Tag Archives: David

VIFF 2017 Review: Housewife

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Clementine Poidarz (left) submits herself to a ‘master of the mind’ (played by David Sakurai) in Housewife.

It’s my tradition to end the VIFF by seeing the very last film they show. It’s always on the final day and at the Rio Theatre at 11pm. This year, it’s Housewife: a horror-thriller from Turkey in English. It wasn’t just the last showing at the VIFF, but its only showing at the Festival and a Canadian Premiere too.

The film begins on a snowy day 20 years ago. Seven year-old Holly lives a quiet life with her family until one day, her sister menstruates. Her mother reacts chaotically as if it’s a curse and kills both her sister and her father. Flash forward twenty years later. Holly is married, but the memories still haunt her from that horrific night. Her husband wants to start a family, but she pops birth control pills without him knowing.

One day, a childhood friend meets up with Holly again. They reconnect after all these years. The friend even invites Holly to an event her and her husband will be attending called ‘Umbrella Of Love And Mind.’ Holly comes to the event with her husband. The two couples are having a nice time together. Then the event starts. The event gives an impression it’s like a bizarre cult. The audience is introduced to a charismatic mastermind by the name of Bruce O’Hara. Bruce picks Holly right out of the audience as the first person he ‘demonstrates’ on. He’s able to get her mind to travel to another level and even into her fears. Holly and the crowd are impressed, but her husband is unhappy and mistrusting.

Holly carries on with life after the event, but the memories are now mixed with bizarre visions of murder. Holly goes back to Bruce for help. He continues to put her under his mind control. Meanwhile the husband is getting upset. He feels this is all a hoax. Finally Holly goes back one last time. The dreams are now of Bruce committing murder on Holly, ripping off her face and even wearing it! The movie ends on a bizarre, if not ridiculous, note that makes the film look like it’s incomplete or missing a lot of stuff to make sense.

The thing about the film is that it attempts to create the intrigue of a thriller it should create, but later comes across as confusing and even clumsy at the end. The opening looks promising as the opening scene shows some elements of Carrie in it. Actually even before you go to see the film, you’d get a sense that this would be a horror film, or something close to it. The master-of-the-mind who comes off like a cult leader is where you first start thinking if this will help the story or make it look ridiculous. Especially when he comes dancing onto the stage with ‘I’m Your Boogie Man’ playing in the background. It’s as the story moves into the second half that it starts treading into areas that are either confusing or ridiculous. The film even ends on a bizarrely ridiculous note that gets you wondering what the point of this story is.

It even gets you wondering what is director Can Evrenol trying to do as far as it being a thriller movie? Is he tapping into common thriller elements? Is he trying to create new thriller elements for the cinema? What is he trying to do? I left thinking he didn’t accomplish too much in the 80 minutes of the film, except add a lot of bizarre gore that makes you wonder what its point is. Maybe if he and co-writer Cem Ozuduru gave the film more time and better script, we’d get a better understanding of it, possibly even a decent understanding of it.

The acting was not the best. This is Can’s first English-language feature and he hires either Turkish or European actors for the roles. You can notice the accents. Lead protagonist Clementine Poidarz did well with her role, despite noticeable imperfections. David Sakurai looks awkward and even wooden in his role as Bruce O’Hara and even looks like he isn’t fully in character at times.

Housewife is Can Evrenol’s first attempt at an English-language feature and his first feature-length horror film. It’s not much of an accomplishment since its imperfections are very noticeable.

And there you have it! This is the fourteenth and last review of all the films I saw at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival. Quite the experience. My wrap-up is coming soon.

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VIFF 2017 Review: Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993)

Summer 1993

Summer 1993 is an autobiographical story of young Frida (played by Laia Artigas) trying to adjust to her new family after being recently orphaned.

Summer 1993 is a unique Spanish film for its depiction of childhood. It’s also a unique story about a girl that’s semi-autobiographical.

The story begins with a young six year-old girl named Frida who’s recently orphaned. She has lost both her parents to AIDS with her mother dying in the summer of 1993. The whole family including the mother is hugely concerned for Frida’s well-being. Her mother’s brother Esteve agrees to take care of her. Frida is taken to their mountainside pueblo in the Catalan Pyrenees to like with him, his wife Marga and 3 year-old daughter Anna.

It’s taking a long time for Frida to get adjusted to her new surroundings. She feels like a misfit in the town and very rarely socializes with anyone else. On top of it, she feels uncomfortable around the chickens. AIDS isn’t spoken around her and her family. When in conversation, they simply refer to it as ‘that illness.’ It does become apparent what ‘that illness’ is when Frida cuts herself and her family panics.

She also misses her mother, but doesn’t know how to grieve about it. Every day, she goes to the tiny grotto near the farm and prays to her mother. There’s even a time she places a pack of cigarettes to her mother by the Madonna. That’s the best way Frida knows how to grieve.

Over time, Frida appears to be developing a friendship to Anna; possibly even a sisterhood. It would become apparent Frida’s acting out when she plays a game with Anna in the woods only to leave Anna behind. Anna is found, but with a broken arm. The family is infuriated with the way Frida is acting, feeling she has no morals. Unknown to Esteve and Marga, Frida hears it all. Frida starts feeling like she’s unloved and decides the thing to do is to run away. It’s there as the family comes to search for her that Frida is reminded that she is loved. It becomes a turning point for her as she now feels like an accepted person at home and in the community.

This isn’t your typical film from Spain. Usually most fans of ‘arthouse’ film think of Pedro Almodovar when the word Spanish film comes to mind. Here, Carla Simon is not aiming to be the artist Pedro Almodovar is reputed to be. This film is actually autobiographical of Simon. She herself lost her mother to AIDS in the summer of 1993. Her father died some time before. The summer of 1993 was the first summer she spent with her new family. Basically Simon wanted to send a message with this film: “With the movie, I wanted to express the fact that children can suffer a thing so cruel but they are still able to understand death. That we have to talk to them about death, because a six year-old child can understand. The question/thing/issue is how they manage their feelings. We talk also about children’s ability to adapt, how they can survive and keep going, and the fact that children are more able than adults.

