Friday, January 18, 2013

In Cinemas: 'Mama,' 'Broken City,' 'Silver Linings Playbook'

A supernatural thriller, old-fashioned police drama and a quirky love story are among the three films opening in wide release today in the United States and elsewhere.

“Mama” is one scary movie. Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro and based on a short story by director Andy Muscietti – who also adapted the screenplay – “Mama” concerns sisters Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle NĂ©lisse).

The siblings disappear the day their parents are killed. Some years later they are discovered in a cabin in the woods, and their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in a dual role) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) take charge of their care. (See video above.)

The question that abounds in "Mama" is how did two little girls survive for several years in the woods seemingly on their own. From the start Annabel realizes something is amiss. Not only are the girls strange, they keep strange hours; they speak in a strange way. Why? The answers lie with another the girls called Mama. SCARY, with undertones of “Alien,” “The Exorcist” and “Children of the Danmned.”

Not at all scary and rather less thrilling is “Broken City.” So often the case with films boasting big-name casts is that they fall far short of the mark. “Broken City” does not escape this fate but not because of the work of the actors. It’s the plot, stupid.

In “Broken City,” New York City policeman Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is involved in a questionable shooting and would have been en route to the big house had it not been for the intervention of Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) whose reach does not extend to keeping Billy from being booted from the force.

Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) make a backroom deal in "Broken City." Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Survivor that he is, Billy turns private investigator and is hired by Hizzoner to ascertain whether his wayward wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is still having an affair. In the course of what should be a routine investigation, however, Billy leans - surprise, surprise – that the mayor is even more crooked than he heretofore thought

What a story from Brian Tucker! How ingenuous! And herein is the problem. Is this not the stuff of myriad police dramas set in New York. How many “Law and Orders” and “NYPD Blues” have had such a plot; ditto for any police drama set in any big city. “Broken City” is simply pedestrian, and Allen Hughes’ predictable direction does little to elevate it. Is there any wonder that the script was languishing in development before it was “rescued” and thrust upon an unsuspecting public that will be drawn by its marquee names?

There is little hope of redeeming such material, even if it starred Laurence Olivier, Bette Davis and Lionel Barrymore. A bright light, however, is that the actors – boy, has Marky Mark come a long way since Dorchester! – make hard cider out of this rotten apple.

At the core of “Silver Linings Playbook” is a broken man in need of patching up.

Patrick "Pat Jr." Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has a chance at moving in the direction of wholeness. It comes after his release from a mental institution into the care of his parents following a colossal meltdown triggered by both a colossal betrayal and his bipolar disorder.

“Silver Linings Playbook,” adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick, pretty much center’s on Pat’s chance for happiness – worried by any number of starts and fits – via football and dance. It’s funny, touching, sad and hopeful. In short, a wonderful story about an inspiring journey. It comes without any pretentious to grandeur; it just is. It is wholly unaffected. And perhaps, it is the quiet goodness of “Silver Linings Playbook” that endeared it to critics and various award-bestowing bodies. (See video below.)

The film, which made its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September where it won the Blackberry People’s Choice Award, has garnered myriad nominations, the most prestigious of which is a Best Picture Oscar. Without doubt, to date this is BC's best film role. He has been rewarded for his efforts with a Best Actor Oscar and SAG nominations, among others.

Co-star Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Tiffany, is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and won a Golden Globe in this category. She imparts to the role of Pat Jr.’s recovering sex addict widowed dance partner – a sort of ying to his yang – a smoldering sexuality, authenticity and vulnerability.

It should be noted that BC and JL do not do all of the heavy lifting in “Silver Linings Playbook.” An able support team pulls its weight: Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver and BC’s “Limitless” costar Robert DeNiro as Pat Sr.

Visit the following Web sites to learn more about the aforementioned films:

"Mama" is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements. (
"Broken City" is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence. (
"Silver Linings" Playbook is rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. (

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