CVIndependent

Sun08252019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Director David O. Russell continues his impressive roll with American Hustle, a semi-comedic look at the notorious 1970s Abscam scandal.

Russell is shooting for Scorsese-style glory here, and while the style of the movie seems copied at times, there’s no denying the power of the ensemble cast. Bradley Cooper scores laughs as a pathetic FBI agent looking to make a name for himself, and Christian Bale looks great with a comb-over as the conman forced into an alliance with the law. Amy Adams gets one of the strangest roles of 2013 as a con artist pretending to be British; she pulls it off quite nicely.

Jennifer Lawrence steals every scene she’s in as a seemingly dim Long Island housewife, a role for which I thought she deserved an Oscar. The film scored nominations for Lawrence, Cooper, Bale and Adams among 10 total nominations—yet it didn’t take home a single award.

Also worth noting: Louis C.K. is hilarious as Cooper’s field boss. C.K. canceled a show for which I had tickets make this movie. I was pissed but, after seeing how good he is here, I’m OK with it now.

The film falls a little short of greatness due to the fact that it seems copied at times, but the cast pulls it out of the fire. It also has the best usage of Robert De Niro as a bad guy in many years. I keep forgetting that De Niro was once the greatest actor on planet Earth; with this film, and his terrific turn in Silver Linings Playbook, De Niro seems to have found a great director in Russell.

It’s a good time, but it ultimately feels a tad unoriginal.

Special Features: There’s a bunch of deleted and extended scenes, along with a making-of featurette. Not much to enjoy.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

David O. Russell continues his impressive directorial roll with American Hustle, a semi-comedic look at the notorious 1970s Abscam scandal. Russell is shooting for Scorsese-style glory here, and while the style of the movie seems copied at times, there’s no denying the power of the ensemble cast.

Bradley Cooper scores laughs as a pathetic FBI agent looking to make a name for himself, and Christian Bale looks great in a combover as the conman forced into an alliance with the law. Amy Adams gets one of the strangest roles of the year as a con artist pretending to be British—and she pulls it off quite nicely. Jennifer Lawrence steals every scene she’s in as a seemingly dim Long Island housewife. You also get Louis C.K. as Cooper’s field boss. (He canceled a show for which I had tickets to make this movie. I was pissed then, but after seeing how good he is here, I’m OK with it now.)

The film falls a little short of greatness due to its sometimes carbon-copy feel, but the cast pulls it out of the fire. It also has the best usage of Robert De Niro as a bad guy in many years.

American Hustle is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Derek Cianfrance follows up his brilliant Blue Valentine with The Place Beyond the Pines, a film bigger in scope that also stars Ryan Gosling.

Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt guy who finds out he has a kid. Problem is, the kid is the product of a one-night stand, and the mom (Eva Mendes) has moved on.

Luke resorts to robbing banks, which culminates in a meeting with a rookie cop, Avery, played by Bradley Cooper. The film then focuses on Cooper’s character for a segment before dealing with the kids of Luke and Avery (played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) when they are teens. The two young actors match their adult counterparts with strong performances.

The movie is long but never boring, and it crackles most when Gosling is onscreen. This is all about the sins of the fathers, and Cianfrance presents the story in a way that resonates. He interweaves a lot of characters, and they all get proper coverage.

The Blu-ray serves as an antidote for the latest Gosling film, Only God Forgives, which is terrible. (Gosling was in Gangster Squad as well, so his 2013 has resulted in more bad than good.) Apparently he’s now taking a little break from films. I blame Gangster Squad.

Special Features: You get some deleted and extended scenes, a Cianfrance commentary and a look behind the scenes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I had high hopes for The Hangover Part III, the conclusion to director Todd Phillips’ trilogy about a group of guys who get into a lot of R-rated trouble after ingesting bad stuff.

In retrospect, I feel like a major idiot for having such high hopes.

The Hangover franchise, as it turns out, should’ve never become a franchise at all. With the first film, Phillips and his gang of actors captured comedic magic when an awkward bearded man drugged his buddies at a bachelor party, which led to sordid acts including the kidnapping of Mike Tyson’s tiger.

The Hangover Part II was a carbon copy of that film, shipped from Las Vegas to Thailand. It had about 15 percent of the original’s laughs; however, it wasn’t a complete loss, even though it was a supreme disappointment.

Alas, Part III is total garbage, a film lacking any sense of purpose and woefully lacking in the laugh department. Phillips tries to make a completely different sort of film with his final chapter—and he succeeds, in that this movie has just one, or maybe two laughs.

It doesn’t even come off as a comedy. It’s crime thriller/kidnap movie—which is not a scenario we need to see the Wolfpack (Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) going through.

The movie starts with a giraffe beheading that contains one of the film’s laughs. It then moves into an intervention, where Galifianakis’ Alan is told that he will be going away for a little while. Alan does some very awkward crying; I laughed a little more.

Then the boys hit the road … and the laughter stops cold, as if some sort of movie demon sprung from the ground and smacked the film over its head with a sledgehammer.

An evil crime lord (John Goodman) forces them off the road and introduces the moronic plot thread: the search for Mr. Chow, played by the increasingly annoying Ken Jeong. The trio embark on a search for Chow—and regrettably find him. This leads to some nonsense involving stolen gold, a return to Vegas for a cocaine party, and some surprisingly violent moments involving guns.

This Hangover film has a pretty big body count, and that’s not something I expect from a Hangover film. I expect people humping tigers or Helms’ Stu comically removing his pancreas with tweezers while on heroin.

There’s a sequence atop Caesars Palace in Vegas that looks cool, and Melissa McCarthy shows up in a not-altogether-terrible cameo. However, Galifianakis seems to be the only one really trying out of the trio, and most of his shtick falls flat here. Cooper still plays an OK straight man, while Helms seems lost.

Phillips makes the mistake of thinking we actually have some sort of sentimental connection to these characters. I like these actors a lot, but the characters themselves? I didn’t need three films full of them doing the same thing over and aver. Make another comedy, and cast these actors if you want, but do something new with them. The Hangover was a unique premise that should’ve been one film and out.

What started as a good idea got unnecessarily revisited, and then got pummeled into the ground until it became unrecognizable and ugly. The Hangover Part III is Hollywood greed at its worst, and has no redeeming value. But if you must go, stay for the credits and a sequence in which Phillips gets truly desperate and goes for last-ditch laughs that can’t save his crap movie.

The Hangover Part III is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jennifer Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, which was released on Blu-Ray and DVD yesterday (April 30), but the best performances in this movie are delivered by Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

I don’t mean to knock Lawrence by saying this; she’s quite good in the film. It’s just that Cooper and De Niro (who were both Oscar-nominated) are a little better.

Cooper plays a man recently released from a mental hospital who is looking to get back with his wife, despite the fact that she has a restraining order against him, and despite her complete lack of interest in his existence. De Niro is on hand as his dad, a superstitious gambler who wants his son to watch football with him, not because he wants genuine father/son time, but because he believes his son provides good luck.

Enter Lawrence as a recently widowed woman living nearby; she’s an equally troubled person who pretty much forces Cooper into her life. The two wind up hanging out much to his chagrin, and eventually find themselves in a dance competition.

It’s much better than it sounds.

Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro all manage to portray people with mental problems while avoiding clichés. Each makes his or her character sympathetic, sometimes tragic, and even a little funny at times.

Director David O. Russell always manages to get great ensemble work (Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings, The Fighter), and this film firmly establishes him as an elite director.

Lawrence is great here, but I would’ve tossed the Best Leading Actress Oscar at Naomi Watts for her work in The Impossible. Cooper was even better, but I would’ve given the Best Leading Actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis (who did indeed win it) and Hugh Jackman before him. However, considering who was nominated alongside De Niro for Best Supporting Actor, I think Bobby D. should’ve gotten his third Oscar.

Special Features: Good movies often have good deleted scenes, and such is the case with this Blu-ray release. You get a bunch of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, and many of them were worthy of the film. You also get some decent behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director Derek Cianfrance, who helmed the devastatingly brilliant Blue Valentine, raises his ambitions for The Place Beyond the Pines, a gripping film experiment that works on every level.

Cianfrance makes a lot of unconventional moves this time out. There are many stories in this movie, with a strong emphasis on many characters. Cianfrance finds a way to focus on these characters in an efficient way that doesn’t have viewers jumping from one story to another from scene to scene. The stories progress chronologically over a period of about 16 years, with some characters fading away as others take over. The result is long, but never boring.

The film starts with a lengthy tracking shot that follows Ryan Gosling’s Luke, a stunt-motorcycle driver, as he leaves his trailer and heads for his evening gig. The shot establishes that although Luke is a semi-celebrity on the carnival circuit, he’s undeniably lonely and isolated.

Luke gets some surprising news from ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes), and his life trajectory takes a drastic shift. He moves from doing stunts to robbing banks, a decision that will bring him face to face with Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop with a terrible haircut. Avery finds himself thrust into upstate New York law enforcement with the big boys, which includes being around a lot of corruption. (Ray Liotta is one of the cops, so there you go. Bad stuff always goes down when Liotta is in the mix.)

Both Luke and Avery have 1-year-old sons, and the film ultimately deals with their stories when the kids hit the age of 17. AJ (Emory Cohen) is Avery’s son, a neglected product of divorce who has a marble-mouth, a taste for drugs and a violent temper. Jason (Dane DeHaan) is Luke’s son, a mild-mannered loner who knows little about his father and who gets high a lot. The two sons cross paths and become friends, and the film becomes a startling look at the results of bad fathering.

The movie is always good, but it is perhaps at its best when Gosling occupies the story. Gosling got off to bad start this year with his turn in the lousy Gangster Squad, but his performance here puts him back on track. Luke has similarities to the dark, brooding Driver from Drive (and like Driver, Luke is prone to violent outbursts). Gosling brings out sensitivity in Luke that makes him all the more tragic when his crime spree spirals out of control.

Cooper, recently Oscar-nominated for Silver Linings Playbook, is Gosling’s equal in this film, making Avery virtuous at first, but prone to devious leanings. Avery’s ambitions lead to broken marriages and a miserable kid, canceling out any heroic deeds from years before. His work here is just as strong as his work in Playbook.

As for Cohen and DeHaan, they provide Pines with an absorbing final act. It’s usually a good thing when you get a movie with a couple of memorable characters in it. Well, this film has a whole cast’s worth of memorable characters, and all of the actors get the screen time they deserve.

Mendes heads the supporting cast with an authority that she has never shown before. She’s nothing short of terrific, and it’s a performance that should open some new doors for the veteran actress. The ever-reliable Ben Mendelsohn (so good in Killing Them Softly) gives a wonderfully quirky performance as Robin, Luke’s only true friend and confidant. Liotta, Mahershala Ali, Rose Byrne and Bruce Greenwood round out the cast with powerful work.

Cianfrance has made a beautiful movie, from the lush camerawork by Sean Bobbitt, to the haunting, excellent piano based soundtrack by Mike Patton (yes, THAT Mike Patton, from Faith No More). The film has something beautiful to boast in every frame. It’s a true work of art.

It’s also good for a few doses of adrenaline, something that was absent from the somber Blue Valentine. The bank robberies and subsequent chases are uncomfortable, fast and tense. Luke’s showdown with Avery after a memorable foot chase is a great movie moment.

Anybody thinking The Place Beyond the Pines is just a movie about a dude on a motorcycle robbing banks (as commercials have implied) will be in for a big surprise. It’s a sprawling work about the sins of the father—and it’s one of the year’s best films so far.

The Place Beyond the Pines is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6588; www.camelottheatres.com); and the Cinemas Palme d'Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730; www.thepalme.com).

Published in Reviews

Page 2 of 2