Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

2013. 117 min. R - reflects the times
IMDB says...In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.

The 73rd Virgin says...Fine acting and production design in service of a heartfelt and preachy script. Matthew McConaughey as real-life Ron Woodroof and Jared Leto as fictional transvestite Rayon deserve all the praise they’ve gotten, of course. I never lost interest or sympathy for the characters and the recreation of the era is about perfect.

But there is a moral preening quality to the script that gets a little old. It is careful to make really sure you know who the bad guys are, and over-simplifies the incredible complexity of developing treatment for an infection that no one was even sure was a virus 5 years before.

Fictional Doctor Eve Saks (bland Jennifer Garner) pisses and moans about pharmaceutical marketers wearing Rolexs but then happily dispenses their drugs to her patients. Who should wear Rolexs? Only investment bankers, Hollywood stars, mullahs and dictators?

The best scenes follow Woodroof in his pre-diagnosis days as a well-paid but decidedly marginal electrician with an extreme “pussy addiction” as his friend puts it. And McConaughey really shines as the smooth smuggler who crosses the Mexican border 300 times and trolls for HIV patient customers at clubs and city parks.

McConaughey was born to play this, but in truth he’s not far outside of his narrow if charming acting range. Even with the weight loss and awful hair and bad glasses you never forget who you’re watching. I am in that extreme minority who thinks Reign of Fire and Dazed and Confused are his greatest achievements.

I lost track of the ways the pharmaceutical companies and/or the FDA were supposedly overly greedy by rushing products into human testing or overly cautious in not allowing other untested products into immediate human use or overly greedy in pushing the relatively toxic AZT into widespread use or overly cautious in not allowing ddC to be used earlier, and downright wicked in following the kind of cautious protocols that helped keep Thalidomide out of widespread use in the US, while it was busily deforming babies around the world.

In an especially silly scene Woodroof bribes a hospital orderly to steal bottles from the AZT patient trials. Even though these were double-blinded trials with sugar pill placebos, somehow the bottles have AZT printed on them in 72 point type. Did you get that, kids? Director Jean-Marc Vallée is trying to show you something.

You will also perhaps be surprised to learn that the horrific onset of symptoms and speed of death in the early years of the HIV-AIDS epidemic was not just from HIV but from HIV and PROCESSED FOODS!

Steve Zahn appears as Woodruff’s cop buddy with whom he shares orgies. That’s fine. But in a city the size of Dallas, every time Woodroof runs afoul of the law Zahn is there. Even more than Officer Keough popped up in Silver Linings Playbook. This just disrespects the audience.

Michael O’Neill does everything but twirl his moustache as the one-man FDA wrecking crew determined to kill Woodroof. The reality of blank-faced bureaucrats delaying access to treatment because “this is the way we’ve always done it”, would have been more dramatically intense, but would have required more careful scripting and more respect for the audience.

It could be lots of people could have portrayed Rayon, and of course LGBT activists are angry that the role went to Leto (would I have been upset if Rock Hudson portrayed me? Don’t think so). But Leto is still fantastic and is given the best line:
Rayon’s father on meeting his unrecognizable son – “God help me.”
Rayon – “He is helping you Dad, I have AIDs.”

That was chilling and hilarious at the same time. I just don’t see why Hollywood’s “longest stalled script” couldn’t have gotten sharper in all those years in development. And the movie never really credits Woodroof with specific accomplishments, other than a vague notion that some patients are doing better. He’s been dead since 1992. Is there NO summation available?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chaos (2005 – not the notoriously awful horror movie but the somewhat less awful cop-action flick)

2005. 106 min. Rated R for violence and language and incredibly bad aim
IMDB says....Two cops, a rookie and a grizzled vet, pursue an accomplished bank robber.

The 73rd Virgin says...This one’s been stinkin’ up the Recycle Bin for a while.

Soon Movies Eat the Soul will have a gala review of the great Elizabeth Gaskell chick-flick, 1999’s “Wives and Daughters”, which features one of the most darling actresses to ever grace celluloid, Justine Waddell. But eyes ever fixed on the completely empty cup, we will begin with a review of Waddell’s sublimely awful 2005 outing, “Chaos”.  I never thought I would say that Wesley Snipes is the best part of any movie, but sure enough, he is.

