Tag Archives: reviews

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: Rust & Bone, and Camille Rewinds

At the moment I know of five friends travelling in France. Not together, not in the same place nor for the same amount of time. Each is there to experience the country yet for different reasons: a few weeks lazing in a Paris apartment; bunkering down for some live-in-learning; and, even some agricultural volunteering. As they upload photos or email me their travelogues, each of mes amies are letting me see new facets to the great French Republican countryside.

I think this is possibly why in the last few days, I have indulged in a bit of ‘Francophilism’ of my own. The last two have been French fillums: Rust & Bone, and Camille Rewinds. Both movies explore love, regret and renewal, but each takes a very different approach when telling its story.

Rust & Bone

Director Jacques Audiard has followed on from his compelling 2009 prison drama A Prophet, with a love story of brutal tenderness —Rust & Bone (2012). The story is adapted from a collection of short stories by the Canadian author Craig Davidson, and the title refers to the taste in your mouth that you get after taking a hard punch.

In Audiard’s film, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a man who has fallen on hard times and is trying to survive with his young son Sam (Armand Verdure) in tow. He relocates to Antibes on the French Riviera to live with his estranged sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) and her partner in a cramped apartment in the less glamorous parts of Antibes.

Ali gets work as a nightclub bouncer where one night, he meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), assisting her home to witness an obviously unhappy relationship. Stéphanie trains killer whales at the local Aquarium, performing alongside cheerleaders, Mexican-waving crowds and blaring Katy Perry music. She is more at ease in the presence of the Orcas than with her boyfriend.

Ali looks to reestablish his boxing and martial arts career, prioritising work and training over the care of Sam —often leaving his sister to take care of his son. After Stéphanie is injured in a tragic accident, she reconnects with Ali. He helps draw her out of a deep depression through his straightforward, sometimes brutal, but simple approach to life.

As they enter into an awkward yet tender courtship, the chemistry between the two leads is clearly evident on-screen. Flawed and physically imposing, Schoenaerts’s Ali has vulnerability about him that you can understand Stéphanie would be drawn towards. While Cotillard is emotionally powerful in the role of Stéphanie, a fiercely intelligent woman struggling to cope with her changed world.

Many scenes tugged at the tear ducts: the Orca emerging from the depths of the aquarium as Stéphanie waits by the window, and Sam floating under water as Ali smashes his fists, splattering blood across the frozen ice.

Rust & Bone shows how life can be transformed and rediscovered though the explosive fireworks of love.

Camille Rewinds

Written, directed by and starring Noémie Lvovsky, Camille Rewinds (2012) is a crowd-pleasing bittersweet rom-com described as the French equivalent of Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).

Camille (Lvovsky) is a whisky-guzzling 40-year-old Parisian still struggling to make a living as an actress. Reeling from her husband Eric’s (Samir Guesmi) announcement he is splitting after 25 years together to be with a younger woman, Camille ends up drowning her sorrows at a New Year’s Eve party in 2008 where she passes out and wakes up back in 1985. The clock has rewound twenty-five years. Camille is turning 16 again.

She is back in her family home where her parents are both still alive, back suffering high school with her three closest friends, and back listening to a steady stream of ’80s pop on her yellow Sports Walkman.

At first believing it is all a dream, Camille relishes the opportunity to be back with her beloved parents (Yolande Moreau and Michel Vuillermoz). Camille starts to record their conversations, following them around, eager to capture their voices on tape. Their relationship is strong and the rewind tinged with sadness, as 40-year-old Camille knows exactly when this intimacy will be over.

Equally aware of Eric’s betrayal in 2008, Camille is determined not fall in love with him again. However Eric’s passion for her only grows with every rejection —his smooth dance moves to Banarama at a party eventually wearing her down.

While everyone around them views Camille and Eric as 16 year olds, they are not subject to any special effects for ageing. Instead their joyful, spirited performances (and ‘80s wardrobe) convince us that they are teenagers.

Camille repeats the choices of the past after eventually realising that she can’t run away from her fate. This light, fun time-travelling comedy shows that while some life choices can change, others can also be accepted. Go and see Camille Rewinds —you’ll come out walking on your own little piece of sunshine.

Choc top: Rust & Bone – Cafe Grande

Anything that has coffee and a topping of nuts is fine by me. A few chomps into the ice cream I discovered chocolate-coated coffee beans sunk within the smooth, coffee flavoured ice cream. Hurrah for a crunchy wafer cone that didn’t fall apart before I finished eating.

Choc top: Camille Rewinds – Blueberry Cheesecake

I surprised myself with this choice, as I’m not generally a fan of berry in a choc top. But I was glad I broke free and tried this very tasty combination. Topped with a white chocolate bud, the chocolate coating was uneven and generous. As the ice cream rose to room temperature, the creamy, subtle cheesecake flavour became more evident, and blueberry seeds stuck to my teeth.

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

And, yes you did read ’em, those pop song references

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.