one word reviews of Movies and TV

Listen Now!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: The 2013 End of the Year Blowout Spectacular Jimmy - Jam


In the blink of an eye, 2013 is over and we look towards 2014 here on The Simplistic Reviews Podcast.  In this special edition of The Podcast, DJ, Justin, Matt, and Neal give their two-cents on the best and worst of the year in film and TV, and I'm sure a lot more.

Will "Grown Ups 2" stand alone as a worse mistake than Greedo shooting first, or will "White House Down" prove that Barack Obama is funnier than Jamie Foxx?

All of this and so much more on The Simplistic Reviews Podcast.  Happy New Year and see all you clowns in 2014.

Show Notes:
Best Films of 2013
Worst Films of 2013
Best TV of 2013

Music Notes:
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" By Chicago
"Your The Best" By Joe Esposito
"Background Music" By Seeburg
"Auld Lang Syne" By Kenny G

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

Check us out on FacebookTwitter, YouTube, Letterboxd, and Pinterest

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Let's Get Real: Blackfish

Blackfish - Sickening
SICKENING

Let me get the comedy out of the way before I get to what "Blackfish" is really about; Good God killer whales have giant wieners!  That's it folks, I'll be here all night.

However, if you take away manually masturbating killer whales in the documentary "Blackfish" you will still be shocked by the exploitation of not only the majestic orca, but also the exploitation of their trainers; humans.  Of course, human and/or animal exploitation is nothing new.  Look at slavery, mineral mining, and pornography, and you can see that humans love exploiting other human beings for their own gain, add in giant six-ton wild animals, and you really have a sickening wonder to behold.

"Blackfish" tells the story of numerous sea-focused amusement parks, namely the now closed, Sealand of the Pacific, and SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida and one whale in particular, Tikikum, who has been responsible for the death of three separate trainers.  There are several questions raised in "Blackfish."  One, should we keep animals, namely gigantic mammals like killer whales, in captivity?  This is the central debate in the film.  As long as there has been man, and as long as man has been able to capture animals and put them on display, and as long as man can make money doing this, the capture and exploitation of animals will never go away.  I go back to the whale's penis; that thing is worth a fortune!  You know why?  Because that penis will continue to make orca whales, and whales are worth millions of dollars, and tourists will continue to pay $75 to enter a park, pay $10 for a plush toy, and pay another $5 for the Popsicle that is shaped like that new orca whale that came from Tilikum's......cum.  Sorry to be graphic, but I couldn't pass up that winning wordplay.

The other question "Blackfish" ponders is whether trainers are properly trained and/or made aware of the risk of their jobs?  Being told from the perspective of the trainers, "Blackfish" is told through a rather biased perspective.  I understand that representatives from Seaworld wouldn't want to be a part of a documentary that is essentially demonizing the way that they've done business for over 40 years.  But as a trainer of killer whales, you have to be aware of the risk of working with "wild" animals.  However, if a company is withholding information from you about how dangerous one of these killer whales really is, that is another story all together.

Will "Blackfish" keep people away from the gates of Seaworld, or any other zoo/aquarium that exhibits giant animals that sell tickets and can turn on someone at any given moment?  Of course not, but you can rest assured that wild animals will continue to act out when they are threatened, scared, or angry.  Just like humans can have bad days, animals can have them as well, I'm sure Tilikum's victims would second that opinion.

Fun Fact:  SeaWorld Orlando, FL was opened on December 15th, 1973.

The Wolf Of Wall Street

DEBAUCHERY
 I have previously joked about how I'd watch the trailer to Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street in the morning because visually it was like doing a line of cocaine.  Little did I know that the feature length film would be the best example of truth in advertising since Pacific Rim.  The Wolf Of Wall Street is literally a three hour high, filled with every form of despicable DEBAUCHERY, decadence and self-destructive devilishness you could possibly think of.  This film was easily one of the most anticipated films of the year on our site, and I can confidently say that it lived up to every expectation.  Is it a perfect film?  Not necessarily.  But it is unquestionably a must see film.  Hell, I could end the review right there.  For the skeptics still unconvinced, allow me to talk about some of the aspects of The Wolf Of Wall Street that surely make it great.