It wasn’t mentioned whether Frida’s actions in the film mirrored Carla’s actions in real life. However Frida did exhibit a lot of common behavior traits common in children that have lost a parent at their young ages. The film shows how Frida goes from being a child who exhibits behavior relatives don’t know what to make of to soon belonging to a family and even grieving at the end.

Carla Simon directs and co-writes with Valentina Viso a story that’s intriguing, but also very natural and without overdoing the drama. It plays the events out as they come without trying to grab hold of attention. All the better for it. On top of it, the story is shown through the child’s point of view, which makes it that more autobiographical. Young Laia Atrigas does a very good job of playing Frida. She does a no-nonsense job of playing a six-year old girl and doesn’t try to be cutesy. She just does what she needs to do. The adult actors in the film, especially David Verdaguer and Bruna Cusi, also do a very good job in their parts as the concerned but confused foster parents. The film is set very well in its Catalan settings with scenes in both the pueblo and in the Catalan village. The film gives the feel of being in Catalonia. The film also included something noteworthy of the time as we see Frida wearing a T-shirt with Cobi: the mascot of the 1992 Summer Olympics from Barcelona.

A bit of trivia. Summer 1993 is Spain’s entry this year in the Academy Award category for Best Foreign language Film. It is the second film in the Catalan language to be submitted as Spain’s entry in that category. The first ever is Black Bread.

Summer 1993 is a story about a young girl’s change of surroundings and how she responds to it. It’s autobiographical depiction works well as it plays out in a no-nonsense fashion. The better for it.

WORK CITED: Zorita, Kristina. “Interview With Director Carla Simon” European Women’s Audiovisual Network. 6 March 2017<http://www.ewawomen.com/en/events/interview-with-director-carla-simon.html>

DVD Review: Elle

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Isabelle Huppert plays a woman caught is a troubling time in her life in Elle.

Elle was one of those films that came around the time of the Academy Awards. It has a lot of interesting elements, but it features a lot of elements some would first find unwatchable. Is it worth it?

The film begins with a cat witnessing the rape of her owner Michele LeBlanc (that’s right). The masked rapist immediately leaves. Michele just calmly cleans up themes and resumes her life, but doesn’t call the police. Michele returns back to her job as CEO of a video game company where her male employees either lust after her or view her as a ‘bitch.’ She tries to maintain a relationship with her son Vincent but feels detached as she feels he’s being controlled by her pregnant girlfriend. She has a troubled relationship with her mother who is narcissistic and has a thing for younger men. She’s having a love affair with Robert, the husband of her best friend and business partner Anna, but also has caught the eye of her new neighbor Patrick, although his devoutly Catholic wife Anna is unaware of this. Michele also has a troubled past.

The reason why Michele doesn’t call the police is because she has a sordid past. She is the daughter of a mass murderer who was arrested and imprisoned over 40 years ago when Michele was 10 years-old and even involved Michele in his murder spree. His parole hearing is coming up and the events from the past still haunt her. Her friends plead for her to report the rape to the police but Michele won’t, fearing the police have it in for her. Life is hard for Michele as she receives harassing text messages form a man claiming to watch her. She’s also the victim of a hacked video game which shows an alien with her face being raped by another alien. She learns the male colleague who made the hacked video game is infatuated with her but not the rapist. Her ex-husband learned of the news and tried looking out for her safety.

Christmas only adds to the stress as her mother falls into a stroke and her dying wish to Michele is to see her father. Michele tells her son Vincent she believes he’s not the father of his girlfriend’s child. The rapist returns for the third time, but Michele takes of the mask to discover it’s Patrick. Even though she now knows, she still doesn’t call the police nor have an alarm installed in her house.

Michele goes to visit her father in prison only to learn he hung himself. On the ride home, she gets into a car accident. She calls her friends instead of an ambulance, but the only one who responds to the call is Patrick. Michele gives Patrick a shocking confession of her feelings toward him which leaves Patrick shocked and confused. Then the day of the celebration of the launch of the new video game. At the party, she confessed to Anne her affair with Robert, which breaks Anna’s heart. The story ends with a tensely climactic moment and an ending that comes across as triumphant.

The thing about this film is that it deals with a complicated cat-and-mouse situation. Michele wants to get her rapist arrested but she is afraid to call the police, feeling they’re after her. That could also explain why she wouldn’t call an ambulance after the car crash: because of her past. She has a sense of who did it, but she feels an attraction to him. She is caught in situations in her work, in her family and even within her circle of friends at the same time. It’s enough to make anyone snap. It even turns her into a spiteful bitter person to whomever she meets up with. You hope that her rapist is caught but you’re left wondering how will it end? Will he be caught? Will Michele be the one who ends up killed? Will her rapist end up her new lover? It keeps you intrigued.

One thing about this is that this film is a psychological thriller that succeeds in taking subject matter that is disturbing and even unwatchable and turns it into a story that becomes positive in the end. Normally I am very nervous about the subject of rape in a film. In fact the very opening scene of the rape (as witnessed by the cat) and her bleeding vagina in the bath really had me questioning what Paul Verhoeven was up to. I’ll admit I had a mistrust to Verhoeven because I know he has a reputation for films like Basic Instinct and Showgirls. I still haven’t forgotten the misogyny of the latter and I was anticipating misogyny in the film at first. Even the scene that appears like Michele is consenting to the rape of Patrick makes me wonder, in addition to knowing Michele actually gets sexual satisfaction from it. In the end, the film delivers a strong female character who is able to piece the puzzle together. It’s at the end we see Michele as if she triumphed in the situation.

SPOILER ALERT – IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING, BYPASS THIS PARAGRAPH: The ending is a surprise as well. Throughout the whole film, you see Michele as a bitter, hurting, troubled woman with the world seemingly against her or bothering her in every which way. However it’s right after Patrick is killed that everything magically becomes right. We see how Rebecca isn’t as hurt over Patrick’s death as she’s moving out, and makes it obvious she knew what Patrick was up to. We see how Vincent has been able to get better in his career and relationship. We see how Michele is finally able to make peace with her father. We also see how Michele makes peace with both Josie and Anna as they’ve both left Robert, and even resumes the strong friendship with Anna. It’s like life for all during the time of Michele being raped was what was causing friction in the lives of Michele and those around her, and it was Patrick’s death at the hands of Vincent that set everything right for all. Normally something like that wouldn’t work in terms of a story. I mean how is it possible for a rape victim to recover from what happened seemingly overnight? But the way it was played out in the story made it look very believable and made it look like the story ended on the right note. Quite an accomplishment, especially for a psychological thriller.

