Review

American Hustle

Christian Bale and Amy Adams in American Hustle

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“Some of this actually happened” reads the titular card as the film opens, and while there is a kernel of truth to the story, there might as well not be: the characters and the setting are as over-the-top and unbelievable as any long-con. It is simultaneously the film’s merit and its problem.

Set in 1978, American Hustle follows the events surrounding the FBI’s real-life Abscam sting, which targeted corrupt officials. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Posser (Amy Adams) are running a short-con of tricking desperate people out of money by promising them to invest it with their London partners and making them ten times the money back. That is until they’re caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him take down New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), Floridian mobster Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro) and countless corrupt Congressmen who want to turn Atlantic City into a casino haven.

American Hustle takes a long time to get going, and during the initial setup of tricking the mayor severely struggles to hold attention. Despite an illustrious cast and an array of haircuts that are as impressive as the CGI in other films, Eric Singer and David O. Russell fail to create a plot that holds its own. This isn’t necessarily surprising, Russell has already shown his strength to be characters and not plot in Silver Linings Playbook, which even had much of the same cast and turned from two emotionally damaged people trying to become friends and saving each other from themselves to a bad love story in the last ten minutes.

Originally produced as American Bullshit, the film may just as well have been called American Dream. Russell yet again manages to present intriguing character studies. At its core it is a tale of reinvention and of climbing up the ladder, whether it’s Rosenfeld looking to find true love and get away from his depressed and manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), Posser by calling herself Edith and taking on an English accent, or DiMaso by fighting his superior and mounting the Abscam sting to become a field officer. Rosenfeld constantly mentions the need to survive in his voice-over narration, and as the movie progresses it transpires that he means as much surviving within the world as surviving with his own self.

The film is silly, violent, steaming and fantastically ridiculous. As a pastiche of crime, political thriller, comedy and drama it defies genre definition. As such, it succeeds in encompassing everything great about contemporary American cinema by pretending to be American cinema of the late Seventies. It isn’t entertaining all the way through, much like the lives of its characters who struggle through and with the mundane, and in that regard the dragging moments actually work well. It isn’t entirely clear whether that is intentional or a happy coincidence.

It is ironic that the sanest character in the entire movie, DiMaso’s superior, is played, astonishingly well, by comedian Louis C.K., and it is disconcerting that the most honest character is a politician, mayor Polito, who takes the bribe but does it for the ‘right’ reasons. Everyone else is either mentally unstable, self-obsessed, has severe anger issues, is emotionally damaged or suffers from bipolar disorder – and most suffer from any combination of those.

The actual con is very formulaic with a final twist that is predictable and unsatisfying, but perhaps that, too, was intentional. The cast will certainly bring audiences to the cinemas, but despite Bale’s willingness to inflict radical diets on his body, it is doubtful whether there wasn’t someone who could have portrayed a Jew from the Bronx better. Cooper on the other hand dominates every scene he’s in. Amy Adams might be a great actress, but the dramatically unjustified and irritating decision to have her walk around essentially half-naked the entire film distracted too much from her performance. De Niro’s appearance is so short it goes uncredited, and yet it is, unsurprisingly, a powerful appearance. The true star of the film is Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the depressed wife and mother so well that one cannot help but wish she’d gotten more screen time.

At 138 minutes, American Hustle feels just a bit too long, but has enough intriguing bits and funny moments to keep your interest mostly sparked to get you all the way through. It’s certainly worth seeing for the hairdos and the careful attention to set detail alone: if nothing else it really puts you, combined with a carefully selected soundtrack, into the Seventies. In the end though, you can’t help but feel like you’ve just watched a perfectly average film, not bad, but not great either.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

thesecretlifeofwaltermitty
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You could be forgiven for never having read James Thurber’s 1939 short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” for The New Yorker or for not having seen the eponymous 1947 movie adaptation, since neither tend to be as famous today as they would deserve to be. Indeed, on Empire Magazine’s list of Top 500 films, it only made it onto 479th place, even though it has been fundamental in inspiring the heroic daydreaming trope.