The story?  Based on the autobiographical novel, The Wolf Of Wall Street tells the tumultuous life story of stock broker slimeball Jordan Belfort.  This film and Michael Bay's film Pain & Gain tell two stories that will shock you with their hilariously absurd events.  Then shock you even further when you discover that so many of those events were absolutely true.  It is closer to being a modern day remake of Caligula than a story about the stock market.  I give the real Jordan Belfort credit for still allowing the darker parts of his life to remain in the film and not be played up for laughs.  Although, you never really hate the guy even after you see them.

The structure?  The film has been shorthanded into the familiar Scorsese format, leading people to quickly describe it as the Goodfellas version of Wall Street.  And...well...it is.  Writer Terence Winter practically admitted as much.  For as herky jerky of a style it is, this format always seems to work for Scorsese and be entertaining enough for the audience to forgive it.  Much in the way audiences did for The Departed.  I bring up the structure because it may be the only criticism I can find in this film.  When it is all said and done, The Wolf Of Wall Street may only be remembered as just a collection of jaw droppingly great scenes instead of a well crafted story.  The Lemmon Quaalude scene, the goldfish scene, the midget parameters scene, the yacht chop scene, and every scene where Leo delivers a stump speech to his troops.  After seeing the film, however, I can't imagine the story being told any other way.  The structure sets the fast pace and humorous tone this film needed.

The performances?  Are you kidding?  Even if you are one of those inexplicably strange Leo detractors, you'll still be in love with the job he does as the wolf Jordan Belfort.  The enthusiastic vulnerability DiCaprio consistently displays in his roles continues to make me appreciate him as an actor.  His co-star Jonah Hill steals literally EVERY scene he's in, which is a tough task for a film like this.  His performance is something deserving of an award, but will probably fall short of acclaim like his stellar one in Moneyball.  Virtual newcomer Margot Robbie holds her own with both of them.  She is the Lorraine Bracco of this film and is no less brilliant.  Honestly, every actor in this film knocks it out of the park, no matter the amount of screentime they get.  Matthew McConaughey is amazing again.  Jean Dujardin, who I didn't even know was in this film, is terrific.  Kyle Chandler shines in the first role I've seen him have fun in.  Jon Bernthal is thankfully a long ways away from his Shane days.  Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Joanne Lumley, P.J. Byrne and countless others hit every note they need to perfectly.  

The Wolf Of Wall Street is a fiery car accident you can't look away from.  No, it's a seedy fling with your ex girlfriend after you both came to the agreement that you're bad for one another.  No, it's an insane night on the town with your more irresponsible high school buddies that ends in the police drunk tank.  Who am I kidding?  It's a cinematic drug high.  The rush of the hit and the crushing darkness of the side effects.  And with all these metaphors aside, it is a truly excellent film that is well worth your time.  Sell me this pen...go downstairs and get the 'ludes...remember your safe word...watch it...exhale and wipe your brow afterwards...then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Forgotten Gems: 50/50

SEEDS
50/50 - Seeds

Can a film about cancer be funny?  Normally, it's one of those topics that Hollywood tends to stay away from when it comes to comedy.  Sure, you have "Terms of Endearment" which is thought of as one of the best films in the last 30 years, but cancer doesn't always equal comedy.  While I won't consider "50/50" in the same class of "Terms" it's still a film that takes the subject of cancer, and disease in general, and combines it with humor, though sometimes crass, and hope.  It also plants the seeds for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, where you really get to see him act in a big time way.

"50/50" is the story of Adam, a twentysomething working at a NPR-like radio station in Seattle. Cutting to the chase, after visiting a doctor for some unexplained aches and pains he learns that he has a rare type of cancer (isn't it always a rare type of cancer in any film?)  With the help of his friend Kyle, Adam tries to look on the bright side of life even with his personal life crumbling around him as well as his well-intentioned mother's constantly harassment, and father dealing with Alzheimer's Disease.  When it rains it pours, I guess?