This film is actually an adaptation of a French novel titled Oh. I’ve never read the novel but David Birke does a very good job in creating a story that’s both a psychological thriller and a big puzzle that somehow is able to get all the pieces to fit in the end. Paul Verhoeven also did a good job of directing. I will admit I did get suspicious with him, especially after seeing certain scenes. However it’s in the end that I feel he did a very good job of creating a strong female character despite appearing to push the envelope at times. However making the story work also came down to Isabelle Huppert in her performance of the protagonist Michele. She had to portray a character who seemed to have everything pushing her to snap but somehow keep her composure throughout the ordeal, despite being bitter and spiteful, and appear triumphant in the end. She accomplished that feat excellently. Supporting performances of note include Laurent Lafitte as the troubled neighbor Patrick and Anne Consigny as Anna: the friend caught in the love triangle.

Elle begins as a film that one would expect to be misogynist, but instead paves the way for a female character who triumphs in the end. It’s the film’s surprising twists and turns that make it.

Oscars 2016 Best Picture Summary: Part 3

Most of you have already seen my first summary or even my second summary. This last summary will have a look at the last three Best Picture nominees I saw. They were Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water.

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Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley, an Australian searching for his family back home in India in Lion.

LION

Lion is one of those films which came out of nowhere to surprise everyone who has been lucky to see it.

We have seen many against-all-odds stories in the past. This is something because this is a true story of something that really was against all odds. It wasn’t just about making it happen but also of the family relations Saroo has developed over his lifetime. What will happen? Will he leave the family he’s always known? Is the family he’s searching for still alive? The best quality of this story is that it keeps us intrigued and hoping Saroo reunites, but also has us concerned of what will happen after.

Another quality of this story is that it does not forget the cause of the problem. Saroo is seen as the lucky one who was able to reunite with his family after all these years. However throughout the film, especially at the beginning, we see the cause of the problem. Saroo was unsupervised when he boarded the express train. The language barriers caused problems. Even Saroo’s mispronunciation of Bengali words caused problems. The train stations of Calcutta are loaded with stray children ready for abductors to prey on, and station police looking the other way. Even the missing posters advertised before his adoption were no good as his mother is illiterate. India failed Saroo and Saroo succeeded thanks to Google Earth and his fierce will. The film at the end lets people aware of the problem; 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The film’s website informs people of how they are making a difference in aiding to protect children in India.

This film is an accomplishment for the Australian film industry. I don’t know if Australia has ever had a film nominated for Best Picture before. This is director Garth Davis’ first ever feature length film. Bet you wouldn’t believe that. Luke Davies did an excellent job in adapting Saroo’s biography into a winning screenplay that keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best in the end. Dev Patel’s performance as Saroo was the highlight as he did a great portrayal of a young man who’s angry on the inside and knows what he needs to do. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the mother who appears grateful on the outside but has some inner hurt waiting to come out. Young Sunny Pawar was also very good playing the young Saroo. He was cute but he didn’t take it overboard. He played his part well. The film also featured top notch cinematography from Greig Fraser and excellent original music from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.

Lion is an excellent film featuring a story you won’t forget. A surprise contender this year and a worthy one.

hidden-figures

Hidden Figures is the story of three African American women working for NASA who broke new ground and brought down racial barriers.

HIDDEN FIGURES

It’s good that we have a film like Hidden Figures to tell us about a piece of history that we never knew about.

The film comes at the right time as it deals with a lot of situations that are relevant in our world. This may be set in the early 60’s and revolves around a moment in space history but it has a lot of situations relevant to today. One is of workplace racism. It’s not as bad now as it is then but there are still a lot of unsolved problems. The second is of technology being so good, it can replace workers. These three women had iron wills. They knew they had potential, they knew they had what it takes and they wouldn’t let racism or the threat of modern technology stop them from reaching for their achievements.

The year of 2016 was a crushing year. It was a year that constantly reminded us that there was still a lot of racism to overcome. Despite the improvement over the decades, it was able to show its ugly head with low employment rates and police beatings. This is a film that reminds us that racism can be overcome. When you look at it, the women were doing this all during a turning point in the history of African Americans. African Americans in Virginia had less rights than they do now and discrimination was perfectly legal. Back then there were still separate washrooms for colored people, separate library books for white and colored people, and police beatings during civil rights marches. The women overcame these barriers and they opened doors for other colored people for generations to come.

This is only the second film Theodore Melfi has directed and written. This is the first feature-length script Alison Schroeder has written. Does come across as like something you’d get from Hollywood, but it’s not a weakness. It does all the right moves. Taraji Henson was great as the protagonist Katherine Goble-Johnson, but the show-stealer was Octavia Spencer. She was not only good at playing a woman who wouldn’t let technology kill her job, and the jobs of 30 other black women, but she was a colorful scene-stealer too. Janelle Monae completes the trio as one who just wouldn’t say die to her ambitions. The male actors were mostly supporting roles but Mahershala Ali was the biggest one as Jim Johnson, Katherine’s new husband. The mix of Motown music mixed in with the original score from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch also added to the spirits of the movie.

Hidden Figures showcases a little-known fact about a big moment in American space history. It’s also the right uplifting movie needed at this time.

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Hell Or High Water is about two Texas brothers on a robbing spree and a policeman (played by Jeff Bridges, right) trying to chase them down.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

I missed Hell Or High Water when it first came out in the theatres in August. I admit I was caught up in the summer fare and I overlooked it. I finally saw it recently and I’m glad I did.

