Archive for February, 2013

Thrillers

Posted: February 28, 2013 in movie reviews

Side Effects ***1/2 (out of five)

urlIf he’s telling the truth – or, more likely and hopefully, until he changes his mind – Side Effects is going to be Steven Soderberg’s final theatrically released feature film (he still has a feature-length film for cable television that’s yet to screen). For me and I know for many, this is a very, very sad thing. Not only do many of us look forward – some of us, greatly – to the next Soderberg film, we’ve always been lucky enough never to have to wait too long; of the Major Directors, Soderberg is easily the most prolific (with the possible exception of Woody Allen, whose work, let’s face it, could do with a longer gestation period).

Contagion was my favorite film of 2011; at first glance (poster, trailer, and especially title) Side Effects is in a very similar vein: as Contagion was about a virus, Side Effects seems to be about the evils of Big Pharma (like The Constant Gardner). But Soderberg isn’t really in the business of repeating himself, and the two films are actually very different. Side Effects is really a much more intimate thriller, about the deep mystery of one woman’s depression, and her response to a new anti-depressant under the guidance of her psychiatrist; Rooney Mara and Jude Law are excellent in these roles. Rather than exploding outwards, as Contagion does, this film circles inwards, and instead of the obvious expectation – Big Pharma is screwing with us all! – there are a lot more twists and turns on a personal level. Contagion was massively ambitious; this one is quiet, insidious and creepy.url-3

Soderberg shoots a rainy, overcast New York gorgeously, in stately zooms, swoops, moves and pans; he’s gone for a formal, measured, high-gloss approach (none of his hand-held shots here) and, basically, it’s his Hitchcock film, not only in style but in substance; once it’s all over, the Hitchcockian archetypes will be plain to see.

It’s far from his best film but any Soderberg film is usually fascinating and this one is no exception; at its best, it’s chilling, creepy, strange and intriguing; at its worst, it’s gorgeous to look at.

If Soderberg’s really giving up the Big Screen, Contagion would have been the ultimate swan song, but Side Effects is at least a little better, and a little more weighty, than Magic Mike. Ultimately, no film is going to feel like the “right” one to be his last, because he’s one of the best directors in the world, and it’s the void to come that’s going to hurt.

The Paperboy *** (out of five)

The Paper Boy MovieLee Daniels made quite a splash with Precious a few years back, and that word well describes his follow-up, which luxuriates in style at the expense of story. Set in the late sixties in Florida, the film – and everyone in it – shimmers with sweat; it’s shot in some sort of eternal heat haze, which gets across the intention that its really really hot very strongly, if not much more; period design detail is well represented as well.

Lee Daniels

Lee Daniels

His cast is strong. Matthew McConaughey plays a Pultizer Prize winning reporter returning to his hometown with his writing partner to pursue a story of miscarried justice; the constantly improving Zach Effron plays his listless younger brother, and Nicole Kidman plays one step less than totally bonkers as a youthful forty something who is in a demented pen-pal relationship with John Cusack, the object of McConaughey’s story, who may be innocent of the crime of which he’s accused, but is decidedly not an innocent. It’s fun to see Cusack play a redneck freak; it’s more fun to see Kidman play “white trash”. For a girl from Sydney she’s very good at it.

urlIt’s sixties southern noir, and it pushes many of that genres’ buttons well, except it’s slow, and that’s its crime. It lazes about in the humidity, as though that were an excuse for its lack of major dramatic action. There is certainly a middle, a beginning and an end, but between them is a whole lot of meandering, time-filling non-action. An edit would do it a lot of good.

The 2012 Oscar year was one of the best in memory, with a diverse slate up for nine Best Picture slots and very few lock-ins. After finally clearing the slate yesterday, seeing Life Of Pi in 3D, it’s time for my “Should Win / Will Win” list – and in a crazy year that could be all over the map, I’m willing to bet heavy, because, frankly, in the chaos I see a certain logic.

argo-poster03BEST PICTURE

Should Win: ARGO

Will Win: ARGO

A no-brainer. Besides being the “Best All-Rounder” of the year, it’s won everything leading up to the Oscars. Why is that important? Because it’s subsets of the same people. Thus the fact that the Director’s Guild, the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild and the BAFTA all voted for it (along with many others) means that those people are going to vote the same way at the Oscars. After all, your Best Film is your Best Film, right? So, Tom Hanks, for example, is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy. We know he likely voted for Argo at the SAGs – and he does again at the Oscars. Or say Ridley Scott is a member of the Director’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild, BAFTA and the Academy. He voted for Argo then – he’s doing it again. Those are the simple maths of the thing. It’s a numbers game, and Argo has the numbers.

