Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell 2012) – Mystifying why this is so well-regarded since it’s a routine romantic comedy, not roughly but exactly. Not a revisionist romantic comedy or one that infuses the genre with new emotion or whatever critical blurbspeak you might prefer but one that’s absolutely by the rules and absolutely with nothing to say. Even a film like 27 Dresses shows more imagination and life but that’s not even a particularly good film. I checked out the first couple of pages of the novel and that has a wry, self-aware tone that’s completely missing from the film (or at least the novel appears that way from only a couple of pages – for all I know it’s even more bland). Bradley Cooper’s talents run towards farce so he can acquit himself passably in the Hangover films but here seems like he’s just starting to struggle in the deeper end. Jennifer Lawrence is today’s Kim Novak but has yet to encounter a Hitchcock who knows how to make her essential hollowness the focus of a film. I guess if you're a De Niro completeist this might be worth checking off that box.
American Hustle (David O. Russell 2013) – A watered down Mamet tale of con artists and their schemes undone by a script that veers from blunt drama to an overly pat crowdpleasing ending. The entire first 30 minutes or so are pointless prologue – as a character study there’s no real character and as part of the story it’s literally useless. Trim all that out and it would make no difference to the film. Russell again proves to be no director of actors. Amy Adams seems to understand the Mamet angle and uses that direct, uninflected tone he prefers. (Since her character isn’t based on a historical person then her costume is more the result of a male director but when the camera starts moving to follow her backside the whole thing becomes creepy.) Bradley Cooper seems lost and Jennifer Lawrence apparently thought she was in a Saturday Night Live skit. The horribly miscast Christian Bale does manage to make some impression as do some of the supporting cast like Jeremy Renner. De Niro appears in a bit of stunt casting that just underlines how little substance there is to the film but by that point it's clear that we won't be getting anything better so might as well toss in any half-baked idea that pops up.