Thurber was dismayed with the 1947 adaptation, as he made clear in a letter to Life magazine at the time, and while we will never know what his opinions on Ben Stiller’s adaptation are – he died in 1961, and the movie has very little in common with his, largely plotless, short story or indeed the classic film – it has a lot of merits and is a fantastic feel-good comedy.

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., the son of the 1947’s movie producer, Ben Stiller plays the titular character of Walter Mitty who works, in a wonderfully ironic nod to Thurber, in the photolab of Life magazine. He is madly in love with the newly hired girl upstairs, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) and frequently zones out when he has one of his daydreams of leading a much more interesting, heroic life. Cheryl isn’t the only new face at the company however, as Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) introduces himself to staff as the transition manager – the transition of shutting down Life as a print magazine and becoming online-only, all while laying off most of the staff. As the antagonist, Ted is a slick bully with a beard that makes him look like an arrogant, corporate idiot. As an actor, Adam Scott gets to show off his talent with a character infinitely nastier than his lovable geek on Parks & Recreation.

A love story about a daydreaming guy doesn’t offer many new creative challenges, and this is where Goldwyn Jr. and Stiller decided to make Walter’s life more complicated. Life’s go-to photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) with an anachronistic penchant for SLRs has sent Walter a wallet and some negatives, asking for frame twenty-five to be considered for the final cover. He calls it his most accomplished photograph ever, ‘The Quintessence of Life’, yet much to Walter’s and his assistant’s horror, that exact frame is missing and they can’t seem to find it anywhere in the lab.

In between discussing his eHarmony profile with a guy from customer support called Todd (Patton Oswalt), Walter manages to strike up a friendship with Cheryl, who convinces him to track down Sean and find the photograph. And so, Walter jumps on a plane to Greenland, and his real life slowly becomes a lot more interesting and heroic than his daydreams have ever been. Indeed, his travels lead him from Greenland to Iceland and even as far as the Himalayas. He jumps out of a helicopter, travels through a war-torn country and skateboards towards an erupting volcano (the infamous Eyjafjallajökull).

If you’ve seen the trailer, you might be surprised to learn that “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” isn’t a story about finding love. It is a story about a man finding himself. The breathtaking scenery of Iceland, where much of the first half of the film is set, definitely helps with creating a sense of awe, but it is in the details where the movie truly shines. Throughout the film, we see small glimpses of who Walter really is underneath his shell, most notably during a particularly powerful scene where he teaches Cheryl’s son how to skateboard and later on during the revelation of why he turned into such a socially awkward man.

You might think you know why Walter couldn’t find the negative. You might think you know what the photograph is. You’ll probably be wrong. The story is a blend of funny, sad and surreal moments and fantasies, and if you find the final scene anything but heartwarming, you might have to check if your heart is still functioning properly.

Ben Stiller has made funnier movies, but he has never made a more honest one. The transitions between real life and Walter’s fantasy worlds are seamless and frequently feature subtle, perfect blending of both worlds, sometimes when snow flies across the office, and sometimes with words that ingeniously appear in the scenery. Stiller’s held-back use of CGI is refreshing to see in an age when more is often considered better, and apart from a sarcastic reference to Fincher’s adaptation of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, the movie thankfully holds back on overly sweet imagery as much as it holds back on special effects.

Patton Oswalt and Sean Penn may have deserved more screen time, but they excel in their short appearances, and anything else would arguably have distracted from the aloneness that allows Walter to find his courage. Overall, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a beautiful piece of cinema, a poignant Bildungsroman-type drama as much as an uplifting comedy, with a brilliant performance by Stiller and cinematography that’ll take your breath away. It is one of the most memorable movies of the season and one that invites multiple viewings.

At 114 minutes, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” lacks any boring moments and isn’t one minute too long.