Why is it the “Best All-Rounder?” That’s my opinion. Two other movies may have astonished me, or thrilled me, or just generally blown my mind more (those would be Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained) but Argo was flawless, with not a single moment of drag, not a single foot in the wrong place, entertaining from start to finish – for everyone. Beasts, Django, Amour, Les Miserables – all will be favorites among certain clientele, but Argo is the ultimate crowd-pleaser (unless that crowd is in Iran, perhaps, but even then, I gotta say its politics are pretty well spread). A great film and worthy of the statue.

url-7BEST DIRECTOR

Really Should Win: Ben Affleck, ARGO (not nominated)

Should Win: Benh Zeitlin (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD)

Will Win: Ang Lee (LIFE OF PI)

Firstly, forget all concept of a “snub”: the Academy members don’t collude (where do 6,000 people gather and conduct a practical meeting in secret?) and besides, they like and admire Ben Affleck. What happened to him was an accident. Here’s how:

Imagine you and I are part of the Academy’s 350 members of the Director’s Branch (that’s how many there are, give or take a few – they’re the smallest branch of the Academy, and they pick the Directing nominees). I “know” that Affleck’s gonna be nominated – hell, I “know” he’s gonna win – so, to make my vote useful, I go for Benh Zeitlin, because Beasts of the Southern Wild was the most audacious, bold, original, exciting, exhilarating, ballsy feature debut in years, perhaps ever, was obviously very much a “director’s work”, obviously declares the arrival of a major new director, and, even as a debut, could be argued to be The Best Film Of The Year easily.

Now you “know” that Affleck’s gonna be nominated / win, so you vote for Michael Haneke: Amour moved you to tears; you admired its thematic coherence, its amazing performances, its incredible precision and control, its powerful subject matter, and besides, you’ve loved the work of Haneke for years: he’s a Master Filmmaker, and deserves your vote. So you sling it to him: everyone else is voting for Affleck, right?

That’s what happened.

So now on to the actual nominees: Well, Zeitlin should win, because Beasts of the Southern Wild was the most audacious, bold, original, exciting, exhilarating, ballsy feature debut in years, perhaps ever, was obviously very much a “director’s work”, obviously declares the arrival of a major new director, and, even as a debut, could be argued to be The Best Film Of The Year easily. But the Academy will definitely, as some sort of collective organism, consider that Zeitlin’s nomination, young upstart that he is (though by all accounts a real gentleman) to be its own reward.

But Life of Pi is audacious in its own way, within the studio system, a massively expensive movie that has proved its legs and become a worldwide massive success (somewhat surprisingly); Ang Lee is considered a master Filmmaker and is held in unbelievably high regard in Hollywood Director Circles (much higher than Spielberg: you know that some directors think Spielberg’s a Soppy Populist, whereas Lee is a Master whose only bad film – Hulk – was simply a studio-abused aberration). Pi’s level of difficulty was immense: the novel was “unfilmable” (until it was filmed); almost its entire length is on a single raft with a kid who’d never acted in a film before and a CGI tiger; and it works. Like Avatar and Hugo, it is a natural 3D film, shot in that format, best viewed in that format, designed for that format, reveling in it and stepping it up not a notch but many notches. It’s moving, it has a message (even if you don’t like it) and it’s for all ages. And the tiger is awesome.

This category could get personal: more people just like Ang Lee more than they like Steven Spielberg. He and Haneke are my second and third picks, but the Oscar’s going to Lee – and when it does, it will be his second after Brokeback Mountain, equalling Spielberg.

