Dallas Buyers Club

Next up on our agenda is Dallas Buyers Club, one of the top winners at many of the recent award shows. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, it stars Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner. It is rated R for explicit language, strong sexual content, nudity and drug use.

In 1985 Dallas, electrician and bull rider Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) lives a life full of smoking, drugs, sex and alcohol. The racist, homophobic Woodroof, after a work accident, discovers that he has HIV, and that he has 30 days to live. Ron, initially in denial, desperately searches for drugs that will keep him alive. With his transsexual business partner, Rayon (Leto), they smuggle drugs for the hundreds of others with HIV in Texas, forming the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, in which they supply drugs to those who need them. Woodroof, with the FDA watching his every move, attempts to enjoy life under the most unlikeliest of circumstances.

7.5 out of 10

I’ve seen Dallas Buyers Club labeled the underdog of this year’s award season—which was originally hard to believe considering it has won pretty much every Lead Actor and Supporting Actor role out there—but after watching it, I can understand why. It does not have too much that may entice an audience on first glance. Hell, it’s a movie about AIDS and cowboys, What is there to be excited about if you’re an everyday moviegoer? It lacks the visual appeal of Gravity and the star power of American Hustle. There isn’t one thing that appeals to you before you’ve seen it. And really, there is nothing that stands out to you after you have seen it as well, except maybe the acting, which is one of the huge reasons that I did not fall in love with it like seemingly many others did.

I will start off with the bright spots of this film. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are both fantastic. More so Leto, who delivers one of the most genuine, interesting, and complex performances I have seen in a long time. I recently watched an featurette in which he discussed how he had to wax his entire body for the role and how he really created a whole new person for the role. He sees Rayon as an actual person, which is what drives him to such success. Imagine a world in which people always picked roles exclusively for the characters and not for the money (I’m looking at you 2000s Robert DeNiro). Rayon is such an extremely difficult character to portray, and Leto did it with so much energy and ultimately delivered a performance for the ages.

Then there’s McConaughey, who also did very well. Yes, his 50 pounds weight loss may not have been Christian Bale esque, but no one can argue that he lacked the cockiness and imperfection that the character of Ron Woodroof required. Woodroof is no hero; he’s just a man fighting for his life. He is not a good guy, to put it straight. And yet McConaughey still made us love him, the asshole he is.
Another thing I can commend this film for is its makeup design. I’ve said before that Hollywood makeup artists and costume designers are among the most overlooked people in the business, and its transformations such as Leto to Rayon that make me realize this. Fantastic job by the makeup department.

leto dbc

Jared Leto

Otherwise, I couldn’t tell you what I really loved about this film. I was impressed by McConaughey and awed by Leto, but the movie as a whole just didn’t resonate with me. There were parts where the story became excessive and extremely hard to follow, which really irritated me. Without a direct way of telling the story, it was up to the message and moral of the story to impress us, which is never a safe bet. Luckily, Leto and McConaughey provided the film with meaning. But here we are again, and these two actors are the main point of my discussion. Everything else was good but not great. None of the camera work stood out to me, nor did the direction. Both of these could have helped this film tremendously if they had been more than just ‘fine’.

There really isn’t anything necessarily bad about this film, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly interesting beyond the two leading actors. Without them, the film would have fallen apart. Fortunately, the revivals of both McConaughey and Leto allow this film to be unique, interesting, and the solid Oscar contender that it became.
~Vig

8.5 out of 10

NOTE: Best Picture scale! Get used to it!

Generally, at least half of the Best Picture nominees are extremely clever ideas. But what separates them from those hundreds of other clever movies besides the piles of money or lack thereof sitting behind them? Usually, they’re really simple ingenious ideas that manage to take up a whole movie in some sort of perfect storm.

Take The Descendants from a couple of years ago or even Nebraska from this year. Both have very short ideas but are so well constructed that they’re able to pull out a ton of themes from a what could have been a one-note idea.

