Tag Archives: Bradley

Movie Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

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The Guardians are back, even with a Baby Groot, in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.

We first met the Guardians Of The Galaxy back in 2014. The Guardians are back in Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2. But do they have what it takes to deliver this time?

Back when the first Guardians Of The Galaxy came to the big screen, most people have not heard of them. This was a chance for Marvel to introduce them to the world. It was a unique mix of quirky characters, both virtual and live, loads of action, and a mix of both music and humor that made it a hit with families and superhero movie fans alike. The movie became the third-highest grossing movie of 2014 and turned the Guardians into household names. In fact “I am Groot,” became the top movie line of that year.

This time around is about bringing about the sequel.  Most of you already know my feeling of Hollywood sequels in my review of Furious 7. However sequels can either propel a movie franchise further or sink it. Sequels are hit and miss. I’ve seen so many sequels where they simply rehash the formula of the first movie plot-for-plot, moment-for-moment. That’s why I’m mostly turned off sequels. That’s also often all one needs to do to end a franchise. Nevertheless there are a good number of sequels or second-movies that do differ a lot from the original. That’s often the better idea but even that’s a gamble. One example is the second and third film of The Matrix. It was too different from the original film that blew audiences away in 1999 and they disappointed fans.

This sequel for Guardians takes the chance of being very different from the first film. One can already notice the differences here: animosity between the members, the stormy family relations of Peter and his father and Gamora and her sister, the people of the various galaxies going against each other and all galaxies being threatened by Ego. I appreciate them creating a scenario different from the original. Nevertheless there were some things from the original that they had to bring back into the sequel like the humorous tones in various scenes, the unique and sometimes crazy personalities of each of the Guardians, and of course the use of 70’s songs in the many scenes. It was all a case of making the right choices of what to include from the first and what to change up. I feel they made a lot of the right choices here.

Another difference I noticed in Volume 2 is that there are a lot more ‘salty’ and ‘spicy’ things in the film. For example, I noticed there was more swearing included and a lot more lewd talk. There were even scenes hinting towards sex or even showing suggestive situations like a stripper bar in another galaxy. Sometimes I think ever since Deadpool shook things up in the world of superhero movies, directors are less afraid of including risque stuff even if they know children will be watching. However unlike Deadpool, the film knows it’s supposed to be a superhero movie and the theme of heroes and the values they stand for and fight for is definitely not forsaken. Whether it’s okay for parents to take their children to see it or not is completely the parents’ call. I’d say it’s best for 11 and older.

James Gunn again delivers as a director and a writer in this sequel. He takes some of the first, some new ideas, and some racy choices and turns it into a movie that works. Chris Pratt delivers again as Peter and Kurt Russell does a very good job in playing a deceptive villain. Zoe Saldana again proves why she’s the top actress in sci-fi movies with her performance as Gamora. Dave Bautista was hilarious as Drax as was Bradley Cooper as Rocket. Michael Rooker was also good as Nebula. Baby Groot had a lot of funny moments but there are times I felt in retrospect that he went too much on the ‘cutesy’ side. Michael Rooker was also good as Yondu. The two newcomers–Karen Gillan as Nebula and Pom Klementieff–were good in their roles even if Mantis did come across as too weird or ditzy. Judianna Makofsky did a very good job in designing the costumes to fit the story, Tyler Bates delivers a fitting score to the film, and the visual effects team with hundreds of credits again delivered effects to make the action and drama that more exciting.

It seems appropriate that Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2 kicks off the 2017 Summer Movie Season. It’s a sequel that delivers the right stuff most of the time. It’s able to deliver some new magic without compromising the magic of the original and keeps one thrilled one moment, laughing another moment, and entertained throughout.

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Movie Review: Joy

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Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as inventor and Home Shopping Network personality Joy Mangano.

Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The world doesn’t owe you a thing.

I’m sure before you go to see Joy, you’ll think you’ve seen all the rags-to-riches stories you’ve had to. However you’re in for a surprise.

The film is first set in the 1960’s when Joy Mangano is a child. She’s very creative and very inventive. Fast forward to 1989. Joy Mangano is the breadwinner to a household of four generations of family: her grandmother, her divorced mother and father, her overachieving half-sister, her ex-husband and her two children. She works as a ticket agent at a major airline. Not exactly an admirable job for someone that was valedictorian when she graduated.

“How did it go wrong?” Joy ponders. She was an inventive girl but that all changed when her mother and father divorced. It was like her creativity went with her. She married a wedding singer with high hopes but his dreams fell apart and so did their marriage, albeit left amicable enough for him to still live in Joy’s house. Hey, he’s broke! Actually all the family’s lives appear unchanging as her father is dating the wrong women and her mother escapes the pain of divorce by locking herself in her bedroom and watching soaps. The one thing that stayed solid and has kept on going right over they years was Joy’s friendship to Jackie, her best friend since grade school.

One day, her father dates a new woman: an Italian woman named Trudy. She comes from a wealthy background and takes the whole family on the family yacht. A wine bottle breaks and Joy is left to mop it. She gets her hands cut trying to remove the broken glass from the mop. While recovering from her cuts, that’s when her inventiveness comes back. She has an idea for a self-cleaning mop and she’s willing to design it with something as simple as paper and her daughter’s crayons. Her mother is discouraging of her to chase her dreams but her grandmother is more supportive.

However she knows the difficulties of making something and merchandising it. She knows there’s someone who has a patent for something similar and has to agree to pay a certain percentage. She knows she will need financial support. Trudy is willing to offer but she’s very stern with whom she’s willing to support. She knows she will need a place to get the mop made. Her father offers her space in his workshop and women hired to make the mop. She even finds a factory willing to make the parts.