FRANCE-CINEMA-MEDIA-NOMINEE-OSCARSBEST ACTRESS

Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva (AMOUR)

Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva (AMOUR)

There’s a lot of chatter for Jennifer Lawrence, but, really, it comes down to a conscience vote: when you’re staring at your ballot, are you really going to vote for a 22 year old bombshell with her entire career ahead of her – for playing an “offbeat chic” in an offbeat RomCom – when you can vote for a woman who turns 86 on the day of the Awards, who has 78 feature credits, and who plays the woman who deteriorates and dies in front of our eyes in the Best Picture-nominated certified classic about a woman who deteriorates and dies – in front of our eyes?

url-3BEST ACTOR

Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis (LINCOLN)

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis (LINCOLN)

You’ve seen Lincoln? Enough said.

 

 

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win: Anne Hathaway (LINCOLN)

Will Win: Anne Hathaway (LES MISERABLES)

See above, but substitute Les Miserables for Lincoln.

 

 

 

 

 

 

url-2BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman (THE MASTER)

Will Win: Robert De Niro (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK)

url-4Hoffman was the best thing about The Master, he played The Master, and he was surprising, confronting, intriguing and overall quite brilliant. Tommy Lee Jones has a fantastic part in Lincoln, facing the most complex choices, but Silver Linings Playbook, with eight nominations, is going to be the big also-ran at these Oscars – so this is where it’s going to pick one up. “Gee,” says Academy voter, staring at their ballot, “I haven’t given Silver Linings Playbook anything… Oh look, I can give it to De Niro.” Tick!

 

quentin-tarantino-django-unchainedBEST SCREENPLAY – ORIGINAL

Should Win: Quentin Tarantino (DJANGO UNCHAINED)

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino (DJANGO UNCHAINED)

Mark Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty screenplay is an amazing piece of research, but the film has been ruined by weird press; Moonrise Kingdom is beautiful, but unsubstantial. Django is vibrant, original, funny as hell, thrilling, full of its master’s voice – and also deeply confronting, ripping open the closed wound of American slavery. Haneke’s Amour is the only real contender here.

Tony KushnerBEST SCREENPLAY – ADAPTED

Should Win: ARGO (Chris Terrio)

Will Win: Tony Kushner (LINCOLN)

Star power is going to carry the day here: Kushner is lionized in the US, the closet to a rock star – or a Rushdie – a high-brow playwright/screenwriter can get there – higher in the firmament even than Sorkin. Also, Lincoln is not going home with much Gold – here’s a chance to sneak it just a wee bit more. Argo’s screenplay, however, is a perfect movie screenplay, for the same reasons, mentioned above in Best Film, that Argo is a perfect movie. The outsider with a chance is David Magee for Life of Pi; the movie drags, and the dialogue is often risible – especially in the framing scenes – but that novel was considered “unfilmable”, and the screenplay is considered a real “tough nut to crack” of an adaptation – and that’s what this category is meant to be about.

 

amour-2012BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Should Win: AMOUR

Will Win: AMOUR

In a very strong and diverse field, Amour will deserve its win, and then some. A wonderful film, by a filmmaker who’s held in serious regard.

 

 

 

 

 

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Should Win: SKYFALL (Adele Adkins /  Paul Epworth)

Will Win: SKYFALL (Adele Adkins /  Paul Epworth)

The lyrics are bonkers – “It’s this mo-vie… here’s the name of this mo-vie…” – but it’s Adele, and she sounds incredible. And let’s face it, it’s a catchy, hooky melody: can you hum “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted, or even the new one created specifically for Les Miserables, called “Suddenly”? Thought not.

 

 

 


url-9BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Win: Claudio Miranda (LIFE OF PI)

Will Win: Claudio Miranda (LIFE OF PI)

In another year, we may have had the joy of seeing Roger Deakins – in his tenth nomination – win – for a Bond movie! And Skyfall would deserve him that Oscar. But Life of Pi is mind-blowing – and that’s before the 3D.


url-10BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Should Win: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott (LIFE OF PI)

Will Win: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott (LIFE OF PI)

Yes, Prometheus, The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman were all state-of-the-art, amazing effects movies (I didn’t see The Hobbit). But Life of Pi is a human story that uses effects perfectly rather than being an effects movie – and that’s going to be respected. Plus, the lion is awesome.

So that’s it… other categories I haven’t seen all the nominated films. Please comment – and don’t forget to watch the Oscars!

