Robert DeNiro

Last Vegas

last-vegas-229375l

 

 

2013

Good Universe/CBS Films

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Produced by Laurence Mark and Nathan Kahane

Written by Dan Fogelman

If you saw the trailer for LAST VEGAS you probably thought like me: that it would be a raunchy, senior citizen version of “The Hangover.” I imagined that Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline got together after seeing the “Hangover” movies and said; “Let’s show these guys how it’s really done.” And you’d be forgiven for thinking that way because that’s precisely how the trailers sold the movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. LAST VEGAS is two things: a Lifetime movie made for men and a 105 minute commercial for Las Vegas.

Michael Douglas is Billy who decides at a funeral for a friend that he wants to get married and proposes to his girlfriend. He contacts his three best friends: Paddy (Robert DeNiro) Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) who decide to throw him the best bachelor party ever in Las Vegas. They also think they can talk him out of marrying a girl young enough enough to be his granddaughter.

The situation is complicated by a couple of things: Paddy is still mourning for his wife who passed away a year ago. And he’s still pissed off at Billy for not coming to her funeral. Archie has to break out of his own house as his overprotective son won’t let him do anything since Archie had a minor stroke. Sam is bored to death living in a retirement community and sees the trip to Vegas as a way of getting back his zest for life.

This aging wolfpack heads to Las Vegas where they quickly become friends with lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen) and she joins the guys on their last big adventure while becoming attracted to both Billy and Paddy and the two of them find themselves really becoming attracted to her.

last-vegas-trailer-legends

Trust me on this, I’m making LAST VEGAS sound a lot more than it really is. Considering the star power in this movie I expected a really outrageous comedy but what we get is a predictable, flat product. I’ve watched episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” that were raunchier than this movie. Which is really disappointing. I’ve seen these guys cut loose and get crazy in other movies and I was hoping to see that here. Nope. This is a movie made for senior citizens who don’t like to see violence, sex, drug use or a lotta cussin’ in their movies. It’s as bland as white bread with butter. And not that that’s a bad thing. I’m glad to see that Hollywood is acknowledging that there’s an audience out there who isn’t interested in seeing superhero movies, CGI blockbusters and hyper-violent action thrillers and are making movies for them so that they can get out and enjoy an afternoon or evening at the movies like everybody else. It’s a good thing.

To give them credit, Kevin Kline, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen all look like they’re having fun working together. I only wish that Joanna Gleason had more to do here as she’s a very talented actress and what she has here is little more than an extended cameo as Kevin Kline’s wife.

The guys spend the movie flirting with young cuties, showing the kids how to get down and party, drinking, playing blackjack, teaching life lessons to a bully (Jerry Ferrara) judging a wet bikini contest and just hanging out in Vegas, making it look like a really hip and fun place to be. Like I said earlier, it’s a commercial for Las Vegas and on that level, it’s a pretty good one.

web1_last-vegas_2

Of course by the end of the movie, the guys have all resolved their personal problems, Paddy and Billy have kissed and made up and Diana ends up with one of them. There’s not a single surprise in the movie and it’s so structured by the numbers that you can safely predict what is going to happen and when. That’s not to say it isn’t amusing or cute. It is fun seeing DeNiro, Freeman, Douglas and Kline working together and they do their jobs. They’re just not stretching themselves. They’re basically doing riffs on their patented screen personas and they do it well.

No need to draw this out. Wait for LAST VEGAS to come to Netflix. Or if you really have to see it, then catch a matinee.

