TIFF: Lawrence owns “Playbook,” Visuals Stun “Atlas,” and Over-Saturation Hurts “Watch”


Sunday is always a very bust at TIFF largely because the studios are here with junkets and getting around is a tad more difficult than other days. Cabs are scare, the Bell Lightbox buzzes with people and the theaters are jammed. Case in point the first screening this morning was packed to capacity, good news for The Weinstein Company as the company enjoys what could be their most impressive year yet.

The breakthrough performance of the festival could be Michael Shannon in The Iceman, a film which came in with very little buzz but will leave with Shannon a potential Oscar nominee for Best Actor. I know the next time I change my picks he will leap onto the prediction page for me as a nominee. Anyone who has seen the film is talking about Shannon, and only Shannon, good news the difficult little film about a real life hit man for the mob who was also a serial killer.

SILVER LINING PLAYBOOK (***½)…Though light years away from The Fighter (2010), this fine film is a feel good comedy with a great deal of darkness and humanity within, bolstered by fine performances, some of which could land in the Oscar race. Two dysfunctional people, Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) meet at a dinner one night and fight an instant attraction, though it is more anger that draws them to one another. Pat is just out of a mental hospital, a restraining order keeping him from seeing his wife and returning to his job. Diagnosed recently with b-polar, he caught his wife in the shower with another man and beat the man within an inch of his life. A plea bargain saw him go to the hospital to deal with his rage rather than prison. Tiffany is struggling with the death of her husband, a young cop, who stopped to help someone fix a flat tire and was hit by a car. On the seat of his car was found lingerie from Victoria’s Secret for his wife of three years and five days, we are told. They are damaged and struggling to become part of the human race once again. Each lives with their parents, a tricky situation for Pat as his father, Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) is a volatile man with an obsession for the Philadelphia Eagles, hell, it’s beyond an obsession, and it is a religion to him. His mother, Jacki Weaver loves and supports but understandably worries about her troubled son. In the hopes Tiffany will pass a note to his wife, Pat agrees to be her partner in a dance competition, which will eventually play a larger role in the family’s fortunes. Out of work, Pat Sr. has been betting to build a fund for a restaurant which will be something the entire family can be a part of.

Working with Tiffany proves to be the best thing Pat could have found, a therapy where there is no judgment, no accusations so long as he follows through and does as he promised. Songs set him off, and he longs to speak with his wife, finally told she will attend the dance competition.

Bradley Cooper is one of those new up and comers I have struggled with, never quite seeing what everyone sees. In this film he is terrific as an anguished man who has lost everything and has nothing to lose. Inherently he knows that he can go no lower than he has gone. There is a touching moment between he and De Niro where his father admits he did not spend the time with his son he should have, and now he wishes to make that right. Cooper listens to De Niro, allows the actor to have his moment, but is part f the scene, present in the moment for De Niro. It’s a lovely scene that convinced me Cooper has the goods to be a major film actor. There is chemistry between he and Lawrence that crackles and sends sparks down into the audience the moment they first encounter one another. Needless to say, their initial encounter will lead to something that is good for both of them.

Jennifer Lawrence is as far removed from The Hunger Games (2012) as she could be possibly be here and this film might find her a brand new fan base. She is lovely, sexual, and downright erotic in the film, the girl of every guy’s dreams, until she speaks and spews toxic verbiage. She too is broken and seeking someone to help her heal, and seems to understand it will have to be on her terms. Her gaze is fierce and we believe that she can level people with a direct look, and those troubled, pained eyes pull us in, she brings to the role a furious energy that is almost entirely internal. There can be no further doubts that this young woman is about to become one of the most important young actors in movies, both actor and star. Attention for Best Supporting Actress seems likely.

De Niro, wasted in just about everything he does these days is very effective as Pat Sr., distraught about his, worried about his football team, but more than ever trying to keep his family together. He wants what every father wants, to see his son happy and healthy. His wife is portrayed by the great Jacki Weaver, who sadly has little to do in the film except smile winningly at what is happening in her home, or display terror.

