One of the most celebrated films of 2013 is David O. Russell’s American Hustle, his follow-up to 2012’s critically-acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook (my review). It took me a while to catch this one in theaters just because of the business of winter break and then transitioning back into school, but I was glad to get the chance to check it out.
American Hustle introduces itself with the cheeky disclaimer “Some of this actually happened.” The movie is based on facts, yes, but how much these facts are stretched or not is unclear and are ultimately unimportant. The story focuses around Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a con artist who works with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), or, using her “business” name, Lady Edith Greensly. The two of them have a relationship together, but it is complicated by the fact that Rosenfeld is married to Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), with whom he has a son. When Rosenfeld and Prosser are caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), they strike a deal to help DiMaso score four more arrests in exchange for their amnesty. They set up a sting operation on corrupt politicians, implicating Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the mayor of Camden, New Jersey. However, they soon get in with the wrong people, so they must do everything in their power to maintain their subterfuge or else the operation – and their lives – might be in danger.
The best word I can use to describe this movie is “fun.” The characters are fun, the dialogue is fun, the music is fun, the subterfuge is fun…you get the idea. The whole film is just one big ride that I was happy to go along with. Just like Silver Linings Playbook, the dialogue is king, with everything being presented fast-paced, but never too fast. My favorite two characters and the stars of the film, in my opinion, are Christian Bale as Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Prosser. Their chemistry is believable and fun, and their abilities to cooperate together to trick people out of their money is detestable in theory but amusing to watch in action. I was surprised by the charisma of Jeremy Renner, who, up until now, has always seemed a bit grumpy or subdued in his roles. It’s not his problem – it’s just the face he has and the roles he’s been in in the past. But here he shines, with smiles abound and energy flowing out of him freely.
Unpopular opinion: I didn’t care much for either Bradley Cooper as DiMaso or Jennifer Lawrence as Mrs. Rosenfeld. Sure, they both had their moments of brilliance, but the majority of the time it seemed that they were just trying to hard…or, in Lawrence’s case, not trying hard enough. I’ve seen “JLaw” in several roles by now, and she’s outstanding in each of them…except for this one. Not to say that she’s not good, just that she didn’t blow me away for once.
Despite its energy, the movie did start to feel a little long by the time we reached the end of it. However, I loved the overall feel of the film, and the 70s soundtrack was extremely entertaining; I have a strange affinity for 70s music, so I was singing along to myself in the back of the theater for the majority of the movie. American Hustle does have its problems – listen to Episode 78 of The MovieByte Podcast to hear me discuss these more in-depth with my friends TJ and Mikey – but I had too much fun watching these characters to be too upset by any lack of quality in other aspects.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: R – for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence
1 Comment | tags: amy adams, Bradley Cooper, christian bale, david o. russell, jennifer lawrence, jeremy renner, moviebyte, silver linings playbook, the moviebyte podcast | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music
Note: As always, this will be as spoiler-free as I can make it. If the need arises, I will warn of spoilers before they are given.
Superman is not my favorite character. I have never much cared for the character, whether it was just a lack of interest or a disdain for the character’s so few weaknesses. Admittedly, I am not entirely familiar with the comics, having only read the original Shuster/Siegel Superman comic from Action Comics vol. 1 #1 from 1939 and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics vol. 2 #1 for DC’s New 52 revamp. I have seen one or two of the older Christopher Reeve Superman films, but, aside from the few flashes of those films that I remember, Superman Returns (2005), and the two comics I have read, I just don’t know much about the character. All that goes to say that you should take my opinion of Superman as a character with a grain of salt. Anyway, despite all of this, I was anxious to see Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel because it is the first live-action reboot of the character in film since Christopher Reeve donned the suit in 1978’s Superman, and I hoped that it would change my opinion – or, at least, my interest – in Superman. Having seen the film, I can definitely say that I am now interested.
As I mentioned, Man of Steel is a complete reboot of the character in live-action film, so this film acts as an origin story for the character. We are introduced to his parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer, respectively), and we witness Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) escape with the aid of his parents while General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup against the Kryptonian government in anticipation of the looming demise of the planet due to its unstable core. Kal-El escapes to Earth, where he is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and Zod and his followers are banished to something called the Phantom Zone (according to this Wikipedia page, it is “a fictional prison dimension featured in the Superman comic books”) before the planet’s destruction. The rest of the film follows Kal-El/Clark Kent’s (played by Henry Cavill) quest to discover who he is meant to be. He comes across familiar faces such as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), and he must decide who he is going to be in order to save the people of Earth from the wrath of Zod, who has come to take his revenge.