105 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Machete Kills

machete-090613-1

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Produced by Rick Schwartz and Alexander Rodnyansky

Screenplay by Kyle Ward

By now the story has become legend: 2010’s “Machete” was a full length feature film based on a fake trailer made for 2007’s “Grindhouse” which was a double feature of movies directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment to recreate the movie-going experience of the 1970’s when grindhouse theaters showed double features of popular exploitation movies. Five fake trailers were made and of those, two movies actually were made; “Machete” and “Hobo With A Shotgun” starring Rutger Hauer. I’m still holding out for “Werewolf Women of The SS”

“Machete” turned out to be a really damn good movie with Danny Trejo backed up by an all-star supporting cast including Robert DeNiro, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsey Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba. Yeah, the plot was pure pulp absurdity but it was grounded in just enough reality to make the whole thing go down well. And even among all the wild shootouts and Danny Trejo chopping up everything in sight with everything he can get his hands on (one of the enjoyable bits of the movie is how Machete can improvise bladed weapons on the fly) Robert Rodriguez managed to get in some pretty on-point political statements about Mexican-American relations and illegal immigration. It also had Electra and Elise Avellan in nurses uniforms blasting away at rednecks with machine guns, so for me the movie was a major success.

Wish I could say the same about MACHETE KILLS. The initial set-up is just fine and had me sitting up straight to see what was going to happen next but director Rodriguez and his screenwriter Kyle Ward just didn’t know when to leave well enough alone. Be patient just a bit and I’ll tell you where the movie went wrong for me.

Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and his girlfriend/partner Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) are in the middle of breaking up an illegal arms sale on the Texas/Mexico border. Members of the Texas Army Reserve are selling military weapons to a Mexican drug cartel. A third party intervenes, leaving everybody dead except for Machete who is captured by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler) who intends to give Machete a quick trial and even quicker execution for messing up his arms deal.

Reprieve comes in the form of not the governor but The President of The United States himself; President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez/Charlie Sheen) who has a mission for Machete. He wants Machete to go back down to Mexico to find and assassinate the revolutionary Marcos Mendez aka The Madman (Demian Bichir) who has a nuclear missile pointed at Washington, D.C. Machete agrees and upon finding Mendez discovers that he has three separate personalities: there’s one who is an out and out psychopath and that’s the one who wants to destroy Washington, D.C. There’s the revolutionary who only wants what’s best for Mexico but doesn’t want to slaughter millions to do it. And then there’s the core personality which is that of Mendez, the undercover government agent who started this whole thing simply to get information on the drug cartels and was forced to watch his wife and daughter be killed.

machete-kills03

This is where I wanted Rodriguez to stop. Right there he had way more than enough plot and characters to work with and I’d have been happy with Machete struggling to stop this three-in-one villain. But no…he’s got to throw in Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) and her crew of machine gun toting prostitutes to chase Machete as well as the metamorphing killer El Camaleon (Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas/Cuba Gooding, Jr./Walton Goggins) This is before we get to the second half of the movie which is, believe it or not, a straight-up riff on “Moonraker” with Mel Gibson as the James Bondian villain Luther Voz who reveals that Mendez’s missile is only one of many he gave to mentally unstable world leaders so that they could fire them off at each other and destroy the world while Voz takes his selected people to his orbiting space station.

Now by the time we’ve gotten to this point of the movie, we’ve abandoned all reason and entered the realm of WTF as Rodriguez throws armies of killer clones at Machete, has him using a raygun that turns people inside out…and it doesn’t stop there. Voz rides around in a replica of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder. We’ve got people being machine-gunned and then brought back from the dead.  Mexican workers are being teleported off the planet to labor on Voz’s space station and She (Michelle Rodriguez) no longer runs The Network from a dilapidated warehouse. Her new headquarters are as high-tech as the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. It’s as if Machete/ Danny Trejo has been suddenly transplanted into the middle of a Derek Flint movie.

MC2-DF-00903.CR2

Before watching this movie I had listened to the review done by the talented guys over at The Grind Pulp Podcast and they mentioned that they thought one of the things about this movie that was detrimental to it was that it looked “too good” and after having seen it for myself, I understand perfectly what they meant. Rodriguez totally abandons the grindhouse look that MACHETE KILLS cries out for. The movie should have looked aged, beat-up. In fact, the trailer for “Machete Kills Again…In Space!” looks the way this entire movie should have looked. I never thought I’d be complaining that a movie looked absolutely spectacular but in this case I am. MACHETE KILLS has amazing cinematography and it shouldn’t. The cinematography should look like shit. Seriously. You know what I mean.

