Silver Linings Playbook has been receiving critical raves and is currently a major Oscar contender. Director David O. Russell had several rough years following the release of I Heart Huckabees (including the unfinished project Nailed in 2008), but he came back in full force in 2010 with The Fighter, which garnered Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and won Oscars for Melissa Leo (Best Supporting Actress) and Christian Bale (Best Supporting Actor).
I found Silver Linings Playbook to be yet another great film from Russell, but not quite as good as his other work such as Three Kings or The Fighter. I was satisfied with most of the movie until the dancing subplot comes in. For the first hour of the movie I thought that the movie was flat out amazing because it took the familial drama of The Fighter (easily the best element of the movie, and the one Russell seemed most interested in) and removed the boxing element (which was good, but not amazing). The dancing scenes weren’t bad by any means and they obviously served a purpose, but they were much less intriguing than the interpersonal relationships each of these characters had with one another.
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and possibly Jacki Weaver could all be looking at some well deserved nominations this upcoming awards season. I have to say that it was so gratifying to see De Niro finally be great again in a movie. He’s had so many roles where he phoned it in the past couple decades, but here he shows why he became known as one of the greatest actors of all-time. He has to be tough but at the same time there is an underlying sadness within that hardened exterior. He conveys how heartbreaking it must be to see your son, someone you love, struggle with bipolar disorder and not be able to fix it.
Silver Linings Playbook is a movie that hits certain sweet spots, but never neglects the nastier aspects of life that we sometimes have to confront within ourselves. David O. Russel deftly manages the conflicting emotions in a way that never feels manipulative. This movie will probably be getting a ton of love come awards season and audiences are sure to connect to this feel good story of the redemption we find in others and within ourselves. To throw in an unneeded pun to close out this review, Silver Linings Playbook takes this one to the house for a touchdown.
Just wanted to mention a few things that get into SPOILER territory, so SPOILERS after the “read more” break!Read more
*Just looked at the full post and I’d like to apologize for the length of this review up front. I obviously had a lot to say about this movie lol*
*As always, this review is spoiler-free. Enjoy!*
It’s finally here! The Hunger Games! I haven’t been THIS excited for a movie in a while. For a little background I read all the Hunger Games trilogy back in the summer of 2010 about a few months before Mockingjay hit and I became a big fan of the series. I’ve been following all the developments of the movie from hiring the director to casting the roles and I was unbelievably hyped for this movie.
The first like… 5 minutes of the movie I thought to myself “Oh dear God what did I get into?” hahaha. We open with text dialogue explaining the entire concept of the movie and I had flashbacks to Terminator Salvation (not good). Open to Caesar Flickerman and Seneca Crane talking about the Hunger Games which nonbook readers would have no idea about. SMASH CUT to District 12 and Katniss/Prim with unbelievably shaky cam. I liked the hunting bit, but then we have the scene with Katniss and Gale and BOTH of their acting was insanely flat. At that point I had a horrible feeling that the movie was going to be a disaster, but thankfully the acting and the movie as a whole picked up from there.
I was especially worried after that first five minutes because I watched Seabiscuit for the first time earlier this year and I had a lot of doubts about Gary Ross as the director of The Hunger Games. Actually, Ross was actually my personal choice to direct when I saw the short list of directors that included David Slade and Sam Mendes. I thought he handled the themes of Pleasantville beautifully and could bring out the elements of The Hunger Games which made it so good. However, this was BEFORE I saw Seabiscuit and that film worried me because of how piss poor and blunt/obvious the storytelling, character development, and themes were handled. Thankfully, Ross delivered this time!
Aside from one aspect that I’ll get to later, I think that Ross gave us the Hunger Games movie that fans deserved. I was surprised that this film was handled with so much subtlety and grace, especially after how heavy handed Seabiscuit was. Ross chose to play up the emotions over the action and I applaud him for that. It could’ve been so easy to just say “let’s throw in a bunch of crazy action that wasn’t in the books” to try to appeal to general audiences, but instead he chose the hard way. Imagine that, a blockbuster film that actually tries to develop its characters and tell its audience worthwhile messages in thoughtful ways, blasphemy! But Ross did it and he did it exceptionally well.
The acting all around was superb and the casting was excellent. I’m not one of those fans who has to get EVERY SINGLE LITTLE DETAIL right. I don’t care about pedantics such as Jennifer Lawrence not looking “skinny” enough or the fact that Josh Hutcherson is slightly shorter than Lawrence. It’s nice when they get little details right (Cinna’s gold eyeliner anyone?), but what matters more to me is the performance and all the leads and supporting turns were on point.
The supporting players added so much to the film. This is the first time Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane) has been good in anything since American Beauty. Woody Harrelson (despite the awful wig) was absolutely perfect as Haymitch, just the right amount of apathy and the sardonic tone. Donald Sutherland was great as President Snow and I was surprised at how well they kept him involved in the proceedings considering we don’t see much of him in the first book (do we even see him at all? I can’t recall…). Stanley Tucci was utterly perfect as the Ryan Seacrest of The Hunger Games, Caesar Flickerman, he brought a lot of energy to his performance. These side performances help add to the overall mood of the movie.
