Cooper, Lawrence click in “Silver Linings Playbook”

For the screen version of Matthew Quick’s novel “Silver Linings Playbook” to work, it is imperative that the actors playing the lead characters, Pat and Tiffany, have some genuine chemistry. Fortunately in writer-director David O. Russell’s effort, Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany prove to be the highlights in an uneven movie.

Pat has just been released after spending eight months in a mental institution in a plea bargain after beating up a man he discovers in the shower with his wife Nikki, a school teacher. But while inside the institution, Pat is diagnosed as bi-polar, which may or may not have had an impact on his marriage.

Pat moves back home with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) and Delores (Jacki Weaver), and he has a plan, based on positive attitudes, to regain his life, including winning back Nikki. He even starts reading books Nikki assigns to her students, but signs indicating Pat might not be ready to move back into society are evident when, outraged by the tragic ending of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” flings the book out of a closed window, shattering the glass.

Obsessively. he dons a plastic garbage bag to function as a sweater while jogging in his neighborhood, and struggles in fixing his estranged relationship with his father, a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan who sees watching and rooting for the Eagles as a way for father and son to bond.

Pat runs into an old friend in the neighborhood, Ronnie (John Ortiz), who invites him over for dinner. This causes anxiety in Pat, as Ronnie’s wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles), is a friend of Nikki’s and obviously is not a fan of Pat’s. But the man feels that if he attends the dinner and shows he has recovered, Veronica might report this back to Nikki.

Instead, a complication pops up. Also invited to the dinner is Tiffany, Veronica’s sister, whose policeman husband recently died. Naturally, she has issues, including behavior that has earned her the reputation of being an easy woman.

Once Pat and Tiffany start spending time together, “Silver Linings” takes off. Tiffany is a volatile spirit, quick to explode emotionally but also quick to calm down. She is keenly observant regarding Pat’s problems to the point she mostly tolerates his self-absorbed behavior. She even agrees to help him communicate with Nikki — a restraining order prohibits him from getting near his wife, but Tiffany agrees to take a letter Pat has written to her. In exchange, Pat must be dance partner for Tiffany in an upcoming contest.

“Silver Linings,” like any other film about mental and emotional problems, has its share of introspective moments as Pat meets with a therapist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), along with intense and explosive emotional scenes, and the lump-in-the-throat times, especially when the tough Pat Sr. has a vulnerable, confessional time with Pat.

Cooper is mostly exceptional as Pat, conveying an irrational obsession with regaining what assuredly is a life he will never enjoy again. If there is a weakness, it is when he becomes unhinged — it seems too forced. However, his encounters with Tiffany, that sometimes leave him befuddled, are treasures, and although the audience might know where Pat is headed, Cooper’s performance is crafted well enough that it is not telegraphed.

Lawrence, though only 22, has already put together an impressive list of performances in drama (“Winter’s Bone”) and action (“X-Men: First Class” and “The Hunger Games”). Her work as Tiffany puts her in contention for a second Academy Award nomination. Lawrence has a screen presence that draws the audience in, and with Tiffany, she keeps not only Pat, but the viewers off balance. She is wounded and sometimes fragile, but she bounces off the ropes with more energy and compassion than you would expect.

DeNiro, in one of his strongest performances in years, portrays Pat Sr. as a man who struggles to go beyond a tightly held notion of one-dimensional fatherhood, i.e. believing that a shared fanaticism for a football team can be a sufficient bond between a parent and child. Weaver also has some wonderful moments as the steadfast wife and mother, dealing with people who are constantly in danger of coming apart.

In a nice side story, Chris Tucker is Danny, a friend of Pat’s at the institution who manages to get released unofficially, only to be taken back. But he proves to be valuable in keeping Pat and Tiffany locked unto one another.

A weakness in “Silver Linings” is that Nikki is just a name and a face. Some flashback scenes showing pivotal moments in the marriage between Pat and Nikki would have provided some emotional punch and helped bring an understanding as to why Pat was so determined to mend his marriage that he risks losing a chance to recover and take a different path.

“Life of Pi” visually stunning and moving but tests patience

“Life of Pi,” the Yann Martel novel that suffered its share of rejections before being published in 2001 and becoming wildly successful, has made its inevitable move to film via director Ang Lee’s visually beautiful adaptation.

