New Releases for the Week of April 21, 2017


UNFORGETTABLE

(Warner Brothers) Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Whitney Cummings, Jayson Blair, Robert Wisdom, Isabella Kai Rice. Directed by Denise Di Novi

Julia thinks she’s finally found the happiness that has eluded her when she gets engaged to David. She adores his daughter from his first marriage (he’s recently divorced) and this is the opportunity to put her own troubled past behind her. Unfortunately she didn’t plan on Tessa, the first wife, to be pathologically possessive and stop at nothing to get rid of Julia and resume her place as David’s wife and Lilly’s mother.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual content, violence, some language, and brief partial nudity)

Born in China

(DisneyNature) John Krasinski (narrator). The latest in Disney’s series of nature documentaries takes us to China, one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on Earth. There we’ll follow a family of giant pandas, of golden snub-nosed monkeys and rare and elusive snow leopards. Some of the footage displays behaviors never before caught on film. As is customary, Disney will make a donation to a wildlife cause (in this case the World Wildlife Fund) for every ticket sold the first week of release.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Nature Documentary
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: G

Free Fire

(A24) Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Sam Riley, Cillian Murphy. An arms deal goes horribly wrong as a group of gun smugglers are selling a shipment to a gang when shots are fired. Complete pandemonium ensues as nobody seems to know who’s shooting at who and what the heck is actually going on. Surviving this night is going to be no easy task.

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use)

Grow House

(Rocky Mountain) Malcolm McDowell, Snoop Dogg, DeRay Davis, Lil Duval. A couple of stoners who are deeply in debt figure out that one way to get rich quick is to sell weed to legal dispensaries. Unfortunately for them, while they are awesome at smoking the stuff, it’s a whole other thing to grow it.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Stoner Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Fashion Square Premiere Cinema, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, UA Seminole Mall

Rating: R (for drug use and language throughout, including some sexual references)

The Lost City of Z

(Bleecker Street) Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland. Percy Fawcett was a British military man and cartographer near the turn of the 20th century who was sent to map the Amazon region to help settle a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil. Instead he discovered evidence of a vast advanced civilization that once dwelled there and a legendary city he called Z. Ridiculed by the scientific community, he made attempt after attempt to find the lost city until he and his son disappeared on an expedition in 1925. The movie is based on a book written on the explorer and a review for it will appear on Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity)

Phoenix Forgotten

(Cinelou) Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez, Justin Matthews. The incident known as the Phoenix Lights occurred on March 13, 1997 and was witnessed by thousands of residents and is often pointed to by UFO enthusiasts as proof positive of the existence of extraterrestrial life visiting this planet. This movie is based on those events.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Found Footage Sci-Fi Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for terror, peril and some language)

The Promise

(Open Road) Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo. Against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian genocide, an Armenian doctor falls in love with a woman of Armenian descent who already has a boyfriend – a famous American journalist out to expose the truth of the genocide to the world.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality)

Their Finest

(STX) Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston. During the Second World War the British Ministry of Information is tasked with producing films designed to lift the spirits of that war-battered nation. With most of the available men in the armed forces, the desperate ministry brings aboard a woman to add her light touch into the scripts. She becomes enamored of a producer from an entirely different social strata and soon discovers that the camaraderie behind the camera is at least as intense as that in front of it.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language and a scene of sexuality)

The Big Short


Christian Bale is overwhelmed by script submissions.

Christian Bale is overwhelmed by script submissions.

(2015) True Life Drama (Paramount) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Adepero Oduye, Jeffry Griffin, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, Selena Gomez, Anthony Bourdain, Melissa Leo, Karen Gillan, Margot Robbie, Stanley Wong, Rajeev Jacob, Vanessa Cloke, Leslie Castay. Directed by Adam McKay

The financial meltdown of 2008 was the worst economic event since the Great Depression. Millions lost their jobs and their homes. The repercussions of that event continue to be felt, but many don’t understand how it happened – and how it could happen again.