Dallas Buyers Club is definitely one of those movies. It’s a simple, raw idea that is really carried by its own actors into notoriety. Does it deal with some pretty heavy themes? Yes. Actually 100x yes. Is it like Philadelphia except with a Cowboys player? No. But its just as emotionally effective.

mcconaughey dbc

Matthew McConaughey

Let’s get back to the actors, the real stars of this movie. Matthew McConaughey gets a pretty darn bad rap which I probably don’t have a right to commentate on given that I haven’t seen Failure to Launch or How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (But if I’ve seen one of those, haven’t I seen the other?). However, I feel like if one were to take the last couple of years into account, McCounaughey is pretty high tier actor. He has really proven he can act side by side with some real heavy hitters and maybe he’ll one day become a heavy hitter himself.

Because in Dallas Buyers Club, he gives the plot traction. He takes a character that could have been boisterous nuisance and puts some depth in there that gives the film some heart. If you really wanted to, you could see this whole plot as a guy who betrays his morals but its almost certainly about tolerance and accepting others (While still managing to squeeze some humor out of the topic as well).

Speaking of humor, there’s also Jared Leto, who plays a transgender character. That’s definitely an idea that could have been ripe for mistakes and cheap moments if played wrong (And it could have easily been played wrong) but its something the movie takes very seriously because it wants you to take it seriously. It’s Hollywood being mature and it’s Jared Leto, who gets props for accepting a role that probably looked terrifying on paper.

Then there’s the problem of pacing. I’ve probably said this before but pacing is a really underrated quality that is very hard to work out through the entire movie-making process. Unfortunately, here, it does suffer from a somewhat simple premise and it can get a little repetitive.

But that’s what actors are for! They take scenes that drag or drudge and speed them along. Luckily, they’re all up to the task here.

And so, another Best Picture movie comes and goes and its yet another one I’d highly recommend. Do I think it will win? No (12 Years a Slave or Gravity would be my guess since the Academy loves a little publicity). But absolutely check it out. With Leto and McConaughey around, you won’t regret it.
~Zach

Bonus Video: The previously mentioned featurette on Jared Leto

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 84 
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

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12 Years a Slave

This week we’ll be looking at the favorite for Best Picture this year, Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita N’yongo, and Michael Fassbender. It is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality.

In America, pre-Civil War, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) lives a free life with his wife and children, until he is abducted and sold into slavery. Solomon, through various owners and superiors (Fassbender, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch), faces both kindness and cruelty on an extensive journey in which he struggles to retain his humanity and his dignity. Along with fellow slave, Patsey (Nyong’o), Solomon attempts to find peace and rediscover his old life.

10 out of 10
                              9 out of 10

I didn’t think I would love this film. I thought I would get bored very easily. These melancholic, biopic dramas aren’t really my jam. But it doesn’t take an expert to see the mastery in this film. I would watch this movie again in a heartbeat. It blew my expectations out of the water, even after hearing so many great things about it. It truly was a masterpiece, and while it may not be my favorite film of the year (well actually, still deciding), it is far and away the best film of the year. Gravity was great and all, but seriously: this movie was simply amazing.

I don’t know where to start. The screenplay? Great. I am expecting an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is written so well, and the dialogue is so genuine and emotional. The sense of realism is absolutely fantastic. The characters, even the hero, Solomon, are all imperfect and more than just characters in a movie. This does have a lot to do with the acting, but I’ll get to that in just a second. The storytelling helps convey Solomon’s journey perfectly, starting from his free beginning, through his struggles and tragedy, to the touching end. Overall, just a great job of adapting and crafting this script.

