Silver Linings Playbook

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I love a wide range of films. You can find me watching action & adventure, horror, Scifi/Fantasy, but sometimes it is good to watch an honest, down-to-earth human drama. That is exactly what you get with David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook“. The story follows Pat (Bradley Cooper) who is making his exit from a mental institution. He moves back in with his parents and is dealing with the separation from his wife who cheated on him with a co-worker. He refuses to accept the fact that she is gone when he gets home. She has a restraining order against him, which is working against him psychologically. He is ordered to go to therapy, and to take his medications, which is also a struggle for him. He is set on the fact that things are going to work out with his wife.

Pat goes to dinner at a friends house. Him and his wife know Pat’s wife, and through this association, Pat sees a possibility of getting a hold of his wife. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is present at the dinner as well. She is dealing with the death of her husband, and is trying to move forward. Through the commonality of tough times, Pat and Tiffany start to bond. Slowly, but surely they begin to open up to one another. What ensues is both of them breaking down and essentially rebuilding one another to be able to deal with their past, and look forward to their future.

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I would not pick out Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to co-star in a film together. It is not an obvious match. But watching this film, I can’t imagine any other two actors doing a better job together. This is a breakout role for each of them. They give such a raw performance, it is hard to not appreciate it when the film is finished. I loved Russell’s film “The Fighter” which was another really intense, emotional film.

I love the statement that this film makes, that we are all crazy, we all have a past, and we all have to move forward from that. To see Bradley Cooper in a role like this is great. I enjoy seeing actors get out of their comfort zone, and show us what they can do. He really portrayed that crazy mindset of someone who has essentially lost everything. He is forced to take a long look at himself, and question what he really wants. Tiffany really pushes him hard to do this. But what ends up happening is they both realize what a slave they are to their past, and the way they have been limiting themselves. They both wear wedding rings which is a visual representation of not being able to (or not allowing themselves to) move on.

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This film boasts a great supporting cast. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are wonderful as Pat’s parents. It is a very important aspect of the film to view the parent-child relationship, and the way they process what their son is going through. De Niro’s character is a bit of a crazy himself. He is very OCD, and overbearing, but through this process that his son is going through, I feel like he sees where some of his own faults exist as well.

I am not a big fan of the “Rom Com” genre, but this film breaks the walls down of those cliche, make you feel all warm and fuzzy type of romantic movies. I felt the same way when I saw “500 Days of Summer“. It is films like this that breathe life into a genre, although it cheapens this film to call it a Romantic Comedy. So, we’ll just call it a really great film, which it is. This film well deserves its nomination as Best Picture.

 

– David B. Harrington

 

Click here to view the “Silver Linings Playbook” trailer!

Hitchcock

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I was introduced to Hitchcock films as a kid, and have never stopped watching them since. My dad went and rented “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder” on VHS at the local Blockbuster, and we made a night of it. All these years later, I have come to really appreciate the work of Mr. Hitchcock. His contribution to the art of filmmaking is immeasurable.

I was a little hesitant to go see “Hitchcock” in theaters. It didn’t receive a very wide release. But finally it was at a local dollar theater. So, my dad (appropriately) and I went to check it out. From the previews, I wasn’t sure this was supposed to be a biopic or something else entirely. It turned out to be the latter. The film is mostly a focus on the making of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, “Psycho” (my personal favorite of Hitch’s films). A lot of it takes place on the set, focusing on the interaction between Director and actors. However, there is a fair amount of the film that deals with Hitch’s (Anthony Hopkins) relationship with his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). She becomes entirely fed up with her husband’s reputation, and his absolute determination to see his movie made. He begins to question how he is handling himself, and takes on a certain level of transformation in his relationship with Alma.

There is another element where Hitch is haunted to a certain degree by Ed Gein, whom the book “Psycho” was based on. He is almost a dark spirit directing Hitch to act and direct a certain way. I didn’t feel like this element really gelled, and definitely could have been left out of the plot.

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There are elements of the film that are definitely exaggerated. Perkins took the character of Hitchcock a little far at times. I wasn’t sure if he was truly attempting to portray Hitchcock, or a caricature of Hitchcock. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the performance overall. The supporting cast of Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) add an interesting angle to the story that unfolds. Janet Leigh is a fairly new actress, Vera Miles is always at wit’s end with Hitchcock, and Whitfield attempts to seduce Alma while inviting her to write a script with him. We see very little of anybody else in the film. Everything else is essentially background noise.

