American Hustle


Viewed – 02 May 2014  Blu-ray

Kind of a blind purchase this one.  I won’t automatically leap to watch a movie based on it’s awards or nominations or general buzz … been there before and came away disappointed (The Life Of Pie, anyone?).  Yet with a cast consisting of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner – it seemed an invitation very hard to turn down.

AmericanHustle

Bale is professional con man Irving Rosenfeld, who along with girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Adams) go about scamming art dealers, accountants and pretty much anyone else to make a lot of money.  Business is good until FBI agent Richi DiMaso (Cooper) busts them and offers them a deal – whether go to jail, or have them use their expertise at conning people to help him nail a group of corrupt politicians.

The late 70s setting, the costumes and the atmosphere, all set the tone for an energetic, detailed and very absorbing tale of cons, relationships and who is back stabbing who.  Bale, an actor I’ve felt was starting to get a bit old news these days, is superb in the lead role, sporting what appears to be a very good Robert DeNiro impression (hopefully intended), which is fitting considering this has the pace, the feel (and the narration) of a Martin Scorsese picture.  The cast all get a chance to shine, especially Cooper’s over-eager, charismatic FBI agent … and Adams’ dangerously-sexy Sydney really marks her out as one of the best (and hottest) actresses’ around.  For a hustle movie, despite initial fears I was never left confused as to what was going on, loved every bit of the plan and every comical development … it just all sucked me in like a perfect hustle might, but at least didn’t leave me feeling conned by the end.  No, this was quality filmmaking, with a great cast, a superb soundtrack (Donna Summers’ I Feel Love, Wings’ Live & Let Die…) and genuine name-making direction from the mostly underrated David O Russell.

Essential.

Verdict:  5 /5

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Howl’s Moving Castle


Viewed – 02 February 2013. Blu-ray

I am not sure why I’ve taken so long to see this acclaimed entry in famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli’s cannon.  Telling the story of a young woman who is cursed by a witch and turned into an elderly lady.  As a war ravages the city where she lives, she takes refuge in wizard Howl’s legendary moving castle.  Can she lift the curse, or are Howl’s own problems more pressing?

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Directed by studio head Hayao Myazaki (Ponyo, Princess Mononoke) and boasting quite boundless imagination and visual beauty, this is one of those movies that you can easily lose yourself in.  The story is utterly charming, told gracefully and packed with ideas.  Voice acting from Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer and Billy Crystal (as a lovable fire demon) amongst others is also enjoyable and although at nearly two hours it can feel a bit hard going, this remained classic fantasy storytelling that kept me glued throughout.

I think compared to similar Ghibli movie Spirited Away; being based on the children’s novel by British writer Diana Wynne Jones helps it break free from the studio’s otherwise very Japanese style.  Sometimes the bizarreness of Ghibli can leave me cold, but that wasn’t the case here.  Although, what was that war about? Never the less, an enchanting, very well made and totally gorgeous evening’s entertainment.

The blu-ray from Optimum is very pleasing. The image is vibrant and sharp. Some slight juddering during fast movement seems evident occasionally but not very noticeable. The soundtrack in DTS HD Master Audio is immersive and full of little details, with the music and quality voice acting all impressing. Extras consist of several featurettes, including Myazaki’s visit to Pixar as well as behind the scenes voice over footage. Sadly many are in 1:33:1 format so we get ugly black boarders either side of the screen.

Verdict:

(the movie) 5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

The Dark Knight Rises


Viewed – 02 August 2012  Cinema

How does one go about reviewing the biggest movie of the year?  In a summer that has seen several comic book characters take to the big screen, you would think the return of Batman would sit happily alongside the likes of Thor, The Hulk and Spidy.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Director Christopher Nolan (Inception) has crafted a trilogy that is not only a reinvention but also something that has never been done before in a comic-book adaptation.  These movies are darker, creepier and more ‘real’ than any other Bat outing, and at first they took me by surprise, and I wasn’t sure if I liked the new approach.  But something Nolan has done, is make not only Batman relevant again, but made the super-hero movie new and fresh and dare I say it, important to cinema as a whole.

This time around Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse and Batman hasn’t appeared for six years, following taking the rap for the murder of famed politician Harvey (Two-Face) Dent in the previous movie.  Yet a new threat lurks in the sewers, that of mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) and his gang of terrorists, who plan on taking over Gotham City and bringing it to its knees.  There is also a lithe cat-burglar willing to do anything to clear her name in the shape of Seline Kyle (Ann Hathaway) who of course is Catwoman in all but name.  Can a world-weary Bruce Wayne take on this new threat, or has he hung up his cowl for good?  I think we all know the answer to that one.

