Is Serena the Worst Book to Film Adaptation in the History of Cinema?

Serena

I picture the caption for the screenshot above to be something along the lines of, “Jenny, baby, look, we’re in one of the worst films ever made!”

I couldn’t help, while watching the travesty that is Serena, of the infinite monkey theorem (and believe me, thinking about the infinite monkey theorem is a better way to spend two hours than watching Serena), which states that if you sit 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters for an infinite amount of time, eventually their random keystrokes while churn out the works of Shakespeare…or any given text, really.  Any given text.  Like Christopher Kyle’s feces covered script for Serena.  Had monkeys actually written the script for Serena, at least we could’ve said, “Hey, 100 monkeys at typewriters wrote that?  That’s not too bad considering it was monkeys…but let’s not try this again…like, ever.”

But it’s not just the script for Serena that is so bad.  It’s everything.  Every damn thing is awful.  Continue reading

Everybody’s Hustling Hustling American Style

American Hustle - Cast

Some of this actually happened.  In 1978.

Irving Rosenfeld (an overweight and badly combed-over Christian Bale in total method mode) is a con man with a heart of gold from the Bronx.  He got into the con game as a kid as a way to help his dad’s glass business by breaking windows to drum up customers (awww).  He runs a series of dry cleaners while selling fraudulent knock-off art and running loan schemes.  He fell hard for a young passive aggressive sassy lass named Rosalyn (a delightfully scenery-chewing Jennifer Lawrence with full-on Long Island accent and big hair), married her and adopted her cute baseball card loving little boy (double awww).   But Irving can never show his true self and feels trapped emotionally and financially to his overbearing wife who uses the kid as collateral against Irving jetting off to fantasy land with his new red-headed saucy mistress, Sydney (a never sexier Amy Adams).  You see, Sydney is like Irving’s soul mate or something, a woman who reinvents herself to survive and is now his fully fledged partner in crime posing as a British Lady with banking ties to take the loan schemes to the next level.  This set-up is presented to the audience in crisscrossing voice-overs full of lies, back-handed insults and memoir-esque longing between Irving and Sydney, whose beautiful dry cleaning chemical soaked romance comes to a screeching halt when curly-haired hot-shot FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, hilariously pent-up) entraps them.

And then the fun starts.  To get immunity, our lovers are forced to bring in more marks for take down to the feds.  And what starts out as “just take down four more guys” explodes with DiMaso’s wacky ambitions and crooked nice-guy Camden Mayor Carmine Polito’s (Jeremy Renner, doing a great South Jersey Italian accent) connections into…you guessed it!  ABSCAM! Continue reading

Why The Hunger Games are Important

Just try to put out this fire.

Just try to put out this fire.

The young-adult fantasy series translation from page to silver screen movement has become one of the most profitable propositions in pop culture over the past decade.  What started with the kid-friendly Harry Potter (whose films contained an admirable Disney-dark magic to them that began to wear off and bore me by the fourth entry) and crested into communal madness with Stephanie Meyer’s malarial Twilight series has become a go-to cash cow for Hollywood.  When I first heard about The Hunger Games, I thought, “Oh, here we go again.”  But then I read up on what they were about – a kind of Atwood-lite dystopian future, pop-Vonnegut if you will, spiced with The Running Man with a dash of Battle Royale.  Finally, a young adult fantasy series with very little fantasy, a dash of satire, and magic replaced by futurist woe and real violence.  And cast in the lead role was Jennifer Lawrence, the most talented young actress of her generation.  And whaddya know, the first film was typically mega-blockbuster flawed but pretty good.  And it was J-Law as Katniss Everdeen who changed the game.

