Tag: bradley cooper

American Hustle


American Hustle (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

For all its twists and turns, “American Hustle,” based on the screenplay by Eric Singer and David O. Russell, can be digested as a straightforward story because of its overarching theme: desperate individuals who will do just about anything to procure better lives. It is irrelevant whether the word “better” is defined by money, celebrity, love, or improving the community. It is about a person who embodies a dominant motivation and how he or she clashes and struggles, forming partnerships—tenuous and durable—along the way if necessary, to get to an endpoint. The whole dance is ruckus fun.

Duplicitous characters—deliberate or otherwise—are front and center. It is made clear that not one of them is trustworthy. Part of the enjoyment is trying to figure out how they think and anticipating what they might do in order to dislodge themselves from sticky situations. The screenplay uses the ‘70s milieu—flamboyant suits and dresses, big hair, attention-grabbing soundtrack—to serve as a complement for moral ambiguity.

At one point, one character tells another, while looking at a painting, that the world is not exactly black and white—bad or good, dirty or clean—but is extremely gray. While the idea has been explored many times prior, it is a way of asking us whether we are we supposed to root for any of the characters. I found it interesting that I was on all of their sides eventually. But the picture highlights the dangers of wanting it all, that it is foolish to expect that everything will work out perfectly just because a plan is planned ever so carefully.

The four central performances are colorful and entertaining. Christian Bale plays a conman named Irving Rosenfeld whose so-called business involves luring unsuspecting people—desperate folks looking to make a lot of money by “investing” five thousand dollars. Irving meets Sydney (Amy Adams) at a party, shows her his laundromat, and the two begin an affair. Irving is married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) but they might as well be divorced. She insists they stay together because her mother and grandmother never divorced their husbands. Meanwhile, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent, has picked up the stench of Irving’s scam. It is such a joy how the actors are able to hit the right comedic and dramatic notes so consistently while managing to avoid making their characters so quirky that it distracts or takes away from the narrative momentum.

But the real magic is in the details. David O. Russell’s astute direction is most welcome and fitting when the camera lingers on a face for a couple of seconds longer than the standard close-up. This enables him as a storyteller to truly capture his characters’ quiet desperation. When they seem happy, perhaps they are really not. When things appear to be going right, whether it be a con or one’s love life, the eyes remain unconvinced—there is worry and anxiety that maybe everything is going too right. What is the Plan B? When doubt or uncertainty paces to and fro in the back of the mind, is that happiness?

Notice I mentioned the main players but I did not describe the con. The reason is I do not think the con is important the story. It drives the plot—to keep it going so that we can observe how the four characters will—or fail to—survive and acclimatize to new situations.

Silver Linings Playbook


Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Pat (Bradley Cooper), diagnosed with bipolar disorder accompanied by severe mood swings, has been institutionalized for eight months by the order of the court. His mother (Jacki Weaver) picks him up from the hospital and takes him home so that he can try to get into the groove of living his life again. But Pat is on a mission. He believes that if he works hard enough to get in shape, learns to be more knowledgeable about classic literature, and puts his life back together, his wife, whom he caught sexually involved with a much older man, would want him back. Meanwhile, everybody knows that the restraining order is there for a reason but no one dares to break him out of wishful thinking.

Dozens of movies about a man and a woman meeting and getting together romantically released throughout the course of a year consistently prove that romantic comedy is a tough sub-genre to get right, but “Silver Linings Playbook,” based on the novel by Matthew Quick, is a shining and welcome exception. Consistently going for the big laughs and the picture might be criticized for not having enough heart, unrealistic because life is not as simple as a series of sketches. Too much sad moments and the film might be denounced for being too dark and depressing, not at all fit for couples and hopeless romantics who wish to validate their beliefs.

Perhaps one of the toughest challenges the film faces is the question of when–or if–it is okay to laugh at a character with a mood disorder. I admired that the writing is very discerning between the man and his ailment even though at times it is very difficult to separate them. I liked that, in a way, it asks us what we consider to be politically correct. When some of Pat’s unstable behavior is played for laughs, it is never mean-spirited. There is always an ironic twist, a parallel joke, or insight that accompanies what some people may easily dismiss as offensive. For instance, Pat wearing a trash bag every time he goes running around the neighborhood may be considered as a behavior by “a crazy person.” Yes, it’s amusing that someone from a middle-class family would willingly wear trash bag in public. But the way we may choose to see it is it might be our protagonist’s way of acknowledging that it was wrong of him to almost beat a man to death after he has caught his wife having an affair. Trash is what is considered to be an unwanted thing. Deep down, knows he is unwanted by the community and he wishes to do better, despite his stubborn personality, and so we want to be on his side.