The cinematography was absolutely dazzling and while I was shocked by many of the nominations this year, I was extremely disappointed by the Academy’s inability to recognize cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s work for this film (Yes I know, Gravity would probably win anyway). This cinematography does a great job of enhancing the emotional experience solely from the camera work. The long, concentrated shots of scenes displaying horror and pain are cruel and emotionally taxing; it’s extremely hard to take as a viewer. (Very minor spoiler alert) The one shot of Solomon Northup’s character being suspended by a rope, struggling to stay alive as day and night pass by while countless slaves pass by is honestly one of the most fantastic pieces of camera work I’ve ever seen. It details the fear of the slaves, as you see them pass by, helpless and too scared to help Solomon down. This scene is another example of the emotional burden this film of because of how helpless the audience feels, as we see Northup flailing, struggling, yet there’s nothing we can do but wait and watch. An unbelievable piece of camera work.

I can’t say enough good things about the acting performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s absolutely killed it, perfectly playing a character with a huge range of emotions but also a will to survive. Even though Solomon’s character is a hero, he’s not selfless. He will do anything to survive. He is not afraid to fight back, sometimes even arrogantly. It is tempting to portray a protagonist as a perfect hero in a story such as this one, but Solomon Northup is, thankfully, not that perfect hero. The other performance that stood out to me was Michael Fassbender’s job slave owner Edwin Epps. Epps is such a brutal, inhumane monster, and somehow, Fassbender was able to capture all that evilness and channel it. It’s underratedly difficult to play a character like this. Sometimes, all the anger and evil is just too much for an actor to capture.

If you’re looking for criticisms, I guess I can give you Benedict Cumberbatch’s pathetic Southern accent and Brad Pitt’s ninety seconds of glory, but that’s about it. This film is cunning, emotional, and intense from beginning to end and is one of the best films I’ve seen in theaters in a while.
~Vig

IMDB: 8.2
Metacritic: 97
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

On the surface, it may feel like slavery in the Antebellum-era has been addressed before. Mainly because whenever a movie about it does come out, there are weeks of controversy surrounding the film. Take Django Unchained from two years ago as an example. After a few weeks of controversy and a couple of award ceremonies, it evaporated into the filmography of 2012.

In that sense, movies addressing slavery (Whether fictionalized or very real) seem somewhat unremarkable. But in reality, they make up a very important, evolving genre that is slowly unfolding before our eyes. I can think of numerous movies surrounding atrocities of World War I, World War II, Vietnam and others but I can’t really come up with a ton of films that address slavery during Antebellum, a relatively “peaceful” time that has seemingly lost its place in historical fiction.

However, I’d say our movies about American history have gotten far more introspective, and slavery is a time that’s ripe for exposing flaws that seem very distant from us. 12 Years a Slave fits perfectly into that genre by all accounts. It’s a piece that dives deep into the brutality and motivation behind the forced labor that took place in this very culture.

For starters, there’s no real plotline to the story. If it were put on to paper, it’d be just an extended narrative of a free man who deals with the unpredictability that everyday slave life has to offer. Many of the scenes just take time to breath in the atmosphere. There are solid, minute long blocks where we see tedious cotton-picking or construction with Hans Zimmer’s score acting as a backdrop. That’s far more accurate than anything. Slavery for most wasn’t a saga with monologues and action strewn throughout (Just as many a producer would be eager to depict it as), it was a plodding from day to day that with occasional bursts of violence: something the movie definitely isn’t shy to show the audience.

It is slow, very slow but in a way that is perfect to how its characters live and how its era functioned. Meanwhile, its actors are perfectly in sync with it. Every part of the movie works with another to ensure that it constituents an unflinching portrayal of slavery.

Aside from that, I wondered what the exact moral of the film was when I finished but I came to one conclusion: there isn’t one but it still has a lot to say. No matter how frustrating it is, I love when a movie doesn’t spoon feed me a point or offer up simple answers. The point here, at least to me, is to show the brutality of a process that we already know is very brutal but don’t fully understand. Just like the rest of history, we’ll probably never fully understand.

