Saturday, December 8, 2012

Three Movies: One Yes, One No, One Maybe . . .

There are so many new movies out during this traditional movie-heavy season that we almost don't know where to start.
But we recently saw three new arrivals that have created a buzz.
We loved one, liked another and demurred (to be kind) on the third.

Let's start with the one we loved. That would be Silver Linings Playbook, one of the season's biggest hits.
We weren't at all sure we were going to like this one. Right from the start, this movie is sullen and a bit scary and then it grows noisy, raucous and unpredictable. It can be unsettling.
But it's wonderful, not just for its gritty story and its authentic location (Philadelphia and environs) but ultimately for its outstanding cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jackie Weaver and above all, Robert De Niro. Cooper is vulnerable and totally convincing as a troubled young man who's suffered his share of setbacks and moves back in with his parents while trying to reconcile with his ex-wife. Lawrence is the almost equally troubled neighborhood gal who finds herself smitten with Cooper. And Weaver and De Niro are Cooper's parents.
This movie is a combination of Rocky, Dirty Dancing and The Fighter and it's almost as good as the first, as good as the second and maybe even better than the third. Plus, its story is every bit as intelligent and compelling as another gem of this genre, Good Will Hunting.
So, the flick is impressive all the way around.
But what we will remember most of all is De Niro's performance. We figure this great actor's care, sensitivity and depth of feeling with this role is bound to garner another Oscar nomination.
Don't miss Silver Linings Playbook!

Now, to the movie we simply liked: Playing For Keeps.
In this movie Gerard Butler plays a former sports star (soccer) who's fallen on hard times and starts coaching his son's soccer team as a way to get his life together. His attempts to become an adult are met with challenges from the attractive soccer moms who pursue him at every turn. As in Silver Linings Playbook (which shares a sports motif) the protagonist here is also trying to reclaim his ex-wide. But there the similarities end.
This movies is a pure romantic comedy and it is also a showcase for the charm, talent and good looks of Gerard Butler. But Butler isn't the only eye-candy. There's also Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Judy Greer and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Plenty to look at and delight in. And the story, while predictable is still engaging.
In other words, this is a good date movie -- romantic, funny and ultimately happy.
So, yes we liked it.
But we're not exactly sending out hosannas.

And finally, the flop.
We're talking about the film that some have called the year's greatest love story.
But we say it's a mess, pure and simple.
There's just too much movie in Anna Karenina -- too many stories, too many costumes, too much scenery, too many actors, too many schemes, too much time, too much space too much upheaval, too much angst, too many trains, carriages, farms, stately homes, and way too much theatricality.
From the very beginning you almost don't know where to look first in Anna Karenina.
Based on the novel by Tolstoy and set in late-19th-century Russia high-society we see the aristocrat Anna Karenina who enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. From then on, we know that Anna is doomed -- doomed! And it's a long, slow, tedious slide to the bottom.
Why does Anna do it? Well, it's love. And love is totally irrational. And in this movie everything's somewhat irrational and all very Russian, which means don't ask too many questions. This is deep. This is Russian. And this will not end well.
Remember the words that Ira Gershwin wrote: "I've found more clouds of gray than any Russian play could guarantee?" Well, this is that Russian play.
Which is not to say that it couldn't have made a great movie.
And, indeed it already did -- in 1935 with Garbo. That's the one to see!

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