Embers of romance smolder when Pat and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) meet over dinner hosted by Pat’s friend (John Ortiz) and Tiffany’s sister (Julia Stiles). With the help of a sharp script that allows Pat and Tiffany to say what is on their minds without filters, Cooper and Lawrence imbue their characters with a fresh vitality through their eyes. Even though they are, in a lot of ways, unhappy and damaged people, we want them to get to know each other and perhaps become a couple. Each time they interact, we can feel that they were once happy and are still willing to reach a new version of what they think makes up happiness. The screenplay amps up the ante by forcing Pat and Tiffany to be a part of a mostly one-sided, unglamorous romance. We may not have a bipolar disorder or depression but they remain relatable because we grow to understand their personalities and the way they think.

“Silver Linings Playbook,” based on the screenplay and directed by David O. Russell, is about people who need emotional healing with plenty of unexpected humor along the way. It is an atypical romantic comedy due to its reliance on utilizing silence, especially to build drama between father (Robert De Niro) who thinks he has not given enough to his younger son, to go for the big emotions that feel genuine thereby taking away elements that might be perceived as manipulative. Why use music to give us a hint on what to think or how to feel when we have the brains (and hopefully the empathy) to read between what is communicated and the unsaid? The music, however, is required for the dance competition. It is executed with such joy and creativity that if it fails to make you smile, you just might be taking life a bit too seriously.

The Hangover Part II


The Hangover Part II (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Two years after a bachelor’s party turned into horrendous but hilarious mess in Las Vegas, Phil, (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug (Justin Bartha) headed to Thailand to see Stu (Ed Helms) get married to Lauren (Jamie Chung), despite the father of the bride’s disapproval of the groom. Two nights before the big day, the four friends, along with Lauren’s sixteen-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), each quaffed a bottle of harmless beer at the beach. The next day, Phil and Alan woke up alongside Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), an international criminal, with Doug and Teddy missing. Like last time, the party had no choice but to retrace their steps, find the persons of interest, and get back to the wedding in time. The cardinal sin that “The Hangover Part II,” written by Craig Mazin, Scott Armstrong, and Todd Phillips, committed was underestimating their audiences’ capacity to appreciate a sequel that, in the least, tried to be original. I had no qualms about the characters making an utter fool of themselves by getting into the most ridiculous situations involving Russians and their pet monkey, prostitutes with something unexpected in their panties, and Paul Giamatti being devilishly magnetic as a crime boss, but giving us a facsimile of its predecessor was not only lazy on the filmmakers’ part, it was also quite pessimistic and insulting. Given that the first film was such a success nationally and internationally, one would expect that the writers would at least try to come up with something different so that, after watching the final product, we would be begging to see more. The characters weren’t allowed to move past their adventures in Vegas and I wondered, with great frustration, why not. Alan kept bringing up what had happened in Vegas two years ago in almost every other scene. It was counterproductive because instead of drawing us into this specific new adventure and slowly revealing why frolicking all over Thailand was special in its own right, referencing to its counterpart forced us to compare analogous scenes–this one overwhelmingly inferior. The jokes ranged from bad to completely absent. I didn’t see what was so funny about smoking monkeys and ten-year-old kids engaging in underaged drinking. Nor did I recognize why the characters eventually broke out in song instead of just engaging in silence. At times, scenes with a poverty of words can work given the right timing and direction. These guys embodied hedonism which, in reality, almost always comes with a price. Instead of being boisterous jerks all the time, stereotypically American in that they had no regard or respect toward other cultures, why not allow them to sit and consider the fact that perhaps their heedlessness led them exactly where they should be and deservingly so? “The Hangover Part II,” clumsily directed by Todd Phillips, was a comedy that was diffident in terms of dealing with real emotions. Sure, it was about having fun and getting into trouble afterwards. But the filmmakers had forgotten that their project was about friendship, too. From what I saw, these guys were not worthy of each other’s friendships. Then why should they be worthy of our time?