In an insanely convoluted plot that still manages to be dumb, we begin… with rain…and a chase scene with vehicle pop up and roll overTM. Black dude has blonde girl hostage (daughter of the mayor! I guess the President’s daughter was booked over at Lockout).  As credits roll we get Jason Statham’s voice-over with lines like “I don’t apologize for doing my job”.  Move over Rainer Wolfcastle, Statham’s here as Detective Connors.

Now Snipes and his multi-racial gang of gun-totin’ black clad commandos will roll up in a black SUV and park on what appears from above to be an empty, car-less street - but which is teeming with people at ground level – and enter a bank in broad daylight unchallenged. These are at least pleasantly familiar clichés. Snipes is good in some decent action/shootin’ up the place scenes.

Next, comes the hostage negotiation scenes. Gum will be chewed and snapped; onlookers will stand within a few feet of a full blown gun battle and bank explosion; 80s hair will be worn; people will die. SWAT will jump the gun. Didn’t see that coming.

Next, an unpleasant cliché arises in the form of Statham as a misunderstood suspended cop who seems to have been a part-time detective and part-time high profile hostage negotiator. Whatever. He was suspended because the mayor’s daughter got shot.

The bad guys use feints within feints to escape and the not very interesting investigation begins. Ryan Phillipe is pretty good as a slightly newer cliché – the college educated detective. Of course HIS FATHER was a legendary hero cop, killed in the line of duty, who everyone including Statham respected. I’m stuck on a plane and I could write this shit.

So where is Waddell in all this? She’s detective Teddy Calloway, plaything of both Captain Jenkins (normally watchable Henry Czerny) and Statham. She enters the story in bed, ala Jaqueline Bissett in Bullitt, but she will eventually get out of it and deliver some bland dialogue and the occasional meaningful look. In fact, all the reaction shots are so clumsy and stilted they feel like they were done on different days by Peoria’s Number One Newscam or something.

We will then follow Statham for nearly an hour and a half as he locks his jaw and drifts in and out of his native accent, and seeks out clues about the identity of Snipes. Guess what? They knew each other.

As the plot convolutes even further there is money taken from a police evidence room, crooked cops, a suicide, and Waddell gets one slightly funny line at the end, “Did we all get shot today?” As it happens, yes, all four major police characters get shot, each one of them in the arm or shoulder. At least two of them get to boss the EMT around so that he will presumably stop rendering aid before they lose their manhood. Great googly-moogly this willfully, nay - with gusto - sucks ass.

Here Waddell takes over Sigourney Weaver’s part in Galaxy Quest. “According to our computers….”

But Galaxy Quest was a comedy.

A lotta things blow up. Snipes goes through about a hundred high capacity clips, one bullet at a time – and talks a lot. There is a motorcycle chase, two interrogation scenes, an approximately 19 year-old female coroner who instantly hints at oral sex for Phillipe, a discussion of Chaos Theory, a long expository ending, etc. You’ve seen it all before. At some point it ends.
By the time she was 20, Waddell had starred in three BBC films as Tess of The Durbervilles, Estella in Great Expectations, and the aforementioned Wives and Daughters, which puts her in the same league as Kate Beckinsale. But then she went to Hollywood and was in the very poor Dracula 2000 with Gerard Butler. He wound up a star, and she wound up here. For all I know she’s been off having babies with drummers, but how did it come to this?

Around this time she was also in Thr3e which is a slightly better movie but didn’t serve her well. Neither did the kind of interesting, The Fall, in which she was barely allowed to speak. So what’s left is an all-Russian dialogue horror movie that isn’t available on Netflix or Amazon, and, somewhat hopefully, Killing Bono, which I haven’t seen.

Here she is interviewed at 36 – still smokin’ hot – describing how she learned her all-Russian lines more or less phonetically.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

2014. 123 min. PG-13; intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
IMDB says...The world's most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.

