- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
Lots of new films opening this week on the 20th and more on Christmas Day 25th next week. These are the Christmas films and the best of the year.
ANCHORMAN 2 has an early opening Wed while AMERICAN HUSTLE, WALKING WITH DINOSAURS and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS open Friday.
The Studio Ghibli animated series continues at the TIFF Cinematheque. These Japanese gems are a must-see!
AMERICAN HUSTLE (USA 2013) ***** TOP 10
Directed by David O. Russell
From the humble beginnings of comedies like SPANKING THE MONKEY to complex family dramas like THE FIGHTER, writer/director Russell has come full circle with his best film to date, the Oscar worthy AMERICAN HUSTLE. Russell rewrites the script based on the FBFI ABSCAM of the 70’s and 80’s originally written by Eric Warren Singer. His film encompasses the best bits from all his previous films with the addition of the suspense element in a story that is strong on both plot and drama. It is often the drama that drives the film to its edginess, with the characters pushed towards their end points of emotional endurances.
The film begins with a setup in which a briefcase containing money is refused in a hotel suite. Obviously, the film flashes back to the incidents that will lead back to this scene, which at least is not repeated as is in most other films. The action centers on a con-artist couple, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress, so-called Sydney aka Edith from British royalty (Amy Adams). But they are caught by Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who offers them a way out but only if they hand over some dirty big shots in the scamming business. This they agree. But things get complicated as DiMaso falls in love with Edith and Irving’s wife, Rosalyn starts spilling the beans to the wrong people.
Performances are more than excellent all around from Cooper to Bale. Bale put on quite the paunch, which he appears keen to show off ever so often for the film. But the prized one comes from already Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence who out does herself as the floozy, yet self-righteous and very sexy wife, Rosalyn.
Russell concocts a few inspirational setups, the most worthy of mention being the steamy sex scene in a club toilet stall. They burst into the ladies’ and brush through the queue and into a stall while the line screams obscenities at them as they make out in the stall.
The story contains two love affairs – one between Edith and Irving and the other between her and DiMaso. But Russell ensures the audience knows the one that will last. Edith and Irving meet and share Ellington? And this, of course means much more than the wild sex in the club toilet stall.
The intercutting between the family drama and con business at he middle of the film is worthy of Francis Ford Coppola’s ironic intercutting between the Corleone’s family dinner and Mafia assassinations at the end of THE GODFATHER.
The dialogue is razor edge sharp. The one scene in which Rosalyn turns around her goof of blowing up the new microwave (just invented at that time) by placing metal in it has her telling her husband that thank God for her as she had read that microwaving removes all the nutrients from good. Also, her logic of divorcing her husband while stating at the start of the film that divorce is out of question in her family is priceless.
The music by Danny Elfman is great. Oldies are nicely mixed from Elton John numbers to the corny, Puppy Love to club anthems.
The drama, suspense, twists and the especially sardonic humor all work great in a film that surprises if not shocks. Russell does a nice hat trick with this marvelous film in a year in which there are few films that dare take risks like he does.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (USA 2013) **
Directed by Adam McKay
The sequel of the 2004 comedy hit, ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY took close to 10 years for its sequel due to constant rejections between Ferrell and gang vs. the studios on the production go-ahead till the film’s budget finally got approved.
A good thing then? Arguable as I personally did not utter more than 4 laughs throughout the sequel. Once a comedy starts off bad, it is usually a bad roll for me all the way. The budget goes all out to generate the laughs, a question of too much money per joke ratio, as indicative during the final fight (showdown) in the film. But to give credit its due, most of the cast, cameos and stars included (including Ferrell, Carrell and Rudd) all took pay cuts) in order to get its budget approved. The laborious jokes are incredibly silly, some racist and in bad taste, the plot regenerated from countless other films and the comedy questionable. But despite my dislike for the film, my partner laughed his head off and my fellow critics at the promo screening unanimously found the film funny. (Just a point to note!)
The plot involves the formation of a 24-hour news channel. At that time as plot has it, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) has just gotten himself fired (no difficult task here) while his wife (Christina Applegate) gains a promotion. Ron recruits his disbanded Channel 4 news team, Brick (Steve Carrell), Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Champ Kind (David Koechner) to join the new enterprise. They succeed as Ron deals with other issues such as reconnection with his son.
The story is clichéd with segments seen too many times in other films. We see the lead character trying to bond with his son who he has not been able to spend enough time with due to his job. There is the sex hungry female boss who goes berserk once Ron becomes a success, the ambition conflict between spouses in the same line of work and the competition (here in the form of a good-looking star anchor played by John Marsden) forced to eat humble pie and a large helping of groveling. But ANCHORMAN 2 is a comedy, but even as long the jokes flow hilariously (which they don’t or do depending on the individual), one should still expect some originality in plot and not rehashed material.
ANCHORMAN 2 will be 2013’s number one film in terms of the largest number of celebrity cameos. Too many to list everyone, but they include Will Smith, singer Drake, Sacha Baron Cohen, Nicole Kidman, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, John C. Reilly, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Carrey. The main cast is impressive enough and the number of stars present in the film is already worth the price of the admission ticket.
ANCHORMAN 2 will undoubtedly be a huge hit as this is the only supposedly real comedy out this festive season, discounting GRUDGE MATCH which is a comedy drama. This will likely spurn a third Burgundy film, which hopefully will be funnier to me.
GOOD VIBRATIONS (UK/Ireland 2012) ***
Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn
The film, which feels like a documentary is the chronicle of the life of Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer) a record store owner who develops Belfast’s punk rock scene.
Terri is depicted as an everyday irate Irishman. Things are not going well with political unrest and with the constant beatings and abuse he faces in terms of business and personal dealings. He survives by distracting himself with the setting up of a record shop called GOOD VIBRATIONS and in the process discovers punk rock bands. Teenage Kicks by he Undertones is one song that is featured. He also signs them up on a record label. Dormer’s Hooley is not the perfect man but one with faults like a temper, drunkenness and tom foolery. But that is where the beauty of the performance lies.
But the film contains one strange segment in which Terri gets drunk after failing to get a local band get recognized while his missus delivers his baby. The next scene has him and the wife (Jodie Whittaker) and baby all happy. It appears that the argument of the couple has been snipped of from the reel.
The film captures the period atmosphere of the times as well as the beginning of the head-banging punk rock scene. The real Terri Hooley has a cameo in the film as well
GOOD VIBRATIONS can be nowhere be compared to Alan Parker’s THE COMMITMENTS. Still, this is a true story and the directors tell it as it is, without adding too much icing to the cake.
Best Bets of the Week:
Best Film Opening: American Hustle
Best Film Playing: American Hustle
Best Horror: Oldboy
Best Animation: Frozen
Best Action: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Best Documentary: Blood Brother