David Magee (“Finding Neverland”) wrote the screenplay, and no doubt the movie was going to be a daunting undertaking, with so much of the story centering around a teenage Indian boy and a Bengal tiger.

Some detractors have dismissed “Pi” as “Cast Away” with a Bengal tiger instead of a blood-stained volleyball, but that is oversimplification. “Cast Away” is the story of a man driven to survive so he can be reunited with his beloved wife. “Pi” is an exploration of faith, as Pi has nothing to return to should he get through his ordeal.

“Pi” is mostly a flashback, as the adult Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), relates his story, a la Forrest Gump, to a writer (Rafe Spall). Pi talks about his childhood in India. One of two siblings, Pi is an intelligent boy who although a Hindu also embraces Christianity and Islam in an effort to be close to God, much to his father’s dismay, who insists Pi needs to chose one path to follow.

Pi’s father is a zookeeper, but political and financial concerns lead him to decide to take his family to Canada and sell the animals. This is bad for Pi, who has just begun a relationship with a young woman. The Patel family charters passage on a Japanese freighter to transport them and the zoo animals to Canada.

Disaster strikes, as the freighter, in a vicious storm, sinks. Pi is the lone human survivor, finding himself in a lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orangutan and a spotted hyena. Nature being uncompromising, the three animals soon are gone, and the sudden appearance of the  Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker, seals it as to who survives.

So, Pi and the tiger are boat-mates, and the center of the movie focuses on the boy and the animal establishing the parameters of their relationship. Pi’s faith is continually challenged but time and again events revive hopes of survival.

Even when they hit an island, which is a domain of thousands of meerkats, any hope of living out their days on this seeming oasis gets dashed. So it is back to sea.

Once they reach significant land on the shore of Mexico, emaciated but alive, Pi gets a reality check on the nature of nature, thinking he and Richard Parker established some sort of bond. But, hey, a Bengal tiger is not a domesticated cat.

Readers of the book know what happens after that, but those who are experiencing the “Live of Pi” first in the movie version will get the jolt of a twist — one which can spark outrage of anyone who is emotionally invested in the story and discovers there might be a challenge to what they have experienced.

“Life of Pi” has many touching moments, and lovers of animals will find some brutal scenes hard to take even through the animals on screen are computer generated. Also, the section of the movie wherein Pi and Richard Parker are drifting aimlessly at sea tends to drag and test patience.

Suraj Sharma in his feature debut offers a memorable performance as the teen Pi in what had to be a challenging role. Not only was it physically draining work, but his interaction with the tiger had to be like playing with an invisible friend, as the actual animal was not there, being added later in the technical/computer processes of the production.

Lee is a proven director, as he has shown in “Brokeback Mountain,” “Taking Woodstock” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” With “Pi” he has crafted a gorgeous movie, taking a story has been told before and giving it a stunning visual backdrop.

Daniel Day-Lewis offers a weary but driven president in “Lincoln”

Daniel Day-Lewis may be on his way to a third Academy Award with his vivid and layered portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

Spielberg also may be a contender in the best director category and assuredly “Lincoln” will be up for Best Picture.

Day-Lewis, who always has a commanding screen presence, electrifies again as a weary President Lincoln, although worn down by a costly Civil War but seeing a possible resolution is driven to end the conflict and bring the country back together again.

“Lincoln” focuses on the early months of 1865. Although the Union army has gained an advantage over the Confederates, Lincoln knows the war’s end is anything but definite. So he is pushing for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would abolish slavery. The Senate had already passed the amendment but it also had to pass the House of Representatives. Despite a Republican majority in the House, support for passage still was short the required two-thirds vote.

Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is a man of great compassion, mostly self-educated but brilliant. A great orator, he also was able to make a point using simple, often humorous stories.

Another strength of “Lincoln” is the exceptional cast and its exploration of the inner workings of government. Tommy Lee Jones is a standout as Republican stalwart Thaddeus Stevens, a longtime advocate of ending slavery, but also an acid-tongued man not known for being cordial to his colleagues in Congress.

David Strathairn is perfectly cast as Secretary of State Williams Seward, who despite his own feelings of hopelessness on the passage of the 13th Amendment nevertheless works tirelessly behind the scenes to insure its passage.