But I’m glad to say that everybody in this movie looks as if they were having an absolute party making it. Everybody shamelessly steals every scene they get with Sofia Vergara and her gatling gun bra being among the standouts. But I totally loved Amber Heard as a secret agent whose cover is that of a professional beauty pagent contestant.

machete-kills-image10

The running gag of El Cameleon is the best one in the movie among all the craziness going on. Mel Gibson is totally off the wall as a James Bond supervillain and if you have any further doubts about how loopy everybody else is then lemme just say that when mollyfoggin’ Charlie Sheen is your most restrained cast member, nothing more needs be said.

And I have to mention Alexa Vega. As I said in a post on the Better In The Dark Facebook page, after seeing her in this movie I now have to throw away my “Spy Kids” videos as I fear that I can no longer watch the innocent little girl she was in those movies without having pervy old man thoughts of her as Killjoy infecting my consciousness:

alexa-vega-machete-kills1-598x600

So should you see MACHETE KILLS? Chances are most of you reading this already have and so my review is irrelevant. For those of you who haven’t I’d recommend you catch a matinee if you really want to see it. Otherwise, wait for Netflix or until you can see it for free somewhere. I gotta say this is actually this first movie Robert Rodriguez made that I felt disappointment when the final credits rolled. I think he had the opportunity to continue to make Machete a truly unique Mexican hero and dropped the ball with this movie.

However we do have Electra and Elise Avellan in tuxedo jackets, stiletto heels and mini-skirts blasting away at clones with machine guns so the movie isn’t a total loss.

107 minutes

Rated R

 

 

The Family

The-Family-2013-Movie-Poster

2013

EuropaCorp/Relativity Media

Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese

Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla and Tucker Tooley

Written by Tonino Benacquista based on his novel “Malavita”

If you’ve seen the trailer for THE FAMILY then perhaps like me, you were expecting a mob/crime comedy with plenty of laughs and inside jokes at Robert DeNiro’s expense, poking fun at the numerous gangster roles he’s played with able backup from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones who have made more than a few crime/mob movies themselves and know the genre.  And yes, there are some laughs in THE FAMILY at the beginning of the movie.  But the longer the movie goes on, the fewer the laughs and by the time it gets to the end there’s an appalling no holds barred bloodbath with a platoon of mob hitmen shooting it out with a pair of teenagers wielding automatic weapons like Rambo on his best day while Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer are locked in a hideously vicious fight to the death with a killer roughly the size of Richard Kiel.

Giovanni Maznoni (Robert DeNiro) was once one of the most powerful mob bosses in Brooklyn and as such became a threat to The Boss of Bosses, Don Luchese (Stan Carp) who orders a hit on Maznoni and his family that fails. Giovanni turns snitch and Don Luchese goes to jail.  The Maznoni family enters the Witness Protection Program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and relocated to Normandy, France.

the-family-robert-de-niro

This assignment is far from being easy duty for Stansfield. In fact, the Maznoni family are a collectively big pain in his ass due to the fact that they simply cannot stop being what they are: a mob family.  Giovanni has…anger management issues, let’s say and he’s easily irritated by such things as his tap water coming out brown and nobody taking it seriously. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t take kindly to the stereotypical comments that she overhears by pretending she doesn’t speak or understand French. Her response to such is…explosive, shall we say. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a sweet, soft spoken girl who falls in love with a substitute teacher who tutors her in math. She also has a ferociously violent streak that a Klingon would envy. Son Warren (John D’Leo) is a grifter/forger/hustler who in no time at all has his own junior mafia in his new school.

Michelle-Pfeiffer-The-Family-jpg

The situation is complicated by Giovanni writing a tell all book about his life in the mob. A book that both Maggie and Stansfield tell him can never be published. And through a really bizarre coincidence I just couldn’t buy, Don Luchese finds out where the Maznonis are hiding out and sends a hit team to whack ‘em out and that takes us to the blood-soaked final showdown between the mob and the Maznoni family.