I’d even say that the movie has no thesis but instead one question that it opens and closes with: “Can one truly escape slavery?”. The entire film is build on the premise of a free man being forced back into labor and, in the end, there’s no real conclusion as to how Northup lead his remaining life besides his legal pursuit of those who wronged him. As far as we know, the past is still going to haunt him and all he has left is to run.

That is the movies definition of dehumanization and its far more effective than any secondary account.
~Zach

Her

The 4th Best picture nominee that we’ll be taking a look at is Spike Jonze’s Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson, this sci-fi romance is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her explores the life of depressed, recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who decides to buy the new ‘OS1’; an operating system with a conscious. Theodore slowly finds himself falling in love with Samantha (Johansson), his operating system. Samantha struggles with all these new emotions she has never experienced before, while also trying to come to terms with being nothing more than a computer. On the other hand, Theodore finds himself both joyful and doubtful with himself and his relationship with an OS.

9 out of 10

As I’ve displayed before, I have the tendency to get excited by movies based on the trailers alone, and Her is a prime example of this. And more often than not, I tend to be disappointed by the movie. Thank goodness Her was not one of these movies.

I’ll get the more literal aspects of the film out of the way first. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a tremendous performance as the conflicted Theodore Twombly, and could have easily earned a Best Actor nominee if the race wasn’t so stacked this year and if he hadn’t… Completely trashed the Academy Awards a year ago. Likewise, leading lady Scarlett Johansson was phenomenal in her voice only role as Samantha. Even though we can’t see her, we can feel and understand her struggle. It’s real. The screenwriting has been heralded and with good reason. The story is innovative and creative, and the dialogue is beautifully written, yet human.

joaquin

It’s really hard to describe the beauty of this film. The direction, specifically the artistic direction, is absolutely stunning and I’m honestly kind of disappointed that Spike Jonze didn’t get a Best Director nod for this. Visibly, the film is gorgeous. Yes, the brilliant color scheme filled with oranges, reds, and yellow did have a purpose. It contributed to the warm mood of the entire movie. When the colors changed and became darker and more drained, so did the tone. Jonze uses the colors for the purpose of setting a tone, which is extremely important in a film such as this one, as it relies on emotions, both characters’ and audience’s, in order to succeed.

That’s another thing this movie does so well with; evoking emotions. It’s such a deep film, and somehow something we can all connect to, whether you’re older and in love, or younger and ignorant. Being a teenage boy, I can proudly say my only love has been with my phone and my Playstation, but I still manage to connect with this film. In this new future that Jonze has wonderfully created, technology is so important. Theodore Twombly relies on Samantha to check his email, schedule meetings, and later on, forget about his loneliness. In today’s world, where people are so enamored with technology, it’s not hard to actually make a connection with this movie, even if you are a teenager like me.

Though I loved the movie, it still had it flaws. At around 90 minutes, I admittedly found myself a little bored at the 90 minute mark, and that’s because the movie doesn’t really have a concrete structure (meaning it doesn’t have a set introduction, climax, conclusion, etc). It’s more allegorical, as it’s one of those films meant to inspire and send a message rather than present a compelling story. This is not a movie that will appeal to everyone (even though I said everyone can connect to it), and it’s not unlikely that you could get bored by the movie. It does tend to repeat itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie pointless—it’s not—it’s just trying to get a different type of point across.

The relevance of this movie to you is based on how much you can individually connect to it. If you aren’t fond of the emotional, heart-gripping stuff, I’m not so sure this movie is for you. I would still recommend you check it out, because it is a fresh new perspective of love and the technologically oriented 21st century, told in a beautiful, eye opening fashion.
~Vig

7 out of 10

(NOTE: Some parts of this review may seem harsh but, at this point of the year, I’ll be grading it in comparison with its fellow nominees. AKA. The score is weighted.)

Last week, I joked at the end of the review about having not seen “the movie about that guy who falls in love with Siri”. Cruel as that description may sound, I’m also 100% sure that that exact sentiment went through your head when you first saw the trailer for this. Whether it remained there permanently or shifted over time is your own choice. You know that. I know that.