The 73rd Virgin says...I’ve never been a fan of the franchise, and I always avoid movies where “restoring the balance” enters the dialog, and I’m suspicious of movies with “an international cast of stars”, not to mention one of the Olsen twins, but director Gareth Edwards made the third-best monster movie of the century (aptly titled “Monsters”, 2010), a low-budget near masterpiece. So I was interested in what he would do with a big budget.

The cast is a mixed bag. Aside from the wearyingly ubiquitous Bryan Cranston (in a bad hairpiece covering up his Breaking Bad shave-job, presumably), there is 50 year-old international art-house star Juliette Binoche (in a fright wig, perhaps to offset Cranston) as a nuclear plant emergency response team leader and Cranston’s wife and mother to their disturbingly young son, Ford. All-purpose insert-a-Japanese Ken Watanabe is the anodyne mirror image of Raymond Burr in the 1954 original – the furrow-browed scientist from another country, always near the power center but never in charge – along with BBC favorite Sally Hawkins as his furrow-browed English side-kick.

A blessedly short and creative credits roll offers early encouragement. As we open, it’s 1999 in the Philippines and furrow-browed scientists are exploring a sink-hole which contains an impossibly huge skeleton and something like an egg. From there to a Japanese nuclear power plant which is picking up strangely rhythmic seismic activity. We watch its destruction - one of those destructions where the only radio chatter is between husband and wife - and then we jump to today where little Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now an EOD (explosive ordnance device) expert for the Navy, with a wife and son in San Francisco.

All set? It will come to light that the exclusion zone contaminated by the power plant destruction is no longer radioactive and is isolated for more nefarious reasons. It seems that ancient monsters actually feed off of radiation. Fair enough. My belief is suspendable to that extent. But then we learn that these ancient monsters that evolved billions of years ago also evolved electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) devices in their front legs. I’m still pondering what selection pressure supported THAT genetic trait.

Ford will be considered essential to the furrow-browed scientists because he knows the word “echolocation”, and they knew his dad, and he happens to be to hand when the bad ancient monster leaves its nest and heads for San Francisco. Scientists and Ford wind up on the Navy carrier USS Saratoga admiraled by David Strathairn. Could there be a worse actor to portray an admiral? At least since Anthony Perkins died? A flat-top haircut does not an admiral make.

Finally, they hatch a plan; use nuclear warheads as bait to draw all the monsters (balance restorers and balance destroyers) to a spot 20 miles off the coast of San Francisco (why not 40?), and then use another warhead to destroy them. But the warheads have to be transported from Las Vegas by train (by the Navy? – not sure) and EOD expert Ford needs to go along to arm, or perhaps disarm, or perhaps disarm and then re-arm one of two – or perhaps three – warheads. So he scrounges up a full uniform and tactical gear.

Ford’s Navy wife (Elizabeth Olsen) is smart enough to be an ER nurse, but not smart enough to keep her cell phone nearby while watching newscasts of Honolulu’s destruction, in case her missing husband might call. And when he finally reaches her, full in the knowledge that monsters are coming from the west and nuclear weapons are coming from the east, he says something like, “I’m coming to get you”. I dunno. I’m thinkin’ maybe, “get out of there and we’ll talk later.”

No matter. As my wife observed, there is almost no tension in any of the intertwining stories. Godzilla really is there to “restore balance” as Watanabe is forced to say at least twice. He also intones about “man’s arrogance”, thinking that we can control nature. Or, say, fix global warming by regulating back yard barbecues and lawn mowers.

But it’s really not awful. The second half gets a lot more action, and director Edward’s skill for mixing big strokes with finely observed side-details begins to overcome the very dodgy script. There is at least a very pretty moment as Navy paratroopers – I think – do a “Halo insert”, that is skydive down into a monster fight to the tune of Ligeti’s “Atmospheres”, straight out of 2001. Silent jets, disabled by EMPs, dropping into the ocean is a pretty creepy effect as well. And he allows long sequences of muted sound and music to add some dignity to the proceedings.

The special effects are good enough that we really don’t need the rainstorm that enshrouds the final monster fight. And the whole mess is only two hours. If you don’t overthink it, as I obviously did, you won’t be too bored.