Overall, I feel like this was a worthwhile trip to the movie theater, although, I don’t think this film will land for the casual movie watcher. I enjoyed the aspect of film history, and what Hitch might have faced trying to get his movie made. The character development between Hitch and Alma is interesting to watch. It is best to go into this film with little to no expectations, because it is not what you think it is going to be.

– David B. Harrington

Dedicated or Multi-Functional?

There are a lot of devices available to us in this digital age. It seems that everywhere we look there are advertisements for newer, better products than the ones we bought five minutes ago. There are a lot of brands competing for a customer’s money. The question I pose here is, what is better, a dedicated device or a multi-functional device?

Let me explain.

For a long while now, I have been a dedicated Apple user. I have owned iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pro’s, iPhone’s, iPods, and iPads. You name it, I’ve owned it. Aside from Apple products, I have also been a loyal Amazon Kindle customer. Now, I want to narrow these down to two devices. Let’s consider the new iPad Mini and the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. I bought the Kindle Paperwhite as soon as I could get my hands on it. The device is absolutely wonderful. The e-ink display is unbeatable, and the back lit screen is a very welcome addition to the design.

Being curious is part of my nature. So, I began to look into the iPad Mini. I wanted to know bottom line, what this device has to offer. The main draw for me was the fact that I could use the iPad Mini as a digital sketchpad. I have found the regular iPad to be too big, and awkward to hold. Then, I started thinking how the iPad Mini might be as an e-reading device. It didn’t make sense for me to have a Kindle and an iPad Mini. There is a point where an individual can have too many devices. So, upon a lot of consideration. I decided to make the jump over to the iPad Mini.

While I am out a device that is an extremely good, dedicated E-Reader, I feel I have gained a device that does a lot more for me overall. Looking back at the title of my post, what do you prefer, a dedicated device that does one thing perfectly, or a multi-functional device that offers a lot more options?

Something to think about.

 

– David B. Harrington

Zero Dark Thirty

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Kathryn Bigelow is proving that she is a force to be reckoned with. 2008’s “The Hurt Locker” took home Best Picture at the Oscars, and in my opinion it deserved it. Bigelow’s ex-husband, James Cameron was in the Best Picture category with his record-setting film “Avatar” which obviously didn’t win.

Zero Dark Thirty” features Jessica Chastain who plays Maya, a CIA operative whose only job out of High School (when she was recruited) to the present has been the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. She puts her sweat, blood and tears into finding Bin Laden and killing him. While she is on the part of intelligence for the operation, she is witness to some brutal torture tactics used to get information from Al Quaeda contacts. There is an interview with President Obama explaining that the U.S. does not use torture tactics, while they are doing exactly that. This film does not shed a positive light on President Obama. Kathryn Bigelow really takes a strong position on the topic that she is covering.

**SPOILER ALERT**

The film progresses through the intelligence of locating Bin Laden. For a lot of the film, although the viewer might find themselves yawning, it is really fascinating to watch. After a lot of criticism, Maya receives clearance to pursue the location she believes Bin Laden is located. The Navy Seal Team 6 (DEVGRU) is sent to investigate the location. They get in and do their thing and find that Bin Laden is in fact there. They shoot their way through the three-level home, and only after asking one of the children at the location who one of the men is that they killed, do they find out that it is in fact Bin Laden. They call it back in that they have killed their target, and Maya can’t believe it. However, it becomes very well when DEVGRU returns with a body bag, and she unzips it to see the face of the most dangerous man in the world. The realization hits as to what she helped accomplish, and it is more than she can take. She sits on the helicopter that is taking her “wherever she wants” and tears start to stream down her face, the exhaustion of what she has been through the last few years, very evident.

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This is a hard-hitting winner. Kathryn Bigelow’s Directing is superb. Jessica Chastain is phenomenal in her role as Maya, and really drives the whole story forward. The supporting cast, especially Jason Clarke (Lawless), adds a lot to the story as well. Clarke brings a lot of intensity to the film as the one who really exposes Maya to what she is going to be dealing with in the operation they are involved in, by exposing her to the harsh reality of the situation, and showing her the tactics they are using to get the information they need. There is a certain level of a loss of innocence that Maya goes through. She is behind a desk for most of what she does. But to see firsthand what is happening, really breaks her down, and as she rebuilds herself, her commitment to killing Bin Laden is absolute all the way to where she looks at him inside of the body bag.