But, most shockingly, the Spike Jonze and his entire crew understood that. And he usually pinpoints the exact moments where it should be joked about perfectly. Thank God for self-awareness. I could easily see this film fading into oblivion at any random, pretentious film-fest.

Here, though, the self-awareness swiftly saves it from that but that doesn’t necessarily excuse some of the other shortcomings of the movie. Let’s start with the positive then ease into the negative (I love a good flatlining just as much as any amateur critic).

First off, it’s a beautiful film. Shot in a mix of Shanghai and Los Angeles, it occupies a unique backdrop while remaining self contained (Just like any other provoking movie should). It’s muted colors and use of shades often reinforce the feelings of emptiness and isolation. Yet, as the love story develops, it unloads a barrage of colorful shots while also managing to mix some natural settings beside its urban habitat.

We also get some great work between Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix here. Joaquin has to do plenty of scenes alone, in complete silence but actually says more than any lines written in could. Johansson faces a similar situation; she has to utilize only her voice for this and she still has a presence. Even in scenes where she isn’t involved, Siri (It’s actually Samantha but this my review darnit!) has a positive attitude that influences Joaquin’s character so much that it still weighs over every scene he’s in alone.

But, as great as those great things are, it still managed to offset me somehow. I didn’t leave this movie thinking “Wow! That HAS to win!” but I also didn’t quite leave it profoundly impacted either and part of that is that the movie opens up a can of worms that it really didn’t need to.

Her would’ve done an impeccable job if it had stuck to an analyzation of either modern relationships (Like 500 Days of Summer) or of how technology gives us a false comfort (Even in a somewhat dystopian fashion). I have no doubt it could do both and it tries to, but also piles on an existential layer that really seemed off to me. Hollow in that fill-in-the-blank, do-it-yourself great movie way.

Yes, Siri’s search for humanity felt somewhat misplaced to me. Joaquin’s character should have taken up way more time, development and exertion than that plot. Instead, we get a repetitive cycle of fights between him and Siri.

And because it spends so much time with those weaker more out of place scenes, I didn’t quite get the impact that I wanted in the final quarter or so and that confined the movie to being lukewarm rather than red hot. No matter how good a first lap can be, all it takes is a couple of seconds to lose the lead.

But should you not see it? No. It’s very worth seeing, it just might not be as great of an experience as its factors set it up for.

I really wish I could place my feelings about it more but I’m still developing over it, even now. Who knows? Maybe it may click and all make sense for me at a random moment. But, for now, its trailing a bit in the Best Picture race.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 90 
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Gravity

Get pumped, because the most exciting time of the year is here! OSCAR SEASON! With the nominations just being announced, the two of us will get you reviews on several of the nominated films every week up until the big night. This week we’re taking a look at the visual spectacle that is Gravity. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It is rated PG-13 for  perilous sequences, disturbing images and strong language.

Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on a shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). However, while on a spacewalk, a Russian missile strike leads to a cloud of debris that strikes the shuttle and kills the entire crew except for Kowalsky and Stone. Facing a lack of oxygen, dangerous miscellaneous space objects, and the cold, loneliness of space, Gravity follows Stone on her miraculous attempt at a seemingly impossible task; surviving.

9.5 out of 10

I’ve had quite a number of arguments with my peers (16 year olds) about this film and somehow, they all hated it. And their argument was as simple as one or more of the following; the plot sucked, Sandra Bullock sucked, there was no build up, or even that the movie wasn’t scientifically accurate. To this I say… Nope.

I’ll address each of these issues one by one. First off, let me talk about the story. Everyone says this story was terrible or boring. It had nothing going on. It was basically Sandra Bullock breathing. If this is what you got from this movie, then clearly your head was in a different place. I got an epic, traumatic struggle for survival from a damaged, struggling women who has no motivation for survival but still wants to. So no, the story didn’t suck. It was not cookie cutter. It was inspirational, thrilling and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. You’d probably be lying if you said you were bored throughout. This movie does an excellent job of preventing that from happening (largely thanks to the special effects & cinematography).

