REVIEW: American Hustle

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

American Hustle
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Eric Singer & David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence

Two cartoonishly ’70s-looking men stand in an art gallery gazing at a Rembrandt painting, or at least what one of them thinks is a Rembrandt painting.  The other guy, a con man played by Christian Bale, explains with his thick Brooklyn accent that it’s a fake.

“The guy who made this was so good, that it’s real to everybody.  Now, who’s the master: the painter or the forger?” he asks.

It’s as if director David O. Russell is speaking through Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) at this moment, pondering the question a little too sincerely.  American Hustle, his sleek and contagiously energetic latest endeavor, is also somewhat of a forgery. It’s being released nationwide the week before The Wolf of Wall Street, and I’m curious to see which one is more widely praised, the original Scorsese or this loving knockoff.

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REVIEW: The Hangover Part III

hangover-3-trailer

The Hangover Part III
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips & Craig Mazin (screenplay), Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (characters)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong

Is there any point in trying to look at The Hangover Part III as anything but a petulant piece of filth?  Of course the answer is no, but in a franchise built on uncompromising filth, that isn’t necessarily all bad.  Make no mistake, though: this is a very bad movie.  The story abandons the “What did we do last night?!” set up of the first two installments, and apparently can’t survive without it.

There are scenes of abduction and violence conducted with small crowds of people looking on in the background of the shots.  Several characters are shot and killed and the every men at the center of the story are hardly affected.  And yet, there is a kind of demented charm to this final installment as we get a sense that director Todd Phillips is almost daring us to try and make sense of a series built on sacrificing coherence for gross-out.  With the aid of his three main stars, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis, and a slew of others, he has created a movie that exists as a series of gags barely connected by anything other than familiar faces.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Silver Linings Playbook

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver

Silver Linings Playbook ends on the thrillingly odd culmination of a dance competition and an NFL football game, the result of a high stakes parlay bet between an obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan (Robert De Niro) and a rival gambler who favors the Dallas Cowboys (Paul Herman).  It is a fitting conclusion given that the rest of the movie, for all its seeming narrative conformity, is a rampant, lively piece of work that does what it wants, when it wants.

Part of the reason for this is that its two main characters, two damaged, mentally unstable people played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, do that as well and director David O. Russell is just trying to keep up with them. It could also be the other way around, though.  Russell has such a lively way with camera movement and atmosphere that the constant sense of motion and organized chaos seems exhausting. For the most part the performers, especially Lawrence, are more than up to the task.  She makes Tiffany such a force of nature that the miscasting of Bradley Cooper is barely noticeable.

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REVIEW: Silver Linings Playbook

silver-linings-playbook-review

Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver

Silver Linings Playbook ends on the thrillingly odd culmination of a dance competition and an NFL football game, the result of a high stakes parlay bet between an obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan (Robert De Niro) and a rival gambler who favors the Dallas Cowboys (Paul Herman).  It is a fitting conclusion given that the rest of the movie, for all its seeming narrative conformity, is a rampant, lively piece of work that does what it wants, when it wants.

Part of the reason for this is that its two main characters, two damaged, mentally unstable people played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, do that as well and director David O. Russell is just trying to keep up with them. It could also be the other way around, though.  Russell has such a lively way with camera movement and atmosphere that the constant sense of motion and organized chaos seems exhausting. For the most part the performers, especially Lawrence, are more than up to the task.  She makes Tiffany such a force of nature that the miscasting of Bradley Cooper is barely noticeable.

Like in Russell’s last movie, The Fighter, this is more of an ensemble effort than based off of a single performance.  It is about Pat Jr. (Cooper) recovering from a mental breakdown after catching his wife cheating and beating the other guy within an inch of his life, but it is also about his dad (De Niro) and mom (Jacki Weaver) coming to terms with his condition.  It forces an American family to confront mental illness, a bold thing to do in a country that increasingly resists that confrontation to its own detriment.

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On Location: Las Vegas

Immersion is the essence of cinema. Nobody famous or important that I know of said that, but someone probably said something similar at one point. I’m not even going to Google it; that’s how confident I am. But there’s truth to it— a movie can be as much about its setting as it can be about its story. Engaging the audience’s senses by building a relationship between the story elements and the setting is an undervalued art achieved by only masterful art directors and storytellers. Think of how cleverly and subtly Tim Burton exploits the Florida suburbs in Edward Scissorhands to provide thematic contrast for his character or how carefully Ben Affleck pans the Boston sky for his cop and crime dramas.

The relationship works both ways. Their stories and styles also influence the way we perceive places we haven’t yet been, or places we visit. Imagine going to the Empire State Building without thinking of scenes from King Kong or Spiderman. The Twilight series may be unbearable, but look what its done to romanticize our image of the Pacific Northwest and boost tourism in the region. Our idea of the Vegas strip wouldn’t be the same without great casino films like these.

This has been my personal introduction to our newest series: On location. In this series we will pick an iconic place and look at the movies that shaped our idea of that place as well as how the movie portraits the setting. First up: sin city.

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REVIEW: The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, & Todd Phillips (screenplay)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Justin Bartha

I swear I wrote this review a few days ago, but here goes nothing.  The Wolf Pack packs up for another wedding, this time Stu’s (Ed Helms), and go on another drunken rage, this time in Bangkok, Thailand.

If you thought their masculinity was under fire in the first installment, wait until you get a whiff of transvestite prostitutes and staff wielding monks.  They are strangers in a strange land, and xenophobia set in long before the plane landed.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Hangover

The Hangover
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (screenplay)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Justin Bartha

When you’re watching comedy, it’s interesting to pause for a moment and examine why a joke was intended to be funny.  What is the target of the joke, and who is it aimed at?  In mainstream Hollywood’s comedy, more often than not, you’ll find that answer to be pretty simple: masculinity is the target, and men are obviously the intended recipients as well as the writers, directors, and stars.

Rarely has this been more apparent than in Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, a runaway box office success and a raunchy male fantasy with a nasty aftertaste.  It takes that guy party in Vegas idea that zips through many films (Knocked Up is a recent example) and instead of devoting maybe 15 or so minutes, builds an entire movie out of it.

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