In this Oscar season, films are proving their worth. “Zero Dark Thirty” is an important film. It is important that we know what happened, and how Bin Laden was taken down. I can’s speak for the whole film, but in the end, when DEVGRU pursue and kill Bin Laden, it is dead on with the book “No Easy Day” which is a great read, and a firsthand account of the DEVGRU unit going in and taking out their target. This is a film that should not be missed.

– David B. Harrington

Gangster Squad

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There is nothing quite like a good old Gangster flick. Whether you are talking about “The Godfather“, “White Heat“, “Scarface” or “On the Waterfront“, this is a genre that can’t be ignored in the history of film. Ruben Fleischer, who brought us recent comedies such as “Zombieland” and “30 Minutes or Less” takes a sharp left turn and goes gangster on us with his film “Gangster Squad“.

Set in Los Angles 1949, we follow the story of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a crook from Chicago who comes out west to take over Los Angeles, what he calls his destiny. He comes into league with crooked cops and judges to take over the town. But one man, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and his “Gangster Squad” stand in the way of his progress and commit to taking him down one piece of his operation at a time. What ensues are battles with plenty of gunfire, and two sides who won’t give up on what they believe is rightfully theirs.

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Although at points in the film, the story struggles, and it seems that style may override the actual story, I found this to be a fun ride. The casting is superb, especially with Sean Penn and Josh Brolin going head to head. Fleischer really captures the feel of 1940’s Los Angeles and the Gangster culture. I really felt that at points in the film you could stick Marlon Brando or Humphrey Bogart in the mix, and they would feel right at home.

I wish there would have been some more meat to the story in terms of backstory on Mickey Cohen, and what brought him out west. But even with that being said, I felt like we got a good understanding of what the characters were all about, and what they were fighting for. Ryan Gosling really shines in his role Sgt. Jerry Wooters. His relationship with Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) provides one of the more emotional aspects of the film as does Sgt. Omara’s relationship with his wife, and Officer Conway Keeler’s (Giovanni Ribisi) with his family. It was also fun to see Nick Nolte as Chief Parker. He adds to the intensity of the film with his deep commanding voice.

January seems to be the month where movies go to die, as the releases don’t seem to be as high-grossing as other points in the year. However, this film provides a good breath of fresh air during these cold winter months.

– David B. Harrington

This is 40

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Judd Apatow is most known for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up“. His latest film “This is 40” is the “sort of sequel to ‘Knocked Up'”. I’m not entirely sure why they marketed the film that way, but nonetheless, this is Mr. Apatow’s latest project.

The film follows Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), a married couple with two kids, a mortgage, jobs, and an overall hectic life. Both Paul and Debbie are turning 40, and Debbie is far from excited about it. She breaks down trying to come to grips with the fact that she is getting older. The film is mostly a look into their personal lives, and the trials of their marriage and their relationship with their kids, and discovering who they are at age 40.

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While there are funny moments throughout the movie, and even some touching moments, there is not a whole lot to be excited about here. I found myself looking at my watch from time to time. This is not a typical hour and a half comedy. This runs 2 hours and 15 minutes, which was just too much. The story jumps around a lot, and the ending comes well overdue.

Apatow is definitely a niche Director. I was looking for something new and fresh, but didn’t feel like the film delivered in that way. I was happy to see the addition Melissa McCarthy with a bit role in the film as the mother of one of the student’s at Pete and Debbie’s kids’ school. They have a confrontation with her that is really funny. I will leave it up to you to watch the film to see what I’m talking about.

Overall, this might be worth a Red Box rental, however, I can’t recommend seeing this film at the cost of admission at a theater.

– David B. Harrington

Django Unchained

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Quentin Tarantino’s newest release, “Django Unchained” follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is freed by a man by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). He takes Django on as a bounty hunting partner, and tells him that if he helps pursue a few people he is after, he will let him go. What ensues is a partnership that goes well past one job, including pursuing Django’s wife who is taken in at Candie Land, where Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is Master. Django stops at nothing to reunite with his wife.

This is not a film for everyone, which is very typical of a Tarantino film. That being said, there are some entertaining portions of this film, that definitely move it forward. It kept my attention at points simply due to the violent nature of the film, and not knowing what was possibly going to happen next. The story is most definitely one of revenge and of redemption. Slavery is a very hard topic to discuss and/or explore. There were points in the film where I felt like it went too far, where it was a little too gruesome. But that is what you get when you watch a Tarantino film.

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Dicaprio was the most disgusting character in this film. He is merciless in his ways. That is made evident from the very first scene he is in all the way to the end of the movie. He has a very conceded demeanor, and you never get the feeling from him that he cares about anybody else, even his sister who lives on the Candie Land property. Samuel L. Jackson also has a large role in this film as a help on Candie’s property. He is an old embittered man who has a lot to say about everything. He will make your stomach churn as well.

