David O. Russell deploys his deranged genius to explore the real events behind Abscam, cleverly focussing on the inter-relationships rather than the details of the elaborate sting operation. So under the wild 1970s hair and costumes, we have a series of characters who are never very likeable but are still hugely engaging. Which makes this one of the most prickly, exhilarating movies of the year.
As the opening caption says, "Some of this actually happened". It's set in 1978 New York, where lowlife conman Irving (Bale) is making a decent living with his girlfriend Sydney (Adams). Although his wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) knows something is up. Things get even more complicated when Irving and Sydney are cornered by FBI agent Richie (Cooper) and forced to co-operate in a complex scam to entrap mobsters and dirty politicians, including the likeable Mayor Polito (Renner), with whom Irving strikes up a friendship. As things develop, the sting continually threatens to spin crazily out of control. And Irving starts to worry that Sydney is getting far too close to Richie.
Intriguingly, even as the story gets more and more insane, Russell keeps the story grounded in the characters and the way they interact with each other. So their shifting relationships, power struggles and internal jealousies take centre stage, blurring the details of the undercover operation into the background. This may annoy viewers who want clear insight into Abscam, but it makes the movie much more involving. And it gives the actors a lot to work with. Each of them delivers a powerhouse performance that blends the character's distinct physicality with a complex inner life.
Continue reading: American Hustle Review
Writer-director David O. Russell's out-of-control filmmaking style is perfectly suited to a romantic-comedy involving mental illness, and he infuses the film with a sparky unpredictability that's echoed in the perfectly graded performances of the entire cast. Cleverly, even though most of the characters are clinically unhinged, they're all likeable and easy to identify with.
Cooper stars as Pat, who has spent eight months in a mental hospital before his mother (Weaver) comes to take him home early. His dad (De Niro) isn't so sure it's a good idea, but everyone's happy to have him home. And since he finally accepts that he's bipolar, Pat is ready to get on with life. But it's not so easy. He's prevented from reuniting with his wife because of a restraining order, so he visits mutual friends (Stiles and Ortiz) instead. And they set him up with Tiffany (Lawrence), who's psychologically damaged in her own way. Recognising similar needs, they agree to help each other.
Yes, the film has a clear rom-com premise, but the characters are so unpredictable that we are never quite sure what they'll say or do next. And it's not like Pat and Tiffany are the only unstable people here: they're just the only ones with official diagnoses. All of which gives the actors almost too much colourful material to work with. Cooper is a likeable, charming presence at the centre, eliciting our sympathy even when he does something stupid. And Lawrence delivers a full-on performance that often takes our breath away with its clever layering.
Continue reading: Silver Linings Playbook Review
Three high school students (Angarano, Gallner and Braun) use a phone app to find a 38-year-old woman (Leo) who wants to have group sex. But she's just bait. Before they know what happened, they're caged in an isolated church, where the activist pastor (Parks) explains why he's decided to take violent action against immoral society, which he blames on homosexuality. But the situation devolves into a Waco-style armed stand-off between the militant church and an ATF agent (Goodman) and his team.
Continue reading: Red State Review
Hotel for Dogs clearly wants to rank alongside films such as Anna to the Infinite Power, The Goonies, E.T., and Radio Flyer, films that balanced lighthearted playfulness with a darker, grittier reality. Like the recent Spiderwick Chronicles, Hotel for Dogs plays all the same Spielberg/Donner riffs (a cast of doe-eyed youngsters wise beyond their years dressed in corduroy and plaid, moments of adult menace cut with "oh, thank goodness" relief) and even apes the look of these early '80s flicks. Yet for all its nostalgic bravado, the film never feels more than surface, more than flash.
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Continue reading: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One Review
Sadly, it's the latter. Derailed opens with a tantalizing scenario that threatens to go down a host of intriguing avenues until novelist James Siegel and screenwriter Stuart Beattie opt for the obvious paths. Note to savvy readers: If you suspect someone is in cahoots with the movie's main killer, you're right. They are. Except for that one guy, who actually does die, though you'd be willing to wager $100 he'll turn up again in the end. He doesn't.
Continue reading: Derailed Review
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