My Little Eye


My Little Eye (2002)
★★ / ★★★★

Five strangers were picked to live in a creepy mansion in the middle of nowhere. If Matt (Sean Cw Johnson), Rex (Kris Lemche), Danny (Stephen O’Reilly), Emma (Laura Regan), and Charlie (Jennifer Sky) could stay together six months, they would receive a million dollars. It seemed like an easy task but living together became challenging when one of them ended up dead. If they stepped outside the premises or contacted the police, the game would be over. Directed by Marc Evans, “My Little Eye” was obviously inspired by reality shows like MTV’s “The Real World.” However, the film was more about the characters feeling isolated from society and the paranoia that resulted from cameras that surrounded the place instead of drinking, bar hopping, and engaging in all sorts of casual sex. The build-up from seemingly small pranks to a possible murder was executed nicely. Was there a killer among the five or was everything controlled by the company that chose them? The former was possible because there was no crew. Cameras were simply installed from a certain height and they moved according to someone’s motion. But the latter was also quite possible. Someone could just as easily sneak in the house as the five slept. They wouldn’t notice because the old mansion made all sorts of noises. Unfortunately, once the mystery was revealed, the picture lost the majority of its momentum. It became a routine running around the mansion until someone tripped or slipped. It wasn’t scary. Since it was so dark and the images from the cameras were blurry, I couldn’t help but adopt a passive stance. The editing was manic. Instead of lingering at one creepy shot, it would jump from one camera angle to another in attempt to show all the creepy shots. It’s better to have one very effective shot that goes for the jugular instead of having many less effective shots with questionable purpose. It wasn’t a good sign when I didn’t care who lived or died. We heard about Emma’s childhood story involving a friend who killed his family using a hammer but it didn’t reveal much about who she was. And as much as I appreciated the fact that the five strangers talked like regular people off the streets, I couldn’t help but snicker when a character would blurt out, “I’m scared!” or “I’m in it for the money!” Another unintentionally funny scene was when the remaining four decided to put the dead body outside, in the snow, right after one of them stated that they should leave the body where it was because it was a scene of the crime. For a bunch of mid- to late-twentysomethings, they lacked common sense. But then again, so are those who choose to appear on reality shows for the sake of fame that never lasts.

Case 39


Case 39 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Emily Jenkins (Renée Zellweger) was a kind-hearted social worker who juggled thirty-eight cases of children who might be victims of child abuse. A co-worker (Adrian Lester) handed her case number thirty-nine, in which a child named Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) claimed that she overheard her parents (Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O’Malley) actually planning to send her to hell while they were in the basement. There was something about Lilith that Emily couldn’t help but empathize with so she took it upon herself to take custody of the child. Unbeknownst to her, Lilith might be the devil incarnate and soon Emily’s friends (Ian McShane and Bradley Cooper) started to die in what looked like suicides. Unfortunately, Lilith didn’t come with a return policy. “Case 39” had been delayed release for quite some time and for good reasons. With far superior movies like Richard Donner and John Moore’s “The Omen” and, more recently, Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Orphan,” this film downright failed to offer something new or exciting. While there were some spine-tingling scenes such as when Lilith’s parents decided to kill their child by putting her inside an oven, they were balanced by frighteningly uninspired scenes plagued with visual effects, particularly the swarm of hornets. Zellweger did the best she could with her role despite a weak writing. I think one of the picture’s missteps was in revealing the true nature of the child too early on. Moreover, I found myself waiting for our protagonist to evolve in a meaningful way because the ingredients were certainly there. There was a dark undertone about her past relationship with her deceased mother, her inability to take care of others other than her pet fish, and the almost obsessive manner in which she attempted to tackle her work. When the hallucinations started to appear, there was a lack of tension because we knew all too well the source of her suffering. The material would have been on another level if it had successfully found a way to balance the supernatural and Emily’s every day struggle to take away children from physically and emotionally abusive homes. That way, our protagonist would have been challenged in two fronts as we attempted to discern between the fantastic and a mental breakdown. But that wasn’t the case. “Case 39” lacked dimension and depth with far too few rewards between the important revelations aided by increasingly tired booming soundtrack designed to tell us when we should be scared. Written by Ray Wright and directed by Christian Alvart, “Case 39” lacked a sense of immediacy so it lagged half of its running time. Without Zellweger’s sense of timing of when and how to react, it probably would have been unwatchable.

