Silver Linings Playbook

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Ah, 'twas only a few months back when we hadn't seen any of the nine 2013 Oscar nominees for best picture. As of now, we've seen seven. (Of the remaining two, Amour hasn't made it onto DVD yet, and Netflix's rating predictor doesn't think I'd like Beasts of the Southern Wild very much, so it's pretty far down in the queue.)

Silver Linings Playbook was pleasantly quirky, a modern screwball comedy. And that "screwball" thing is meant literally: the two main characters, and a lot of the supporting cast, are quite frankly insane, dancing on the edge of total dysfunction. I.e., not at all the a sugarcoated, quirky, Katherine-Hepburn-in-Bringing-Up-Baby insanity. It's the real deal.

Fortunately, the mental illness is not sentimentalized either. And so: yeah, they don't call 'em funny farms for nothing. A lot of the stuff crazy people do can be funny. If you're not personally involved.

Bradley Cooper (Oscar nominee) plays Pat Jr., just getting out of an eight-month stay in the institution. He's managed to destroy his marriage, get cuckolded, and badly beat his wife's paramour. But he's still delusional about getting his job back and reuniting with his wife. And he's off his meds. Pretty clearly, he's on the verge of further insitutionalization.

Pat Sr, (Robert DeNiro, Oscar nominee) is also nutty in his own way: an Eagles fan, he's been banned from the stadium for fighting. He's lost his job and taken up bookmaking. And he's obsessive-compulsive about his Sunday routine for game-watching: remotes just so, scarf clutched in one hand, … Fortunately, Mom (Oscar nominee Jackie Weaver) is long-suffering and relatively sane.

Pat Jr.'s quest to communicate with his ex-wife in defiance of a restraining order leads him to meet Tiffany (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence); she's (in her own words) a "crazy whore widow" with an obsession for participating in a dance competition at a fancy downtown Philly hotel. Guess who she picks to partner with?

I wouldn't have thought that a movie so rooted in serious mental dysfunction could be so entertaining. Probably we'll see more than a few would-be imitators coming down the pike.

Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:43 AM EDT

A Thousand Words

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Mrs. Salad wanted to see it, we got it from Netflix, had a few laughs. It's not as bad as everyone said. But it's still not very good.

Eddie Murphy plays Jack, a high-profile book agent pitching potential blockbusters to publishing houses. His new beautiful wife and cute son don't fit too well into his bachelor environment. His mom is in a home, keeps calling him by his father's name, and that only rankle's Jack's daddy issues.

But it all comes to a head when he tries to wangle a book out of a new age guru, who's all about Buddhist-style simplicity and honesty. Jack's bullshit is (apparently) too much for a nearby Bodhi tree; it transplants itself into Jack's backyard, and starts shedding one leaf for every word Jack speaks. Jack becomes convinced that when the tree runs out of leaves, his life will end.

You may recognize this genre: roughly, it's "supernatural forces make a the protagonist appreciate true values and redeem his life." (This movie's writer also wrote Click and Bruce Almighty. But also see Groundhog Day, Liar Liar, Scrooged, …)

In short, you've almost certainly already seen better versions of this movie. It bombed, and the studio seems to have figured out that it was a stinker: filmed in 2008, but not released until last year. But (on the other hand) Eddie Murphy is still pretty funny. But (on the third hand) he's funnier when he talks, and he shuts up for a lot of the movie.

Finally: it's rated PG-13, and (as the IMDB helpfully tallies) you can get away with "1 use of f***, abou 10 uses of s**t, 2 obscene hand gestures, 2 uses of d***head." (No, not "deadhead".) I'm kind of surprised at that.

Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:43 AM EDT

Star Trek Into Darkness

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The second see-it-in-the-theatre blockbuster for us this season; probably the one I most wanted to see. What can I say? Your unfaithful blogger is a big old Star Trek geek. As I type, the IMDB raters have this at #161 on the top 250 movies of all time. Hm. I don't think that can be defended in objective Aristotliean standards of artistic quality, but I sure had a good time.

And note: there's apparently no official colon after Trek in the title. It's Star Trek Into Darkness. What's next? Star Trek Through Peril? Star Trek Over Adversity?

I usually do a brief plot summary in these blurbs. Won't bother. Suffice to say: the previous film established the "new" movies in an alternate timeline from the original. But that doesn't mean that capital-D Destiny doesn't draw the same characters back into interaction. Also plot elements, but always with a twist or neat inversion. I imagine the movie stands well on its own, but if you see it, it probably wouldn't hurt to brush up on the "good parts" of the original canon.

(That's probably too broad a hint. I accidentally discovered the movie's big surprise with a single glance at its IMDB front page. Oops! Don't make the same mistake if you want to maximize the shock.)

For a Star Trek movie, it's notably action-packed. If I had a quibble, it would be that there's nary a moment's peace, where the characters can just yak. (And if I had a second quibble, it would be about that tribble…)

Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:42 AM EDT

Les Misérables

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A big, big movie weekend at Pun Salad Manor. We started off with Les Misérables, which won three Oscars, and was nominated for five more, including Best Picture. It's based on a book by Victor Hugo that I've actually read in the dim past, and it made me recall the comments Pastor Ellison made on the sermon notes I was required to submit as part of my Lutheran path to Confirmation: "You got the high points!"

As you might have heard, the movie is actually based on the play, which was a musical. And it's one of those "sung-through" musicals where actual dialog is rare. The movie keeps that characteristic, but (unlike many play adaptations), there's otherwise no sign that this was, or ever could be, a production that fit on a relatively dinky stage.

Anyway, the plot: Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released from hard-labor inprisonment (for stealing the famous loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her family); wretched circumstance nearly forces him to resume a more serious life of crime, but a kindly churchman sets him on the path to spiritual righteousness. Unfortunately, he remains in legal jeopardy, breaking his parole, which sets Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) onto his trail.

But Valjean avoids Javert long enough to assume a false identity, becoming a factory owner, and mayor of a small town. There he unwittingly dooms a downwardly-mobile French lass, Fantine (Anne Hathaway); in redemption, he takes on responsibility for Cosette, Fantine's illegitimate daughter. But Javert picks up the scent again, and Valjean and Cosette make off to Paris…

So anyway, it's epic. Unfortunately, too many of the songs are lame. Two three-named actors, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter play the Thénardiers as comic buffoons; this will jar anyone who's read the book, but it kind of works.

Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:43 AM EDT

Memorial Day 2013

  • Memorial Day 2009 So let's all remember.

  • If you want to remember someone specific, it's hard to see how you could do better than Sergeant Jared Monti, Massachusetts native, who died in 2006 in Gowardesh, Afghanistan. His valor that day earned him the Medal of Honor. At National Review, Lee Habeeb describes how Sgt. Monti's dad inspired the current hit song "I Drive Your Truck."

  • At the WSJ, former Navy SEAL officer Leif Babin remembers his fallen comrades in Iraq, and reflects:

    Let's remember on Memorial Day--and every other day, for that matter--that America did not become a nation without a fight. Last week, I found myself in Washington, D.C., admiring a bronze statue of George Washington. The statue shows him as a general, astride a horse, sword drawn at the ready. This was Washington as a true American leader, inspiring those around him by showing that he too was willing to risk death for the cause of victory. The statue brought to mind the thousands of soldiers who marched with him into battle against the British, facing seemingly impossible odds.

  • Need more links? Michelle has a fine collection.