American Hustle

Tuesday, 17 December, 2013

3 stars
American Hustle scene

US film director David O. Russell’s (“The Fighter”, “Silver Linings Playbook”) latest feature of deception, duplicity, and dishonesty, American Hustle, trailer, is based on a FBI 1970s sting operation, code named Abscam, that centres around the efforts of zealous law enforcer, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), to stamp out political corruption.

Enlisting the help of two con-artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who he arrested earlier, DiMaso sets up a series of elaborate operations designed to catch prominent politicians, including a seemingly squeaky-clean New Jersey mayor, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), in the act of accepting bribes.

For all its promise not even the saturated hues, big hair, and garishly expressive fashions of the 1970s, can redeem “American Hustle”, and with double-crossers double crossing each other, the story quickly becomes tangled up in its own bell-bottoms. Even if all loose ends are neatly tied up, your mind will have drifted to some other decade by then.

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The Hangover Part II

Monday, 30 May, 2011

3 stars

The premise

The Hangover Part II (trailer), a comedy, is the latest feature of US director Todd Phillips (“Road Trip”, “Starsky & Hutch”), and is the follow-up to 2009’s well received bachelor boy flick, The Hangover, where three friends, plus the brother of the bride, travelled from their hometown of Los Angeles to Las Vegas, for a pre-wedding weekend away.

Set two years after events of the first instalment, in the days leading up to Stu’s (Ed Helms) wedding to Lauren (Jamie Chung) in Thailand, “The Hangover Part II” yet again sees the hapless group of friends desperately trying to recall happenings of the previous 12 hours, after once more inadvertently consuming mind altering drugs.

The play

Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha), and Stu are preparing to fly to Thailand for his wedding. At the insistence of Tracy (Sasha Barrese), Doug’s wife, they invite Alan (Zach Galifianakis) her misfit brother along, something they are reluctant to do, given he was responsible for the chaos during the earlier Las Vegas trip for Doug’s bachelor party.

Alan, who has likely not left his room since returning from Vegas, readily accepts. On arriving at their hotel in Krabi, Stu is determined that his pre-wedding drinks with the boys be a low-key, quite affair. Of course this is not to be, as he realises when he wakes up, very hungover, in a flea bag hotel in Bangkok, some considerable distance from Krabi.

Somehow Stu has acquired a Mike Tyson like face tattoo, Alan’s hair has been shaved off, while Phil is feeling distinctly brittle. Doug has vanished, but worse still, so has Teddy (Mason Lee), Lauren’s 16 year old brother who had tagged along. The presence of Mr Chow (Ken Jeong) their nemesis from Las Vegas, in the hotel room, only adds to the confusion.

How they reached Bangkok is a mystery, but they soon learn their memory lapse is due to a plan of Alan’s to dispense with Teddy that backfired. They must retrace their footsteps of the last 12 hours so as to find Teddy, and return to Krabi, without anyone, especially Lauren’s far from approving father (Nirut Sirichanya), learning what happened.

The wrap

The plot of “Part II” almost exactly mirrors that of the original, something that works both for and against the story. While the geographical differences are distinct enough to allow a fresh looking re-run, aspects of the repetition quickly become grating, especially the ramped-up stupidity of Alan, which while laughable early on, grows increasingly tedious.

“The Hangover” was replete with implausibilities, most of which somehow worked, but here the duplicated stunts don’t quite come off with the same panache, and what was spontaneous the first time around now looks a little tired. Even if sometimes tacky though, “Part II” is still mostly funny… in a bachelor night out sort of way that is.

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Marketing ploys for Limitless could not be called limited

Tuesday, 29 March, 2011

Haven’t seen any instances of this type of promotion locally myself, but Neil Burger’s latest movie Limitless has been cleverly marketed in New York and London by way of mock ads for the clear, brain enhancing, super-pill that protagonist Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) consumed in an effort to achieve world domination.

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Friday, 18 March, 2011

3 and a half stars

The premise

Limitless (trailer), a fantasy thriller, is the most recent feature of US director Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”, “The Lucky Ones”), and is based on Alan Glynn’s 2001 novel The Dark Fields, which at one point was also to be the film’s title. The screenplay was written by Leslie Dixon, whose credits include “Mrs. Doubtfire”.

