Tag Archives: movie

Scene It: American Hustle

Although I haven’t posted for a while, my fillum viewing certainly continued as 2013 moved towards (and over) 2014. Despite some lingering festivalitis, I’ve still been sampling both cinematic and ice-creamy delights.

Over the past few fillums, I’ve become a bit of a fan of Jack Huston.  Formerly only known to me through Martin Scorsese’s excellent Prohibition era tv series Boardwalk Empire, Huston has unexpectedly appeared in three of the last four movies I’ve ventured along to see.  Yet*, I’m only really going to talk about the last film:  David O. Russell’s American Hustle.

The fillum brings together some of the actors that Russell obviously enjoys working with —Christian Bale and Amy Adams (The Fighter 2010), and Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook 2012).

Based around the Abscam scandal of the 1970s, American Hustle is set in the last days of disco where dry-cleaning business owner Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is also the best con man in the business. He’s made even better after  meeting, falling-in-love and partnering-up with Sydney Prosser (Adams). They bond over the music of Duke Ellington and feel like they have something no one else gets. 

Two lost souls looking for a better life through a web of deception, Sydney joins Irving in a scam as Lady Edith Greensly, a British aristocrat of sorts with banking contacts in Europe. The pair easily reel in people wanting to make a quick dollar. Coerced into working with ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), Irving and Sydney become entangled in DiMaso’s increasingly elaborate plans for capturing cons. Using the pair to learn the tricks of the trade, DiMaso soon ends up playing in the bigger realm of politics.  

DiMaso’s operation draws in Mayor Carmine Polito (Renner), the big-hearted politician just working for the good of the New Jersey people. With Irving treading the fine line between his developing friendship with the Mayor, and appeasing the powerbrokers including local mafia, Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) becomes more a part of his life than he wants, but she desperately needs. 

The performances are well polished — where Lawrence’s scene stealing moments could have easily been overplayed, she delivers as the wildly jealous, bored young wife, and Bale’s elaborate comb-over deserving of a best supporting actor award.

Louis C.K. (Stoddard Thorsen) is excellent as DiMaso’s boss, the steady mentor to an increasingly erratic agent, while Jack Huston plays mobster Pete Musane with the right mix of menace and charm.

The production design is super seventies; the comedy played light; the dialogue sharp; and, the sting in the tale a sweet payoff for an entertaining account of the art of American artifice.

As the film opening title card states, 

Some of these things really happened

  • Bradley Cooper’s perm
  • Christian Bale’s paunch
  • Amy Adam’s plunging neckline
  • Jennifer Lawrence’s petulant pucker
  • Jeremy Renner’s puffed-up hair.

Choc Top: Butterscotch

Super sickly sweet swirls of butterscotch splashed through the sugary ice cream couldn’t quite make up for the stale-ish tip of the cone. Unlike the movie, hardly any crunch factor.

* Or possibly not… the other fillums were Kill Your Darlings  (baileys and almonds) and Night Train to Lisbon (chocolate). I thoroughly enjoyed Kill Your Darlings, where Huston played the role of Jack Kerouac in a Beat Generation origins story, whereas the slower pace of Night Train to Lisbon made me feel like I should have jumped off that locomotive a wee bit earlier.

And that’s my first year of Scene It chomped, cracked and crunched. Hope you enjoyed consuming it** as much as I have.

**all/some/even a little a bit.

Scene it: To The Wonder

I loved Terrence Malick‘s Badlands (1973) and The Thin Red Line (1998), but as beautiful as To The Wonder (2012) is to look at, this exploration of faith is a little disappointing. Apparently quite a few scenes and characters were cut from the film, and I can’t help but think whether this might have improved the story if more of the narrative had been kept.

Neil (Ben Affleck) meets Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in France and they fall in love. The pair visit Mont Saint-Michel where they share furtive glances. They walk together, around the cloisters and out on the beach beneath the island abbey. They hug. Marina twirls. They kiss. They watch the tide come in. They hug some more. Back in Paris, Marina’s daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) joins them. They all walk together through the Parisian streets and twirl under trees. There are hugs. Kisses. Marina and Neil share furtive glances. Tatiana twirls. Marina and Neil glance some more. They look at the scenery. Fade to… Oklahoma where Marina and Tatiana have accompanied Neil back to his home. They all walk together through golden fields, identifying wildflowers, staring at the sunset. Marina twirls. Neil and her kiss. More furtive glances. Hugs. Flashbacks. Some fighting.

Meanwhile the local Catholic priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is having a crisis with his faith. We learn of this through his voiceover. He preaches without passion and walks through the town, visiting the people of his parish. Often he walks away before they can reach out to him. He walks some more. Marina attends his service. Father Quintana ministers to prisoners, performs at weddings and pays home visits. But all the time, we hear how he struggles with the weight of his vocation.

