Bradley Cooper

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Let’s pretend we’re in the Marvel universe. New York has been attacked by aliens, London has been a substitute wrestling ring for Gods, a World War Two veteran is looking pretty good for his age and out there in deep space, a group of ne’er do wells have bandied together to chase a McGuffin to make a hell of a lot money and potentially save their galaxy. Whichever comes first. Though hopefully the former.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not just a great Marvel film. It’s a great film period. A bulging sack of fine storytelling and rich imagination. And talking raccoons, never forget the talking raccoons. Directed by James Gunn (Super and Tromeo and Juliet) with a script co-written by Nicole Perlman and himself, Guardians has so much going for it, it’s amazing to think the less than mainstream comic hadn’t been picked up before.

What makes the film so enjoyable – aside from the soundtrack, the acting, the characters, the set pieces, the humour, the pace, the smile the whole thing staple guns to your face – is how well it stands up on its own. As great as the last few Marvel films have been, they’re in danger of alienating the casual viewer with their throwbacks and references (Did anyone really watch Agents of SHIELD?). Guardians feels liberated and fresh. Hell, the film isn’t even bogged down by pop culture references since Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, the human of our band of miscreants, left earth as a child in the 80s. A nod to the Ninja Turtles is about all you’re going to get.

The eclectic cast is superb, with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket and Vin Diesel’s Groot clearly, and probably deliberately, stealing the show. Though special attention must be given to emerald-tinged assassin Gamora played by Zoe Saldana, who manages to have a life of her own not dependent on Quill. In fact, another of the film’s strengths is how tangible everybody is without having to go down the usual route of comic book movies of 45 minutes of exposition before the cape or mask is donned.

If it isn’t coming across clearly enough, Guardians of the Galaxy is ball-bouncingly brilliant. It’s a triumphant return to the days of the 80s blockbuster before everything became homogenized. Again, something even the latest Marvel movies veer towards. Hopefully, Guardians will spark a renaissance not just at its parent company but across the board. Let’s pretend we’re in a universe where summer blockbusters start taking more risks. Let’s pretend.

The Hangover Part III (2013)

Struggling to cope with the death of his father, man-child, Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has been refusing to take his meds and is displaying personality traits that are a little out of the ordinary, even for him. Egged on by their wives, the Wolf Pack agree to take him to a care home for some professional help. Of course, nothing can run smoothly in these films and along the way, they are hijacked by John Goodman’s crime boss, Marshall. Taking one of their number as collateral, Marshall encourages the gang to hunt down the infamous Mr Chow (Ken Jeong) and the gold that he stole from him.

Director Todd Philips has given us a Hangover entry that is so far removed from the first two, you wonder if this should have been a movie in its own right rather than part of a franchise. If the first two chapters of the trilogy were the party, then The Hangover Part III is very much the true hangover. The original 2009 misadventure in Vegas has sparked a chain of events that will lead our heroes down a dark path. A very dark, very violent path. Yes, this is the only film in trilogy to have a body count. Not everyone will have chance to get up and walk it off.

Philips is clearly experimenting with his style here and there are some cinematic flourishes that impress. A stealthy walk through a Las Vegas hotel suite is like entering the second circle of hell. Strobe lighting provides a fractured scene of drugs, violence and glassy-eyed prostitutes that causes genuine unease. It wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Michael Mann film and there in lies the problem. Like the acts of violence that pop throughout the course of the narrative, it all belongs in another film.

It’s because of this subdued narrative that the film fails to provide any proper laughs. Alan has mutated from a hairy means-well, to a mean-spirited son of a bitch. A man who you wouldn’t share a towel with let alone your holidays. Galifianakis relies on shouting his lines and tripping over things for humour and as Part 3 is largely built around him, it can become extremely tiring. Compounding the lack of laughs is the decision to greatly expand the role of Ken Jeong as Mr Chow. Spending as much time on the screen as the others, he has become a vicious sociopath, who breaks the necks of dogs and abuses call girls. Whilst this obviously gives Jeong something meatier to get his teeth into, it just feels uncomfortable rather than amusing. With Jeong and Galifianakis dominating the screen, there is very little for Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms to do aside from react and gurn.

