The Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

George Clooney once branded director David O. Russell “insane to the point of stupidity”, but there’s nothing stupid about the filmmaker’s (often literally) insane ninth feature film. Dealing with crazy-making matters of the heart and mind, it’s a rom-com with fangs that runs like the clappers and, yes, has serious bite.

Much of that comes in the form of buzzing interplay between stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. A bouncing ball of nervous energy, Cooper’s a million miles away from Hangover-land, turning in a career-making performance as recovering mental patient Pat – who’s just been jacked out of the clinic where he was recuperating after losing his shit over his wife’s cheating ways.

With not an overplayed twitch or sentimental spasm in sight, Cooper’s a revelation – raw, searing and impossible not to watch. Where the screen really fizzles, though, is when he’s trading no-nonsense insults with the similarly wacky Lawrence, whose Tiffany has her own shopping list of problems (she’s getting over the death of her husband). These are two people you should never put in a room together, which is of course why they make such riveting viewing when they are.

That Cooper manages to submerse himself so fully in Pat’s world is impressive enough, but even more remarkable is Lawrence’s ability to match and even surpass him. Sharp, brittle, seductive, it’s her most accomplished performance since Winter’s Bone – and not once do you mistake her for Katniss Everdeen.

None of this would work without Russell, whose script – based on Matthew Quick’s book – is as blunt as its two leads and often genuinely, unexpectedly moving. Visually, he keeps his framing loose, the lighting naturalistic (think The Fighter). As Cooper also clashes with pap Robert De Niro (fantastic) and mom Jacki Weaver (perpetually terrified), Russell gives the characters ample room to breathe. It’s an approach that really ramps up the tension – along with some killer song choices – and, yes, there’s even one of Russell’s trademark snapback camera moves, here as effective as ever.

Ignore the clunky title (it hasn’t got much to do with the movie). Though a third act dip prevents Silver Linings Playbook from delivering as a bona fide classic, it contains so many laugh-out-loud, disarmingly honest moments you can’t help but be swept along for the ride. Dizzying as a merry-go-round and about as over-sentimental as an IKEA catalogue, it’s a crowd-pleaser from top to bottom. And just on the right side of crazy. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

Top 10 Offbeat Romances

Picture this: Steve Carell and Keira Knightley in a car together. Falling in love. Scoff you might, except that’s what we get in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a madcap dramatic comedy that locks those two odd birds in a cage together to see what happens. It’s something cinema loves to do, as this lot are here to prove…

1. Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
Before he buffed up as a cruiser of the mean streets in Drive, Ryan Gosling got up close and personal with a life-sized doll in this kooky drama. Arriving in a big coffin-shaped box, anatomically correct sex doll Bianca is Lars’s first, um, ‘real’ girlfriend. Hey, it’s a lifestyle choice and who are we to judge?

2. Harold & Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
What’s a teenager to do? Young Harold (Bud Cort) is obsessed with death, but he soon gets very interested in life when he comes across sprightly OAP Maude (Ruth Gordon). Though the age difference is cavernous, these two strike up one of cinema’s most interesting (and unusual) romances. Genuinely moving.

Read the full article at Grolsch Film Works

The Lucky One (2012)

Just glancing at the syrupy plot synopsis for The Lucky One should have you clutching desperately for the insulin. Ex-High School Musical star Zac Efron is Logan Thibault, a Marine who’s served three tours in Iraq. After surviving numerous scrapes with death, Logan attributes his good fortune to the picture of a mysterious woman that he discovered in a bombsite.

Back on home turf, Logan sets out to track down the woman in the photo, Beth (Taylor Schilling), and winds up working with her and her grandmother (Blythe Danner) at their idyllic dog shelter.

If you’re still here, you’re either an Efron groupie or a hopeless weepie-lover. The Lucky One is resolutely targeted at the Notebook crowd, and Efron is clearly looking to ape the success that Ryan Gosling had after beefing up that Rachel McAdams tear-jerker. The similarities don’t end there. Both Notebook and Lucky One are based on impossibly romantic Nicholas Sparks novels, and both depict implausibly flawless man.

Efron’s Logan is almost robotically perfect. He’s good with kids, animals and his hands. His biceps are as bulging as his eyes are blue. He can even play the piano. “No guy could ever be this good,” notes Beth, and she’s right. Logan feels like a composite of an ideal lover – sensitive but strong, introverted by confident – and he exists solely to rescue Beth from her problems.

