Thursday, November 29, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (****)


Written for the Screen and Directed by David O. Russell


There's something unbelievably infectious about David O. Russell's latest movie, Silver Linings Playbook. It's not that it's particularly innovative or is a technical game-changer. It's story is simple, almost predictable to a point. But it's the product of a stupendously talented (albeit controversial) filmmaker fully committed to a heart-warming story with highly complex characters. So, too, does a commitment from its cast, armed with stars - both rising and setting - that take characters that could be played as caricature, but instead play them out as fully-fleshed, fully-realized characters. It's this combination that makes this movie the most likable movie that I've seen all year. Funny, tense and wonderfully warm in ways that are very surprising, this may be the most crowd-pleasing movie of Russell's career - and I mean that in the best way possible.

Anna Karenina (**)

Directed by Joe Wright


There probably isn't a more difficult text that has been attempted at film adaptation more than Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The material, so dense and involved, spirals over 860 pages and delves into issues beyond the main story's love triangle, including (but not limited to) Tolstoy's insistence on political overtones throughout the book's final installments. That being said, it is considered by many to be one of the greatest novels of all time (if not THE best) and so the film adaptations have continued to roll out, in Hollywood and beyond, since the creation of narrative filmmaking. The latest may be the most esoteric and challenging, stunning and beautiful; at times wondrously mesmerizing and at others, interminable and pondering.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Life of Pi (***1/2)

Directed by Ang Lee


I wasn't actually too excited about the concept of a film version of Yann Martel's famed novel, Life of Pi, because how can you really tell such a story through cinema? Something about its tale seemed particularly caged by the limits (or lack of limits?) that a novel has. But then I forgot about how resourceful and eclectic a filmmaker Ang Lee is. Shot in breathtaking 3D, Lee turned Martel's sparse tale about spirituality and survival and turns it into a spiraling opus of nature and the will of man. Using the beautiful and vibrant colors of India, along with the mystical tones of the sea, Ang Lee crafted the most beautiful film that I've seen this year.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lincoln (***)

Directed by Steven Spielberg


There's a bit of an aura that surrounds two different figures involved in the making of the 2012 movie, Lincoln. One of the two is its director, Steven Spielberg, who may possibly end his career as the greatest commercial American film director of all time (depending on how much you like Alfred Hitchcock and whether or not you see Hitch as "commercial"). The other is its lead actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, whose well-publicized, near-psychotic performance methods has lead to some of the most ferocious, spell-binding screen performances of the last two decades. The combination of these two cinematic gods adds up to something of an other-worldly expectation. And add to that, this Abraham Lincoln project has been sitting on Spielberg's IMDb page for about fifteen years, and you have a cinematic event worthy of a film geek nerdsplosion.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Sessions (***)

Written and Directed by Ben Lewin


The Sessions is a very optimistic, good-natured film about some very dark, adult themes. It's one thing to be a virgin when you're over 40 (as Judd Apatow has so excellently shown us already), but it's another thing to be a virgin at 40+ and have polio. Most people don't like to think about the terribly ill, but even the few that do will rarely want to think about that part of the equation. The Sessions is very frank, honest and compelling, mostly because it has a great character in its central role, but also because it is totally unafraid to tackle an issue most people would rather not think about: what happens when an incredibly crippled person wants to experience sex and love?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph (***1/2)

Directed by Rich Moore


There's a dirty word in movies that comes to describe a certain pandering type of film that plays upon the easiest of human emotions to get cheap reactions. That word is sappy. I bring this up because usually the difference between something that is sappy and something else which is just organically sentimental is basically a screenplay that earns it. I think earning sentimental moments is one of the hardest things to do in screenwriting, and there are so few kinds of films that really do it. There's Rain Man, Terms of Endearment, mostly anything by the late John Hughes, as well as The King's Speech and WALL-E for more recent examples. When you can pull that off you can elicit a pretty strong reaction from audiences that can hide a lot of other flaws the movie may have.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flight (***)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis


Flight only works because of Denzel Washington. The film's message is plodding and hackneyed, its journey is predictable, and its resolution is something out of a screenwriting class at Alcoholics Anonymous. But it all takes part in a rather enjoyable movie because Denzel Washington, already considered a pillar amongst the screen acting community, gives a performance that is so unlike any that he's given over the course of his career. Building a brilliant career based on performances settled totally in control, here he plays a man so very, very unaware of his lack of control if his own illness. It leads to something of a revelation for the already heralded actor. And a pretty good movie, too.