CJ

Friday, 22nd February

2013

Portrait Of The Artist

Posted: February 21, 2013 in movie reviews

ROMAN POLANSKI: A FILM MEMOIR *** (out of five)

600full-roman-polanski_-a-film-memoir-posterIt’s extremely unlikely that anyone who’s not at least a minor fan of Roman Polanski’s work will pony up the twenty bucks (or whatever it is) to see this “film memoir” at the cinema; indeed, and ironically given the subject, it is not a particularly “cinematic” film, consisting of two simply-shot interviews with Mr. Polanski and short clips from his movies along with a treasure trove of archival footage and photographs – none of which demand much more than a home screen, which are all of course by now absolutely huge. But I suspect those that do love Polanski will want to see the object of their affection in the place he belongs – the cinema. They won’t get a film the way Roman would have directed it, but they’ll get a pretty amazing story, which is, simply, the story of Polanski’s life: it’s incredible, full of six lifetimes of incident.2512_roman-polanski-a-film-memoir-640

Simply structured, the ninety minute film devotes its first third to Polanski’s gut-wrenching, insanely dangerous childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto; we proceed through his journey into the arts and film, and of course arrive at the Charles Manson-led murders of his wife and child; finally we proceed into his later life and work (and loves), a Portrait of The artist Now; throughout, the contaminating stain on his life – the crime he plead guilty to, fled from, and was arrested for once again, in his seventies – is woven skillfully, as it has woven through the life, disappearing for decades at a time then reappearing suddenly, a snake that, of course, has always been in the grass, simply lying quiet for periods at a time.Roman Polanski A Film Memoir
clip-tragedie-e-successi-roman-polanski-a-film-memoir-10808Polanski is interviewed in his house in Gstaad during his house arrest there a few years ago, and this gives the whole thing a weight beyond its light title of “a film memoir”. But a memoir it basically is: no-one else is interviewed. This is Polanski, essentially telling the story of his life, and what a story it is. When they film it, I want him to direct it. Except, in so many ways, he already has: the most astonishing thing about the film is how it presents clips from Polanski’s films that absolutely and directly hold a mirror up to his own experience. Once you realize that The Pianist is his childhood story, Adrien Brody’s character simply playing an older version of little Roman, do you realize just what this remarkable artist has suffered for that remarkable art.roman_polanski_a_film_memoir_a_p

Amour ***** (out of five)

amour-movie-poster-2It’s tempting to go overboard writing about Amour: “Master movie-maker Michael Haneke masterminds a masterclass in masterful masterpiece making!” But the fact is, it’s pretty much a perfect film on every level. Structurally assured, perfectly acted, and deeply moving, it tells a simple tale, and in doing so examines the absolute extremes of its theme, which is also its title: Love.

amour-movie-poster-11The central dramatic question is straight-forward: what do you do when your lifelong partner starts to rapidly deteriorate before you do?  Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play George and Anne, two sophisticated, retired music teachers in their eighties. At the beginning of the film they are still sprightly, going out to see a former student’s performance, taking the tram home. They are as we may all want to be in our dessert days, namely, still deeply in love, and capable of being all the other needs to fill out their days. But then Anne has a stroke, and from there, Georges must face her deterioration as he himself remains healthy.

No more of the plot should be revealed, because it is going on Georges’ journey that forms the film, and it is sublimely told. Hanneke, who wrote the screenplay, has realized that, rather than sequences and acts, this is a story of moments, and he chooses all the right ones to portray his subject with absolute thematic depth. They have a daughter (Isabelle Huppert, perfect); she’s going to “want them to do more”: that’s a moment we need to see, and we see it. Likewise, at one point Georges has to fire a nurse: it’s a moment filled with so much to say about what it is to grow old, it’s astonishing.

Haneke and his Palme D'Or at Cannes 2012

Haneke and his Palme D’Or at Cannes 2012

But the most moving scenes are those when it’s just Georges and Anne alone. Both actors give perfect natural performances; it’s Georges’ story but Anne, of course, has to deteriorate; they both deserve all the awards and praise they’ve been receiving (Riva is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar; Trintignant should have been for Best Actor).

If all this sounds depressing, it’s actually not. It’s sad, of course, but that’s different. It’s also astoundingly thought-provoking and gorgeously shot. It’s beautiful. See it with someone you love.

Movie 43 * (out of five)

Movie-43

They all knew they should never have done MOVIE 43.

