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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

XXX GUARDIANS-GALAXY-MOV-JY-0704.JPG A ENT

by Steve Habrat

Just four short months ago, Marvel Studios broke away from their kid-friendly formula with Captain America: The Winter Solider, which found the star-spangled man with a plan punching, kicking, and stabbing his way through a shadowy political thriller. It was refreshingly gritty and darker than anything the pulpy Marvel had released before, and it turned out to be the comic book studio’s best Avengers movie yet. As the summer movie season winds down, audiences are still searching for that one blockbuster that leaves you floating on cloud nine. There have a handful of pleasing efforts (Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) that passed the time nicely, but none have contained the zippiness of Marvel’s newest adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy. Fitted with a title that calls to mind serial space adventures of the 1950s, and playing out like an episode of The Jetsons crossed with the original Star Wars, director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a cosmic daydream of a superhero movie—one that continuously delights as it zooms from one dazzling planet to the next. Even more exciting is the fact that Marvel studios—who has clung largely to four well-known protagonists—has taken a risk on a band of lovable misfit thugs who have always shied away from Marvel’s mainstream line of comics.

Guardians of the Galaxy picks up in 1988, with a young Peter Quill having to say goodbye to his terminally ill mother. After suddenly passing, Peter bolts from the hospital into the foggy night, where he is spotted by a UFO and beamed up into space. In present day, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt) is a wanted man across the galaxy. He earns a living by working for a space pirate by the name of Yondu (played by Michael Rooker), who is always flirting with taking the reckless Peter’s life. After stealing a mysterious metallic sphere from an abandoned planet, Peter finds himself being hunted down by a green-skinned assassin called Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), a tough-talking furball named Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Rocket’s simple-minded muscle and personal houseplant, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). After being rounded up for causing a ruckus in the streets of Xandar, Peter, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot are all arrested by Nova Corps and shipped off to a massive prison called Kyln. Upon their arrival, the group meets Drax (played by Dave Bautista), a hulking madman who is eager to kill Gamora for her affiliation with Ronan (played by Lee Pace), a Kree alien who wishes to get his hands on the sphere for his own destructive pleasures. After discovering the money that can be made by selling the orb, the group bands together to break out of the maximum-security prison, but hot on their tail is Ronan and his extremely deadly assassin Nebula (played by Karen Gillian), both of which know that the sphere houses more terrifying power than the misfit group could ever imagine.

Given the absurdity of some of the characters that make up the core team in Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn gives the film a self-aware sense of humor that is downright infectious. Part of Marvel’s allure is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, and Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t dare break this tradition. In fact, it’s even more cartoonish than The Avengers, and the humor is even more in your face than anything you have seen in the past. Part of the credit must go to the script, which was penned by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, which crackles with sparkling one liners that are simultaneously bad ass and hilarious. Gunn has already proven himself to have a handle on comedy, as he expertly blended it with horror in his underrated 2006 horror flick Slither and his 2010 indie superhero outing Super, but it’s nice to see him introducing his talent to the mainstream. While there is certainly a strong emphasis on comedy, Gunn never forget to bring the razzle-dazzle sci-fi action. The standout is easily the bonkers prison break that finds our heroes improvising their way out of an industrial prison housing a whole bunch of extraterrestrial crazies with faces only their mother’s could love. And we can’t forget the battle on Knowhere, where a drunken Drax attempts to put the smack down on an alarmingly calm Ronan, and the rest of our heroes jump into an aerial battle without the luxury of weapons bolted to their spaceships.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

While Guardians of the Galaxy certainly wins big with its balance of zinger jokes and fizzy action, the best part of the film is the five main characters that we glide through the stars with. Parks and Recreation funnyman Chris Pratt finally hits the big time with Peter Quill/Star-Lord, a bopping outlaw who dances his way to his prizes. He brings plenty of his man-child charm to the character, but what really surprises is his chops as an action star. He really holds his own in the rock-em-sock-em moments. The sexy Zoe Saldana is as fierce as ever as Gamora, a green-skinned assassin who would take out a whole room full of hulking extraterrestrials if one dares to look at her wrong. There is naturally a love story that begins to blossom between Quill and Gamora, and it unfolds with sweet patience and plenty of beating heart. Then we have Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer, an extremely literal beefcake on a quest to exact revenge on those who are responsible for his family’s death. The WWE wrestler shows off serious talent as a comedian and nabs some of the film’s best one liners, specifically one about Quill’s sarcastic remarks going right over his head. The ever-popular Bradley Cooper lends his nearly unrecognizable voice to the CGI Rocket Racoon, a genetically engineered rodent who can’t resist massive machine guns and hocking a loogie right in captor’s direction. Perhaps the core team’s best member is Vin Diesel’s Groot, a tree-like creature capable of only saying three words: “I am Groot.” Groot gets some of the funniest moments of the film, and when he’s called upon to protect the group, he does so hair-raising fury.