Then comes the advertising. She’s unable to get a deal and is subject to advertising her mop in K-Mart parking lots which is illegal. However she catches the attention of Neil Walker, CEO of the shopping channel QVC. He is impressed with the product and is willing to get it advertised on the channel. However everything goes wrong when first advertised as the salesman, who is considered the top salesman of the channel, does everything wrong and there’s no sale. Joy however doesn’t quit and negotiates with Walker for her to sell the product herself on the channel. When she does the commercial, she is very nervous. However a helpful phone call from Jackie while live on the air is just the boost she needs and it works. Her mop is a hit and it succeeds in getting her mops sold and paying her off.

However it doesn’t end there. Her success happens as her grandmother, the person who believed in Joy all along, dies. Then there’s news about excessive production fees paid. Joy goes to the factory and finds out a lot of bad truths about what has been happening and what’s being planned. Feeling helpless, Joy is about to file for bankruptcy until she finds out a certain truth and settles the score.

The movie isn’t just simply about a rags-to-riches story about a woman who was able to make it as a tycoon. It’s also a reminder that even in tight economic times, the American Dream is still achievable. Even in cases where there are obstacles thrown in your face like an advertiser who doesn’t do their job right or even lawsuits left, right and centre, it can still be done. We shouldn’t forget that Joy Mangano was making this all happen during the recession of the 90’s. I remember that recession well as I remember young adults like myself at the time received a lot of neglect from the job markets. Joy was not only able to create a ‘better mousetrap’ but be able to make it sell. Sure she faced a lot of common business challenges and hard blow of the business world and yes, she may have thought of giving up but she prevailed in the end. Now she’s the one in control. The film shows that this is still very much possible today.

One thing I will have to say is that doing such a film of a person achieving the American Dream has been done countless times. For one to do such a story differently, they would have to make the right choices. David O. Russell tries to make some unique choices such as having the story told by the grandmother’s point of view, even in time periods when the grandmother is deceased. Even the ending where the story progresses to the present but flashes back to just after Joy won her legal dispute is another unique choice in storytelling. However it makes one question whether those were the right choices. I can understand the attempt to tell a story differently but did they work? I don’t think they were the best choices.

David O. Russell sure has made a name for himself in the last five years with films like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This is a new challenge for him to direct and co-write with Annie Mumolo a story about a female inventor and media personality. Not something I would normally associate with Russell. I will admit this is not his best work. There are times I even wondered if David O. Russell is the right director for such a movie. Nevertheless it’s still very professional despite some of the glitchy storytelling choices. I do give him and Mumolo kudos for telling this story of a woman who starts in a situation familiar with most Americans and turning it into a relatable success story. That is one of its best points. Even the human element of Joy Mangano is another excellent part of the film. The film is not just about a woman wanting to make a success of herself for her own purposes but also being someone for her own daughter to look up to. Joy goes from someone mocked by her half-sister in front of her own kids to being someone for her kids to look up to. That element is another plus.

No doubt Jennifer Lawrence owned the film. Of course the Hunger Games movies have made her a household name already at 25 but it’s Russell who knows how to bring out the best in Lawrence’s acting. In her third movie directed by Russell, she again masters a character many years older than her and comes out shining and in excellent style. Robert de Niro was also good as the trying father. However the biggest scene stealer of the supporting players had to be Isabella Rossellini as the new mother-in-law who means business. Actually all the actors in the film from those that played family members to Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker did a good job with their characters and made them entertaining to watch.

Joy is a good story about a woman who would not give up until she succeeds even after everything that could go against her was thrown at her. However it’s also a reminder that the American Dream is still possible even in the toughest of times. Not exactly the best film from David O. Russell but definitely worth seeing.

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: American Sniper

American Sniper appears to be the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) but it's a lot more.

American Sniper appears to be the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) but it’s a lot more.

If you think that this war isn’t changing you, you’re wrong. You can only circle the flames so long.

It’s easy to dismiss American Sniper as a pro-war movie at first. Especially when you see the attitude of its protagonist. However if you watch it from beginning to end you will see that it’s a lot more than a tale of a sharpshooter and may not be as pro-war as you think.

The film begins in 2003 during the Iraq war where US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle sees a civilian woman pass a huge grenade to her 8 year-old son and is about to shoot. Before he pulls the trigger, we flash back to an 11 year-old Chris who impresses his father with his ability to shoot a deer from long range. His father teaches him about the three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Chris decides to be a sheepdog, especially to his lamb-like younger brother. In his early 20’s, Chris decides to be a rodeo cowboy until a bullriding accident leaves him with injuries he can’t recover from.

While sidelined, he witnesses on the TV news an incident that will change his life: the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by al-Qaeda. It’s then he decides to become a Navy SEAL. At first they were reluctant to accept him but agreed upon being impressed with his shooting skills. During his training he bumps into Taya Renee at a bar. Taya is not interested because her sister dated a Navy SEAL and he ended up being a complete asshole. Nevertheless he impresses Taya to the point she dates him. Soon after, 9/11 happens. Chris marries Taya soon after and is deployed as a Navy SEAL sniper in Iraq during the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It’s there where it really begins.

At the beginning of his first mission comes the mother and son as seen at the beginning. Kyle shoots the son first only to see the mother take the grenade and carry on. He has to shoot her, causing her to throw the grenade while shot causing an explosion. The experience of shooting the two leaves Chris upset to the point of tears but he has to continue his duty. Kill after kill earns him the nickname ‘The Legend’ by his US comrades. It also makes himself a target of al-Qaeda’s where they offer for $80,000 for anyone who kills him. Al-Qaeda even have a top sniper of their own in Iraq after him and he uses and SVD. During his first mission, he is given the mission to hunt for an al-Qaeda leader named al-Zarqawi and hunts house after house for information leading to him or his second-in-command nicknamed ‘the Butcher.’ A father and son give helpful information but plans go chaotic as The Butcher locates the father and son and drills into their heads leaving them for dead. Chris was unable to defend because of sniper fire, overheard by a pregnant Taya during a phone call, preventing him from performing any action of rescue.