The film also stars Anna Kendrick as Adam's psychologist, Katherine, who I think does a fine job and adds something special to "50/50."  What I will add is that I'm a little confused about all the hate that Kendrick gets for the roles she takes.  I mean she's no Jennifer Lawrence, but she's just as awkward as J-Law, but people take her as a bitch for some reason.  She only has a handful of roles to her credit, including an Academy Award nominated performance for her first *real* role in "Up In the Air" but I'm not sure why so many people complain about her acting.  She has her own style, and despite the fact that several of the characters that she plays are moody or quirky-outsider types in the early 20's, I think she does the best she does with the writing that is provided for her.  As for her performance in "50/50" Kendrick continues to show that when given material she can really shine, see "End of Watch" for further evidence that she has a bright future as a new type of "the girl next door."

Moving away from my Anna Kendrick rant and back to "50/50,"  the other thing that struck me with the film is the honesty in which cancer is dealt with.  While at heart the film is a "comedy" there are some real human elements to the film, namely unexpected loss, coming to grips with situations you have no control over, and re-establishing old relationships, and building new ones.  Gordon-Levitt conveys an honest performance and is still able to pull a few decent laughs from a situation that rarely leaves room for humor.  Seth Rogen, usually the funniest guy in the room, manages to still be the comic relief of the film, but he shows some of his acting chops as a friend who is trying to turn his friend's tragedy into his own gain, but still show some compassion as a best friend.

Overall, "50/50" is a fine film that shines a light on a disease that most people try to stray away from.  To be honest, I think there are more films about the plight of people suffering from AIDS then people suffering from cancer, a far more relatable disease to be honest with you.  I'm sure in our lives we have met someone, been friends with, or have had a family member that has fought cancer.  Of course I'm not taking anything away from people who suffer from HIV/AIDS, but Hollywood seems to make have a "mythic" obsession with the AIDS virus, while cancer is almost a dirty word to most people.  So, if you've yet to see "50/50" it's certainly worth a watch just to see some young actors dealing with, and executing some of the heaviest acting that most of them had to deal with up to that point.

*I don't consider anything "Twilight" related a real role by an actor or actress that wants to be taken serious.

Fun Fact:  Actors Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall have both played cancer patients in previous films Watchmen and Magnolia, respectively.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: December Holiday Edition


'Tis the season to talk movies and TV...and R.Kelly...and...um... Jolene Blalock's disappearance...and Lara Flynn Boyle?  I'm pretty sure that's not how the song goes.

An oddly optimistic Justin Polizzi makes his triumphant return and unveils his latest character impression.  Neal DaSouza joins us again to talk some anime and take dictation.  DJ is confused over the midseason finale of The Walking Dead and discovers he has some sort of Die Hard Tourette's Syndrome.  Matt starts an all out war between people of the Jewish faith and jolly ol' Saint Nick in a new segment called Dear Santa.  And a crippled little boy is able to walk again at the end.  It's a Christmas Miracle!  Sorry, that last bit I made up or partially stole from Charles Dickens.  But I swear, the rest of that stuff does happen on the holiday edition of the Simplistic Reviews Podcast.

Show Notes:
Ellis From Die Hard
Police Academy
R.Kelly Cookie Song
Detective Quentin Lance
Akira
Jolene Blalock
Lara Flynn Boyle Is Melting

Music:
"Holiday Road" By Lindsey Buckingham
"Christmas In Hollis" By Run D.M.C.
"Christmas Time Is Here" By Vince Guaraldi
"The Best" By Tina Turner
"Let It Snow" By Vaughn Monroe

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

Check us out on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Out Of The Furnace

PERFORMANCES
Perhaps it is because I'm a black man born and raised in a city environment that the world of the country gangster interests me so much.  Their world is an entirely different world than the one I'm used to, and it's just a short ways up the highway.  I watched The Dukes Of Hazzard religiously as a kid...before I realized that them Duke boys were driving 'round with a big "Go F%*k Yourself Black People" flag on their car.  It is no secret that Justified is my favorite show on television. (SCREW YOU GOLDEN GLOBE COMMITTEE)  Even Roadhouse tickles the hell out of me.  Especially the absurdity of that final scene.  So, Out Of The Furnace seemed like a film set directly in my entertainment wheelhouse.  Unfortunately, the film has an overly simple and predictable plot that merely serves as a platform for its real asset.  The thoroughly stellar PERFORMANCES.