As far as the supporting roles go—and trust me, there are plenty of them—nearly every single performance manages to sparkle. Lee Pace bulges his eyes and booms threats to the good and the evil as Ronan, a ruthless adversary that wishes to inflict some serious pain on the galaxy. Beninco del Toro’s flamboyant Taneleer Tivan/The Collector seems to be being groomed for the villainous role in future installments of the series. Del Toro injects a bit of edgy unpredictability into The Collector, which leaves you wanting more from his character. The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker brings his tough guy act to Yondu, the leader of a band of space pirates called Ravagers. His bright blue skin and crooked teeth sure make him a visual marvel, but wait until he reveals a secret weapon that makes him a man you certainly don’t want to cross. Karen Gillian gets to bear her fangs as Nebula, Ronan’s loyal number to who slices and dices her way to her opponents. Djimon Hounsou gets wicked as fellow Ronan supporter Korath, Glenn Close dives into sci-fi as Nova Corps leader Nova Prime, and John C. Reilly largely keeps a straight face as Nova Corps soldier Rhomann Dey.

On the technical end of Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn and his crew think up frame after frame of sci-fi splendor that just looks fantastic. The make-up effects are ornate and unique, the CGI landscapes are clean and convincing, and the set work is vibrant and detailed. The final battle between Ronan’s forces and the Guardians hurls plenty of shimmering eye candy at the audience, and it captures a bit of the rollicking spirit of classic summer blockbusters we’ve all come to know and love. It’s retro feel and the sunny nostalgia for ‘80s summer blockbusters that ultimately makes Guardians of the Galaxy such a treat, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark will be tickled…uh…green by the not-so-subtle tribute in the opening moments. In addition, the film doesn’t shy away from the dramatics, as there are several emotional surges that hush the howling and cheering audience. Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy shakes the summer movie season out of its weary slump and dares to show you something you didn’t know you wanted to see. It’s an endearing and exciting miracle that invites you to cut loose and get lost in a blur of imagination for two hours. For those out there who believe that they have seen every oddity that outer space has to offer, you simply won’t believe what James Gunn and Marvel have in store for you.

Grade: A

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American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle #1

by Steve Habrat

Ever since his directorial debut in 1994, David O. Russell is a filmmaker that continues to surprise critics and audiences with the wide range of films that he produces. He’s done indie comedies (Spanking the Monkey, I Heart Huckabees), mainstream comedies (Flirting with Disaster), war thrillers (Three Kings), political comedies (Nailed), sports dramas (The Fighter), romantic comedies (Silver Linings Playbook), and now, just under a year after releasing his celebrated Silver Linings Playbook, he tackles another project that expands his intriguing body of work. Just in time for Oscar season we have American Hustle, a film that has been receiving glowing word of mouth over the past several months for its intoxicating blend of 70’s style, quirky characters, dry humor, and rich story that consistently pulls the rug out from under the viewer at every turn. With expectations at a staggering high, you start to wonder if this tale of a sleazy con man, his gorgeous partner, and a shifty FBI agent could ever live up to such praise. Yet with each passing second, American Hustle hits entertaining levels that are off the charts, and it finds Mr. Russell in full form, radiating a confidence we have yet to see from this talented filmmaker. Russell can also thank his star Christian Bale, who gives the best performance of his career, for making American Hustle such a strutting must-see.