Based on the popular – though incorrect – notion that humans utilise no more than ten to twenty percent of their brain capacity, “Limitless” poses the question, what might happen were we able to access all of our grey matter, and how much better off might we, and just possibly, the rest of humanity, be as a result?

The play

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a writer struggling to get his act together. Having scored what every aspiring author would give their right arm for – a writing deal – he finds himself beset with a particularly severe case of writer’s block, weeks have passed and he hasn’t typed a single word of his book.

His partner, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), tired of supporting him, throws him out. Later, by chance, Eddie encounters ex brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) who invites him to try a new – apparently officially sanctioned, though experimental – drug, NZT-48, which dramatically boosts cognitive function.

Within days Eddie has completed the book, and having realised the potential of his new found abilities, has started making some very tidy returns playing the share market. This results in a job offer from corporate mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who is also curious as to the source of Eddie’s talents.

Van Loon of course isn’t the only one, and after Vernon is murdered, Eddie finds himself targeted by a number of groups deadly determined to possess his secret. They aren’t his only problems though. Having taken to doubling the drug’s daily dose, he is also being troubled by some very odd side-effects…

The wrap

For material that isn’t especially original – movie storylines are replete with elixirs, or pills, that somehow boost human power – “Limitless” is still entertaining fare, while Eddie, the all smart guy who doesn’t use his brain, flies too high, attracting all sorts of unwanted attention, gradually wins viewer sympathy.

While the ending is something of an anti-climax, “Limitless” is complimented by a subtle humour, and superb special effects and graphics – particularly during the opening credits – that perfectly enhance proceedings, rather than being distracting, or acting as a device to cover over an inadequate story.

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The A-Team

Friday, 11 June, 2010

3 stars

The premise

When it comes to upcoming, or recent Hollywood releases, eighties-revival is the new black. It started, arguably, with Hot Tub Time Machine, which, while not an eighties-revival film as such, did serve to transport twenty-ten movie-going audiences back to the penultimate decade of the twentieth century, whether we liked it or not.

With a series of eighties remakes – or inspired – films on the way, including The Karate Kid, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, Predators, and The Expendables (well it looks suspiciously like some sort of eighties remake), we’re going to be in fluro-coloured leg warmer territory for some time.

After all, there’s big money in nostalgia, something that isn’t lost on Hollywood. And as long as they don’t revive too much eighties music in the process, I can more-or-less live with it.

The A-Team is the first cab off the rank in these parts, and is the first time the popular, or reasonably popular, TV series of the eighties has been adapted for the movie screen. Debatably, its high action, implausible stunts, format was probably better suited for the big screen anyway, so here’s our chance to find out for sure.

The play

Anyone who saw the original show knows the A-Team drill… a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground.

The twenty-ten re-telling remoulds the story around more recent events, hence the latter day A-Team are “a group of Iraq War veterans [looking] to clear their name with the US military, who suspect the four men of committing a crime for which they were framed”.

This rendition of the story sees the boys, Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), Templeton “Face” Peck (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), and “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley), whip from place to place around the globe, as they go about “clearing their names”.

Along for the action packed jaunt are Patrick Wilson as a corrupt CIA agent, Gerald McRaney as General Morrison, and Jessica Biel as Captain Charisa Sosa, the film’s token love interest. And God help you if you’re trying to pull a fast-one on the A-Team, you’ll quickly regret the error of your ways.

The wrap

The original A-Team TV series was some not-all-that-bad escapist viewing, and the movie is a virtually indistinguishable facsimile. There’s one or two references to current affairs but trying to take, or even go looking for, any deep and meaningful… meaning, isn’t going to yield a great deal.

The characters hold pretty much true to those of the original series, while the storyline stitches together various elements from the old show. Intricately planned sorties, and the usual array of specially modified vehicles and machinery abound, topped off with the usual quota of explosions, car crashes, and gun battles.

Aside from an out of character lapse into the transcendental by “I ain’t gettin’ on no airplane” B.A. Baracus, it’s otherwise an abundance of eighties excess and exaggeration, and is fine for taking the chill off a cool winter evening.

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