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American Hustle (2013) Review

24 12 2013
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Copyright Columbia Pictures 2013

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

So, the narrowing down of what film to go see yesterday came down to this film and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; this one won out, but Smaug will probably be seen within the week since I’m off all week from work.

American Hustle takes place in 1978, and primarily follows the characters Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale), a small time con-artist and dry cleaner owner, and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his mistress and accomplice who mostly acts under a British alias of Lady Edith Greensly. After getting into a bind with the FBI, they agree to assist agent Ritchie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) on a small series of cons that eventually leads to hopeful nabbing of not only members of congress and popular Camden, N.J. mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), but also several high standing members of the mob. In the process, Rosenfield’s difficult wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), manages to get intertwined at all the wrong places at all the wrong times.

Director David O. Russell has definitely hit his stride with his past few films, solidifying himself as a writer/director to be reckoned with. This film expertly captures the gawdy era of the late 1970s, while carrying a very reminiscent feeling of a Martin Scorsese film from his heyday, especially Goodfellas and Casino. Hey, we even get a surprise cameo from Bobby D! 

The script is strong and has some surprising twists, it is shot beautifully and smartly, but where the film really shines is in its performances. Bale and Adams are absolutely superb, and Cooper and Renner are excellent supporting characters. Even from a physical perspective, Bale has completely transformed himself gaining some 65 pounds, and his New York accent is very impressive, especially knowing this is a Welshman playing the part.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and would highly recommend it. I think we’re going to see a lot of this one through the awards season.

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Greenberg (2010) Review

22 12 2013
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Copyright Focus Features 2010

★ ★ ★ 1/2

OK, I know I have neglected this site terribly, but I’m going to try my best to hop back on board with some regularity. Work, hobbies, social activities and just plain boring errands and such have literally eaten up most of my time as of late. However, in an effort to keep some form of consistency with the updates, I’m going to try to do “mini-reviews”. So, the new posts might not be as in depth as some of the old reviews, but at least there won’t be breaks of months on end.

OK, now on to Greenberg. After spending the better part of 30 minutes looking for something I either haven’t seen and/or was in the mood to see on Netflix, I came upon this quirky little flick. A Noah Baumbach film, I kind of knew what to expect going into it — your typical mumblecore, Woody Allen-lite pseudo-intellectual comedy-drama. And, guess what? That’s exactly what it turned out to be!

Ben Stiller plays the lead role of Roger Greenberg, a 40-something more-or-less unemployed ex-musician who just exited a mental hospital and is spending 6 weeks at his brother’s house in LA to focus on doing nothing. His brother, a wealthy hotelier is on vacation with the family in Vietnam, and LA also serves as Roger’s hometown, though he currently lives in New York, and seems to carry a New York-esque attitude about life in general.

His brother’s nanny/assistant, Florence, is played by stereotypical Baumbach-written female, Greta Gerwig — a slightly neurotic mid 20-something with low self esteem and seemingly no direction in life. As Greenberg revisits his old friends and former bandmates during his six week stay, he of course, begins a relationship of sorts with Florence that carries all the insecurities and road bumps of what we have come to expect from Baumbauch’s films.

I know I am weighing heavily on the stereotypical nature of this movie to its director’s style and canon; however, don’t get me wrong, Greenberg is not a bad film. It’s definitely not Baumbauch’s best work, but by no means bad. I enjoyed the film, and think anyone who has an affinity for oddball/neurotic romance films will enjoy. Yes, the main character of Roger Greenberg is fairly morose and pathetic to a degree, but Stiller’s performance helps you build enough empathy to accept him as a protagonist. 





Warm Bodies (2013) Review

15 06 2013
Warm_Bodies_Theatrical_Poster

Copyright 2013 Mandeville FIlms

★ ★ ★ ★

This was a film recommended by my girlfriend Maddie, and it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! I had never heard of the movie before, or the book for that matter, so I really didn’t even have a frame of reference as to what the film was about before we started watching it.

The movie was written and directed by Jonathan Levine, who directed the 2011 comedy/drama 50/50 with Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The screenplay is based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name. As strange as this sounds, the film is a romantic zombie comedy — pretty crazy, huh? Well, the novel take in this story on the zombie genre is that an actual zombie (Nicholas Hoult), who goes by “R” since he can’t remember his real name, is the protagonist. From my account, I’m not sure that a zombie film has ever taken this bold move; 90% of the time, the zombies are just the catalysts for the exploits of our living heros.

