The Verdict: Silver Linings Playbook

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Well kiddies, the academy awards are just around the bend and as time progresses closer and closer to the dreaded dance of awkward dresses and even more awkward acceptance speeches, I’m hard pressed to catch up with this year’s expansive list of Best Picture Nominees. In fact, I still have a greater to-see list than have-seen, but today, I was graced with a post “All About Steve” Bradley Cooper and post “House at the End of the Street” Jennifer Lawrence in a case of redemption so strong it worked. SLP is the least sappy feel-good movie I’ve ever seen and for that accomplishment alone earns some stars. Read on to find out more. 

Script

If we’re looking at a good shot at the best adapted screenplay category, Silver Linings Playbook is hard from one in the dark. The dialogue is threshold real, taught with an unforgiving morale and toothy sense of comedy so sharp it bites through the screen. It tells the story of Pat (Cooper), a mentally ill man who struggles balancing his quest for reunion with his wife (after a bloody beat-up session of her suitor) and building back a solid relationship with society. Along the way, he faces his family’s stressful co-existence with himself and an even more demanding kinda-friendship with Tiffany (Lawrence). The soulfulness in the writing keeps the story tactful and on time with expertly set up jokes, which are simultaneously pleasing and helpful of the plot. While rich gags of football inspired irony and the whole situation of Pat’s inability to keep something inappropriate from popping out keep a solid, toned pace, there’s dramatic layers that demand quite a lot from the viewer. Darkness over the story’s otherwise joyous plot is delectably overbearing and keeps the whole film on its toes. It’s functional, funny and incredibly engaging. 

8/10

Performances

Playbook is a challenging marvel. Purely from the script alone, characters are given confusing motivations and a demand for understated power. If anyone in this film was to overact, it would be all too grown worthy, but instead of flopping around like acting-deficient salmon, we see a true performance overhaul worthy of note. It starts with poster head leads, Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Winter’s Bone) and Bradley Coooper (there’s not much good in his cinematic line). The duo is respectful of the intricate and fragile nature of Playbook’s subject matter but manage to charge forward with lovable characteristics and subtly that leaves the harsh climaxes of the story even more hard when they hit. The same goes for Robert De Niro, who is so compelling with his work that it nearly steals the show. While being a hard backed football fan, he can cry and struggle maintaining relationships, all believably. The tightrope of emotional validity and chewing the set can be a careful one and his confident performance strides forward with powerful range. Lastly, a deserving nod is awarded to the humble Jacki Weaver, a warm but far from overplayed powerhouse that even in her brisk role takes challenge to the rest of the cast.

9/10

Visuals 

In a romantic comedy feature as I expected upon entrance, the last thing I’d praise is the direction, but in the midst of Silver Linings I quickly discovered that the film was anything but. Besides a marvelous screenplay, the film boasts more cinematic depth in its visuals which took me quite by surprise. In the film’s first quarter, framing Pat in his hospita, the filmmaking is rough and brash and completely representative of the characters’ mindsets. It’s a great move and really shoves the audience into the experience more closely. On that note, the coloring is astounding, from a beautiful pink dance studio to the dramatic blues of a ballroom, the whole film matches tone effortlessly with gorgeous shots of the nicely palliated set of the world. The camera is simply put, wonderful; both simplistic and expletive of emotions, it speaks volumes while never once uttering a word. It’s nothing like Moonrise Kingdom, but it works in synchronization with the characters so smoothly that it creates a character out of the audience.

9/`10

Overall: 

9/`10

Silver Linings Playbook works because of a realistic script matched with devilish performances from a cast that seem to not only drive the work, but become it, and matched with good direction, we’re met with the first poignantly touching film in ages. One that doesn’t sacrifice smarts for feel-good sake, either. 

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Jay-Z Currently Scoring “Great Gatsby”

Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s legendary masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby” is receiving a modern twist to accompany the film. Rapper and more notably husband of Beyonce has been committed to scoring the film.