Nolan’s swan-song for the franchise is every bit the gritty, real-world thriller that came before, and in Tom Hardy’s utterly disturbing Bane we have a villain to (almost) rival the late Heath Ledger’s Joker.  Hathaway’s Catwoman seems more of an after-thought in comparison with barely any back-story and very little to her other than looking great in skin-tight spandex, but her performance still nails the sexy good-girl / bad-girl of the character well.  Bale’s Wayne/Batman is probably his best performance of the character yet, with much of the deep self-reflection of Batman Begins as well as the all out action hero of The Dark Knight.  Add to this a wealth of solid, expertly shot action sequences (the new ‘bat’ plane – “this is no car!” – awesome) and this makes for the boldest entry of the entire franchise.  The writing does get a little sloppy, with a few too many ‘huh?’ moments for my liking.  There is also a theatricality to some of the acting that could be seen as a bit OTT (Michael Caine).  Yet overall Christopher Nolan proves himself once again a skilled craftsman – and this still packed one helluva punch.

Verdict:  4 /5

Batman Begins


Viewed – 06 July 2012  Blu-ray

In anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises coming out at the end of the month, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Christopher Nolan’s first of his trilogy, and therefore re-discover the origins of Bruce Wayne and Batman.   Christian Bale plays the billionaire playboy and heir to the Wayne empire founded by his parents, and following their murder, goes on a journey of self discovery that leads him to a Tibetan monastery, where he is trained by Liam Neeson to become a force of vengeance and retribution.

Nolan’s movie is immediately grand and beautifully shot with some gorgeous cinematography especially in the opening moments.  Here he has returned the Batman franchise to its origins, shedding even the comic-book stylings of the Tim Burton era to create a more realistic and gritty experience.  I recall on first seeing this that I felt much of what I had loved about Burton’s movies was gone – the enchantment, the music of Danny Elfman, the gothic architecture and the bizarre characters.  Yet on reflection, perhaps I was a little trapped in the past, and now feel I can appreciate what Nolan has brought to the Batman mythos, therefore getting to the heart of what Batman really should be about.  This is akin to the graphic novels more than the DC comics back in the day, and even though there is humour and some memorable one-liners, the tone is completely different than what has gone before.

That’s not to say we don’t get what we expect from a Batman movie – there are gadgets, a creepy villain in the shape of Cillian Murphy’s freaky Scarecrow and one killer of a Batmobile.  Supporting cast, especially Neeson in a scene-stealing performance, but also Gary Oldman playing against type as the future Commissionaire Gordan, and a brilliantly layered Michael Cain as butler Alfred … are all perfect.  But this remains not just Christopher Nolan’s movie but also that of Christian Bale, who delivers the perfect Wayne / Batman and looks the part, plays the part and is the part  – troubled, heroic, arrogant and above all else – cool.

For story, casting, action and just plane brilliant film-making – this could be the best Batman movie yet made.

Verdict:  5 /5

2011 a look back – part three


With the year really in its stride now, my viewing habits once again danced between old favourites and new titles.  Hope you see something you might have otherwise passed by…

July – September

The summer movie season being in full swing, I spent July mostly trawling through the remainder of The Lord Of The Rings TrilogySucker Punch may have not made a great deal of sense, but with plenty of ‘cool’ and scantily clad women wielding swords and machine guns it was still a lot of fun.  Then Christian Bale impressed as a drug-addled ex-boxer training up younger brother Mark Wahlberg in the very absorbing The Fighter.   Brit-gangster drama Brighton Rock disappointed though with a unconvicing cut-throat lead and a bordering-on-pathetic female co-star.  The English seaside however, was captured nicely.  Thankfully the Coen Brother’s award winning True Grit made for a great western, if not necessary that deep a story, but child actor Halee Steinfeld was very good indeed.

August kicked off with gory grindhouse action-comedy Hobo With A Shotgun.  Rutger Hauer may be great but supporting cast and surrounding film was more gross-out bad taste than b-movie classic.  Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code was great, with the movie equal parts Hitchcock and Quantum Leap, and all round entertaining.  Costume caper Super may have had plenty of ideas, but felt a little deja-vu and even the excellent Ellen Page couldn’t save it.  A movie-light month ended brilliantly though with the clever and exhilarating Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Pre-teen killing machine Hanna appeared in September and surprised by how heart warming and less bad ass it ended up being.  Yet much of the month was dedicated to rediscovering the Star Wars saga, from the prequels right through to the older movies, in order – and it was brilliant.  Comedy Hall-Pass was one of the better comedies in recent memory, with genuine laughs and plenty of surprises.  And ending the month was Hole 3D, a great throwback to the likes of Gremlins and The Gate, scary, freaky and a great deal of fun.

So onto the final quarter.  Coming very soon indeed!