Any Day Now

Any Day Now

Baséierend op reelen Évenementer erzielt de Film d’Geschicht vum Rudy Donatello (Alan Cumming) a Paul Fleiger (Garret Dillahunt), déi sech 1979 an engem Café kenneléieren an op den éischte Bléck anenee verléiwen. D’Liewen beweegt sech direkt schnell fir déi zwee, wéi de Rudy de Bouf vu senger kokainsüchteger Nopesch bei sech ophëlt wéi déi am Prisong lant. Well weder de Rudy nach de Paul wëllen zouloossen, dass de Marco – deen um Down Syndrom leid – am System verschwënnt, iwwerzeegen se d’Mamm hinnen temporär Adoptivrechter ze ginn. Alles schéngt gutt – bis dem Paul säi Chef realiséiert, dass se eng homosexuell Koppel an net Kosenge sinn, an se beim Geriicht mellt.
De Film schwankt tëscht dem gléckleche Familieliewen, dat déi dräi sech opbauen, dem Rudy sengem Wonsch Sänger ze sinn, an der Geriichtsverhandlung – eng Mëschung déi aussergewéinlech gutt geléngt. Virun allem den Alan Cumming liwwert den Héichpunkt vu senger schauspillerescher Carrière of, mat engem tour de force déi engem dem Rudy seng Léiwt fir de Marco an seng Qual iwwer d’Onverständnis vun der Gesellschaft esou déif matspiere loossen dass et ferm wéi deet.
Obwuel dat Ganzt sech 1979 an 1980 ofspillt, huet d’Geschicht haut esou vill Wichtegkeet ewéi deemools – d’Rechter an d’Léift vun der homosexueller Koppel als Elteren ginn a Fro gestallt, si gi mat Pädophile gläichgestallt an ëmmer nees gëtt drop gepocht, dass et ee lifestyle choice an net eng sexuell Orientéierung ass. De Fait, dass d’Verhandlungen gréisstendeels vun enger Riichterin ofgehale ginn mécht d’Absurditéit nëmmen nach méi offensichtlech.
‘t ass déi Art Film, déi iech är Séil mat esouvill Traueregkeet futti schléit, dass der nom Film mol nach e puer Minutte sëtze bleift. ‘t ass déi Art Film, déi esou voller Léift ass, dass ee guer net anescht kann ewéi sech ze froen firwat mer haut nach ëmmer net weider sinn als Gesellschaft ewéi virun 40 Joer. ‘t ass déi Art Film, déi ee wierklech muss gesinn hunn.
De Film kritt 5/5 Stären, och well den Alan Cumming a Garret Dillahunt eng wierklech léif Koppel ofginn an ee kee Moment un hierer Léift zweifelt.

“Hermione just stole all of our shit.”

James Franco. Seth Rogen. Jonah Hill. Jay Baruchel. Danny McBride. Craig Robinson. Michael Cera. Emma Watson. Jason Segel. Mindy Kaling. Aziz Ansari. Channing Tatum. D’Lëscht vun de Staren am This is the End ass praktesch endlos. D’Prämiss ass séier erklärt: d’Schauspiller, déi all sech selwer spillen, treffen sech am James Franco sengem neien Haus fir eng gigantesch Party – a während se feieren, fänkt op eemol d’Apokalyps un an si stellen fest, dass kee vun hinnen an den Himmel gerett gouf an se elo op der Äerd festsëtzen an sech géint Dämonen wiere mussen.

De Film ass total iwwerdriwwen – de Michael Cera kritt ee Blowjob vun zwee Fraleit nodeems en dem Rihanna op den Hënner klappt, den David Krumholtz stierwt een absurd offensichtlechen Doud, d’Emma Watson zerschléit de Seth Rogen a klaut hinnen all d’Waasser an Iessen, si dréien aus Langeweil een horrend schlechten “Pineapple Express 2”, et gëtt een Exorzismus mat Kichenutensilien an si drénken, saufen a fëmmen sech duerch de Weltënnergang. Kuerz: weder d’Story nach d’Schauspiller huelen sech och nëmmen fir eng eenzeg Sekonn e bëssen eescht. An de Schluss, bei deem ech bal Tréine gekrasch hu vu Laachen, ass esou wonnerbar iwweraschend an absurd, dass e wierklech net virauszegesinn ass.