Here’s what I liked about THE FAMILY: The performances are first rate but I wouldn’t expect anything less from old pros like DeNiro, Pfeiffer and Jones.  But the kids step up to the plate and hold their own with the seasoned pros.  Dianna Agron I know from “Glee” and I was surprised to see how well she inhabited this character. The movie was actually almost over before I finally remembered where I knew her from. Judging just by this movie I’d say she has a career in movies if she wants it.  John D’Leo is also a lot of fun to watch as he maneuvers his way towards running his school with the finesse and cold-bloodedness of a Michael Corleone.

I also liked how the movie doesn’t have the kids or the wife BMWing about how they want to have a normal life and why can’t they just be a normal family.  This is a mob family who have accepted and embraced their lifestyle.  They’re criminals and they don’t make any excuses for it. For them this is their “normal” life

the-family-robert-de-niro-and-tommy-lee-jones

The direction by Luc Besson is also first rate as I would expect from the writer/director/producer of some of my favorite action movies such as “Leon: The Professional” “The Fifth Element” the “Transporter” series “Taken” “Taken 2” and “District 13.”  And I think that’s the problem with THE FAMILY. Luc Besson is an action director and he seems uncomfortable with the comedy in this movie which puzzles me as I’ve seen “Angel-A” a couple of times and I know he can do comedy. Maybe what threw me off is the level of violence in THE FAMILY which is really bloody and brutal and really doesn’t mesh well with the comedy. Oh, there are are funny scenes and funny lines, don’t get me wrong. But right after that we’ll get a scene like the one with DeNiro and the plumber.  It’s a scene that would have been more at home in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” than in a movie that is billed as a comedy.

THE FAMILY

So should you see THE FAMILY? I say Yes. There’s really nothing wrong with THE FAMILY except for what I feel is an uneven tempo and off center mix of really violent violence with humor.  It’s as if Luc Besson really wanted to make this a full blown thriller but every once in a while an AD poked him with the script and reminded him he had to throw in a joke here and there.

112 minutes

Rated R

Jackie Brown

Jackie-Brown-movie-poster

1997

Miramax Films

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Executive Produced by Elmore Leonard, Bob Weinstein & Harvey Weinstein

Produced by Lawrence Bender

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino based on the novel “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard

My love affair with Pamela Michelle Byrd Grier began way back in 1974 when I saw “Foxy Brown” Never before in the movies or in real life had I seen a woman of such astonishing beauty combined with her effortless confidence and assertiveness. She seemed to possess an energy that came right off the screen at me. I was hypnotized and unable to take my eyes off of her. As I got older and got my hormones under control I began to realize that she actually was a much better actor than she got credit for. And believe me, I’ve studied Pam Grier as I’ve studied few actresses. I have seen every one of her movies since “Foxy Brown” in the theater and those I didn’t I quickly bought on VHS as soon as they were available and then wore out the tapes watching them over and over again. She is truly a legendary talent and one that I’m glad to see has been appreciated in her lifetime. It took quite a while but she has properly been heralded for the great actress she is and no one is more delighted than I am to see her success.

immagine_jackie-brown_4463

JACKIE BROWN is just one of the reasons why I give Quentin Tarantino respect. There are black directors highly critical of his depiction of African-Americans in his movies and his use of the word ‘nigger’ which they think is thrown around way too freely by both black and white actors in his movies. Well, I didn’t see any black directors lining up to create movies specifically to give Pam Grier a role worthy of her talent and as for the highly controversial use of the word ‘nigger.’ Okay, it’s like this…in JACKIE BROWN we’re dealing with a character played by Samuel L. Jackson who uses the word just about every chance he gets. Because that is the character. You do a crime movie about a certain breed of criminal and he’s not going to talk like a MIT graduate. I respect a writer/director who respects his characters and is true to their nature and depicts them without the sugar coating or the bullshit of political correctness. Because I’m a big boy and I can take it. The use of the word in the context of the story being told and the character who uses it is doesn’t bother me at all. But if it bothers you then by all means, stay away from JACKIE BROWN. But that would be a shame because then you’d be depriving yourself of some terrific work by an all-star cast of actors in a truly great crime thriller.