One thing is I miss seeing is crime comedies. You know, the dark comedies featured in crime stories. This film has a good amount of comedy to it with their failures at robbing first. Even the situation where the brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank and pay the mortgages they have with the bank off with the robbery money is full of surprising irony. It’s not even the robbery spree that has all the comedy. There’s the comedy when the rangers visit the places they question. There’s even comedy with that hard waitress at a restaurant they eat at: “What don’t you want?” The comedy doesn’t last as the story gets darker later on. However it does end on an ironic note as the now-retired Officer Hamilton does meet up with Toby Howard, perfectly free, and inquires of the robberies he and brother Tanner committed together.

One thing about this crime drama is that it has a lot to say. We have two brothers–Tanner who appears to have no redeeming values and Toby who’s as cool as a cookie– robbing various branches of the same bank. You see signs advertising debt relief. You hear from people– both family and people the brothers run into– talking of their own economic hardships. You see the indigenous people, who are still referred to as ‘Indians’ with their own outlook on things. Mostly negative. Looks like this story has a lot to say. Even hearing Alberto Parker say that he believes the true criminal is the Texas Midlands Bank does get you thinking. Maybe it’s the Bank that are the true robbers around here.

This is actually the first American production from Scottish director David MacKenzie. He has a reputation back in the UK with films like Young Adam, Hallam Foe and Starred Up. His first American production is top notch and really delivers as both a crime story and an offbeat Western. This is also an accomplishment for writer Taylor Sheridan. Already having made a name for himself in Sicario, he delivers again in what is actually his second feature-length script. Of all acting performances, Jeff Bridges is the one that was the best. He delivered a top job in character acting from head to toe. He was completely solid in character. Chris Pine was also good as the brother Toby who’s smart, tries to play it cool and possibly the one person in the world who could see redeeming qualities in brother Tanner. Ben Foster was also a scene-stealer as Tanner who a complete ruthless loose cannon who appears to have a bone to pick with everyone over anything and possesses a false sense of invincibility. Gil Birmingham was also good coming across as the wise partner who plays it cool. The country music in both recorded format and original from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fit the film perfectly.

Hell Or High Water makes for an intense thrill ride that’s big on thrills but also takes you to the heat of the moments. The story even gets you thinking. Now why did I miss it during the summer?

That does it. My final summary of the Best Picture nominees for 2016. After seeing Hell Or High Water, that makes it 16 straight years of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. My predictions for the wins coming on Saturday.

 

 

VIFF 2016 Review: To Keep The Light

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Erica Fae plays a Maine woman determined to keep her lighthouse in 1876 in To Keep The Light.

Here at the VIFF, you’ll see many films directed by female directors. One is To Keep The Light, directed by Erica Fae. It’s a very impressive work.

Abbie is the wife of Thomas, a lighthouse keeper in Maine in 1876. However Thomas has recently fallen ill and has become bedridden with a complete loss of appetite. That means Abbie will have to tend to the lighthouse while he is sick. She does everything Thomas does and keeps record of everything although she does commit one error.

One morning she sees a body of a man has washed ashore. The following day, she sees the man has not awaken so she assumes he’s dead. However just as she’s about to cast the body to sea, the man awakens. She gives him shelter and food as he’s about to recover. He tells her the story of how he ended up in the sea. As he’s recovering, she tells Thomas of this man: a Swede named Johan. It’s only a matter of days that Johan gets better. He’s even able to help Abbie with the lighthouse.

Abbie’s even able to go to town with Johan but the townpeople do not look fondly towards Abbie or Johan. Some are suspicious of the two considering Thomas is still bedridden. Even the postal lady Mrs. Williams has a suspicion towards Swedes as do many of the townfolks. It’s difficult enough since one family, the Eaton family, feels they should have owned the lighthouse only to have been outbid by Abbie and Thomas.

One day Abbie sees the breakfast eaten, assuming Thomas is starting recover and lies next to him, only to discover it’s Johan. Abbie soon learns the horrific news. Thomas is dead; he drowned himself. As if Thomas’ death isn’t hard enough, she knows she could lose the lighthouse to the Eatons. Troubles turn worse as the Chief Inspector conducts an inspection and gives it a scathing review, mostly because of his male chauvinism. Soon Johan reveals her love towards Abbie just around the time the Eatons are trying to claim her lighthouse. Abbie would have to make an important decision. She does, but not the decision most would expect.

Listening to the first five minutes of the Q&A with Erica Fae, I learned a lot more about women who looked after lighthouses in place of their ailing or deceased husbands. It’s documented but the times whitewashed their contributions those many years ago. Erica Fae is able to bring their achievements to full view and for us to finally see. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, it’s enlightening to see what they did during the time. I’m glad Erica has the chance through this film to finally tell us their story and finally commend their accomplishments.

If there’s one glitch about this film, it’s that it doesn’t appear like it’s solid in its intention as a film. It becomes obvious it’s about one woman’s struggle to keep the lighthouse she should rightfully own being the widow of the previous owner. However the story of Abbie’s struggle has the distraction of her romance with Johan. I’ll admit while watching this, I was left wondering if the film was intended to be a romance: a story about the man Abbie truly loved. I don’t have a problem at all with films conveying a message of women fighting for their rights but I think the romance from Abbie and Johan took away from the story’s message and would leave confused about what the main intention of the film is to be.

SPOILER ALERTDo Not Read This Paragraph IF You Dont Want To Know The Ending: Even the ending had me confused. It’s obvious Abbie loved Johan but it couldn’t be that she was thinking of marrying him to keep her lighthouse. Even if it was right after the death of Thomas, Abbie didn’t come across as that type of woman. If she were to marry Johan, it would be because she loved him. I admit I had different expectations in the film. I thought Johan would follow his heart and come back to her. I think that’s why the ending of her writing the letter to set her ownership of the lighthouse in stone left me confused.

I give a lot of respect to Erica Fae for this film. Fae is best known as an actress in the film Synecdoche, New York and a recurring character in Boardwalk Empire. She wrote, directed, researched and played the lead in the film. She does an excellent job in all the duties she takes on in the film but there are some noticeable flaws. I know I made mention of a story of a love mixed with a woman’s fight for her right as coming off as uneven. As far as Fae’s acting, she does an excellent job of playing the character but she doesn’t come across as too believable as a woman from the 1870’s in New England. She comes across as too 21st century in her movement and her speaking. Antti Reini did a good job of playing Johan. The other cast members also did very well in their parts. The cinematography by Wes Cardino was excellent and gives a great feel for the East Coast. The score by Caroline Shaw was also very fitting for the film.