Anyway, R spends his days doing normal zombie stuff like roaming around, grunting and eating the living. However, deep inside of him, there is still a part of him that still feels like a living creature would and longs to be something other than a brain dead zombie. On the hunt for “food” one day, he catches the sight of Julie Grigio (Teresa Palmer), while eating her boyfriend’s brain I might add. Smitten by her, he saves her from the zombies, and brings her back to the airport where many of the zombies reside.

A friendship blossoms between them as she realizes that there is something underneath his undead outer appearance. As the story progresses, it begins to become apparent that he might not be the only zombie who feels something more than a desire for living human brains.

This is a very smart and well-written film. It’s fun to watch and constantly amuses, but is actually much deeper than that as a film, and in its social commentary on a higher level that people aren’t always what they seem. I highly recommend this movie and, so far, have found it one of my favorites of this year to date.





Forbidden Games (1952) Review

4 06 2013
Jeux_interdits

Copyright 1952 Silver Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I was in a pretty open mood as far as movies were concerned yesterday, one of those rare times where almost any genre would do. Due to a tight time frame, Maddie and I were looking for something under an hour and a half, so we settled on the 1952 French war drama Forbidden Games.

The film, based on the novel Jeux interdits by Francois Boyer, was directed by renowned filmmaker Rene Clement and was the winner of multiple awards including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film upon its release.

In 1940, during the German air assault of France, a crowded highway in the French countryside is bombarded. A young girl, Paulette (Brigitte Fossey), runs after her dog, Joch, after he jumps from her arms in fear of the bombs. Her parents pursue her in terror as the bombs and bullets fly down from overhead. In the aftermath, both of her parents and her little dog are slain. Alone and confused, she wanders from the dirge of people on the crowded highway into the wilderness with her deceased puppy in arms. Nearing a family farm, a young farm boy, Michel (Georges Pouljouly) finds her in the woods as he is wrangling a strayed cow. They make fast friends and he brings her back to his house. His poor family reluctantly agrees that she can stay, only out of disdain that the feuding neighbors might get rewarded for their patronage by taking her in their stead if they declined. Michel, who is schooled in his catechism quite well, tries to comfort the distressed Paulette over the loss of her parents and dog by explaining that people and pets can be buried in a cemetery under the rites of God and be accompanied by others so they won’t get lonely. The next day, they retrieve Joch from the woods where he was left, and bury him in the mill on the farm with a cross and last rites. Worried of his loneliness, young Paulette wants more animals for the cemetery and more and prettier crosses for their graves; Michel obliges and, perhaps, takes things too far resulting in renewed family strife.

There are a lot of powerful images in this film and scenes that are painfully realistic. Brigitte Fossey and Georges Pouljouly, just 6 and 12 at the time of filming, are tremendous on screen and have a wonderful chemistry together. Though much due needs to be given to these young actors, an almost equal amount needs to be given to Clement who would have had to have run a very nurturing and comfortable set to allow these young children to give the performances they gave. This film explores the innocence of childhood, especially in a time of chaos, and the very special bond between two children trying to cope with the circumstances surrounding them.

It’s always refreshing to see such a simple, yet moving story on the screen. Clement’s visual capture of the script was very unobtrusive, so the natural element of reality and humanism was preserved, which is what I think, makes this film such a powerful and moving movie to watch.





Cloud Atlas (2012) Review

30 05 2013

ImageIt has been some time since I have updated this blog and for that I sincerely apologize. Between work, a new hobby that has engulfed a lot of my time and resources (pinball collecting!) and life in general, I just haven’t taken the proper time to keep up with this blog. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching movies regularly. Movies have always and will always be a very important part of my life, and I am hoping that I can find the appropriate time to at least keep this blog up to a much better extent than I have over the past six to eight months. Enough apologies, on with the review!

Cloud Atlas is a film adaptation based on the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell. Somewhat famously, it has become the most expensive independent film to ever be released, having been produced for nearly $100 million outside of the studio system. The narrative structure follows six distinct and separate storylines over six different time periods, and was a co-production between the Wachowskis of Matrix fame and Tom Tykwer who helmed such films as Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior. By co-production, I mean this was very literally a co-production between the three, in that the script was written and re-written by all the involved, as well as the segments being  directed by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, respectively, with two totally separate crews working in parallel.

The separate storylines take place in the following times and places: The South Pacific Ocean, 1849; Great Britain, 1936; San Francisco, Calif., 1973; United Kingdom, 2012; Neo Seoul (Korea), 2144; and The Big Island, 2321. The characters in the respective storylines are portrayed by many of the same actors in different roles. Multiple performances are given by Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy and Zhou Xun, among others. Each storyline is separate of the others outside of the unifying theme that history can and will repeat itself, and that there is an interrelation between people, places, time and the decisions they make.