18863587.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight attendant working for a fourth rate Mexican airline. She supplements her income by smuggling money from Mexico to the United States for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) a gun runner working on that one big score which will enable him to retire and spend the rest of his life spending.

Jackie is picked up by ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and L.A.P.D. detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) who have had Ordell on their radar from some time. Jackie was ratted out by Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) another one of Ordell’s customers who had been arrested earlier and gave up the information before he could be released by bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster)

Evading an effort by Ordell to kill her, Jackie proposes a plan to Ordell to safely bring in half a million dollars of his money. The plan is going to need the assistance of Ordell’s stoner girlfriend (Bridget Fonda) and Ordell’s former cellmate, Louis Gara (Robert DeNiro) who’s just gotten out of jail. Part of the plan involves letting Nicolette and Dargus think that Jackie is double-crossing Ordell, allowing them to use her to arraign a sting. But Jackie has a plan all of her own to double-cross everybody and take the half million for herself. The only catch is that she’s going to need Max’s help to pull it off. Jackie’s pretty sure that Max is half in love with her but will that half help her? And while Max himself is impressed with Jackie’s brains and resourcefulness, he’s not entirely sure himself how far he can trust her. After all, she may have a plan for dealing with him as well.

jackie-brown-18

The main thing I love about JACKIE BROWN is that everybody in the movie is smart. Well, everybody except for poor Louis. But it’s fun to watch Robert DeNiro play a dimwit because you have to be really smart to play really dumb and Louis is really dumb. So dumb that the only solution he can come up with to shut up a woman who won’t stop talking is to shoot her. But everybody else is really smart and for me that adds to the suspense of the story. If everybody is smart then everybody has an equal chance of figuring out what Jackie is up to and that means she’s got to work twice as hard to be twice as smart if she wants to come out of this alive and with the money.

JackieBrownpose

There are so many good scenes in this movie there’s no way to list them all but some of my favorites: when Max sees Jackie for the first time and we hear “Natural High” on the soundtrack and it encapsulates perfectly how Max is feeling at that moment. We know the moment he falls in love with her when later on Max is simply watching her smoke a cigarette, wearing a bathrobe and listening to The Delfonics sing “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?” that may just be the sexiest moment in the entire movie. The scene where Ordell coaxes Beaumont into being a willing participant in his own murder with the promise of chicken and waffles. Any and every scene between DeNiro and Fonda as they’re all hilarious.

The relationship between Jackie and Max is one that reminds us that Tarantino makes movies for adults and not for demographics. It’s a mature relationship that is defined as much as what is not said as by what is said. As always, Tarantino’s dialog is on point and compelling to listen to. The characters in any Tarantino movie are always worth listening to and JACKIE BROWN is no exception. Robert Forster is solid in his co-starring role and Michael Keaton is always worth watching and he plays Ray Nicolette in another movie based on a Elmore Leonard novel; “Out of Sight”

So should you see JACKIE BROWN? Chances are that if you’re reading this, you already have. If you haven’t seen it by now then chances are you have no interest in seeing it. Fair enough. But for those of us who have been life-long fans of The Filmic Goddess of War, JACKIE BROWN is the crown jewel of Pam Grier’s long and remarkable career and one of the best examples of Quentin Tarantino’s directorial and storytelling talent.

Pam Grier 6

Rated R

154 minutes

True Confessions

true_confessions

 

1981

United Artists

Directed by Ulu Grosbard

Produced by Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler

Written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunn

Based on the novel “True Confessions” by John Gregory Dunn

Hard as it is to believe, Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall have only appeared in one movie together; TRUE CONFESSIONS. “Godfather Part II” doesn’t count because they shared no scenes in that one. That fact really doesn’t have a thing to do with this review. I just threw that in because I could have sworn that DeNiro and Duvall have appeared in more movies together. And it is a shame that they didn’t do more work together. They play brothers in this movie and do an excellent job of convincing me that they are. But DeNiro and Duvall are such great actors they can easily convince me of anything.