Out Of The Furnace comes from Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper.  Crazy Heart also ended up being a film with an unremarkable plot but extremely remarkable and Oscar winning PERFORMANCES.  Furnace is about the chaos that happens after two brothers get mixed up with a psychotic mountain man gangster.  That's it.  Okay, there are some other secondary facets to the story.  This includes a regretable accident, an awkward love triangle, and a combat veteran's hardship.  However, hardly anything happens that you will not see coming or have not seen before.  Because the premise is this simple and familiar, the moments that connect the important plot elements feels like overly long and extraneous padding.  You could easily cut forty minutes from this barely two hour film and still not miss a thing.  A very unfortunate problem, seeing as those padded moments have some of the film's better acted scenes.  This makes me think they were kept in, not because the story needed it, but because of how good the actors were in it.  You never want to have a film where great PERFORMANCES are playing defense with your story.

Scott Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi are real artists when it comes to framing and light.  I think Cooper could make a terrific western if he wanted to.  The western genre is centered on confrontation, tension and the anticipation of violence.  That is maybe what he was trying to do here.  A modern day western.  If that is the case then the pacing of the film makes sense.  However, there are still some elements that don't serve the build up of confrontation.  Though, Cooper should be credited for once again getting what he got from his actors in this film.

People still forget how great of an actor Christian Bale is.  Even after his recent Oscar win for The Fighter.  In The Fighter, Bale played a larger than life character that required his usual body transformation.  It was a character that gave him many things to do and many things to play with.  His character Russell Baze is precisely the opposite of Dicky Ward.  Russell is more subdued and still.  Most of Bale's PERFORMANCE is internalized.  And yet, the PERFORMANCE is tremendous.  A scene with him and Zoe Saldana on a bridge is probably some of the finest acting you'll see this year.  Yeah, Zoe Saldana is in this.  She isn't in it for a long time, but long enough to give a strong PERFORMANCE.  Bale's brother Rodney is played by the Affleck brother who can act.   (You're an awesome director Ben, but Casey can act circles around you)  Again, the dynamic between the two brothers is nothing new.  However, Casey and Bale elevate the relationship in every scene they share.  You would never think Casey could display an intensity that rivals the always intense Bale, but he does.  And speaking of intense, the real standout of this movie is Woody Harrelson.  From the first scene, you know that Harrelson is going to steal this film.  He is tough, funny, and scary as hell.  He is such a great character, I wish there was a little more time dedicated to him.  His inevitable showdown with Bale struck me as a bit anticlimactic.   Cooper might have meant to keep his character Harlan Degroat (What a great name) simple and vague.  However, I would have appreciated a little more time with the character and see the behind the scenes of how he ran his organization.

I've focused on the main stars, which really short changes the fine work done by the supporting cast.  From Forest Whitaker, to Willam Dafoe, to Sam Shepard.  Every actor brought their A game.  Sadly, the story surrounding them is simply just a B-.  Grab your rifle...and your boxing tape...don't let Woody Harrelson serve you a hotdog...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Simply Foreign: Blue Is the Warmest Color

