31 December 2014

My Top Ten Films for 2014

1. Birdman

2. Under the Skin
3. Boyhood
4. Venus in Fur

5. The Skeleton Twins
6. Top Five
7. Gone Girl
8. Whiplash
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
10. Foxcatcher

Honorable Mention: The Imitation Game, Pride, Palo Alto, A Coffee in Berlin, Locke, Only Lovers Left Alive.

Best Actor: Michael Keaton (Birdman) Honorable Mention: Benedict Cumberbatch (Imitation Game) Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)

Best Actress: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) Honorable Mention: Reese Witherspoon (Wild) Emmanuelle Seiger (Venus in Fur)

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone (Birdman)

The gaps are intentional. Birdman was a lot better than the second best film and the top four were miles better than the rest.

30 December 2014

12 Films You May Have Never Heard of that I Recommend -- I Also Provide a Brief Synopsis

Silence of the Clams
The story of very quiet shell fish.

Dear Hunter
A letter is sent to someone tracking wild game.

Wild Brunch
A late morning meal gets out of hand.

Hog Day Afternoon
A large pig’s adventures from noon to sundown.

Taxi Diver
A person who looks for sunken yellow cabs.

The Rubble With Harry
Harold carries around debris from demolished buildings.

The French Confection
A delicious pastry from Paris.

Shitty Lights
Some really bad lamps.

Laid Runner
A sprinter finally gets lucky.

Picnic at Hanging Clock
Some people dangle a timepiece off a cliff and eat sandwiches.

A Bite at the Opera
An audience member snacks during an aria.

Hannah and Her Blisters
The story of a woman and her overworked feet.

29 December 2014

A Guy By the Name of Pike

“Name’s Pike,” the old man said as he shook my hand. It was a big strong hand that had done a lot of work. A weathered and muscular hand that was both warm and tough.

His voice was rich and deep and it seemed that everything about him was sturdy. He could have been an old cowboy or a farmer or a cop. His clothes were those of a working man but they were well taken care of and clean.

I told Pike my name and offered to buy him a beer. He accepted graciously. We drank a few beers together and got down to business. Pike had been referred to me because I was looking for someone to take care of our house while my wife and I were in France for a year. I wanted someone who was reliable, strong enough to do chores, could be trusted and didn’t have family obligations.

Pike told me he’d had a wife once but “she got the cancer.” He’d had several careers and I wasn’t surprised to learn that one of them was in construction or that another was on an oil rig. He’d also made sergeant in the army, been a park ranger and served as a bodyguard for some actors that you’d have heard of.

The terms were easy enough to agree on so Pike and I drove up to my house in the Berkeley Hills. We’d be gone for almost all of 1963, leaving January 10 and returning a week before Christmas. Pike would stay at the house. He’d collect mail, pay the bills, tend the garden and see to the upkeep of the house. It needed a little work and Pike agreed to see to it, either himself or by hiring some help. In return he’d stay in the house rent free — and it was a nice place with a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay — and be paid $400 a month. There’d also be an expense account for the bills.

Pike had shown me a half dozen letters of reference all of which attested to what a fine man he was. The last question I had for him before shaking on the deal was whether he thought he might get bored just looking after a house for a year after all the adventures he’d had. Pike assured me that he’d be fine, that at his age — 63 — it was time to slow down. He had some reading to catch up on and was going to take advantage of living in a place with a TV set for the first time in his life. Plus he had a nephew across the bay to visit from time to time and a couple of army buddies who lived in the area.

“I’ll just be fine. More than enough to keep me occupied. Plus I aim to catch up on some sleep I haven’t had the last 45 odd years.”

Confident that the house was in good hands, my wife Marcie and I began making final preparations for our trip to France. Marcie was from Paris so was looking forward to time with her family and I was being sent by the University of California — where I was a professor — to do research.
Marcie was a few months pregnant so our first child would be born in Paris. My only regret was that as a consequence he or she could thus never grow up to be president of the U.S. Not that there was much chance of that anyway, but still a guy can dream.