M8DTRCO EC002

Monsignor Desmond Spellacy (Robert DeNiro) is an ambitious force to be reckoned with in the Los Angeles archdiocese of the 1940’s. His thirst for power is well known but as he directs it into projects beneficial and profitable to the church, Cardinal Danaher (Cyril Cusack) allows him free reign. Homicide Detective Tom Spellacy (Robert Duvall) is the older brother who is proud of his younger sibling’s position and influence but worries about the shadier people he gets involved with. In particular one Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning) a major and powerful contractor Desmond has worked closely with. But Tom’s knows Armstrong’s true nature as Tom used to work for Armstrong years ago as a bagman when Armstrong ran a prostitution ring.

MV5BMTQ3MDY1OTQzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTA3Mjg3NA@@._V1._SX640_SY428_

When Tom and his partner (Kenneth McMillan) catch a particularly brutal murder involving a dead prostitute found cut in two in a vacant lot, their investigation leads Tom to think that Armstrong may still be involved in prostitution. Tom follows a very dirty trail that leads him to a porno movie ring and a sleazy director the murdered prostitute worked for.

In the meantime Desmond attempts to cut his ties with Armstrong which isn’t easy. Armstrong’s lawyer (Ed Flanders) warns Desmond that Armstrong is a genie who won’t be put back in the bottle. And to further complicate things, there’s some evidence that Desmond knew the murdered girl. Once Tom finds out he has some hard choices to make. Can he continue to investigate the murder without involving his brother in a scandal that may destroy his career?

TRUE CONFESSIONS isn’t your high octane action thriller. It’s a quiet exploration of a world where deals involving millions of dollars and affecting thousands of lives are made on golf courses and in dimly lit offices. The backrooms and the boardrooms are where the real rulers of Los Angeles work and the Spellacy brothers are right in the middle of a web of corruption and deceit. What I like about the movie is that the script is smart enough to not let the brothers off the hook for their past lies and indiscretions just because they’ve now found out they do have a moral center. Tom’s past as a crooked cop is continually brought up and thrown in his face and Desmond wrestles with a crisis of faith. Is he serving God or his own pride?

It’s easy to think that TRUE CONFESSIONS could be taking place at the same time the stories of “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential” are playing out as it looks that good and the period detail just as authentic. But TRUE CONFESSIONS is more of a character study and dramatic exploration of the corruption infecting the souls of the Spellacy brothers than a hard-boiled mystery. In fact, there’s a surprising moment where Tom confesses to his brother that he really doesn’t care if Armstrong killed the girl or not. There’s another reason he wants to see the man hang and it’s got more to do with the sins Tom helped him commit in the past than any real sense of justice that needs to be served today. And Desmond slowly comes to realize that his true worth to the church is how many dollars he saves, not souls.

13912-player

Both Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall are working at the top of their respective games here. DeNiro had just won his Academy Award for “Raging Bull” and Duvall would win one a year later for “Tender Mercies.” The relationship between the two brothers is an interesting one more for what the brothers don’t say to each other when it needs to be said and only comes from their lips years later in a ending scene of such elegant redemption and sadness.

There’s plenty of solid supporting work here. I enjoyed seeing Kenneth McMillan get to play a good cop for a change. Ed Flanders as a lawyer is as dangerously polite and gentle as a razor. Burgess Meredith plays Desmond’s mentor and ironically his fate in the movie turns out to be his protégé’s as well. Look for Dan Hedaya and James Hong in small but pivotal roles.

Charles Durning has a good showcase here of his talents. Armstrong can be jovial and happy-go-lucky one minute. Then it’s as if he flips a mental switch and becomes murderously menacing. Maybe his character did kill that girl. Maybe he didn’t. But he sure has the temperament for it. And look for the scene where he dances at a wedding. My Better In The Dark co-host Tom Deja mentioned to me how impressed he was with Durning’s dancing ability in “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” and I suggested he check out this movie just for that scene alone. Durning’s a big man but he seems to become totally weightless when he dances and his face is so full of sheer happiness you can’t help but grin when he does his merry little Irish jig.