To Keep The Light has its noticeable flaws. Nevertheless it is a good story about what certain women had to fight for that often goes overlooked. I thank Erica Fae for giving us this story.

Summer Movie Summary: Superhero Movies

If there is one genre of movie that stands out during the summer movie season, it’s the superhero movies. Every year they win crowds and give them their enjoyment for the most part. For this summary, I will review two such movies: Captain America: Civil War and The Suicide Squad. Both are two different types of superhero movies in the way the people try to be heroes and with the comic franchises: Marvel vs. DC once again.

Captain America: Civil War

captain-americaWhile DC Comics has the two biggest superheroes, Marvel’s edge is its multitude of different superheroes: take your pick. This time around in Captain America: Civil War, the focus is on Captain America. Or is it?

Watching the film, I was expecting it to be a story about Captain America. You can imagine my surprise to see all the other Avengers characters. I was cool with it at first. However things started getting uncomfortable for me when I saw them take up so much screen time. They all took up so much time, I even questioned whether Captain America was even the lead role in the film. I even thought if it was to have one hero as the lead role, it should probably be Iron Man.

Nevertheless the film does have a lot of excellent qualities. The first is a story that is thought-provoking. There’s a situation where international rules are imposed on the Avengers. Right when an incident happens, it causes friction within the team and even division. The question remains of what is the right thing to do? The movie attempts to give you the answer. Virtues and morals are an uncompromisable ingredient in superhero movies no matter how much action is involved. Even top directors will say that the values of humanity are necessary for a winning superhero movie. Here we have a movie that gets one questioning what is the right thing to do considering the situation. That adds to the film as it gets the audience thinking.

Of course high-tech special effects and action battles are a must in superhero movies. The crowds come to get blown away. Captain America: Civil War delivers on such action just like most of the Marvel comic movies before it. It has moments that will leave you on the edge of your seat. In addition, it adds some comedy too as it gives us a young Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, as a preview for the new upcoming Spider-Man installment. Here Peter comes across as your typical young idiotic yuts. Gives anticipation of what to expect when Spider-Man comes out.

The Russo brothers return to direct the movie. They directed the last Captain America movie. They did a very good job of delivering another great superhero movie. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return with the Russos to write the latest installment. They did a good job despite the push of some actors to have more screen time. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. stole the movie and Chris Evans appeared to have a supporting role this time. The other actors did their parts well and didn’t appear to get into too much of the mix-up. The special effects delivered and Henry Jackson’s music added to the film.

For all intents and purposes, Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie in disguise. Don’t be fooled. However the quality of the story is maintained as it gives a thought-provoking story with the superhero action to deliver.

Suicide Squad

suicide-squadThere’s something about the knack to do an anti-hero movie. We saw that with Marvel when they released Deadpool. Now we see DC Comics making the attempt with the Suicide Squad. Do they succeed?

You’d think after Sausage Party, I’d start again on how this movie of a bad-guy superhero squad is trying to ‘bring back the 90’s’ but you’re wrong. A story where it takes bad guys and makes heroes out of them is actually a very common theme. It’s even been done in film as far back as the 1930’s as I once saw 1939’s Stagecoach take the outcasts of society and turn them into heroes. It’s a theme that has been done decade after decade. We see it done here again with the Suicide Squad. The people recruited to be part of the Squad are criminals and crazies that look like they deserved to be shunned away from society but an intelligence operative sees them as the right people for the job. They even make clear that they’re bad, not evil.

The ‘bad vs. evil’ theme is what makes this movie unique among the superhero movies of this year. Even from Deadpool. While Marvel’s Deadpool is about a selfish man who’s disinterested in being the superhero bestowed upon him, Suicide Squad is about a conscience present in even the baddest of badasses. A reminder that bad and evil are two completely different things. Don’t forget we’re dealing with a world where Superman is deceased, as exhibited in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice months earlier.

Now the Suicide Squad is not a team of badass superheroes created in vain after Deadpool: an attempt at having ‘anti-Avengers.’ It’s a team that actually debuted in DC Comics in 1959 in their monthly Brave And The Bold series and made a return in 1987 in their Legends series back then. The comic would be a monthly series that would issue for some months, end temporarily for a year or two and then make a comeback from time to time. Now seems like the right time to bring them to the screen. I must say their craziness and eccentricities were big time scene-stealers. While Deadpool mostly relied on the idiotic actions and lines from its lead characters, the characters of the Suicide Squad were more about their crazy and even eccentric personalities. That was their edge and I’m sure that’s what won the crowds to them this year. It’s no wonder it’s the 4th highest grossing movie of the summer.

This is David Ayer’s first attempt at directing and writing a superhero movie. He has a resume for writing and directing a lot of good police dramas and action movies in the past. However his experience doesn’t completely translate the best. Imperfections are easy to notice and it seems the movie does get a bit disjointed at times. Even in terms of the characters, there’s not that much depth to their roles and it often appears like the actors are trying to play characters more than acting out roles. I’ve noticed that DC Comics movies this year are lacking in terms of writing. It’s noticeable in Batman vs. Superman too.

Nevertheless the actors do deliver on character acting and that’s one quality I feel made the movie. In addition the actors succeeded in making characters you want to hate at first and then surprise you as they become heroes and then return as bad guys. Margot Robbie was the standout as Harley Quinn. Her character was the one that knew how to grab your attention, even upstaging Will Smith.  Others standouts include Jared Leto as the Joker, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo and  Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. Visual effects were top notch and loaded with bright color that’s eye catching and very rare to see in most other movies, especially superhero movies. The mix of music was also an added quality. It seems like after Guardians Of The Galaxy, filmmakers are playing around and even experimenting with use of songs in the movies. Here they mix in music spanning five decades and it produces an entertainingly winning result.

Suicide Squad may be lacking in the script and in the editing but it’s the on-fire character acting, colorful visual effects and the eclectic music track that make the movie entertaining and a winner for the summer.