Chris returns to Taya in time for the birth of his son Colton. Chris tries to be a family man at home but Taya notices he’s distraught by the memories and even watching bootleg videos of marines shot in battle. Taya tells him she wants him to commit to his family. But Chris feels he has to serve again where he’s now promoted to Chief Petty Officer. This time he’s involved in a battle with The Butcher. After killing him, Chris returns home to Taya, Colton and his newborn daughter. However it’s obvious the war has affected Chris with his hostile reaction in the maternity ward when her daughter’s crying. Chris becomes increasingly distant with his family. He leaves for a third mission and his brother Jeff is also part of it too. However Chris is hugely affected by the injuries sustained by one of his US comrades part of the unit. The mission continues but Chris witnesses his fellow SEAL shot to death in the gunfire.

Chris returns home but not to his wife and family. He returns for the funeral of his fallen SEAL. Much to the heartbreak of his wife, Chris feels he has to return again in his fellow SEAL’s honor and complete the mission. During the fourth mission, the team learns the alias of the al-Qaeda sniper after them and Chris: Mustafa. Chris is assigned to take him out and is placed on the roof of a building in enemy territory. It’s very risky since killing Mustafa could put Chris and his comrades in enemy firestorm. Nevertheless Chris must do it, especially since a sandstorm is sensed from miles away. Chris spots Mustafa from almost two kilometers away and shoots. It’s a hit: the eighth-longest sniper kill of all-time ever recorded. But the enemy gunfire occurs just as the sandstorm approaches and while Chris is talking to Taya. Right during the sandstorm, Chris struggles to jump on the jeep but succeeds in time and tells Taya: “I’m coming home.”

Chris’ mission is completed. His military efforts of 255 kills, 160 confirmed, Kyle is officially the deadliest American marksman in US military history. He returns home trying to adjust to home life but it’s apparent the war is still affecting him mentally. Even Taya lets him know that. Upon the advice through psychiatric help, he volunteers his time to help veterans return to home life and overcome their own post-traumatic stress syndrome. After five years, Chris is well-adjusted and has successfully become a family man to his wife and children. The movie closes to the last morning of Chris’ life where he leaves for his volunteering with veterans. He would be killed by a veteran he was helping that day. The movie ends with footage of his funeral.

From beginning to end I had to watch it with a very observant eye. I wanted to see what types of messages it would be sending and if it was a pro-war stance or anti-war. I personally cannot see it as a pro-war movie. Sure, you see Chris’ attitude about patriotism and his determination to think that those he shot were soldiers, not people. Even seeing video footage of the funeral of the real Chris Kyle with those saluting his coffin as he went by, funeral held in a stadium and his casket covered with medals would cause some to impulsively think the film is trying to make Chris a hero. But oddly enough I don’t think it’s trying to make Chris a hero. Instead I think it showed Chris’ weaknesses as well as his strengths. We see how Chris was taught the values he held by his father including being told to be a ‘sheepdog,’ we see how he becomes hostile as he sees his newborn daughter crying in the maternity ward, we see how the death of a comrade only prompts Chris to extend his ‘duty’ despite how much his wife can’t take it, we also see it as Chris is about to punch a dog at a birthday party.

Recently I came across a quote from Clint Eastwood: “The biggest anti-war statement any film can make is to show the fact of what it does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did.” I feel that American Sniper does just that because I sensed right from the start, this movie actually looks at war and Chris Kyle’s hero status through a cynical eye. I felt that as the film first shows a young Chris being taught about: ‘lambs, wolves and sheepdogs.’ Then again as Chris goes to war with the Bible he stole from church and admits he never opened it. Other scenes that added to the suspected cynicism were his hostile acts at home and even that scene as he sees a therapist and says his guilt is not at all because of the people he killed but because of his fallen fellow soldiers he failed to save. That scene had me wondering if Chris really did feel that way or if it’s because he felt that’s the way he’s supposed to think, especially upon remembering he was in tears after he shot that little boy at the very beginning. Even that ending scene where they show video footage of Chris’ funeral with people lining the streets waving the American flag as his hearse passes him, the stadium where his funeral was held filled, and his casket covered with military medals made me think Clint was putting Chris’ hero status and a common belief in the United States that ‘soldier = patriot’ on the hot seat. I really sense that.

As for what it does for the family, you can bet there’s a lot of focus on that in the film, especially in scenes involving Taya. The first scene that has to send that message has to be when she’s on a phone conversation with Chris but a shootout ensues. Chris drops his phone on the street as the shootout happens with Taya listening on the other ends. Taya’s distraught crying as she’s hearing the bullet fire on the other end has to be the scene that sends that message. Even in conversation with Chris, Taya is the one reminding him how stressful and hurtful it is to her every time he goes back off. She even reminds him about how he’s not the same ever since his fighting: “You’re my husband, you’re the father of my children. Even when you’re here, you’re not here. I see you, I feel you, but you’re not here.” Even outside of Chris and Taya, we get this message at the funeral of the soldier shot during Chris’s first mission. That scene where the officer gives the mother the folded flag from his casket and the tears in her eyes also sends that message. It doesn’t matter if it’s World War II, the Vietnam War or Operation Iraqi Freedom, a lost child is a lost child and the family will hurt for a long time about it, if not for the rest of their lives.