Charles Durning Dancing

So should you see TRUE CONFESSIONS? If you’re a fan of Robert DeNiro and/or Robert Duvall, yes. If you like murder mysteries set in 1940’s Los Angeles, yes. Just don’t get too involved in wanting to know who done it. TRUE CONFESSIONS is more of a why they done it and how it still affects and resonates with them years later.

Rated R

108 minutes

 

 

Silver Linings Playbook

silver_linings_playbook

2012

The Weinstein Company

Screenplay and Directed by David O. Russell

Executive Producer: Jonathan Gordon

Produced by Bruce Cohen and Donna Gigliotti

Based on the novel “The Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick

The first twenty minutes or so into SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK I fidgeted, I admit it. But that’s because I couldn’t tell which way this movie was going to go with its characters or their story. I didn’t know much about this movie outside of that it starred Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, who had previously worked together in “Limitless.” But it vaguely looked to me like a romantic comedy and I’m leery of that genre. Which I shouldn’t have been. I’ve watched romantic comedies like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK that actually are intelligent, character-driven and don’t follow the silly, sappy paint-by-the-numbers plots of most romantic comedies. And this movie isn’t all comedy. There’s just as much drama as comedy here and the story goes in directions that can’t be anticipated because of the unpredictability of the characters. Even the ones who aren’t crazy.

After eight months of treatment for bipolar disorder in a mental health facility, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released into the care of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). His intention is to get his life back on track and a large part of that is reconciling with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) That’s a situation that is going to take a whole lot of work since Pat tried to beat to death the man Nikki was having an affair with and she has a restraining order against him. Pat attends his court mandated therapy sessions with Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) and tries his best to stay out of trouble. But since he refuses to take his medication that leads him into several situations where it seems as if he may have to go back to the facility.

It’s through his friendship with Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) whose emotional trauma following the death of her husband caused her to become addicted to sex that Pat sees an opportunity to communicate with Nikki. Tiffany agrees but only under the condition that Pat will be her partner in an upcoming dance competition. I would not dream of telling you how the outcome of a Philadelphia Eagles football game is tied into the dance competition. I’ll only say that it’s a nifty plot twist that I did not see coming and once it did I was grinning like a fool.

IF

And I guess that’s the main thing I can throw at you to recommend SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: it’s determination not to be a typical romantic comedy. There is simply no way to predict how the movie will end and to enhance your enjoyment of it, I advise that you don’t even try. Our two main characters have certifiable mental/emotional problems but that doesn’t mean that everybody else in the movie is a model of stability, either. In fact, as I got more of an insight into the history of the relationship between Pat and his father I understood more and more why the father was so patient and understanding of his son’s problems.

The acting in this is top-notch. Bradley Cooper continues to be an interesting actor to watch develop. I enjoyed him in high-octane, big budget franchise movies such as the two “Hangover” movies and “The A-Team” and he’s proven that he can hold his own in character driven dramas such as “The Words.” Here in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK he mixes comedy an drama and acquits himself well.

Jennifer Lawrence is flat out terrific in this one but so far I’ve loved her performance in everything she’s done. Even though I couldn’t stand “Winter’s Bone” I always recommend the movie based solely on the strength of her performance which is outstanding. Equally outstanding was her performance in “X-Men: First Class” and while I felt that “The Hunger Games” was just a so-so movie, again she gave the performance that made the whole movie worth watching.

Julia Stiles has a small role in this and I always enjoy seeing her work as she’s just plain fun to watch. I was disappointed that Chris Tucker didn’t have more to do as for once he actually gets to play a human being instead of a live-action cartoon as he usually does in movies like the awful “Rush Hour” series. Robert DeNiro can do no wrong in my eyes and I’m embarrassed to say that I went through the entire movie thinking that the wonderful Jacki Weaver was Sally Struthers until I saw her name in the end credits.

silver-linings-playbook05

So should you see SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK? If you want to see a romantic comedy-drama that doesn’t waste your time with boring idiot characters or a story you’ve seen played out in a dozen other romantic comedies, absolutely. It’s a great date movie. Enjoy.