Personally, I think that his control on the thematics of power as displayed in his collaboration with Kanye West, “Watch the Throne” will fit the movie nicely. We’ll see in time if Luhrmann’s decision proves a solid contribution to the film or if it detracts.

What do you think? Leave your opinion in the comment section below.

Why the Script Wins: Scream, Revisited

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There are few things teenagers pride themselves more on than their four years of glory as… nineties kids. Yes, yes, I suppose there are MANY things to love about the golden 1990’s, namely Columbine, the worst American bombing incident of all time, Mother Teresa’s death and Justin Timberlake’s ramen hair. Good times, good times. But there are some really marvelous things about the nineties.

The best of them?

“Scream”

It was 1996. The US had lost touch with the horror genre, left solely with endless lines of crappy sequels including some particularly nightmarish pieces – and not in the good way – like the unnecessary follow ups “Hellaraiser: Bloodlines”, “Poltergeist: The Legacy” and, oh forgive me god, “Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace”. No, unfortunately, I am not making up that title. But, in the darkest hour of my birth year came Wes Craven upon a bloody steed. Now, that’s not to say that Craven hasn’t contributed to the dark ages of horror cinema himself, where titles under his belt include the wretchedly named “Vampires in Brooklyn” and the yawn worthy treatment of “The Hills Have Eyes Part II”, but all alms are paid with Scream.

To give you a brief description, the story follows a well-to-do young teen, Sidney Prescott, reeling in the events of her mother’s murder, one year later. Just as life in Regular Town, USA seem to be winding down, Sidney’s friend is gratuitously slaughtered in one of the most suspenseful scenes of all time, starring a young Drew Barrymore.

In fact, Barrymore’s involvement in Scream is what propelled it to become the horror defining film it is. Mainstream actors and actresses alike used to avoid the horror genre like the plague thanks to its poor reputation among critics, but born out of roles like E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Guncrazy, along with a notoriously troubled childhood, the press found a darling in her among the box office.

And with a cash magnetizing figure like Barrymore herself, it wasn’t long before even more notabilities arrived for the show. Fighting to avoid being terminally trapped in the world of her hit sitcom, Friends, Courtney Cox took the role of an invasive, bitchy reporter, while all around heavy hitter David Arquette played a romantic dope of a cop who fails at doing anything productive for a good 100% of the movie.

While the performances are rich, it all amounts down to Scream’s comedic take to the dying genre that sharpens it into something smart, startling and a guilt free thrill ride. And that’s all due to one Mr. Kevin Williamson, a name most won’t recognize, one that even less did so back some seventeen years ago when Williamson was thirty years old.

Williamson graduated high school and departed small town North Carolina to relish in the acting scene of New York City. He was fascinated with the industry, of course, and eventually departed for Los Angeles where he began a very tentative career in screenwriting, divulging into subtle projects such as “Teaching Mrs. Tingle”, which never saw the light of day until 1999.

But what, surprisingly, did take off was a simple, seventeen page draft of what he originally titled, “Scary Movie”. The brief script entailed a young girl on the phone with an initially flirtatious caller who eventually declines into murderous rantings, something identical to the first fifteen minutes of what evolved from his initial draft. He developed characters, added sub plots and, most notably, drew in self referential “rules” to horror movies that characters seemed to be quite conscious of.

The golden cake topper to his whole piece is the departure from horror movie tropes so common in previous films. Williamson’s own passion for scary movies fuels witty scenes in which characters yell at the screen of a horror movie “No, Jamie, turn around! He’s right behind you! Why do they never turn around?” only to have Ghostface, the series’ headliner, lurk behind them with a knife wielded. Or even when on the phone with the murderer, heroine Sidney discusses her hatred of horror films, “All the big breasted girls just run up stairs when they should obviously going out to the front door” where she, of course, then runs up the stairs. Characters draw out do’s and dont’s of the genre, set to cuts back and forth of characters breaking said rules. it blends together to be actually scary while also incredibly humorous.

