Tag Archives: film

Look at That Perm! Look at That Paunch! American Hustle is Good Con Fun

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               American Hustle is like Goodfellas with more women, less violence, and a lot more humor. If I didn’t know it was David. O Russell who directed this fantastic piece of work I’d think it to be a dead ringer for a Scorsese flick.

        As the movie opens it’s narrated in similar fashion to Goodfellas by protagonists Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) and has the same winning combination of mobster/con/showmanship variety that has made that movie a classic.

            The film follows Irving and Sydney as they are one day nabbed by the F.B.I for conning people out of loans (something they never explain very well) and are then forced to work for eccentric Richie DiMaso (a permed Bradley Cooper) who forces them to work with the F.BI. to nab white collar criminals. The biggest case they work on mostly consists of them trying to bribe a politician (Jeremy Renner) with the promise of cash from a sheik who would like to invest in the New Jersey area. There is no sheik of course, but throughout the film we see each characters basic outside motivations at work against their inner, hidden agendas of which we can only guess. Some are obvious, like DiMaso who sees this case as the chance to make a name for himself and others are more hidden. Has Sydney fallen in love with DiMaso or is she conning him? Has Irving been conning her all along? After all Iving still refuses to leave his unpredictable and explosive wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) or does he really care for both?

            It’s overt and not very subtle in the film but the whole idea of the “American Hustle” is on full display throughout the film. Meaning, each character is basically doing what they need to do to survive and hustle their way out of either jail or to make a living or a career. Some of them are egotists, some are shady, and most are both. Jeremy Renner’s Carmine Polito is a congressman with dubious ethical stances with regards to bribes, and yet at the same time, genuinely sees the possibility of a revived Atlantic City and the possibility of the creation of thousands of jobs as a wonderful thing for his state and city.  He really does care. Irving loves Sydney but wants to do right by his son and Rosalyn even though he probably should’ve left them a long time ago. “The Power of Intention Irving!” You’ll get it when you see it. Jennifer Lawrence is so great. Too bad I’m married. Or that I would have absolutely no chance either way.

            Anyways, it’s a fun film with excellent performances, if a bit surfacey. Sometimes I forget how great of an actor Christian Bale is and in American Hustle he’s barely recognizable with a stout paunch and a hideous comb-over. I read an article in Slate the other day about how Christian Bale was the opposite of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bale transforming his body for roles by gaining weight or losing weight or getting ripped, and yet still sounding similar, and Hoffman, who barely changed his appearance at all and yet managed to don completely different characters and role from movie to movie.  Everyone’s great though and it’s by far the most fun film of the year even if it’s not the best.

            Check the Slate article out here: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2014/02/philip_seymour_hoffman_death_remembering_an_actor_who_could_do_everything.html

 

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Before You Do Anything Else, Watch These Movies.

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I just finished watching the “Before” trilogy with my friend Tim who works for Sundance. For those unfamiliar it includes the films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I had heard of these movies in passing but never given them much thought. I think I had read a review of Before Midnight since it just premiered at Sundance here in Utah last year, but from what little I heard of the films I knew that people liked them but they sounded, to be honest, not very interesting. I had been on a David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick kick, watching really “weird” movies.

            But, let me just tell you as objective as is possible, these movies are incredible. They stick with you in the way a good novel does, they sink beneath your skin with their whimsy, depth, and beautiful dialogue. In fact, this piece is not so much of a review, as pure praise and a plea to go see these films.

            The premise is quite simple. In fact very little plot at all flows through the first to the third film. Think of it as the opposite of Inception. Scenery and plot exist primarily as a vehicle for the romantic, wandering, and endearing dialogue between two human beings.

            The first film introduces characters Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) travelling on a train in Europe. Jesse is on the way to Vienna to catch a flight home to the U.S. after a break up and two subsequent weeks of train travel. Celine is on the way home from Budapest to Paris to continue school. The two strike up conversation and immediately sense a connection. Jesse—young, talkative, and audacious, asks Celine if she would want to accompany him around Vienna for the night until his flight takes off in the morning. She agrees and the two spend the rest of the night conversing around the streets of Vienna visiting café’s and bars.

Sound romantic? It did to me. It’s practically a fantasy of mine. Meet some girl on the train and spend a romantic night wandering around an old European city, yes please (except that I’m married and I love my wife, love you dear!). The only catch is that the two agree not to share any contact information when they say goodbye. They don’t want the awkward calls or letters that could follow and they accept the pragmatism of their situation (She lives in Paris, he in the U.S. and the chances of anything working are slim). They simply want to accept the night for what it is—not in a one-night-stand-debauchery sort of way—but simply for the fact that each enjoys the other’s company.

The second film (spoiler alert) picks up in Paris nine years later and the third film occurs eighteen years after their first encounter on the train. What’s remarkable is that the span between the characters happen in real time, meaning Before Sunrise came out in 1995 and Before Sunset came out in 2004, nine years in real time. So Hawk and Delpy are quite literally nine years older than their last encounter each time. The timing works as such that it feels remarkably honest and true to life, functioning as a near documentary. Before Sunset unfolds also literally in real time, existing in eighty-minute time between when Jesse meets Celine again and then has to depart for his flight.

All films exist solely in the world of dialogue. If you’re skeptic about this, that’s okay, these characters and brilliant performances by both Hawke and Delpy will win you over. Each film with such a simple premise is able to tap into something beyond itself. They’re more than love stories or commentary on relationships and marriage. Providing both a healthy dose of realism and romanticism, the Before trilogy goes beyond sentimentality or intellect, tapping into an other worldly sense of humanity you thought had disappeared. 

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What’s Everyone’s Favorite Film of The Last Year?

Here’s a rough order of mine:
1. Django
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Argo
4. Silver Linings Playbook
5. Safety Not Guaranteed
6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
7. Flight
8. The Avengers
9. Moonrise Kingdom
10. Narco Cultura (Sundance).

Post a comment below with what you think are the three best films of the last year.
Bonus: The first person to correctly guess which film wins at tonight’s oscars gets a bag of Charming Beard Coffee from yours truly.

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