Supercut: Gangsters

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 8:00 am

Movies have been fascinated by gangsters from the beginning, and this stylishly compiled supercut shows us some of the best well worth appreciating not just the art of the actor but also of the director, cinematographer, and production and costume designers.  Don’t you think it’s time to bring back fedoras?

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Film History For Your Netflix Queue Supercuts and Mashups

Silver Linings Playbook

Posted on November 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Assaults and fighting
Diversity Issues: Respectful treatment of mental illness
Date Released to Theaters: November 16, 2012
Date Released to DVD: April 29, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00A81NFAS

When Bradley Cooper appeared on “Inside the Actors Studio,” the first graduate of the program to be featured, they showed a clip from Robert DeNiro’s appearance on the show, with then-student Cooper asking him a question about his performance in “Awakenings.”  DeNiro was clearly impressed with the perception and sincerity of his young questioner.  It was only a few years later that Cooper was acting opposite DeNiro in “Limitless.” Now they are together again as father and son, Pat Sr. and Pat Jr., in “Silver Linings Playbook,” based on the novel by Matthew Quick.

Pat Jr. has been in a mental hospital being treated for bipolar disorder, the result of a plea bargain following “the incident,” we will only learn the details of later.  His mother brings him home though it is not at all clear that he is or will ever be ready.  Pat has impulse control problems, especially when he hears a particular Stevie Wonder song or does not like the ending of a Hemingway novel.  But he is absolutely determined to get his life back.  And his wife back.  This involves a lot of physical conditioning and finding away around the restraining order that forbids him from contacting her.

He meets a troubled young widow named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence of “Hunger Games”), the sister-in-law of his best friend.  Pat is fighting so hard to be “normal” again that he is disturbed, annoyed, and a little scared by her outspoken, socially inappropriate behavior.  But she offers the same directness and shared experience he had with his fellow patients.  He struggles with the competing impulses to reject and accept her overtures of friendship.  Their exchange about the effects of various mood and anti-psychotic meds is a gem, the mental illness equivalent of Romeo and Juliet speaking to each other in alternate lines of a sonnet on their first meeting.  And Lawrence is sublime in her summation-to-the-court-style argument with Pat Sr. about the factors that go into an Eagles win.

They agree to help each other, and this gives Pat purpose, discipline, and direction.  And we learn more about “the incident” and about Pat’s relationship with Pat Sr., a professional gambler and bookie whose passion for the Eagles provides some context for his influence on his son.

Director David O. Russell, who adapted the novel, and his cast fill the story with engaging, believable characters, especially Jackie Weaver as Pat’s mother, John Ortiz as his stressed-out best friend, and Anupam Kuhr as his therapist.  It is a great pleasure to see Chris Tucker, who is outstanding as a mental patient, though I wish they had found him more to do than the usual “black it up” (that’s a direct quote) pep talk.  Pat is so upset by the end of Farewell to Arms (on his wife’s assigned reading list for the high school class she teaches) that he has to wake his parents in the middle of the night to tell them why stories need happy endings.  The ending here is abrupt and a bit cheesy.  But these damaged and vulnerable and anxious characters love and want to be loved and we want it for them.

Parents should know that this film includes a lot of very strong and profane language, sexual references (some explicit), family dysfunction and mental illness, drinking

Family discussion: How are Pat and his father alike? How do Tiffany, Ronnie, and Cliff help him? What makes Pat change his mind?

If you like this, try: “Inside Moves” and “Garden State”

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Romance
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Killer Elite

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Like this year’s “The Devil’s Double,” this film would be much more satisfying and believable if it was not so self-serving in favor of the people telling the story. The oddest part is that the fight scenes are brutally, authentic while the non-fight scenes are laughably ridiculous.  While it says it is “based on a true story,” the book that inspired it is labeled as a work of fiction and has been discredited by family members of those involved.

It opens in 1980, with the world in unrest and an oil crisis.  Danny (Jason Statham), ex-special forces, works various dangerous jobs with his long-time ally Hunter (Robert De Niro) until he decides to leave it all behind and have a new, peaceful life in Australia.  But he gets pulled back in when Hunter is kidnapped by a sheik who wants Danny to hunt down and kill the men from British forces who killed his three sons in an armed conflict in Oman.  But Danny can’t just kill them.  The sheik wants taped confessions from each and then Danny has to make each death look like an accident (which of course makes it impossible, 30 years later, to say that the accidental deaths were not really homicides).  Danny gets the band back together, with, of course, one newbie just to act as a wild card, and goes after the sheik’s three targets.

