Posted on 4/10/14 03:56 AM
An oddly uninteresting film. Characters in 70s costumes pulling off a historically-significant FBI sting should be more interesting.
"American Hustle" has a strong premise: two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are forced by the FBI (led by Bradley Cooper) to participate in a sting operation to nab corrupt politicians.
But the execution is off. By injecting some eccentric comedic pieces into the plot, it lowers the stakes "Hustle" has set up for itself. By the time a menacing cameo from Robert De Niro shows up, you don't know if the film wants you to be amused or wants you to be tense.
Either way because it is never clear what kind of film "Hustle" wants to be you find your mind wandering as the game actors keep showing up in over-the-top 70s garb and hair and throw out their lines with gusto. It feels like a costume party with some amusing attendees but you find yourself in the corner nursing a drink waiting for something to happen.
Disappointing but ultimately saved by the acting and the 70s visuals.
Posted on 4/10/14 01:25 AM
This is probably one of the first times that I truly noticed what happens to a film when you have a director who truly can't keep up with his cast. "August: Osage County" has a cast that is to die for - and they don't disappoint. But when the film itself is directed in a generic, uninteresting, unfocused fashion, it sometimes leaves the actors with too much responsibility to shoulder to make the material work.
"August: Osage County" is better when it sticks to its theater roots and stages scenes statically. An electric scene at the dinner table or intimate exchanges between sisters or mothers and daughters work better than the film's earlier expository scenes where the film attempts to take advantage of its cinematic scope and stage scenes in exteriors or in mobile locations. This gives the first half of the film a very messy feel and makes certain characters feel unrealized.
This is especially true with Meryl Streep's characterization of matriarch Violet Weston. Her first scene is an actor's showcase - she's druggy, sickly and irrational. She chews the scenery with abandon leaving the restrained Sam Shepard and understated Misty Upham looking like lost spectators.
Streep seems to be experimenting at the beginning of the film with what type of character she wants Violet to be. Is she crazy or is it really the drugs? Is she truly mean-spirited or just a victim of a cruel world? It's during that climactic dinner scene where Streep seems to get a firm hold on the character and for the rest of the film is magnificent and fully realized.
But if there's a standout among this talented group, it is surprisingly Julia Roberts who is amazing as eldest daughter Barbara Weston. Roberts lands her zingers better than most of the other cast members and also has her best moments with her facial reactions to her family's actions.
The rest of the cast is good as well, but the material doesn't give them much time to fully bring their characters full circle. Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper come closest but they are given more room to breathe, to introduce their characters and to make an impact. The rest of the cast arrives on scene, get dropped in the plot and are expected to make something stick. This is especially apparent with Benedict Cumberbatch who arrives as a crazy mess, yet you don't know if he is mentally unstable or, as the film seems to imply later, a victim of a verbally abusive mother.
Overall, "August: Osage County" is a film is only half effective. A large, talented cast thrown together in a house, given a Pulitzer-Prize winning theater script and told to ACT. They do that. But the result is a story that doesn't feel fully realized until halfway through.
And that is the true definition of a wasted opportunity.
Posted on 4/02/14 07:32 AM
One of the best action flicks I've ever seen. From the moment the movie starts until it's jolting end, you are on the ride of your life. Damon, who I would have never imagined as an Action Star, has solidified his place among one of the greats
Posted on 3/27/14 07:24 AM
The "Mindf@*ck" film genre has just gotten a solid new entry with "Black Swan" a psychosexual thriller starring Natalie Portman and directed by Darren Aronofsky. But "Swan" despite its excellent execution and master class performances doesn't quite achieve the heights of other classics in this genre like "Mulholland Drive", "Memento" or even Aronofsky's amazing "Requiem of a Dream".
"Black Swan" follows the rise (or dark descent) of a featured ballerina (Portman) who lands the coveted lead role in a new production of "Swan Lake". As she prepares for the part, she finds herself battling with a beautiful new rival who possesses the qualities she lacks (Mila Kunis), her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), her admiration for the prior and now past her prime featured ballerina (Winona Ryder) and the production's eccentric director (Vincent Cassel. These conflicts begin a fascinating trip into darkness.
Portman is essential to the film's success and her committed performance is a wonder to behold. The young actress is raw in her approach and brings the character alive both physically and mentally. She's surrounded by a solid cast with Kunis demonstrating chops she had little chance to display in her prior roles. Veterans Hershey and Ryder do well with their parts, but are nothing more but stock characters with very little surprise.
"Swan" is painstaking in its portrayal of the brutality of the ballet world - with injuries and psychological torment in full display - and perhaps this painstaking detail is what distracts "Swan" and ultimately makes it feel too laborious to get through. But this does not destroy the film it just blunts the impact the film could have had if it had only been a bit more tightly paced.
With that said, "Swan" is still a definite must watch. Aronofsky again showcases a unique point of view and perspective that is rarely seen in film today and "Swan" while not a masterpiece is still a fascinating film to watch.
Posted on 2/10/14 03:53 AM
"Despicable Me 2" is a smartly realized sequel that equals Part 1's excellence without merely copying it. "DM2" moves the plot along and evolves our central protagonist forward in a believable way that doesn't betray the audience's affection for the character.
