CinemAN Film Reviews – Week 1

Silver Linings Playbook, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Artist, Caramel, No, Enough Said, No Man’s Land.

Silver Linings Playbook

– United States, 2012

Director, writer: David O. Russell

Based on the novel by Matthew Quick

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles and others.

Pat Solitano (Cooper), diagnosed bipolar, moves in with his parents after months in a mental institution. Having lost weight and come up with all sorts of strategies to cope with his condition (hence the title), he is determined to reconcile with his wife.

In the midst of emotional turbulence that is his comeback, Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a beautiful widow, somewhat crazy herself.

The sentimentalist in me enjoyed watching beautiful messed up people gravitate toward each other, despite their differences and similarities. What pushed me away is how predictable is the story. The conflicts, the resolutions, the ending – don’t expect surprises here.

Characters are rich for details: Pat goes for daily runs wearing a trash bag over his hoodie to sweat, which seemed to me like a metaphor for his current state, or his inability to let go of things. His father, Pat Sr. (De Niro) is an obvious case of obsessive-compulsive behavior and anger issues, which brought back a little bit of the good old De Niro acting. Speaking of which, the cast delivers some brilliant acting, which got the film Academy Award nominations for all four leading and supporting roles.

Mental illness was downplayed and oversimplified, although it might have been done on purpose, to show how thin can be the line between normal and abnormal. After all, it is Pat Sr. who causes the most distress in Solitano household, and it is the normal fans that start a fight at the game. Even Pat’s best friend Ronnie (Ortiz) with what seems like deeply seeded depression, is considered normal.

At times, Pat and Tiffany’s bonding seemed like a carefully planned plot, rather than a natural flow of love and chemistry. Overall, watching the film I kept thinking that I should have read the book first. It felt like big chunks of the story were missing.

Watch it for your taste’s sake /

Watch it

/ At your own risk / Do not watch it

When lonely, sad or sick.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

– UK, 2011

Director: John Madden

Writer: Ol Parker (screenplay)

Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach

Stars: Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel and others.

Seven elderly Britons travel to India for different reasons and stay in a falsely advertised newly renovated Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. They gradually build close relationships with one another and the hotel’s eccentric, but hopeful manager Sonny (Patel), and help each other go through rough patches.

What can I say, not all movies deserve the ratings they get. In my opinion, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of them.

Despite having a great cast with some of my beloved actors, the film lacks a strong plot, or even well written dialogues. It drags and slows down, and if it wasn’t for the cast and India, I would be switching the channel somewhere in the middle.

The story lines were predictable. I liked Graham’s (Wilkinson) story, but even that was spoiled with tear-squeezing plot twist.

With such a colorful set and brilliant cast, it could have been a celebration of life, but turned into a mediocre romantic comedy with flat characters. It was sweet and funny at times, but nothing impressive.

Watch it for your taste’s sake /

Watch it /

At your own risk

/ Do not watch it

When out of mid-life crisis movies and sick of Eat, Pray, Love.

The Artist

– France, 2011

Director, writer: Michel Hazanavicius

Stars: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and others.

The silent movie star George Valentin (Dujardin) enjoys his fame, starring in movies after movies, and being admired by fans and young Hollywood newbies like Peppy Miller (Bejo). But when the talking pictures, or simply talkies, hit the market, he finds his career declining rapidly. Little he knows, he has a guardian angel to look after him.

It is marvelous! I never imagined to love a silent film made after 1930s. But I did, and I have no regrets.

Dujardin proves to be the artist – he can act with only his mimic, smile like the 30s stars and dance like you could never expect. Everything about him is a treat: the way he moves, talks, intentionally overacts, or delivers fabulous theatrical acting. And Bejo looks like she was made for B&W, glowing on the screen with her perfect charming smile. Their dance scene, which is said to have been practiced almost every day for five months, is a beautiful and entertaining act.

The film, which was shot in only 35 days is technically brilliant, too. First of all, according to it was shot with 22 frames per second, instead of usual 24, which gives it a slightly fast and authentic pace (e.g. mute movies from early 1900s were shot on 16 frames and that’s why movement in them was faster and more comedic). Zoom is not used either, because there was no zoom technology back in 1920-30s.

Films like “The Artist” remind me how much and why I love movies.

Watch it for your taste’s sake


Watch it / At your own risk / Do not watch it

When feeling like seeing something beautiful.


(Sukkar Banat) – Lebanon, 2007

Director: Nadine Labaki

Stars: Nadine Labaki, Joanna Moukarzel, Gisèle Aouad, Sihame Haddad and others.

Five Lebanese women deal with the usual: married men, virginity, suppressed sexuality, aging and lost love. Their lives are centered around a beauty salon, where three of them work. The salon becomes a sort of an island, where any secret can be shared and any problem solved.

I doubt that any other movie reminded me of home as much as Caramel. You see, for us, Eastern women, beauty salon is not just a place to get service, but rather a culture. It is where we go to escape our men and our problems and bond with other women. It is loud, chaotic and crowded, but it is as important as a therapy session. It is the sacred place where real women with real bodies come to tell their secrets to the waxing lady, share their gossip with the hairdresser and complain about their families to the manicure lady. It is our church, a catharsis, and Nadine Labaki, who is also the main star of the film, did a great job showing it.