But  in this nasty, brutish world, everyone’s a bad guy; it’s just a question of degree.  While Danny and his group are going after the guys who killed the sheik’s sons, the guys who think those guys were the good guys go after Danny.  And while all of that is going on, the desiccated old men sitting around in  expensively  furnished board rooms are moving them all around like chess pieces, with even less regard for whether they get knocked off the board.  These are the “feather men” (because of their light touch) who like some third-rate Batman villain actually leave their calling card to let the men who do the actual killing know that they’ve been there.  Just to make sure we get the point, the old guys in suits actually say things like, “What we did there was questionable,” “We all know our people went too far,” and “We’re businessmen and bankers now.  We can leave no trace of our activities.”  Meanwhile, the guys who kill people (as opposed to ordering other people to do it) say things like, “Killing is easy.  Living with it is the hard part.”  So we know they have feelings, get it?

Statham is always a pleasure to watch and De Niro is superb as the man who has given his life to adrenaline and rough justice but is loyal to his friend and his family.  The fight scenes are not the usual choreographed carnage but believably rough and exhausting.  There are some nice shifts of allegiance back and forth and some good points to be made about how behind the killing is profits from oil.  But the whole premise becomes increasingly ludicrous until it falls apart.

(more…)

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Action/Adventure Inspired by a true story Spies

Limitless

Posted on March 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Plot concerns a performance-enhancing superdrug,
Violence/ Scariness: Some intense and graphic violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 18, 2011
Date Released to DVD: July 18, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B0051MKNV8

Most of us feel that there must be some way for us to unleash the best version of ourselves. Whole sections of bookstores, whole shelves of vitamins, dozens of infomercials, motivational speakers, and guides to personal growth, self-actualization, and personal and professional success are evidence of the powerful human sense that there must be some trick to getting us out of our own way. So, if someone offered you a pill that would do all that for you, you’d probably be tempted to give it a try.

That’s what happens to Eddie (Bradley Cooper) in this stylish thriller. He’s a guy who feels like a loser. He has yet to write a single word of the book he is supposed to be working on. His girlfriend (Abbie Cornish as Lindy) has dumped him. He lives in a dive and he is out of money and out of ideas. He has just about lost touch entirely with any notion of himself as a person in control, a person on track, a person with a sense of possibility. He runs into his former brother-in-law, who says he has moved on from selling street drugs to selling legal pharmaceuticals and offers him something new and special, a small, circular, clear little performance-enhancing pill. Eddie swallows it.

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It hits him like a combination of Ritalin, steroids, speed, and super-powerful ginkgo biloba. It hits him like spinach hits Popeye, if it grew his brain instead of his muscles. Suddenly, everything makes sense. Eddie has focus, confidence, motivation, clarity. The scales drop from his eyes. Everything makes sense to him, information, numbers, people. He can effortlessly access any information he has ever skimmed over, even if he was unaware of it at the time. He finishes writing his book in four days and it is a masterpiece. He can learn new languages almost instantly. He gets a haircut, cleans up his apartment, starts to work out. He gets Lindy back. He starts investing and the money pours in. A billionaire (Robert De Niro) makes him an offer.

But there’s a problem. Eddie becomes dependent on the drug. He keeps upping his dose and he starts to have black-outs. His ex-wife gives him a shattering glimpse of what it means to go cold turkey. The dealer has been murdered. Eddie has a stash, but no way to get more. Other people know about the drug and they desperately want him to get it for them. Can he out-think other out-thinkers?

Cooper has become one of Hollywood’s most appealing leading men and this movie, which he co-produced, plays to his strengths. If he is not exactly convincing as the pony-tailed mess at the beginning, he has all of the genuine movie star gloss to make the newer, better Eddie look, as Dolly used to sing, better than a body has a right to. Director Neil Burger keeps the movie amped up, making us feel a little wired as we watch. It’s fun to get inside the head of someone working at 500 percent capacity, seeing how he thinks through his options, trying to maintain control internally and externally, balancing the swings between extraordinary powers and terrifying dependence and vulnerability.

Even those of average intelligence to spot the problems Eddie overlooks — or the obvious solution it takes him the entire running time to figure out. But it is still a lot of stylish fun to see Bradley Cooper inhabit the fantasy — and deal with the fallout.

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Science-Fiction
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