Django and Dr. King Schultz make a really good duo. It is fun to watch their relationship evolve as they find that they can trust each other to the bitter end.

The music is entertaining as well. It is a call back to the old west, and has the feeling, at points, of an old John Wayne movie, even though as a whole it is very far from that.

This is not a film that I can recommend. It had its entertaining aspect, but there was a large aspect, specifically with slave brutality that was too much at more than one point in the film. This is not one that I plan on watching again. But if you are a Tarantino fan, this might be worth a peek.

– David B. Harrington

Texas Chainsaw 3D

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I grew up a fan of horror films. Over time, my taste has evolved as I have been exposed to new directors. I love the original slasher movies such as “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th” and of course “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. 2013 brings a new installment to the franchise, and I jumped right on it. I ventured out into the chill of a below zero winter’s night with a couple of good friends to see “Texas Chainsaw 3D” on opening night. Our ticket for admission came with its pair of 3D glasses, with some fun branding on the side (pictured below).

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This film does a good job in a couple of ways. Right off the bat, we get footage from the original film from 1974, and we continue through past the end of that film into some new footage to give some backstory to what happens. I find that a lot of films these days do that. We have received a lot of backstory on films that previously gave little to none. We see the townspeople come and raid the home of the Sawyer family and burn it to the ground, believing that they left all inhabitants dead. Another horror movie that comes to mind is “Nightmare on Elm Street” which was re-made and released in 2009 but with a good dose of backstory, that fills the audience in a bit more than the original did. Second, the film has a satisfying twist at the end, which we will discuss in a bit.

**Spoiler Alert**

The story follows Heather Miller (Alexander Daddario) who is going on a trip with her boyfriend and a couple other friends to New Orleans. She finds out prior to the trip that she has a grandmother that passed away that she never knew about. So, Heather and her friends decide to take a detour to Texas on their way so that she can go retrieve information from the Attorney that is handling the family estate. She finds out upon arrival that her grandmother left her the house she lived in, which is a large mansion. She also leaves her a letter. The Attorney meets her at the front gates of the home and gives her the keys and tells her to read the letter.

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All of the friends decide to stay the night at the house, because it is too cool to pass up on. One of the guys starts to make dinner in the kitchen, and discovers a secret door that leads further into the house. He finds his way down into a basement. There is a mysterious room with a metal door that he can’t get open. All of the sudden from he is attacked from behind, and is bludgeoned. A couple of the other friends are out in a barn on the property messing around. In the meantime, Heather is looking through some old things in her grandmothers room and finds a corpse. She freaks out and goes downstairs. She confronts the man who is in the basement, whom we of course know is Leatherface (Dan Yeager). A chase ensues and Heather is taken in at the police station while they investigate.

The twist in the story comes when we find out that Heather is Leatherface’s cousin, and that her grandmother housed him in her basement and had taken care of him all the years after the burning down of the Sawyer home all those years earlier. Also, Heather finds out earlier in the film that her parents adopted her, and that they were some of the mob that burned down the home. So, needless to say, her whole world is shattered. The Mayor of the city was also in with the mob, and once he finds out that Leatherface survived, he makes it his mission to see that he is killed. His son who is with the town police is also in on it, unknown to Heather who was taking a liking to the cop. So, just like the original film, the people who should be helping have an agenda of their own.

Once Leatherface discovers that Heather is his cousin, he protects her, and when the Mayor comes in and tries to kill him, Heather and Leatherface work together. The Mayor is taken down in a meat grinder and the Chief of Police lets it happen, because he feels like the Mayor had it coming to him. The film ends with Heather reading the letter from her grandmother which essentially says that she is to be the new caretaker for her cousin. She accepts the position, and Leatherface goes back to the basement, and Heather takes his food dish upstairs for him, implying that she has indeed accepted her role.

As a fan of the Texas Chainsaw franchise, I thought this movie was fun. To the casual filmgoer, this leaves a lot to be desired with some cheesy moments, including some really bad dialogue. It packs a punch with the gore, which is to be expected with a film like this. I think it makes a good addition to the previous films. This is worth your time if you are a fan of horror films, and especially if you are a fan of the series. If you are neither, this one can wait until it is available for rental.