But fine, I understand that maybe it is tough to stay focused on just one actress for so long, especially if that one actress is Sandra Bullock. Despite this, I didn’t feel at a loss. I didn’t feel like there was anything more that they could have done. People have told me that Bullock was terrible, citing solely the fact that she is Sandra Bullock. Admittedly, Sandra is not my favorite actress by any stretch, but I thought she was excellent. She had a sense of desperation and will that is hard to grasp in film. All in all, a really great (and underrated) performance by her.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock

Next I’ll discuss the build up, or lack thereof. Okay, so there were only like 10 minutes or so before we got directly into the action, but there’s a couple things that allow this to slide. 1)The movie is short. Since it’s running only 90 minutes long, how much build up can you actually get: 2) There are basically only two characters, Kowalsky and Stone. You learn everything you need to know about them in the first ten minutes, specifically and most importantly that Stone basically has nothing back home on Earth. She doesn’t have anything to live for. That’s the most important thing to know about this film and about her character. She doesn’t have much to live for, yet somehow wants to survive. This is where the film gets into it its deeper implications about human nature, something else that makes the film great. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, but it’s not just about space and meteors and dying: it’s about surviving and motivation and will. I know I’ve already mentioned this a number of times, but that’s really such an integral part of making this film as great as it is.

And here’s my last counter argument: If you’re going to the movies to see a film for it’s scientific accuracy, then you’re not seeing a film for the right reasons. Since when has a movie EVER needed to be scientifically accurate to be good. Film is supposed to test boundaries and break down the realm of possibility. Maybe people like movies if they’re realistic, because they like feeling a connection to the film. But seriously, if you find yourself hating on a film because of scientific inaccuracies, you’re not enjoying cinema.

Gravity is indefinitely the best film we have reviewed (so far) in my opinion. I didn’t even have to mention the dazzling, groundbreaking effects and cinematography, or even Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful job directing. To keep it short, this movie is quite the spectacle.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

To the normal viewer, space is an endless, dark, vapid setting with not a whole lot to offer as far as adventure if no aliens, airlocks or Enterprises are involved.

But to the trained, Hollywood eye, space has developed into an excellent backdrop for evolution, creation, discovery and a whole slew of other things that films like 2001: A Space Odyssey were able to cram in.

Gravity, the Best Picture nominee that it is, takes these two perspectives and sandwiches them together in a satisfying way that did not get too lost in its own action or ideas. So let’s dive into it:

Firstly, I really, deeply wish that I had seen this in IMAX. Space, as wide as it may be, is actually a very cramped setting to work with especially considering what this film demands. Had it been filmed or plotted out in a very unexciting way, this could have turned into a repetitive journey about two astronauts who keep falling into a deep green-screen effect but thankfully it isn’t. Nope, space is as wide of a setting as any other and, though it may seem tranquil, is always on the brink of playing host to something catastrophic.

Here, deep space is no different than the ocean as a setting for a survivor story. In other words, none of this gets lost in the novelty that it takes place beyond earth but it realizes the gravity (Hahaha.) of the setting it’s chosen and its very tough for me to describe the feeling the dark backdrop gives as our two main characters dangle above earth.

And, as great as everything around them is, Clooney and Bullock definitely hold the movie together as a mostly two-man show about making sacrifices in order to stay alive. I don’t think this movie is about plot so much as it is about them and the endurance they have to survive. Through them we are able to reach the film’s main point: the conflict between acceptance and change.

Kowalski, Clooney’s character, often has to call the shots about where the two go next and how to move forward. He only accepts a negative situation when it means saving somebody else. Otherwise he has only one policy and that is to evolve and survive. If I had to guess what the point (If any) there is to the movie, I would say that adaptation is always necessary to survive a situation. Once can never resign to a perilous fate.