At nearly 3 hours and with much intertwine between the six stories, the film has polarized critics and managed to end up on both best and worst film lists of the year. With that distinction in mind, it is a bit of a difficult film to review for a wide audience, so I will have to be rather subjective in my approach. For me, there were individual stories I enjoyed more than others out of the six, but none of them failed to pique my interest. I was thoroughly engaged throughout the entirety of the film and actually really connected with the moral of the story and the brilliant multi-faceted performances from the main cast. In time, I could very easily see this film achieving a cult status, as many experimental films do that are originally shunned or misunderstood by the mainstream upon release.

If you don’t mind a narrative structure that interweaves heavily and is primarily held together by the overarching theme of the film, then I think you will really enjoy this movie. However, if turbulent story structure and disjointed parallel structure turns you off, then this is definitely not the film for you.





Shame (2011) Review

18 12 2012
Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

One of the few well regarded films of last year that I hadn’t yet gotten a chance to see. After literally months of two Netflix discs (yes, I still get discs because the selection on instant would piss me off if that was all I got) sitting on my kitchen counter unwatched, I finally sent in for some replacements — this film was one of the two that arrived. The other was Magic with Anthony Hopkins (a pretty scathing review forthcoming on that).

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a sex addict, in this NC-17 drama. A successful New York businessman, he spends his days at the office watching porn, his nights at home watching porn, masturbates incessantly and is constantly on the prowl for his next sexual encounter, whether that be through a random hookup or a paid escort. When his somewhat estranged musician sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), moves in with him out of despair, he finds her desire for a more meaningful relationship with him a hindrance on his routine sexual escapism.

This film is a very slow, yet well-paced study of an addiction that is not nearly as touched upon in mainstream media as many others. Brandon’s character and world are very ethereal, and the artistic approach of the film help elucidate this fantasy-esque overtone in its pace and cold visual style. Fassbender is excellent in the title role, a role which required a great degree of comfortability in the character, being that many sexual scenes are shown quite explicitly and nudity is prominent throughout. Carey Mulligan is wonderful (isn’t she always?) as his depressed sister who longs for a stronger relationship between herself and her brother.

There are a lot of things about this film that seem like they shouldn’t work so well on the surface, but yet, somehow they do. It’s a terribly interesting character study and a film that engrosses, even at its very deliberate and slow pace. I highly recommend this movie for anyone in the mood for a deep, intense drama; however, I will strongly warn of high sexual content and physical nudity that may offend or upset certain audiences.





Lincoln (2012) Review

9 12 2012
Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

★ ★ ★ ★

Catching up a bit here, so expect to see about 4-5 reviews over the next week or so. On Thanksgiving Day, right after a wonderful dinner with my family at Bermuda Run Country Club in Bermuda Run, N.C., my brothers, Maddie and I, went to see Lincoln at the theater.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring the always fantastic Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, Lincoln chronicles a very specific time in the 16th President’s tenure. The film begins in January, 1865, and continues through Lincoln’s assassination in April of that same year. The focus of the narrative heavily revolves around the passage of the 13th amendment, a revolutionary amendment to our Constitution that abolished slavery in America. Even without the presence of the southern states in Congress, the passage of this amendment was, surprisingly, still extremely difficult to pass in the House of Representatives. This was largely due to heavy opposition from the Democratic Party of the era (interesting how the Democrats of this time seemed the more conservative and the Republicans more liberal in their stance; a direct opposite of our current state in America today…) Though the passage of this amendment is the primary focus of the film, the viewing audience does get a glance into Lincoln’s private life during this time, as well as how efficient an orator and politician Lincoln could be through persuasion and motive.

The first part of this film was a bit slow for me. However, I quickly became engaged in the narrative, due largely to Day-Lewis’s magnificent portrayal of Lincoln. Without much reservation, I consider Day-Lewis one of the best and most well-rounded actors of our time. His credit list, though not large, encompasses an array of interesting and brilliant performances. I always look forward to his films, whether a brilliant opus like There Will Be Blood, or independent Irish films like Jim Sheridan’s wonderful dramas My Left Foot and  In the Name of the Father.

Spielberg, for me, sometimes gets unduly praise for his work. Yes, he is a brilliant director and has given us a wide range of amazing films; however, his praises sometimes go beyond a reasonable measure, in my opinion. This film, for me, was one of his better in recent years and, being a biographical period piece, something he seems to excel at. Likewise, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography was quite pretty, and though not the most visually stunning of his career, it was perfect ambience for this film.

I definitely see this film taking home some awards this year, and highly recommend it from both an entertaining and historical perspective.








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