Dr. Michael Burry (Bale) is a one-eyed manager of a small hedge fund in San Jose, California who discovers that securities based on mortgages – once thought to be nearly recession-proof as the going wisdom is that most people pay their mortgages on time – are actually filled with mortgages that are much riskier, with balloon payments that will commence in 2007 that the homeowners will never be able to pay and create an economic meltdown. He wants to essentially bet against these securities as he knows they are doomed to fail; such securities don’t exist so he goes to Wall Street to places like Goldman Sachs to have them create those securities. He is nearly laughed out of the building but they are happy to take his money – in fact, nearly all of his fund’s cash which doesn’t sit too well with some of the investors.

Mark Baum (Carell) is also a hedge fund manager based at Morgan Stanley who has an anger management issue (Baum, not Morgan Stanley). His team discovers from investment banker Jared Vennett (Gosling) – who also serves as the film’s narrator – that these securities exist and that there’s a good chance that investing in these securities will result in runaway wealth. Baum, who has a hate on for the industry he works in, after talking to a number of bankers and securities industry insiders, becomes certain that Vennett is on to something and risks a good deal of his fund’s capital to buy these securities.

Two ambitious young Colorado-based hedge fund managers – Charlie Geller (Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Wittrock) also discover these securities through happenstance but their fund is too small and too unknown to be able to get a seat at the table to bid on securities like that. They enlist Ben Rickert (Pitt), a disillusioned former Wall Street titan who has become something of a paranoid recluse, out of the game until Geller and Shipley manage to reel him back in.

All of these players discover first-hand the venal stupidity of the banking industry whose blindness led to the near-collapse of the world economy; the corruption and absolute greed that was behind that blindness staggered even these members of the same financial industry.

Based on a nonfiction book by Michael Lewis, the film takes some real-life people involved in the market (Burry) as well as creates fictional ones – some out of whole cloth and some based on others (Baum, based on real-life hedge fund manager Steve Eisman), McKay does a credible job in taking some fairly esoteric financial market concepts like CDOs and credit default swaps.

He has gathered an eclectic but solid cast that brings to life the arrogance and testosterone-infused world of finance. It is definitely a boys club with an aggressive attitude with an absolute focus on money. Carell gives Baum a moral compass – maybe more of one than the other characters in the film – but also an angry streak that comes from a family tragedy. In many ways, Baum is the most compelling character in the movie because while all of the characters have an agenda, Baum’s is more than just making money.

I also like Bale as the real-life Dr. Burry, who prefers to be barefoot, rarely wears a suit and tie, and blasts metal in his office when he’s stressing out. His characters is a little bit more complex than the others and we don’t really get a decent grasp on him, which something tells me is true of the real guy. Pitt brings a little bit of New Age gravitas here as well.

McKay is known for his comedies and there is a kind of black humor here. His tongue is often planted firmly in cheek as he uses various celebrities in incongruous situations to explain various things in the script (like a naked Margo Robbie in a bathtub explaining the subprime mortgage market, or singer Serena Gomez in a casino talking about CDOs) and we are told that certain things actually happened but more interestingly, that some things actually didn’t as depicted in the film. You have to give him points for honesty.

I imagine your political outlook will drive how much you enjoy the film to a certain extent; those who are fairly left-wing in nature and distrustful of industry will no doubt find this film much more to their liking than those who are right-wing and who might look at this as tarring an entire industry with the same brush because of the actions of a relative few. The Big Short takes the point of view that the stupidity, shortsightedness and corruption was industry-wide and implies to a large extent that the culture of the financial industry of the bro-tastic almighty dollar have a big hand in driving that corruption.