This movie avoids the convention of most superhero origin stories by interspersing Superman’s childhood with the present-day, only flashing back to those important moments that featured a moral decision that helped to make him the man he is today; in other words, the origin story is told in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins (my review) is told, which makes sense because Nolan produced this film while the screenwriter, David S. Goyer, wrote the scripts for both this and Batman Begins. That being said, this in no way feels like a rehash of Nolan’s earlier work, and the feel of the two films are completely different. This Superman movie is not by any stretch of the imagination a “gritty” reboot, a term which has often been used to describe Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Rather, it is a more grounded interpretation of the world’s first superhero…with “grounded” being a figurative term since we see quite a bit of flying to be enjoyed. The universe is more optimistic, the character is not haunted by his past in the same way that Bruce Wayne is, and the film as a whole is much more fun.
The first three-quarters or so of this film are much more of a character study than anything else. We don’t see Superman flying around in his suit saving the world, but we see a suit-less Clark Kent travelling the world, helping people however he can, trying to find his purpose on Earth. He is faced with moments of anger and must decide whether to throw a punch or walk away, and he is confronted with the imminent death of innocent people and must decide whether to save them and reveal his powers or let them die and keep his secret. These moments always feel very honest and quite intimate. Henry Cavill does at great job at playing Superman; not only does he look the part, but he plays the character with the proper innocence, conviction, and nobility. Amy Adams as Lois Lane brings an interesting spin to the character, as she’s no longer the damsel-in-distress type, but rather the type who will travel the nation on a scoop and will be a part of the action instead of a simple observer of it. Lane has a palpable confidence in herself, and her relationship with Superman feels genuine. Michael Shannon as Zod is fantastically maniacal, though he plays so much more than a madman; as the character explains later in the film, he is a man who has had all purpose in his life stripped away, an argument that brings a compelling moral perspective to the discussion of right versus wrong or, rather, good versus evil. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent is an admirable father figure, helping Clark to make sense of his powers and what he is meant to be. In short, the entire cast does a fine job, including the lesser-known cast that makes up the military personnel and Zod’s followers.
The last quarter of the film has me conflicted. Basically, it turns into an all-out superhuman boxing match, with Metropolis as the ring. Sounds awesome, right? Well, parts of it are, but parts of it are just entirely gratuitous. I mean, I’m talking more buildings destroyed by two Kryptonians than were destroyed in New York by the six Avengers and an entire army of hostile aliens in 2012’s The Avengers (my review)! I understand the need for an all-out super-battle for these characters, but leveling a city seems like the wrong way to go about it…I just don’t see what it accomplishes. I have also heard of controversy over Superman’s decision at the end of this battle (if you’ve seen the film, you know what I am talking about), but here’s my opinion: it was led up to appropriately and seemed like a realistic outcome to an impossible situation. Whether the decision is out-of-character for the comics version of Superman or not is irrelevant because this is a new movie version of Superman, not the comics. The entire film is about him making moral decisions and having to choose to preserve Earth or to preserve Krypton, and this final decision seemed to me to be an appropriate climax.
One final aspect of note is the Christian allegory present in the film. Superman has always been seen as a Messianic figure; like Jesus, he was sent to Earth by his father to eventually become a sort of savior for mankind, though, of course, this is a different sort of savior. There are all sorts of references to the story of Christ, from Jor-El’s statement at the start of the film (“He will be a god to them”) to Jonathan Kent’s statement later (“You have another father who gave you another name. He sent you here for a reason”). At one point, Clark asks his Earth-father why God set him apart and gave him powers, and at another point he asks a priest for advice on how to approach the situation at hand. These parallels are well-done and give us Christians at least another reason to admire Superman as a character.
Overall, this movie is quite a bit of fun and is largely what I was hoping for. The ending fight may be a bit over the top for me, but the slower parts of the film are just along the lines of what I wanted: a Superman who isn’t absolutely sure of himself or his abilities, a Superman who is still trying to find his place in the world. There is no gimmicky kryptonite to weaken our hero, but he is instead given a worthy opponent who can match him punch for punch and make him question his sense of right and wrong. Nothing feels like a rehash of what has already been done, bringing a new breath of life to a franchise that really needed it. Henry Cavill is a wonderful Superman, and, with Hans Zimmer’s incredible score accompanying him, Man of Steel gives us (or at least me) the Superman film we’ve been waiting for.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer, here!