HONEST
I had heard a lot about Blue Is The Warmest Color a few months back.  It made some history at the Cannes Film Festival by being the first to win the Palme d'Or for both lead actresses and director. (Palme d'Or is a very fancy French award in case our "Freedom Fries" audience was confused)  The critics who got to see the film early were raving that it was a must watch.  With that being said, I was a little worried that the film would not live up to all the hype.  I'm not an avid watcher of foreign language films to begin with, short of a Run Lola Run or an Irreversible here or there. (Still squirming after that one Gasper)  So, forgive my vastly limited knowledge or absent mindedness when I say that Blue Is The Warmest Color is perhaps one of the most well acted, well shot, emotionally gut wrenching foreign films I have ever seen.  This is not because of the lesbian subject matter.  This is not because it breaks new ground in terms of a love story.  This is because of how HONEST and real of a film experience it is.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is the film adaptation of the 2010 Julie Maroh graphic novel of the same name.  It spans the adolescent to adult life of a young girl named Adèle.  During this time, Adèle struggles to find her sexual identity, discovers her first true love, and rides the rollercoaster of her first real relationship.  As I watched the film, I almost began to feel a little uncomfortable.  And that's not because of the much ballyhooed love scenes throughout.  With the film's almost nonexistent score, alarmingly close closeups and frequent steadicam shots, I felt as though I was more of a voyeur than an audience member.  The super subjective, documentary style way the film is presented brings you so deep into Adèle's world that you begin adopting a more knowledge based need from scene to scene, as opposed to an entertainment based one.  A smart thematic choice that amplifies the story's HONESTY.  Nothing you see feels as though it were scripted.  It feels like a telescopic look at the most important years of a girl's life.

The graphic novel is mostly structured as if you were thumbing through the main character's diary.  Not to say I have a lot of experience reading through someone's diary(I swear sis), but director Abdellatif Kechiche captures this feeling brilliantly.  It doesn't have the cliched narration or overbearing on screen captioning of other journal/diary structured films.  Instead, the film's scenes are put together with a stark, yet, similar feel to the way diary entries would read.  You might be watching Adèle in a scene where she is having an uneventful day at school, then suddenly thrust into an emotionally relevant scene with her and a boy in the park.  There are missing events and missing days that reinforce this.  You don't write well structured stories in a diary.  You write down moments of your life that struck you as relevant at the time, no matter how irrelevant they might be to someone else.  When Adèle sees the blue haired Emma for the first time, a stereotypical romantic film score doesn't come in and highlight the moment.  It's clumsy and not beautifully shot.  However, it feels real.  The same with their first kiss.  It feels like we're stealing a moment between two people, not watching a 'Harlequin' romance come to life.

I also loved how the lesbian aspect of Adèle and Emma's relationship did not completely define the film.  I mean, it is there, and the common trope of one partner hiding their sexual preference from their friends and family while the other is open and HONEST about it does happen.  However, it does not define the story for me.  Perhaps I missed the point, but I saw the most important part of the film being a story about a girl growing up.  A girl discovering who to love and how to love and struggling to maintain that love.  Adèle's sexual proclivities weren't as important to me as her love and dynamic with Emma.  And while we're on the subject, I did not see the big deal made by critics in regards to the love scenes in this film.  Yes, they might border on gratuitous.  However, I attribute this again to the way the film is presented.  We are experiencing these moments the way Adèle experienced them.  The way she remembered them.  Most teenagers don't have perfectly paced sex in a perfectly lit room set up by a perfectly chosen Hollywood cinematographer with a perfectly appropriate musical score.  Well...maybe Angelina Jolie did.  Adèle would more than likely remember every sensual, exciting and awkward moment of her first sexual encounter with Emma.  Their passion in these scenes also establishes the almost carnal chemistry the two share.  After being apart for a long time, the two are almost unable to keep their hands off each other in a public restaurant.  Not because of promiscuity, but because of that chemistry.

The best compliment I can give an actor's performance is that it did not feel like a performance.  This film is a great example of a cast doing that.  Everyone felt genuine and nothing felt forced.  The two lead actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux both are well deserving of their awards and acclaim.  However, it is Adèle that really stands out here.  She has, what I like to call, the 'Anti-Richard Gere Effect'.  Where as you almost can't read anything on Richard Gere's face during a performance, Adèle is the exact opposite.  Every emotion she is having, every emotion she is hiding, and every decision she is contemplating is expressed on her face before she ever utters a word.  A selfishly helpful thing for me, seeing as this is a subtitled film.   Adèle's face as she watches Emma from afar during their house party tells you everything you need to know about her feelings, and it is played without dialogue.  Even the transition in the way Adèle carries herself from her adolescent years to her adult years is totally convincing.   Now don't get me wrong.  Léa's portrayal of Emma is terrific.  Adèle's character doesn't work without a strong enough, spirited enough, and HONEST enough character like Emma for her to fall in love with.  Léa certainly breathes that kind of life into the character.  It is as powerful of a cinematic relationship you hope for as any you've ever seen.