The Big Short does a credible job of explaining a fairly complicated and often confusing situation that brought the economy to its knees, and warns that many of the same factors remain in place that may yet again take the economy down for another plunge. It reminds us that despite the blatant fraud that took place, only one person – and he relatively low on the totem pole – ever was tried and jailed for his role in an event that created so much human misery. This is an outstanding movie that may disturb some because the “heroes” of the story made enormous profits from that misery (a fact pointed out by Pitt’s Ben Rickert) and that the tone overall is somewhat snarky. I found that the tone made the events somewhat easier to bear and while I don’t condone profiting from the pain of others, I can say that at least none of the protagonists broke any laws, which is a fairly low bar for cinematic heroism but given the industry depicted here, probably about as high a bar as can be expected.

REASONS TO GO: Really explains some of the very confusing information about the 2008 crisis well. Extremely solid performances from the cast. Occasionally funny.
REASONS TO STAY: A very dry subject matter.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of profanity, some nudity and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film directed by Adam McKay in which Will Ferrell doesn’t star.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Point Break (2015)

New Releases for the Week of December 25, 2015


ConcussionCONCUSSION

(Columbia) Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Arliss Howard, Mike O’Malley, Eddie Marsan, Luke Wilson. Directed by Peter Landesman

Dr. Bennett Omalu, a forensic Neuropathologist working in Pittsburgh, is presented with a strange situation; a favored son of the city, a former football star, dies suddenly penniless, his very personality rumored to have changed completely. As he investigates he discovers something shocking; repeated head traumas, such as those routinely suffered by football players, leads to some terrifying consequences. However in bringing his findings to the public, he finds himself in a fight with a corporation that owns a day of the week – the National Football League. However, Dr. Omalu refuses to back down and becomes maybe the greatest advocate that pro athletes have ever had.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language)

The Big Short

(Paramount) Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei. As the economy came to the verge of collapse in 2008, a group of financial outsiders, seeing what the big banks had done to the economy knew that they would likely not get much more than a slap on the wrist. They decided on a bold scheme to get their share, taking on some of the biggest crooks in the history of mankind – and winning.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity)

Daddy’s Home

(Paramount) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church. A white bread radio executive has married a divorced woman with two kids, and is trying to be the best dad possible to them, although frankly they don’t want anything to do with him. Still, he tries and hopes for the best – until their biological father shows up, forcing him to compete with the guy for the attention of the kids. The ante gets upped again and again until the stakes become ridiculous.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language)

The Danish Girl

(Focus) Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw. Danish painter Einar Wegener was married to a fellow painter and seemingly happy with his life. However, a request from his wife, seemingly simple and innocuous, leads him to a profound change and the realization that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. Desperate to find a solution, he takes a risk that at the time was unthinkable – but may be his only hope for happiness and peace.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and Q&A sessions here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexuality and full nudity)

The Hateful Eight

(Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern. A bounty hunter, taking his quarry back to Red Rock, Wyoming to hang shortly after the end of the Civil War, finds himself snowed in with six other strangers in a Rocky Mountain stagecoach stop. Soon it becomes clear that not all of the men are being completely candid about who they are – and that not everyone holed up to wait out the storm is going to make it out alive. The movie will be playing in digital 70mm print approximation (few theaters across the country will have the real thing), and will be opening in wide release on January 8th in standard 35mm digital.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo, a featurette, B-roll video and a Q&A session here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)

Joy

(20th Century Fox) Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Rohm. Coming from a working class background, nobody ever figured Joy would ever amount to much but nobody counted on her unshakable will. She goes on to found a business empire, navigating the cutthroat waters of modern business to become one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the United States. This is the latest offering from director David O. Russell, who has become the nearest thing to a sure Oscar nominee as there’s been in the last few years.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Point Break

(Warner Brothers) Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer. A young maverick FBI Agent infiltrates a group of extreme athletes who are suspected of pulling off daring robberies utilizing skills involving some of the most dangerous activities known to humans. The deeper the agent gets, the more he gets swept into their world. Eager to prove their innocence he begins to lose sight of his job and the protection of innocent lives. Can he bring these guys to justice before people die for their thrill-seeking ways – or will he ultimately prove their innocence?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, thematic material involving perilous activity, some sexuality, language and drug material)

Youth

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz. Two lifelong friends vacation at a resort in the Swiss Alps as they contemplate oncoming retirement. Befriended by a young actor struggling to make sense of his latest role, one – a musician – is urged by his daughter not to retire just yet while the other – a screenwriter – labors to finish what may well be his last screenplay aided by his muse, who may or may not be true inspiration.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language)

Exodus: Gods and Kings


Christian Bale takes aim at a critic who gave his latest film a harsh review.