MV5BMTg4NzQ3NDM1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjEzMjM3OA@@._V1_SX214_Movie 43, a set of gross-out sketches padded with a silly overarching story and performed by a galaxy of A List Stars, is depressing. Shoddily made but, worse, absolutely appallingly written from first sketch to last, it’s a complete fiasco, a dreadful, obnoxious, deeply embarrassing disaster from start (Hugh Jackman has testicles hanging from his neck!) to finish (Josh Duhamel’s cat anally pleasures himself while raping a teddy bear!) My hopes that it just might be so over-the-top it would work were dashed in the first minutes, and it never got better. Besides the dreadful writing of the sketches (sorry, did I mention that this movie is horribly written?), these actors are not Will Ferrell, Jack Black and Steve Carrell. This is obviously all of them, in a sense, screen-testing to become Big Screen Comedy Stars, and, let’s be honest, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Dennis Quaid (he’s the worst of all) – that’s not gonna happen.43.rMovie-43_11Screen-shot-2013-02-08-at-1.42.25-PMelizabeth-banks-movie-43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
To be honest, I laughed three times, but once was just at the sheer idea that the “joke” I’d just seen was even meant to be a joke, so that doesn’t really count. The movie stinks; it’s even at times legitimately offensive. Horrible. Avoid like the plague it is.

Film as Investigation

Posted: February 13, 2013 in movie reviews

WEST OF MEMPHIS ****1/2 (out of five)

westofmemphis_header

Amy Berg’s documentary West of Memphis, about the “Memphis Three”, may seem, on the surface, superfluous, especially if you’ve seen Joe Berlinger’ and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost trilogy, which covers the same case, and whose last installment, Purgatory, only came out in 2011. Indeed, Purgatory is a relatively similar film, in that it brings the viewer up to speed with the very latest developments in the case – and they are, as has ever been the way with this absurd sequence of events, extraordinary.

images-2Berg’s film does have new revelations, however, and they will astound newbies and Memphis Three addicts alike. Producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have funded a whole new investigation into the case, which included the discovery of DNA evidence, and the new film, besides covering the whole sordid affair, tracks this investigation, with the suspense, excitement and stomach-churning dread of an expert thriller. It does not come to any empty conclusions, but rather a deeply satisfying hypothesis that will be both thrilling revelation and frustrating paradox to those who have followed the case for years.

images-4For those who have not, and who have never seen the Paradise Lost films or even know who the Memphis Three are, just see this film – a detailed account of a grisly American crime and the shocking miscarriage of justice it has engendered for decades. And even if you think you know it all, you don’t – the new material in here makes it vital for you to make one last trip to the endless, fascinating, disturbing world of the Memphis Three, West of Memphis, where truth has been stranger than fiction since 1993.

LINCOLN **** (out of five)

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Make no mistake, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, centered with another uncanny performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, is an excellent movie, and it grows in stature the more you think about it, partly because the subject matter is just so monumentally important. Focusing on an extremely tight frame of about four months, this is no biopic, but rather the telling of Abraham Lincoln’s fierce resolve to amend the United States Constitution to abolish slavery and declare equality of the races in the eyes of the law.

1352486185-lincolnEssentially, this the story of the passage of a piece of legislation in the House of Representatives, and if that doesn’t sound too thrilling, don’t worry, it is. Even watching the vote itself is suspenseful and very moving. Unfortunately, there is an inherent dramatic flaw, necessitated by history and the structure of the US political system: the President doesn’t actually sit in the House of Representatives, and all the best scenes in the film take place there, so our lead character is out of the main action.

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863Still, Day-Lewis gets to spin a lot of gentle anecdotes with great meaning, and has a few scenes where his passionate abhorrence of slavery get to see him riled up. This Lincoln exudes unbelievable intelligence and goodness; essentially without a flaw, it’s a strange role, and in lesser hands he may have been the cipher at the heart of the film that bore his name. Not in the hands of the Tall Irishman, however, who’s certain to add another Oscar to his shelf, not least because he’s playing someone just so darn perfect.