American Hustle introduces us to Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale), a smooth-talking con man that runs a chain of Laundromats and on the side operates a seedy loan business where he takes $5,000 from desperate clients and gives them nothing in return. Life is pretty good for Irving, but it gets even better when he meets the beautiful Sydney Prosser (played by Amy Adams), who is drifting from job to job. After showing his business off to Sydney, she jumps on board and assumes the identity of Lady Edith Greensly, a British bombshell with overseas banking connections. As Irving and Sydney rob their clients blind, the two strike up a romance that is kept from Irving’s motor-mouthed housewife, Rosalyn Rosenfeld (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who paces around their home like a caged tiger. It doesn’t take long for Irving and Sydney’s operation to be thwarted by Richie DiMaso (played by Bradley Cooper), an eager FBI agent looking to make a name for himself at the bureau. Rather than locking Irving and Sydney up in jail, Richie decides to use the con artists to help him with an operation called Abscam, which would lure Carmine Polito (played by Jeremy Renner), the beloved Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, into taking a bribe. Irving and Sydney reluctantly agree to help Richie, but their plot to take down Politio takes a dangerous turn when several other high level politicians and ruthless mobsters get involved.

With so much style and humor to burn, American Hustle wouldn’t even need its winding and weaving script that finds all of its boldly drawn characters attempting to get over on each other. From the opening retro studio logos, Russell is gleefully smashing open a post-Vietnam and Watergate time capsule, which allows us to glimpse an America that has embraced earth tones, tacky oversized sunglasses, perms, bell bottoms, leisure suits, plunging dress necklines, and disco music. It’s all so loud, excessive, and in your face that it threatens to be cartoonish. It also guarantees that American Hustle is going to be a strong contender in the production design category, costume design category, and make-up and hairstyling category. While the meticulous attention to detail certainly makes the film entertaining, the sense of humor that Russell injects is an absolute wonder. The film opens with Bale’s Irving fussing with his comb over, hilariously gluing strips of hair down over a tuft of fake fuzz. It is guaranteed to have the theater doubled over in laughter, especially when Cooper’s DiMaso decides he is going to mess the eccentric masterpiece of a hairdo up. Also brilliant is the winking trip to a flashing disco club, where Adams and Cooper burn through the dance floor like fiends. It’s wildly hilarious and hot-under-the-collar sexy as they shimmy and shake their way to a dimly lit bathroom stall. American Hustle’s crown jewel of hilarity comes when Irving and Rosalyn have their very first fiery encounter with a microwave, which they continuously refer to as the “science oven.”

Amy Adams;Jennifer Lawrence

Making American Hustle even more irresistible is the A-list cast, who all seem like they are locked in a never-ending battle for the spotlight. While they are all fantastic, none come close to matching the work of the out-of-this-world Christian Bale. We’ve seen Bale immerse himself in his characters before, but none have been quite as charming and alive as Irving, the pudgy con man with the meanest comb over you have ever seen. In front of Sydney, his clients, and even DiMaso, Irving has a silver tongue that really works a room. His confidence practically burns a hole in the screen, but when he’s behind closed doors and facing the wrath of Rosalyn, he’s a fidgeting disaster that clutches at his heart and pops little white pills to calm his weak ticker. Adams is a spitfire as his redheaded partner, Sydney, who throws on a British accent and toys with DiMaso’s heart. Adams and Cooper share two specific moments that could practically set the screen ablaze. Cooper nails his role as the slimy DiMaso, the hotshot FBI agent who wears his perm like a crown. Lawrence is as sexy as ever as Irving’s restless wife Rosalyn, a bored and neglected housewife who threatens the whole operation. Then there is Renner as Polito, the optimistic Mayor who is determined to bring back Atlantic City any way he can. Rounding out the cast is Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen, DiMaso’s perpetually peeved boss who can never seem to get control of his determined agent.

As if the style, humor, and fluid performances weren’t enough to make you fall in love with American Hustle, the film also boasts a firecracker of a script from Eric Warren Singer and Russell. Slightly based on true events, it dares to be unpredictable, sweet, intimate, touching, and intensely character driven as all of these characters that claim to do anything for survival try to play each other any way they can. It’s a thrill not knowing what direction it’s going to veer off in next. All the bickering and scheming builds to a witty final act that springs a double-cross rush that leaves you floating out of the theater. Overall, American Hustle finds Russell at the top of his game as a filmmaker. He is working with an airtight script, capturing brilliant performances that play phenomenally off each other, filling his frames with gorgeous set and costume design, and allowing his sharp sense of humor to fuel its soul. The end result is gold-plated entertainment that is guaranteed to retain its shine for years to come and reward with multiple viewings. By the end of the film, you will respect the hustle.

Grade: A

Favorite Hangover Movie… GO!