Christian Bale takes aim at a critic who gave his latest film a harsh review.

(2014) Biblical Epic (20th Century Fox) Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Hiam Abbass, Isaac Andrews, Ewen Bremner, Indira Varma, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassan Massoud, Tara Fitzgerald, Dar Salim, Andrew Tarbet, Ken Bones, Giannina Facio. Directed by Ridley Scott

Most of us are aware of the story of Moses, either through religious education or through repeated viewings of The Ten Commandments. Moses the Lawgiver remains one of the most iconic figures of the Old Testament, who along with Abraham is one of the foundations of the Judeo-Christian faith.

Moses (Bale) was born to Jewish slaves and when the newborn sons of Israel were slaughtered to prevent a prophecy that the deliverer had been born, his desperate mother floated him in a cradle of reeds down the Nile where he was picked up by the barren sister of Pharaoh Seti (Turturro) and raised in the royal household as a brother to Ramses (Edgerton). Ramses and Moses were as close as brothers and Seti felt that Moses would make a more effective ruler than his more impetuous biological son.

However despite the fact that Moses saved his life and has no ambition to rule Ramses has a healthy distrust of his childhood friend. When Moses discovers his true past from Nun (Kingsley), a Hebrew slave, his world is turned upside down. When Hegep (Mendelsohn), an Egyptian viceroy who has run afoul of Moses and seeks to curry favor with the new Pharaoh discovers the truth, Ramses is reluctant to kill his erstwhile kin. Instead, he exiles him to the desert, figuring that the Gods can deal with Moses.

The Gods deal with Moses by allowing him to traverse the desert to an oasis where he discovers the comely young shepherdess Zipporah (Valverde) who captivates the exiled Moses. The two marry and have a son. In the meantime, Moses is visited by God in the form of a young child who instructs Moses to raise an army and prepare to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. However, the Egyptians aren’t about to let the Israelites go so first there’s a matter of a few plagues – ten to be exact – before Moses is finally allowed to lead the slaves from bondage. However, they won’t get to the promised land without crossing the Red Sea and with a fired up army led by an enraged Ramses right on their tails.

Any cinematic version of the story of Exodus is going to inevitably have to deal with Cecil B. DeMille and his classic The Ten Commandments and anyone playing Moses is going to have to deal with Charlton Heston. For T10C the effects were impressive for their time, and the effects here are impressive for this time, bringing the plagues of frogs, flies, crocodiles and so on to vivid life. We can see the Egyptians trying to explain the plagues in anything but supernatural terms, much as we would do. But of course, they were also playing a game of “My Gods are better than Your God” with the Hebrews as well.

Heston was imperious, the very picture of an Old Testament prophet, intoning in a voice booming like thunder “Behold the Hand of the Lord” as he parts the Red Sea. Bale’s Moses is nothing like Heston; he bickers with the manifestation of God, feeling that he is a bit bloodthirsty for his taste and that his heavy-handed methods will be less likely to move Pharaoh’s heart. God essentially tells Moses he can do what he want because he’s God mofo! There has been a lot of controversy about this version of God who is not only a child but a petulant one.

Bale is a fine actor but this seems a bit out of his depth. In all fairness, there aren’t really any actors out there who can go all Old Testament on an audience; I honestly can’t think of any who would make a great Moses. That’s no knock on Bale; he can be as heroic as anyone but there is always an edge to him and there is one here as well. Moses here isn’t a Hebrew except by birth; he’s all about raising an army and taking on the Egyptian army – after all, with God’s help what army could stand against them, but God seems to prefer the art of gentle persuasion – by using a hammer on innocents. Moses has a problem with that and frankly, so do I and I appreciate Scott bringing it up because it is a question worth asking.