Even if it isn’t about war and how it hurts the soldiers and their families, it also gives a cynical look at the war itself. We see it in Kyle first ever shooting during the war. A woman that looks like a civilian with her son passes him a big grenade. As terrible as it was to see them shot, Chris knew both had to be shot. That scene sends the message that this war is not your typical war. This is a war that can take everyday civilians and turn them into players. Even that scene where a young boy picks up a grenade launcher and appears to fire shows that even children are not immune. We should also remember this is a war where soldiers will either disguise themselves as civilians or even use them as human shields. This is a war where people from the ‘enemy’ side will torture people who give secrets away. That scene where an ‘enemy’ soldier drills into the heads of both the father and young son shows just how ugly and brutal this war is. Sure, it may not have the same total number of fatalities as Vietnam but it’s ugly enough and unpredictable enough.

Clint Eastwood does it again. If you notice one thing about his movies over the past two decades, it’s that he approaches his stories by putting certain subjects on the hot seats. We see it again here where he puts the labels of ‘man’ or ‘patriot’ associated with a soldier in war. This comes especially remembering what Clint’s character in Gran Torino, a dying Korean war vet, said: “You wanna know what it’s like to kill a man? Well, it’s goddamn awful, that’s what it is. The only thing worse is getting a medal… for killing some poor kid that wanted to just give up, that’s all. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it, and you don’t want that on your soul.” Clint’s directing of the story was dead on and will get you thinking. A lot of people talk about the violence in the movie. I feel what’s said and done outside the warfare says way more. Kudos to Jason Hall for adapting Kyle’s memoirs. I believe Jason too sensed something about Kyle through reading his memoirs and adapted into what he thinks is really the situation and through an equally cynical eye.

As much as it is the product of Clint and Jason, I give high praise to Bradley Cooper for making Chris into the three-dimensional depiction they intended. He delivered an excellent performance and also appeared like he had ideas of his own about what Chris Kyle was like. The only other role in the movie that was of major significance was that of Taya Kyle but Sienna Miller did a great job of portraying the wife caught in the middle. She made Taya the one who could best settle the score with Chris. She was the one who was best at getting him back down to Earth. She was also very good at epitomizing what most ‘war wives’ go through with their husbands in battle. Right at the wedding, Taya appeared happy to be married to a Navy SEAL like Chris. It’s during the war and after she found out exactly what she had to deal with. I feel Miller’s performance was one of the most underacclaimed performances of the year. The other supporting actors were also very good, even though there were many roles that could have been developed better. Also I feel it was a smart decision to have the movie with as little musical score as possible. It adds to the realistic depiction of the war throughout the movie. Even that scene of the bullet that kills Mustafa wasn’t too much of a distraction to the story.

American Sniper is not your typical war movie. It goes above and beyond your expectations and shows you an outlook on both Chris Kyle and the war you might not have thought of before. Whether you consider Chris a hero, villain or victim is all up to your own judgment.

Movie Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy

Meet the Guardians Of The Galaxy: a superhero quintet that went from misfits to household names this summer.

Meet the Guardians Of The Galaxy: a superhero quintet that became household names this summer.

Oh boy. Now my time to catch up on movie reviews. This is the first of two reviews of summer blockbusters I saw. I will admit I’ve been a bit laxed in watching big movies this year. One of which I did feel I had to see was Guardians of The Galaxy. I’m glad I did.

I won’t go into giving a brief description of the story since it’s safe to assume most people have already seen it. This is one of those superhero movies that tries to balance out the comedic parts with the dramatic parts and the action parts. It does a very good job of it. It succeeds in giving the movie intriguing characters like Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket and Groot. However like every first movie or introduction movie of a superhero or superhero ensemble, it has to have a very good story of how the superheroes came to be or in this case, came to be an ensemble. It does a good job of creating an introduction movie of such. It may not be as heavily dramatic as your typical superhero movie. It’s a mix of drama and comedy that many will find entertaining. I will admit there are a couple of cornball scenes in there but the movie does a mostly good job.

I will admit that when I first saw the trailer for this months ago, I thought this would be a cheesy movie. I think what got me thinking it would be cheesy was seeing a raccoon as part of this superhero ensemble. It wasn’t until I learned the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie is based off of a Marvel Comics series that I thought that this might be something good. I will admit I’m like a lot of people that probably never knew of the Guardians Of The Galaxy until I saw this movie. Anyone else? Yeah, I’m sure there are a bunch of you guilty of it too. Guardians Of The Galaxy has probably been one of Marvel Comics’ least known comic heroes or hero ensembles. Actually the Guardians we know of are not the original Guardians. The first Guardians came out in 1969 and consisted of a different set of Guardians including one named Captain Marvel. Then came the 2008 ensemble of Guardians that consisted of some of the original characters but added in others like Groot, Rocket, Star Lord and Gamora but the total number of Guardians is in the dozens.

This also makes for an additional point for the challenge it had. Marvel and the producers had to work with creating a hit movie about a superhero ensemble that most of the general public are not very familiar with. It’s definitely more challenging as doing such a movie with a more celebrated superhero like Superman or Captain America. The example of John Carter demonstrates the challenge; Disney hoped to introduce the world to John in a big way but it didn’t work. Here it’s Marvel’s challenge to introduce the Guardians to the world and no doubt it would be a huge cost risk: $170 million to be exact. It paid off as it was the #1 movie for a total of five weekends. Its total box office is $313.7 million in North America and $632 million worldwide which is a modest number for a movie of that much success. Nevertheless I’ll save it for when I give my upcoming movie year forecast. The movie’s success also has paved the way for an upcoming sequel in 2017. The question is will they stick to the original five Guardians or will they add some additional Guardians in?

The first person who deserves acclaim for the success is director James Gunn. He hasn’t had too huge of a resume as far as directors go. Actually he has a major blemish as he is one of the many directors with the atrocity Movie 43. However this is his breakthrough and should make a good name for him in the future. Possibly even a director of the sequel. Additional kudos to Nicole Perlman who co-wrote the script with Gunn. The collaboration paid off in giving a story full of action and humor and being what a script for a superhero movie should be.