The day after I met him Pike came by again and met Marcie. Pike had an easy charm that Marcie appreciated. She later said he was the most American man she’d ever met. I showed Pike around some more more and we talked a bit. He’d lived all over the country, mostly in California and Texas but he was born in Delaware which would have been about my last guess. Most of all he thought of himself as ex-Army but was proud of every job he’d had.

Pike came again on the morning of the 10th. We gave him the keys and made sure he knew where everything was, last second stuff. He talked us out of taking a cab to the airport and drove us in our Oldsmobile which he’d have use of. Gentleman that he was, Pike walked us to our gate. He seemed surprised when Marcie gave him a hug.

We got on the plane for the long flight content that all was well and our house was in good hands.

It was in mid July, right around the half way point of our stay, when we found out what kind of hands are house had been in. To that point everything had seemed fine. We’d received regular letters from Pike in his rudimentary handwriting and with his poor spelling and grammar. He’d updated us on the house and his daily doings and told of his an added expense here or their to replace a broken garden tool or have a gutter fixed. My cousin Larry had been by to check on things a few times and gave us glowing reports on what a great job Pike was doing on the house and the property.  Then just after Bastille Day in France we got a call from the Berkeley Police.

The connection wasn’t great but I got the gist of it. They had Pike in custody for receiving and selling stolen property. The man who had repaired our fence was himself a fence. A couple of days later I flew back to California. Jet lagged, frustrated, angry and yes, not just a little curious I checked in with the Berkeley police. It turned out that Pike was exactly who he said he was. His references were all correct and he’d served in all the positions he’d claimed. But there was more to him. Pike had several aliases and using those assumed names committed a lengthy list of crimes ranging from burglary to extortion to fraud and now fencing.  What was really news though was that the FBI had been trying to track down Pike for years not only for his crimes but because of his involvement in a militant far right group. One that eventually hoped to assassinate Castro in Cuba and some liberal leaders in the USA. including President Kennedy. Of course Kennedy was assassinated just four months later but the gang Pike was part of likely had nothing to do with it. By November they had been rounded up, thanks in large part to Pike who ratted everyone out in order that he not spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.

Needless to say I was stunned by all of this. You never really know about a person. Someone who seems like the salt of Earth turns out to be an impostor, a crook and an extremist. My faith in humanity took a severe jolt.

I managed to get a friend of my cousin Larry’s to serve as caretaker and was able to finish my research. Marcie and I got back home as planned just before Christmas. By then we had a baby girl, Claire. Of course the nation was still mourning Kennedy’s assassination. So were we. Marcie and I had been big supporters of his. That Pike had wanted him dead chilled us to the core.

We heard that in March Pike, who had done enough singing to have his sentence come out to only 10 years, was killed in prison. No one ever found who stuck the shiv in him but by this time he would have had plenty of enemies.

There was something different about the house. Pike’s presence and activities there somehow made it seem less like home, at least less like the place we wanted to raise our family. A year later I took a job at Columbia University in New York we figured we might as well re-settle instead of trying to find a new place in Berkeley. A new opportunity seemed just the ticket. After fours year in New York we packed up and moved permanently to France.

I sometimes think we might have stayed longer, maybe even permanently in our Berkeley home. But things happen in life, totally unexpected, that can change everything. For us it was a fella named Pike.

22 December 2014

Two Women I Observed, Comments After a Party and a Very Brief Synopsis of Recent Films Seen

On the way to the basketball game yesterday I stopped at Top Dog to get a veggie dog. The woman working there was probably in her late twenties. She was efficient, hard-working, courteous and desperately unhappy. She seemed on the verge of tears and on the verge of decking someone. I wouldn’t have bet against her in a fight. She was a burly woman who would have fit in on a construction site. I was taken by how she could handle customers and cooking despite seeming about to burst into a rage or flood of tears or both. Maybe she could have done a better of masking her feelings, maybe being in customer service she should have put on a plastic happy face. But then again I doubt most people noticed and most that did notice didn’t give a damn It’s not like she’d have driven customers away. People were out Christmas shopping or running other errands or on their way to a movie or the game so couldn’t be bothered with the demeanor of someone cooking their weiner. I just found it interesting is all. There are a lot of important earth-shattering events that bore me silly and a lot of trivial things that fascinate me. I’m like that.