But in the end, it just makes me want to see The Host or Cloverfield again.

And the preview...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

2013, 126 min. PG-13 for some disturbing images and (oh, for God’s sake) smoking
IMDB says... A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

The 73rd Virgin says... If you’ve reached an age where you say to yourself, “gosh, it’s been too long since I’ve seen an animated movie about a heroically good-hearted, soft-spoken, near-sighted, Japanese engineering genius who visits Nazi Germany and then designs the fighter plane that terrorizes Asia and the Pacific from 1940 to 1945, combined with a touching gentle love story about his marriage to a consumptive young woman, with dream sequences involving Italian Count Caproni – and lots of Schubert ”, then here you go. It is enormously complex, thoughtful, and shaded.

A little boy with thick glasses wakes up on a sunny morning and climbs up a hill to a little fanciful airplane powered by tea pots and takes off into the blue sky. He observes above massive fanciful aircraft powered by oars, out of which drop grey lumpen monsters. I’m thinking, “We’ve seen ALL this before Hayao – got anything new?”

As it happens, yes. I suspect the (forever getting ready to retire) animation director Hayao Miyazaki is winking at us, and saying, “now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…”.

We will soon be following the very loose approximation of the life of master aeronautical engineer, Jirô Horikoshi, based on Miyazaki’s manga. This is not biography.

Like all Miyazakis, it’s filled with detailed side-of-the-frame visual grace notes that immerse you more than most computer animation could ever hope to. The classical music playing on the Victrola is next to an empty record sleeve that confirms Beethoven; the record has a red Columbia Records logo. While rescuing a young quake victim with a broken leg, Jiro splints the leg with, what else? A slide rule – with numbers lovingly detailed into place. In an Ozu-like sequence, the young over-worked husband falls asleep in his suit and tie next to his wife’s “floor” bed. The frame is still for a very long time; then she slowly shifts her comforter over both of them.

Note that this comes out under Disney’s Touchstone imprint with no mention of Disney anywhere on the posters. Maybe it’s the 1923 Tokyo earthquake sequence with thousands of refugees in the foreground and the huge fires that left 100,000 dead in the background. Maybe it’s the matter-of-fact description of Japan’s interwar militarism and off-hand references to their utterly bestial behavior in Manchuria and China. Maybe it’s the girl from the cover art standing on a classic Miyazaki wind-blown sunny hillside suddenly kneeling down and coughing up bright red blood through her hands. Maybe it’s the characters’ constant smoking. The movie has many such moments that should be shocking to our sensibilities but are instead sedate, and not even judgmental.

There is an extended scene devoted to the aerodynamic improvement of flush-mounted rivets.

Dark foreshadows abound. The same fires towering over Tokyo after the 1923 quake, re-appear near the end with US bombers bringing the flame. Along the way, Jiro will fall in with a German pacifist who warmly warns him, “Germany will blow up; Japan will blow up.” For this, Jiro now has “the Thought Police” on his tail and has to finish his groundbreaking war-death machine while in hiding.

In the great one’s canon, I would rate this a little below Princess Mononoke (adult), and My Neighbor Totoro (children), but it's still beautifully difficult.

It opens with an unfamiliar (to me) quote in French from poet Paul Valéry, “The wind is rising...we must attempt to live.” For Miyazaki and his gentle hero, mission accomplished.
The pointless, insufficient trailer is below. 

Blathering on and quoting myself from about a year ago, below:
My first experience with Miyazaki was the children’s masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro from 1988 – before John Lasseter of Pixar and Disney began to make such a fuss over him. Late in his career he was taken under Lassater’s fawning, gushing wing and is now a household name.

I’ve almost become blasé about the beauty of the Ghibli/Miyazaki movies. In total, my children and I must have watched various chapters of the entire canon 150 times. I’m not kidding. There is nothing to compare them to.

Those made for small children involved basically happy stories with only modest crises. And in almost all of them, both parents began the movie alive and stayed that way, too. How these came under the parenticidal Disney logo remains a mystery.

