Silver Linings Playbook: after a mental breakdown and bi-polar diagnosis, Pat Solitano strikes up a relationship with an equally challenged family friend. STOP PRESS! HOLD THE PHONE! Someone somewhere managed to find a very good performance in Robert De Niro, how the hell did they do it? Both leads are also way above what’s required and expected from ‘rom-com’ standards, and both deliver solid, believable, performances as afflicted people. The story’s engaging and interesting, right up until the final act where it runs through the entire checklist for clichéd movie endings. In saying that, you don’t really grudge the ending as the laugh-count in the first two-thirds of the film was ridiculously high (again) compared to what you usually get in a rom-com. The only thing that kept pinching me was that both leads are ridiculously good-looking Hollywood A-listers, centered around an interesting, unconventional relationship – those two roles could have been brilliant breakthrough fodder for unknowns, but in a way, they still are eye-opening performances, and you wouldn’t want to change the casting of Cooper or Lawrence. Silver Linings Playbook is a surprisingly funny and enjoyable quirky rom-com.
Heat: a professional robber and homicide detective go head to head in a battle of wits, guns and getting the job done. The film is laden with superb moments & set-pieces: action, suspense and climaxes, which means that the film is gripping, explosive and unpredictable for the most part. You couldn’t hand-pick a greater cast of actors at their peak – right down to the extras (including Henry Rollin’s neck!!). Both leads are fantastic, equally volatile yet in-control men, despite the contrast between Pacino’s shouting / flailing and De Niro’s calm / focused anti-hero. Both portrayals are physical, entertaining, and career-tipping performances, so much so that by the end, you don’t really want either to snuff it. The biggest problem is that, by wanting to keep the film believable and give it more clout, almost every character gets some back-story, which means that the film spends some time opening lots of minor tangents, many of which are never resolved or revisited – or related to the plot. There’s no question about it, Heat is an outstanding film, and I’d love to give it 9, or 10, but I’d have been much happier watching a three-hour film focused almost exclusively on the two central performances, than have them share the runtime with a multitude of smaller, less relevant characters.
“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
Killer Elite: when his mentor is captured, a contract killer must avenge an Arab sheikh’s dead sons by killing several high profile ex SAS soldiers. The plot was actually decent enough to make the film a Syriana / Body of Lies affair, but with Statham at the helms it ends up being a bog-standard action vehicle – and a poor one at that. There’s absolutely nothing memorable about the film; from the humdrum action, to the bleak washed-out colours – honestly, one week later I can recall about two minutes of the movie. Despite being two hours long, it feels like a 4 hour megafilm that keeps teasing you, but never actually ends. De Niro continues to disappoint, carrying on his ‘cash for billing’ scam, giving the most bog standard of his recent 20-minute performances. The action editing’s not very good either – particularly with his hospital/Owen fight, which was so incoherent that it hurt my head. Even the travelogue aspect feels gratuitous and disappointing. Nothing much to see here other than a nuts and bolts Statham flick.
Sleepers: after a prank goes wrong 4 childhood friends are sent to a correctional center, where their lives are changed forever. Most obviously, this features a powerhouse of actors doing great acting, like nothing I’ve watched in a loooong time. The kids, all great; the adults, just as good. De Niro, brilliant (why can’t he do this more often); Hoffman, top form; Bacon, creep-tastic; The King, not overdone… It’s like watching a masterclass. The story’s not the most upbeat, but is told expertly and handled tastefully. It’s well-directed and topped off with a solid, populist soundtrack. I genuinely have no idea where this film’s been hiding all my life. Despite the risqué material, this is a Grade A tour de force in story telling.
Limitless: a washed-up writer discovers a drug that can unlock the brain’s full potential, spectacularity ensues! Most memorable is some of the great photography and interesting filming techniques, the shots that go from block to block, colour contrast… The story’s also pretty interesting, and it doesn’t follow a particular formula too much. Knowing it’s a hack sci-fi story, the film’s played for both drama and laughs with a few massive WTF moments for no real reason (Ice Skates, blood etc) – certainly made for in interesting viewing! Bradley Cooper‘s just Bradley Cooper, but this plays to his strengths. De Niro plays a focker-esque caricature of the squinting macho male he’s done since nineteen oatcake – very disappointing. Despite being somewhat ironically limited (a single idea spun out a bit too thinly) Limitless is a decent, memorable, interesting popcorn action flick.
Machete: A betrayed Federale butchers his way through a corrupt syndicate to avenge the death of his wife and child. The full 105 minutes of Machete are just absolutely absurd, from the first fully naked chick pulling out her mobile to intestine misuse and seeing Seagal attempt a latino accent… The grindhouse / shock element is pretty cranked to parody / laughable; although the film relies more on CGI than the inventiveness and real gore that genuine b-movies usually would. In saying that, the action is sweet, bloody and OTT fun – although the editing makes it all seem a bit haphazard. A lot of the story rooted in both sides of a real immigration issue – albeit exaggerated. Action hall-of-famer Danny Trejo finally gets his shot at playing a lead, although the Machete character could be any of his memorable previous roles. Everyone else is effective but pretty forgettable, except for De Niro, whose career just seems to be irretrievable. For the gents in the cast the film’s about 10-20 years too late – there’s nothing really exciting about seeing a fat Seagal and out-of-shape Trejo trying to duel. The deliberately old and retro look and feel to the film works quite well, and Rodriguez is clearly a B-movie/exploitation fan, but with all the CGI – and big names – it does lose the certain appeal of real B-movies. For what it is, and what it’s supposed to be, Machete totally hits the mark. Tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation. Fun, entertaining, over-the-top schlock.
Goodfellas: (Blu Ray) A semi-fictional take on the life of Henry Hill; notorious American Mobster from Brooklyn. The chemistry between all the characters is fantastically played, sure there are some stereotypes, but the main three are very believable and realistic, yet completely different. Liotta’s acting is great, but his commitment was even more noteworthy; starting off naive and weedy but becoming a fat, ruined, coked-up mess for the last 30 minutes. Women don’t get much of a look-in, and it’s a good job because Bracco’s acting and ‘jewish accent’ are unforgivable. Scorsese shows he’s a master of the craft with many great, long, signature single-take shots – in particular the journey from the car to the table at the front of the club and from the skies to the meat truck – very powerful directing for the duration that backs up the story. The only anomaly is a bizarre breaking of the fourth wall at the very end of the film. The elegance of the direction is contrasted with a lot of brutal, no-holds-barred violence: beatdowns, bitchslaps, chest-stabbing, face shots, and a lot of gun-butts to the nose! Unfortunately, the Blu Ray doesn’t do the movie justice; the picture’s mediocre and the audio track is pretty lifeless – not once does it make you think “wow”. As divisive as this statement may be, I truly believe that this is the ultimate gangster movie and does in one film what The Godfather fails to do in three – an interesting and highly-watchable epic about the rise-and-fall of an ordinary man, that was accurate and true to the Italian Mafia.