It’s Danner to the rescue, then, Gwynnie’s mum grounding proceedings with an earthy likeability. And despite the predictable drama, Lucky One squeezes in a few surprises. It’s almost impossible not to fall for its apple pie charms – not least when it’s got a lead as pretty as Efron – and The Lucky One is cosy, familiar and undemanding. It also features some of the best dog acting since The Artist’s Uggie. 3/5

Via Out In The City

Midnight In Paris (2011)

What could be more romantic than midnight in Paris, with its alluring, cosy cafes and softly shimmering waterways? Well, how about midnight in Paris in the 1920s? That’s the era earmarked as magnifique by wistful writer Gil (Luke Wilson) in this, Woody Allen’s latest in a long line of escapist romantic dramas.

See, Gil’s spent his whole life churning out soulless Hollywood scripts for which he’s been generously paid – except he feels withered and wasted by that hollow career trajectory. Gil wants to be a proper writer. That fire is stoked in him when he visits the city of love and starts redrafting his novel, while his vivacious but vacuous fiancée (Rachel McAdams) considers what to spend all his money on. Then one night, Gil finds himself transported back to the ‘20s thanks to a mysterious taxi ride that leads him to historical figures like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill).

It’s all a bit Goodnight Sweetheart, especially when Gil falls for Picasso muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard). The thing with Allen’s films is you often feel like you’ve seen it all before. And you more than likely have; the auteur has been spinning pithy yarns around the same likably eccentric characters and romantic dilemmas since Annie Hall back in 1977. Which means you’ll either embrace Midnight In Paris like an old friend, or dismiss it as another spritely but square outing from a director who’s too old to learn new tricks.

Whichever camp you fall in, it’s hard not to at least like Midnight In Paris. Beating a passionate drum for the arts while making interesting observations about the futility of dreaming about the good old days, it’s a soft focus, inoffensive novelty that even features an appealing little turn by first lady Carla Bruni. 3/5

Friends With Benefits (2011)

When is a romcom that thinks it’s not a romcom really just a romcom? Uh, when it’s Friends With Benefits. A glossy, super-soundtracked puff of candy floss, Friends With Benefits wants to be more than just another generic romantic comedy (the film’s press notes continually and demonstrably use the word “pointed”), but in the end it’s nothing more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

That’s despite some snappy chemistry between leads Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. He’s Dylan, a high-flying Los Angeles art director. She’s Jamie, a New York recruiter. When Dylan’s head-hunted by Jamie and lands a job in the Big Apple, the two bemoan their inability to commit to relationships. The solution? Have strings-free sex without the messy feelings. Who are they trying to fool?

If the concept sounds familiar, it’s because a similar premise was cooked up for this year’s woeful Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher vehicle No Strings Attached. With its edgier leads and Easy A’s Will Gluck in the director’s chair, FWB already has a head start on the competition, and for a while it skates along nicely. Snarky and sarky, FWB opens by confidently lampooning romcom tropes (“Damn you Katherine Heigl!” Kunis screams at one point) while establishing likably eccentric characters.

It’s not long, though, before FWB loses its swagger. While promising a realistic romance, it can’t escape those clutching romcom clichés – picture perfect locations, boring, bed sheet-swamped sex scenes and sympathy-straining family plots mean it’s sterile and boringly predictable. Thank God for Woody Harrelsen, whose straight-talking gay co-worker frequently pops in to save us from the sop with a well-timed crack or a sentiment-free nugget of wacky wisdom. In the end, Friends With Benefits may think it’s better than most romantic comedies, but it isn’t fooling anyone. 2/5

Nerd Nirvana…

Courtesy of… Never Been Kissed (1998)

Name Josie Geller
Branded Josie Grossie
Likes Listening to Madonna, wearing highly flammable party dresses and dreaming about Billy Prince.
Worst Moment Being tricked into thinking she’s going to the prom with the hunkilicious Billy, only to have him hurl an egg at her from the limo as he heads to the prom with his real date. Egg… on… face.
Finest Moment “I’m not Josie Grossie anymore!”
Why We Love Her She’s at the ‘extreme’ end of the geek spectrum, burdened with a serious brace face and absolutely zero social skills (who crushes on their unattainable dream hunk so damned blatantly?!) Despite all that, she’s never anything less than sunny, has an undisclosed-but-no doubt-amazing IQ and blossoms into one seriously cool reporter. Plus that party frock would make for a natty fancy dress outfit.

20 Lamest Rom-Coms

Pretty Woman (1990)

The Romance: Ed (Richard Gere) hires a lovely prostitute in the form of Vivian (Julia Roberts) to keep him company at social events for a whole week. For the princely sum of $3,000.

Most Soul-Destroying Moment: Aside from the whole anti-feminist slant of the thing, Vivian’s trip to a snarky fashion boutique takes the biscuit for blatant emotional manipulation. As Romy and Michelle so succinctly put it, “Oh, boo hoo!”

Redeeming Feature? Roberts is magnetic and lively, even if you do fear Gere will get eaten alive by that giant mouth.