Williamson’s script, his second piece ever sold for a $400,000 brick, with director Wes Craven treating segments for realism, plot fluidity and additional chills. What audiences get is a rewarding jolt of sublime dialogue and gorgeously plotted laughs, all to an orchestra of what must be horror because trust me, this movie is funny, but it’s very, VERY creepy.

The script is the true hero of the movie for reasons both in our realm and the film’s. Its driven by mystery and intrigue while also the astounding fact that this masterpiece was the brainchild of one man with not a single other movie to his name before Scream. It’s refreshing, in a way, that talent can come from passion for a genre itself where in a world today we see mindless zombies of films like Resident Evil: Retribution, directed by people who care so little about movies that the money is the only thing that drives them. Williamson had nothing to gain at all, and yet he gained everything.

Scream later amounted to three sequels of varying quality, the best being #2 which makes fun of sequels themselves, and has an undeniable reputation among cinema. A large portion of the movie was devoted to poking giggles at cliches, but the revolutionary horror of Barrymore searching her patio and house for the killer nearby helped to define so many aspects of scary film. Scary Movie, in fact, a picture that took the original title of Scream and then proceded to parody it, reveled in everything that made the original so good.

If you can withstand the terror, the lightheartedness and up front rationality of Scream makes it one of the best horror movies of all time.

The Verdict: Les Misérables

Les Miserables target audience poster, featuring a young Cosette played by Isabelle Allen

Les Miserables target audience poster, featuring a young Cosette played by Isabelle Allen

Perhaps Tom Hooper’s most ambitious and risky project hit theaters Christmas Day; Les Misérables. That’s pronounced “Le Miserab” by the way, lest you embarrass yourself pronouncing the name wrong at the theater, “Um, one ticket to, uh, less misserables?” The film’s name suits it kindly, the whole experience kind of a taught, French idea that is so on tune with the done over costume drama that its only savior is a wild set of soaring, musical ballads, matched with heart wrenching (in many aspects, I note) performances, led by an ensemble cast of Hugh Jackman, a developed Russel Crowe and featuring Anne Hathaway, who’s role in the movie is much less stated than the trailers infer. Regardless, Les Misérables is an undertaking so expansive, encompassing and encroaching of the audience’s five senses that it might leave you exasperated, in a breathless sort of way. Read on to find out how.

Script

Adapted from a musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Mis tells the story of Jean Val Jean, a harshly punnished criminal caught up in the acts of the French revolution.

Adapted from a musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Mis tells the story of Jean Val Jean, a harshly punnished criminal caught up in the acts of the French revolution.

To adapt this sprawling operetta (not the novel, some might take note of) was a dangerous move thanks to an outright legion of a fanbase that accompanies Les Misérables. Destined to rake in the change it sought after, of course, but in the way of making good movies, it’s evident it was a challenge. There’s really not much of a script to adapt, the story is largely told through music, after all, all of which is all golden. Not a song is unenjoyable in the story and, despite their weepy sort of sadness, never yawn worthy. The lines we do get are all nicely delivered and good on pacing, leaving this story sprawling years over years of time still easy to follow but equally intriguing. Characters find incredible balance of being realistic but also compelling and I commend the team on their loyalty to its source material. It’s not anything incredible, but it’s functional and successful for the real treat: the music.

7/10

Performances

Anne Hathaway as desperate mother Fantine is likely to receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Anne Hathaway as desperate mother Fantine is likely to receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

