Thursday, January 30, 2014
David O. Russell is a guy who obsesses over the details. Most great directors do… It’s necessary to create atmosphere in a film, or really anything else for that matter, considering filmmaking is creating something out of nothing. Props, costumes, sets, everything: chosen specifically. So having an eye for detail is nothing new; it’s a necessity, expected, and not really worth mentioning. David O. Russell really obsesses over details, which has generally produced some truly amazing and unique films in the past. But in his latest, American Hustle, Russell loses the forest in the trees, focusing so intensely on getting every tacky prop and every bad hair piece just right, that it feels more like a retro fashion show we’re meant to gawk at and applaud for its bold styles than a narrative film in which we can really immerse ourselves.
A loose retelling (“Some of this actually happened”, we’re told at the start) of the ’70s Abscam scandal, American Hustle is an ensemble period piece that reunites Russell with virtually every actor he’s ever worked with, as well as a few new additions. It’s a marvelous cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner; the list goes on. It’s a who’s who of Hollywood’s best and brightest, and they all lose themselves in their parts, creating beautifully nuanced characters with brilliant performances (Russell also has a way with actors).
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Saturday, January 25, 2014
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Cast: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner
Box office: $18,661,336
Rotten Tomatoes: 41%
Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate has it all. It's a globe-trotting supernatural thriller full of mystery, double-crosses, bad vibes, secret agendas, and sexy femme fatales. It's sort of what Raiders of the Lost Ark might have been, had it been R-rated and inspired by noir films from the 40s. It's maybe a little uneven, with an ending that lacks punch, but it's wildly eccentric, beautifully shot, and directed with wit, making it a blast to watch, despite whatever imperfections there might be.
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Friday, January 24, 2014
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Monday, January 13, 2014
Friday, January 10, 2014
Unfortunately Furnace features the laziest screenplay of the year, complete with the third-act cop-outs that almost ruined Crazy Heart. Bale plays Russell Baze, an honest Joe who briefly goes to prison for killing a few people in a drunk driving accident, an interesting turn in the film that essentially goes nowhere, adding nothing to the character or themes. Russell was on his way home from covering for his brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), paying off a scumbag loan-shark (Willem Dafoe) who has Rodney throwing underground fights to pay off his debts, scenes which contain more superfluous plot construction than is necessary and which isn't properly utilized. Eventually the film has Russell out for revenge after Rodney and the loan-shark are killed for no apparent reason by some crazy hillbillies who run the New Jersey chapter of this underground fighting ring, but not before one of them butt-dials a buddy with his cell-phone, leaving a voicemail of the murder... Ugh.
There's so much more that is crammed into Furnace's two-hour run-time, but it's impossible to briefly contextualize all of it, mainly because Cooper and his co-writer can't even find a way to contextualize any of it in the film itself. There's a sub-plot with Zoe Saldana as Russell's ex-girlfriend who left him while he was in prison, and another featuring her new boyfriend, a thankless role filled by Forest Whitaker, who I swore was Saldana's father for most of the film due to a lack of clarity and the fact that they barely ever look at each other, let alone touch. It's a confusing dynamic in a pointless sub-plot, only one of several in the film, which together pull so much focus from the story Cooper is trying to tell that it could only barely be said that he tells one at all.
What's worse is that what little there is that is cohesive is riddled with bad dialogue, cardboard characters, narrative convenience, and what can only be described as a lack of umph. It's obvious where every scene is going as soon as it begins, and too many of them are over-the-top or under the mat, completely lacking the edge that it needs for the suspense it wants to build. Fortunately, a top-notch cast delivers all of this with enough conviction to make enough of Furnace compelling enough, even when it's misfiring, so when Russell runs into Woody Harrelson's Harlan DeGroat, the leader of the psycho hillbillies and says, "You got a problem with me?" and Harlan replies, "I got a problem with everybody," only a piece of us laughs at such one-dimensional absurdity, while the rest of us shrugs it off and moves on. And that's pretty much how it goes in Out of the Furnace.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Monday, January 6, 2014
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is exactly the film that Ben Stiller set out to make, for better or worse. It’s incredibly uneven, takes forever to take off, and is unexpectedly bogged down by an excess of seemingly unnecessary plot exposition, but there’s passion infused in every frame, and there’s something wonderful about that which makes most of the film’s flaws forgivable, if not lovable.
Stiller plays the title character, a tenured, unappreciated photo lab grunt at Life Magazine, who loses an important photograph by the famed recluse photographer, Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn in a cameo so good I almost wish the whole film had centered around him), expected to be the cover shot of the final issue of the magazine. Lost, lonely, and lovelorn, Stiller’s Walter Mitty sets out on an adventure to find O’Connell and infuse his life with meaning. He also hopes to win the affections of a new payroll clerk in his office with whom he’s been trying to connect via an online dating website; however, the site restricts his access due to an incomplete profile left blank because he’s never been anywhere or done anything noteworthy.
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