Blu Tuesday: American Hustle, Frozen and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“American Hustle”

WHAT: When con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are caught selling fake loans by an ambitious FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), they’re wrangled into working with him on an undercover sting targeting dirty politicians. But despite their deep mistrust in each another, the one thing that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down is Irving’s wildly unpredictable wife (Jennifer Lawrence).

WHY: David O. Russell has always been a quality filmmaker, but he’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with thanks to movies like “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and this farcical con-artist caper. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ‘70s, “American Hustle” is immensely entertaining and features some of the best acting of the year. Forty pounds heavier and rocking the most elaborate comb-over you’ve ever seen, Christian Bale delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance as the straight man of the bunch. The other cast members aren’t quite as committed physically, but they’re just as good, including Amy Adams’ sexy and cunning partner in crime, Bradley Cooper’s short-tempered federal agent, and scene stealer Jennifer Lawrence, who’s an absolute riot as Bale’s unpredictable wife. The whole movie is also a lot funnier than you’d expect due to Russell and Eric Singer’s darkly comic script, and though some have argued that it’s too long, the characters are so richly developed and crackling with personality that I would have gladly spent another hour in their messed-up world.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette and some deleted and extended scenes, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Frozen”

WHAT: When her sister Elsa’s icy powers inadvertently ensnare the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter, Anna (Kristen Bell) teams up with a rugged mountain man (Jonathan Groff) and a talking snowman (Josh Gad) to retrieve Elsa (Idina Menzel) from her self-imposed isolation and prove that she’s not the evil witch the townspeople believe her to be.

WHY: In a year of underwhelming animated films, it’s hardly fair to place Disney’s “Frozen” so high on a pedestal, even if it is one of the best things that the Mouse House has produced in almost 20 years. But while “Frozen” is undoubtedly a good movie, it’s not quite as great as the recent love-fest would suggest. It’s also not nearly as progressive, with the lead heroine falling in love with one male character mere minutes after meeting him, and relying on the help of another shortly after. Then there’s the issue of those silly troll rock thingies that threaten to derail the film in the third act, not to mention the fact that it features of the lamest and least threatening villains in memory. With that said, “Frozen” isn’t without its charms. It has a few catchy tunes (particularly the Oscar-winning “Let It Go”), some excellent laughs and a solid voice cast led by Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and the scene-stealing Josh Gad. It’s the kind of movie that has likely empowered young girls around the world, all while selling billions of dollars in merchandise. That’s what you call a win-win.

EXTRAS: There’s a short featurette about the 75-year journey to bring Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” to the big screen, a music video parodying the lack of an actual making-of featurette, some deleted scenes and the short “Get a Horse!”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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2013 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

medsker

It is not gross hyperbole to suggest that, box office be damned, the last couple of years have not been Hollywood’s finest. With all due respect to “The Artist” and “Argo,” the previous two Best Picture winners and fine movies, neither of them would have won had they been released in 2010. In fact, “The Artist” wouldn’t have even made my Top 10 list that year, while “Argo” would have slotted slightly ahead of “The King’s Speech” (that year’s Best Picture winner, by the way), which means it would have ranked as the sixth best movie that year. Yes, 2010 was that good, and everything since has been, as far as I’m concerned, a great disappointment.

Enter 2013, and the first time since 2010 that a movie truly excited me, to the point where I wanted to stay and watch it again the second it ended. Then I felt sad because Roger Ebert hadn’t lived long enough to see it. I’m really going to miss him. He was a damned fine writer.

Sadly, I still don’t have enough movies to make a top ten list. This is a combination of two things: missing some daytime screenings (stupid day job), and being rather underwhelmed by some movies with big time buzz, including the one that will likely win Best Picture. That won’t be a travesty along the lines of “Crash” taking the trophy in 2005, but unworthy of the honor just the same.

My Favorite Movies of 2013

1. “GRAVITY

Only one movie comes even close to this one. I was thrilled when Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film “Children of Men” won my local film critics group’s award for Movie of the Year, and what he does here dwarves that in terms of technical achievement, while Sandra Bullock delivers as raw a performance as she’s ever given in her life. Even better, the movie is a mere 91 minutes long. Showing people something they’ve never seen before, while showing respect for the audience’s time: now that is my idea of a modern-day filmmaker.

gravity-med

2. “AMERICAN HUSTLE

This is one of those ‘little moments’ movies, where the story is thoroughly engaging, but it’s the little bits that will stick in your head, and each of the leads has one. Bradley Cooper impersonating Louis C.K. towards the end. Christian Bale letting it all hang out at the party while listening to Duke Ellington. Jennifer Lawrence and the “science oven.” (Lawrence actually has two, if you include her lip sync of “Live and Let Die.”) Jeremy Renner explaining all of the different things you can heat in a science oven (all Italian foods). Amy Adams introducing Lady Greensly. “American Hustle” has a gonzo spirit, but it’s a smoke screen to distract you from the fact that at least one of the characters at any point in time is already thinking two moves ahead. Brilliant stuff.

3. “HER

If “American Hustle” is a ‘little moments’ movie, “Her” is the one that will lead people to have book club-type conversations after seeing it. If the idea of someone developing feelings for an operating system seems odd on the surface, it won’t once you see Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) give up people for Samantha (Scarlett Johannson), who satisfies him in ways that real women can’t. Johannson will probably be overlooked by the Academy for the same reasons that motion capture master Andy Serkis has been shunned (only her voice appears in the movie), but she delivers a heartbreaking and utterly believable performance as the zeroes-and-ones Samantha.

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Movie Review: “Frozen”

Starring
Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad
Directors
Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

The ending of “Frozen” flies in the face of everything that Disney heroines had previously stood for, and it is glorious. Curiously, my 4-year-old daughter did not like the ending, because it does not fall in line with the other Disney princess story lines, though that is precisely why her mother and I high-fived each other when discussing it afterwards. Princess Anna is all girl, but she has more courage and determination than the other princesses combined. Between her and Merida from last year’s “Brave,” it is encouraging to see Disney crafting women who are focused on something other than the affections of a boy.

In the Norwegian village of Arendelle, there are two young princesses named Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel as an adult) and Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell as an adult). Elsa has the ability to make snow and ice, and Anna loves to see her magic. Elsa accidentally hurts Anna while putting on a show for her, and though they were able to heal Anna (and remove Anna’s memory of the accident), Elsa was forbidden from telling Anna the truth about her powers, which basically meant that Anna couldn’t play with Elsa anymore. As they grew older, they grew apart. On the day of Elsa’s coronation to become queen of Arendelle, her inability to control her powers sends the entire village into a deep freeze. Elsa, now regarded by the villagers as a monster, retreats for the mountains, and Anna enlists an ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Goff) to help her find Elsa and bring her home.

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