The Hangover Poll

The Hangover Part III (2013)

The Hangover Part 3

by Steve Habrat

After taking in the revolting antics of 2011s The Hangover Part II, the question of whether the world truly needed the second Hangover film hung thickly in the summer air. Was the follow-up to the inexplicable 2009 megahit really necessary? Apparently, Warner Bros. and director Todd Phillips thought the world needed a double dose of the Wolfpack. I don’t think there is any doubt that the world DEFINITELY didn’t need a third Hangover movie, but here we are with what is being called the final installment in the Hangover trilogy. Let’s hope so. Let me be clear when I say this—America, this is what you asked for. The Hangover Part III is about the laziest movie I’ve seen all year. It can be commended for breaking the formula of the first two movies and trying something new, but was everyone sleepwalking through the making of this thing? Devoid of any solid laughs and structured with a plot that seems like it was conceived by someone in a drunken stupor, The Hangover Part III is about as flat, arid, and jaded as cash grab sequels come. Even the target audience will have a hard time finding the humor in all of this, and more importantly, they’ll find it nearly impossible to root for the horribly detached heroes Phil, Stu, and Alan. You’ve been warned, folks.

The Hangover Part III focuses much of its attention on bearded oddball Alan Garner (played by Zach Galifianakis), whose bizarre behavior is slowly spiraling more and more out of control He has quit taking his medication and in a seriously foolish move, he purchases a giraffe that is killed while he tows it down the highway. Appalled by his son’s anti-social behavior, Alan’s father, Sid (played by Jeffrey Tambor), drops dead of a heart attack. It doesn’t take long for the grieving family to round up Alan’s best buddies and stage an intervention for the distraught man-child. Among the friends that step in are schoolteacher Phil Wenneck (played by Bradley Cooper), dentist Stu Price (played by Ed Helms), and Alan’s brother-in-law Doug (played by Justin Bartha). The group convinces Alan to go to rehab, but he is only willing to go if the Wolfpack will go with him. While on their way, the guys are rammed off the road and confronted by the pudgy gangster Marshall (played by John Goodman), who demands to know the whereabouts of flamboyant Chinese gangster Leslie Chow (played by Ken Jeong). It turns out that Chow, who has recently broken out of a Bangkok prison, has stolen $21 million dollars in gold bars and that Alan is the only one who has had communication with him since the escape. Marshall takes Doug as collateral and threatens that if the Wolfpack doesn’t track Chow down in three days, he will kill Doug.

The biggest crime of The Hangover Part II was that it recycled the plot of the first film, switched locations, and then padded it with a thick layer of lurid shocks. It was the ultimate endurance test and I’d say Phillips was the true victor. With The Hangover Part III, Phillips wisely moves away from the gross out approach that he used in Part II. You’d think that a toned down feel and a fresh plot that was minus a night of heavy drinking would refresh the franchise and energize the main players, but it’s actually the complete opposite. There is barely a laugh to be found throughout the hour and forty minute runtime, just ask the packed showing that I attended. There was an excited buzz in the air before the opening credits rolled and as the film drug on, you could feel that excitement slowly fading as joke after joke failed to get much of a reaction. To make things worse, Phillips then placed the two most popular characters, Alan and Chow, at the forefront of the entire project. You probably already know I’m not a big fan of either character and I think that a little bit of each one goes a very long way. You can just sense that the studio and the filmmakers are crossing their fingers that Galifianakis and Jeong will carry the film across the finish line. It should be said that they don’t. They stumble and fall the minute they get moving.

THE HANGOVER PART III

The sense of laziness carries over into the performances from Helms and Cooper, both who act like they’d like to just step away from the project altogether. Cooper, who is hot off an Oscar nomination for his surprising performance in Silver Linings Playbook, seems to be preoccupied with his new success and bored with the story. The script doesn’t even bother to elaborate or deepen his character in any way, shape, or form. He’s just going through the motions for a paycheck and its painfully obvious. As far as Helms goes, he was the one doing most of the work in the first two films, but here he seems edged out by Phillips and Galifinakis. He was usually the one who had the best one-liners but he’s nearly invisible this time around. Galifianakis is off his game (and his rocker) the second we catch up with him as he speeds down the freeway with a CGI giraffe being tugged behind him. Every single joke he cracked made me want to bury my face in my hands and shake my head (mind you, that is not a compliment). As far as Jeong’s Chow goes, there is just entirely too much of him. Even the die-hards will have a hard time defending his drastically increased screen time. Goodman puts forth quite a bit of effort as Marshal and he certainly owns the screen when he is squeezed into it, but there is little in the way of substance there. Fans of the first film will rejoice when they catch a glimpse of Mike Epps as “Black” Doug, Heather Graham as Jade, and, yes, even Baby Carlos, but the thrill will instantly fade when you realize they are given absolutely nothing to do besides reminding the audience that they still exist.