I was fascinated today in a store. I stopped on my way to the gym to buy a post workout snack to accompany my smoothie. I was in line when I noticed a woman in perhaps her late thirties of Asian descent —probably Chinese — who was bending down to move or get something from a display. She might have been an employee of the store and was with someone who clearly was. Anyway she was wearing those loose fit jeans and as is often the case for someone bending while wearing loose fit, the crack of her ass was showing. This has become normal in the past decade or so. But what was a little unusual was that she was a little older than your usual butt flasher. Plus frankly your typically Asian women — I’m sure this is cultural — do not reveal their ass cracks. But there’s more. That is there was more. She was showing far more ass crack than is normally seen. Almost a third of the entire crack and accompanying buttocks. Well the line was moving and I was disinclined to stare at anyone’s ass crack. But on my way out I happened to glance in her direction again and she was still hard at work moving things about on the floor when she preceded to bend even further forward resulting in a display of fully half — if not more — of the aforementioned crack. Okay let’s be clear on one thing, she has to have known. When that part of your body is out in the wind — so to speak — especially in a public place, you can’t not know. This means one of two things: either she doesn’t care how much of her ass other people see or she gets her jollies out of showing people her ass. I mean when it's that much we’re not just being favored with crack but the full moon effect. Really I don’t get it. I’m more than happy to see a beautiful woman’s bum if I must, but when anyone’s butt is displayed in such a sloppy manner it is no great turn on. Or good turn on. Or any kind of turn on at all. Seriously.

Last Friday I went to the annual holiday party held by the good folks who work at the middle school where I plied my trade for a couple of decades. Most of these people I hadn’t seen in over three years, some longer. Some were strangers to me having come on board since my departure. I was asked about my general well being and about the missus and my two young uns who both matriculated at the school. Interestingly there was virtually no curiosity about my doings now, people apparently being satisfied that I’m gainfully employed. I did give a few people assurances that far more than liking, I love my work. There were a few queries about my commute but that was pretty much it. No one seemed the slightest bit interested in what manner of teaching I did there. I did squeeze in a comment or two on the diversity of our student population (I’ve had students representing over 50 different countries) and that was pretty much it. I’ve spoken to quite a few people over the last few years about my new line of teaching and how much I love it but have gotten somewhere in the neighborhood of one question about what goes on in the classroom, how I teach, the curriculum or any other specifics about my work. I do get a lot of questions about my commute. A lot. That’s all anyone seems to care about. Seems kind of weird too me. Unless you’re traveling to work by camel over the Alps the details of a daily commute tend to be pretty pedestrian stuff. What a person does at the end of the morning commute, now that might be interesting. Just not to people I talk to. Mind you I’m not simply dying to tell people what I do all day, you just think after all this time someone, somewhere, sometime would have asked.

Yes I’ve seen a passel of movies since I last checked in but I’m not all that interested in writing about them if you want to know the truth. Maybe you don’t want to know the truth, maybe you’d prefer to be lied to. Maybe you’d rather I said that I wasn’t going to write about movies I’d seen of late because the North Koreans had threatened to cancel Christmas if I did. But you’d see through that. You know I’m not afraid of no North Koreans. I can't believe that Sony Pictures is afraid of them. That’s one of the saddest things that has happened all year. The capitulation to a bunch of saber rattling terrorists. Fuck Kim Jong Un. If he showed up at my door I’d slap his fat face — assuming he wasn’t accompanied by armed bodyguards, of course.

