4/30/13: Silver Linings Playbook, Shelter Me, Manborg, The Guilt Trip, The Details, Not Fade Away, Broken City

Silver Linings Playbook (R, 2012, Anchor Bay)
“Silver Linings Playbook” shows its hand the instant Pat (Bradley Cooper) meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), and it pledges kinship with a thousand romantic movies that came before it and a thousand more that surely will follow. And that doesn’t even matter, because the difference between this story and most of those is just how exhilarating it is to get from where we stand at that moment to the inevitable outcome “Playbook” is almost obligated to provide. Pat isn’t just a boy: He’s a bipolar boy fresh out of a psychiatric hospital who is married to an estranged wife he wants back despite her restraining order against him. And Tiffany isn’t just a girl: She’s a widow, she lost her job because of reckless promiscuity, and she has a temper on par with Pat’s and an equal sensitivity to things that can set it off. Throw in some friends and two families (Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, Shea Whigham) with their own trials and maladies, and “Playbook” is a myriad of fragility and emotional eggshells on which to walk. And two hours of that would prove unbearably tiresome were nearly every minute not such a raging, honest, darkly funny and altogether furious shredding of all those weird feelings and the things they make people say and do. It’s hard for a movie to descend into dreariness when its heart is racing this fast. As the name implies, a happy ending is “Playbook’s” prime objective, and its characters will bare their teeth and wreak all manner of havoc until that goal is within lunging distance. It’s hard not to be at least somewhat predictable with a premise like that and pieces like these, but it’s even harder for that to matter when watching “Playbook’s” gameplan come together is this much fun.
Extras: Deleted scenes, Q&A highlights, four behind-the-scenes features.

Shelter Me (NR, 2013, Virgil Films)
Anecdotal evidence would suggest that public sentiment is increasingly on its side, but misconceptions still abound regarding the act of rescuing a shelter dog versus adopting one from a breeder or pet store. For those who approach it with mind open, “Shelter Me” wipes just about all that uncertainty away within an hour’s time, and it does so without a drop of unnecessarily passive-aggressive guilt-tripping. Effectively divided into three parts, “Shelter Me” not only charts the paths to adoption of two stray but wonderfully sweet pit bulls, but also looks in on a pair of service dog industries that help rehabilitate prisoners, homecoming soldiers and the disabled. The stories are remarkable, as is the proclamation that neither program needs to breed dogs to shore up its ranks because there are so many smart, well-mannered and trained dogs in shelters who make a natural and wildly enthusiastic transition into service dogs. But “Shelter Me’s” overwhelming takeaway is the two-way street that connects dogs who need a home with people who need a friend like them every bit as badly. Dog lovers already are well aware of the void a dog can fill in exchange for a loving home. But that messaging often gets lost amid a sea of guilt-tripping and self-righteousness that risks alienating those who express any curiosity about the rescue process. There’s a better way to discuss this, and “Shelter Me” does a heartwarming, funny and inspiring job of showing the way. No extras.

Manborg (NR, 2011, Dark Sky Films)
In the battle between man and Hell, Hell won running away. Among the casualties were two soldier brothers. One perished. The other (Matthew Kennedy) should have, but instead was preserved and rebuilt into the Robocop wannabe whose new name provides “Manborg” with its namesake. In case you’re wondering: No, “Manborg” does not take itself seriously. About the only thing it does take seriously is the nearly endangered experience of walking into a video store, finding the strangest VHS tape on the shelf, and devouring it whole. From the effects — bad green screen, casual uses of makeup, clashes between computer and stop-motion animation, color where color doesn’t naturally go — to the amazing “Bio-Cop” trailer that plays at the end of the “tape” following the credits, “Manborg” dots every i and crosses every t in its meticulous love letter to the small window of time when finding homemade independent movies was a special event instead of an hourly occurrence on YouTube. As for the story itself? “Manborg’s” titular character’s delivery is more leaden than a pencil and paint factory in the 1950s, his sidekicks include a 1980s punk rock caricature (Conor Sweeney) and a martial artist (Ludwig Lee) with built-in voice dubbing, and his story includes powerful lines like “Hey bro. It’s me, your brother.” The story gets along famously with everything else happening here, and at roughly 62 minutes long before Bio-Cop takes over and steals the show, it’s just compact enough not to overstay its welcome.
Extras: Short film “Fantasy Beyond,” director commentary, director/writer/producer commentary, deleted/alternate scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, interviews, bloopers.