Chris Pratt was entertaining as Peter Quill. He does a good job of balancing the role of a superhero with adding comedy plus he doesn’t make dealing with his late mother too seriously dramatic. Zoe Saldana seems to be the actress made for sci-fi. First Avatar, then Star Trek and now this. Nevertheless I can’t think of a better choice as she nails it again here. Dave Bautista also did a good job. And it’s good to see since I don’t normally think wrestlers make good movie stars as seen by past wrestlers. Bradley Cooper added great character to the voice of Rocket and Vin Diesel was good as Groot. Actually some of his better acting as of late. Other highlights include the visual effects of the movie which are probably some of the best of the year. Another plus is the inclusion of 70’s music. At first you’d think it was cornball. However it becomes more evident why it’s incorporated as it’s this music that connects Peter to his mother. It also adds to the humor too.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is not just another good movie from the Marvel Comics team but a commercial achievement too in making household names of their lesser-known comic book characters. Good job.

Oscars 2013 Best Picture Review: American Hustle

Christian Bale and Amy Adams are partners in crime in American Hustle.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams are partners in crime in a 1978 sting in American Hustle.

American Hustle has a lot to attract crowds by the looks of the premieres: big name actors, 70’s setting, crime story, lots to stimulate excitement. The question is does it deliver?

The story is set in 1978 in New York. Irving Rosenfeld is a dry cleaning store owner as a profession, con on the side. His love interest is Sydney Prosser, a mid-western girl who came to the Big Apple to redefine herself. Once into the relationship, he reveals his ‘other side.’ She decides to be his partner in crime posing as a British aristocrat: Lady Edith Greensley. Even though they are a perfect match, he’s hesitant to leave his six year-old son Danny or divorce his young wife Rosalyn.

FBI agent Richie DeMaso has been keeping his eye on the pair and their scheming and even arrests Irving on a loan scan only to bargain Irving into lining up four additional arrests. Sydney is up on the heist, feeling she can manipulate Richie in the process. Also in the scheme is Irving talking about a wealthy Arab sheikh looking for investors. One person suggests the sheikh do business with Camden mayor Carmine Polito who’s helping to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City, a person

The funny thing is while Richie doesn’t seem to have what it takes to get Carmine, Sydney and Irving do. Richie wants to entrap despite the objections of his boss at a law firm. Sydney is able to help an FBI secretary manipulate $2,000,000 of wired money for the operation. The boss at the law firm is so impressed, he finally gets Richie’s approval. Richie is unable to win over Carmine at a meeting but Irving is with his sheikh story to the point Irving and Carmine become friends. The meeting with Carmine and the Irving’s Mexican friend disguised as the sheikh works.

Problem is Irving’s set-up with Carmine and the sheikh catches the attention of a Mafia overlord named Tellegio who is second-in-command to Meyer Lansky. Tellegio is more demanding as he demands the sheikh become an American citizen with Carmine expediting the process with bribery if needed, and a $10,000,000 wire transfer to prove the sheikh’s legitimacy. Richie agrees, eager to get Tellegio but Irving knows the operation is doomed.

Further signs of a downfall are seen as Richie, who falls in love with Lady Edith, learns of the truth of Sydney and becomes violent. Irving tried to stop Richie’s abuse and the deal but Richie tells them there’s no way out. If Tellegio learns the truth, he’ll kill Irving, Sydney, Rosalynn and Danny. To cause huger friction, Rosalynn starts an affair with a mobster. The mobster wants the deal with the sheikh to be true while Rosalynn knows the whole story and wants a divorce.

In the end, it turns out arrests are made successfully on members of congress and a lot of dirty secrets confessed on tape. A lot of things are lost too, like a chance to entrap Tellegio, Richie’s status with the FBI, Irving’s earned friendship with Carmine and his marriage to Rosalyn.

The thing about the film is one is left with the question of what is the point of this movie? Is the movie trying to tell of a crime heist that flopped? Is it trying to tell a political message about corruption? Is it trying to make the actors do showy acting? Is it trying to be a retro-70’s movie that captures the feel and sound of that decade? I’m left confused.

Another question is if this movie is trying to be a David O. Russell ego trip? This had me wondering because if you notice, American Hustle has actors in his previous two movies–The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook–acting in major roles. In fact the four Oscar nominated performances from this movie come from actors who have already received an Oscar or an Oscar nod for a performance in either The Fighter or Silver Linings Playbook. It almost seemed like it was packages as a ‘David O. Russell all-stars’ collaboration. I will acknowledge that Russell is the director that has most made the biggest impact on films in the past five years but still…

On a more positive note, I give them credit for saying “Some of these events actually happened.” at the beginning. It’s way less misleading than saying “Based on a true story.” I read in Wikipedia that it’s based on the FBI’s ABSCAM operation from the late-1970’s/early 1980’s. I never read anything about those operations but it does capture my intrigue about them and what the real story was.

On an additional note, I saw this just a month after I saw The Wolf Of Wall Street which also featured interesting and colorful characters based in New York/New Jersey. Seeing those two movies this past while really made me wonder about the behavior of people from New York City. Hey, I don’t want to think stereotypical thoughts of other people but it still makes you wonder.

I know I talked about my question of Russell’s intentions of directing. I also question the script Russell co-wrote with Eric Warren Singer. Sure, Russell knows how to direct actors. In fact eleven of the last eighty Oscar nominations in the acting categories over the past four years came from a performance in one of his films. Nevertheless the showy acting distracts from the story line. Even if Russell wanted to deliver a story that was more character-oriented than plot-oriented, the performances were too distracting for it to make much sense. Even some of the 70’s elements like the disco dancing between Irving and Sydney made me question whether that was intended to be part of the story or trying to get a 70’s feel.