So you asked about recent films I’ve seen (no you didn’t I just used that phrase as a device to segue into this last bit). Okay here goes: The Big Parade (1925) starring John Gilbert directed by King Vidor. A mostly very good picture but featuring the greatest scene ever filmed when the U.S. Army is pulling out of the French town. Just watch the damn thing, its incredible. Then there was Christmas in Connecticut (1945) starring the great love of one of my past lives, Barbara Stanwyck. I think I’ve watched it about seven Christmas seasons in a row and haven’t tired of it a wit. It’s perfectly fun and charming and delightful. Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) I just discovered this — let’s say “holiday treat” — last year. It has been hailed by Canada as that country’s greatest film and who am I to argue? It is set in a very small French Canadian village around and on Christmas. It’s got the whole coming of age vibe but not in a corny way. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) is a Christmas film from my people, it being an export from Finland. Here we have the real story of Santa Claus (or more properly Joulupukki) who’s less about rewarding good children and more about punishing the bad ones. He’s got an army of elves and they are not the cute little imps of other folklore. Rare Exports is almost more horror story than Christmas story but it is altogether a good story that can be enjoyed by anyone, save children, particularly those who still believe in Saint Nick. Whiplash has been in theaters for a few weeks and I had no interest in seeing it until I noted the near unanimity of the critical acclaim it was garnering. Suffice to say that acclaim is well earned. I was impressed both with its star Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons who almost certainly will garner the best supporting actor Oscar. But more than that I appreciated a well crafted story that did not suffer from the usual cliches rife in films about rising young talents under the tutelage of demanding mentors. There was much to the movie including thoughts on talent, genius and life choices. Last night it was time for another traditional cinematic holiday treat, Home Alone (1990). I’m guessing you’ve heard of it. I’ve watched it off and on with the children for years now and still enjoy it and still chortle at various times and still love John Candy’s cameo — polka, polka polka.

I’m out.

16 December 2014

There's No Surprise Like a Pleasant Surprise -- I Am Pleasantly Surprised by Two Films: Wild and Top Five But First There is a Unrelated Preamble

(This beginning bit was written Monday morning.) It’s raining. I’m off work. I have to go to the dentist in two hours. I ran eight miles yesterday. I’m writing short sentences. This is one of them. Here is another. However this is a longer sentence which reveals that I’m feeling a bit odd right now. I feel very good and a bit melancholy. I am wistful and anxious and content. How is it to feel just one way at a time? To have one over riding emotion? How is it to be totally unambiguous about yourself? There must be a kind of sickness in being so sure, so unequivocal about — of all things — yourself. That’s a special madness all its own. To be without doubt. Like  a mountain lion. I don’t imagine that mountain lions engage in much rumination. They go through life without questioning. Or knowing for that matter. We all know things and learn and grow and evolve or stay mindless conservative republicans.

Christmas is in ten days. I have loved Christmas for as long as I can remember and never because it supposedly celebrates the birth of god’s only son. (By the way, what was the whole point of getting a virgin pregnant? Why not just send an emissary down from heaven? Why have a son and put him through all the crap he had to endure? Why let him die on the cross? Some father. I see a child of mine suffering like that and I’d do some smiting. You hear religious people say that god works in mysterious ways which simply means they have no idea what the fuck the almighty was thinking. Christians can offer explanations — of sorts — for a lot of things but for a lot of others they have no effing clue.) But like I was saying before all that stuff in parenthesis, Christmas has never been a religious holiday for me. That’s what I like about the holiday, you can look at it in so many different ways. I think a lot of people write it off as strictly a christian deal or being too commercial when in fact you can enjoy it without god and without buy, buy buying. If you’ve a mind to. If not…well that’s your deal. Just don’t go around being a sourpuss thinking its okay for you to rain on other peoples’ parades.

One of the great joys in life is having your expectations exceeded. I never go to a movie unless I think I’m going to really enjoy it which makes me picky and results in me mostly seeing films I end up liking. Twice in as many days I’ve gone to a movie theater anticipating a movie worth my $8.50 and not much more and twice in two days I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Yesterday I saw Wild starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed and directed by Jean-Marc Valle who did a nice job last year with Dallas Buyer’s Club. It's one of those movies that makes me want to do things. I wanted to go for a long hike and finish my current novel and start another and read a lot of poetry and become a better person and hug my wife and kids. This is a sign of good film -- the whole making you want to do good things stuff. Or good stuff thing. Anyway. Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who wants to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the top of Mexico to Washington. It is an effort to cleanse herself of a nasty past featuring heavy drug use, sleeping around and unfaithfullness.