4 Comments | tags: action comics, amy adams, ayelet zurer, batman begins, batman trilogy, brandon routh, christian, Christianity, Christopher Nolan, christopher reeve, clark kent, daily planet, david s. goyer, diane lane, general zod, grant morrison, gritty, grounded, henry cavill, jerry siegel, jesus christ, joe shuster, jonathan and martha kent, jonathan kent, jor-el, kal-el, kevin costner, krypton, kryptonian, kryptonite, lara lor-van, laurence fishburne, lois lane, man of steel, martha kent, messiah, messianic, metropolis, michael shannon, new 52, perry white, phantom zone, richard donner, russell crowe, Superman, superman returns, wikipedia, zack snyder | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
2012 was a fantastic year for film, and, for the first time, I’ve seen a majority of the nominated films, including all nine Best Picture nominees, all five Best Animated Feature nominees, all five Best Live Action Short Film nominees, and all five Best Animated Short Film nominees. I also own and have listened through all five nominated Best Original Scores. Needless to say, I feel relatively prepared enough to type out my own predictions list for this year’s Academy Awards, with a little help from various other people’s lists in the technical area. Just to clarify, though: this does not necessarily reflect my personal favorites (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen Mychael Danna’s score to Life of Pi for Best Original Score), but it instead shows what I actually think will win.
I’ll give commentary for the first six awards and will simply list the rest.
P.S. If something is linked, it’s a link to my personal review of that material, if you’re interested in reading.
Best Picture: Argo
When I first decided that I was going to type up one of these, I argued with myself for a long time over whether or not Argo would win the Oscar for Best Picture, but now I’m almost positive. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, there have only been three instances ever when the winner of the Best Picture Award did not also win the Best Director Award, so, since Ben Affleck isn’t nominated for Best Director, I was leaning more toward Lincoln/Spielberg for the Best Picture/Director awards, but Argo has gotten enough steam built up behind it to snatch the Oscar, and rightfully so.
Best Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Had he been nominated, I think that Ben Affleck would have won this award for directing what is sure to win Best Picture, Argo, but, since he’s not, Spielberg seems to be the best choice. He has a long history of bringing us excellent films, and Lincoln was no exception. However, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Ang Lee received the award for directing Life of Pi, but I don’t expect that’ll happen.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
I wasn’t able to see The Master, but of the other four nominees there is no doubt that all four actors did fantastic jobs in their respective roles, but I think that Day-Lewis will take the cake after his incredible portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s latest film. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get the award, but, if I had to make a second guess, it’d be for Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
I may have this one completely wrong, as Jessica Chastain also seems to be a popular pick for her role in Zero Dark Thirty (which I don’t agree with), but I think that Lawrence was the definitely the best of those nominated. I must admit to not having seeing The Impossible, but I’m pretty sure that the winner will be either Lawrence or Chastain, and my hope is for Lawrence.
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained
I’ve changed my mind about four times while trying to write this because both Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz in Django Unchained and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln were fantastic and are deserving of the Oscar. However, I do believe that Waltz’s performance shines just a bit brighter than Jones’, putting him at least slightly ahead in my book.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
I am almost completely confident that Anne Hathaway will win this award. While Sally Field was a great Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacki Weaver did a fine job in Silver Linings Playbook (I haven’t seen The Master or The Sessions, but I’m sure that Amy Adams and Helen Hunt were great as well), but I think that Hathaway’s stunning performance of the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” is reason enough to justify her receiving the Oscar.
Best Writing – Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke for Amour
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio for Argo
Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
Best Documentary – Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Best Documentary – Short Subject: Open Heart
Best Live Action Short Film: Curfew
Best Animated Short Film: Paperman
Best Original Score: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi
Best Original Song: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth for “Skyfall”
Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty
Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables
Best Production Design: Les Misérables
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Misérables
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Best Film Editing: Argo
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Leave a comment | tags: Abraham Lincoln, Academy Awards, adele, alan arkin, amour, amy adams, ang lee, anna karenina, anne hathaway, argo, ben affleck, best actor, best actress, best adapted screenplay, best animated feature, best animated short film, best cinematography, best costume design, best director, best documentary feature, best documentary short, best film editing, best foreign language film, best live action short film, best makeup and hairstyling, best original score, best original screenplay, best picture, best production design, best sound editing, best sound mixing, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best visual effects, Bradley Cooper, bryan cranston, chris terrio, christoph waltz, curfew, daniel day-lewis, django unchained, helen hunt, i dreamed a dream, jacki weaver, jennifer lawrence, jessica chastain, john goodman, les mis, les miserables, life of pi, Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, michael haneke, open heart, Oscars, paperman, paul epworth, predictions, president, quentin tarantino, Sally Field, searching for sugar man, silver linings playbook, skyfall, Steven Spielberg, thaddeus stevens, the master, the sessions, tommy lee jones, wreck it ralph, zero dark thirty | posted in Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
This is a film that I had anticipated for a month or two before its release, but, for some reason or other, I never saw it in theaters. I’d never seen a Clint Eastwood film before (unless you count the brief snippet of A Fistful of Dollars that appears in Back to the Future Part II!), and the only film I’d seen Justin Timberlake in was The Social Network, so it was interesting for me to get familiar with a couple of unknown (to me) actors. However, the ending result was disappointing.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, an old baseball scout who dislikes change and is beginning to have trouble with his eyes, which is a problem when he is asked to scout a potential new player in North Carolina. His daughter, Mickey Lobel, played by Amy Adams, is a successful lawyer who accompanies her father on this scouting job, hoping to help him keep his job and to possibly mend a rough relationship between the two of them. Along the way, they run into Johnny Flanagan, played by Justin Timberlake, an ex-pitcher who was once scouted by Gus himself, who is now scouting for a rival team and takes an interest in Mickey.