It’s interesting to note that the biggest laughs in the film come from a mid-credits sting that acts a way for Philips to say: ‘Look, if you wanted another bootleg copy of the original that tops the second, then THIS is how we’d have to do it. Is that what you really would have wanted?’ And weirdly, it may have been better to go down the path of least resistance. When you create a film that makes The Hangover Part II seem not all that bad in comparison, we have a problem.

The bottom line is, The Hangover never needed sequels and this rather limp finale suggests that all involved were better off doing something else with their time. Rather than grabbing at straws in an attempt to replicate the success of the original.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Ryan Gosling is stunt motorcycle driver Luke Glanton, whose job in a travelling circus makes him a fleeting presence in the lives of others. One such other, old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), reaches out to Glanton upon his return to Schenectady, New York to inform the wandering thrill seeker of his having fathered her one year old son, Jason. In an attempt to convince Romina that he can provide for their son, despite her having set up house with new love Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Glanton decides to put the speed and technicality he’s developed as part of his circus act to criminal use in a series of bank robberies.

So far, you’d be forgiven for believing from this description and the film’s own marketing that The Place Beyond The Pines is simply a retread of Gosling’s most iconic role to date – a blue collar version of 2011’s Drive perhapsBut Pines reaches far beyond its initial plot motivations to deliver a meditative, if often meandering, study on the relationships between fathers and sons. As Glanton gathers confidence – some would say misplaced cockiness – with each bank robbed, he puts himself on the map of the police, in particular Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop Avery Cross who has also recently fathered a boy. As the admittedly long running time unfolds, Pines casts its spotlight on how the families of both men have evolved beyond their first act actions, and becomes a nuanced observation on family dynamics more akin to director Derek Cianfrance’s previous effort, Blue Valentine.

 As in that film, Cianfrance puts his documentary making past to good use in allowing the camera to observe rather than dictate the action, and never is it more evident than in the film’s opening tracking shot that fully immerses the viewer into Glanton’s death-defying world of small town thrills, as well as the film’s one-take bank heists. In keeping with this, the performances of all involved are subdued and rightfully so, with no showboating scene stealing despite the wealth of familiar faces.

Pines does have its flaws, particularly under any close comparison with Cianfrance and Gosling’s original collaboration. The novel-like structure is perhaps too broad in its reach, and as such the characters don’t feel as fully fleshed as they could be, meaning the film’s attempts at emotional punches aren’t as immediately visceral as those in Blue Valentine. The film also precariously tip toes the line between down to earth realism and extraordinary situations, complete with cheesy dialogue designed for poster taglines, none more so than “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

So whilst the film’s attempts at epic scope may fall a little short, The Place Beyond The Pines succeeds at providing a lingering and insightful exploration into the effects of the sins of the fathers over the generations, proving that when it comes to cinematic dissection of familial relations, Derek Cianfrance is a reliable force.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

David O’Russel is no stranger to the family unit, subverting it oedipully (?) in his debut, Spanking The Monkey, exposing the dynamics within the army as family in the fifty percent great Three Kings, very nearly pulling off an “everything is connected” universe family in I Heart Huckabees and then coping comfortably with a genre flick that dealt with nothing but brotherly love and hate in The Fighter. With Silver Linings Playbook we find him cosy in his wheelhouse as he adapts Matthew Quick’s novel about a dysfunctional family with a streak of mental illness in Philadelphia into a loose, shaggy, wry tale of obsessive behaviour, love and loss and the American Football team that binds them all together.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man released into his parent’s care (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) from an institution where he has been incarcerated for eight months for assaulting the man he found graphically involved with his wife when he returned home one day. Armed with a plan for mental health called “Excelsior” and a fitness regime designed to win his estranged wife back, Pat sets about re-integrating with society, meeting old friends, bonding with his spiky father over Philadelphia Eagles games and finally meeting Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany has lost her cop husband recently and reaches out to Pat for companionship. Pat begins to use her in a scheme to get a letter to his wife who he is restrained from seeing by a court order. In a totally non-shocking cliché Pat and Tiffany begin to fall for each other as they practice for a dance competition…who would’ve thought it?

Silver Linings Playbook (awful title, we kept forgetting it prior to our screening.) treads that very tricky line between comedy and drama, too funny and the mental illness’ would be viewed as trite handles on which to hook jokes, too serious and the bittersweet edge of comedic reality would be lost in a shower of pathos. Fortunately, O’Russel skillfully navigates this track to deliver possibly his most balanced, enjoyable film yet.