Rated R

122 minutes

Limitless

2011

Relativity Media

Directed by Neil Burger

Produced by Leslie Dixon and Ryan Kavanaugh

Screenplay by Leslie Dixon

Based on the novel “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn

LIMITLESS is the latest entry in what I call Genie Movies.  You know how this goes: Our Hero finds a bottle containing a genie.  He opens it up and the genie proceeds to give Our Hero everything he wants.  Women, money, fame, the ability to hit perfect home runs, a mint condition copy of “Fantastic Four” #1.  But then the downside kicks in and Our Hero realizes that the consequences of his wishes get him into trouble.  So he makes more wishes to correct the mistakes of the previous wishes and that gets him into even worse trouble.  And then he gets the bright idea of wishing the genie back into the bottle and then the real horror of his situation punches him dead in his eye: once the genie is let out of his bottle, there’s no way to put him back in.

Our Hero this time around is Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) an alcoholic writer who is on the verge of having to return his book advance because he’s spending more time at the local pub talking about his book rather than writing it.  His girlfriend Lindy (Abby Cornish) leaves him.  Not because she doesn’t love him but because he has no ambition, no direction, no focus.

One day while on his way to the bar, Eddie runs into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) and over drinks, Eddie pours out his tale of woe.  Amazingly, Vernon has the proverbial bottle with a genie in it.  In this instance the genie is a small clear pill that is a new drug, NZT-48.  A drug Vernon claims will make Eddie smarter.

Eddie figures he’s got nothing to lose and so pops the pill.   Four days after that he’s finished his book.  Eddie’s more focused than he’s ever been.  He can remember everything he’s ever seen, heard or read in his life.  Google googles him for information.  His increased deductive reasoning abilities make him capable of looking at you and telling what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner a year ago.  And best of all, he is able to use his newfound intelligence to discern significant patterns in massive amounts of otherwise seemingly unrelated information.  This enables him to amass a tremendous fortune playing The Stock Market.

Such spectacular success brings him to the attention of quite a few folks.  There’s Carl Von Loon (Robert DeNiro) a ruthless businessman involved in a potentially world changing energy deal.  Von Loon quickly makes it clear that if Eddie isn’t working for him, then he ain’t working.  Then there’s a strange guy wearing a tan coat that seems to be everywhere Eddie is.  And there’s Gennady (Andrew Howard) a Russian mobster who gets his hands on a tab of NZT-48 and likes what it’s doing to him.  And wants more of it.  A lot more.

And if that wasn’t enough, his daily ingesting of the drug is apparently having side effects.  He’s losing whole days and there’s the possibility he may have killed someone during one of his blackouts.  By now, not only can he not put the genie back in the bottle, said genie is quite enthusiastically kicking him in his ass.  His NZT-48 enhanced intelligence got him into this but can it get him out?

I knew the basic premise of LIMITLESS going in but I didn’t know it would be so much fun.  It actually starts off like a comedy and gradually shifts gears as the story gets darker and more serious.  And it’s done so smoothly that before you know it you’ve gone from laughing to flinching.  Especially during the really bloody resolution to one of Eddie’s problems.

A large part of what makes this movie so interesting to watch is the very original visual style the director uses to show how the drug is working on Eddie.  Those of you reading this who are writers will probably be just as tickled as I was at the scene where Eddie’s writer’s block is broken and the words start flowing.

Bradley Cooper is really coming along as an actor.  He’s a good-looking guy but he’s not afraid to come off looking really greasy and cruddy looking as he does in the beginning of this movie.  He looks nothing like the Eddie he becomes once he starts taking the drug.  I kinda liked that as it gave the movie a sort of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde vibe to Eddie.  Robert DeNiro is really cool in this movie as he never tries to steal a scene or make a scene of his more than what it’s supposed to be.  If anybody’s a scene stealer in the movie, it’s Andrew Howard.  Watching how NZT-48 works his magic on him is hilarious and bone-chilling at the same time.

So should you see LIMITLESS?  Absolutely.  It’s a thriller that does exactly what a thriller is supposed to do: thrill.  And does it in dynamite style.  Enjoy.

105 minutes

PG-13