Those made for older children and adults featured fantasy stories, but with complicated flexible antagonists, conflicted heroines, and sometimes quite violent, epic, and doom-clouded storylines, coupled with endings that were still basically happy but left heroines in unresolved conditions, perched between childhood freedoms and adult burdens. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke, have apocalyptically violent climaxes, and Castle in the Sky features a mushroom cloud. Disney productions never came close to these battlefields strewn with bodies of fantastical creatures. Happy endings aside, these were high drama mixed with visuals that still have no equal.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fearless (1993) now on Blu-ray

Didn't do my homework. Fearless came out on Blu-ray sometime in 2013, apparently in wide screen, unlike the 4:3 on the DVD. Although I haven't watched it yet, I did order it. $19.79 at Amazon.

Go forth and purchase.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fearless (1993)

1993. 122 min. Rated R – language, no nudity, gore-free airliner crash, one brief charred body

IMDB says....A man's personality is dramatically changed after surviving a major airline crash.

The 73rd Virgin says...I’ve been fearful of this review and have been skirting around it through these last 3 years. Fearless is running at about 7.2 on IMDB and about 86% percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It is not flawless, but no movie has had a greater effect on me on first viewing than this one. It is almost forgotten by the public. The DVD is in decrepit 4:3 aspect ratio with no sign of being rescued by The Criterion Collection, lo, these 20 years since its release.
Screenwriter Rafael Yglesias adapted his own novel, which I’ve never read. It’s the only movie I can think of that effectively describes post-traumatic stress disorder in a non-military setting.

As the movie begins, wealthy San Francisco architect Max Klein walks out of a smoky cornfield near Bakersfield, California, carrying a baby and leading a child by the hand. Jeff Bridges already appears beatific, and in denial, about what he just survived. Three sorrowing angels in the form of migrant workers pray at the roadside, and then director Peter Weir goes to an overhead shot of the remains of a commuter airliner scorched into the cornfield.

Already this is unique. It is not nighttime; it is not raining; there is no CGI. It is a bright sunny day in Bakersfield and many people have died, but Bridges and a few others have survived. Weir casually uses whatever resources are to hand to do a decent job of re-creating a real crash site. The secondary actors are not all that good, the script even contains an “it’s gonna blow” line just before part of the fuselage catches fire and we see Rosie Perez as Carla dragged away screaming from the fire knowing that her 2 year-old is dying in it.

Klein hands the infant he’s carrying to its mother, strolls over to a taxi and asks to be taken to the nearest hotel. And so begins his journey through PTSD. At the hotel he observes his Christ-like wound in the side, then hops in a rental car, tears down the highway towards Los Angeles, stops to see an old girlfriend, eats strawberries to which he is supposed to be deathly allergic, and holes up until disinterested police find him. When he returns to his ecstatic wife Laura, luminous Isabella Rossellini, the scene is clouded with the simple question “why didn’t you call”?

What follows is a series of scenes in which Max’s isolation grows. He is capable of beatific kindness to his business partner’s widow, to the prostrate young mother Carla whom we met earlier, etc. But he insults his family, his lawyers, slaps an airline psychiatrist, and begins engaging in near suicidal behavior.

Bridges has recently begun to get his due as the great American actor. He is crippled by his handsomeness. He’s not even an imploding Italian and has never played a gangster.
David N. Meyer on Bridges – “He fearlessly displays his character’s worst aspects: arrogance, insensitivity, panic, and selfishness.”

In time he will only be intimate (non-physically) with Carla, who is his polar opposite. He, either atheist or perhaps strayed Catholic or non-observant Jew and she, devoutly Catholic, form their own little coping club, and in this fine scene he delivers one of my favorite movie lines, “I’m filled with guilt and shame, how is that old world?”

Another fine if slightly stilted scene provides the nuts and bolts of critical incident stress debriefing as all of the survivors, minus Max, gather to tell their stories. Whenever I hear a business manager pissing and moaning about war stories in a meeting, I think of this scene. This is how you help people get past something. The stories have to be told.

Here, as Max locks eyes with his partner's widow, Weir displays his trademark uncanny ability to show how people intuit, and how they wordlessly communicate volumes. Every Weir movie features it.