Trouble with the Curve struggles with getting the audience to connect with its characters. When Mickey tries to talk with Gus about their rocky past, it’s sudden and almost out of place; there is nothing to make me sympathize with her or to make me angry at Gus for pushing her aside when she was a little girl. Despite Amy Adams’ best efforts, I feel no connection with her character, though she’s certainly a talented actress. I think most of the issue is to blame on the script and her opposing male leads: Clint Eastwood may have once been a great actor, but that appears to have left him with age. His character is flat and uninteresting, and the lack of inflection or variation in his role is upsetting. At least he can blame old age, though…Justin Timberlake’s character is just as bland as Eastwood’s in spite of the fact that Timberlake is certainly likable (I thought he was fantastic in The Social Network), and he has an unusual talent of showing up wherever Gus and Mickey tend to be. In addition to these acting issues, I take issue with the script and the title: the story is convoluted, the relationship between Gus and Mickey just doesn’t work very well in the context of the job at hand, and I have no idea how the title is supposed to connect to their relationship. There is an obvious connection between the title and an event that takes place in the last bit of the film, but I just don’t “get” what relevance a curve or curve ball has to the Gus/Mickey father/daughter relationship as presented in the film.
I didn’t dislike everything about this film, though. As I said before, Amy Adams is certainly a talented actress, and she manages to shine through the film’s issues at least a little bit. There were also several instances of humor that didn’t feel out of place or overcooked, which helped to balance out some of Eastwood’s aged performance – with a performer like Eastwood, filmmakers are able to give him a good one-liner that just puts everything at ease for a moment while you laugh.
This was a film that I desperately wanted to love. I really enjoy Amy Adams and I really enjoy baseball, so I thought that a combination of the two would work really well, and, while it didn’t completely fail, it was still lacking in many ways…it fell short of what it could have been, and most of that could be blamed on the script rather than on the actors. Eastwood is old, and, as much as we want such a well-known actor to keep going strong, I think it’s just about time for him to throw in the towel. I enjoyed Trouble with the Curve overall, but its failures can’t be overlooked.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking
1 Comment | tags: amy adams, Back to the Future, back to the future part 2, back to the future part ii, BTTF, clint eastwood, justin timberlake, trouble with the curve | posted in 2, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies
I am a big Muppets fan. Even in college, Muppet Treasure Island has been a movie that my roommate and I watch (and sing along to) on a regular basis. When I learned that a new Muppets movie was being made, I was more excited than a college student should be for a movie starring puppets, but that didn’t stop me from counting down the months as the release grew closer and closer. I had high expectations from The Muppets, and guess what? They were met and even exceeded.
I saw The Muppets on Thanksgiving Day with my family, Andrew, and his parents. From start to finish, Andrew and I couldn’t stop laughing. The humor that has been a part of the Muppets ever since their original inception by Jim Henson was just as present now as it was then, and the characters are still just as lovable as ever. Walter is a fantastic addition to the same familiar characters we grew up with, Jason Segel and Amy Adams were entertaining and fun, and Chris Cooper as the villain was fantastic; it’s like he was born to be villain to a talking frog. The songs ranged from touching to hysterical to nostalgic, and the fourth wall was broken spectacularly…nobody breaks the fourth wall as well as the Muppets do.
Filled with pop culture references out the wazoo (the Indiana Jones franchise, Neil Patrick Harris’ knack for hosting things, and even previous Muppet movies are all referenced, among other things), a story that is both touching and hilarious, and songs that will get stuck in your head for quite a long time, The Muppets is a film worthy of being included in the Muppets canon. It was everything I wanted it to be and more…thank you, Jason Segel, for this movie.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG – for some mild rude humor
Leave a comment | tags: amy adams, chadlikesmovies, chris cooper, fozzie, jason Segel, jim henson, kermit, muppets, piggy, the muppets, walter | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Various