While I will agree that The Hangover Part III is a step up from the pitiful second installment, it is still the furthest thing from a great film. There are certainly a few cruel jokes (the worst being the decapitation of the giraffe) but most of them are unbelievably tame, limp, or simply non-existent. There are times when the film seems to be attempting to jump from the comedy mold entirely and into something resembling an action movie/crime caper, but it is far from smooth about this transition and it is just plain awkward. The project doesn’t even perk up when the Wolfpack finally arrives back in their Las Vegas, their blinking and flashing Hell on earth. By that point, it seems like cast and crew have upped and abandoned this turd altogether. Overall, the reshaped plot is a smart move, but the lack of even one memorable joke and the drastic shift in tone seem to have crushed the Wolfpack’s party spirit. They are ready to move on to bigger and better projects, ones that are more deserving of their comedic talents. And you, America, are ready to laugh at something far funnier than these obnoxious and poorly drawn characters. This is the worst film of 2013 so far.

Grade: F 

The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover #1

by Steve Habrat

In June of 2009, America inexplicably fell in love with an overhyped and lopsided comedy about four unlikable idiots that wake up from a wild night in Vegas with absolutely no memory of their boorish behavior. Oh, and just to make things more interesting, one of them is missing in action and has to be found. You should know that I didn’t go into The Hangover with a negative attitude towards the film. No, in fact, I actually went in with a smile on my face. There was nothing but positive buzz surrounding the film and expectations were sky high. How could I not be excited? I walked out of The Hangover a bit perplexed, a little irritated, and infinitely disappointed. What was I missing that every other American was seeing? The ugly truth is that I really don’t see why people find The Hangover to be one of the funniest movies ever made. It looses steam after about twenty minutes in, has only one mildly likable character in the entire film, and the jokes consistently miss their mark or just deflate right before our eyes. For my money, Todd Phillips, who is responsible for this huge misfire, has directed funnier movies. Yes, I actually thought that his teen comedy Road Trip, which starred Tom Green, and his back-to-school romp Old School were much better than this dud.

The Hangover begins by introducing us to mild-mannered Doug Billings (played by Justin Bartha), who is set to marry the beautiful and wealthy Tracy Garner (played by Sasha Barrese). A few days before the wedding, Doug travels to Las Vegas with his best buddies Phil Wenneck (played by Bradley Cooper), Stu Price (played by Ed Helms), and Tracy’s brother Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis) for a raging bachelor party. The next morning, Phil, Stu, and Alan wake up with absolutely no memory of the previous night and a trashed hotel suite. As they guys stumble around their suite, they discover that Stu is missing a tooth, there is a baby in the closet, and there is a tiger in the bathroom. To make matters worse, Doug is nowhere to be found. As the guys try to piece the events of the previous night together and track down their friend, they are taken on a wild journey that has them crossing paths with a ruthless Chinese gangster named Leslie Chow (played by Ken Jeong), a kind-hearted stripper named Jade (played by Heather Graham), and the one and only Mike Tyson.

For the first twenty minutes, it is smooth sailing for The Hangover. The characters are certainly quirky, especially the anti-social oddball Alan, but they all appear to have some form of positive promise behind them. The jokes also seem to have a bit of sting, even if they don’t necessarily have you doubled over in laughter. And then there is the anticipation of something crazy looming on the horizon, especially in the opening sequence, which finds a dusty and defeated Phil calling up the testy bride-to-be and admitting that the group has really screwed the pooch on this one. You just can’t help but wonder what happened to these guys, as they look like they have been through Hell and back. After the guys wake up in a daze in their suite, the film begins slipping and it is never able to recover. Here and there, Alan and Stu will deliver a good one liner, but as the guys piece everything together, the laughs seem to dwindle. The events become more and more freakish to the point where it just seems designed to shock rather than amuse, and let me tell you, folks, it barely shocks. The guys bash a baby in the face with a car door, a naked man leaps out of a trunk, a used condom is tossed around the inside of a Mercedes, and a pair of deranged cops demonstrate the effects of a taser on dimwitted trio. All through it, you never once find yourself rooting for these guys to have a stroke of luck and find a lead on their pal, which is frustrating because you want to root for them.

