Thursday, May 08, 2014

Three films

Three movies in as many nights. After not having watched movies either on TV or DVD for a few weeks, it's been quite relaxing (after finishing my second book and getting it published online) just to lie on the couch and watch something instead of working.

First there was a strange Jet Li movie on TV - Unleashed; then Silver Linings Playbook with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence; and finally, tonight, the almost fifty-year-old A Town Like Alice, a film based on only the middle section of Nevil Shute's famous novel.

This last of the three shows its age mostly in the now-stiff-looking performance by Virginia McKenna, so British that nothing disturbs her upper lip. Peter Finch is excellent, as he always was, and has already gone past that very English style of acting that a few other members of the cast indulge in. Even given that it's virtually a road movie, A Town Like Alice, is still very watchable, and there are some excellent scenes, and a strong supporting cast. Fortunately the film focuses almost entirely on the war section of the story; the bookends about improving the lot of a group of Malayan villages, and setting up work for unemployed people in a remote Aussie town, are barely hinted at.

Unleashed is a typically violent Jet Li movie, in which he plays Bob Hoskins' 'dog.' Hoskins has rescued him as a child (after shooting his mother) and brought him up to be absolutely subservient. When the collar he wears continually is loosened, however, he defeats anyone sent against him. Morgan Freeman, doing the typical Hollywood version of what it's like to be blind, and Kerry Conden, playing a piano student who appears to do very little practice, rescue Li by accident, and set him back on his human feet again. The film is full of extraordinarily choreographed fight scenes filmed and edited brilliantly, but it also has strong characterizations from the two leads: Li gets a chance to reveal a soft side, and Hoskins revels in being the ultimate bully and sadist (and manages to survive two major car crashes and various beatings). It was Louis Leterrier's first film as director, and he does an excellent job with his English and French cast and locations. Not for the fainthearted, however.

Silver Linings Playbook (I have no idea what the title refers to, unless it's something to do with the home betting shop Robert de Niro runs) is an in-your-face drama-cum-comedy. Cooper plays a man whose wife was found with another man in compromising circumstances, and who went off his rocker - he was already prone to mental health issues. After eight months in an institution, he's ready to come home - even if no one else is quite ready to have him back. Cooper gives a wonderfully subtle performance underneath all the bombast. Lawrence is equally mentally unhealthy, not helped by having lost her policeman husband in bizarre circumstances. She never says anything you expect, which is quite refreshing, and indeed a great deal of the movie has unexpected moments and situations. Lawrence is wonderful and grabs her role by the throat and tears it apart. (Totally wasted in The Hunger Games - this girl has the goods.)

De Niro plays the manic father again (not far away from his manic father performance in Meet the Fockers), and it's debatable as to which Pat, Senior or Junior, is the more cracked. The leads have top notch support from the rest of the cast, and although it takes a while for the thing to show where it's coming from, it gradually takes hold of you. Interestingly enough, the film departs from the book in many (improved?) ways.

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