Even though it comes in at just under three hours, Blue Is The Warmest Color is still worthy of your time.  The film's conclusion is a bit different than the darker one in the graphic novel.  Some might say that this was done to achieve a happier ending.  Though, it may be a little less dramatic than graphic novel, I believe it is equally as sad.  The scenario only plays out in a more realistic and HONEST way.  Read the graphic novel...watch the film...compare them...contemplate your desire to try oysters...then tell me I'm wrong.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Hobbit Countdown: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

BALLS
The Fellowship of the Ring - Balls

One of the biggest no-no's of pop culture is not messing up anything that beloved by a group of nerds.  And before I get nailed to a cross, I myself am a nerd and I use that as a term of extreme affection, I mean I married a Harry Potter nerd so I'm entitled to use the term nerd as often as I want.  As I digress, directors, writers, and actors have to tread carefully when trying to replicate a favorite fictional character because one bad line utter, one extra action acted upon, or one minor detail too much or too little can lead to the Internet banding together to destroy said director, writer, or actor.  It's a tough gig to replicate things that are held in such high regard.  Now, back in 2001, a director from New Zealand, more famous for horror and gross-out fare such as "Meet the Feebles" and "Dead Alive" decided he was going to recreate something that everyone said could never be done; that tiny Kiwi, Peter Jackson, was going to recreate Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal series "The Lord of the Rings."  People thought, "The balls on this guy.  The closest he'll ever get to a Hobbit would be to look in the mirror!"  Well......Jackson did have balls, and with a little help from the Brothers Weinstein, he has able to create Middle Earth, in grand spectacle I might add, in the first of three fantasy epics, starting with "The Fellowship of the Ring," a film that not only changed the way film was made, but the way people thought about fantasy films as a whole.

I keep going back to the word balls.  As is in selling real estate, you have to have brass balls to sell an epic three-part series of films to Hollywood executives.  If you've ever seen or heard anything about either Bob or Harvey Weinstein, I would be crapping myself before my pitch.  Especially if I'm a short New Zealander with only a few films to my name and having never helmed a big-budget film before.  Balls......

Needless to say, the series was greenlit, and under the guidance of Jackson, it propelled him to instant fame.  Jackson was able to create a lived in world that included The Shire, the Mines of Moria, Rivendale, and the White Tower of Isengard.  "Fellowship" is the first part of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films that tells the story of a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins, who embarks on an epic adventure to destroy a ring of pure evil.  With three other Hobbits in tow, Frodo must avoid evil Ring Wraiths hunting for The Ring, and at the same time trying to avoid the temptation of The Ring itself.  Deciding that Frodo will need more than his fellow Hobbits to complete his task, a Fellowship is formed that includes a bow-weilding Elf, a stout axe-swinging dwarf, Gandalf the Grey Wizard, and two men, including one who might be the long-lost King of Gondor.

At heart, "Fellowship" is the obligatory opening film from a trilogy that grows in size and scope with every film.  You can see Jackson's typical dream-like style plays heavily in the first film that reminded me a lot of "Dead Alive" minus a lawnmower used to plow down dozens of zombies.  His action scenes are a little wonky and sometimes the action gets lost in the details, but you can still see the makings of a director still finding his bearings.

The gritty battle scenes of "Fellowship" are a stark contrast to another fantasy series that was also getting underway in 2001; the "Harry Potter" series.  While "Potter" was written with a younger demographic in mind, the allegories and vision of Tolkien captured the imagination of a more mature, and older, audience.  I'm not here to knock "Potter" heads, but "LotR" has to be considered the more intellectual of the two series', and that's all I'll say before I'm ripped apart by "Potter" fans.  But if they want to bring it, I'm here to answer the Horn of Gondor.