Some have complained that Scott, an agnostic, has diverged a fair amount from the source material but I think that as Scott himself has stated, his lack of Judeo-Christian faith gives him a certain amount of perspective that directors like DeMille who was known for being devout lack. However, Scott has justifiably been raked over the coals for casting white actors in parts that are essentially Middle Eastern, mostly casting what Middle Eastern actors he does have as slaves and soldiers. Scott raises the point that no studio is going to finance a $200 million film without name actors in the lead roles and that’s true enough. Which of course makes me wonder if that’s a statement on the racial bias of the movie-going public as much as it is the studios. Fill in your own answers here.

I liked Edgerton’s performance as Ramses although he has been getting a bit of flack for his work for the most part. Yes, he uses a bit too much eyeliner and he looks like some sort of giant Gerber’s baby with his head shaved but he captures Ramses as a man raised to believe he was a living God but full of insecurities, particularly because his brother was so much better than him in just about everything.

So this is one of those event movies that really relies on spectacle and there’s just enough here to make it worth seeing on the big screen if you can, but this isn’t great moviemaking or a great movie. Scott has done far better work, some of it recently. That doesn’t mean this doesn’t have merit and in this case, just enough for a guarded recommendation.

REASONS TO GO: Edgerton makes a decent Ramses. The effects are spectacular.
REASONS TO STAY: Bloated and strays far from the Biblical source material. Insensitive to the religious in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence, particularly on the battlefield. There are also some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ben Mendelsohn previously worked with Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises and Joel Edgerton in Animal Kingdom.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 28% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Noah
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Foxcatcher

New Releases for the Week of December 11, 2014


Exodus Gods and KingsEXODUS: GODS AND KINGS

(20th Century Fox) Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Ben Kingsley, Maria Valverde, Hiam Abbass. Directed by Ridley Scott

The story of Moses, who led the Hebrews out of Egyptian bondage (sounds kinkier than it is) and into the promised land of Israel is taken from the realm of The Ten Commandments and into the 21st century under the sure hand of Oscar-winning director Ridley Scott.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Epic
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence including battle sequences and intense images)

The Babadook

(IFC Midnight) Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell. A young widow struggles to raise her out-of-control son, finding it harder and harder to bond with him. He becomes convinced that there is a creature, conjured up by an innocent pop-up storybook, coming to kill them both. His mother of course doesn’t believe him but when she starts to get glimpses of the creature, she realizes that it is not his imagination; the threat is very real. This Australian gem played at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and has been met with near-universal praise from critics and audiences alike as it has emerged from the festival circuit for a limited release.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: NR

Top 5

(Paramount) Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart. One of the world’s most acclaimed stand-up comedians has transitioned into serious acting. He is getting set to marry a beautiful reality TV star. However, while being interviewed by a hold-nothing-back reporter, he begins to suspect he’s not as happy in his accomplishments as he would like and in fact part of him longs for a return to things as they once were.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use)

American Hustle


The 70s - the sexy decade.

The 70s – the sexy decade.

(2013) Drama (Columbia) Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elizabeth Rohm, Robert De Niro, Paul Herman, Said Taghmaoui, Adrian Martinez, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Camp, Steve Gagliastro, Christy Scott Cashman, Becki Dennis. Directed by David O. Russell

Ah, the 70s. The Disco decade; home to the bellbottoms generation in which fashion and hair were so hideous that even the 80s looks more reasonable. The era in which the music scene was so stodgy that punk had to be invented to kick start rock and roll from a moribund existence (although to be honest I’ve always thought the accusation a bit unfair). In movies it was the time of the anti-hero when Travis Bickle, Dirty Harry and Billy Jack roamed the silver screen. Rodney Dangerfield might have said that the 70s don’t get no respect.