The Switch (2010)

“I hijacked Kassie’s pregnancy!” No, it’s not a line from super-soap Sunset Beach – it’s Jason Bateman in The Switch. Realising that, in a gooey case of mistaken sperm identity, he drunkenly donated his own swimmers to none-the-wiser best bud Jennifer Aniston, he’s now the only one who knows that her seven-year-old kid is actually his.

Knocked Up meets The Hangover, then? Considering The Switch’s premise, you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Surprisingly, though, this film from the directors of Blades of Glory is rather more Kramer vs. Kramer – somewhat poetically, The Switch’s story of a woman who doesn’t need a man turns out to be a film that doesn’t need a woman.

Which actually says more about Allan Loeb’s script than it does about rom-com queen Jennifer Aniston, who here finds a hoot-a-plenty sparring partner in Jason Bateman. It’s just that their no-mance is so obviously geared towards a happily ever after that we turn to Bateman’s relationships with father-figure boss Jeff Goldblum and cutie-pie son Thomas Robinson for something fresh to grab hold of.

The latter, a hypochondriac with eyes like buttons, near steals the movie from under Bateman’s nose. Avoiding child actor pitfalls, Robinson’s growing bond with Bateman will dissolve even the most ice-encrusted of hearts, even as Goldblum – playing himself again, naturally – fumbles and bumbles and gets the biggest laughs of the lot.

Still, The Switch remains merely passable at best, and there’s nothing here that we’ve not seen before, including Juliette Lewis persistently scratching about for a decent part (she was similarly underused earlier this year in Whip It). So Aniston’s latest is neither rom-com, bromance nor dramedy. Indeed, despite some occasionally arresting visual designs, it often feels like an episode of the aforementioned soap merely gifted an A-list cast.

Anticipation: Should be renamed The Sperminator. Sounds daft. 2

Enjoyment: Napkin-sized plot, but the blokes are a joy. 3

In Retrospect: Sparking banter is all but lost in reality-crushing implausibility. It strains to portray a progressive modern woman, but Aniston’s role is the weakest link. 2

Via Little White Lies

Sex and another city

Skype. Facebook. iPhones. GPS. We have never been more connected. But, asks Drew Barrymore’s chin-stroking new flick Going The Distance – dubbed an “edgy comedy” by its director Nanette Burstein – is all this new technology helping to build relationships, or is it just making things worse?

Promising a grittier take on the romcom mould, documentary filmmaker Burstein wants to bash vapid, eye-achingly polished ‘chick flicks’ into shape with Very Modern Issues™. “Tonally it’s more akin to Knocked Up than The Proposal”, she says of her fiction debut. What sort of VMIs are we dealing with? Well, real-life couple Barrymore and Justin Long play a journo and music exec who attempt a tech-enabled long distance relationship. Cue pining, Skyping and (naturally) phone sex…

“It’s kind of a high concept,” nods Ron Livingston, who plays Long’s boss. “Is it possible to have a relationship via all these new toys and tools? At the end of the day you’re still in different places.”

For romcom regular Barrymore, the cocktail of riskier dramedy elements with timely concerns felt perfect for breaking the bad habits of more recent romantic comedies. Here, honest portrayals of human interaction were paramount. Goodbye Sex And The City 2-style materialism. Hullo heartache.

“It felt very real, this is the dynamic of men and women,” Barrymore explains. “The humour isn’t that sort of Three’s Company, misunderstandings, girl-in-distress comedy.” As for playing yin to real-life beau Long’s yang, the actress is typically non-affronted. “Knowing someone creates an honest chemistry,” she says. “That’s something to capitalise on, not to be afraid of.”

Alright, so can long distance actually work in our tech-savvy age? If you’ve been in a city-hopping tryst, you probably already know the answer. And Barrymore? “I used to be obsessed with happy endings,” she muses, “but more and more I’m liking the stamp of reality that feels really pertinent and accessible to my own life.” Get the tissues ready…

Via Total Film

Ron Livingston – "At least Berger left a note!"

Do you have any theme park experience?
No. I did play Captain Crunch for a couple of weeks with Jon Favreau. That’s how we met, playing Captain Crunch for a Quaker Oats ad campaign.

Do you know what PC load letter means?
It means the paper tray on the computer’s empty and needs to be loaded with letter sized paper. That’s what I made up! I don’t know for sure.

Have you ever been in a long distance relationship?
Yes, and I’m not still in it. I think they very rarely work out; they either turn into short distance relationships or into even longer distance relationships.

Has a bullet ever been fired at you?
Not that I’m aware of! If it did, it missed!

Would you break up with somebody using a post-it note?
Not at this point. At least Berger left a note! That’s probably one post-it note better than a lot of guys…

Via Total Film