Tag Archives: David O. Russell

Miracle Worker

Joy

by George Wolf

Joy professes inspiration from “stories of daring women everywhere.” It was written and directed by a man. How’s that go down?

Pretty smooth, thank you.

It doesn’t hurt that the writer/director is David O. Russell, his headliner is the no-time-for-b.s. Jennifer Lawrence, and much of the story is true.

Lawrence is Joy Mangano, the inventor and home shopping guru who was a struggling single mom when she came up with the idea for the “Miracle Mop” in 1990. Deep in debt from startup and production costs, her tenacity won over an exec at QVC, and..how you like her now?

Of course, Joy’s actual path to success is a bit more complex, and it’s presented with a more high concept approach than we’re used to from Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). Some amusingly cast fantasy sequences help introduce us to the various players in Joy’s wacked-out family, including a soap opera obsessed mother (Virginia Masden), a father jumping into online dating (Robert DeNiro) and an ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) who dreams of being the next Tom Jones.

They all rely on Joy for a place to live, and for seemingly every answer to any daily problem. Though Russell flirts with kitschy excess in letting us into Joy’s world, the tone eventually strikes a relatable nerve. The respect for hard-working single mothers seems genuine, and the breezy reminder that we all have crazy-ass families is hard to resist.

Lawrence completely sells it, because that’s just what she does. The bone-tired exasperation of ambitions trumped by responsibility is evident early on, but Lawrence never lets the flicker of defiance to completely leave Joy’s eyes. When her fortunes begin to turn, the dreamlike elation over sudden success feels sweetly authentic.

Russell again shows his touch with actors is among the best in the business. Yes, he’s working with some of his favorites (Lawrence and DeNiro are joined by Bradley Cooper as the QVC exec giving Joy her big chance), but Russell’s entire ensemble seems both perfectly cast and completely invested, all carving out distinct characterizations.

Trimming twenty minutes would be ideal, but Joy has plenty on its mind. It throws a bit of magic at one woman’s success story, taking effectively subtle digs at consumerism, sexism and reality TV in the process.

Daring women, hear Joy roar.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

Countdown: Who Wins the Oscars?

 

 

Sunday night, we invite you to join us at the Drexel Theatre, as we are once again pleased to host their annual Red Carpet Oscar Bash! You’ll have a chance to win great prizes if you can correctly pick the most winners, and on that note…here’s how we think the night will go:

Best Film

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

American Hustle and Gravity are strong contenders, but we think voters will do the right thing and award this magnificent piece of filmmaking with its just due.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Though the year offered a boon of wonderful, imaginative, powerful films, nothing quite compares to the meticulously created, absolutely visceral period piece.

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey will be rewarded for turning a career’s worth of lazy rom-com roles into two of the most impressive years in any working actor’s career.

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Unfortunately, McConaughey’s achievement will be at the cost of a phenomenal talent’s most blistering and brilliant performance, and hands down the best lead turn from an actor this year.

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

From her opening moments as Jasmine, the wildly talented and uniquely versatile Blanchett owned the film and the audience.

Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Amy Adams is going to have to take home an Oscar one of these days, and her turn in American Hustle certainly deserves consideration, but Blanchett took a gift of a part and created an unforgettable character.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Leto brings tenderness and tragedy to the belt-buckle-and-cowboy-hat tale Dallas Buyers Club with a beautifully dimensional performance, and his win is the second surest bet this awards season.

Should Win: Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave

Fassbender will be ignored again by the Academy (who failed to even notice his devastating turn in 2011’s Shame), and that’s a shame in itself because his performance in 12 Years a Slave was more explosive, fearless and honest than anything he’s done, which is saying a lot.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Hope Says

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

She won the SAG, Golden Globe, and even the coveted Central Ohio Film Critics Association award for her work. Oscar will follow.

Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o

At first glance, Nyongo’s performance as field slave Patsy seemed a tad heavy handed, but as the character’s hellish existence is slowly revealed, we realize that this performer has found a way to make the unimaginable a reality.

George Says

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nyong’o does win, I just have a hunch that Lawrence (who also won a Golden Globe as American Hustle was in the comedy category) will prevail.

Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

It really is a toss up, but I give JLaw the edge for stealing the movie right out from under the the best ensemble cast of the year. “Science oven” for the win!

 

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

This is a tough call. Basically, we think the best directing and best film nods will be split between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Last year, Ang Lee took the honor mostly for the technical/craftsman merits of his Life of Pi. We think Cuaron will receive the same treatment for the unarguably superior Gravity.