The Hangover #2

The most popular part of The Hangover seems to be its characters, which many viewers have deemed absolutely hilarious and lovable when I see them as dark, troubled, and unlikable. Cooper’s Phil is built up to be the levelheaded one of the group but he really just comes off as a smirking ass that could use a good punch to the face. He is a schoolteacher who steals field trip money from his students and treats his wife and son as if they barely exist. I suppose Phil’s family is there to stand-in as character development but you get the impression that he sees them as more of an annoyance than a gift. Galifianakis is the one who everyone seems to rally around but I find him to be extremely stupid, random, and off-putting. Now, you’re probably saying, “that’s the point, Steve!” Yes, but there has to be some sort of redeeming quality to his character and there is absolutely nothing beyond the blank stupidity. He is just weird for the sake of being weird. Bartha’s Doug is bland and forgettable, which is ironic because the film’s plot revolves around his buddies tracking him down and getting him to the altar as quickly as possible. The only one who stands out is Helms as the whipped nerd Stu, who is constantly beating himself up for his drunken behavior. You can’t help but feel for him as his domineering girlfriend rips him up one side and down the other. As far as the supporting players go, Heather Graham turns in a sweet but too small performance as Jade, a stripper with a heart of gold, and Ken Jeong single-handedly rips the film’s climax to shreds as the shrill and flamboyant gangster Leslie Chow. I really can’t think of a movie character I have disliked more than Leslie Chow.

While the middle section of The Hangover sags, the film really crumbles when it arrives at its underwhelming and winded climax in the middle of the Nevada desert. By this point, Phillips and his cast seem to have given up entirely and just set the entire project on cruise control. It just sort of withers and dies in the excruciating heat while the characters stand around and scratch their heads. To make things worse, the big reveal with Doug’s character is hoping to be met with a giddy sigh of relief and a slap to the forehead but I met it with more of a yawn and a “that’s it?” response. Overall, The Hangover certainly arrives at the party to have a good time, but all the good stuff comes way too early and we are left with a bunch of stale shocks that hope to root the viewer’s jaw on the floor. I won’t argue that it has its wild and crass moments, but I can think of more than a few comedies that would make this hangover feel like it could be cured with a glass of water and an Advil.

Grade: D+

The Hangover is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

by Steve Habrat

After spending time with the boxer Micky Ward and his dysfunctional clan in The Fighter, writer-director David O. Russell decides to lighten up a bit and tickle our funny bones with the romantic comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook. Based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook retains some of the grittiness and raw family drama that made up The Fighter, which turns this sappy exercise of love lost and love found into something very heartwarming and special. With his real-world tone set in the first few moments of the film, Russell then focuses on creating characters that are all a bit nutty, which instantly allows the viewer to fall in love with them. Russell even managed to make me really like Bradley Cooper, an actor that I have always felt was highly overrated and never as charismatic as he has been made out. With the character he takes here, Cooper makes a strong case for himself and actually manages to lure me over to “Team Cooper” if only for a little while (I hear there is another Hangover movie coming out this summer so my feelings may change once I see that one). Yet Silver Linings Playbook ultimately belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, the young but aggressive widow who befriends Cooper’s bipolar Patrick and attempts to keep his feet on the ground. It is the relationship between them that is the mushy core of Silver Linings Playbook and the part that you just won’t be able to shake off.

After catching his beloved wife Nikki (Played by Brea Bee) having an affair, Pat Solitano (Played by Bradley Cooper) suffers a violent melt down and is sent to a mental health facility for severe bipolar disorder. After eight months of treatment, Pat is released to his doting mother, Dolores (Played by Jacki Weaver), and his Philadelphia Eagles obsessed father Pat Sr. (Played by Robert DeNiro). With a new positive outlook on life, Pat spends his days refusing to take his medication, reading, exercising, and thinking up ways to win Nikki back, even though she has moved away and has a restraining order against him. Convinced he is on the right track, Pat reconnects with his friend Ronnie (Played by John Ortiz) and his overbearing wife, Veronica (Played by Julia Stiles). One evening, Pat attends a dinner at Ronnie’s house where he ends up meeting Tiffany, a beautiful young widow and recovering sex addict who he forms a quirky relationship with. As the two bond, Pat tries to convince Tiffany to help him communicate with Nikki but Tiffany will only help him if he enters a dance competition with her. Pat reluctantly agrees but he soon finds himself being pulled away from Tiffany by his football obsessed family. To make things worse, Pat begins to fear that he may not be able to win Nikki back.

