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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

By D.E.Levine

It's been rated as one of the great recent films and I'm not certain if I agree with that analysis.  Certainly, this film is unnerving because of it's attempt to deal with mental illness and in doing that  it's disturbing to viewers because the characters appear as somewhat unhinged.

Having made a bargain plea to escape jail, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a history teacher with a bipolar disorder, spends eight months in a state mental institution, Pat has lost his home, his job and his wife.  Forced to move back in with his parents, Pat is a handful.

Unable to sleep through the night he wakes his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro) at all hours, looking for his wedding video, wanting to discuss book story lines, etc.  Despite everything, Pat hopes to reconcile with his wife.

His parents just want him to remain stable, get back on his feet and move out.  But, you have to look at where he's coming from.  Dad Pat Sr. is a gambler who is obsessive over football, believing that Pat must watch the games with him from the family couch or the "mojo" doesn't work and he'll lose his bets.  And Dad has already been banned, after a fight, for life from the football stadium.

Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with mental problems of her own following the death of her cop husband. He's introduced to Tiffany through friends who are also friends with his wife and she offers to help him get back in touch with his wife in exchange for his participation in an annual dance competition that's coming up.  He agrees only after he believes that his wife is going to attend and watch him.  Tiffany's motives are totally different.

Director David O. Russell also wrote the screenplay and he's made manic depression somewhat fashionable through this film.  A lot of the film is photographed darkly and perhaps Russell is trying to convey the dark spirit of the film, but overall the film is rather disjointed and difficult to follow.  On the other hand, perhaps that's exactly the way this discombobulated family lives their life,


Monday, January 7, 2013

ROBOT & FRANK

By D.E. Levine

Does Frank Langella ever give a bad performance?  The answer is evidently no.

In this charming and deceptively simple film, Langella plays Frank, an ex-con, a retired second, story man who moves to Cold Springs, New York and lives a quiet life at 70.  His only friend appears to be the town librarian (Susan Sarandon).
 
Frank's grown children Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Taylor) don't know exactly what to do with Frank.  He hasn't been the best parent, having served two lengthy stints in prison.

Hunter gives Frank a robot aide, (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), who Frank doesn't want and refuses to name anything but Robot.  After listening for several days to Robot's lectures on health, diet, exercise and various other topics, Frank decides to use the Robot's intelligence by enlisting him in a jewel robbery of a rather pompous, but very rich, neighbor.

What happens next both warms the heart and tugs at the heartstrings.  Regardless of his protestations, Frank has grown fond of his Robot and is strained to take action that will help him but harm Robot.

The story is endearing, with some humor and some pathos.  It blends the technology of the 21st century with the lifestyle we're used to and shows that family problems, obnoxious neighbors and unrealized prejudices are part of everyday life.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

BERNIE

By D.E.Levine

Taken from a true story, Bernie tells the story of a "nice guy" who's so nice that not even committing a murder changes public opinion about him.

Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a devout mortician who befriends Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), the crabbiest and most disliked old lady in Carthage, Texas.

Eventually moving in with Nugent and enjoying the good life that the multimillionairess could provide, in 1997, the then 40-year old Bernie was arrested for Nugent's murder

Shown through the eyes of the residents of Carthage, in interview type vignettes, no one can believe that mild-mannered, charming Bernie could have committed the murder.

Immaculately dressed and groomed at all times, with a mincing walk and an endlessly solicitous manner, Bernie travels the world with Marjorie and eventually she writes her grown children out of her will and makes Bernie the sole beneficiary.

Bernie, having murdered Majorie, conceals her remains and for nine months covers up her absence.  Always reclusive and difficult, people don't think it's strange to deal with Bernie instead of Marjorie.  However, when her remains are finally discovered, Bernie is prosecuted by D.A. Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew MacConaughey).

Directed by Richard Linklater, this semi comic portrayal of Bernie takes Jack Black away from his normally completely comic performances and gives significant depth and feeling to the character.