The trick of an operetta like Les Mis is that the actors need to act quite literally through their vocals, and though some of the cast failed to fill their musical quota (I’m talking to you Russell Crowe) they all were sharp and on tact with the emotional pallette tastefully crafted within the film. Hugh Jackman as the lead, a former prisoner for the thievery of bread, is a challenging character for any actor, but Jackman works smoothly to develop his character, particularly through perhaps the best chemistry of the year in his engagement of Crowe’s character, the sociopathic Javert, obsessed with a warped view of justice. Though Crowe struggles to reach the upper register for his role, he is thorough with his sickened character. Other notables namely include a masterful Anne Hathaway who tragically wales in the most devoted performance I’ve ever seen. The fact that she starved herself for the role and then even got her hair cut right off on CAMERA seems to just make her emotional delivery leap further from the screen. Eddie Redmayne commands Marius with the guilty love he possesses for a disappointing Seyfried, far out performed by fan favorite Samantha Barks. For the most part, everyone is genuinely heart breaking for their talent, and the live recording of vocals on set really does give it a solid boost.

8/10

Visuals

Tom Hooper’s tendency of dynamic, symbolic shooting is augmented by twenty here, and not in a good way. The camera just cannot stay still to save its life, and, much like this past year’s The Hunger Games, it feels far too dramatic, especially for a film that is driven to soap opera means by its expansive range of dialogue and story alone, but the trembling shots become something disrupting as the film progresses. It’s a good shame, too, because some of the imagery of descending furniture, water canals on the edge of a suicide and the accompanying, rich, architecture of France are lost in the up close feel. A lot of it, really, was destroyed from Hooper’s overt, strong focus down the throats of singers, so tight and poorly framed that it actually confines the movie and makes it exhausting to watch. A pity.

5/10

Overall: 7/10

This hopeful adaptation is at loss from some serious camera issues but is redeemed, ultimately, by strong performances from a well rounded cast.

Top Five Horror Movies: 2012

As usual, the scary movie genre fell in line this year in incapability of anything new. There were some incredulous money grabs in the likes of the grossly titled Piranha 3DD and a depressing, dull installment in the never ending Resident Evil series, Retribution (it’s a guilty pleasure, okay?) Followed by some utter bombs, like “The Collection” and a movie so disappointing it was physically painful to watch, Silent Hill Revelation.

But, as all rules go, there are some notable exceptions, and among them are some strong frontrunners for movie history. Of course I’m being overtly generous, to be honest, this year killed (excuse the pun) my hopes for any evolvement in the genre. But forgive me – let’s take a look at some of the most chilling flicks of the year.

5) John Dies at the End

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Rich in originality and paying in smarts, John Dies at the End is among one of the more popular psuedo-satire horror films of the year (see more on that later) and yet retains such a healthy dose of fun that it feels like Tarantino may have laid upon it with a kiss. Of course, the story is more than a touch lacking and so is the gross-in-the-wrong-way editing, but some hearty performances from Chase Williamson and Paul Giamatti tone it all to something on tune with a witch’s screech and an audience’s laughter. Forgettable, sure, but enjoyable and loving enough to captivate viewers for the course of its run.

4) The Woman in Black

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Screenwriter of Kick Ass and Stardust, two criminally underseen films, Jane Goldman brought a surprising flare of something dark to this subtle but climatic film. While many of its aspects fell more than just flat for me, in particular Liz White’s wretched “performance” of the should be spooky eponymous entity, Radcliffe mangages to tangle his way through it in a way that is both emotionally compelling and often chilling. There’s good wit in the dialogue, and despite the PG-13 rating, viewers are guaranteed to tremble with the more practical, spooky effects forgotten in modern cinema. Worth a look if you’re into the genre.

3) Prometheus

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I grappled with including Ridley Scott’s splendid launch into theoretical science fiction because, honestly, I am inclined to think it is anything but a horror movie. But some of the driving scenes in the film (which makes my top ten of the year list close to number one) are more than spooky, they can be downright terrifying, all thanks to the lush idealism lovingly sewn into the practical film effects. Design on the slimy “Hammerpede” is creative and intriguing, the Engineer has eye’s dark enough to penetrate a hole through the screen and Noomi Rapace delivers the creepiest scene involving a demented form of child birth since Rosemary’s Baby. Prometheus is smart – but it can be very, very scary.

