Posts Tagged ‘Robert de Niro’

It’s Crazy Out There

Joker

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert de Niro, Zazie Beetz Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Glenn Fleishler, Leigh Gill

The Hangover director Todd Phillips plays a sick and twisted joke on audience members that expect Joker to be a conventional superhero origin story.

Joker won the Best Film at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival and is absolutely brilliant, diabolically clever and deeply disturbing thanks to an unbelievable onscreen performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a struggling clown and stand-up comedian in a garbage ridden Gotham who transforms with nefarious elegance into Joker, the arch enemy of Bruce Wayne aka Batman.

Joaquin Phoenix has delivered some stunning film performances first in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and then for his Oscar nominated roles as the vicious Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Roman epic Gladiator (2000) followed by his performance as musician Johnny Cash in James Mangold’s Walk the Line (2005) and more recently as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012).

Phoenix’s performance in Joker is utterly phenomenal as he physically transforms into Arthur Fleck, whose sinewy body holds a promise of vicious intent as he discovers that his mother Penny who he has to wash and bathe was discarded by the wealthy Thomas Wayne played by Brett Cullen (The Dark Knight Rises).

Arthur is told by an unsympathetic counselor that Gotham is cutting social services which includes his medication while in the mean streets his clown gigs are becoming increasingly hostile. He is attacked by juvenile delinquents for holding up a sign saying Everything Must Go.

Arthur’s desire to be a stand-up comedian is ridiculed on live Television by professional Talk Show host Murray Franklin superbly played by Oscar winner Robert de Niro (Raging Bull, The Godfather Part II).

Amidst the gritty streets of Gotham, Arthur Fleck’s sanity slowly unravels, the ties that bind him to conventional behaviour prove useless as he comes off his meds and psychopathically starts killing entitled bullies on subway trains. An incessant smoker, Arthur watches the deterioration of his mother Penny played by Frances Conroy (The Tale, Shopgirl, Broken Flowers). After being invited onto Murray Franklin’s sarcastic talk show, Arthur paints on the clown make up and delivers a masterful narcissistic monologue, whereby the Joker is born. The results are riveting.

Arthur Fleck violently disregards the advice of his fellow clowns Randall played by Glenn Fleischer (Suburbicon) and Gary played by Leigh Gill (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) in a particularly disturbing scene which is both funny and scary. 

Joaquin Phoenix delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Arthur Fleck who transforms into Joker, a psychotic violent lunatic that thrives on chaos and disenchantment in a crowded Gotham overrun by ruthless men and an uncaring upper class. Not since Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, has there been an equally spine-chilling performance of this perennial and chaotic comic book villain.

Joker gets a film rating of 9 out of 10 is essential viewing, a dark mirror for a 21st century society which accurately reflects just how crazy it is out there. The politics of fear reign supreme.

Daring Women

Joy

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Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Bradley Cooper, Elisabeth Rohm, Dascha Polanco

Director David O. Russell’s third collaboration with Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, Joy is about a feisty daring divorced young mother of two who gambles her entire life savings on her own invention of the Miracle Mop. Loosely based on the true story of Joy Mangano who invented and patented the miracle mop back in the mid-eighties, the film version is a quirky dysfunctional tale of a family who do their best to distract Joy from her primary goal, that of becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Joy’s dizzy mother Terry played by Virginia Madsen is engrossed in glossy eighties soap operas while her father Rudy and greying Casanova, wonderfully played by Robert de Niro, his second appearance in a David O. Russell film after Silver Linings Playbook. Joy’s grandmother is the rock of her world, Mimi played by the irrepressible Diane Ladd (Rambling Rose).

When Rudy starts dating a wealthy Italian widow Trudy, beautifully played Isabella Rossellini in one of her most prolific roles yet, Joy seizes upon an opportunity to ask Trudy to invest in her idea of the miracle mop. However after many unsuccessful attempts to sell her product, primarily outside K. Mart, Joy’s ex-husband, the amiable Venezuelan wanna-be singer, Tony played by Edgar Ramirez (Point Break) suggests that they go and approach a Pennsylvania business man directly.