The picture paints an interesting portrait of a family in crisis, or people who have lost what is dear to them and are struggling to find their way once again. They may or they may not, but each knows they have to try. That they get up and try is what makes them strong and makes them tick, and why we feel so much compassion for each of them.


END OF WATCH (**)…David Ayer’s fascination with the LAPD continues with this tough but uneven work that tries to be too many things and over-reaches. Ayer wrote the script for Training Day (2011) and directed Harsh Times (2005) with Christian Bale. His gift for making the streets real and nasty is fully intact here, but I find that he still has a bit to learn about guiding actors and being true to his story. To their credit, both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena studied for five months with the LAPD before shooting began and it shows in the way they move, their physicality. Each looks comfortable as a cop, the manner in which they approach a door or knock it in, the way they pull their weapons or slap on the cuffs seems to me to be accurate.

Taylor (Gyllenhaal) is a cop who is also a student, taking a course in film. He often shoots what he and his partners are doing which has more than too often gotten him into trouble. HIs partner, Zavala is portrayed by Michael Pena, a married man with his wife expecting their first child. They have been together for quite some time and gone through some issues after a shooting, but work too well together to break up. When they run afoul of a major drug cartel in LA, they find themselves hunted, and to be hunted by these vicious hoods is something they take very seriously. They know that something huge is going down in the area because the drug Enforcement Agency is in the area, but they cannot tell them much, or will not.

While both actors are compelling, we never really learn much about them and what they are as people. We get the “brotherhood” of the police department because we are beaten over the head with it, but who are they as people??? What makes them tick??

The film is gritty and powerful but the last third of the film takes a direction I did not think it would, and frankly disappointed me. For a film that is so honest and frank for much of the running time, I was shocked that he went off into sort of sentimentality in the final bits. And I am not sure he was altogether honest with his audience in the film as we fully believe one of the major characters is dead, but is not. I felt cheated because for much of the film I was with it, I believed, despite some of the filmed footage by Taylor, which is confusing and often we cannot tell what is happening. However, it worked (to a degree) because we feel we are there, and the confusion works. But why cheat us??? For a director who makes so much effort to find honesty in his work, why not go all the way????

CLOUD ATLAS (***)…A sweeping epic that crosses time and allows us to see souls moving through various point in history, encountering one another again and again was wildly entertaining from the very beginning admittedly because the filmmakers had the courage to even attempt to make book into a film!! Based on the massive bestselling book, by David Mitchell, the film spans the globe with an almost cavalier unruliness that is both bold and daring, and yet could have been a major point of failure for the filmmakers. They throw caution to the wind and just go for it and in doing so they have made a brilliant, breathtaking, soulful film, with its flaws, that is enormously watchable and could become a major cult classic through the years to come. We move from the 19th century, to 1931 Belgium, into the seventies, present day England, and then into a dystrophic futuristic Korea, and a post apocalyptic Hawaii in which civilization has had to re-build and start over again. The actors take on different roles in each of the various time periods, which are a great challenge for them (obviously) but brings something very special to the film in that we are seeing the same souls in some of the different periods of time. The performances are excellent especially Tom Hanks, who takes a huge risk as a futuristic tribesman with an interesting manner of speaking. Seeing Hanks, an American actor in such a part is a jolt, but the actor is strong enough that he quickly settles into the part and makes us believe it. It was a nice reminder that he is a gifted performer and when challenged one of our finest actors. Berry is also very good, moving through the picture in different time periods, as different people, (different races!!), challenging the actress in a manner she has not been so challenged for a few years.

Directed by Tom Tywker and the Wachowski Siblings, the picture, perhaps overshot sometimes and falters, is not un-enjoyable. There a couple of time periods less interesting than the others, but we forgive it because of what follows. From time to time the film is awe-inspiring and always riveting.