Seward supervises some behind-the-scenes maneuvers, employing three men, W.N. Bilbo (a hilarious James Spader), Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) to offer token jobs in exchange for yes votes on the amendment.

Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, Bruce McGill as Edwin Stanton, Michael Stuhlbarg as George Yeaman — who deals with his own ambivalence over the 13th Amendment and delivers a key vote — Jackie Earle Haley as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, a White House servant who lost her son in the war, all present small but key moments as the critical day of the amendment vote in the House approaches.

Lincoln also has family issues to deal with. Mary Todd Lincoln, mostly recalled in history as an unstable woman besieged by family tragedies, is portrayed by Sally Field, who presents a First Lady as fragile but also haughty and unyielding in keeping the pressure on her husband to make sure oldest son Robert is not harmed in the war.

Joseph Gordon-Leavitt does not get to do much as Robert, a young man driven to serve in the Union army, determined not to be shielded because his father is president.

The screenplay by Tony Kushner, who worked with Spielberg on “Munich,” had to be a complex undertaking with so many spoken roles, including a big chunk of the amendment vote roll call. Anchored by Day-Lewis as Lincoln, the script captures the intense passion of those times.

Although “Lincoln” is centered around the final four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, it captures the essence of the man, thanks largely to the brilliant work by Day-Lewis. And Spielberg weaves together a wonderful ensemble piece that with humor and drama draws the audience into a pivotal time in U.S. history.

In “Skyfall,” the old ways still work.

One cannot deny the lasting power of the James Bond franchise, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012. It started with “Dr. No” in 1962 as Sean Connery took on the initial starring role, and now with “Skyfall” and Daniel Craig as 007, there are elements of a rebirth.

The Bond movies have undergone several face-lifts over the years with Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now Craig presenting their interpretations of the superstar British secret agent. The movies themselves have taken on different tones, from the flippancy and corny one-liners of the early versions to the more serious later films that have been tighter adaptations of the Ian Fleming novels.

With “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace” and now “Skyfall,” the James Bond as played by Craig is a more serious character — the wisecracks are at a minimum — who also is less flirtatious, more vulnerable physically and emotionally, but still an efficient operative with a “license to kill.”

Being that “Skyfall” is marking the 50th anniversary of the Bond series, one of the main themes is the exploration of whether Bond and his employer, MI6, are out of date in a world where deadly enemies do not come from armies but from cells that are able to blend in with the citizenry, i.e. living and functioning in the shadows.

Director Sam Mendes, not known for action movies, opens “Skyfall” with an incredible chase scene that commences on streets, rooftops and atop a train. Bond, in pursuit of a man who has stolen a hard drive that contains a list of operatives throughout the world who are embedded in terrorist groups, is backed up by Eve (Naomie Harris), a younger, newer agent. In constant communication with M (Judi Dench), Eve is pressured to take a sniper shot even though her target is not clear. She does and hits Bond by mistake. He plummets off the bridge into water and is presumed dead.

But this is Bond. He manages to survive and is exploiting his “death” for some peaceful R&R on an island.

Meanwhile, as if losing one of her top agents is not bad enough, M is dealing with “concerned” political leaders and the fact that someone has hacked into her computer. Plus, someone is now releasing the names of the embedded agents, putting them in immediate peril. Then, to really twist the knife, an explosion rips an upper floor of MI6 headquarters, killing more people.

News of this draws Bond back to England, but he clearly has lost an edge. M, being pressed into an early, dignified retirement, insists Bond is ready for duty.

Thus we have the standard Bond procedure of literally walking into the jaws of danger in an effort to meet his mortal enemy so there can be the usual gentlemanly posturing before things turn deadly. This time, at least for a while, Bond has a backup in tow with Eve.

Also as usual, there is a buffer between Bond and his adversary in the person of a beautiful woman, in this case Severine (Berenice Marlohe). And, like many of the women who are in this role in the Bond movies, her life expectancy likely will be shortened.

Finally we meet the villain, and it seems inevitable that Javier Bardem, whose chilling portrayal of a professional killer in “No Country for Old Men” earned him an Oscar, would pop up as a bad guy in a Bond thriller. In “Skyfall” he is Silva, and his initial appearance is a long uncut shot of him strolling toward Bond with the audience getting Bond’s POV. Bardem’s Silva mesmerizes in this scene. He is clearly a frightening guy but you cannot take your eyes off him.