Using the Philadelphia Eagles (the birds, as their fans call them) as a focal point for its characters and their community, Silver Linings Playbook accentuates their rivalries with the New York and Dallas teams to accentuate the rivalries within the families. Every Sunday is game day, the family gather, eat snacks cooked by Mom and argue over every play, every comment and every past hurt, this is a much more effective form of therapy for Pat than the state provided psychiatrist. Even Tiffany, who ostensibly hates football, knows every stat and result, such is the import of the Eagles.

Bradley Cooper manages to pull off an impressive “not being smug” performance which is good news for those who watched The Hangover, A-Team and Limitless with a lingering urge to never stop punching him. De Niro manages to summon some fire back into his eyes, playing Pat’s OCD father with verve but Jennifer Lawrence is the star here. Bruised, vulnerable and resolutely unapologetic for a promiscuous period following her husband’s death, Lawrence gives Tiffany an edge that feels as if it could be shattered any moment. A scene in which Pat and Tiffany argue in a diner and then in front of a movie theatre showcases both her highly visible broken heart and the skillful writing that O’Russel has supplied her with. Tiffany is unable to keep the emotion from her face and Lawrence uses this to portray a woman on the brink of slipping into alcoholism and self-pity. Her roles following this film will be scrutinised closely.

The whole thing builds to a brilliantly handled, multiply important dance-off climax that is funny and charming and perfectly integrated with the rest of the film (Unlike Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine, films that exist solely to try and impress you with a quirky dance at the end and are instantly forgettable.). Important to every character and wonderfully pathetic, the win/lose conclusion is emotionally satisfying and at least semi-plausible, managing to avoid leaving a Hollywood sheen over proceedings that would have rung hollow with the preceding honesties revealed.

O’Russel seems to be getting into his groove and his (relatively) inexpensive movies, which have actors clamouring to appear in them (for knockdown fees, presumably) should continue to expose us to familiar forms of the human condition skewed through his off kilter, left field eyes for a long time to come.

Limitless (2011)

Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra; a struggling writer who is turned on to designer drug, NZT-48, by his ex-brother-in-law. The drug enables its user to utilise 100% of their brain power rather than 20% of it, which is interesting because I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use 100% of their brain… Well, except for those involved in horrendous, life-changing accidents. Anyway, bullshit statistics aside, within his first trip, Cooper discovers he can think faster, learn faster, be a smoother ladies man faster and just generally be ‘limitless’ in what he can do…

Wait, I get the title now.

So, what does he do with his new powers? Bring about world peace? Discover a cure for cancer? Re-edit the Green Lantern so it becomes a halfway decent film? No, old Cooper becomes… a stock broker. Yeah, the trailer for Limitless is very clever marketing. It completely negates any mention that this is all just Nick Leeson’s wet dream. Look! There’s Bradley Cooper with his shirt off! Look! He’s being limitless! Look at him kissing sexy women with his sexy man lips! *cough* oh yeah, and there’s about an hour’s worth of conversation about stockbroking and buying other companies *cough* Look! His shirt’s off again.

As a hero, Eddie Morra, is as likable as syphilis. This isn’t Cooper’s fault. Eddie is just written badly. He’s a man only Patrick Bateman would applaud. It’s hard to root for anyone who is so ungodly smug. Every other line from his mouth may as well have been about the size of his penis, with an additional point to the crotch and a knowing raised eyebrow. You don’t want him to succeed. When he’s beaten up for owing money to a loan shark, you applaud the goons. It shouldn’t be like that.

Oh yeah, Robert De Niro is in it, but as he’s now gone from the man from Raging Bull to Little Fockers, that’s not really saying much. As wealthy businessman Carl Van Loon (no, really), Bobby shuffles around looking off camera to make sure the ink has dried on his cheque. Christ, least Sean Connery had the decency to retire.

Then you add the overused cliches such as trite Russian Gangsters and a beginning that tries to suggest that proceeding 120 minutes are going to be intense noir-fuelled action, and the sum is just a pile of unemotional pap.

Oh, and there’s a scene where Cooper drinks from a pool of blood. That was just weird.