MARCH 18TH, 2014

AMERICAN HUSTLE // A collection of David O. Russell’s top players, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Amy Adams collaborate in one of the best ensemble cast films of the year, “American Hustle”. Taking a spin on the ‘70s FBI operation known as ABSCAM (Abdul Scam) in which an apprehended con artist was used to set up members of congress by using the promise of money from a fake sheik, Russell inserts his players into the roles and everyone of them makes them their own. Christian Bale plays the sleaze con artist Irving Rosenfeld, whose brutal honesty towards those closest to him, his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and his mistress Sydney (Amy Adams) is reflected best by his willingness to scam just about everyone else. Jumping on the weak when they’re in most need of money, Irving falls into the trap of FBI agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), a high strung up and coming agent with something to prove. By using leverage against Irving to do his dirty work and ensnaring good guy politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) into the ABSCAM to which the pot just keeps on getting bigger, eventually involving a Senator and even the mob. Throughout the course of the screenplay, everyone appears to be scamming on someone, and unravels like a tightly knit mystery until the very last scene. With gorgeous garb on all the women and some amazing stylings, “American Hustle” embodies the era perfectly, showing off the attire, or lack thereof, of that generation. Losing itself, at times, in a convoluted plot and nobody can win situations, the screenplay eventually win over in a tremendous climax that fixes most of the wrongs. Along with Russell’s impeccable directing talent to extract such amazing performances from his ensemble cast, “American Hustle” continues his wonderful legacy, following “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook”, not only continuing to show his resiliency, but his range and ability to dominate more than one genre, remaining versatile and memorable.

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DISNEY’S FROZEN // Entering the annals of the Disney collection, “Frozen” takes the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen” and gives it the classic Disney touch. Working in its favor are the strong female characters in Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) as they sing and dance their way through Elsa’s unwanted ability to freeze things. This was fine as she grew up in a closed off castle, but when she is to become queen, her abilities frighten the townspeople and lead her into the mountains, where Anna must follow. Also, the living snowman Olaf, voiced perfectly by Josh Gad supplies almost the entire film’s comedic relief, as he bumbles alongside Anna and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) as they attempt to locate Elsa and her new ice castle. The pacing of the film was a bit bothersome, as it flies through the different set pieces with little to no regard. Certain characters like the Duke (Alan Tudyk) feel extraneous and unneeded, while characters like Hans (Santino Fontana) are not properly labeled from the get go, causing for some much too late character twists that feel forced and blind siding. The songs of the film are quite enjoyable, fitting the dialogue to song transitions quite nicely, but again, the majority of the songs are weighted on the front of the film, while the entire back end remains refrain-less. On the animation side of things, the visuals could not be any better, developing some of the best looking characters and settings from any Disney film to date, as it should be. “Frozen” will not land any where close to being one of favorite Disney films, with a lackluster villain and only a few strong characters, but does carry on the legacy of their installments like “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph” which deliver just enjoyable enough to keep from being average.

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KILL YOUR DARLINGS // The Beat Generation has always been fascinating to me, with the Allen Ginsbergs and Jack Kerouacs of the world, who can deny this revolution in poetry and self-expression. As the story of Kerouac becomes more and more publicized, I’ve gotten even more invested in his story and have begun to seek out his work. “Kill Your Darlings” takes a step back, before these men were icons and divulges their initial workings and desires to change the structure of poetry and the way it is expressed. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, leaving his father (with a wonderful dramatic turn from David Cross) and his ailing mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), he sets off to Columbia University. Upon meeting rebel Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), he follows in the footsteps of men like David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), and Jack Kerouac himself (Jack Huston).

Forcing their way into poetry and changing people’s perceptions, the boys enjoy an anarchist lifestyle, in skipping class and enjoying drinks, they create their own tiny social club. But as the dark past of Lucien and David surfaces, something much sinister comes into play. Based on a very true story, the film unravels like a thriller, but stays grounded on amazing performances from the talented young actors, especially DeHaan, Foster, and Huston, who all bring a new level to the characters they play and present their worth within their first few minutes on screen. Another pleasant surprise included Elizabeth Olsen as Kerouac’s unwed lady, Edie Parker, whose limited screen-time is made up for by her strong performance. With an authenticity that grabs hold of your attention and spectacular performances all around, “Kill Your Darlings” is the best representation of the Beat Generation that I’ve seen yet.

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MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM // Timing is everything. And in the case of “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” and its release date occurring very close to the actual passing of Nelson Mandela is simply a coincidence and an example of perfect timing as far as biopics go. I will always remember driving down Sunset Blvd and seeing huge advertisements for a film that had already been out for a week or so (the film came out in the United States on November 28, 2013, Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95) despite most advertisements of that stature belonging to blockbusters that were set to release in the upcoming months, but never a small, arthouse feature that had passed its release date already. But whatever got people to see the film, it did not disappoint and chronicled the adult life of the most influential man in South Africa’s history.