The Bond features always showcase a brilliant madman who is surrounded by either a fortress or a seemingly infinite payroll of staff (see the SPOILER ALERT comments below), and he never cares how many people are killed to achieve his goal. If Skyfall has a weakness it is that they have given a superb villain a rather meek motive for his carnage — revenge.

The previously mentioned theme of Bond and company being outdated is played out in the final confrontation. An old friend of Bond appears — to audience applause — and in the final standoff, Bond must make do with old tricks to vanquish the more heavily armed and manned Silva team.

When it is all resolved, for now, the set up is there for a reborn Bond franchise. A new M (Ralph Fiennes) is taking over. Eve becomes a character resurrected from the past. And the new Q (Ben Whishaw) assumes the modern persona of the techno genius.

This is the new Bond. He may surprise once in a while with a humorous quip and continue to show lack of protocol and respect for his superiors, but the days of 007 saying “he got the point” after spearing some foe are over. Thankfully, in this era of DVDs and computers, we can revisit those good old times.


Silva’s nasty operation is based on one motive, to extract revenge on M. Once a top-notch MI6 agent, he believes M abandoned him on a mission, leaving him to suffer. OK. One of the issues I was tackling was how he financed his operation. He had computers, a casino operation, a helicopter, tons of weaponry and a payroll that had to number in the hundreds. Then it hit me. With his computer hacking ability he likely was siphoning funds from various rich entities. I mean, he had to be paying exorbitant prices for his gunmen. They had to be mercenaries. It is doubtful he would be able to draft people to put their lives on the line in loyalty to a guy wanting to get back on his boss.

The “old friend” mentioned above was the appearance of the Aston-Martin, the gadgetry-loaded car whose various bells and whistles were showcased in “Goldfinger” in 1964. According to message board postings, when Bond brings out the Aston-Martin, people in the audience clapped. Later, one of the most abhorrent acts of Silva is his ordering the men in the helicopter to shoot the car to pieces. Even Bond, after seeing his old car shot to smithereens gets that look in his eyes: YOU ARE ONE DEAD MAN, SILVA.

It will be interesting to see if Ralph Fiennes does return as the new M in the next Bond feature, and if Naomie Harris resumes her role as the new Moneypenny. And it will be fun to see what kind of relationship Bond has with these people. The original M, played by the late Bernard Lee, always seemed to treat Bond as a teacher would a brilliant but inconsistent and sometimes foolish student. Judy Dench’s M had a love-hate relationship with Bond. She would get frustrated and curt with him but in the end had to trust him. The new Moneypenny obviously is not the spinster-like administrative assistant to M played by Lois Maxwell, who died in 2007 at the age of 80. Harris as Moneypenny has already shown she can see past his flirting and innuendos. She well be a good match for him.

Coming up:
Fathom Events will be presenting a restored version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Nov. 15, featuring Gregory Peck’s Academy Award-winning performance as Atticus Finch.

And for Quentin Tarantino fans, in advance of his new movie “Django Unchained,” Fathom Events will be returning to the big screen “Resevoir Dogs” on Dec. 4 and “Pulp Fiction” on Dec. 6. See for times and locations.

‘Flight”: A brilliant pilot battles inner demons

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is the kind of pilot we all hope is sitting in the cockpit of a commercial airliner when we board. The scary premise of “Flight” is that Whitaker has a problem — he is an alcoholic.

“Flight,” the first live-action movie from Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) since “Cast Away,” is yet another screen exploration, following such classics as “The Lost Weekend” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” of people who have lost control of their alcoholic consumption. Here, though, the scary aspect is that Whitaker arrives for work intoxicated, with diminished senses, carrying the lives of dozens on his shaky shoulders.

Washington, known for playing stellar characters, has shown with his Oscar-winning performance in “Training Day” that he can portray bad as well as good. In “Flight,” he manages a balance of offering a character who, if he was not stalked by the tenacious disease of alcoholism, would be a person at the pinnacle of his life.

When “Flight”  begins, Whitaker is shown in a hotel room with Katarina (Nadine Velazquez) trying to get themselves in working shape after what appears to have been a mostly sleepless night of partying. Then the whopper is revealed. Whitaker is a commercial pilot, and Katarina is a flight attendant, and they have a Florada-to-Atlanta flight that morning to run.