As far as the two male leads (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth), both performed admirably but Hutcherson definitely went to another level for this one. Hemworth is only in the movie for about 10 minutes (which is faithful to the source material) so he isn’t given much to work with. Hutcherson has the meatier role and he pulls it off so convincingly. I’m a big fan of Hutcherson and I hope this movie gets him the mainstream exposure he deserves and starts getting bigger/better roles in the future.
Last but not least, Jennifer Lawrence. How amazing is this girl? She’s AMAZING as Katniss. If people didn’t know who Lawrence was before, they know now! I thought she was essentially going to pull the same performance she gave in Winter’s Bone (which is an eerily similar kind of role) but she really dug in deep and reached for something more. Watching Lawrence on screen as Katniss, you can’t help but be moved and feel for her.
James Newton Howard is one of my favorite composers and he delivers a wonderful score to accompany the film. I’m not 100% sure if it was him, but if he came up with the theme of Rue’s whistling I just have to say that I think he created the next classic theme that we’ll remember for years to come. I hope they reuse that theme for the sequels because it was fantastic.
Most of my problems with the film were mostly nitpicks coming from a fan of the books. Besides those though, the CGI was incredibly spotty at some moments and killed the believability at times. From the CGI backgrounds to the effects heavy set pieces, there was just something not quite right about the look. You look at a film like Thor and you see the worlds they create and you’re just stunned. I understand this isn’t the most fair comparison in the world because the budget for The Hunger Games was approximately 80 million dollars compared to Thor’s 150 million, but my main point is that the CGI took me out the film at times.
The biggest problem of the film is that Gary Ross just doesn’t understand how to shoot action competently. Shooting good action is one of the most difficult things to do in Hollywood and Ross has only ever done dramas, but it doesn’t give him a pass for barely even trying. During most of the action scenes we’re wayyyyyyy to close to the action. I remember one time during the final fight the camera panned out to a helicopter shot and I thought “thank God!” but then it went back close where you couldn’t see anything and I went “DAMN IT!” When are directors going to learn that shaking the camera as much as possible and trying to make a scene look more intense/hectic than it is is NOT good directing! You’re not Paul Greengrass! I would’ve enjoyed the movie a hell of a lot more if I could actually comprehend the action.
Most of those problems I could overlook because the rest of the movie does so much right. If you had a problem with some of the things they left out well… I don’t know what to tell you because Suzanne Collins herself wrote the screenplay and for a first time screenwriter she did a great job. Who better to capture the essence of the book than the author herself?
The Hunger Games is a dystopian thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire runtime. The book is so faithfully adapted and handled with nuance by director Gary Ross and the performances are powerful. The movie made 155 million on its opening weekend, the third best opening weekend in movie history. If you haven’t seen The Hunger Games by now, GO SEE IT!
A lot of respectable online critics that I trust too. I’m so excited for The Hunger Games!
Another indie darling coming out of the film festival circuit. It won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve been reading nothing but raves for this film and I’m so excited to see it! Will it live up to the hype? Can it compare to the likes of When Harry Met Sally, Before Sunrise/Sunset, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? We’ll see soon!
Side note: I swear, Anton Yelchin is the new Shia LaBeouf man, he’s everywhere! Not that I’m complaining, he’s always pretty money, even in terrible movies (he was the best part of Terminator 4).
May the odds be ever in your favor.
One of the best movie taglines ever. I can’t remember the last time I really loved a movie tagline, I get chills just reading it!
Oh man… here we go… we’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. I think I’ll start off with my history with the X-Men franchise. I used to watch the cartoon when I was a little kid and my cousin bought me a ton of X-Men comics when I was younger (no idea what happened to them all, =[ sad I know). I dug the first two X-Men films directed by Bryan Singer, X2 in particular was brilliant. When Singer decided to leave the X-Men franchise to do Superman Returns, Fox basically just said “fuck it, we’ll do gangbusters at the box office whether we make a good movie or not” and hired Brett Ratner to direct the mess that was X3. I thought that was terrible, it only got worse with X-Men Origins: Wolverine which was an even bigger mess. Then things started to look up…
Aside from making very smart casting choices (which I’ll mention later), Fox brought back Bryan Singer to work on X-Men: First Class, which was a very smart move. He was originally supposed to direct, eventually ended up producing, but I would wager that his influence was definitely a major help. Fox did the next best thing and brought in Matthew Vaughn, who was unceremoniously taken off of directing X3 after putting in over a year of work because Vaughn didn’t think he could make the deadline Fox hung over his head. Well thank God they got him back for X-Men: First Class because this film was absolutely spectacular.