If you’re interested in learning about the inner workings of Nelson Mandela, director Justin Chadwick’s dramatization of those events are well shot and well acted, with the mega talented Idris Elba playing the leading role while Naomie Harris impresses as Winnie Mandela, offering an insight into her life that wasn’t necessarily public knowledge. The film follows Mandela as he deals with the changing landscape of South Africa and the apartheid, becoming a strong voice of the people to whom citizens would flock to. That path eventually leads to his family coming second to his politics and the governments focus towards him and locking him away. A film that would fit perfectly in a high school history class about the subject, Elba brings a higher caliber performance that raises this from PBS special to powerful feature film, all while educating the masses to South Africa’s sorted past. Along with the Academy Award nominated original song from U2 titled “Ordinary Love”, which was featured at the Oscars, and strategically placing billboards in the busiest streets in the city right after Mandela’s death, captures an audience that may have never ventured to see it otherwise and for that, this film reaches beyond bland biopics and creates a truly unique and in depth look at a very influential figure in world history.

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SAVING MR. BANKS // “Saving Mr. Banks” is a film about Walt Disney made by Walt Disney Pictures, so anyone looking for a rich and dynamic look at the man’s life and especially his involvement with getting the rights to “Mary Poppins” from author P.L. Travers, will be sadly mistaken. Were there animated dancing penguins involved, this would feel much like the film that Disney was trying to make and Travers was trying to avoid. The real story of the film, in my opinion, is told in the flashbacks of Travers as a young lady, with her father, Travers Goff (played wonderfully by Colin Farrell). Happy-go-lucky and a huge advocate for imagination, Travers is a closet drunk and despite his wife’s sharp glances and questions of missing work, Travers and young Pamela are best friends. But when he becomes sick and Pamela’s aunt comes to take care of the house, she dreams of a magical nanny that can fix everything.

The most impacting line of the film was displayed in the marketing for the film, in which Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) mistakes the meaning of the book, believing Mary Poppins is there to save the children when really, by way of the title of the film, the meaning is really about saving the father, Mr. Banks. Pamela’s acclaimed story had been the apple of Disney’s eye since it’s publications, but alluding him for years, the film picks up with her being coaxed into flying to Los Angeles and helping (or not helping) to adapt the book into a screenplay, with song and dance, and yes, even animation. Scoffing every chance she gets, Emma Thompson plays Pamela “P.L.” Travers with a dignity and range that is needed to get her across. Her character earns a representation for being hard and having not signed over the rights, she has full say throughout the process, down to the color of someone’s hat. What feels too much like a work of Disney is that despite the continued conflict, there’s always a lightness to the performances and the plot, with no angry words or frustrations, but simply more and more avenues to overcome their disputes. Walt Disney wins, Pamela works through her issues, and there’s no real severity to anyone’s actions or feelings towards anything. Obviously we know “Mary Poppins” got made, so ultimately we know where the film is heading, but the film feels more like fluff than something grounded in reality.

The cast in play fits the dream like quality of the film as well, with Tom Hanks bringing the joyful, poster boy Disney to the big screen, nothing more, nothing less, while Emma Thompson does a tremendous job with facial expressions and an overall meandering quality that carries this performance, despite a screenplay that works against her. The supporting cast is also a little too joyful and not to key, with Paul Giamatti playing the dopey chauffeur that hardly flinches as Pamela berates him and Kathy Baker, as Disney’s executive secretary, who does little while Disney struggles with his sexism (which is never really referred to). Jason Schwartzman is able to stand out of the pack, as one of the composers of the musical, with his normal schmaltzy demeanor that fits this type of film perfectly. Knowing full well what I was getting into with “Saving Mr. Banks”, I was unsurprised by my general lack of emotional investment, with a film that plays it safe across the board. Life action Disney films are a hard sell as I grow older, with at least two films coming out this year that look more for a homegrown family rather than anyone interested in a deep and enriching story. How “Mary Poppins” got made and the process behind it is very interesting to me, but not when it’s clouded with fairy dust, which is exactly how “Saving Mr. Banks” is portrayed.

New Releases
American Hustle
Disney’s Frozen
Here Comes The Devil
Kill Your Darlings
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Reasonable Doubt 2-denied2
Saving Mr. Banks
Swerve

TV Box Set

  • Atlantis: Season One
  • Devious Maids: Season One
Special Editions/Other Releases
  • 20ft Below
  • Bending the Rules (2012)
  • A Brief History of Time: Criterion
  • Contracted
  • The Hidden Fortress: Criterion
  • Jamesy Boy   2-denied2
  • The Jungle Book 2
  • Odd Thomas  2-denied2
  • Sparks: The Origin Of Ian Sparks   2-denied2
  • Touch Of Sin   2-denied2

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