In a series of chance encounters, Joy meets the head buyer for K. Mart the suave and tough Neil Walker, underplayed by Bradley Cooper, who returns for his fourth collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence after Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Serena. The daring Joy persuades Walker to give her a chance doing a home shopping advert where she can have the golden opportunity to sell the miracle mop to Television consumers a precursor to the Home Shopping Network. Amidst many dodgy business dealings involving elusive suppliers, Joy soon matures into a really tough business woman despite doubts by Trudy who has been her main patron and financial backer.

Joy is an uneven yet quirky film about one daring woman in particular who embraces the American dream, despite the odds and eventually through sheer tenacity succeeds into become a multi-million dollar corporate business woman who embraces the Capitalist work ethic and proves that hard work and determination certainly pays off.

As a film, Joy is by no means David O. Russell’s best work, not nearly outshining Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle, but what makes the film so watchable and enjoyable is Jennifer Lawrence’s fantastic performance, anchoring the narrative down despite a proliferation of flighty and less reliable characters. It is also refreshing to see Robert de Niro and Isabella Rossellini share so much screen time.

Joy is recommended viewing, a fantastic feel good film with a great supporting cast and a fine truly inspiring performance by Jennifer Lawrence who as usual under the directorial guidance of David O. Russell never disappoints.

 

 

Grey is the New Green

The Intern

intern Nancy Meyers film

Director: Nancy Meyers

Cast: Robert de Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Nat Wolff, Adam DeVine, Celia Weston, Anders Holm, Andrew Rannells, Zack Pearlman

American director and screenwriter Nancy Meyers has always been brilliant at churning a reasonable collection of romantic comedies touching quite often on the social nuances of contemporary American culture. The director of What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give, now teams up two Oscar winners the legendary Robert de Niro (Raging Bull, Silver Linings Playbook) with Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, The Devil Wears Prada) in a wonderful romantic comedy The Intern focusing on a widower Ben Whitaker who finds after his wife’s death has far too much time on his hands.

Whitaker, fastidious, presentable and dependable, expressively played by de Niro applies for a position as an intern at an online fashion site, which is young chic start-up which basically sells and delivers new clothing bought on the internet much like the South African versions Zando and Spree.

The start-up aptly named About the Fit is managed and owned by the driven entrepreneur Jules Ostin played by Hathaway who at first channels too much of her character from The Devil Wears Prada, but then finds her own form for the successful working mother with a stay at home husband, Matt, played by Anders Holm.

Initially, the internship program is designed to give senior citizens a chance to work in the digital era and exposure to the 21st century work environment, which Meyers accurately draws some brilliant observations between the baby boom (born during or after World War 2) generation and the millennial generation (born in the 1990’s), a divide made all the more problematic with the fast acceleration of digital and online technologies. The fact that Whitaker spent most of his career printing New York telephone directories and one of the naive receptionists asks if they still make phone books, is testament to this generation gap.

The narrative of The Intern takes on some more serious issues in the second half of the film, after a rather languid beginning punctuated only by some jokes and a caper involving stealing a laptop. The film is brilliantly enlightened by the accessible Rene Russo (Nightcrawler, Thor) as the company masseur Fiona in a wonderful scene where she massages Whitaker at his desk, much to the delight of the twenty year olds sitting on either side of him.

As the film progresses, director Nancy Meyers gives more scope for her two main leads to show some real acting talent even though the script at times is slightly saccharine. De Niro’s character Whitaker really is used as a vehicle, both literally (he becomes Jules’s driver) and figuratively as a means of Jules realizing that her career is not as important as her marriage and that sometimes its wisdom not business acumen that can help save a company which is threatening to become too successful too soon. A pitfall of many start up tech companies especially in the increasingly attention demanding digital age.

The Intern is recommended viewing for those that enjoy romantic comedies with a bit more depth, reasonably well written and soothingly directed by Meyers. This is a great, feel good comedy without resorting to crude language or stupid antics.

 

That Seventies Con!

American Hustle

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Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Shea Wingham, Robert de Niro, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Pena

Acclaimed director of Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell delivers another cinematic masterpiece with his latest film American Hustle about a couple of con artists in New York in 1978 during the Disco era. Think fabulous Seventies costumes, broad Jersey accents, big hair, the brilliantly ensemble cast of American Hustle all deliver top notch acting along with some sassy flair and loads of self-deception.

