the acting. This is a movie built on two brilliant performances.

Michelle Williams deserves all the recognition she’s getting. She has too many scenes where she shines, the best one, in my opinion, being when she’s at the clinic. You can’t but feel what she’s feeling when she’s lying on the doctor’s gurney there and if you don’t feel anything, then you need to get checked. She got an Oscar nomination for her role, and deservedly so.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant in this as well. He delivers a raw, gut-wrenching performance of the man trying to keep himself together and to keep his marriage still standing. I felt he was another snub at the Oscars this year. He deserved a nomination for his performance in this. I honestly thought he was a lock for a nomination.

I liked the story itself, the blooming of a love, told in flashbacks, and its disintegration, in the present, going in parallel. But I felt that both plots were underdeveloped. Like why are they falling out of love? How did they fall madly in love in the first place? that’s one of the shortcomings of this movie. But, as I said, the brilliant performances make up for it.
It’s very interesting, however, to see how this mismatched couple (and they are seriously mismatched) actually comes to the realization that they are, in fact, not suitable for each other. Many marriages are like this, I believe. The couple stays together because they have a child that’s gluing their crumbling relationship apart… and the movie is basically this couple getting to the realization that even the child is not enough anymore. And this is the crux of the movie: the reality. You forget you’re watching a movie at certain points as it draws very close to the life you know many people are leading.