As for the acting, I won’t completely blame the actors for the over-the-top showiness, not even the ones who were nominated for Oscars. I heard Russell encouraged some of the actors to improvise their roles. Christian Bale appeared to be the one lead role that most had it together. Amy Adams also showed some elements of control of story over ‘showtime-style acting. Not to mention she also did a good job playing her least sweet character I can think of. Bradley Cooper’s role was a bit confusing and was one of the prime distractors of the movie. Jennifer Lawrence was also another top distractor. One thing I most give credit for is Lawrence again does a great job of playing a woman years older than her. Jeremy Renner however had one of the most underrated performances of the movie. He was the one who most delivered in character acting that worked for the movie rather than distract. Looking back, I just wonder if the film was to do about some New York people with actual ‘drama queen’ personalities. Nevertheless it didn’t stop them from distracting me from the plot.

I know that I talked a lot of how the movie sometimes focuses more on giving a 70’s feel than telling the story at times. The inclusion of the various 70’s songs during certain scenes–most notably Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road in the scene where Rosalyn and Sydney meet eyes for the first time–had a lot to do with me questioning if the movie was telling a story or a 70’s throwback movie. Even the placement of certain songs in certain scenes had me wondering if it fit the story right. One thing I do give credit for is that in terms of the clothes, the hair, and the set designs, this is the most 70’s-like I’ve seen. I hardly ever sensed a trace of the modern times which is what a lot of aptly-named 70’s throwback movies often include. That has to be the one flawless thing of the movie.

American Hustle is a movie that will leave you scratching your head. If it’s trying to tell you a story of an FBI sting, it sure got lost in the showy character acting or the 70’s throwback elements.

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence shine in Silver Linings Playbook.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence shine in Silver Linings Playbook.

“I was a big slut but I’m not anymore. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

Do you think it’s possible to do a comedy about dealing with bipolar disorder? Silver Linings Playbook makes the attempt to make a comedy out of it and succeeds.

We meet Pat Solitano Jr.: a Philadelphia man with bipolar disorder who was just release form a mental institute after eight months following having given a brutal beating to the man who had an affair with his wife. The incident has hit him with hard consequences. Besides being institutionalized, he lost his job, his wife Nikki has put a restraining order on him thus him living with his parents. And adding to the difficulty, his father Pat Sr. is out of work and resorts on gambling for income and hopefully launching a restaurant. His parents give him strict orders to take his medicine and see a therapist. It starts off rocky as he neglects his medicine and throws violent raging fits such as two incidents at 3 in the morning in front of his parents and when he hears My Cherie Amour, the song played when he caught his wife with his coworker. He does however see his therapist Dr. Patel but doesn’t open up to him too much.

One night, he’s invited to dinner with his friend Ronnie and his wife. He meets Tiffany, a young widow who also has a neurosis condition of her own and also lost her job because of it. Over time, Pat and Tiffany develop a friendship and the friendship becomes closer when it’s obvious she can work with his condition for the better. He even offers to have her relay letters to Nikki. She agrees to as long as he’s willing to be a partner for her in an upcoming Latin dance contest. He also agrees and things get better. It’s through the friendship that Pat is able to open up to Tiffany. Tiffany is even willing to let Pat know that right after she lost her husband, she slept with ever man at her job, which explains why she lost it. Pat hopes that the dance competition will get him to win Nikki back. Tiffany even assists in motivation by giving him a typed letter from Nikki.

Things take a turn for the worse when Pat Sr. asks Pat to come to an Eagles game as a ‘good luck charm’ because he bet a lot of money. Pat agrees but that would mean missing out on the dance practice with Tiffany. It turns out to be a bad idea as Pat sees Dr. Patel with a group of Indo-American Eagles fans. Young males throw bigoted slurs at them, which leads to a fight where Pat gets involved and gets carried off by the police. The Eagles lose the game and Pat Sr. loses the bet big time. Tiffany then gets in on this by telling Pat Sr. and all that their dance practices together are better good luck charms for Philadelphia sports games. So a final bet is made: The Flyers win against the Dallas Cowboys and Pat and Tiffany score at least a 5 in the dance competition. Pat is nervous about it until he rereads the letter from Nikki. Tiffany even says Nikki will be at the competition and is willing to lift the restraining order if they score well.

The day of the game and the competition approaches. Both Pat and Tiffany are nervous, as expected. Nikki arrives to see the dance competition but Tiffany is horrified. Why? She said Nikki would be there, right? The family is busy paying attention to the game at first while Tiffany tries to calm herself down with drinks. Pat is able to spot her in time for the dance and before she could drink any more. The game ends with the Flyers winning and the two are able to score a 5.0 in the dance. Pat Sr. won the bet and will get the restaurant and Pat Jr will get his restraining order lifted. But just when you think things will end as you think it will, it doesn’t and leads to an ending that’s a lot happier and ending you feel it right.

This movie is a surprise. Normally you’d think that making a movie about dealing with bipolarism would not make for a good movie, never mind a comedy, but it does. I believe the biggest reason why this movie is so well is that it does show the negative sides of bipolarism and people reacting to personal tragedies but it shows a ray of light. It shows both the bipolar person and the person dealing with tragedy as 3D people instead of types. It shows them both as people struggling with their setbacks and weaknesses and people trying to fight it out. It shows the unique chemistry between the two that helps them triumph over their difficulties and eventually win both to the other in the end.