Sure, I only have two superhero movies in my summary of the genre but both do shed some light on the presence of the superhero movies of the summer and why they continue to win us over. They have spectacular action but they also test our conscience as well. I saw that in Batman vs. Superman earlier in the role of a superhero even after they cause destruction to do good. I see it again in Captain America as the Avengers question whether it’s right to break the law to do what’s right. I also see it in the Suicide Squad as outcasts get a shot at redemption and even remind themselves as well as others that they do possess a conscience and can even do what’s right despite their criminal minds.

Once again, the superhero genre remains one of the most winning movie genres of the summer. Even with the surprise success of Deadpool, families still come to the movies to see the good guys win. Some even like to get their ‘bad boy/bad girl’ kicks. All deliver in terms of action and a message.

Movie Review: Anomalisa

Anomalisa is one of the more adult animated features from 2015 and features a unique story.

Anomalisa is one of the more adult animated features from 2015 and features a unique story.

Most animated features this year have been family-oriented blockbusters. Anomalisa provides for an adult alternative. Does it provide well?

Michael Stone is a motivational speaker who has arrived in Cincinnati for a single day to give a lecture on effective customer service. He should have it all– he’s married, a father and he’s a success at his profession– but you sense something’s missing. That becomes evident when he has images of Bella, his ex-girlfriend from more than ten years ago. In addition, everyone besides Michael has the same voice from the hotel personnel to his ex to his wife Donna and son Henry to even the waitress.

The night appears to be a disaster as he tries to reconnect with Bella in the hotel lounge only to find out she’s emotionally troubled. In the end, he’s only after sex with Bella and she leaves furiously. You can tell he’s not with it as he is looking to buy a toy for his son Henry and end up shopping in a toy store–an adult toy store– and actually buys something for him.

During the night, he thinks he missed getting his room service and goes walking down the hall for the person he wants to see. He knocks on one hotel room and comes across two females who traveled here to hear his lecture. Both are customer service employees. There’s Erica, who’s tall and blond and sounds like everyone else, and Lisa who’s shorter, a brunette and has a very different voice. Michael has drinks with the two which goes better than with Bella but he takes an interest in Lisa. Lisa is surprised as she’s normally the socially rejected one. In fact she took customer service because she’s not normally put in front desk or face-to-face sales positions. In fact her last boyfriend was a boss who just didn’t work out at all with her. She has low self-esteem, often feeling cut off from the world, and admires Cyndi Lauper for her ability to dare to be different. However Michael and Lisa connect and they spend the night together.

The following morning, Michael gets bad dreams about being sexually pursued by others. At breakfast with Lisa, he’s faced with the dilemma that Lisa may not be the one, that she maybe like all the others. He tries to do his lecture, with Lisa and Erica in the audience, but he just can’t put it together. Michael returns back to his home life and his family only to have a surprise party for him in which he doesn’t welcome and suggests his marriage to Donna is in jeopardy. Meanwhile Lisa and Erica head back on their road trip leaving the audience to wonder what will happen long after the story ends.

I am quite accustomed to Charlie Kaufman shelling out unapologetically eccentric entertainment. Being John Malkovich is possibly the most eccentric film I’ve seen outside of Clockwork Orange. Adaptation is an amusing story about Charlie’s ‘twin’ Donald. In addition, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is possibly the best ‘romance of the absurd.’ Anomalisa is possibly the least eccentric film I’ve ever seen from him. This is also very rare that I see him use animation to tell his story. Actually Anomalisa was a stage play written by him ten years ago. That explains why the film is set in 2005.

Basically the film touches on the subject of a person’s feeling of missing voids in their life and their personal belonging. We have a man who should have it all: a married father who has it made as a motivational speaker and instructor. We also have a woman who feels like a misfit and tries to hang onto things that give her positive self-esteem like Cyndi Lauper songs or her best friend since elementary school. They meet by chance and it turns out that they appear just right for each other only to have that chemistry questioned only shortly after.

I will say it did not make sense at the beginning of the film hearing Michael talk in his voice and seeing all the other characters besides Lisa talk in the same voice including Michael’s wife, son Henry, Bella and even Lisa’s friend Erica. It’s once you get into the film you learn why Michael and Lisa are the ones with different voices. The reason why all the other people have the same voice is because to Michael, they’re ‘everyone else,’ including his wife and son. Once you notice Lisa as the only other person with a different voice, you will soon understand that she is something to Michael. It makes sense over time. However this case of voices matching the role will also send a message about the morning after and what Lisa will mean to Michael.

Kaufman does a very good job of writing and co-directing however it’s also Duke Johnson who does a very good job in directing the animation. It’s a wonder why Kaufman wanted to have Anomalisa adapted to animation instead of live-action. Duke has already had experience in animation with two different shorts and an animated series of Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole. Here his animation fused with the story of Anomalisa does seem to come off as a bit odd at first–even seeing Duke’s style of animation does seem different at first– but it seems fitting at the end. I feel it worked out excellently. The vocal talent was also very good as both David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh were both able to provide personality and emotion to their characters of Michael and Lisa respectively. Tom Noonan also did a good job of voicing everyone else and was able to make it sound entertaining. The music of Carter Burwell as well as the inclusion of songs and lyrics from others added to the film.

Anomalisa is a refreshing break from most animated movies that hit it big at the box office. It’s a very adult style of an animation story that’s very offbeat but manages to make sense to you and impressed you in the end.

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: Selma

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma.

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma about an important part of American history.

Selma appears to be about an important time in US history. However it tells more than what we’ve learned about the whole story including those involved.

The film is about the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. that would pave way to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But it was more than that. It starts with Martin receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However it’s just the beginning for Martin. A black church in Alabama explodes killing four young girls. Annie Lee Cooper has been denied the right to vote like most black people in Alabama before her. Meanwhile King is unsuccessful in convincing Johnson to pass a law allowing black citizens to vote.