While Silver Linings Playbook has some heavy moments that rival those found in The Fighter, Russell manages to milk some chuckles even from the most severe situations. The flashback scene where Pat catches Nikki having an affair is cleverly shot from Pat’s POV with a dreamy haze clouding the frame. It is a tense moment that throws a moment of hilarity our way just before Pat unleashes on the guy Nikki is having an affair with. Another scene finds Pat desperately searching for his wedding video. He bursts into his parent’s room in a panic and forces his mother out of bed to aid him in his search (this is just one moment where he bursts in on his poor parents in the middle of the night). As tensions rise and tempers flare, Pat suffers a breakdown that finds fists and slaps flying and the neighbors congregating outside the Solitano home in disbelief. It is a confrontation that should have us nervously shifting in our seats but there is something vaguely hilarious and absurd about it, especially when Patrick accidentally hits his mother. When we aren’t chuckling at the blow ups, we will be getting a kick out of a tour of Ronnie’s home, where Patrick and Tiffany continuously make one inappropriate statement after another (one involving iPod docks and Metallica is especially hilarious). Then there is awkward first date between Tiffany and Patrick on Halloween night, one that starts harmless enough but then spirals horribly out of control as tables are knocked over and the police respond to an argument outside of a movie theater as kids in Halloween costumes close in on poor Patrick. It is almost as if Russell is inviting us to observe the silver lining to these situations, to look past the seriousness and just laugh at our own insanity.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Then there are the spot on performances from Cooper and Lawrence, both that do crazy very, very well. I’ve never found Cooper to be particularly funny but I must say he really delivers the laughs here. He is pathetic in his constant state of delusion and stubbornness, insisting that he doesn’t need to take his medication because he thinks it makes him foggy and bloated. You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he insists that he will get back together with Nikki and everything will work out. When his extreme personality mixes with Tiffany’s, Silver Linings Playbook really soars. Tiffany is just as erratic as Cooper’s sporty Patrick, but she hides behind tangled mess of dark hair and thick eye make-up. It is certainly the most mature role that Lawrence has taken yet, one that dips into pure teary-eyed emotion and shies away from the chilly, closed-off intensity she brought to Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games. On the outside, she is strong and firm, but the more she opens up, the easier it is for her to break. Meanwhile, DeNiro gives one of his strongest and emotionally charged performances in years as Pat’s father. A scene where he begs to spend more time with his son is heart wrenching and, yes, hilarious. Weaver is in top form as Pat’s fussy mother, who really enjoys making snacks for her boys as they huddle around the television. Chris Tucker is also present in a small role as Danny, a fellow patient from the mental heath facility who keeps trying to break out.

At two hours, I feared that Silver Linings Playbook would begin to loose steam in its second half but thankfully it doesn’t. The second half of the film focuses heavily on a bet made by Pat’s father and a fellow buddy with a bad gambling problem. Naturally, the bet centers on the Eagles and the big dance competition that Tiffany and Patrick are participating in. When we finally get to the big dance competition, the big moment seems all too brief and, dare I say, rushed. Either way, the dance routine is wonderfully handled and ends up being a bit of bubbly fun. As far as the family drama is concerned, Russell once again proves that he really knows how to handle this type of material and make the emotions relatable. Maybe it is the lack of polish that really allows these scenes and characters to come to life. Overall, Silver Linings Playbook is a pragmatic reminder that we are all bit crazy, some just a more than others. It is a touching, funny, sweet, and irresistible love story that really has us rooting for the emotionally shattered Patrick and Tiffany. It is a comforting reminder that every moment is another chance for us to heal, we just have to watch for the signs.