Kuerz: This is the End ass Comedy vum Allerfeinsten. An dem Danny McBride säi Kommentar, nodeems d’Emma Watson hinnen alles geklaut huet, ass wuel ee vun de groussartegste Säz, déi jemools op enger Leinwand gesot goufen. Woubäi d’Tatsaach, dass d’Watson net an den Himmel kënnt bal nach besser ass.

Muss een e gesinn hunn? Jo, et ass eng vun de groussartegsten, topege Komödien, déi der iech wäert eranzéien. 5/5

Oblivion

Et ass, no deem ganzen Vampir Krom, endlech nees um Tour vun Science-Fiction fir Mainstream Filmer z’iwwerhuelen. Deen Trend war, ewéi de Vampirgenre virdrunner och schon, natierlech schon zanter engem Jorzéngt ofzegesinn, an Oblivion ass den Éischten vun enger Well Filmer, déi an noer Zukunft op eis duerkommen wäerten. Elyisum mam Matt Damon an Jodie Foster ass dovunner een, op deen ech mech am Meeschte freeën, mä After Earth mam Will Smith kéint och interessant ginn.
Dovunner ofgesinn, dass dystopesch Science-Fiction zu menge léiwste Genren gehéiert, ass et gutt, dass Oblivion relativ um Ufank vun der Well koum – et kann eigentlech just besser ginn. Visuell ass de Film, dank der wonnerbarer Designarbécht vum Daniel Simon, zwar bombastesch an inspiréiert, mä schauspilleresch ass de Film enttäuschend. Natierlech kann een sech vun engem Tom Cruise (deen ironescherweis mat Interview with the Vampire als Ausgangspunkt vum rezente Vampirgenre verantwortlech war) keen tour de force erwaarden, mä och de Morgan Freeman huet schon emol méi iwwerzeegend gewierkt. Dat maach awer och un deem schleefenden Dréibuch leien, dat zwar Méiglechkeeten vir postapokalyptesch Landschafte bidd, mä d’Story net wierklech weiderdreiwt.
D’Geschicht ass amfong séier erklärt: 2077 sinn den Jack (Cruise) an d’Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) déi zwee lescht Mënschen op der Äerd no enger Invasioun déi d’Mënschheet zwar gestoppt krut, mä déi de Planéit esou zerstéiert huet dass se huet missten op de Saturnmound Titan emigréieren. Si sollen d’Dronen reparéieren an op gigantesch Maschinnen oppassen, déi d’Mierwaasser opsaugen fir mat op den Titan ze huelen. Hier Missioun steet kuerz virum Enn, an an zwou Wochen sollen se bei de Recht vun der Mënschheet op Titan. D’Victoria – mat engem Hauch Stepford Wives – ass besiess drop, fir alles no Protokoll ze maachen an esou séier ewéi méiglech de Planéit ze verloossen, den Jack ass kritesch well hien d’Äerd als säin Doheem ugesäit. Doriwwer eraus gëtt den Jack permanent geplot vu Visiounen vun enger Fra déi en um Empire State Building getraff huet (Olga Kurylenko), wat net méiglech ass, well d’Welt 2017 zerstéiert gouf an hien dunn nach guer net gebuer war.
Den Twist ass net originell genuch fir e Film vun iwwer zwou Stonnen ze rechtfertegen – well een eben als Zuschauer duerchaus fréi realiséiert, wat lass ass. De Film follegt den etabléierte Musteren, an dat mécht eng Iwwerraschung einfach onméiglech. De gréissten Deel vum Film gesäit et allerdéngs esou aus, ewéi wann e wéilt op en Enn kommen, an sech guer net ëm den Twist këmmeren – wat fierchterlech frustrant ass.
Et deet mer net onbedéngt leed, dass ech de Film gesinn hunn: visuell war e beandrockend, an de Soundtrack vun der wonnerbarer südfranséischer Band M83 ass definitiv der dystopescher Visioun würdeg, mä weideremfeelen kann ech de Film och net onbedéngt.
Ech ginn ëm 3 vu 5 radioaktiv verstrahlt Blummen, fir d’Aarbecht vum Simon an M83.