The Guilt Trip (PG-13, 2012, Paramount)
Eventually, “The Guilt Trip’s” true colors shine through, and those colors form a movie that’s sweet, funny and genuinely lovable. It just takes a while to get there. “Trip” begins with Andrew (Seth Rogen), an inventor struggling mightily to sell his creation and, among other things, find love. His mom Joyce (Barbra Streisand) pays a visit, tells him a story of a long-lost love of her own, and Andrew books a road trip during which he can pitch his product and secretly track down this lost love. Between here and there, though, “Trip” takes two descents — first into cliched “mom nags son and embarrasses him by saying the darnedest things” territory, then deeper into a swarm of ill will, fighting and comic relief that, save for a funny line or two, feels like it isn’t even trying. This goes on long enough to make it a safe bet that this is all “Trip” is. But then, following the inevitable low point that was etched in stone numerous scenes earlier, things turn around. “Trip” very nearly gets whiplash in doing so, but the mood shift doesn’t feel contrived or heavy. To the contrary, the movie’s best and funniest scene also is the one that guides the film around this hairpin turn. There’s even a good surprise or two waiting in the last act, which was unfathomable during the uninspired first half. It’s still too bad all that time goes mostly to waste, but if we’re only getting half of an excellent movie, much better it be the second half than the first.
Extras: Deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

The Details (R, 2011, Anchor Bay)
Jeff (Tobey Maguire) and Nealy (Elizabeth Banks) have been married for what we can presume are 10 pretty good years. And that’s something of a miracle when “The Details” reveals just how ready that wall was to wobble and fall down. All it took were some raccoons, an unstable next door neighbor (Laura Linney), a shoulder to cry on (Kerry Washington) and two people (Ray Liotta and Dennis Haysbert) who want to return favors for diametrically different reasons. That a collapse of some kind is imminent isn’t a spoiler: A narrating Jeff comes out and says so — and admits everything that happens next is his fault — right at the top. Naturally, the surprises lie in the details, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that a movie called “The Details” isn’t always mindful of them itself. As dark comedies go, “The Details” offers plenty to like, and that likability starts with Jeff, whose Boy Scout face and mannerisms fly gloriously in the face of nearly everything he does, good intentions or not. Without naming names and spoiling spoilers, similar kudos go to his supporting characters, whose own doings give Jeff a chance to achieve the sympathetic character status he probably doesn’t deserve. But a story that starts strong and spirals magnificently out of control eventually finds itself backed into a corner with a lot of loose ends and a weird mood that splits the difference between dark comedy and something genuinely flirting with detestable. An extremely limp ending is the price “The Details” pays for not minding the little things more carefully, and while it’s not so bad as to undo the fun of the first two acts, it’s a buzzkill all the same.
Extras: Alternate beginning and ending.

Not Fade Away (R, 2012, Paramount)
The best, strangest, most I-don’t-care-who-is-watching-or-what-they-think scene in “Not Fade Away” happens at the very very end, wherein the story’s closing moment morphs into a thesis hypothesis and then a spontaneous dance number that loops back around to “Fade’s” earlier moments and the promise they held for both the characters and us. In between, “Fade” is the story of Douglas (John Magaro), the music he wants to play, the rock ‘n’ roll dream he chases in lieu of college, the girl (Bella Heathcote) he can’t get out of his mind and the people (namely his father, played by James Gandolfini, who inadvertently steals every scene he’s in) he angers and defies along the way. All of it is set amid the backdrop of the 1960s, because of course it is. When was the last time you saw a story about a rock ‘n’ roll dream painted atop the romantic landscapes of the 1980s or 2000s? Few movies would attempt something that weird, and outside of its last few minutes, “Fade” is no exception. Douglas’s story is blessed with reverence, attention to detail, strong writing and a strong cast carrying it out. But we’ve had this dream umpteen times already, and there’s nearly nothing “Fade” does that sets it apart from the similar and often fresher stories that preceded it. No extras.

Broken City (R, 2013, Fox)
Though not convicted of murder or even brought to trial, NYPD detective Billy Taggart’s (Mark Wahlberg) fatal shooting of a man was politically hot enough for Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to stifle some evidence and take Taggart’s badge away to keep it buried. Seven years later, Taggart is teetering as a reformed alcoholic, a struggling private detective and the boyfriend of the woman (Natalie Martinez) whose sister was murdered by the man he killed. That, sadly, is the kind of ludicrous “Broken City” covets. Mayor Hostetler enlists Taggart to investigate his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he suspects is having an affair, and once Taggart takes the case, he’s quickly embroiled in a much uglier and dangerous mess than he originally anticipated. Not surprisingly, the same mayor who buried evidence seven years ago isn’t on the level this time either — and did we mention it’s an election year? “City” throws so many balls in the air that it would seem able to just coast into some sort of entertaining finish. Instead, all those balls just crash into each other and create a maelstrom of muddled storytelling that manages to be both ridiculous and completely ravaged by cliche at once. Pretty much no one outside of Taggart’s assistant (Alona Tal) is all that likable, and even she pushes her luck when the obnoxious low-rent-cop-drama dialogue gets too cute for anybody’s good. “City” regularly tries obscuring its vanilla storylines with diversions, be it cute dialogue, political messaging that culminates in a painfully long mayoral debate scene, or girlfriend/alcohol melodrama that falls almost comically flat. But all these diversions do is pile unappealing layers onto a tired, derivative core that’s unappealing enough on its own.
Extras: Alternate ending, deleted/extended scenes, behind-the-scenes documentary.