Despite the tragedy, most of the scenes are perversely set in bright and beautiful California where it never even rains. An exception; where Max and Carla sit in a vehicle in the blue gray night-the color of ghosts-and discuss things matter of factly, “he was decapitated. - Oh”, and we learn of their numbness.

But this can’t go on. Carla remains guilt-stricken at her inability to hold onto her squirming baby when the plane hit the ground at 300 miles per hour, so Max decides to give her an out and to teach her a lesson in the futility of physics by slamming his Volvo into a brick wall while she tries to hold onto a toolbox. This isn’t the end so I’m not giving much away.

A few Netflix-style reviewers have complained about Rossellini’s performance or that she lacks chemistry with Bridges. I thought that was the point. She is a formidable woman whose beloved has turned into a psychotic child. Her carefully managed life is unraveling through no fault of her own, and she’s determined to fix it. In a notably believable scene Mrs. Klein and Carla finally meet. Rosie Perez was nominated for best supporting actress, deservedly. But I think Rossellini is great, too.

I admit there are a lot of scenes with people just interacting. I can only guess that Weir knew what he had up his sleeve: just about the most powerful closing scene ever made.

Exasperated, Laura finally allows herself into her husband’s office and flips through his artwork and designs from the past few months and discovers that they have become obsessively fixated on dark pits and tunnels of light, including-very significantly-Doré’s painting of Dante and his redeemer and bringer of blessings, Beatrice, as they watch the heavenly spiral of Angels from Dante’s Paradiso.

When Max returns home from the hospital he is ready to be "saved" but they are interrupted by their lawyer (Tom Hulce) arriving with a celebratory fruit basket - including the dread strawberries.

Cue the music. And brace – brace – brace for impact.

As Max willfully induces anaphylaxis, and as his Beatrice scrambles to keep him alive, he finally flashes back through his entire memory of the plane crash. In sunlight, with no gore, with straightforward special effects, and limited sound, Weir, editor William Anderson, and Henryk Gorecki’s wrenching “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, gently and respectfully guide us through the disintegration of an airliner.

I can think of no other movie scene to compare. I cut this clip short, obviously.

David N. Meyer in his, “100 Best Films To Rent You’ve Never Heard Of”, states it more succinctly, “A lesser director would have gone for big explosions and rapid-fire editing. Weir keeps it simple, quiet, and terrible. By presenting the crash with religious awe, he honors rather than exploits…”

Along with all that we are weighted with symbols that all of the preceding scenes have given this story the strength to bear: the fall of Man; Woman as redeemer and life giver; and the agony and terror of birth as Max’s swollen red squalling face fills the screen.

As with Kurosawa's Ikiru, there have been times in my life when I just couldn't watch this movie. A family member with cancer, a death, 9-11, etc. - no I have not seen United 93. But Weir's beautiful vision, great acting and an artful script bring me back every few years. Forever in my top 5 or so.
P.S. Someone has uploaded the final scenes on to YouTube in their entirety. I just CAN’T do that, so my clip is cut short. I hope you see the entire movie, but if you just won’t, it’s out there for the searching.

P.P.S. The story goes that this movie was receiving high critical praise, but Schindler’s List came out within a month and swept away all competition, leaving this masterpiece – my word – forgotten. And that Weir was so stung by the relative failure that it took him 5 years to find another movie to direct (The Truman Show). The only reference I can find on the web sort of supports that.
Partly because of the commercial failure of ''Fearless,'' a drama starring Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez about people's varying reactions to a plane crash, Mr. Weir took a break from directing.
''It sort of exhausted me emotionally,'' he said. ''Actually the best of the reviews turned people away in droves, because they would essentially warn them not to see it and say: 'It's so effective, don't go. You're on that plane.' ''

P.P.P.S. If I had possessed any real knowledge of classical music, then the use of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs during the climax might not have caught me so off guard. One of the most recognized pieces of classical music in the past 50 years reportedly sold over 1 million copies and therefore would’ve been a natural choice for the soundtrack. I just didn’t know it. Known to the viewer or not, this music - and the lyrics in Polish - will take you apart.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Silver Linings Playbook

2012 122 min. R - Language, brief nudity - not Jennifer Lawrence, endless vapidity.
IMDB says... After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

The 73rd Virgin says... I thought I should review a rom-com for Valentines Day. I’m drinking coffee at 1:45 a.m. trying to finish Silver Linings Playbook which is running 92% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. The only good thing is the acting. The script is just awful.