Grade: A-

The Hangover Part II (2011)

by Steve Habrat

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: I really disliked The Hangover. There. I said it. I’ve given the film three go-arounds and I couldn’t even force myself to enjoy it. Criticize me all you want, tell me I lack credibility, I’m striving to be different, whatever. The first Hangover movie sucked. It wasn’t funny, fresh, new, or as charismatic as it was convinced it was. It tried way too hard when half the jokes didn’t land. I found it astonishing that people actually said it was such an original concept. Really? Have you ever heard of a movie called Dude, Where’s My Car? Thought so. None of the characters were likable or relatable in any way and don’t even get me started about Bradley Cooper’s Phil or Zach Galifianakis’ Alan. The fact that misguided audiences stood behind them with such ferocity left me speechless. The original film only offered up a handful of genuine chuckles and yes, I do mean chuckles. Oh, and the joke “Paging Dr. Douche Bag”? Not funny.

Well, to everyone who enjoyed the first round of debauchery can give a humongous bro cry of joy and slap your buddy a high five. The Wolfpack is back and even worse than before. The first film was very average at best. It never seemed to live up to it’s full potential and really drive it’s characters to the brink of madness like it should have. This time around, director Todd Phillips pushes the revulsion to eleven and makes an excruciating film that once again only manages to elicit minor (and I do mean MINOR) chuckles and disgusted groans from it’s desensitized audience. Through the coarse of it’s 100 minute run time, The Hangover Part II relentlessly attempts to convince you that it’s really really funny. This should not be mistaken for it actually being funny because it basically isn’t. It’s just horrific and misguided.

For anyone who actually likes these characters should consider signing themselves up for a psychiatric evaluation. They are not funny, not cool, not people I would ever want to hang out with in real life, not sympathetic, and certain not the heroes people have built them up to be. They are douche bags and nothing more. Take Alan for example. What makes this oafish man-child who has a fascination with The Jonas Brothers the stuff of cinematic legend. He spouts off random humor that apparently is meant to shock and awe the audience when really he’s just an obnoxious dweeb. Or Phil? Phil is a hateful character who on the surface is supposed to be the cool, calm, and collected one. Is it wrong that I wish the worst actions be done on to him? He’s egotistical and coarse. Perhaps that was Phillip’s intention to make us dislike them, but the American public seems to melt over their every word. My hope is that this movie will bring them out of their trance.

The Hangover Part II is literally the same movie in a different location. It shamelessly goes through the motions while grinning at itself. It’s convinced it’s great and it prays that you don’t wake up to its true motive, which is to rob you of another ten bucks. But back to the so-called plot. The douchepack is heading to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. Stu, played by the infinitely talented Ed Helms, is basically the only likable character partly because of his reactions to the situations they find themselves in. He’s aghast and seething with anger when he learns of his past actions, which is realistic due to some of the danger that follows them around. But Helms, who is the only talented person attached to this turd, also makes him slightly genuine and sensitive. Once in Thailand, the Wolfpack, along with Stu’s future fifteen-year-old brother-in-law turn a night of one beer on the beach into another drunken romp through the seedy city of Bangkok. This time, they join forces with the shrill Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong, who seems to be funny in literally everything else but this. What follows is a barrage of riots, transgender sex, drug dealing monkeys, car chases, gun shot wounds, severed fingers, American gangsters, and a character missing in action. And let me tell you, folks, it is painful to endure.

The characters that were one note to begin with do not grow or reveal any depth. They are stretched paper-thin and some of them actually snap right in front of our eyes. This is especially true with breaded Alan, who makes one idiotic comment after another. But if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? Phil never even attempts to redeem himself and make us actually like him. Only Stu manages to hold our interest and make us wonder if he will make it back to his wedding in one piece. Mr. Chow is still a character that should have been left on the cutting room floor. A perpetually nude bisexual “gangsta” who makes countless racist comments and cuts Alan down every chance he gets while Alan laughs right along. Maybe Phillips is comparing the relationship between Mr. Chow and Alan to the way audiences howl at the lazy jokes that provide the foundation of these films? One can only wonder.

Even worse, the film lacks a coherent plotline and major conflict. The film really only makes it’s characters aware of a threat in final half hour of the film. The rest is just a horror show of outrageous deprived behavior. The film’s tone is so indecipherable at points that I can’t tell if it was trying to be exploitative or maneuver into the dark comedy realm. It’s dazed with no clear direction just like it’s protagonists. My only hope is that audiences realize that the same joke told two times in a row is not funny especially if joke was unoriginal and unfunny in the first place. A deplorable and careless sequel.

Grade: D-

The Hangover Part II is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.