The solo hike is interspersed with flashbacks including many with mom and little brother and ex husband and some with multiple lovers and heroin needles and booze. It could have been a corny journey of self discovery story but instead is a believable realistic journey of self discovery story. Of course our heroine faces many obstacles along the way which is best not to spoil for you although it it should not be a surprise that they include terrain, the elements and other people. But what makes this an effective story is that the biggest obstacle for Cheryl is Cheryl herself. In the course of one's life the biggest enemy is generally that idiot in the mirror. In large part the movie excels because Witherspoon is up to the task. She is surely one of our most gifted actresses and Valle is proving to be a good director from whom we'll continue to expect more.

Today I saw Top Five written, directed and starring Chris Rock. Speaking of top fives and Rock, he would make my top five all time comedians list. What a delight to discover that he can make a film that, while replete with chuckles, is more than just a comedy. Indeed it is an intelligent film which draws inspiration from the work of Woody Allen. Rock plays Andre Allen a highly successful comic and star of comedy films who is tired of being funny and wants to do serious work. His first effort is a film about the Haitian rebellion in which he stars. Meanwhile he is about to have a very public wedding to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union). Top Five follows him on the day of the film's premier which is also the eve of his wedding as he is being interviewed by a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson). Lo and behold both interviewer and interviewee are recovering alcoholics in their fourth year of sobriety. (Hmmm two films about people struggling with addiction, no wonder I liked them.)

Dawson and Rock have the requisite chemistry to make their relationship work -- wherever it may or may not go. Good sized laughs are interspersed throughout the film but they are never forced. After all this is the story of a very funny many who happens to be surrounded by some incidentally funny people so guffaws are inevitable. Mostly however, Top Five is a look at the artist and the choices she or he has to make and the consequent public reaction. Add to the mix the issues of recovery and love and you've got a recipe for a good movie. Rock the writer and director was up to the task and Top Five -- like many of Woody's films -- asks questions and poses situations amid the laughs. I now have a whole new level of respect for Rock heaped onto the one that already existed.

14 December 2014

Olivier, Kerr, Chaplin, Groucho, Capra, all Featureed in the First Six Films of My Holiday Season Viewing Binge

According to a noted Christmas Carol, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” No argument from me especially in light of me having two weeks off from work and thus many extra hours available for — what else — watching films. My vacation started Friday afternoon though I got a little practice on Thursday as school was closed due to a power outage. With a solid two weeks still to go I’ve watched — thanks to Thursday — six movies. A sluggish start I admit but I’m sure things will pick up as I get into a good groove.

I thought I’d favor readers (both of us) with periodic posts in which I said a few words about the movies that have entertained or inspired or bored or enlightened me this fortnight. And so I begin.

Marathon Man (1976). Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman. That's pretty much all you need right there. The two of them could just be chatting over a game of checkers and you'd have a movie. But Marathon Man is a smart thriller and Olivier plays one of the great cinematic Nazis of all time in Christian Szell, albeit one we meet many years after the Third Reich has crumbled. Hoffman plays a grad student and the eponymous runner who stumbles into international intrigue in large part because his big brother (Roy Scheider, no slouch either when it came to acting) who is a spy. There is a Seventies style sophistication to the story along with a strong dose of paranoia. It's a damn good movie and there's a lot more going on then just admiring Olivier and Hoffman.