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Oscar Winner Christian Bale (The Fighter) is brilliant as  Irving Rosenfeld a two-bit con artist with a chain of dry cleaning businesses which also double as a front for selling fake art to unsuspecting New Yorkers who teams up with Sidney/Edith a sexy pole dancer turned grifter superbly played by Amy Adams (Doubt, The Fighter) at a Jersey pool party in January!

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Together the ever glamorous Edith sporting a fake British accent and the smooth talking wily potbellied Irving unveil their small scams selling unsuspecting lines of credit to gamblers, pimps and two bit hustlers. However their duplicitous lives are crossed by unstable Richie diMarso energetically played by Bradley Cooper (Place beyond the Pines), complete with a perm and a pent-up attitude who is in fact an FBI agent out to catch bigger fish from corrupt politicians to American mobsters who control the Florida casinos in Florida are looking to reinvigorate Jersey’s den of iniquity Atlantic City with its newly acquired gambling licences.

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The setting is New York, 1978 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, when the American public are distrustful of smooth taking politicians and economically hangover from a 1977 oil embargo and a costly Vietnam war. Director Russell captures the ambience of the late 1970’s Americana perfectly heavily influenced by the films of that period including The French Connection, American Gigolo and even the 007 film Live and Let Die. As the narrative unfolds a complication comes in the form of the no-nonsense confident chain smoking wife of Irving, Rosalyn Rosenfeld, a knockout performance by Jennifer Lawrence, last year’s Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook.

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American Hustle follows a cleverly scripted and elaborate plot about these four drifters and cons who not only try to out wit the FBI, the mob and a shady Jersey politician Mayor Carmine Polito a well coiffed Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy) involving shifting money for fronting an imaginary investment into the revitalization of Atlantic City casinos. Oddly enough the con also involves funds from a mysterious Abu Dhabi Sheik, comically downplayed by Michael Pena who is in fact Mexican.

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Amy Adams gives a tour de force performance as Sidney/Edith a vulnerable yet shrewd woman who can smooth talk any man out of his cash which is certainly Oscar worthy along with the rest of the brilliant ensemble cast making up regulars from David O. Russell’s two previous hit films Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter.

Alessandro Nivola (Coco Avant Chanel), Robert de Niro (Casino) and Shea Wingham (Savages, Take Shelter) also make a welcome appearance. Any viewer who experienced or grew up in the sassy disco inspired 1970’s will appreciate every aspect of authenticity of this ambiance infused con drama featuring magnetic performances by the four leads along with a witty, comic and incisive script co written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer.

American Hustle is a sophisticated sexy adult drama dripping with menace and deception, complete with a dynamic plot in the lines of Stephen Frears excellent The Grifters and Sam Mendes American Beauty. It’s the ultimate homage film about that Seventies Con featuring the unrivalled power of intention and people’s limitless capacity for survival, love and betrayal.

Noble Stags

Last Vegas

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Director: Jon Turteltaub

Stars: Michael Douglas, Robert de Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Michael Ealy, Mary Steenburgen, Roger Bart, Romany Malco, Curtis Jackson, Joanna Gleason, Jerry Ferrara

Four Oscar winners team up for The Hangover with Pensions version aptly titled Last Vegas. Veteran Hollywood stars Michael Douglas (Wall Street, The Game), Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Meet the Parents), Morgan Freeman (Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption) and Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, The Big Chill) play four friends in the autumn of their lives who reunite 58 years later for a debauched bachelor party in Sin City as one of them prepares to marry a bride half his age in a bid to retain his vanity.

National Treasure Director Jon Turteltaub’s comedy about men in their seventies who rediscover the spunk in them is both hilarious and poignant as Last Vegas charts the character journey of these friends, referred to in 1950’s Brooklyn as the Flatbush Four, when they were kids stealing a bottle of Whisky named Noble Stags from a drugstore.