Do not expect a rebellious ode to Middle Eastern feminism – this film will not fight for your rights, or demand a change. It will rather provide you with an Almodovar-style comfort and acceptance. And that’s more than enough.

Caramel is my second favorite kind of film – about nothing in particular, a slice of life that is supposed to give us perspective on ourselves. I cannot speak for you, but I saw more than I have ever expected.

I saw home.

Watch it for your taste’s sake /

Watch it

/ At your own risk / Do not watch it

When missing Middle East, or feeling feminine, or both.


– Chile, 2012

Director: Pablo Larrain

Stars: Gabriel Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers and others.

In 1988 Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet is pressured by the international community to hold a referendum, in which the people can decide whether to keep the incumbent ruler or not. The referendum set two campaigns – “Yes” for Pinochet supporters, and “No” for those opposing him. An ad agency executive Rene Saavedra (Bernal) comes up with a concept for the “No” campaign.

Do you live in a country where the leader is praised in media, while the majority of people live in poverty? Have you ever wondered why the people put up with it afraid to speak out? Did you ever try to make a change? Whether or not you answered yes to any of those questions, this film is for you.

“No” is Mad Men before Mad Men were cool. Rene’s job is not only about selling people products and things they do not need. It is much more sophisticated – he sells the whole nation ideas of freedom of speech, compassion and better lives. And he must approach it in a smart way – nothing too sad, or too aggressive: he shows us staged footage with smiley faces instead of violent footage of broken up demonstrations. He knows that the pursuit of happiness is a better ad than anger and desperation.

Cinematography here is incredible. The film was shot in the video support U-matic 3:4, which gave it an impressively realistic picture. In combination with the 80s costumes and haircuts, it will take you back to that era, and make you nostalgically recognize popular pieces of clothing and electronics.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2013.

Watch it for your taste’s sake /

Watch it

/ At your own risk / Do not watch it

When feeling like overthrowing the government.

Enough Said

– United States, 2013

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener and others.

Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) is a middle-aged divorced single mother, working as a masseuse,  who is about to face moment X – her only daughter is leaving for college. While at a party with friends, she meets a new friend – another middle-aged divorcee Marianne (Keener), with whom Eva shares some laughs and gets a massage appointment. At the same party she meets an overweight and slightly sloppy Albert (Gandolfini), who wins her over with his sense of humor. After a couple of dates with Albert, Eva finds herself falling more and more into him, but has her fears and reservations. Thankfully, it turns out she knows his ex-wife…

Again, I might be biased. After all it’s Gandolfini’s next-to-last movie, before he died of heart attack in Italy last year. On top of it, in Enough Said he is charming, comforting, lovable and very real.

I have never been a big fan of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but she truly surprised me in this film. She builds a character of a caring and responsible mother with a young soul, who quickly becomes a teenage mess when in love. She even has her daughter’s friend for a confidant.

The film is very funny. Every line of every conversation is carefully thought and cleverly humorous. The characters are as real as they can be, with all of their weaknesses and strengths, and so are their relationships. Nothing about it is cliche. It is refreshing and truly romantic.

Watch it for your taste’s sake /

Watch it

/ At your own risk / Do not watch it

When tired of cheesy teenage dramas.

No Man’s Land

– Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2001

Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film 2002

Director, writer, music: Danis Tanovic

Stars: Branco Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic and others.

In 1993 during the Bosnian war, two soldiers – Serbian Nino (Bitorajac) and Bosnian Ciki (Djuric), find themselves wounded and stuck in a trench in the middle of the front line. Waiting for rescue, soldiers fight for the gun, argue over who started the war, and share smokes. Meanwhile, international peacekeepers look for solutions despite bureaucratic obstacles set by their leadership.

You will have many things to say about this film. Right after you regain the ability to speak.

My favorite detail is how everybody speaks different languages and does not understand each other, except for the soldiers in the trench. Isn’t it descriptive of any conflict?

There is also the metaphor of the trench itself. If you grew up in a conflict, or follow one, you know how long negotiations take, how bureaucratic and corrupt every step of them is, and how often they don’t bring results in the end. Haven’t we all been to one of those trenches of global politics at one point or another?

Danis Tanovic, war documentary filmmaker in the past, did a brilliant job presenting tragedy, desperation and injustice in a falsely light and digestible form, until it breaks your heart to tiny pieces. It is not a comedy as trailers announced, but rather a very realistic portrayal of the absurdity of life with the kind of sense of humor one needs to survive, rather than to get laughs.

Do not expect picturesque scenes of war, where every death is meaningful and dignified, as bombs go off with dramatic music on the background. It is a tragicomedy of real life and real war with one of the most powerful endings ever.

Watch it for your taste’s sake /

Watch it / At your own risk / Do not watch it

When drifting too far away from reality.

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