Monday, November 26, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook Will Dance its Way into Your Heart

            It’s official: David O. Russell has gone mainstream. I don’t mean that as a bad thing; it’s not like he’s gone off and started making Transformers when we weren’t paying attention. In fact, I rather like this new guy. Though he made his feature debut in 1994 with some movie starring Jeremy Davis called Spanking the Monkey, which sounds just about as bizarre as its title suggests, Russell broke out with the Gulf War-set Three Kings, later followed by the quirky, love-it-or-hate-it comedy I Heart Huckabees. Still, it wasn’t until 2010, when he made The Fighter with frequent collaborator Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, that the director really received widespread recognition. That movie went on to become a major awards contender, ultimately garnering a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars as well as a nomination for Russell and wins for Bale and supporting actress Melissa Leo. After winning the top prize at the Toronto Film Festival in September, it looks like Russell’s latest, Silver Linings Playbook, might be headed in the same direction.

            This swell of awards buzz is well-deserved but, frankly, rather surprising, seeing as the movie itself seems to have no such lofty intentions, eschewing the showy ambition that usually characterizes Oscar hopefuls for something far more modest. All things considered, in terms of narrative, Silver Linings Playbook is pretty much just your standard romantic comedy. It’s certainly as predictable as one, adhering for the most part to the conventional boy-meets-girl structure without throwing any particularly unexpected curveballs or game-changing twists. Of course Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are going to end up together, so it’s just a matter of how they get there, one of those “it’s the journey, not the destination” deals. The difference between Russell’s film and the generic Katherine Heigl/Jennifer Aniston vehicles that have made the genre a target of derision is that we actually care about that journey. Where most rom-coms are cloying and annoyingly artificial, this Playbook sings with honesty and unreserved exuberance every step of the way.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Anna Karenina Review: Costume Porn at Its Finest


              In Act 2, Scene 7, of his comedy As You Like It, William Shakespeare penned the now-ubiquitous aphorism, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players.” It’s impossible not to think of this quote when watching Anna Karenina – the movie is, after all, literally set on a stage. Director Joe Wright has stated that this decision was provoked primarily by financial obligations, but as it turns out, it also works perfectly on an artistic level, since this is a story about, among other things, the fragile boundaries between public and private, duty and desire, and what happens when they collapse.

               From the outset, the movie was bound to be polarizing; for every person who thinks the whole stage-as-metaphor conceit is a stroke of genius, several others will probably write it off as a pretentious gimmick. Admittedly, at times, it does come off as a tad too mannered and theatrical, more fitting for a Broadway musical than a prestigious cinematic literary adaptation, but for the most part, Wright manages to pull it off, exercising just enough restraint to prevent the entire thing from disintegrating into an overly lavish and chaotic extravaganza a la Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The grandiosity fits impeccably with the epic scale and melodramatic tone of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel (dubbed by some the greatest work of literature ever written).

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why We Need More Movies like Cloud Atlas

          Cloud Atlas isn’t a very good movie. Let’s just make that clear from the start. Sloppily executed, despite the Wachowskis’ and Tom Tykwer’s obviously sincere efforts, it’s a cloying, bizarre, epic mess that aims for the stars without ever managing to get off the ground. There were a couple of bright spots, to be fair – namely, the lovely score and a couple of performances, though those were mostly too limited in screen time to be fully appreciated – but they did little to compensate for the film’s abundant flaws. Plus, no matter how much those involved try to justify it by saying the movie was about transcending race and that it was a necessary and understandable decision from an artistic standpoint (it really wasn’t), the use of yellowface in Cloud Atlas is depressing and offensive, made worse by how poorly and lazily it was done. Moreover, you know that we’d all be rightfully up-in-arms and that no one would be writing articles like this if they’d used blackface, which is probably why the filmmakers didn’t attempt it.

Jim Sturgess, you’re a terrific actor, but just…no.

         All of this is to say that I could write an entire blog post about my issues with Cloud Atlas (or you can just read my fellow blogger WordMaster’s review, which sums them all up pretty accurately), or even one focused solely on why its use of yellowface is so problematic, but right now, I’m here to explain why this is exactly the kind of movie we as an audience should demand more of.