Instead of accepting defeat, King is undeterred and determined to achieve this. Selma, Alabama is the meeting place for King and other activists to organize efforts to achieve this law. However both Johnson and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover are nervous about this. Hoover uses phone calls to disrupt his marriage to Coretta. Undeterred, King and black residents of Selma march to the registration office only to be confronted by a mob of police and a riot ensues where King and Cooper are arrested.

Things get even harder as state governor George Wallace, a pro-segregationist, speaks out against the marches and even calls police in Marion, Alabama to use force from state troopers during a planned night march. An assault by troopers does occur during the march where Jimmie Lee Jackson, who hid in a restaurant for the safety of him and his family, is shot to death by the police. Jimmie’s death only prompts King to tell people to stick to fighting for their rights. However the Kings receive threats on their children and activist groups are becoming unhappy with him.

A march from Selma to Montgomery to make their message heard is planned especially with the hopes of having all of the United states watching and paying attention, especially as working on ‘white consciousness’ is one of King’s objectives. At first King is hesitant but is convinced by his colleague Andrew Young. The original march takes place with all African-Americans. Right on the Edmund Pettis Bridge they’re stopped by police and attacked. The news goes nationwide. A second march is planned. This time King not only has blacks from other cities but white supporters too from regulars to religious clergy. Just before the marchers reach the end of the bridge, the chief officer and his group are back again. This time they’re allowed to proceed but King kneels in prayer and goes back. The reason was because King was suspicious. He doesn’t trust the mob of police and wants legal permission for them to march. The push for permission is especially stressed as one of the white allies, Rev. James Reeb, was beaten to death. The permission is granted by Alabama Judge Frank Minis Johnson. Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King and the marchers make history.

There’s no question that this is to do about an important moment in American history. Actually coming from Canada, I was never taught about Selma. I knew about the I Have A Dream speech but was never taught about Selma. However the film is also about Martin Luther King himself. The movie begins with him accepting his Nobel Peace Prize which came months after his I Have A Dream speech. However we would be reminded that King had more work to be done. Selma was a new challenge for him as his people needed the right to vote. However there was the constant threat of police brutality and even death. He stood firm in his non-violence stance and his plan was to work on ‘white consciousness’ and he knew it was the only way to work. He also knew he had to work with the tough minds of President Johnson and other politicians including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Each death linked to the marches would make him more fearful but it would make him more convinced this is something that needs to be done. We all know it was achieved but this is a reminder of how King and his people had to achieve their right.

The film also takes us back to the time and place. It reminds us just how hard it was to be black in southern US states like Alabama. Living in segregation was one thing. Being denied the right to vote was another. The only time in my life I knew of black people being denied the right to vote was in South Africa up to 1994. Apartheid riots were common news stories in the 80’s. I was shocked to learn that it was happening to black people in the 60’s in the Southern US. I always thought the US was supposed to be the ‘land of the free.’ It showed the red tape black people had to face in the justice system and especially with the police. We are all shocked and disgusted to hear about the fatal shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in recent years and their killers getting away with it. This was happening in Alabama in the 60’s all the time. Especially shootings by police on young unarmed black men like Jimmie Lee Jackson. You couldn’t blame them for having had it. They couldn’t be denied this anymore and this was a must-win situation for them and King.

Just as much of a focal point as blacks fighting for their right to vote is also the focus of the bigoted attitude of the whites in Alabama. King made it his duty to work on ‘white consciousness’ in order to achieve this victory. Alabama, especially in the city of Selma, showed what type of ‘racial battleground’ they had to deal with. The first sign was the church explosion but we’d see it all throughout. We’d see it in the police brutality, we’d see it as a restaurant proudly advertises itself as ‘a whites-only restaurant since 1883,’ we’d see it as a white man ‘introduces’ himself to King and punches him in the face, we’d see it in the taunting of white people from all around. That’s the type of environment the black people had to fight. We should forget that Alabama has segregation removed years ago but the white people weren’t happy. They felt that segregation was right and they reacted in frustration with taunting and even violence. Even when white people joined the blacks in their march, that didn’t change a lot of people’s minds. In fact they found white supporters to be a threat and reacted with the same violence on them, even killing some. Another reminder that white supporters of the Selma marches would also be at risk to the same violent reactions as blacks. The film takes us back to the time, place and the hostile attitudes at the time. An ugly reminder but necessary to show.

Even though the film was about Martin Luther King, his crusade for human rights and the bigoted attitudes in the area, the film also showed another factor: the strength of non-violence. King’s use of non-violent means to achieve human rights may appear radical to many and even ridiculous to some at first. In fact it explains why he had a rivalry with Malcolm X as seen near the beginning of the film. Because Malcolm believed: “by any means necessary.” However it was shown to be successful in the actual event and in the film. In fact I noticed the film to also show violent means to look cowardly. We see it in the police who try to use it to strike fear in the protesters in hoping they’d quit. We see it in the white Alabamans as they use it to strike fear in the blacks and their supporters. Most of the times it’s seen they do it on impulse because they just don’t know how to deal with the situation. Funny how we’ve seen a lot of Hollywood movies, especially in the action movies of the 80’s and 90’s, where the leading man uses vengeance and violence to become the hero. Here violence looks very cowardly.

Without a doubt, this film has to belong to Ava DuVernay in directing and co-writing the story with Paul Webb. She did an excellent job in recreating the story of the marches, the people involved with them and the atmosphere of the time and place. The end result is an excellent film that won’t leave you. It’s not without controversy. There are many questioning the depiction of Lyndon Johnson in the film. Historical documents show he was actually supportive of Martin Luther King and his mission. Even I myself believed for a second that Johnson may have had some difficulty at first, knowing Johnson was originally from Texas: a state that formerly had segregation. DuVernay simply responded: “I’m a storyteller. Not a historian.” Whatever the situation, it was still a very good film put together.

