Bradley Cooper

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.

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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.

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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

The Hangover

2009

Warner Brothers

Directed by Todd Phillips

Produced by Todd Phillips and Daniel Goldberg

Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

If you’ve been following my movie reviews for any decent length of time then you know that while I love comedies I rarely find any recently produced that do what I think comedies are supposed to do: make me laugh.  Not just chuckle, chortle or smile.  I want to walk out of the theater with my sides aching from laughing so much and so hard.   THE HANGOVER did that to me and I loved minute of it.  I was highly skeptical about seeing this movie due to all the hype.  Ever since I got burned on “There’s Something About Mary” and the first two Austin Powers movies I’ve been leery about comedy movies that get that kind of hype but in the case of THE HANGOVER, it’s deserved.

The movie actually starts off like a thriller or a mystery.  Four men are standing by a battered, beat-to-hell vintage Mercedes Benz somewhere in a desert.  The four men are just as battered, bloody and look as if they’ve been a street fight with one of the gangs from “The Warriors”.  One of the men is on his cell phone trying to explain to a hysterical bride that they have lost her future husband in Las Vegas and have no idea where he is.  In fact, they have no idea what has happened since none of them can remember anything after doing shots of Jagermeister on the roof of Caesar’s Palace a day ago.

Jump in the Wayback Machine and go two days back: Doug (Justin Bartha) heads for Las Vegas with his two best friends.  Phil (Bradley Cooper) is a high school teacher and Stu (Ed Helms) a dentist.  They’re joined by Doug’s future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifanakis) who they’re really not sure about.  Alan is somewhat eccentric in manner, speech, dress and…hell, he’s just odd, period.  Doug’s always wanted to have a bachelor party in Las Vegas and his buds are determined to see that he has one he’ll never forget.

It turns out the opposite: it’s the one that they can’t remember but it must have been one hell of a party considering that they wake up in a $4,000 a night suite, complete with tons of empty liquor and champagne bottles all over the place, a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, a chicken casually strolling around, Stu missing a tooth and Doug just plain missing.  Phil, Stu and Alan valiantly sober up and set out on a day long odyssey through Las Vegas, following the most improbable of clues (when and how in the hell did they steal a police car?) as they struggle to piece together exactly what happened the night before and find Doug to get him to his wedding on time.  Assuming of course that things didn’t get too out of hand and poor Doug is lying dead face down in a ditch somewhere.  Which is a distinct possibility considering some of the characters the boys run into.  Such as the Chinese mobster Mr. Chow who is extremely pissed off at our heroes for good reasons I wouldn’t dare reveal here.

That’s about all you need to know to go into THE HANGOVER since I really don’t revealing too much about a comedy movie.  What’s the point of me telling you the jokes and depriving you of a laugh?  Which is something about THE HANGOVER I really liked: it’s been my experience that trailers for comedies usually have the biggest and best laughs in the movie so that by the time you actually see the movie, it’s a let down because there’s no jokes in the movie that compare to the ones you’ve already seen.

I’m happy to report that such is not the case with THE HANGOVER.  The jokes you see in the trailer are far from the funniest ones, many of which couldn’t be shown in a trailer because of their sheer raunchiness.  For once, a comedy movie has kept its best gags where they should be kept: in the movie.

I really liked the performances in this movie because the cast is mostly unknown to me.  With the exception of Bryan Callan, who I know from ‘MADtv’ and ‘Fat Actress’ Mike Epps, Jeffrey Tambor and Rachael Harris, who co-starred with Callan in ‘Fat Actress’ the rest of the cast were fresh faces and that went a long way toward drawing me into the movie’s story in a way that I don’t think would have happened if more well-known comedic actors had starred in this.  And Mike Tyson really surprised me as he was remarkably funny in his performance as Mike Tyson.  He’s got quite a bit more to do with the plot than the trailer suggests and it’s a tribute to how clever the screenwriters are in the way they logically get Mike Tyson into the action.

And THE HANGOVER works on another level in that the actors don’t act like they’re in a comedy movie.  You know what I mean and if you don’t, check out one of the worst offenders of this; ‘You, Me and Dupree’.  THE HANGOVER’s comedy comes out of the situations these guys find themselves in and not oh-so-clever one-liners thrown in every couple of minutes.  The comedy comes from the circumstances and how the characters react to them.  The dialog is realistic and I found myself really caught up in the mystery of what the hell happened during that night and where the hell is Doug?

So should you see THE HANGOVER?  Without a doubt, yes.   It’s raunchy, crude, sometimes depraved, lewd and offensive.  But it’s also clever, sharp and funny from start to finish.  And that’s the best recommendation I can give any comedy.

Rated R: For language, sexual content including nudity and drug use.  The f-word and its many variations are thrown around with careless abandon so if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

100 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

The A-Team

2010

20th Century Fox

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Produced by Stephen J. Cannell, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott and Alex Young

Written by Brian Bloom and Skip Woods

Based on the television series “The A-Team” created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo

In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The A-Team.

That’s how my favorite TV show of the 1980’s started each week.  In those dark days before VCRs and DVDs (well, we did have VCRs but I’m trying to be dramatic here) if you had a favorite TV show you had no choice but to be home to watch it or miss out the next day when everybody was talking about it.  And I made sure I was home every Tuesday night when “The A-Team” was on.  The show had a simple premise which you just read five sentences and two spaces up.