A second narrative thread looks at Lincoln’s family life; I didn’t need those scenes, and Sally Field, as Mrs. Lincoln, was a distraction: I never see a character when she’s onscreen, only Ms. Field, but that could be my own peccadillo. The usually solid Joseph Gordon-Levitt struggles with a whiny role as Lincoln’s oldest son, and a young cherubic chappy named Gulliver McGrath, as the youngest, has no business sharing the screen with The World’s Greatest Actor. He’s surprisingly bad – for Spielberg has shown in the past a huge talent for picking natural child performers; McGrath is about as natural as slavery.

lincoln-_h_2012An extraordinary supporting cast makes full meal of a panoply of Republicans and Democrats, led by Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and David Constabile, and including a nefarious triumvirate of political murky dealers played by an excellent James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and and John Hawkes. Jared Harris turns up as Ulysses S. Grant, Jackie Earle Haley brings his weaselly vibe to Alexander Stephens, and on and on it goes, famous faces as famous players.

A perfect educational tool for the decades to come, Lincoln is also surprisingly urgent, and an excellent metaphor for the current state of the US Presidency: if you’re wondering why it’s taking Mr. Obama a little longer than you’d hoped for him to make good on some of his 2008 Campaign promises, just look at the intense difficulties of getting stuff done in Washington, as represented by this sombre, powerful film, one of Spielberg’s most restrained, and best.

Every Silver Lining Has Its Cloud

Posted: February 5, 2013 in movie reviews

Silver Linings Playbook *** (out of five)

David O. Russell

David O. Russell

David O. Russell is a lucky man. The filmmaker routinely finds himself mentioned in the same conversations involving other young directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and Wes Anderson: young(er) American men forming their own mini-new wave, carrying distinctive voices and being undoubtedly part of Hollywood without being tied to the studio system. Each of these artists inevitably find funding for their projects (often in the $US7m-$US10m range, although Aronofsky and Russell have also played with much higher when working with a studio), put out a film about every eighteen months to two years, and inevitably find themselves critically praised. Russell is lucky to be in this group on two levels: for my money, his is the least distinctive voice of the four, and he has been caught out being an absolute pig.

Silver-Linings-Playbook-posterRussell’s films began with the quirky calling card indie Spanking the Monkey and have progressed through enjoyable farce (Flirting with Disaster); the big-budget, semi-studio and (for my money) overpraised war satire Three Kings; the almost unwatchable I Heart Huckabees; and his best film, The Fighter, a legitimately great work. This does not add up the consistent quality of (especially) the two Andersons. It’s a strong filmography, but hardly mind-blowing.

Russell these days

Russell these days

As for being a pig, this has been documented by Sharon Waxman in Rebels on the Backlot, with her chapter about Russell’s behavior on Three Kings (supposedly causing a physical altercation with George Clooney) and most spectacularly his elongated, unbelievably outrageous explosion at Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees, which can be seen in all its despicable glory right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMVILMo1Cq0

silver linings playbookRussell’s eight-time nominated new film Silver Linings Playbook is a rom-com, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it falls into such formulaic conventions – and clichés – of the genre that it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. The first act is definitely intriguing: a well-acted set-up sees Pat (Bradley Cooper) being let out of a mental hospital in the care of his mother (Jacki Weaver); he’s off to go live with her and his dad Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro); his duty is to stay on his meds and go to therapy; his goal is to read all the books he never got through in high-school – assumedly due to his quite extreme bi-polar disorder (of which Cooper plays the manic highs particularly well). So far, so good: a family dramedy with the modern twist of the modern mental illness.

Things stay on track when he meets Tiffany (the movie’s highlight, Jennifer Lawrence), another troubled soul in town. Her problem (I think) is more of a straight-out obsessive disorder; whatever it is, they’re obviously two peas in a pod, and it’s obvious where the film is going to go.

The problem is how it gets there. About halfway through, Tiffany reveals to Pat a goal of hers that she wants him to help with: to dance in an upcoming local competition. At this point the movie swerves off whatever clever, quirky, indie-minded road it was on and directly onto the Hollywood Rom-Com Superhighway, its destiny not only as mapped out as if spoken by your in0dash navigator, but even relishing in contrivance, co-incidence and extreme lack of plausibility. The final minutes are as awash in cliché as have ever been seen; Hugh Grant’s done this a thousand times, and yes, it is old.

All the performers are good and, as a Rom-Com, the mental illness element gives it an edge that lifts it into a slightly original sphere. But only for awhile. Once it loses the courage of its convictions, it becomes irritatingly predictable and stale.