Black Narcissus (1947). Who was that idiot that didn't like this film the first time he saw it? The same blockhead who only kind of liked it the second time. That would be yours truly. Anyway after this, my fourth viewing, I finally recognize it as a classic. I know, what took me? It still -- you should excuse the expression -- blows my mind that this was not actually filmed in the Himalayas. Nope, all shot at studios in the UK. The legendary Jack Cardiff was the cinematographer and he is one of the three or four greatest to ever get behind a camera. BN is an absolutely exquisite film to look at. Technicolor has never looked better. Of course there's a story being told and Deborah Kerr is in it and she made every film better for her appearance. But there is also Kathleen Byron as the nun gone wild. My goodness but she is creepy and effecting and even beguiling. I can only wonder that she wasn't a bigger star. I can also only wonder that it took me so long to appreciate this masterpiece from Powell and Pressburger.

The Gold Rush (1925). Charlie Chaplin came as close as anyone could to making a perfect film. And he did it several times. Gold Rush is one such effort. Let's all say it together: Chaplin was a genius. It's long been a cliche which doesn't make it any less true. But the proof is in his films where the comedy is meticulously choreographed. Chaplin took his time between and on film projects and it shows. There's not a wasted screen second. Georgia Hale as the love interest is on the most striking leading ladies in all of Chaplin's films. And this ranks right up there among his five best.

The Small Back Room (1949). I've been working my way though the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and have found some real gems and only a few clunkers (I'm looking at you Colonel Blimp) but this one falls squarely into the mediocre category. I wanted to like The Small Back Room and ultimately thought it okay but goodness it dragged in parts. Kathleen Byron was in this film too but in nowhere near as juicy a part. David Farrar had the meaty role as the tortured bomb disposal expert, Sammy Rice. He's lost a leg and is hoping not to lose a struggle with drugs or with his love and on and on and its a helluva story idea but not quite pulled off. The film is also known as Hour of Glory but I'm going with the original title.

Duck Soup (1933). When I cranked out the first ever list of my favorite films of all time some 20 plus years ago, I shared it with a co-worker. She scoffed at my inclusion of this, the greatest of the Marx Brothers' films. Let the record show she was -- and likely still is -- an idiot on a number of topics. Truly this is a great film. GREAT. Not just a great Marx Brothers film, not just a great comedy, a great film. It may well be that I've seen Duck Soup more than any other film and I still laugh throughout and I still enjoy every minute of it. The kind of non stop wit that comes from Groucho isn't heard in films anymore.  Three examples: 1) "Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did." 2)"Clear? Huh. Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it." 3) "You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are." And I rest my case. Kudos to Leo McCarey who directed.

Meet John Doe (1941). I like Gary Cooper and am head over heels in love with Barbara Stanwyck.They are the two stars of this very Capraesque Frank Capra film. But if you want to see some scene stealing check out James Gleason. I'm not going to recount the whole movie, after all you've seen it a dozen times or more like I have, right? But as a refresher, Gleason played the editor of the paper where Stanwyck concocted the John Doe stories. He's the stereotypically cynical, tough as nails, bottom line type of boss that is quite common both on and off screen and were a particular staple of movies of the Thirties and Forties. It's all pretty standard fare though a cut above most characters until a scene in a bar when he drunkenly professes to John Doe (Cooper) his love of country and bitterness at what is being done to it by the likes of the evil D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold). It's a powerful bit of acting and the scene marks a critical turning point late in the film in which Doe realizes that evil and powerful political forces mean to usurp the John Doe love thy neighbor movement. It's one of my favorite film scenes of all time.

01 December 2014

I Must Have Been Crazy to Not Have Seen Silver Linings Playbook Until Now

Wild man's world is crying in pain
What you gonna do when everybody's insane
So afraid of fortune, so afraid of you
What you gonna do?
Crazy on you, let me go crazy on you
-- From Crazy on You by Heart

It’s difficult for me to trust people who would profess to be perfectly sane. Imagine the type of individual who considers their mental and emotional states to exist in a state of perfection. Now that is true insanity.

Of course most people will gladly discuss their physical imperfections at great length, detailing their operations, ailments and aches and pains. But try bringing up and addiction or a psychosis or delusion and people clam up instantly. What’s the big deal? Why the stigma? After all abnormality is normal in the body and the mind is ever so much more complex.