This time around Gru is now being recruited for his reputation as an evil genius by the Anti-Villain League team to help them catch a villain who stole a powerful mutagen. The story is a simple and clever way to allow Gru to use some of his villainous tricks without betraying the character's advancement from the first film. He ended that film a devoted father and in "2" he is still that.
The film still squeezes most of its laughs from its minions but it does so without monopolizing the plot or rehashing the first film's gags. The voice performances are on the money with Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig having the time of their lives with their characters.
The only slight downfall is that other than Gru, the other characters aren't given anything original to do. Margo has a teenage crush, Dr. Nefario misses being evil, El Macho is a pretty stereotypical Mexican - nothing that hasn't been done before. "2" could have transcended the first one if it had offered those characters a bit more to do.
But it's all about Gru and the Minions - and those two reasons alone make "DM2" a wonderful treat.
Posted on 2/10/14 02:56 AM
More of a gory art experiment than a coherent movie, "Maniac" is watchable (when you're not squirming away from the gore) but ultimately uninteresting and unstimulating. Instead of an interesting take on serial murder and the mental illness that causes it, "Maniac" is just a filmmaker's attempt to showboat gory art.
Elijah Wood is an interesting casting choice that is ultimately fumbled. By shooting the film in 1st person perspective, Wood isn't allowed to show how he's matching the character's torment. The victims could have been running away from anybody with a knife, his presence isn't used to effectively convey his menace other than his penchant for angry mutilation.
"Maniac" is a remake of the 1981 cult classic slasher flick. That version used its low guerilla-style filming to add to the subject matter's depravity. 2013 moves the action from New York to Los Angeles and that move seems to hurt the film as well. NY's 1981 grittiness really helps to add to the believability of the menace, LA 2013, on the other hand, seems a bit fictional and forced.
"Maniac" is undeniably gory, but ultimately it's undeniably pointless.
Posted on 2/08/14 03:20 PM
"Dallas Buyers Club" is more enjoyable as a tour-de-force performance piece than a fully-realized film, but boy do those performances make up for whatever flaws the film has.
Watching Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto is standing-ovation worthy. They embody their roles so fully that you can't help but be mesmerized by how well they portry their characters. McConaughey's growth as an actor is astounding considering the career choices he's made, and you got to hand it to Leto who plays Rayon so comfortably and lived in that he avoids stereotypes that normally come with actors playing transgender roles.
The film is pretty powerful on other levels as well, especially in the way it shows the neglect AIDS received in its early days and the prejudice surrounding the disease.
But because McConaughey and Leto are so good, it showcases the rest of the cast which practically disappears. Jennifer Garner does nothing with her role and just plays her as Jennifer Garner - but brings no real emotional arc, passion or unique characterization to her portrayal. The rest of the cast are stock interpretation to stock characters.
"Dallas Buyers Club" is a must see for the lead two performances. Their great work allows for an important story to be powerfully told.
Posted on 12/28/13 02:43 PM
It's hard to not pass judgment on a film without comparing it to its predecessors if the source material is well known. Unfairly or not, a critique of "Man of Steel" has to be helped or sullied by the muscle memory invoked by versions past. And with some past versions of "Superman" being quite good, it puts "Steel" in the precarious position of having some pretty big shoes to fill.
The film just struggles. You can feel the film struggling. Even with the things it does right, "Steel" labors to be interesting and in many ways creates a mess for itself.
Let's start with what it has rewritten. It has given Lois Lane (the miscast Amy Adams) and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) "more" to do and with that it effectively gives Superman/Clark (a stiff but physically perfect Henry Cavill) a lot less to do making him not as compelling in the story as he should be. And despite Lois' increased role, she's pretty inconsequential.
And those are just the few character shortcomings in the film. There are many others you can quibble with but the films biggest problem? It's boring. As nonsensical as it seems that a film with such extraordinary subject matter is so boring, it inexplicably is. Even the scenes with awesome effects like the great fight sequence between Superman and his two Kryptonian opponents is hampered by the corniest exposition dialogue. But the action sequences save the film from being a disaster.
Too bad Zach Snyder directed this film as his penchant for flashy visual effects without any substance hurts the film. He seems to not understand how to effectively use his camera to best showcase humanity. What he fails to understand with this and his other films is that it is not just an actors job to invoke substance, he needs to pace films to let humanity show appropriately. He needs to stage scenes to showcase these moments. He's too consumed by dazzling the eye and ear that he forgets about dazzling the brain.
Posted on 12/25/13 08:28 AM
"Hope Springs" could've been a pretty insightful film about the realities that set in after being married for a very very long time. Instead "Hope" opts to be a enjoyable piece of fluff anchored by two masterful performances by the always great Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.
Posted on 12/25/13 08:25 AM
Harshly critiqued "We're the Millers" is enjoyable yet not perfect. The premise has potential and you see the story unfolding from a mile away but the film's lack of originality in executing the idea doesn't completely devoid it of any fun moments.
"We're The Millers" is primarily saved by its cast who squeeze fun out every moment they are in.