Limitless


Limitless (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) was a struggling writer in New York. He claimed he had ideas for his book but he was at a loss on how to put them together. He spent most of his days staring at the computer and accomplishing nothing. But his luck turned for the better when he ran into his ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth). Vernon, a former drug dealer, handed Eddie a pill called an NZT48 which allowed the person to use his brain in full capacity. Eddie finished his book in no time but that wasn’t enough. He realized he needed more of the magic pills so he could earn enough money and be set for life. “Limitless,” based on Alan Glynn’s novel “The Dark Fields,” was an entertaining fantasy for about half of its running time. It posed interesting questions about what one man would do if he was given the chance to become the smartest man on the planet. Naturally, finding a cure for diseases like AIDS or finding a solution for world hunger was not one of his priorities. Instead, he decided to borrow money from a thug (Andrew Howard) and forgot to pay him back, got involved with a cunning businessman (Robert De Niro) who was willing to go great lengths to remain at the top of the food chain, and win back the girl who dumped him when he was at his worst. Maybe he wasn’t as smart as the drug led him to believe. While the picture remained energetic throughout, I noticed that half-way through, I began to think about the technicalities involving the drug in question. For instance, what chemical compounds was it made of? Eddie recruited a scientist to make more of the pills and I got the impression that it was relatively simple to make. And given that the drug was able to bind to more receptors in the brain, how was the body able to compensate for the overdrive given that Eddie was consuming the pills like Nerds candy? In the least, I expected him to eat more because the brain needs glucose to function. I understood that it was supposed to be science fiction. However, I wouldn’t have focused on the technicalities if the filmmakers had chosen to stray from the formula they’ve grown accustomed to. Every time Eddie took the drug, the scenery looked happier and brighter. The soundtrack was more upbeat. The temporary happiness was countered by a mysterious man (Tomas Arana) who stalked Eddie. The same set-up was used about five or six times. It was tiresome, lazy, and, most importantly, it didn’t always move the story forward. Characters like the mysterious man and the murdered woman in the hotel were left on the sideline. A handful of questions were left unanswered. The film lightly tackled some of the repercussions of addiction but it ultimately glorified it. On one hand, I thought it was refreshing. Admittedly, when our protagonist was on a high, I laughed at the ridiculous things that happened to him. On the other hand, it felt like a slap in the face of real people struggling with drug addiction. It was supposed to be a cautionary tale but it lacked the gray areas of ethics and morality.

Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Valentine’s Day,” written by Katherine Fugate and directed by Gary Marshall,” was an ensemble romantic comedy with many high-proile names that followed the footsteps of films like “Love Actually.” There are only three things one has to know coming into this movie: all of the characters are connected in some way, it is at times unapologetically cheesy with its typical (but funny) one-liners, and it is a good Valentine’s Day movie to watch with friends or special someone. Even before the film was released, I heard a lot of negative comments about it because people are not keen on the idea of a movie capitalizing on a holiday that “isn’t even real.” I say get over it because such moaning will not stop movie studios from releasing movies such as this; it’s a business and no matter how much you complain, money is money at the end of the day. Personally, the main reason why I wanted to see this film was because some of my favorite celebrities were in it like Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher (even though I change my mind about him quite often), and Bradley Cooper. From the trailers, I knew exactly what to expect and, surprisingly, it was much better than I thought it would be. Even though only two to four characters out of the twenty-one were fully developed (Garner and Kutcher as best friends failing to see that they were meant for each other; Hathaway and Grace as one lacking awareness of the other being a phone sex operator), it was fun to watch because it had a certain self-awareness–that none of it should be taken seriously because the characters’ lives revolved around falling in love. We are smart enough to know (or at least we should be) that the movie was simply trying to provide us an escape from our busy lives, whether our lives may revolve around our studies, our jobs, and countless other circumstances. As for the negatives, I wished that the main characters were cut down to fifteen. Even though I thought the scenes with Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift were amusing, their scenes didn’t do much when it came to the big picture other than comment on the fact that teenage love based on supercifial similarities was a good foundation for a potential heartbreak. (Well, at least that’s what I got from it.) I also wished that Jessica Biel’s scenes with her eating junk food and being neurotic were cut, while preserving her “I hate Valentine’s Day” intact and ultimately seeing Jamie Foxx as a perfect match for her. My favorite storyline has go to be the one with Cooper and Roberts meeting on a plane. I still think Roberts is one of the finest actresses because she has a perfect way of portraying sadness in her eyes. It was pretty subtle but when Cooper voiced out his assumptions that Roberts was on her way to see her special man, that specific look that Roberts gave him immediately made me realize that it wasn’t the case. “Valentine’s Day” is indeed a typical romantic comedy but if you know what to expect and you have an open mind, you will have a good chance of enjoying this flick. But if you come into the film in a bad mood or expecting the worst, prepare yourself to analyze every single flaw and not enjoy the movie. In other words, save your money or buy yourself a box of chocolates instead. Maybe that will make you happy.