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
I would love to sit here and tell you all that The Bourne Legacy was just as good as any film in the original Damon trilogy, but, unfortunately, I can’t. While I did enjoy it, this is one of those films in which the bad or not-so-great outweighs the good.
*mild spoilers ahead*
The plot was weak and confusing; the entire first half of the film had me wondering what was happening, who was who, and why certain decisions were being made. While this wouldn’t have been a problem if all of my questions had been answered later in the film, most of them weren’t. I think that the film suffered from being set within the timeline of the original trilogy; references would have been fine, but this film takes place during and immediately after the third film, making things feel forced and a bit rushed. It would have been better to see the main character as a member of a completely separate, unrelated-to-Bourne project so that the film could be viewed less as a sequel and more as a continuation with a new focus.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the whole “chemically-altered super-human” part of the story…it worked for Captain America because he is a superhero set in a different universe with different rules than ours. While this type of chemical altering may eventually become reality in our own universe, it just feels silly in the context of the film; a super-human doesn’t have the same appeal as a highly-gifted and intensely-trained person in a non-superhero world.
I enjoyed Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, but I felt that the character’s “motivation” was not adequate enough to justify the full movie. It is not the attempt on his life that motivates him (at least, it doesn’t feel like it is), but, rather, his dependency on some pills distributed by the organization he works for that seems to push him into action; the entire middle portion of the film is watching Cross find a way to get his hands on some of these pills. I also had a problem with Rachel Weisz’s character, Dr. Marta Shearling, a woman who seems to take no issue with the fact that Cross is capable of fighting and killing with apparent ease…there’s not even a moment’s flicker of doubt as she continues on her journey with this violent man. In The Bourne Identity, Marie tried to run away from Jason Bourne when she found out who he was and what he was capable of, only staying because Bourne convinces her that she needs him to survive…for at least a little while. There’s a moment that is sort of like this in The Bourne Legacy, but it is subdued and less effective. She asks no questions and makes no attempts to flee.
Though the character wasn’t as fleshed out as he could have been in the script, Renner as Aaron Cross worked wonderfully as the follow-up to Damon’s Bourne. Renner plays the character with a resolve that almost makes you forgive the rocky motivations that Cross acts on. Edward Norton was excellent in this film. His character, Eric Byer, is in charge of cleaning up after the CIA’s “Treadstone” and “Blackbriar” programs (the programs that created/tried to kill Bourne, respectfully). He’s got a sharp tongue, a firm authority, and a sense of urgency that you can’t help but admire. Another bright part of the movie was the action; Jeremy Renner did a great job with the physical aspect of the character as well, giving us fight scenes that, while not as inspired as the first fights in The Bourne Identity, entertain without becoming too much of a good thing…with one exception. The last twenty minutes or so of the film consists of one overly gratuitous chase sequence…it just takes way too long.
Let’s face it: The Bourne Legacy had quite a – well – legacy to live up to. The original trilogy starring Matt Damon in the title role was excellent in terms of plot, character development, emotion, and action. Unfortunately, Legacy fell short in just about every regard, but just because it isn’t as good as the original trilogy doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable – because it is. The Bourne Legacy delivers plenty in the way of action and humor, and, after his brief screen time in The Avengers earlier this year and his supporting role in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, it was nice to see Jeremy Renner as the main protagonist. Boosted along by a fantastic score by James Newton Howard, The Bourne Legacy may disappoint die-hard fans of the original trilogy, but it is still a fairly entertaining summer action film that will please the average moviegoer.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for violence and action sequences
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by James Newton Howard, here!
1 Comment | tags: chadadada, chadlikesmovies, Edward Norton, hawkeye, James Newton Howard, jeremy renner, Matt Damon, mission impossible, mission impossible: ghost protocol, MPAA, Rachel Weisz, The Avengers, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Legacy | posted in 2, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies
When I first learned that James Newton Howard was to be composing the score, I was actually a little bit worried – not because of my lack of faith in Newton Howard as a composer, but because it’s such an opposite film from the kinds he normally composes for. When I think Newton Howard, I think beautiful, flowing melodies, rich orchestra, and perhaps a warm brass fanfare or two…I certainly don’t think “action film”. John Powell composed the scores for the original Bourne trilogy, so I was surprised that he didn’t return. Despite my reservations, however, Newton Howard did a splendid job.
I have two favorite things about this album: 1) the opening track, “Legacy”, contains the main theme for Bourne as heard in the opening track of The Bourne Identity‘s score, “Main Titles”; 2) the closing track is an updated version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways”, featuring a more orchestral accompaniment and the subtitle “Bourne’s Legacy”. “Extreme Ways” played in the end credits of all three Matt Damon Bourne films, so it’s nice to see it return.
Aside from those two tracks, much of this score is a lot more…”much-ier” than John Powell’s original scores. Newton Howard uses some of the same electronic orchestration, but he combines it with an orchestra in a way that is consistently action-packed and suspenseful. Whereas much of The Bourne Identity‘s score was a bit minimal, The Bourne Legacy‘s score features tracks like “Drone”, “High Powered Rifle”, and “Magsaysay Suite” that are much bigger and decidedly not minimal.
