Movie Review: “American Hustle”

Starring
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K, Michael Peña
Director
David O. Russell

David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” opens with a title card that playfully states: “Some of this actually happened.” But considering that the movie was originally titled “American Bullshit” and is populated with characters who are bullshit specialists, it’s meant to be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Russell has adapted what was an already outlandish story into a ’70s-styled farce filled with a flying circus of conmen, feds, politicians and casino mobsters. Immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and featuring excellent performances from its entire cast, “American Hustle” is one of the year’s absolute best films and a serious contender for every major award.

When we first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), he’s seen carefully assembling his elaborate comb over with a combination of a toupee, glue and lots of hairspray. But what the paunchy conman lacks in good looks, he makes up for with confidence and intellect, which is what’s made him so successful at ripping people off. Everything changes when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a former stripper who partners with Irving under the guise of a British businesswoman with royal connections named Lady Edith. Their business practically triples overnight, drawing the attention of ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who catches the pair red-handed and forces them to work undercover for the bureau. Richie wants to make a name for himself by taking down some white-collar criminals, and his first target is Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a family man so desperate to revitalize the New Jersey economy that he’s willing to get his hands a little dirty in the process. It quickly turns into a game of who’s conning who, and yet the one thing that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down isn’t their mistrust in each other, but Irving’s unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

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Movie Review: “The Hangover Part III”

Starring
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman
Director
Todd Phillips

After the last “Hangover” film left most people with a sour taste in their mouth, it was no secret that director Todd Phillips would have to change up the formula if he ever made another sequel. Unfortunately, despite heeding that advice on the latest installment, “The Hangover Part III” is a really bad movie (like, worst film of the year bad) – a joyless and humorless cash-in that bears little resemblance to the 2009 original except by name. Say what you will about the first sequel, but at least that one actually felt like a “Hangover” movie. I’m still not even sure if “Part III” is supposed to be a comedy, but the shocking lack of laughter would suggest otherwise.

The film opens with a silly gag involving Alan (Zach Galifianakis) buying and subsequently killing a giraffe while transporting it home, and it only goes downhill from there. (Sadly, that’s also just the start of the movie’s streak of animal cruelty.) When his latest antics cause his father (Jeffrey Tambor) to have a heart attack and die, it puts Alan in a bit of tailspin. Concerned about his well-being, the guys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha) stage an intervention and convince him to get help at a mental health clinic in Arizona. On the way there, however, they’re kidnapped by a surly gangster named Marshall (John Goodman), who blames them for introducing Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) into his life. Apparently, Chow stole a lot of money from Marshall and has evaded him ever since, so he tasks the Wolfpack (minus Doug of course, who’s kept as collateral) to track him down, taking them from Tijuana to Las Vegas, the city where it all began.

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Movie Review: “The Place Beyond the Pines”

Starring
Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen
Director
Derek Cianfrance

After watching Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine,” it was clear that the writer/director would be one to watch for the future, even if the anti-romance film wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. His follow-up feature, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” reunites Cianfrance with his “Blue Valentine” star Ryan Gosling, and though the movie is hindered by its own set of problems, the multi-generational crime drama makes good on the potential he showcased in his directorial debut. While it’s difficult to talk about the movie without wading knee-high into spoiler territory, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is an impressive piece of American filmmaking that’s every bit as compelling as it is annoyingly flawed.

The movie’s triptych structure is like watching three separate but interconnecting films, and Cianfrance kicks things off with what is easily the best of the bunch as we’re introduced to Luke Glanton (Gosling), a motorcycle stunt driver who reconnects with a former one-night stand named Romina (Eva Mendes) at the local fair where he plies his trade. When he learns that Romina has given birth to his son, Luke agrees to quit his nomadic job and stay in town, even though Romina has already moved on with another man. Determined to do his fatherly duties and provide for his son, Luke decides to put his unique skills to use and start robbing banks, placing him on a collision course with rookie policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an honest family man who gave up his promising career as a lawyer to serve on the force. After becoming privy to some dirty cops in the department, however, Avery must decide what’s more important: his integrity or loyalty to his brothers in blue.

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Trailer Alert: “The Hangover Part III”

The epic finale to the “Hangover” trilogy hits theaters May 24th, and although there’s no wedding or bachelor party this time around, the new trailer for the third installment promises plenty of crazy hijinks are still in store for the Wolfpack. Check it out below and let us know what you think.

  

Weekly Web Series Review: Between Two Ferns

Hosted by Zach Galifianakis at his most awkward, “Between Two Ferns” represents what television talk shows might actually be like in a much more interesting world. Filmed to look like a low-budget public access show, but with big-name celebrity guests, the series mines uncomfortable humor to the fullest. Galifianakis frequently mispronounces the names of his guests and openly insults them, creating an environment of hostility that often feels almost too real. When not blatantly mispronouncing names, he is prone to making intentionally terrible puns out of them, like when he asks Jon Hamm if his middle name is “Honey-Baked,” or if he has considered changing his name to something like “Stewart Turkey-Link.”

The discomfort starts strong right out of the gate in the first episode, in which Galifianakis basically molests Michael Cera. There is a common thread of one-sided sexual tension in many of the episodes, and certainly not just with the female guests, though it may be strongest in the episode featuring Natalie Portman. It is a testament to her skill as an “acteress” that this episode is one of the most authentic, as if she were actually just in the midst of a nightmarish interview set up by the most incompetent agent imaginable. Other episodes are more clearly staged, and perhaps the weakest is the one with Will Ferrell, if only because the two are generally too chummy with each other, at least until the end.

The series is at its best when Galifianakis is openly hostile to his guests, like the episodes featuring Ben Stiller and “Brad Lee Cooper.” Though this hostility is common throughout the series, only “Conan O. Brien” gets an explanation, which is that Galifianakis thought he had a shot at “The Tonight Show.” Another especially convincing episode features Galifianakis’ “twin brother,” Seth, interviewing a wooden-faced Sean Penn, who really seems like he might haul off and punch Galifianakis at any moment. As with Portman, it is Penn’s acting skill that pulls off the joke so well.

A pitch-perfect spoof of bad, desperate public access talk shows, “Between Two Ferns” is easily one of the best offerings from the always enjoyable Funny or Die. Even the opening and closing theme music feels authentic, though it is actually lifted from Bernard Herrmann‘s “Taxi Driver” score, which adds to Galifianakis’ creepy, angry vibe. I’m not sure how well it would work as a full-length show on television, but in the small segments available online, it is hilarious.

  

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