What made "Fellowship" such a success was the fact that Jackson made the impossible, possible.  He actually created Middle Earth by using New Zealand as the fictitious backdrop of a world of Elves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Trolls.  I mean, people travel to New Zealand to visit sets that still stand to this day.  The amount of detail still amazes to this day, and Jackson's reliance on practical effects (for the most part) is something that Hollywood is sorely missing in this day and age.

Needless to say, the gamble had paid off for the Weinstein's and New Line Cinema after "Fellowship."  Of course there are some nit-picky things I can point out about the film, but it's a fantasy film, and not all things make logical sense in a world filled with non-existent creatures and items.  What needs to be concentrated on is how a dream can come try and how one guy, with balls the size of the small island nation he hails from, was able to a film that still dazzles to this day.  That film is "The Fellowship of the Rings," a not long required fantasy film to watch, but a necessary FILM to watch.

Fun Fact:  1800 Hobbit feet were made for the production of "The Fellowship of the Ring."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Early Returns: American Hustle

SILKY
American Hustle - Silky

The name David O. Russell can evoke a lot of emotions, especially if you talk to either George Clooney or Lily Tomlin.  The man has the special talent to bring both the best, and worst, out in people.  While there is no doubt Russell can be called a total prick, there is also no doubt that the guy has been putting out quality films since "Spanking the Monkey" all the way back in 1994.  Almost 20 years later, Russell has released his most refined, and silky, film to date in "American Hustle," starring the likes of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Russell's newest muse, Jennifer Lawrence.

"Hustle" is the tale of two con artists (Bale and Adams) who are forced to join forces with an FBI Agent (Bradley Cooper) who has entirely too much to prove. The unlikely trio set out to uncover corruption that involves a fake sheik, members of Congress, the Mafia, and a local mayor of Camden, New Jersey, played by Jeremy Renner.  Throw in a nagging wife, played wonderfully by Lawrence, and those are the basics of "Hustle."

While I might have just simplified the plot for spoiler's-sake above, the film is much more than your standard grifters-on-the-run-from-the-law story.  I'd liken "Hustle" very much to "Goodfellas" in it's storytelling and use of the 1970s as the backdrop.  I also mention "Goodfellas" in it's use of a very interesting cameo that I won't mention, again, for spoiler's-sake.

While I will commend Russell for his direction and vision, the acting really shines in "Hustle."  I have no doubt in my mind that all four main actors, Adams, Bale, Cooper, and Lawrence, will be up for Oscars come February.  I'll even go as far as saying that this will be Adams' Oscar year.  Her turn as Sydney Prosser is magical, and proves that Adams is one of the best actresses in the business that still seems to be overlooked.  Lawrence steals the show in the scenes she's in, and the same goes for Cooper.  Bale is the rock of the film however, and provides a calming cool to the insanity that seems to swirl around him.  Renner is fine in his role as Mayor Carmine Polito, but one of the best unsung performances will go to Louis C.K, who plays the brow-beaten boss of Cooper's unhinged FBI Agent.

Like I mentioned before, this is Russell's "Goodfellas."  Loosely based on actual events, Russell weaves a story that has you guessing until the very end, and much like Martin Scorsese does in most of his films, music plays a major part.  Russell picks some of the best music from 70's, and makes Duke Ellington, and his music, one of the points of attraction between Bale and Adams' characters, and it makes sense in the scheme, no pun intended, of things.  Jazz artists like Ellington had to improve all the time, it's the heartbeat of jazz, improvisation, and you can say the same thing for people running cons; constant improvisation.  The allegory is fantastic, if you catch it, but it's not entirely relevant to the overall plot, just a cute little thing that Russell throws into his film.

At it's core, "Hustle" is a caper film in the spirit of "Jackie Brown" and "Catch Me If You Can."  It has spunk, heart, and like I said before, is silky smooth, with plenty of style to spare.  Best film of the year?  Let's not quite go there yet, but if "Hustle" is any inclination of the films to come the rest of 2013, we should be in store for plenty of treats the rest of the month of December.  Christmas comes early with "American Hustle."

Fun Fact:  The story of "American Hustle" is loosely based on the events of ABSCAM, in the late 1970s and 1980s.    

Copyright © Simplistic Reviews