Up to this day, Whitaker likely has been playing out this scene many times. Divorced with a son who is increasingly alienated from him, Whitaker unwinds with alcohol and women. Then he snorts cocaine, which revives him, and goes to work.

Then a seemingly routine flight becomes anything but as the jetliner, after encountering some nasty weather, suddenly goes into a dive. In a harrowing but spectacularly staged scene, Whitaker battles a piece of machinery that is mortally wounded. He remains calm and focused and performs a maneuver one might think is crazy — inverting the plane. This does avert the dive, but like a deadly chain reaction, the plane continues to fail. Soon it is rendered a heavy glider. Yet Whitaker manages to set it down in a field. It is tragic but could have been worse. Of the 102 people aboard, 96 survive. Including Whitaker.

The torment is only beginning for Whitaker. Now under official scrutiny from the crash investigation, the cloak is removed from the pilot’s secret life. On one hand a hero, and totally convinced his drinking had nothing to do with the crash, Whitaker now must deal with the possibility of civil and criminal proceedings.

A proven actor, Washington is able to use his charisma and skills to serve up a character who is very human. While he can be a caring person — a nice subplot is his friendship and support of a heroin addict, Nicole (Kerry Reilly) — he also can be irresponsible and ungrateful. He tries to cover his tracks by asking fellow crew members to cover for him. He at first scoffs at the efforts of his friend and pilots union official Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) and an attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle, splendid is what few scenes he has), who manages to squelch a damning post-crash blood test. He lashes out against Nicole when she urges him to get help.

In a telling scene, the night before he is to appear before the investigative board, Whitaker encounters a tremendous temptation. But when it looks like he might fight it off … well …

“Flight” is a wrenching study of the debilitating effects of alcoholism. The tragedy of Whitaker is that his brilliance in the cockpit cannot negate the dark side of his existence — the need to drink to cope in the world outside of an airplane. Although his appearances are scene-stealing and funny, John Goodman as Whitaker’s drug connection Harling Mays upon whom Whitaker is so dependent, is the symbol of the horrible consequences of not seeking the support, of deluding oneself into thinking everything is under control.

Washington adds layers to a person worthy of admiration for the skills he has honed as well as the pity for his weaknesses.

A tip of the hat to James Badge Dale for a brief but memorable appearance as a terminal cancer patient who assumes a sardonic and philosophical attitude toward his fate.

November birthdays: The big five-oh for Jodie, Andrew, Demi, Laura and Jon

Celebrating her 50th birthday in November (11/19) will be Jodie Foster, who will be presented a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes. Joining her in the half-century mark will be Demi Moore (11/21). Andrew McCarthy )11/29), Laura San Giacomo (11/14) and Jon Stewart (11/28).

Other birthday milestones:

20: Miley Cyrus (11/23)

30: Anne Hathaway (11/12)

60: Mandy Patinkin (11/30), Roseanne Barr (11/3)

70: Linda Evans (11/18), Stefanie Powers (11/2), Martin Scorsese (11/17), Marcia Wallace (11/1)

80: Petula Clark (11/15), Diane Ladd (11/29), Robert Vaughn (11/22)

Some other November birthdays: Ed Asner 83 (11/15), Jamie Lee Curtis 54 (11/22), Bo Derek 56 (11/20), Danny Devito 68 (11/17), Leonardo DiCaprio 38 (11/11), Ryan Gosling 32 (11/12), Goldie Hawn 67 (11/21), Scarlett Johansson 28 (11/22), Yaphet Kotto 75 (11/15), John Larroquette 65 (11/25), Lyle Lovett 55 (11/1), Matthew McConaughy 43 (11/4), Tatum O’Neal 49 (11/5), Martha Plimpton 42 (11/16), Mark Ruffalo 45 (11/22), Meg Ryan 51 (11/19), Ridley Scott 75 (11/30), Chloe Sevigny 38 (11/18), Dick Smothers 74 (11/20), Ben Stiller 47 (11/30), Emma Stone 24 (11/6), Loretta Swit 75 (11/4), Marlo Thomas 75 (11/21), Brenda Vaccaro 73 (11/18), Owen Wilson 44 (11/18), Jonathan Winters 87 (11/11), Sean Young 53 (11/20, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. 94 (11/30.