Vaughn’s dedication and work to this film is something that should not be overlooked by any movie going audience. First Class was shot in an extremely short amount of time and supposedly they were still doing post-production work on the special effects just a month before the film was supposed to be released. The guy gave it his all and it is definitely all on screen for the pleasure of the movie going audience.
Vaughn adds little flourishes, stylish techniques that add some much needed flare that’s been missing from the X-Men franchise since X2. In addition to that, he gets the full potential out of a fantastic script and pitch perfect performances from the amazing cast. The pacing of the film is so swift that it never drags, but it also doesn’t feel too rushed. I tip my hat to Mr. Vaughn who is now 4 for 4 in my book with his director filmography: Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, and now X-Men: First Class.
I need to single out the two flat out amazing lead performances by James McAvoy as Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr. They provide the backbone to the complexity of mutants and the way they have to live. This is what separates this film from the plethora of superhero movies that are out there and are soon to come, there is so much emotional depth to the characters and the overall story. I love the way that the film never plays out the ethics or scenarios as black and white, right and wrong, or good and evil. Instead, we see two sides of the coin and a script smart enough to paint the picture of both sides in an evenhanded way. Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw was this way as well. You saw he was kind of evil, but he also had a lot of good points as to humans vs. mutants and his character motivation was definitely a lot more than “I hate humans, kill ‘em all!” or “I want to rule the world!” He was a much more well done villain than most superhero films.
The cast all around though was great. Rose Byrne, one of my favorite actresses, does well in a much smaller role than I originally thought she would have. The supporting cast is filled with up and coming players such as Jennifer Lawrence and Nicolas Hoult. There’s also a few surprises as well which I won’t spoil that made me laugh when I saw them, outside of the really big one that was a really random cameo haha.
The action was also very well done throughout. Vaughn actually knows how to use shaky cam in order to make the scene realistic, but not that distracting by having the cam be too shaky and distorting the audience’s view. There are also just numerous shots were CGI is actually implemented well in the action scenes. Too often CGI action scenes feel like actors in front of a green screen which takes the audience out of the film and lessens the tension and danger in a sequence.
There are some very memorable action set pieces that aspire to the greatness we’ve seen in the X-Men films before it. Okay, maybe nothing here tops the Nightcrawler opening sequence of X2, but besides that it’s all pretty damn good to say the least. There’s a lot of variety and innovativeness to the action set pieces and the use of practical effects combined with CGI was done very well.
I have a few nits to pick (as always lol). These should not be interpreted as anything but minor annoyances, because the overall movie was still pretty great.
My first nitpick is the constant scene changing that takes places throughout. Vaughn does a nice job of setting up the scenes by showing where the scene is about to take place first and putting the location on the bottom of the screen, but this happens about 15 or 20 times during the movie and it feels exhausting at times.
Another minor flaw was the references to the overall series, some of which are not as organic as they should be. Some of them stick out like a sore thumb and just made me groan in my head. A few were implemented well, but there were quite a few that were not subtle at all.
My last flaw, and the biggest one, was the Xavier/Moira subplot which felt totally half-baked. I love James McAvoy and Rose Byrne, but that relationship is not nearly as fleshed out as it should be. It definitely felt like there should have been more screen time devoted to building that relationship in order to gain more sympathy for the human side.
The thing that I found amazing about this movie is that they play both sides of the mutant situation so well, even if a bit too bluntly. Should mutants have to hide who they are? Will mutants ever be accepted into society or will they just always be seen as outcasts/freaks? Amazingly, even though I myself am a human, I at times was on the mutant side more so than the human one.
I mean, I could definitely sympathize with the human side, but it was a difficult situation to say the least. I think that if we had seen more “good” humans, the movie would have been a bit more balanced out. We’ve seen the mutants for the entire movie because we’re following them, how are we supposed to sympathize with Xavier’s point of view when we are given so few decent human beings in the movie? If they played up the Xavier/Moira plotline, it definitely would have strengthened his point of view that humans and mutants can co-exist peacefully.
All in all, X-Men: First Class is the X-Men movie that fans have been waiting for since X2. Wonderful storytelling and character development combined with thrilling action scenes make for one of the best superhero movies to date. If you’ve been hesitant to revisit the X-Men franchise due to the disappointment of X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, do not fear because Matthew Vaughn has brought the X-Men franchise back from the deep and given fans the X-Men movie they deserved and wanted for so long. Go see it!
Even though he’s not blonde, I generally like Josh Hutcherson as an actor and I think he could do a fine job as Peeta. I’m not as familiar with Liam Hemsworth so I don’t really have any comments about his casting. He certainly looks the part, not sure about him acting chops-wise but it’s not like Gale has that much to do in The Hunger Games trilogy anyways >_>
Hailee at press conference in Tokyo.
Hmm she looks kind of Asian in these pictures. Makes me think she would’ve made a better Katniss for The Hunger Games because Katniss was always described as racially ambiguous. Oh well, we’ll see what Jennifer Lawrence looks like before I judge.