David Oyelowo was excellent as Martin Luther King Jr. as she showed him in both his convictions, his inner strength and even his own personal frailties at times, like that time he relied on Andrew Young to go through with the march. Even that scene where he calls gospel singer Mahalia Jackson for inspiration and she sings to him shows that King did have fears which he needed support for. Tom Wilkinson was also very good as Johnson. Even if you feel his depiction of Johnson wasn’t that truthful, it was still a very good performance. Carmen Ejogo was excellent as Coretta. She did more than just simply play Martin Luther King’s wife. She played a young woman who herself grew in courage: a courage Coretta would need after Martin’s assassination. Oprah was also surprisingly well as Annie Lee Cooper. Right at the beginning we could see a character completely opposite to the Oprah we know. A character that looks like she’s been through the hardest life offered her. You could see it in her face. The cinematography and music added to the environment of the story. You could feel that this was a struggle worth winning.

Selma is a film retelling an important moment in history. It gives us insight into the people involved and the environment they had to fight in order to achieve their rights.

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a movie of a woman that appears to be a victim in a fading marriage but is actually the one in control.

Gone Girl is a movie of a woman who’s a children’s book author but her biggest masterpiece of storytelling isn’t written on pen and paper.

I’ll admit that I’m one of those people that went out to see Gone Girl later than the huge crowds. I will admit I was lax at it because of the tight times I was experiencing. I finally did see it just a while ago and I was impressed.

I usually do a run though the plot in my reviews. I have decided to skip it since most of you have already seen it. Instead I will focus on some of the unique elements and why this movie stands out.

One noticeable thing of the movie is that there is a big focus on the media, especially as it surrounds a murder story. There’s no doubt the message is about how the media takes on crime stories by being its own judge and jury, typing people and packaging them as good people and bad people. This was especially seen on how Nick is typed not only as the bad guy but as the murderer even though no body was found. This was also seen on the police as they eventually felt the pressure to make a move and arrest Nick for the murder. There was also the focus of the egos in the media behind it all and epitomized best by Ellen Abbott who mercilessly defames and slanders Nick as the murderer. Even before the interview of Nick and Amy after Amy’s arrival, you can tell Ellen shows no regrets about it all. Even as Nick confronts Ellen about how she dismissed him as a murderer, she simply says “I go where the story goes” without any noticeable remorse or apology. I guess it shows what it takes to be a talking head in the news.

Despite the exploitative judgmental ego-driven media being a major theme, it’s not the main focus of the film. The main focus is on Amy. Amy first comes across as a warm charismatic person with a lack of confidence but lives her confidence out through the character of Amazing Amy in her Amazing Amy books. As the story goes through the search for Amy day by day, the story flashes back to the first signs of their marriage falling apart. The marital troubles appear so much like millions of marriages before that hit rocky moments during hard times and even face ugly moments like infidelity and even physical abuse. That’s what the first half is all about.

It’s the second half that we see the twist in the story that Amy is not the sweet thing we think she is. She’s conniving, very clever and smart enough to make things work for her revenge plan to have Ben framed for her murder that never happened. Even faking things like her pregnancy, Ben’s alleged credit card debt and agreement to a huge life insurance payout was as clever as it was shallow. Her cleverness especially intriguing that she’s even able to make a calculating change of plans even after some neighbors of her getaway place rob her. She’s able to get Desi back into her life and appear to rekindle the romance only to have another thing up her sleeve after seeing Nick’s interview on the television. Her tricks are even crafty enough to get Nick trapped into the relationship without him being able to escape thanks to a pregnancy. Her tricks are even clever enough that there’s nothing Nick, Margo, Tanner Bolt or even Detective Boney can do to bring out the truth, even though they know it.

The funny thing is I’ve been watching a lot of crime shows like Forensic Files where they show of people committing murders and attempting to cover it up only to have advancing technology over time uncover the truth slowly but surely. They not only tell of people committing the crimes but what they do to get away from it all and even cop a new identity. Seeing Amy go about her charade not only reminds you of those diabolical minds but gets you intrigued in Amy’s own diabolical ways. Throughout the movie I was waiting for the moment for truths to be unraveled and Amy to get caught. Funny thing is that over time, it appears her new actions and tricks appear better executed than the ones Amy had planned on Nick from the start. It appeared Amy’s new plan to have Nick in a loveless marriage raising their child was a better form of torture on Nick than her original plan of having him convicted and executed for her fake murder. It’s like she told him after he hit her: “I’m the c*** you always wanted.”

I think that’s what makes this movie so winsome. Amy is a diabolical mind who’s not only that good but appears to get better and craftier over time. Funny thing is it’s one of those movies that had me leaving the theatre wondering how Amy gets away with it all? How Amy’s able to keep it all covered up even with all this modern technology and in control of everybody else involved including the law? That’s like the same wonder I had at the end of 1999’s Arlington Road of how a couple could pull off a terrorist explosion framing their neighbor and being a step ahead of everybody in every which way to get it done. That’s also like the same wonder I had in 1992’s Basic Instinct when Beth kills Gus with an ice pick and minutes later confronts a gun-wielding Nick with a normal pulse rate and no stress level at all. Then I remind myself it’s the movies where they can make anything happen and make us believe it at that moment.

Top kudos to Rosamund Pike. She delivered a character that made the movie. She gave a feel for the character right from the start and kept us intrigued right until the end. She had to be the top factor on why this movie is so winsome. Ben Affleck did well but he didn’t own the show the way Rosamund did. Carrie Coon was very good in the supporting role of the sister who knows the truth but is helpless to do anything. Tyler Perry was good as the lawyer. Missi Pyle came across as cartoonish as the Ellen Abbott but it fit well with the movie as I will reflect on later.

It seemed like the right thing for Gillian Flynn, the writer of the novel, to also write the screenplay too. It makes sense since she’s the one who knows Amy inside out. It’s also great to see her deliver an ending possibly unlike anyone would anticipate. David Fincher does an excellent job of directing the story. I know there were many times that the people in the murder scenario came off as cartoonish in the film but it seems fitting because all too often, people in the middle of a trial that involved heavy media attention often come off as cartoonish or like drama queens. Even as we read murder stories or murder dramas about real-life murders, it’s as much about personalities as it is about the people. David did a good job of making it the focus in the movie. You could say David delivers another winner. In addition kudos to the music of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that added to the feel of the film.

Gone Girl is a story that keeps you interested from start to finish. You think it will go one way but it goes the other way. Even after you leave the theatre, you’re left wondering how she was able to make it work. I guess that was the secret of the movie.

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.