Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: entertainment

Oscar Winners in Review – Silver Linings Playbook





For all of the incredible stuff that the movies have produced, radically shifting how we view, interact and understand our world and respective cultures there are still things that films genuinely struggle to portray well – one of the most prevalent being mental illness.  It turns out that trying to represent complex, subjective things can be really quite difficult, especially when they don’t translate well to the language of cinema. It isn’t easy to portray the complex, often abstract language of someone’s inner mental and emotional life without being overly reductive so when a film manages to do so well, it’s something that should be celebrated.

As a preemptive defense I should say that the film does still feature a quirky romance, a couple of attractive leads and an older respected actor holding down the supporting cast role but it does genuinely try to engage with complicated  issues around mental health. It’s garnered quite a cult following and proves that the good looking lead might just have some serious talent as an actor in provocative material.


Not Pictured Zach Braff's quirkiness

Not Pictured Zach Braff’s quirkiness



Oh, alright I’m being a little facetious but this is all by way of perspective. Silver Linings Playbook is a good film, a refreshing look at personal problems and a genuinely outstanding performance from Jennifer Lawrence. The film follows Bradley Cooper playing Pat, a man with bi-polar disorder who is released from a psychiatric hospital after forming a close friendship with Danny (Chris Tucker! Playing the comedy relief character? WHATEVER NEXT) Pat moves back home, determined to get his life back together and reunite with his estranged wife. Through a friend he s introduced to the recently widowed Tiffany Maxwell (played by Lawrence) and the two develop an odd friendship due to their respective weird neuroses.

She offers her services as go between for Pat and Nikki as long as Pat will partner her in an upcoming dance competition. Pat ends up getting a typed letter from Nikki that drops hints that maybe the two of them could get back together. As Pat and Tiffany grow closer Pat’s father gets into gambling trouble after some bad bets at a football game and needs his son to score well at the competition to get him out of trouble. The only way Pat Snr and Tiffany persuade Pat to dance is by telling him that Nikki will be there at the contest. The twist is that Nikki never wrote the letter – Tiffany did, and of course, she shows up at the contest any way. Thankfully it ends up all coming out OK as Pat realises that he doesn’t want to get back together because he is love with Tiffany.

And they all lived happily ever after.

If there is anything that the film shows it is the potential of the individual, and here I am not referring to the cast, (as excellent as they are.) The film works solely because of the involvement of director and writer David O. Russell.  He’s somewhat of an odd duck in American cinema, with the ability to pull together strong and interesting films – “quirky” but without the negative connotations that word deservedly carries. He’s gained a reputation as a bit of a hot head too, getting into arguments and fights during at least two of his films.

That said it’s the screenplay that makes this work and the direction adds the shine. Yes, the leads are charming but they behave precisely how they SHOULD behave because they are leads in a screwy rom-com. Thanks to the quality of the writing and directing this isn’t that noticeable as Russell manages to keep the film dancing the fine line between bittersweet and romantic.

So, did it deserve its Oscar win? Tough to say really and whether Jennifer Lawrence is really the best actress of the year, based on this film alone, is a genuinely close call. She’s unmistakably a serious acting talent but I would like to see her in more challenging and interesting roles as here all she needs to do is be charming and sort of kooky (Zooey Deschanel should be worried…) Added to that the fact she has managed to get the internet to fall in love with her and a star was deservedly born when she won. It might sound like I’m not giving the film enough credit but what I do like is that this is a film that manages to tackle things like mental and marital breakdown, football and romance with deft writing and great direction.

The most epic face any Oscar winner has ever pulled

The most epic face any Oscar winner has ever pulled

Russell has always had an interest for trying to combine blockbuster mentality with interesting ideas and he is the only film-maker I know of who would try and make an ‘existential comedy.’ That said, I don’t think this is the best thing he could do.  Which means that even when he hasn’t hit his stride yet he still manages to win Oscars.

That’s actually kind of impressive…



Les Misérables Review


I’m not a fan of musical theater – I’ve never really been able to put my finger on it but there is something about the genre that has always left me a little cold. All that emotion just makes something in my slightly repressed British psyche curl up. Thus, I approached Tom Hooper’s new adaptation of the hugely successful stage show with a healthy degree of caution. The show, based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, has a fanatical fan base which only drove my cynicism higher. Thankfully though, I can report that the film is very good. Really good – this is pretty much the highest praise that I can give a form that I am no fan of, so allow me to explain.

From the opening frames of the film it is made clear that subtly and quietness has no place in this movie – the film bludgeons you into feeling, big, bold emotions. Everything that the film touches on is a HUGE issue, themes of death, love, grief, guilt, salvation, redemption. At the film’s closing the sound heard around the theater was a collective sigh – this is film making as cathartic, spiritual therapy and if you have ever wanted to see the stage show I cannot recommend this highly enough. If you’re a fan of brilliant, passionate film making go see this too.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, I’ll try and give a brief outline without any major spoilers. In 19th century France the paroled prisoner Jean Valjean breaks the terms of his parole and is chased over the decades by the tenacious Inspector Javert. Valjean reinvents himself and dedicates his life to taking care of Cosette, the daughter of Fatine, a woman who falls on hard times. This, and Cosette’s journey of growing up is set against the background of revolutionary politics and Valjeans journey from hate-filled and angry to a deeply spiritual man at peace with his place in the world.

The cast is nothing less than universally superb. Jackman utilizes all of his skills in musical theater to give an absolutely captivating performance as Jean Valjean, brilliantly conveying the guilt, the rage and the spiritual conversion he goes through. His relationship with Cosette is really well done and Jackman should get credit for proving to a wide audience that musical theater can have dramatically thrilling leads. Russell Crowe as Javert is a revelation, giving the finest performance in the entire film, investing the initially simple character with depth, nobility and a grand sense of tragedy, after a few dodgy film choices it is great to see Crowe back to his powerhouse best. The man can sing too – really, really well. Anne Hathaway as the doomed Fatine conveys the tragedy of her character and her solo is one of the highlights of the whole movie. Other notables include Eddie Redmayne revealing a spectacular singing voice and the new comer Samantha Barks as the tragic and unrequited Éponine.

There are a few minor niggles – the comic relief of Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen do start to get a little incongruous in the midst of all the deep theological themes and pulse pounding emoting, and the final third drags in places as the pacing starts to fray a little. The whole thing cannot shake the ephemeral inconsistencies of musical theater but you try and pick holes in the film at your peril. The expert direction from Tom Hooper, (showing the King’s Speech was no fluke) and the beautiful cinematography when combined with the rousing score and sheer scope of the film just batters you into submission. This is a film you cannot fight against – it is by no means perfect but is powerful, beautifully done cinema. It deserves all of the praise that it gets, as it’s well choreographed, amazingly directed and utterly uplifting. Go give it a shot – you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by musical theater. I certainly was.