Boys’ fantasies and hero-worship have been catered to forever.  In this day and age they have Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Ender’s Game, as well as the typical swarm of comic book films and sci-fi flicks featuring superheroes and manly men saving the world and getting the girls.  What have girls and young women had to dream about in similar fashion?  The occasional animated Pixar heroine?  The toxicity of Twilight, which when you strip away the sparkly emo-boyband vampires, teaches teenage girls to stay in abusive relationships?  “Yes, my dear, if you love him hard enough, maybe YOU can change him. You gotta stick by your man no matter how freakish and horrible he is, stick by him even if he kills you.”  Beautiful message, isn’t it?

Well, thank the pop culture gods, because into the modern mythos has stepped Katniss Everdeen.  Continue reading

Philly, Football and Rooting for Silver Linings Playbook

Misfortune and a fake happy family bring Lawrence and Cooper together in Silver Linings Playbook

Misfortune and a fake happy family bring Lawrence and Cooper together in Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell’s Philly based adaptation of Matthew Quick’s witty and dramatic rom-com novel, Silver Linings Playbook, is exactly the type of misfit-misfortune-filled movie you want to root for.  It’s a film where, refreshingly, everyone is playing against type.

Bradley Cooper (a smug comedic performer I typically loathe) is in the lead role of Pat, a rage-fueled bipolar man who is freshly released from the loony bin after a violent incident with his wife’s lover.  Pat speaks in self-help platitudes, but there’s a sincerity in his desire to change as he dedicates himself to losing weight, keeping his anger in check, getting back his wife (delusionally so) and finding life’s silver lining.  Cooper, surprisingly, pulls it off, and one has to wonder if the Philly native saw this as his first opportunity to dig deep.  Cooper saw a moment in his career to make a change, and he took it.  It makes his character and performance extremely likable.

Jennifer Lawrence – who has made quite the name for herself playing tough teenage girls forced to grow up too fast to save their families in films like Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games – is for the first time given the chance to play an adult as Tiffany, the damaged young widow of a cop who fumbles through her conflicted feelings and need for affection and friendship and forms an instant bond with Pat when they share unfiltered and awkward barbs about their predicaments and commiserate on their litany of medication diets that have thus far been unsuccessful in curing them of their brand of “crazy.”  Lawrence shines in the role and shows us a side previously unknown…playful, vulnerable, sassy, witty and darkly comedic.  Continue reading

X Men A Go Go

Oh my dear, Ms. Lawrence, why so blue?

Hollywood loves to rewrite history – not only their recent movie history, but actual history history.  Here in the context of some mutant hybrid of a prequel and a reboot — a preboot? a requel? — Hollywood has decided to (almost completely – but not without some fan boy in-jokes and cameos) erase the history of the X-Men franchise (and quite honestly, who can blame them after the Wolverine train wreck?) while simultaneously providing us with a shocking Inglourious Basterds style revision of history.  Who knew that mutants were behind the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Thanks, Hollywood!  Knowledge is power!

But the real reason to provide a backdrop like the Cuban Missile Crisis is to create an excuse to go totally a go-go and deck smokin’ hot babes in short skirts and high boots and give uber-villains cool pads with all kinds of Ikea-inspired furniture.  You won’t find me complaining here – the film (and the ladies and the set pieces and the special effects) look fantastic.  Continue reading

Killing Kin in the Ozarks

Writer/director Debra Granik opens her quietly stunning Winter’s Bone with a shot of a ramshackle little house nestled in the Ozarks that immediately sets the place and the mood.  A strum of a banjo and a woman’s heartbroken and warbling voice accompany the shot, which is followed by scenes of seemingly happy children playing in their yard.  This is their home.  And they don’t want to leave it — no way, no how.

Seventeen year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence, in an assured and definitive performance that will likely haunt what should rightfully be a long and flourishing career) is the accidental matriarch of this clan of kids.  Momma is hopped-up on pills to the point of being mute and helpless.  Meanwhile, the law is about to take this home out from under them if Ree’s deadbeat, crank-cookin’ poppa don’t show up at court for his hearing.  Thus begins Ree’s quest to find daddy come hell or high water.  Continue reading