Should Win: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

It’s McQueen’s first dance with Oscar, and though his efforts in drawing performances, staging an epic, and keeping dusty old history as visceral and present as any other film this year are magnificent, we think the voters might side with Cuaron’s technical mastery.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: American Hustle

It’s a dazzling work of writing, heartfelt and character driven, funny and touching, full of excitement and spot-on with period. Plus, David O. Russell’s never cashed in on his 5 nominations, so it’s probably time.

Should Win: Her

Spike Jonze’s uncommon voice and vision turned out the year’s loveliest and most original love story, and the sheer uniqueness of the project deserves the Oscar.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

It’s simply the strongest contender.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

The ability to take a text more than a century and a half old, and from it create multi-dimensional characters and achingly relevant conflict, is a talent that needs to be recognized.

 

Enjoy the Oscars!

Do the Hustle!

American  Hustle

by Hope Madden

David O. Russell can direct the shit out of a movie, can’t he? He startled his way into our consciousness in ’94 with the unbelievable Spanking the Monkey, followed by a smattering of well-crafted, unmarketable, endlessly watchable films. Then he took a few years off and came back wearing his shootin’ boots.

The Fighter in 2010, followed by Silver Linings Playbook in 2012 racked up a grand total of 3 Oscars and another 13 nominations. That’s the way to shake off the artistic rust.

For his latest, American Hustle, Russell wisely cherry-picks castmates (a couple of Oscar winners among them) from his last two efforts to populate the world of 1978 and Abscam – the FBI sting that took down some corrupt public officials. And, as the screen announces just before the first disco-tastic image, “Some of this actually happened.”

One desperately ambitious FBI agent (an unhinged and glorious Bradley Cooper) pinches two con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams – both outstanding) and insists they help him finger other white collar criminals. But his dizzying hunger for significance pushes their con to untenable extremes, and soon these low-flying hustlers are eyeball deep in politicians, Feds and the mafia.

Russell orchestrates con upon con, braiding loyalty with opportunism with showmanship, and providing his dream cast with everything they need to erupt onscreen.

Joining the stellar performers mentioned are the always reliable Jeremy Renner and the reliably brilliant Jennifer Lawrence. As an unpredictable spitfire, Lawrence is right at home. She excels, and Russell teases the absolute most out of her every moment of screen time (it makes no sense now but trust me, you’ll never call a microwave oven by its correct name again).

Louis CK – in his second strong cinematic turn this year (alongside Blue Jasmine) – is a great onscreen curmudgeon, and he offers such a perfect foil for Cooper’s combustible lead that their scenes together are a scream.

Honestly, with the electricity on screen whenever Lawrence or Cooper appear, it’s almost possible to overlook Bale and Adams, but what a mistake that would be! Bale crawls into this character, as he does every character, and convinces us of the sleazy but good-hearted schlub inside this grifter.

Likewise, Adams – a performer so expressive with just a look – keeps you on your toes. It’s her flawless work as Edith (or is that Sydney?) that keeps all the cons spinning at once, and you never know exactly where her loyalties lie. In fact, you’re pretty sure she isn’t certain. Unless she’s just playing you.

While Russell’s fondness for Goodfellas colors the entire running time, there’s no question that his creation finds its own way and becomes something unique and fantastic. The writing is exceptional, the performances volcanic, and the result is the sharpest and most explosively funny movie in Oscar contention.

 

Verdict-4-5-Stars

 

 

For Your Queue: Everybody loves J-Law

At long last, Silver Lining’s Playbook David O. Russell’s story of love in a hyper-diagnosed, over-medicated, label-dependent society – is available on DVD. Bradley Cooper plays a damaged man returning home to Philly from an institutionalized stint. He returns to a football obsessed father with undiagnosed OCD (Robert DeNiro – and he’s actually acting, everybody!), and his own unrelenting determination to win back his estranged wife. And then he meets an unbalanced, brooding, unquestionably hot neighbor (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence). Both leads are fantastic, buoyed by an excellent supporting cast and a screenplay that bends to enough Hollywood tropes to be a crowd pleaser but subverts enough to be a real surprise.

We’re not going to pretend we championed Lawrence since her TV days on the Bill Envall show, but with Winter’s Bone, she impressed us and everyone else who saw her gritty, Oscar-nominated performance. As a young woman in the Ozarks wading through family secrets while searching for her father, Lawrence is never less than frighteningly real. She is surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast, most notably John Hawkes and Dale Dickie. Director/co-writer Debra Granick crafts a latter day Deliverance that grabs you early, not letting go until you feel that you’ve survived an experience, not merely seen a movie.