George Clooney

George Clooney

Change and progress are everywhere in Gravity. It is rooted in a science that promotes exploration and its final shots are a nod to evolution as Bullock slowly rises from primordial waters, her step finally steady and unplagued by the levity of space.

There’s a lot of criticism out there that Gravity is somewhat ridiculous as far as physical science but I have never been much of a nitpicker. I feel like its becoming increasingly popular to pull apart small points in a movie to seem somewhat edgy while I don’t usually unless its blaring. This is mainly because I didn’t go to the theatre to watch The Discovery Channel, I went to see a Sci-Fi movie. Yes, Gravity has its ridiculous moments (That fire extinguisher stuff was out of Wall-E!) that I’d love to pull apart at a science convention but here, a site focused on film, I’ll just suspend disbelief.

Gravity just may have my vote for Best Picture but I still have to see the one about the guy who falls in love with Siri. Until then, Gravity will do as a thrilling, beautiful movie that has some brains (And Danny Ocean!) to back it up.
~Zach

Bonus Video: Take a look at some of the supervisors discussing the CGI sequences in the film.

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 96
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

American Hustle

We hope everyone enjoyed their New Year. So long to 2013, a fantastic year for movies. We will soon be releasing our favorite/least favorite movies of the year, but this week we take a look at Oscar contender American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. It is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief violence.

American Hustle tells the story of two con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his partner, and lover, Sydney Prosser (Adams). Sydney poses as a British women, “Lady Edith Greensley” in order to attract investors, and to fuel their con. They are very successfully, despite the insecurity presented by Rosenfeld’s crazy wife Rosalyn (Lawrence), who Irving refuses to divorce due to the presence of their son.

Once the two are caught by the FBI, they are forced to work with federal agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) in order to catch corrupt politicians and mafia members, including prominent New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Renner). Between his romantic struggles with two women, disdain for DiMaso, and a budding fondness for Polito, Irving struggles to survive with these new challenges he must face.

6 out of 10

I was pretty hyped for American Hustle, and why shouldn’t I have been? Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, and Renner all in a move directed by the fantastic David O. Russell. The trailer dazzled me as well. Then critics praised it. I was excited. But after seeing the movie, I honestly couldn’t tell whether I was impressed or not.

Let me start off by saying this: the acting is fantastic, the direction is fantastic, and the cinematography, fantastic. Each of the 4 lead actors could easily get nominated for an Oscar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lawrence or Adams win. The chemistry between the group is really good, and each of them is able to display the growth and development this movie aimed for.

In addition, the direction and the cinematography are beautiful. Russell does a great job of telling the story in a way that the audience is able to create their own perspective and their own point of view on what’s going on, in addition to understanding Christian Bale’s character’s, the narrator, point of view. The cinematography is dazzling as well. It really allows you to get a glimpse of what the time period is like but also doesn’t focus on that too much, and is still able to help with the characters and their emotions.

That being said, there are plenty of plot things about this movie that really concerned me. Being completely honest, I did not like the first hour and a half of this movie even though the characters are so good. The plot made no sense, I was so confused and I did not know where the movie was going. It had no point. I did not know what this movie was going to be about, even though the main conflict had been introduced. I was unable to stay captivated. I almost dozed off in the middle of it, it really dragged. The beginning couldn’t get me into it, in the middle still couldn’t get me into it.

They did manage to salvage the ending. I remember audibly gasping at what happened in the end – and I was laughing too, that’s something else about this movie that was really good. It featured really well written comedic moments that weren’t excessive. Anyhow, the ending finally provided the movie with the point. It wasn’t about the hustle, it wasn’t about the love triangle, it wasn’t about the plot. It was about the characters. Those characters had developed so much, and the emotions were so relevant, especially in Christian Bale’s character. By the end, I felt sympathy for Bale’s character. *Spoilers ahead* Even though he won the girl and he won the scam, he lost a friend and that’s what mattered to him. Those emotions were so prevalent, so raw, and it really helped punctuate the ending this movie. Did he win, or did he lose?