It was a big effort to make these two types main characters for a comedy but a romantic comedy… and it succeeds. Tiffany was the perfect one who knew how to make Pat overcome his condition. It was evident that Halloween night when Pat thought he was hearing My Cherie Amour again but Tiffany let him know he was not hearing that song. She was also able to get it through to his family that dance training with her was very helpful in winning the games Philadelphia played. She was also able to use a fake letter from Nikki to give him the motivation even thought it risked biting her in the end. You could tell that Tiffany was more for him than Nikki. A bipolar and a promiscuous widow makes for a bizarre pairing for a romantic comedy but it works here.

The best quality of the movie had to be the acting. Bradley Cooper has to have delivered the best performance of his career. He succeeded in making a 3-dimensional person with bipolarism and make him a character that first appears hateable but become more likeable later on and whom you want to succeed in the end. Jennifer Lawrence gives a performance nothing short of remarkable. It’s not just about doing a character who’s an emotionally-fragile person trying to be the one in control but also doing a character many years older than her (she’s 22) and look convincing, and she does it. If she wins the Oscar, I will not be surprised. Robert De Niro also did a good job as the struggling father who has problems of his own. Jacki Weaver also did an excellent job as the mother even though she didn’t have the showiest of roles. Good supporting turns from Anupam Kher and Chris Tucker add to one of the best acting ensembles of the year.

David O. Russell did a marvelous job in both writing the screenplay and directing the film. His follow-up to The Fighter also delivers excellently and has to be one of the best this year. What you think would be as expected doesn’t and works for the better in the film. Very good adaptation. The other standout feature in the movie is the music. There’s the score from Danny Elfman along with previously released songs. Many of which are already familiar. Its blend into the story works well.

Silver Linings Playbook makes an unlikely pair of characters for a romance movie turn out to be possibly the best romance of the year. Very smart, very sensible, very human and very winning. Definitely amongst the best of the year.

London 2012: Just Ten More

Okay I know I already wrote articles about athletes at the London Olympics from around the world and Canada that are worth watching. The thing is when it gets closer and closer to the Olympic Games, there become more and more that are worth keeping an eye on. Here in this article are another ten that I feel are worth keeping an eye on. So without further ado:

-Ryan Lochte/USA – Swimming: A lot of attention is focused on Michael Phelps ending his legendary Olympic career with a bang. However Ryan Lochte is one swimmer that could steal the show from Phelps. Like Phelps, he also qualified for four individual events. Unlink Phelps, he’s the one this time around with his face on more magazine covers than any Olympic athlete. Here in London, he will attempt to defend his 200m backstroke title and rival Phelps in both individual medley events. Actually Lochte has an advantage over Phelps as he holds the world record in the 200 and finished ahead of Phelps in the 400 at the Olympic Trials. Looks as though London may not only be the last hurrah for Phelps but also a possible changing of the guard with Lochte. It will all be decided in the London Aquatics Centre.

-Kosuke Kitajima/Japan – Swimming: There’s a lot of talk of Michael Phelps threepeating in four events. The thing is he may not become the first male swimmer to do so. That could be Japan’s breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima. Kitajima has already won both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events in both 2004 and 2008, making him one of only six swimmers to achieve a ‘double-double’ in swimming. 2011 was a difficult year for Kitajima as he only won a single bronze medal at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless this year has seen him return to his winning form as he has the world’s fastest time in both the 100 and 200. But don’t think another double here is going to be easy for him. The 200 will be his toughest challenge as he will face the rivalry of Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta and his teammate Ryo Tateishi who’s best time of the year is just .17 seconds behind Kitajima’s. Nevertheless Kitajima trying to be the first to achieve a ‘triple-double’ in swimming should prove to be exciting.

-Kenenisa Bekele/Ethiopia – Track and Field: This Olympics seems like to be one where a lot of events have a chance of a threepeat happening. Track and field also has the potential of some threepeats: Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell in the women’s 200m, Isinbaeva in women’s pole vault, Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen in men’s javelin and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele in the men’s 10000m. Bekele has had a stellar running career ever since he burst on the scene back in 2003. He holds the world records in both the 5000m and 10000m, has won a total of five World Championships and has won three Olympic gold and one silver. Beijing was especially stellar as he performed the 5000-10000 double. However 2011 was not a kind year for Bekele as he sat the year out with injuries. He has since regained his old form and has posted the third-fastest 10000 time in the world this year only less than a second behind the fastest. Will a threepeat happen here? Mark your calendars August 4th and tune in.

-Allyson Felix/USA – Track and Field: Allyson Felix is one of the best 200m runners ever but she’s still missing that Olympic gold in that event. She first burst onto the scene back at the 2004 when she won a silver medal in the 200 at the age of 18. She also set a world junior record upon winning that medal. The following year she won the 200m at the World Championships becoming the youngest sprinter ever to do so. She repeated as World Champion in the 200 in 2007. However she again won Olympic silver in 2008 finishing second again to Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown. She did however win a gold as part of the USA’s 4*400m relay. Nevertheless she’s still chasing down that elusive 200m gold here in London. Last year was a bit of a shock for her as it was the first World Championships since 2003 where she didn’t win the 200m, finishing 3rd. However she’s run the world’s fastest 200m time this year–4/10 of a second faster than the second-fastest–and she’s the heavy favorite to win that event. She also will compete in the 100m here in London where she actually finished in a tie for third at the Olympic trials with Jeneba Tarmoh. Although Felix was the one who got the birth, both will compete in the 4*100 relay. Nevertheless it’s the 200m that will be the big focus for her. Will her time finally have come? Her fate will be decided August 8th.

-Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor/USA – Beach Volleyball: It’s not just individual events where threepeats could happen here in London. There are some team events too. The beach volleyball duo of Walsh and May-Treanor could do just that. Both women started as indoor volleyball players. May-Treanor switched to beach volleyball in 1999 she teamed up with Holly McPeak and finished 5th at the 2000 Olympics. At those same games Walsh was part of the USA’s indoor volleyball team where the US finished 4th. Soon after Walsh switched to beach volleyball, was paired to May-Treanor, and the rest is history. Actually it started slow with a 9th place finish at the 2001 World Championships. Since then it was a legendary pair in the making with three world Championships and Olympic victories in 2004 and 2008. Since Beijing they’ve had their difficulties. They lost their competitive edge in 2009 losing early in tournaments and May-Treanor badly injured her Achilles tendon not by playing or training but as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars. 2011 saw the two return to competition where they finished second at the World Championships to Brazilian pair Larissa and Julianna. They’re confident they can win in London. Will they do it or will it be a changing of the guard? It will all be decided at the Horse Guards Palace.

TWO MORE CANADIANS:

-Karen Cockburn – Trampolining: The trampolining event for both men and women have only been contested at the past three Olympics and Karen Cockburn has won a medal in all three: bonze in 2000, silver in 2004 and silver again in 2008. In 2011 she had to deal with both injury and illness which left her out of major competitions. She would finish fourth at the Worlds that year. Nevertheless she looks strong for London and is a medal favorite once again. Also keep an eye on another Canadian, Rosie MacLennan, as she won a silver at last year’s Worlds. London could be another triumph for Karen or a passing of the torch to Rosie. August 4th’s the date to decide it.

-Clara Hughes – Cycling: There are two Canadians that will have two of the most illustrious sports careers of the whole team. One is equestrian rider Ian Millar competing in his record-setting tenth Olympics. The other is Clara Hughes, competing in her sixth Olympic Games. She has won a Canadian record total of six medals in both cycling and speed skating. Her Olympic success in cycling came at the 1996 Atlanta games winning two bronzes. Her last Olympic appearance in cycling was in 2000 as she retired years later to focus on speed skating where she has won four Olympic medals including a gold in the 5000m in 2006. She was also selected to be Canada’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics where she won her last speed skating medal, a bronze in the 5000m. Shortly after retiring from speed skating she made a return to cycling in November 2010. She will compete in the road race and the time trial. She is not favored in either event but both are events where even a non-favorite can be a winner. Whatever the results, it will make for another exciting moment for the 39 year-old’s exciting career.

TWO MORE FROM THE HOST COUNTRY:

-Paula Radcliffe – Marathon: Paula is one of the most respected British women in track and field competing here in London. However she is still searching for her first Olympic medal. Her first Olympic appearance was at the Atlanta Games in 1996 where she finished 5th in the 5000. She won her first World Championships medal in 1999 with a silver in the 10000. She would finish 4th in that event at the Sydney Games in 2000. After the 2000 Olympics she would have an incredible career in Marathon running winning both the London Marathon and the New York Marathon three times, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2002 and the World Championships Marathon in 2005. She also holds the world record in the marathon with her winning time at the 2003 London Marathon of 2:15:25. Olympic marathons have been bad luck for her as she competed in 2004 as the heavy favorite but dropped out because of injury. The injury also caused her to drop out of the 10000m. She competed in Beijing finishing 23rd in the marathon. Now 38, she has qualified for the Olympic marathon with a qualifying time at last year’s Berlin Marathon where she finished 3rd. This may be her last Olympics in an illustrious career. She has made mention that she’s trying to heal a foot injury. Win or lose, the whole nation will be behind her.

-Bradley Wiggins – Cycling: British cyclists have some of the biggest Olympic feats ever. Chris Hoy, who will be the flagbearer for Britain at the Opening Ceremonies, is one of two cyclists to win four golds. The other being Dutchwoman Leontien van Moorsel. Bradley Wiggins is the only other cyclist besides van Moorsel to win six Olympic medals. He’s also the second British athlete besides rower Steven Redgrave to win six Olympic medals. All of Wiggins’ previous medals have been in track cycling. Here in London he will compete in the two road events: the road race and the time trial. He has a lot of potential to set new medal-winning records there especially after he just won the Tour de France last week. A lot of excitement awaits. Oh, as for Hoy, he will be competing in one event: the team sprint.

AND ONE MORE TEAM:

-Great Britain Men’s Soccer Team: Interesting to know that FIFA recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as their own nations and can field their own ‘national’ team for events like the World Cup. The International Olympic Committee thinks otherwise and will only recognize Great Britain as a nation. Great Britain has qualified a soccer team in eight previous Olympic Games, winning gold in 1908 and 1912. The last time the British soccer team appeared at the Olympics was in 1960. With Great Britain hosting the 2012 Olympics, there was to be a British team in the soccer tournament as host nation. Even Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested in 2008 that a Great Britain team was ‘vital’. However the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations first refused feeling it might affect their status with FIFA. FIFA gave a May 2009 deadline to settle the row. The three dissenting associations said they would not participate in a unified UK team but would not prevent England form fielding a team under that banner. Jim Boyce, vice-president of FIFA and Englishman, steeped in and said non-English players have the legal right to be considered for Team GB. Anyways after years of association politicking, public opinion polls and words from politicians from all four countries, there is a Team GB in Olympic football. All but five of the players are English–the five that aren’t are Welsh– and they come from some of the UK’s best clubs like two from Manchester United, two from Tottenham Hotspur, two from Chelsea, one each from Arsenal and Liverpool, and three from Swansea City. Sports Illustrated predict them to win bronze. After all that politics, it’s time for them to play.

And there you have it. One last set of Olympians to watch in London. I wish I could tell you more how like Zara Phillips is following in the footsteps of her mother, Princess Anne, by competing in equestrian or Canadian canoer Mark Oldershaw who’s the fifth Oldershaw in three generations to paddle at the Olympics. However I better call it quits before I get the urge to write about any more Olympians to watch. In the meantime, let the seventeen days of drama, excitement and glory begin!