2) ParaNorman

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Laika studios presented Coraline several years back, a film that is scary but thoughtful in its presentation to kids, and Paranorman is certainly no less, if not better. Sure it’s a movie built for children, but those who will get the most out of it are real horror buffs who can find delight in the homage, parody and smart engaging to the genre. Even if it wasn’t for its hilarious send up routine, Paranorman is still so gorgeously crafted that you can’t keep your eyes off it. The effects are stunning and wistful, summoning up imagery quite unlike anything we see frequently enough in the movies. It’s really simple: the movie is bright enough to be entertaining for adults more so than for kids, and they’ll still love every second of it. Additional points for a stereotype defying gay character open in children’s animation.

1) Cabin in the Woods

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Ah, yes, The Cabin in the Woods, otherwise titled as “The Most Fundamentally Misunderstood Movie of 2012.” A large variety of dingbats walked into this Joss Whedon penned love letter suspecting “Scary Movie 5” while others just wanted “Saw 372.” But what Cabin, in the end, truly is, is a doctoral analogy of the nightmare period of slasher flicks, 1990-2000 where we took the beautiful ideas of scream and contorted it into the torture porn days of Hostel and the previously mentioned Saw. The movie LOVES horror film, but detests it in the same was as I do. As each character devolves from their stereotype into an understood metaphor, I think audiences smart enough of realizing the film for what it is will agree with some of the final lines, “Maybe, if we have to do all this, we should just let it die. Let something new come in.”

And that we should.

Hopefully, scary moves of 2013 will shape the Hell (again, apologies for the puns) up. And I have my hopes. Because with director of Oldboy, Park Chan-wook, onboard of Stoker, a riveting performance abound for World War Z courtesy Mr. Pitt himself, and, maybe, JUST maybe, a well made remake of Evil Dead, I do have my hopes.

Lest the Gods of horror below arise and eat the planet-

Signing Off,

Zach

Gosling and Refn Team Up for “Only God Forgives”

Us movie audiences have a lot to look forward to with Mr. Ryan Gosling, Academy Award nominated for “Half Nelson”, with his varied title list for the upcoming year’s first quarter. We’ll see him team up with Emma Stone again for “Gangster Squad” this January, then independently leading in March for US audiences in a suitably edgy post-crime thriller, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” but perhaps most interestingly, cinemas will again be treated to a crime opera at the hands of “Drive” director, Nicholas Refn, in “Only God Forgives.”

Gosling foreshadows immense violence in the simple, black and white poster for the upcoming film.

There’s an immediate call back to the minimalism and brutality of Drive’s poster, A battered gosling, covered in what is presumably blood, heads the image, leading into the brash title.

“From the beginning, we had the idea of a thriller produced as a western, all in the far east with a modern cowboy hero,” says Refn, director. It’s evident enough that Gosling, playing a former cop-killer turned boxing club runner, Julien, will be said cowboy as (according to joblo.com) this Bangkok anti-hero is set on a quest from his criminal mother to kill his brother’s murderer. Complex enough? Add in the appearance of Yayaying, Thai popstar, and a Titus Andronicus level hand dismemberment and “Only God Forgives” sounds as rich and emotionally – as well as story wise- driven as their first collaboration.

Danish director Nicolas Refn with handsome star, Ryan Gosling.

Danish director Nicolas Refn with handsome star, Ryan Gosling.

What should audiences expect this May when the duo returns to theaters? According to Mr. Gosling himself, Refn’s self written script is “the strangest thing I’ve ever read and it’s only going to get stranger.” While “Drive” had an equally complex plot line that required upmost attention, it sounds like theater goers are going to need to bring their notebooks with them, once again. There’s been heavy buzz of an entry at Cannes this year as well, which goes to show how strongly the heavy hitting movie is going to be focussed on dramatics.

But of course, in the wake of last year’s “Drive” fiasco (is it an action? thriller? drama??) we really won’t be able to tell much until its debut, May 23, 2012.

Signing Off,

Zach