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Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

Synopsis

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is bipolar, released from hospital to live with parent Pat (Robert de Niro) unemployed (a bookie) and mother Jacki Weaver.  He studies literature to get back with wife Nikki who has a restraining order on him.  Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow.  He asks Tiffany to give a letter to Nikki but Tiff insists he must learn to dance.  Pat goes to an “Eagles” football game and is arrested.  Tiffany tells Pat Snr she can be lucky for him so if “Eagles” win and Pat and Tiffany get at least 5 out of 10 in dance competition he will win money he lost to a gambling associate.  Is everybody happy at last…?

Criticism

This is a lightweight rom-com that pretends it isn’t, it wants to be about mental illness.  Silver Lining’s idea of mental illness is people shouting at each other, and they do it a lot in this film.  Seemingly, the only way people can be cured of their illness is if they go through the plot predictabilities of a rom-com.  I have been told the novel it comes from is darker than this feel good romp.  When Pat jogs he wears a black bin liner, I’ve been told there is a reason for this but it looks to me like laughter at the expense of the mentally ill, wearing a bin liner is just the kind of thing they do, right?  It seems that a reassuringly happy ending for a romance is just the ticket to heal bipolar illness.

Robert de Niro as Pat Snr does a lot of actorish shouting which is not really anger but shows us how endearingly quirky he is.  By the way, he is obsessive compulsive and this adds to his comic appeal, right?  Tiffany is of course sharp and feisty, her own mental disorders as played by Jennifer Lawrence, look like a fashion accessory and this should make us uneasy.  Pat reads books as a way of getting back with his wife Nikki.  One of the truly funny moments is when she dismisses Lord of the Flies as a bunch of nasty kids who pick on a well meaning fat kid, then she tosses the book out of the door.  For those who like the now fashionable ballroom dancing, the dance scenes are funny.  There’s also some Adam Sandler type humour at the expense of racists before the “Eagles” game, but the rare funny moments do not compensate for the rom-com platitudes.

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Posted by on January 2, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Mission

The Mission poster

Synopsis

Made in 1986 about the Utopian state made by Jesuits for the Guarani people of Paraguay in the 18th century.  Robert de Niro plays a slave catcher who works for the slaveocracy.  In the jungle he warns Jeremy Irons, the Jesuit leader, that he will get more slaves.  This after a Jesuit priest was martyred by the Guarani, prompting Irons to go to the jungle to convert them.  De Niro learns that his brother has been canoodling with his fiancee, Cherie Lunghi, and in a jealous rage kills him.  Irons then rescues de Niro from remorse and sets him on a penitential path to to the Indians he formerly enslaved.  The planters want the Guarani as slaves and they appeal to the relevant authorities to get rid of the Jesuit state.  Ray McAnnally is their envoy and is impressed with the missions but still orders the state’s dismantling after hearing from both sides.  War breaks out….

Review

Robert Joffe’s film is about the same events dealt with in Fritz Hochwalder’s play The Strong are Lonely.  Compared to Hochwalder, Robert Bolt’s script for Joffe’s film is sentimental opportunism because it exploits the 1980s fashionable concern for the Amazon forest.  Joffe meretriciously conflates the plight of the present day natives of the Amazon with the Guarani Indians of 1750s (but it should be 1760s) Paraguay.  In the film the Indians live in a tropical forest whereas the Guarani’s Paraguay ecology was different.  Hochwalder’s play was concerned with the argument between Jesuitical utopianism and the self serving interests of the Spanish settler opponents.  Hochwalder ultimately argued that both sides were in the wrong:  the Jesuit state was founded on the false  premise of the supposed mutual supportiveness of material and spiritual values undermining  the real mission of spiritual salvation.  That such criticism could originate from self serving and materially interested forces does not undermine the criticism itself    The Guarani could confuse benevolent paternalism with Jesuitical Christianity and the opposing point is that spirituality should be disinterested viv a vis worldliness.  In the film the paternalist authoritarianism of the Jesuits is falsely mixed with ecological political correctness, this anachronism merely distracts from the spiritual criticism of Utopia.  The enemies of Utopia in this film are vicious slaveowners and duplicitous politicians which endows Jesuitical Utopianism with a false anachronistic case.

The Mission follows on from The Emerald Forest as it argues for the superior virtues of a forest way of life against other interests which are automatically demonised.  Joffe’s film insultingly infantilises the native Amazonians, making them look like noble savages to be paternalistically protected from white colonialism. The film admits at the end that it would have been better for the Indians if no white people had contacted them, and that goes for well intentioned but patronising film makers also.

