“Hustle” is Smart, Witty, Snappy and Definitely Likeable

The opening sequence of “American Hustle” bears an eerie resemblance to the first few minutes of another Christian Bale film. Yet, instead of the narcissist narration, the great hair and the killer abs, we’re introduced to a portly man with a combover and a very disco-themed sense of style: Irving Goffman. Definitely a far cry from Patrick Bateman.

Similarities are scattered about this movie. From a clear display of mental instability on the part of Bradley Cooper’s character to the use of dance as a way of furthering a romantic connection (from the ballroom scene in Silver Linings to the dizzying disco dance between Sydney and Richie in Hustle), we see some recurring themes from last year’s Silver Linings Playbook used well in this movie. Even the cameo of a certain Hollywood veteran is from the previous film.

But don’t get me wrong: American Hustle is not Silver Linings set in the 1970s meets Dicky Eklund. This is a whole other film, one that seems to have more personality, more flair, and (oddly) more cleavage. It’s a loose dramatization of the Abscam sting operation, an FBI bust during the late 1970s that led to the arrest of a number of congressmen and senators. The characters in the film are loosely based on real life people.

Bale and Amy Adams play con artist lovers who are caught by Cooper, the FBI agent, and forced to participate in the operation or face jail time. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s unpredictable wife Roslyn, and Jeremy Renner plays the innocent New Jersey mayor dragged into the fray that stains his career.

Both Adams and Lawrence play strong, unstable female leads. Many lauded Jennifer’s role in last year’s Silver Linings, yet she one-upped her previous role with Roslyn. It’s remarkable how well Adams has grown– from playing the air-headed princess in Disney’s “Enchanted”, she’s grown to portray a smart, sexy con artist with a hidden agenda. Adams has received numerous nominations before, but this role deserves due recognition. Let’s hope she gets it.

Despite the overwhelming physical transformation, many are saying this isn’t Christian Bale at his best. At some point, they’re right– yet overall they’re wrong. In Hustle, we’re treated once more to an immersive portrayal. We spend half the film seeing Bale in shades and only recognize him once those signature Batman eyes make an appearance towards the end of the film. He gives us what any actor should– a portrayal which sees him immerse himself into a whole other persona. An incredible sight to behold.

Honestly, Cooper has yet to get to award-worthy when it comes to his acting. But he’s getting there: Silver Linings is enough indication of that. Unfortunately Hustle was an almost-repeat of Silver Linings– the only difference being the hair, the time period and the occupation. I saw nothing new with him in this movie. Renner was almost forgettable, unfortunately– but the Jersey accent was legit (is he from there?).

Hustle’s narrative can be dizzying at first, but it falls right on its feet as the movie goes on. In medias res seems to be the new in thing in film for this year, as even 12 Years A Slave opts for the same technique. In terms of costume design, Hustle gets the look right and could almost be in close contention with Gatsby for the Best Costume Design trophy come March.

Overall, American Hustle is smart, snappy and pulls heartstrings when it can. David O Russell is on the way to becoming a Hollywood great with a distinct brand of filmmaking that seems to resonate well with the current generation. He doesn’t stick to one particular genre and instead makes movies that could easily be likened to life itself– complete with the good parts (comedy), the bad parts (drama) and everything in between.

Advertisements

Beautiful, Awkward, Realism in “Never Been Kissed”

“Never Been Kissed”

Drew Barrymore plays an ex-geek turned copy editor who is forced to relive her horrid high school days for the sake of a cover story in this lovable 90’s classic. All the cliche chic flick elements are in this film: the geek made over, the lovable build up between the two leads, and (sorry to spoil) the atypical happy ending. But why is it that this film seems to be so much better than its later counterparts? What is it about Never Been Kissed that makes it special, iconic… classic? Simple. The casting.

Instead of making the obviously stupid decision of casting Jessica Alba as Josie Geller, Barrymore takes the lead role, and plays it with every inch of awkward realism. It is this realism that makes us connect with her, that makes us root for her. After all, chic flicks are reserved for ladies in general, right? Another thing that adds to the mix is her unconventional beauty. Drew is no cookie cutter Hollywood geeky good girl: she’s every bit the real woman… and we couldn’t be happier.

The kilig moments in the film are well-timed, genuine and awfully realistic. In short, everything about this movie is real: save for the overly Hollywood-like ending that looks like it came right out of a football fan’s fantasy.