That’s not to say that Newton Howard sacrifices the kind of music I know him for in favor of this new, aggressive style. In fact, his traditional style of music is also featured throughout; in “You Fell in Love”, we hear a somber melody that starts dramatically in the low string part before the high strings take over and just about break your heart. Another track, “Aftermath”, opens with long, sustained strings that seem to emulate great loss or tragedy. This builds into a strong, full string orchestra that hints at a mission unfinished and more to come.
One thing I miss from The Bourne Legacy‘s score, though, is a consistent motif that is heard throughout the film that lets the audience know that something is either happening or about to happen. In Powell’s original score, you can hear what I’m talking about in the track “At the Bank”; this motif is catchy, prominent, and featured throughout, and it trains the audience to know that something awesome is going on when you hear it. There’s nothing like that (that I’ve noticed) in Newton Howard’s score, unfortunately.
Despite that small complaint, I’m overall pretty pleased with The Bourne Legacy‘s score. It keeps you sitting on the edge of your seat – or, if you’re standing, on your toes – throughout, and it supplies plenty of both compelling action and emotion, showing that this job is not just about killing people…it’s about finding who you are and doing something about it. James Newton Howard’s deviation from his normal style is refreshing and opens plenty of doors for both his career and for the continuation of the Bourne film series. This score definitely has me even more excited to see Jeremy Renner in the new film next week!
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
1. “Legacy” 2:40
2. “Drone” 4:15
3. “NRAG” 0:59
4. “You Fell in Love” 1:42
5. “Program Shutdown” 3:00
6. “Over the Mountain” 0:51
7. “High Powered Rifle” 2:50
8. “They’re All Dead” 2:48
9. “Manila Lab” 2:40
10. “Wolves/Sic Ric” 2:19
11. “Doctor of What?” 4:28
12. “Aaron in Chicago” 1:32
13. “Wolf Attack” 2:57
14. “Chem Talk” 1:35
15. “Flight 167” 3:30
16. “Aaron Run!” 1:08
17. “You Belong Here” 1:17
18. “Cognitive Degrade” 2:49
19. “17 Hour Head Start” 3:51
20. “Viralled Out” 0:58
21. “You’re Doing Fine” 1:18
22. “Simon Ross” 1:37
23. “LARX Tarmac” 1:45
24. “Magsaysay Suite” 3:04
25. “Aftermath” 2:49
26. “Extreme Ways (Bourne’s Legacy)” (Moby) 4:51
Total Length: app. 64 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of the film here!
3 Comments | tags: Bourne trilogy, chadadada, chadlikesmovies, James Newton Howard, Jason Bourne, jeremy renner, John Powell, Matt Damon, Soundtrack of the Day, soundtrackoftheday, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Legacy | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
When I first learned of this film in the year or two before its release, I kind of ignored it; traditionally, I’m not a huge superhero movie fan, with Batman being an exception. But as time went by and the final Marvel movies leading up to The Avengers were released, I had a revelation: five superheroes from five completely different movies (plus two extra heroes who were mixed in) were going to be on the big screen together in the same film AT THE SAME TIME. I realized how incredible that was and instantly became a time bomb, ticking away the time as the release grew closer and closer. And it didn’t disappoint.
The Avengers succeeds in just about every possible way a film can succeed. The characters were likable and believable despite their unbelievable abilities, the villain was fantastic, and the script was fun and smart. Tony Stark is back as Robert Downey, Jr. – wait…strike that, reverse it – with hilarious one-liners, Chris Hemsworth as Thor is a better character than he was in his own movie, Chris Evans returns as a fantastically conflicted Captain America, and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is ten times the villain he was in Thor.
I’m not going to delve too far into the movie, but there is one thing that I DO have to talk about: The Hulk. After two previous films based around the character that were mediocre at best, The Avengers finally got our big angry green guy right. Joss Whedon was smart enough to make Banner/Hulk not someone who tries to avoid being angry but instead someone who embraces his anger and has fun with it. There are three extremely satisfying moments with the Hulk: when he first transforms in NYC, when he punches Thor, and when he smashes Loki. Mark Ruffalo also might be my favorite Bruce Banner so far, which is an added bonus. The Hulk just might have been the best character in this film.
So, how good is this film? Let me put it this way – I’ve seen it four times, and I have friends who have seen it more times than that. I could ramble on and on about how great this film was, but I’ll let you see it and decide for yourselves. Everything about this movie is great; if you don’t enjoy it at least a little bit, you must not like fun very much. Go check it out!
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
7 Comments | tags: black widow, Captain America, chris evans, chris hemsworth, hawkeye, hulk, Iron Man, ironman, jeremy renner, joss whedon, loki, mark ruffalo, rdj, robert downey jr, scarlett johansson, The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, tom hiddleston | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies