Review: American Hustle

american-hustle-posters-sony I love movies that run you through a series of emotions and aren't afraid to bring humor to thrilling drama. I love movies that seem like the roles were written for the people who ended up casted in them, a great combination of smart writing and stellar acting. I love movies who blur the lines between heroes and villains and have you completely invested in the story from start to finish. American Hustle does all of these things and does them in expert fashion. It's a terrific movie and is a wonderful coda for cinema in 2013. American Hustle is directed by David O. Russell of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook fame. It tells a tale (loosely based on a true story; as it says at the beginning of the film: "Some of this stuff actually happened.") of two low-level con artists loving life in New York in the late 1970's. Things are going great for Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) until they get pinched by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper): an ambitious FBI agent looking to make a name for himself. DiMaso's grand plan is to use the couple to help take down a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) desperately trying to revitalize Atlantic City. The three quickly find themselves over their heads and struggling to keep control of the unraveling events, the least of which isn't helped by Irving's estranged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who gets roped into the plot and becomes its biggest wild card.

The first thing that has to be said about American Hustle is that Russell and co-writer Eric Singer do a wonderful job at developing these characters. All of the principal characters are firmly anti-heroic, yet you find yourself feeling a great amount of sympathy for them throughout the film. A great example of this comes in the portrayal of Richie DiMaso: a guy that is meant to come off as an asshole, yet there is a scene in the movie that explains in about 2 minutes his motivations and immediately changes how you feel about him, even if just for a brief period of time. The dynamic between Rosenfeld, his mistress, and his wife, which doesn't even really get delved into until the latter half of the movie, is pulled off in such an impressive manner by the actors involved. It's quite ironic that the most noble character (relatively speaking) in the movie, Renner, is the one you end up feeling the least amount of desire to see succeed. Lawrence in particular deserves special mention for the job she did. Her ability as an actress has never been questioned, and it's a cliché to say something along the lines of "this role is like you've never seen Jennifer Lawrence before!", but there is truth to that sentiment here as she delivers in a role as complex as she has ever had to play (note: I do say this having not seen Silver Linings Playbook, which I have heard she is equally excellent in).

Much needs to be said also about the intangibles in the film, which is another area where Russell excels. The cinematography is dynamic and adds so much to the source material. Equally great is the soundtrack selection which seems perfectly tailored to the film. It felt very Tarantino-esque. I love when directors pay so much attention to the little things, and seeing American Hustle makes me want to run out immediately and watch Russell's other directorial endeavors. There are also a couple of really fun cameos here that I won't spoil, Richie DiMaso's boss at the bureau especially (don't cheat by looking on IMDb!), that were unexpected and actually added a lot to the movie. My only real criticism of the movie is the fact that is was a slow starter. It was a necessary evil to really give the exposition needed to understand the relationship between Bale and Adams' characters, but it drags on a bit especially when compared to the breakneck pace of the latter two-thirds of the film.

All in all, American Hustle was just fantastic. Whether or not you are a fan of Russell's other films, it's just such a well-done movie that you owe it to yourself not to miss it.

[easyreview title= "Review of American Hustle" cat1title="Brad's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hunger Games Catching Fire

Picking up soon after the 74th Hunger Games in which Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) were victorious. The two set out to visit each district and pay homage to the fallen contenders from their competition in a bizarrely required victory lap. Katniss is told that she must do this to quell the brewing rebellion that is taking place or the ones she loves will suffer the consequences.

As Katniss and Peeta make their victory tour we get glimpses of events of the past. Characters such as Rue and Thresh make simulated appearances that help to tie the movie nicely back to the original. The desolate nature of the districts is highlighted strongly for the first 2/3rds of the film. Dancing between the starving peasants of the districts and their counterparts in the capitol allows for a clear division to be drawn between the haves and the have nots. There is one such scene where the notion of Roman style vomitoriums are even used so the residents of the capitol can extend their gluttony. The movie does a fantastic job of establishing the hardship of district living and what Katniss and Peeta comes from. Frankly, this was nice to see considering the exploration of the districts was fairly minimal in this first movie.

When President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) decides that the impending rebellion must be stamped out in its earliest form he sets out to use Katniss as the means by which to do so. Snow takes the counsel of a new Games maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Heavensbee advices Snow to ramp up beatings and executions in all the districts while simultaneously increase coverage of Katniss and Peeta supposed love life. Heavensbee’s plan is to bombard the district folks until they outright hate Katniss. Snow agrees and the public torture garners a massive increase. One such victim of these beatings is Katniss's true love,  Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). This event pushes Katniss and Peeta into the already murky grounds of the rebellion. Soon after, the announcement of the 75th Games commences. Due to the nature of a special Hunger Games every 25 years, called a Quarter Quell, President Snow decides to make the competitors all be drawn from the pool of existing past victors.

This announcements guarantees Katniss’s involvement, as she is the only female living victor from District 12. Once all the past victors are chosen we are whisked away to the training facility for the 75th Games. Put up against trained killers proves that the stakes are even higher this time around. Unlike the previous Games, Katniss will be battling mostly adults, an interesting swap from the kids vs. kids motif of the first movie. The last third of the movie is the games and they don’t disappoint. A far greater experience than the first Games. Here we don’t have to suffer from extremely close shot action sequences to keep the PG-13 rating. Rather the subtle art of implication works better. No gruesome deaths here, but the few that happen on screen are vivid, but not graphic. The difficulty here is to not simply remake the Game scene from before but make it fresh. Director Francis Lawrence does well to make you care about what comes next. Stirring the ship into familiar waters can be a nightmare for a director and fears of redundancy can be hard to navigate. However, I felt the Games take on a new sense of meaning and urgency. New allies, enemies, and environmental elements made the Games feel like it was controlled by a new person. The Games maker changes from the first movie to this one, and so does the film’s director. Somehow those factors make for a fuller experience. The movie ends on a cliffhanger and I can’t wait to see where the series goes after this. Both Francis and Jennifer Lawrence do a great job making me care about the universe and characters within it.

Jennifer Lawrence is superb as Katniss Everdeen. Coming off an Oscar win you can see the level of maturity in Lawrence since last playing the character. She plays the role with such nuance. Katniss is fearful, scared, and reluctant but you slowly and logically see her growing as a fearless leader for the coming rebellion. Much like the character of Harry Potter she is growing with her audience. Demanding they face their fears alongside her. The tale of a young adult woman put in a place of death, social division, and sociopaths and yet rises to the occasion is a sight to see. One of the best written female action characters of all time. She has a complicated love life, but it doesn’t consume her. She never plays to damsel in distress, even when she is in distress. Katniss is a proper female hero for this generation, and I can’t wait to see her go further.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: House at the End of the Street

House at the End of the Street After watching House at the End of the Street directed by Mark Tonderai I am pretty sure the horror genre needs an intervention. This was easily one of the worst horror films I've seen in quite a while. I'm not a first weekend got to see it kind of guy when it comes to horror, but this even fell below my already abysmal expectations. I would argue right from the beginning that this movie has zero redeeming qualities. ZEE-RO! Besides the obvious jump scares, there isn't a single thing that sticks with you in this movie. So let's break down the story and then go with critiques...oh there are so many.

First off, House at the end of the Street is a perfect name for the twitter generation because now when I write about it I can use the hashtag #HATES and its both informative and accurate! The story begins with Elissa Cassidy (Jennifer Lawrence) and her mom (Elisabeth Shue) renting a house in a wooded area. I smell trouble!!! The house they are renting is thankfully not haunted, so bullet dodged am I right! Turns out that the house right across the woods from them was where a double murder took place 15 years ago; swing and a miss! I don't know about you but I'm already scared. Needless to say, all the neighbors hate the house and want to purchase it to tear it down. However the son, Ryan Jacobson (Max Thieriot) of the two aforementioned murder victims is living there. When Elissa meets Ryan she is intrigued by him and begins to show signs of interest. Ryan is the town outcast for obvious reasons, as he was the lone survivor of his family after his sister went on a household killing spree. With each passing interaction Ryan and Elissa get closer. The town often talks about Ryan's sister, and theorizes that she lives in the woods surviving and trying to kill again.

Everything about this movie is absolutely pointless. As I said earlier, there are zero redeeming qualities. First off, Jennifer Lawrence's performance was abysmal. She just seemed to phone it in on this one. I didn't think she could be any more flat than when she was in The Hunger Games. However, I don't think its an acting mistake, but a lack of ability similar to Kristen Stewart; yeah I said it. The villain is atrocious and not well thought out in any way. I can't go to far into that because I don't want to spoil anything. The plot was so convoluted for a movie with no brains. We are just dragged around for 110 minutes hoping that something interesting will happen, but it doesn't. The movie tries to play up these big twists but they just feel forced and seem like last minute edits. Hey, I bet they won't see this coming...booyah! This is how I imagine horrendous writers talk to one another. One of the lines that I couldn't help but burst out laughing at was delivered by Jennifer Lawrence, "I like the way you say things." Really? That's an actual line that one person says to another?! The movie flounders on all counts. When I see horror movies I don't want them to make me laugh at the dialogue. I should be tense and horrified at what just happened and the thought of what comes next. While watching #HATES, all I could wonder was when the credits were going to roll. Save your money.

[easyreview title= "Review of House at the End of the Street" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="0.5" overall= false]