It is said that none of us ever really leave high school. Now I have proof, in that this big steaming turd was nominated for Best Picture. And Best Script Adaptation.

Screenwriter-director David O. Russell is supposed to be a genius, or something. I liked Three Kings and The Fighter well enough, and my friends all tell me that American Hustle is good.

But THIS is pure critic-bait wankery. A self-branded romantic comedy that displays the elevated taste of very little comedy and limited romance. And long scenes where family members stand in a room and chew on each other with recrimination like a Bergman film – absent any of his insight - not to mention style.

Pat Solitano has been in an institution for 8 months for assaulting the “tenured” history teacher who has been schtupping his wife. Do east coast high schools have tenured history teachers? Who knew?

Anyway, Pat is being released into his parents’ custody and refusing to take his meds, until he does and then gets magically a lot better without any of the side effects that he’s been complaining about. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of bi-polar disorder, but Bradley Cooper as the afflicted Pat is the only convincing character in the movie. Until he’s not.

Here’s the large print script’s way of showing you that he’s not as valued as his older brother.

And I didn’t believe a word of the dialogue. Nor did I believe that a psychiatrist, who knows Pat has a history of violence when he hears the song, "My Cherie Amour", decides to magically make it play the minute Pat signs in for his appointment, even though there’s a waiting room full of innocent bystanders.

Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany is fine but her motivations are incomprehensible. She likes the dirty, slutty side of herself so much that she will fall for the first person who does her a single favor, and then set up in a monogamous relationship with him. So help me understand what her motivations are again? Sure, if you get involved with an unstable widow who looks like Jennifer Lawrence, you’re going to forgive a lot for the pleasure of her company, but what is her reason for tolerating him?

And so many plot conveniences and contrivances.

Early on, we meet the local beat cop who tells us we will be seeing a lot of him.

No shit. Hold that thought.

When the Solitanos have a 3 a.m. fight, all the lights in the neighborhood come on and, lo and behold, Officer Keogh is there IN SECONDS, in uniform and clean-shaven. No partner. Best Script Nominee.

Then when Tiffany and Pat have a tiff outside of a theater, (and Pat’s trigger song is magically playing again – how cute!) look who shows up again IN SECONDS. No partner. Best Script Nominee.

And then when Pat’s asylum buddy (Chris Tucker) escapes and is found watching football at Pat’s house, who does the State of Maryland send to a house in Philadelphia (PA) to pick up a convicted felon? Why, it’s Officer Keogh again. No partner. Best Script Nominee. Oh, and great acting there, Bob (also nominated). I feel your pain.

And the Philadelphia, (PA) cop is going to drive the inmate back to the Baltimore, (MD) asylum. For God’s sake. Best Script Nominee.

Chris Tucker will mystifyingly show up later – maybe after his third escape from the asylum - as the shortest short-hand script device ever devised: the soul brother who teaches the white kids how to dance. At least he’s funny enough to teach them poorly. Is Russell clever enough to have inserted parody here? I don’t think so.

And then there is the silliest and sorriest contrived conflict I’ve seen in a while. Pat can’t practice for the big dance competition with Tiffany because he promised his dad he would go to a Philadelphia Eagles game. Why? Because he’s good luck for the Eagles, and Dad is the first bookie in history to bet only on his home team. I’ve never met a bookie like that. Best Script Nominee.

All this followed by an absolutely interminable living room scene, with about 15 characters shouting at each other, in which we will eventually learn that Dad’s financing for his new restaurant will be won or lost on a bet regarding the Eagles vs someone, AND, whether or not Pat and Tiffany can score high enough at the big dance-off. Two side characters are inserted into the scene for no other reason than to carefully explain to the audience the inexplicable. Best Script Nominee.