 

-David B. Harrington

Indie Game: The Movie

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The creative process is an intensely personal experience. It is the process that drives artists to create what they do. Public interpretation of a creation really is beside the point, because the product of imagination has everything to do with the person and not what others think about it. If an individual is creating something solely for positive public response, then they are doing it for the wrong reason.

Indie Game: The Movie” is a really gripping documentary. It follows a few different game developers on their quest to develop a finished product of what is a years-long commitment to their game. Each of them hold to a different approach in how they progress through the process, but each is hugely committed to what they are creating. They express the amount of hours that they put into their craft, and the lifestyle they lead because of it. We really see people who are taking on much more than a full-time job. They are taking on a lifestyle that takes a lot of other things away from them. It is interesting to see the love/hate relationship they have with their product.

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We are given a behind-the-scenes look into the development of “Fez” developed by Polytron, “Braid” developed by Jonathan Blow and “Super Meat Boy” developed by Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes.

The creative process is most definitely one of frustration, including a lot of failure. That being said, the final product is amazing. As we journey with these artists through their process we get the sense as the viewer what a sense of accomplishment they have with their finished product. It is that end product that drives forward the next one. Being creative isn’t something that lasts moments. It is something that lasts a lifetime. It is just a matter of how a human being decides to express it.

I love listening to the interviews in this film. At points I felt tired just watching them work, and hearing them express their frustration with not having something exactly the way they want it. But it is understandable. It is part of human nature to want things a certain way. This film is a drama in a lot of ways, especially in that you see these people pushed to their limits. It is interesting to see how each of them react to those limits.

I have a great appreciate for films that dare to take a look at something that isn’t generally exposed. Game development is a really interesting sub-culture that is well worth exploring. It is an obsessive culture in which its artists have a lot of really genuine and sometimes strange things to showcase. But that is part of the fun of it is seeing what an artist has to show us. This documentary gives us a peek into a world that most never see. “Indie Game: The Movie” should not be missed.

-David B. Harrington

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Blu Ray)

I have grown up a student of film from a very young age. I have been collecting for almost 15 years now. It is an art form that I could study forever, and probably will. I had a very influential high school film teacher who exposed me to some of the early classics I had never seen before. Although I had been fairly familiar with Hithchcock’s work at this point, viewing his work in this class shed a new light on my love for film. We talked in depth as a class about the different elements of film, and why a Director would make a certain choice to show the audience something the way they did. I do have to admit, the teacher and I did most of the talking. I was not shy to share my opinions on the movies we were watching, and felt like I had a lot to offer. But I learned the most by simply watching. Hitchcock has become one of my top five directors ever to film a movie.

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My big focus as a collector has really shifted quite a bit. I have really sought after collector’s sets that I feel have to be on my shelf. My range is not that wide in terms of sets that I am willing to put money down for. And to be honest, most of my collection is digital at this point. That being said, a couple months ago, Universal released a set I could not say no to. “Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection” comes packed with 15 of Hitchcock’s best films. “Psycho” (my personal favorite), “Rear Window”, and “The Birds” are among the most notable of the films you will find in this set, but it goes much further than that. The set boasts “Saboteur”, “Shadow of a Doubt”, “Rope”, “Rear Window”,  “The Trouble with Harry”,  “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “Vertigo”, “North by Northwest”, “Psycho”, “The Birds”, “Marnie”, “Torn Curtain”, “Topaz”, “Frenzy”, and “Family Plot” (Hitchcock’s final film).

This is a great collection, however, there are a few glaring mistakes here. I really feel like we should be seeing “Dial M for Murder”, “The 39 Steps” and “Strangers on a Train”. I’m not sure why these three hugely popular titles are missing. But nonetheless, we get a great collection of films from the Master of Suspense.

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The box set itself is very well put together. It is housed by a very sturdy cardboard box. But it has more of a build than cardboard. Inside we get a book insert, “The Master of Suspense”. It offers a great glimpse into the films and includes some memorable quotes. The Blu Ray discs can be found in a book format catalog. Each film has a full foldout that includes original poster art work of the film as well as a quote from the film, and a rundown of the special features that are included.

The discs also feature great artwork from the film. It should be mentioned that the discs are a little hard to take out of their sleeve. But on the upside, they are held in very well, so you won’t have discs flying out as you open the book.

I haven’t had a chance to view all of the films on Blu Ray, but from what I read, there is a varying range of quality of film transfers. I don’t doubt that Universal has done their due diligence with this set, but I will have to see for myself.

Overall, I am very impressed with this set. It should be on the shelf of any serious Hitchcock fan, even given the omission of some of the great Hitchcock films.

-David B. Harrington