As the gang reunite 58 years later for an explosive Vegas weekend, it’s the  brilliant scenes between smooth talking Billy played by Douglas and mean looking and grumpy Paddy played by De Niro, that stand out in this comedy. Both these hugely talented actors flesh out their onscreen characters in Last Vegas who share a rivalry and a bitterness dating back to a mutual infatuation with a childhood sweetheart. That rivalry is reignited when they meet has been Vegas Lounge singer Diana wonderfully played by the glamorous Mary Steenburgen (The Proposal, Philadelphia).

In between the rivalry between these two, is Kline’s character Sam who has been given a hallpass by his wife to get laid in Vegas and Freeman’s character Archie who develops a winning streak at the roulette table in an effort to escape his smothering son Ezra played by Michael Ealy.

If the fountains at The Bellagio were for rejuvenating then this film is definitely a mature version of  the hugely successful The Hangover trilogy with ample jokes about prostate, hair transplants and Viagra as the Flatbush four conquer Vegas from poolside Bikini Contests, to roulette to a fabulous Bachelor’s party whose guests include acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, strippers and Drag Queens (look out for a wonderful cameo by TV actor Roger Bart (Revenge, Desperate Housewives) along with Rapper turned actor 50 Cents (Curtis Jackson) of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ fame.

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Last Vegas proves that it’s never too late to have fun especially in Vegas and at the expense of the naive and youthful, embodied in the character of Dean superbly played by Jerry Ferrara of Entourage TV series fame. This is a wonderful and hilarious comedy proving that all these Oscar winners especially Douglas and De Niro are still at the top of their game, helped by the ever talented Freeman and the expressive Kevin Kline.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoy a more mature and poignant comedy, less vulgar than The Hangover, but just as funny. Last Vegas definitely promises a sequel especially with the onscreen chemistry of these four versatile Hollywood stars.

 

 

2012 Toronto Film Festival

2012 Toronto International Film Festival Winners

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Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place every year in September in Toronto, Canada.

Films which premiere at Toronto are often nominated for Academy Awards the following year.

TIFF does not hand out individual prizes for Best Actor or Actress but focuses on amongst others the following awards:
People’s Choice Award & Best Canadian Feature Film

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Opening Night Film: – Looper directed by Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt & Bruce Willis

Silver Linings Playbook

People’s Choice Award:Silver Linings Playbook directed by David O. Russell, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver & Chris Tucker

Laurence Anyways

Best Canadian Feature Film: Laurence Anyways directed by Xavier Dolan, starring ,

Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Toronto_International_Film_Festival

 

Parlay of Silver Linings

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

A parlay is money won on a bet to increase the stakes. David O. Russell’s brilliant and feisty family drama Silver Linings Playbook won People’s Choice Award at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and teams up Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence with Bradley Cooper as Patrick (The Hangover, Limitless) along with Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) and Oscar winner Robert de Niro (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) as Patrick’s doting parents. Russell directed the Oscar winning 2010 film The Fighter and delivers another quirky brilliant scripted and at times frenetic portrait of a dysfunctional American family set in suburban Philadelphia.

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Cooper plays Patrick who is released by his determined mother Dolores from a court-ordered stay in a Baltimore Psychiatric Institution after serving eight months for a violent episode where he beat up his wife’s lover after walking in on them in the shower. Patrick at 37 has to go back and live with his parents which in these economic times are far from unusual. Patrick has a severe bi-polar disorder and needs to be on chronic medication to prevent any further violent outbursts. His estranged wife has a restraining order against him.

de Niro is superb as Patrick, senior the OCD father who besides dealing with his bi-polar son has problems of his own as a bookie, with no pension and is desperately trying regain the dwindled family fortune through betting on the local football matches, but is banned from the stadium. Weaver is Dolores, the doting mother who tries to maintain stability in a disorderly household coping simultaneously with a son with mental health problems and a husband with obsessive compulsive behaviour.

Patrick first plan besides getting fit is to read his estranged wife who is an English teacher’s high school syllabus starting with Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, but unlike Hemingway, Patrick is always searching for the silver lining something enforced while he was in rehabilitation and is determined to reunite with his wife.

