Monday, January 20, 2014

American Hustle

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Basically, just from the cast alone, I wanted to see this movie ever since the first trailer premiered.  Anyone who reads my blogs knows I love a good ensemble cast, of course a great one is even better.  I love it when the great ensemble has a dynamic that radiates from the screen and play off each other like a perfectly tuned piano.  Individually, these are a supremely talented group of actors.  As an ensemble, they are good, but not great.  The movie is also good, but not great.

The plot behind American Hustle can be a little complicated to explain but I will give it the old college try.  A businessman (Christian Bale) and his beautiful British partner (Amy Adams) are forced to team up with an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to pull off an elaborate con in order to capture some of New Jersey's most powerful politicians in a twisted, yet comical plot filled with greed, corruption, and a double-cross around every corner. If you haven't seen this yet, make sure when you do to pay close attention to the details.  Yes, it is one of those movies but as long as you pay close attention, the very loaded plot will definitely make sense to you.  The story line is actually very cool and well written and the late 1970's setting was also a very big selling point with me.  Of course too, there was the music, love the music from that era. 

The beginning was a bit slow for me and took a little time getting off the ground.  Towards the middle of the 2 hour 18 minute long film, it started to get interesting and the various plot lines began to come together.  Even though it is considered comedy (it did win Best Picture Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes), I call it a dramedy.  There were plenty of times me and my movie buddy laughed but there were also an equal amount of oh sh*# or oh no she/he didn't moments, including the ending.

Finally, the part I love to write on, the performances.  There is no doubt this is a great cast of actors, even a couple of surprise cameos I wasn't expecting.  Amy Adams and Christian Bale stole the show and were definitely the stand-outs in this film.  Their performances were flawless portraying characters that fit perfectly together and I was very convinced by them.  They most definitely deserve their Best Actor/Actress nominations.  The other major players, not so much.  Bradley Cooper's Richie DiMaso is much of the comic relief on the movie and he does a very good job but it's an uneven performance.  In the beginning of the movie, I was already thinking there really could have been some one better cast in the role.  However, he does get better as the movie goes on.  Maybe that is because of the writing or the storyline getting better and deeper.  This also is the case with Jeremy Renner's Mayor Carmine Polito.  Renner is a great actor (he was AMAZING in The Hurt Locker and The Town), but I was picturing someone else in the role.  I cannot put my finger on exactly who it could be but it's just not him.  Finally, there is the unstoppable Jennifer Lawrence, who at the age of 23 is already on her third Academy Award nomination, with a win last year for Silver Linings Playbook.  Her tour-de-force performance in the exceptional dark family drama, Winter's Bone put her on the map and now she is Hollywood's sweetheart.  Now, her portrayal as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the woman who nearly brought the whole operation to it's knees, was awesome. She was naive, heartfelt, emotional, and even funny throughout the movie but it was very similar to Cooper's.  At first, she was okay but during the movie, it was like she was growing into her character as we watched and it was very interesting.  I didn't find her convincing during the beginning but was definitely drawn in in the last hour and a half.  It's no secret the girl has a bright future ahead of her.

This film is far, far from being a stinker but I really would have not paid the $8.50 if I weren't trying to watch all of the Oscar nominated movies.  I am glad I saw it, the writing is solid, love the costumes and of course the 1970's backdrop is very groovy.  There are some very noteworthy scenes.  But alas, unless you are watching the award contenders like myself, don't get hustled or conned into the theater prices, wait for the very cheap rental.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

The Wolf of Wall Street

*Just FYI, this review is just about the movie and not about the actual person or persons involved in the real story. I was not there and I did not live any of it.*

Nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Debauchery. Obscenities. Sex. Drugs. Lewd and lascivious behavior. Corruption.  Lets face it, these are the basic characteristics of any great Martin Scorsese picture.  However, in The Wolf of Wall Street, all of these and every other facet of awful and indecent human behavior is heightened to exponential heights, and I loved it, for entertainment purposes only of course.

The flow of the movie is very Casino-esque, another Scorsese masterpiece.  It starts out with the main character, not really in any big event like a car explosion as was the case with DeNiro's Sam Rothstein, but he was doing what he did best, extreme adult debauchery.  There are flashbacks jumping all about to set up the story and the characters.  But the flashbacks are not annoying in the least, they are very necessary in a 180-minute Scorsese picture.

It turns out that the wolf  is an actual person who exists named Jordan Belfort, who became a stockbroker in the late 1980's and shot to fame on Wall Street earning insane amounts of money, all the while living an even more insane lifestyle.  Belfort took the rock and roll way of living and lived it 100-fold over a very short period of time.  If it could be snorted, ingested, or smoked, he was doing it.  If there was a hooker within a mile radius, he was doing her, or snorting off of her.  However, the man had the money to do these things and even an absolutely gorgeous wife at home in their Long Island mansion.  But, Belfort and his business partner Donnie, soon find out, when you are making so much money that you can throw it in the garbage and not bat an eyelash, it will turn the heads of the wrong people.  The wrong people for them was the FBI.  Ok, I've already said too much (or have I?).  If you haven't seen it yet and you are reading this, you are going to think I have told too much of the plot. But just go and see it because trust me, you will experience sensory overload.

When it comes to the performances, all I've got to say is #@!%&()+!!!!!! (I am trying to improve my language on here which is ironic since I am writing about a film that drops the f-bomb 569 times).  When I wrote earlier about the indecent human behavior taken to exponential heights, this rings true about the performances, which the actors took way beyond that. The first actual great performer in the movie, believe it or not, is the small but pivotal (and from what I understand, heavily ad-libbed) role of Mark Hanna played brilliantly by the recently new and improved Matthew McConaughey.  You can see much of it in the trailer.  Jonah Hill (Belfort's business partner Donnie Azoff)  has certainly come a long way since Superbad and Knocked Up.  He has had a string of box office hits and is now riding high on his second very well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (see Moneyball).  There is a particular scene in the movie (I call it the Quaaludes on steroids scene) between him and DiCaprio's character that is so well played out, so intense yet a little funny at times, but so awesomely done by the actors that it still gives me chills to this day.  I mean, for all you who have seen it, you would agree with me, that whole scene had to hurt them physically and emotionally. After it was over, I just wanted to stand and yell Bravo!!  Australian actress Margot Robbie is an absolute revelation as Belfort's knock-out of a wife, Naomi, but whose performance is equally knocked right out of the park.  She keeps doing what she is doing in this film, there is a long, substantial career for her.  I have to say, THANK YOU! to the casting gods for putting Rob Reiner in this movie as Belfort's grouchy father.  We see a side of him on film that hasn't been seen in a long time, and all I have to say is, the man has not lost it at all!!  I would have liked to have seen a nomination for him also.

Ahhhh, then there was Leonardo.  As far as I am concerned, he will always get his own paragraph.  I had to look back just now to remind myself but earlier in 2013 (see The Great Gatsby), I referred to him as the "magnetic, titanic force that is Leo" for his portrayal of Jay Gatsby, which I also called "the performance of the year."  Seeing as this is a 2013 movie, make that two performances of the year and still, hand that man a trophy dammit! (Oops, sorry had to drop one in there)  I also think that magnetic, titanic force still rings true.  Actually, I think if I write anything else about him, it could come off as a man crush or maybe even obsessive. Okay, I can deal with man crush.

If you are easily offended and your face turns into a strawberry at the sight of a naked lady, then do not go and see this movie.  It was nearly rated NC-17, which is safe to say also, it is only for adults.  However, for the rest of us, get your butt to the theater.  But don't worry, this wolf is not the scary, four legged kind, although he does foam at the mouth sometimes.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.