Monday, December 30, 2013

American Hustle – review

American Hustle is the dark comedy crime movie about the FBI ABSCAM operation in the late 1970s.  The actors do a great job playing colorful characters.  With an astounding soundtrack, the movie really does a fun job keeping the look of the 70s and 80s.  The story is fun and entertaining with its mix of narrators and compelling characters. 

Con-artists Irving and Sydney, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, have a great scam going until FBI agent Richard DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper, catches them in the act.  They need to help Richard catch corrupt politicians with their con-skills to avoid prison time.  Eventually they are weaving lies and making enemies.  Meanwhile, the relationship between Irving and his unstable wife Rosalyn, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is causing problems. 

The acting is really good and displays the skills of all the actors involved. It is a character piece and everyone is very memorable in his or her look, dialogue, and outfits. American Hustle keeps a grip on the generation it is trying to portray without being too over-the-top.  Christian Bale is hilarious and wildly fun and Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic at being crazy and yet brining vulnerability to the role. 

American Hustle is a very entertaining movie. With a kicking 70s soundtrack, great acting, and a story that is very charming, I recommend seeing it. If you enjoy movies like The Silver Linings Playbook where the humor is somewhat dark and the subject material is some times a bit cerebral, this movie will be right up your alley.  There is a lot of charm and fun to this movie and it is certainly worth the time.  Give it a watch it you have a chance.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is better than the movie that preceded it, but it still pales in comparison to the Lord of the Rings movies.  While visually interesting and having good acting, there are loads of scenes and side plots to this story that are really obvious filler material.  The movie force-feeds fan service to the audience in the hopes that their familiarity with the Lord of the Rings will make them enjoy it more.  It sadly reminds me of Star Wars trilogy in that respect.

Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, travels with his 13 dwarf companions and Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, toward the Lonely Mountain and Smaug the dragon. They must enter the Mirkwood forest and face many dangers.  Gandalf must also address an issue with a Necromancer bringing evil to Middle Earth. They need to show courage and ingenuity in order to get to the Lonely Mountain and face the terrible dragon.

The acting is pretty decent for this chapter.  Martin Freeman is good at bringing heart to Bilbo Baggins.  The One Ring is taking its toll on him and it shows. For the most part everyone else just seems to be going through the motions.  The effects and the action scenes are at least pretty fun to watch.  The amount of CGI is a bit crazy at times, making it almost as if you are watching a cartoon.

This movie makes it painfully obvious that The Hobbit did not need to be broken into a trilogy.  They add a pointless romance between a female elf that was not in the book, with one of the dwarves.  They also put in a scene with Beorn, the skin-changer, which adds nothing to the story. Adding Legolas and talking about Gimli is just fan-service that also is not needed.  As if that isn’t enough, giving the character of the Necromancer multiple scenes was certainly unnecessary.

There are plenty of versions of this story that have been told that don’t require splitting the book into multiple stories.  The fact that Peter Jackson had to add so much filler makes the “cash grab” painfully obvious.  At the very least, some elements of this movie are entertaining.  It is worth seeing if you are a fan of the last movie-as it a lot more entertaining.  I would just recommend catching it as a matinee or waiting until the entire trilogy comes out and getting to see it altogether.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the follow up to The Hunger Games. Based on the book of the same name, the story is about rebellion and the effect the media has on people.  The acting is very good with a story that is pretty gripping.  For a sequel it well written with likable characters.

After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is told to go on tour with Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, to the other districts.  There they find that their actions from the previous hunger games are causing revolutions to spring up.  In order to make an example of the victors the President decides that the 75th annual Hunger Games should be between the winners of the past years. Katniss and Peeta must once again fight in the Hunger Games, this time against other victors.

The acting in this movie is pretty good. Jennifer Lawrence is very good and always seems to try to make a character that is believable and likable.  Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks seem to be having a great time with their roles as well; both are over the top in a good way.  The cameos are great and seeing Jeffrey Wright in a role like this after his work in Boardwalk Empire is a fun change of pace. 

The story has a lot of action and is fairly well paced.  The groups of victors form allegiances that make a really interesting friendship dynamic that was missing in the last film. The thing that I found a bit annoying was that Peeta was in constant need of rescue. It gets a little silly how many times he needs to get helped by other people.  It also seems strange that if the President has no problem wiping out an entire district as a metaphoric middle finger to Katniss, you’d think the people would have run him out of town a long time ago.

As a whole, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a good movie.  I would certainly recommend seeing the first movie before this one though.  It’s got a decent story, fun setting, and likable characters.  If you are in the mood for something different in the sci-fi department I recommend seeing this movie.

Old Boy – review

Old Boy is the 2013 remake of the 2003 South Korean film of the same name. While some of the acting is decent from the main cast, and some of the action scenes are fun to watch, the movie still is not up to par with the original.  The plot changes leave more holes than are necessary. In some instances this can be overlooked, but as many as there are in this version of Old Boy it becomes too distracting.

Joe Doucett, played by Josh Brolin, is an advertising executive that is kidnapped one night and held in a room for 20 years.  While locked away, he becomes physically fit and plans to find what became of his daughter.  Finally, he wakes up in the middle of a field and finds he is free.  Someone has given him a wallet full of cash and a cell phone. He is motivated to find out who imprisoned him and why.

Josh Brolin does a decent job as Joe. He manages to walk the fine line between broken soul and hardened man with nothing to lose.  Elizabeth Olsen is all right, but considering we’ve seen her play characters with a lot more depth it is a shame to see her not bring her A game to a role like Marie.  Sharlto Copley plays a villain that is cartoonish, which is funny to watch but would be more appropriate in a Bond movie than Old Boy.

One of the biggest changes to the remake is the reasoning for imprisoning Joe Doucette. The remake turns a tale of an incestuous romance that leads to suicide, into a complicated, international, incest-driven family murder/suicide. This version of Old Boy takes the cathartic nature of revenge and makes it into something very creepy.  The ending then becomes something laughable rather than beautifully woven and tragically pieced together. All the pieces of this remake come together by pure luck, and luck alone is why the villain is able to go through with his plot.  

If you have not seen the original you may enjoy this movie.  However, if you only see this remake you are missing out. The original is far superior. If you have seen the original movie this will likely disappoint you. This movie is tolerable but is not worth seeing in theaters.  If you are curious about this movie and do not want to watch the foreign version, I recommend a rental.