I can go on and on and in on this most public of forums about my struggles and depressions and panic attacks and decades of experience with psychiatrists, but in normal chit chat with colleagues or acquaintances any such topic of conversation is strictly avoided. Meanwhile Bob or Lisa or Chris will feel free to ramble on about their lumbago or skin rash or cataracts. Seriously, what's more interesting, hearing about someone detail their struggles with constipation or with paranoid delusions? That's no contest.

When twelve steppers gather they may make mention of lower back pain or an allergy but they are just as likely -- actually much much more likely -- to discuss their psychotic episodes or obsessive compulsive disorder. That's more like it.

Films have often done an excellent job of showing characters suffering from the ravages of all manner of psychological trauma or disorder. Some shining examples are The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Blvd (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Two Seconds (1932), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Blue Jasmine (2013). Just recently I saw for the first time -- a full two years after it hit theaters -- Silver Linings Playbook (2012) which I'm now sorry I waited on for so long. Any film in which characters discuss a litany of anti-depressants they've taken and I have personal experience with several of them is automatically okay in my book.

Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany brilliantly portray the experience of being emotionally unwell. Theirs is a broader more public form of mental illness than I've grappled with but it is easy to relate to feeling: just fine thanks, no I'm kinda messed up, what's wrong with me, its everyone else who has a problem, please help, I'm the only person who feels this way, fuck the world, give me drugs, I don't want to be medicated, tell me what I want, don't say anything to me, leave me alone, listen to me.

SLP is not so much about how people struggling with mental illness act, but how they cope with their illness -- or don't -- and how they cope with others around them, the "normal" people. It is also adept at revealing just how unnormal normal people really are. For example Pat's dad (some guy named Robert De Niro) would qualify as a perfectly normal chap to most, he's not needed any medications or had to visit a shrink and has certainly, unlike Pat, never been institutionalized. There is, however, the business of his being a gambling addict, clearly suffering from OCD and having been banned from Philadelphia Eagle home games for violent behavior. Pat's mom (Jacki Weaver) is a classic American mother which is to say she's a raging co-dependent and his brother (Shea Whigham) is a successful lawyer but is such an unconscionable jerk that he compares his lot in life with his brother. The one just out of a mental hospital. But like I said he's "normal."

Pat has bipolar disorder and Tiffany has borderline personality disorder. The perfect couple. They meet -- are actually set up -- at a time when they both are extremely vulnerable. Having gone ballistic and nearly beaten his wife's lover to death when he found them showering together, Pat served time in a mental institution. He is out and at home with his parents and determined to win his wife back --despite a restraining order. Tiffany's husband was a cop. Was because he is dead. She responded by having a seemingly endless string of one-night stands and now every man who knows her, whether he "got some" or not, wants a turn. After all she is young and attractive.

The reason they have to "hook up" is the stuff of Hollywood movies as is the film's denouement but it is all a small price to pay for a movie so rich in ideas that films so rarely touch. Indeed the cinematic cliches help the medicine go down and I certainly found watching SLP to have medicinal usage. When SLP is awkward and difficult to watch for its content it is still compelling and entertaining because the characters are so well drawn and so fully realized by the actors. We are in the habit of rooting for the central figures in movies and in some films its because we want to see them overcome adversity. For me Pat and Tiffany are especially deserving of good things because there is a generally ugly reality to what they have gone and continue to go through. They aren't fighting bad guys, just the demons within and the prejudices without.

Most films that deal with mental illness either mock those who suffer by making silly caricature's of them or use them as showpieces for performers to chew the scenery. Certainly the likes of Ray Milland, Gloria Swanson, Vivian Leigh, Edward G. Robinson, Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto and Cate Blanchett from the films mentioned above delivered brilliant performances in worthy films, and so for that matter do Cooper and Lawrence. While SLP is not quite on a par with those films, it does stand alone in its depiction of sufferers from mental illness as often being quite aware of what they're going through and mindful of how they are seen and treated by others. Bout time.

Is it a good film or am I just crazy?