If it occurred to you to wonder how Tiffany kept magically ambushing Pat while he’s running early in the movie, well, it occurred to Russell to wonder the same thing, so near the end he tells us that Pat’s mother has been calling Tiffany to let her know when Pat will be running by. So the mother of a bi-polaroid with a history of violent jealousy is calling the unstable sex addict widow in hopes that they will hit it off. Zany rom-com. Best Script Nominee.

Finally, they have the big dance-off (Pat’s psychiatrist violates professional ethics by showing up). And Officer Keogh is there too. I give up. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

It has one funny scene – thanks to Lawrence. Spoiler alert.

Oh, and did I mention it’s Christmas and Pat will run through the street to finally catch his true love? Just like Bridget Jones’s Diary. There. Now it’s a romantic comedy Best Picture Nominee.

America, we should not go around confusing insultingly contrived drama, with lots of f-bombs, with romantic comedy. It makes the rest of the world think we’re stupid.

I think I’ll go watch Real Housewives so I can remember what a good script sounds like.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Owning Mahowny

2003. 104 min. Rated R – brief nudity, adult content, mild language
IMDB says... A bank manager with: (a) a gambling problem and (b) access to a multimillion dollar account gets into a messy situation. Based on the story of the largest one-man bank fraud in Canadian history.

The 73rd Virgin says...This isn’t one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s most notable performances, mostly because he is playing a real-life near savant banker-gambler-schlump-nerd. But it shows his skill with zero histrionics. In other hands, it would be a caper movie a la Catch Me If You Can, but director Richard Kwietniowski, the moody neo-jazz-ish score, and Hoffman make it something different.

Dan Mahowny is a chubby, disheveled, inward and downward-looking - but up and coming - young bank executive. He drives a smoking wreck of a car and wears cheap suits to the bewilderment of his co-workers. He also flies from Toronto to Atlantic City every weekend, gambles incessantly on any sport available, and fends off the slightly threatening bookie to whom he owes at least $10,000. By crossing the border, there is little way for Canadian banking authorities to make the connection.

Then things start to get bad.

Mahowny is promoted to a position that will allow him to create fake entities, inflate their credit worthiness, loan them money, etc. All while seeking the one big day at the casinos. The viewer can appreciate how this decent, even kind man can make the one false move that will enable his bad habit to become an all-consuming self-destruction.

Hoffman develops the hook of holding his head and/or slippy 80s glasses in a way that projects deep concentration and deep self-hatred in equal measure. He is also mic’d or recorded in such a way as to pick up every nervous breath.

But in this scene he smoothly deflects a bank auditor like a pro, which he is.

Minnie Driver, in the unfortunate hair and glasses of the time, is memorable as his utterly devoted girl-friend, Belinda, who – dim as she is – can still see his problem from a mile away.

John Hurt plays casino manager, Victor Foss, with as much high viscosity oil as the role can tolerate. If you only know Hurt for his wounded roles, his garish rapacity is refreshing.

The script brings admirable detail to the casino’s patented process of landing a whale. When he travels with his uninformed friend, and takes out $100,000 in chips, the earth moves. Only this whale doesn’t want prostitutes, fancy European meals, or a big room with three fireplaces. He wants to gamble, and he would like a plate of ribs, no sauce, and a coke. We get to see how, when he’s winning, management will do ANYTHING to keep him playing, and when he’s losing, the genuine affection they have for this guy and his foibles. The mob has been corporatized, but it still knows the levers and fulcrums of addictive behavior. They feel kinda bad about crushing people, but it’s what they do.

Listen to Hoffman’s voice at the end of the clip.

And it’s all pretty closely based on a true story.

Second-line supporting roles, script and acting are workmanlike but not altogether believable. We get a laugh out of the Toronto police obsessing over how this guy moving so much money around MUST be a drug dealer.

This is no masterpiece and it wasn’t a hit obviously, but it is engrossing in its detail and occasional humor. Other Hoffman roles can be set up as monuments to the actor, but this final scene with a shrink provides perhaps a fake-but-accurate epitaph.

I am personally very sad. RIP.