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

This is where I get confused. I liked a lot of aspects of the film… But i was bored for almost the entirety of the film. And this isn’t like Lincoln where I can expect to be bored. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the movie because of it’s (very) poor story, something that was prevalent for a majority of the movie. The movie ended up being about the characters’ growth, which isn’t a problem in the slightest. Regardless, this still doesn’t take away from the disappointment of the plot, especially seeing how that was a focal point, whereas other movies clearly prioritize characters, and the plot isn’t as important. A 7 may seem kinda low after all the good things I said, but with all the hype, I was kind of let down. The mundane plot was just too much for me.

I guess I was the one hustled in the end.
~Vig

9 out of 10

If you think that the genre of criminal dramas must inherently involve dark situations, downward spirals, and seriously sociopathic characters then I highly suggest you check out American Hustle.

For Hustle is indisputable evidence that realism and emotional interaction with the audience do not necessarily warrant a barrage of dramatic moments and dark, dark, dark issues. Hustle tackles an array of the usual commentaries on greed and criminal power while some how being wildly funny, taking every advantage of its very talented cast (Of which Bradley Cooper stood out to me).

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

We’ll start with Cooper, in fact. Its universally agreeable that Bradley Cooper has grown immensely as an actor. Within three years, he effortlessly made the leap from passable films like Yes Man (You remember that? Good. Neither do I.) to remarkable showcases like Silver Linings Playbook. If his range was at all in question, then get ready for delivery after delivery to give an answer. Here, we see him play Richie, an FBI agent plagued with an insatiable desire to get himself in the headlines. Cooper, without spoiling too much, breathlessly bounces between a somewhat likable man to an utter (Entertaining to say the least) psycho. He blurs the lines between FBI agents and the people they chase all the while.

In fact, empathy for every character plays a huge part in what makes this movie the masterwork it is. Christian Bale, Jeremey Renner, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams all evoke feelings that their character is trapped. The criminals may use humor (It’s their strongest tool after all!) as a coping mechanism but they’re ultimately stuck in the complex situations they’ve managed to drag themselves into. That’s not to contradict what I mentioned in the beginning of this review, as the film still manages to believably and appropriately

Yet what really ties the film together, even as it plods through some of its muddier scenes, is the beautifully done scenery and the somewhat kinetic directing. Scenery choice is one of the most underrated parts of filmmaking and boy does this film exemplify why it definitely shouldn’t be put on the back burner. The color palette and set pieces really wrap the viewer into the decade and give a sense of excess mixed with the unsettling anxiety a lot of the characters feel in their own tense situations.

Then there’s the camera movement. If you were to count, I don’t believe the camera will hold on any shot longer than three seconds without tightening, widening or switching perspectives all together. Usually, this wouldn’t give any leeway to absorb the scenery (Especially in a rich film like this) but it keeps the film moving even if there’s a sense that it is table setting for the plot or seemingly taking a break from its complex story. Even if does move fast, it does certainly give enough time for the average audience member to observe just not a terribly long amount.

Now, shall we address the impending Hollywood showdowns? American Hustle, in my view may sweep plenty of award shows with enough momentum but there is a certain bias against comedy and drawn-out plot payoffs as people are generally more impressed with something that can get them in suspense faster, even if it does feel somewhat cheap (We’ll delve into that if another movie that uses this comes up).

Overall, this is absolutely worth it. It can’t really be placed into one genre so just see it and attempt the impossible challenge of categorizing it yourself. It’ll most likely land in the “memorable” category no matter what.

By the way, was that Louis C.K.?
~Zach

IMDB: 7.3
Metacritic: 90
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%