The pseudo debate over the Jesuit state is merely a preamble to the military conflict.  De Niro is obviously ill at ease as conscience-stricken, he is happier as a sword wielder.  Julian Barnes  wrote an hilarious story about Matt, a film star clearly modelled on de Niro in The Mission.  Barnes ridicules the prima donna inanities of stars filming in jungle locations, megalomanical and buddy buddy homoerotic with Jeremy Irons.  Joffe gives Irons the intellectual leadership, explaining to his literal minded Jesuit brethren that they are an order and not a democracy, as if they wouldn’t have understood that at the outset.  In Hochwalder’s play they stick to their vow of obedience to the point of self sacrifice, that would be asking too much of these mainstream cinema priests.  In this film the Jesuits are obedient when it suits them in their self appointed role as benevolent authoritarians and yet they react with predictable pride vis a vis the Spanish court authorities.  The inconsistency in this abrupt change is glossed over by the film in its anxiety to moralise simple mindedly the Jesuits’ stance.  Irons relationship with the Papal envoy Ray McAnnally are initially diplomatically suave but ultimately lachrymose and Kum-ba-ya creepy, his pacifism simply an embellishment of useless martyrdom.  Similarly the Papal envoy. Ray McAnnally, is obviously emotionally won over by the paradisal simplicity of the Jesuit states, yet he decides for their dismantling with no sign of inner turmoil.  This is lazy acting.  He simply says he will do what his conscience dictates and swings into opposition to the Jesuits.

The planters are simply avaricious and cruel devils in tropically run down and mildewed Rococo outlandishness, though Ronald Pickup is given a more thoughtful role as the politician from Europe.

This film is opportunist in that it doesn’t tackle concerns over the Amazon forest but uses the forest as escapist spectacle which conceals the non argument at the heart of this production. The Mission is good to look at, one of the spectacular 1980s cinematic visits to the Amazon along with Fitzcarraldo and Emerald Forest.  Fitzcarraldo is about about a boat dragged laboriously through the forest, Mission is about simple sentiments dragged laboriously through the forest.

 
 

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Limitless

Synopsis

Starring Bradley Cooper as a failed writer who is given an intellect and mind enhancing drug by his brother in law.  He develops great intellectual powers and visits this brother in law who has been murdered.  He takes the drugs and uses them to get into high finance under Robert de Niro’s mentorship.  He is pursued by someone from a rival outfit who also uses this drug.  His girlfriend is pursued and escapes by using the wonder drug.  Bradley has sex with a women  who is murdered and he may be the murderer.  He owes money to a Russian gangster who takes the drug and pursues Bradley for more.  Bradley gets the better of him and then outwits de Niro.  Bradley takes regular doses of the wonderdrug and escapes the fatal fate of the other users.  He becomes a senator.

Review

A pretty daft film which is good fun.  It’s a bit like that John Trevolta film where he becomes very intelligent, and it is also of course a familiar sci-fi story: the Faustian pact with the devil and all that.  It’s also a reminder of Gremlins and Spiderman; be careful with that gift, use it responsibly for the common good.  This is supposed to express good old American precepts: that good fortune, happiness, money, and any other success should all be earned and not be a matter of luck.  If these wonders are given, you have a great responsibilty, if you use it for self gain you will perish.  It’s also a reworking of the Midas myth.  It’s a part of our folk wisdom, the desire for something is inherently good in itself but the ending of desire is simple minded satiety.  Any wish must stay unsatisfied  in order to promote striving and challenge, its fulfilment must be judiciously spared and be a platform for further effort, if not, it leads to the evil of moral deregulation or self cannibalism in a weary self disgust.  In this story our hero never stops learning and he delights in his powers so he doesn’t do the decent thing and die.  There is no domestication of super talents as in the TV series Heroes, this guy can live with his luck.  In his case there are no consequences, we remember Samuel L Jackson lecturing that global base jumper on the consequences he must pay for.

The voice of striving humanity’s efforts is supplied by de Niro who lectures Bradley on the need for effort and the overcoming of obstacles to appreciate one’s success. This is pretty rich coming from an overly powerful business moghul.

There are implausibilities in the plot: when Bradley’s would-be Russian nemesis catches up with him, he is on the superdrug yet Bradley is not, so the Russian criminal should be able to outwit Bradley, but he can’t.  Did Bradley murder the woman during his blackout?  He hires a lawyer who comes up with weak circumstantial evidence and he gets him off.  What happened, did he kill her?  It’s a bit like Adjustment Bureau in that it turns New York into a cinematic base jumping contest.  Are New Yorkers getting the message that they must ‘touch the hero within themselves’ in order to rise above paranoia about terrorism?  Is computerised cinema just getting too impatient with the industrial constraints on our lives?  Maybe they’re trying to turn the 21st century cityscape into a drugrush because we can’t hope to reach the millions of stories in the human hive.  I’ll settle for endless stories without hi-tech gimmicks, please.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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