When Marina’s visa expires, she and Tatiana return to Paris. Neil gets back to work, taking samples of pollution at work sites. Neil re-connects with Jane (Rachel McAdams). He visits her ranch. They feed horses and walk together through fields of windswept grass. There are furtive glances. They hug. Jane twirls. They sneak glances at each other WHILE A HERD OF BISON GRAZE RIGHT NEXT TO THEM (!). They glance at each other some more. They look out across the open plains. They hug. They kiss. They glance some more.

Marina is unhappy in Paris. She looks furtively out the window. She walks the streets alone. She calls Neil. He breaks it off with Jane. There is fighting. Furtive glances. Marina comes back to Oklahoma, Tatiana stays with her father. Marina and Neil get married. Marina twirls. They hug. Kiss. Walk together in the local streets. Marina walks past Father Quintana. Neil takes samples. Marina walks. There is fighting. Faith in love is questioned.

By the end, I felt like I had sat through a two-hour advertisement for French perfume. Or Spanish, in keeping with the two languages spoken in voiceover. Women with French-braided hair twirling through windswept fields, all bathed in a glorious golden light. Rugged men. A handful of words spoken. Furtive glances. Beautiful people captured with beautiful cinematography. Subtitles. Long shots. And did I mention the furtive glances?

Bardem has a great presence as the priest and I longed to see more of him in this picture. Kurylenko and Affleck are good together as the loved-up couple but without much story, left me wanting more. To The Wonder is a visual splendour in the windswept grass. Unfortunately it’s a very slow, repetitive, splendour that had me wondering about how close the Bison herd actually were to Neil and Jane (and the possibility for a stampede), rather than caring about any of the characters’ dilemmas.

Choc top: Tiramisu

I glanced furtively at my choc top. Twirled it around. Mused to myself about the heavy chocolate coating… Then I chomped down. And chomped again. The tiramisu flavour was subtle but, my faith in the choc top never wavered.

Scene it: Kon-Tiki

At first when my friend asked me to come see this film, I wasn’t sure a movie about a bunch of twentysomethings getting drunk as they’re bussed around Europe would be for me. Luckily I realised in time for the preview that it was an invitation to see the Norwegian movie, Kon-Tiki (2012).

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, this fillum tells the story of Thor Heyerdahl’s epic 8,000 km crossing over the open Pacific Ocean in 1947. The Kon-Tiki expedition was an adventure that captured the attention of a world still recovering from war. The film is a fascinating examination of the spirit of that seemingly impossible journey.

Norwegian scientist Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) is desperate to prove a thesis that he has spent ten years researching: that it was possible for people to have sailed east from Peru, and populated Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. Gathering a crew of five Scandinavian friends old and new (with just one sailor in the mix), Heyerdahl sets out to authenticate his controversial theory. They build a traditional South American balsa wood raft using only the same materials available 1500 years ago— a test of the raft’s seaworthiness, and Heyerdahl.

Departing from Lima, they drift across the sea with the hope to reach Polynesia in 100 days. Along the way this well-crafted dramatised account depicts the crew’s battles with nature, themselves and their belief in Tiki.

It’s the first Norwegian film to be nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013. Interestingly, the movie was shot in both Norwegian and English (I saw the English version). The attention to detail is great— both in the period setting and the filmmakers commitment to film off-set, and in open water.

Splashes of humour relieve the growing tension through the antics of ethnographer Bengt Danielsson (Gustaf Skarsgård). The special effects are seamless and there are some beautiful visual moments: the small boat floating in the middle of the ocean at the mercy of nature; luminescent sea creatures; curious Whale Sharks; and, the twinkling, expansive Milky Way. Sharks are a menacing presence and their place as foe is established early. Along with others in the cinema (yes, they did too), I jumped and squirmed during the ‘seacapades’. Really, who dangles their feet in open water?

Pål Sverre Hagen performs well as the leader torn between the choice he has made to prove his theory over his family, while Thor’s wife Liv Heyerdahl (Agnes Kittelsen) supports him but must pick up the pieces. Mention also to (the tight abs of) Tobias Santelmann as Knut Haugland— the sea-sick radio operator who wrestles demons on the journey and in real life, later established the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.

Other Kon-Tiki crew sailing:

Heyerdahl viewed the sea as a pathway for communication. Going in to this fictionalised account, I knew little of the events from 1947. Just under two hours later, I’m singing the seaworthiness of this sea shanty.

Choctop: Chocolate obsession with a Jaffa on top

Rich chocolate ice cream with a thick, uneven chocolate coating. The icy cold Jaffa decoration provided an extra crunch.

This review is part of my log of fillums and choc top fillings, Scene It.