Never Been Kissed has become a chic flick staple because it caters to the awkward: a feeling so timeless and so real that every girl will never stop feeling it a thousand or so years from now. Another reason the film’s a classic is romantic innocence: yes people may get married and get into relationships here and there, but a handful of women are still NBSB (No Boyfriend Since Birth). These are the type of girls who’ve grown up on chic flicks and never gone on dates before; idealistic, innocent females who are unaware of what true romance feels like (an example of such: yours truly). The story of Josie Geller is a story these women can relate to at that point in their lives and eventually look back on once they’ve finally found the one. It’s a lovely tale oozing with sweetness and heart, a story that still resonates even until now.

 

“12 Years A Slave” Breaks the Fourth Wall in Heartbreaking Fashion

The slave trade seems to be a popular theme of late in Oscar-nominated films. Just last year, Quentin Tarantino-directed Django Unchained raked in one of the major acting trophies, with Austrian-German actor Christoph Waltz winning his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

This year’s slave trade film takes on a more dramatic note, telling the heartbreaking true story of Solomon Northup,  a free man who is kidnapped and forced into slavery for over a decade. Chiwetel Ejiofor takes on the role of Northup, alongside Michael Fassbender, Mary Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. Executive producer Brad Pitt makes a cameo appearance as a well-meaning Canadian carpenter.

Ejiofor is stellar as Northup, bringing so much genuine emotion and hurt to the role that we can feel his hurt through the screen. It isn’t every day that you find that in a film; especially one whose plot isn’t exactly personally relatable to yourself. Yet Ejiofor touches you emotionally, making you feel the hurt, the sorrow and the despair inside. It is simply a heartbreaking thing to behold.

Breakout Britons Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch provide strong supporting power with their performances, with Cumberbatch sporting a surprisingly convincing Southern accent (who knew?). Yet it is newcomer Lupita Nyong’o who has the ’emotion-through-the-screen’ act down to an art. Everything about her acting– from the eyes to the actions to the dialogue– everything about her exudes a raw, desperate hurt. There comes a point when you root for Patsy and wish that freedom came to her as well. (I’d rather not spoil). In her few minutes or so onscreen, Nyong’o gave a performance that stole the show, and is very, very deserving of the accolades she is receiving now.

What sets ’12 Years A Slave’ apart from other pro slavery-era films is that it chose to focus on the story of a single character. Most movies capture the slave trade era as a whole, barely choosing to center on the life of a particular slave. 12 Years A Slave gives us a whole new perspective of what happened during that dark period in American history– through the eyes of a man who was never even supposed to be a slave in the first place. That, among other things, is what makes this story so much more heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

If you’re in search of a movie that is, in itself, a cathartic experience– 12 Years A Slave is the perfect film for you. Expect stellar work, slight tears, well-written dialogue and a movie that is powerful enough to stay with you for years to come.

Almost Famous is “Almost Real”

Anyone familiar with the film’s director Cameron Crowe would agree that “Almost Famous” is, indeed, almost real… yet there’s more reality to this film than the autobiographical side of it. Crowe’s William Miller is the physical representation of the universal music fanboy, an idealistic teenager unaware of the unglamorous side of rock and roll. Just like any other doe-eyed listener, he loves what he hears and the world around it. But what does Miller really know about the music world? Nothing, until he encounters Lester Bangs and a backstage pass to a Black Sabbath concert. He’s just like the atypical fish out of water, thrown fin first into a world he’s never truly known beyond the confines of a vinyl record.

Some would say this coming of age plot seems too cliche to be true, but they’re wrong. It’s different, it’s unique and it’s sweetly ideal because of the mystical connection that music has with the youth.

We see this embodiment further itself in Penny Lane, a seventies-era flower child daring to defy the groupie archetype through the Band Aids. At some point, she fails at this… and seems to succeed almost ninety percent of the time. It is through her story that we see the film argue that there’s more to the glam world of rock and roll than sex (there’s barely any sex in this movie). Crowe does a great job of bringing this up, Hudson makes the idea come to fruitition almost flawlessly, her blonde hair and sunny aura completing the image of true glue: an almost maternal like figure that makes the band a family.

But at the end of the day, Almost Famous is an ode to more than its fans: its a love letter to what some could call a golden age in music. Peppered with memorable tracks from the era, from Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, raw music is the essence of this film– there’s no doubt about that.

Never has a film that has not been a musical exuded raw musicality like Almost Famous. Perfect for the aimless teenager, the idealistic music fan, or the aspiring journalist looking for an idea about life.