“The A-Team” worked because of the quirky relationship between the four members of the team, played by George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz and Mr. T.  In the four years the series ran, these guys convinced me that they were an unbeatable unit, bonded together by loyalty and brotherhood.  Despite their wildly different personalities, at the core they shared the same values and morals.  The A-Team proved time and time again that they were indeed a team in every sense of the word.

And that’s probably why it took so long for the movie version of THE A-TEAM to come to the screen.  It was necessary to find four actors who could recreate that same chemistry.  Because if you don’t believe in the bond between these four guys then you’re not gonna believe they’re The A-Team.

The movie version of THE A-TEAM shows how this bond started because it’s an origin story, clearly intended to set up the premise for a possible franchise and given how much I enjoyed the movie, I really hope there’s a sequel in the works because while this isn’t a movie that will never be mistaken for an Academy Award winner it is what I think a lot of people go to the movies for: solid entertainment worth the money and time paid.

The team first meets when Colonel John Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) is on a desperate rescue mission to save his protégé Lt. Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck (Bradley Cooper) from a renegade Mexican general.  It’s during this mission that Hannibal meets Master Sergeant Bosco ‘B.A.’ Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and enlists him to help in the rescue.  They make their escape in B.A.’s souped up GMC Vandura van to a mental hospital where they hook up with the pilot who’s supposed to fly them to safety: Captain H. M. ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Murdock (Sharlto Copley) Murdock is certifiably insane but he also happens to be one of the best pilots in the world as he proves when he out flies two helicopter gunships pursuing them during their escape.

The four men become a highly respected and highly feared elite combat unit during The Iraq War and are recruited by CIA Special Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) in a Black Operation to steal U.S. Treasury plates being used by Iraqi insurgents to manufacture counterfeit money.  Hannibal is warned by his commanding officer and best friend General Morrison (Gerald McRainey) and Face is warned by his ex-girlfriend DCIS Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel) that the A-Team should stay away from this job.

However, if there’s one thing The A-Team can’t resist, it’s an impossible challenge and not only do they steal the plates but they also steal a billion bucks of counterfeit money.  But the plan goes horribly wrong when Morrison is killed and the money and the plates blown up with The A-Team left to take the blame for an unauthorized mission.  They’re court-martialed and the team members are thrown into separate prisons as it’s considered too dangerous for them to be confined together in one facility.  But Hannibal knows who framed them: Brock Pike (Brian Bloom) the chief gunslinger for Black Water, a private military contracting company.  And Hannibal has a plan to escape, put his team back together and prove they were framed by Black Water.  And you know what happens when Hannibal has a plan…

Now you might think that THE A-TEAM would suffer after we’ve seen a similar kind of plot in “The Losers” but THE A-TEAM has a totally different vibe and tone.  Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley channel the spirit of the actors who played these roles before them but put their own spin on them.  There were plenty of moments when I had a really weird feeling I was watching the TV show, just blown up bigger.

Liam Neeson is really having a good time here.  Hannibal Smith isn’t a master of disguise in the movie as he was in the TV show but he’s still the consummate strategist and planner.  One of the neat things about the movie is that it shows the mentor/protégé relationship between Hannibal and Face to the point to where it really counts; Hannibal lets Face design the plan that will hopefully save the team from life in prison.

I understand that Quinton Jackson is an ultimate fighter and I’ve never seen him in anything else but it was truly scary the way he channeled Mr. T in his performance as he actually sounded and moved like Mr. T.  And B.A. has really good character arc in this movie that gives a reason why B.A. wears a Mohawk and why he’s so scared of flying.

Bradley Cooper I knew only from “The Hangover” and I loved in him that and if there’s any justice this movie should make him a star.  Like everybody else, he manages to channel the spirit of the actor who played the role before him.  In this case, Dirk Benedict, while making the character of Faceman his own.  He’s just great.  As is Sharlto Copley.  His performance as H.M. Murdock is so dead on its scary.  It’s as if Dwight Schultz is right there in his ear whispering as how to play the character.

But surprisingly enough, it’s the action scenes in this movie that really gave me a headache as Joe Carnahan seems to have drunk from the same Kool-Aid as a lot of Hollywood directors who simply refuse to film action scenes coherently.  Why won’t they simply put a camera down, leave it there and let the stunt people do what they’re hired for?  For a movie like THE A-TEAM, clarity of action is essential.  But I got to admit, the last fifteen minutes of the movie are jaw-droppingly astounding in the sheer destruction that results.  As it should be when The A-Team is involved. And then there’s the scene where The A-Team is stuck inside of a tank that’s fallen out of a plane and with no other option left to them have to attempt to fly the tank. Yeah, you read that right.

Jessica Biel…ah, I wish I could say more than she was just the obligatory female love interest but I can’t.  Not that I don’t dislike Ms. Biel.  But I don’t like her either.  She’s an average actress and she fulfills her part adequately and that’s it.

But THE A-TEAM really isn’t about a love story between a man and a woman.  She’s just there to help the plot along.  THE A-TEAM is a love story about four men who like danger, excitement, adventure, beating impossible odds and loving it when a plan comes together.  If you’re a fan of the TV show then you won’t be disappointed in the movie incarnation of THE A-TEAM.

And here’s a hint for those of you who reach for the remote to eject the disc the minute those end credits you hate so much start to run: you’ll miss a really nice Easter Egg.  And before you leave this review, give a listen to the full A-TEAM theme song.

Rated PG-13

117 Minutes