Into this dysfunctional family enters Tiffany, beautifully portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, a promiscuous young woman who is traumatized by the sudden death of her husband.  Tiffany persuades Patrick to enter a Dancing with the Stars type competition in exchange for assisting him in delivering letters in an attempt to win back his wife. Silver Linings Playbook has a tightly woven script written by David O. Russell adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick and gives Cooper an opportunity to display his acting range as the frenetic obsessive and maladjusted man trying to put his life back together amidst the sometimes claustrophobic environment of his family home.

Jennifer Lawrence steals the show as the socially inept Tiffany who despite the psychological setbacks of both her and Patrick’s characters is determined to use dancing as a means of constructive therapy.

Silver Linings Playbook is more drama than comedy but Russell’s direction is imbued with a sensitivity and pace that allows the audience to sympathize with the dysfunctional characters Tiffany and Patrick amidst a community that does not quite grasp the complexities of people suffering from mental health problems such as post traumatic stress syndrome and bi polar.

The dance contest towards the end really is brilliant and offers a stage to resolve all domestic conflicts along with bringing a silver lining to this unique cinematic drama where the stakes are doubled (a parlay) and the characters are far from conventional. Chris Tucker, Shea Whigham, John Ortiz and Julia Stiles round off the quirky cast. Silver Linings Playbook is highly recommended for first rate acting a sure reason why there is such an Awards buzz. Jennifer Lawrence won a 2013 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical and walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress at the Academy Awards in February 2013.

Success is a Loan Shark

Limitless

With innovative direction by Neil Burger who brought the stunning period drama The Illusionist to the screen in 2006, Limitless stars Bradley Cooper as an aimless writer in New York City battling to complete a novel, landing up more at the Bar than at his publishers. Through a dodgy encounter with a shady brother-in-law, Ed Morra (Cooper) discovers the drug NZT which unlocks the potential of the human brain allowing a person to operate with all synapses connected and being fully in control with a super stimulated and alert state of mind, unlocking memories, abilities and hidden talents. Soon Morra in his quest for personal wealth transforms into a stock market trader being wooed by big investors and also chased by a shady Russian loan shark.

Morra played with humility and helped by Cooper’s vulnerable, yet starling blue eyes, is a departure for the actor who was in danger of being stuck in romantic comedy hell. Having instant fame from such hit films as The Hangover and The A-Team, Bradley Cooper holds his own as a flawed hero in Limitless a psychological thriller on the efforts men go to achieve success and power, wealth and wisdom at whatever cost. Unlike Edward Zwick’s raunchy comedy Love and Other Drugs which used sex and nudity to stay clear of the dangers of pharmaceutical medication, Limitless plunges into the murky world of drug addiction, of balancing a mind-unleashing drugs with the after effects of chemicals that can serious alter ones personality and if used correctly one’s path to success. Limitless does not shy away from the notion that all successful and brilliant men, whatever field they achieve their fame, there has been a secret reliance on that all powerful magic pill for success turning mere dreams and ideas into a prominent career and recognition.

Morra shows the effects of the brain boosting drug and the dangers of over reliance on that form of stimulus to achieve a person’s goals. Limitless is an ambivalent take on what drives men to success. Is it their ability to rise above average mediocrity or their reliance on an external booster to achieve fame, fortune and financial superiority in a cut-throat free-market economy, as competitive as that signified by 21st century commercial America and a relentless puritan work ethic?

Limitless is set on the edges of Wall Street, and with a menacing and megalomaniacal performance by Robert de Niro as the financial investor Carl van Loon, Morra is soon drawn into his world of greed, absolute power and a morally devoid fight for survival. Whether Morra transcends van Loon’s world to make his own individual mark on a power hungry society without the aid of questionable narcotics is left up to the audience to ultimately decide. However, the character journey of Morra from a loser unpublished writer, explaining his narrative to bar flys’ in a hazy Manhattan bar at the film’s opening to the confident wealthy and politically ambitious man at the end of the film is remarkable, violent and ethically questionable. If viewers enjoyed The Game, Bad Influence and Wall Street, the original, then Limitless is a film to watch. Lastly as drugs or alcohol is addictive, Limitless shows that the desire for success and wealth in a competitive environment is equally alluring.

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