It was also the time of ABSCAM, an FBI sting operation that netted corrupt politicians amid accusations of entrapment. The latest from Oscar-nominated director David O. Russell is loosely based on that affair. Here, manic FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) has small time con man and dry cleaner Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) by the shorties. Irv has been selling fake loans to desperate businessmen and pocketing the fees. He is aided by his sexy girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Adams) who affects an English accent although she’s from Albuquerque.

DiMaso has Atlantic City mayor Carmine Polito (Renner) in his crosshairs and thinks that Irv and Sydney can sweet talk the mayor into accepting money from an Arab sheikh to help rebuild Atlantic City and erect the casinos that he knows can turn the city around. While the FBI doesn’t have any sheikhs sitting around headquarters with nothing to do, Irv knows where to get one and it looks like he might just get out of this thing okay.

But things quickly start spiraling out of control. Irv’s wife – yes he has a wife too – Rosalyn (Lawrence) gets wind of what’s going on and knows enough to really throw a monkey wrench in the works. Carmine also brings in a mobster (De Niro) from Miami who is no fool and doesn’t play nice if he thinks that things are snarky and brother, nothing is more snarky than what’s going down in this hustle. To make matters worse, Carmine turns out to be a pretty decent guy who only wants to help the people of Atlantic City; he’s just willing to take an inadvisable shortcut to do it and Irv starts to get second thoughts about nailing him.

The story is more parable than plot having to do with control and power and how it corrupts, but that’s really not what the movie’s about. What the movie is really about is the characters and Russell may well be the best ensemble director in Hollywood right now. He has collected an impressive group of actors, some of the best working today.

Nobody throws themselves into  a role as physically as Bale. He gained some 50 pounds for this role and affected a slouch (which led to him being treated for two herniated discs) as well as a hideous combover which all became affectations of the character which helped sum up Irv in just a glance. Irv is wary about the world and doesn’t trust anyone and with good cause. He’s smart, smart enough to know that while he’s smarter than most people he’s not as smart as everyone and that the best strategy for any good con is to have a way out. Bale makes this character who might easily have become just another lowlife loser in lesser hands into a sympathetic almost-a-hero.

In fact, all of the characters wind up gaining a certain amount of sympathy from the audience which is quite a feat, even the somewhat loathsome DiMaso. Cooper understands that Richie is desperate to become somebody and lives in fear that he will be forever a non-entity. That fear drives him, makes him take unrealistic chances and to leap when he should look. It also creates a rage within him, a rage that he takes out on his hapless boss (C.K.).

Lawrence has become one of the most capable actresses in Hollywood over the last few years and while her role here is clearly a supporting one, she has one scene that is absolutely breathtaking. Just listen for the strains of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” and you’ll understand. Rosalyn is a Jersey princess who comes off as plenty dumb but is a lot smarter in the end than anyone might think. She also rocks the lame dress you see in the poster.

Me though I thought the performance of the film belonged to Amy Adams. Dressed in sultry low-cut dresses she’s always threatening to fall out of, this is a strong brassy character but inside she is a frightened little girl holding off the cruelty of life with an English accent. When that vulnerability shows through as it does on a few occasions, Adams just rips it up. I don’t know that she’ll get an Oscar nomination for this one but she not only richly deserves one, I think she might just have put together a performance that beats out Sandra Bullock’s in Gravity. It’s neck and neck in my book for best actress of the year.

With all that going for it, you’d think I’d have loved the movie but curiously I didn’t love it. I liked it a lot, respected it a great deal but I just didn’t fall in love with the movie. It didn’t connect with me somehow; maybe it’s the length which seems to drag on a bit. Maybe it’s just that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it – there are elements of black comedy here as well as a scam movie. I admire that Russell stayed true not only to the setting but the way movies were made in that era. From a strictly craft point of view this is excellent filmmaking.

So take my lack of enthusiasm for what it’s worth. Sometimes you see a movie you admire but you just don’t connect with it for whatever reason. It happens. I get the sense my wife loved the movie more than I did but I don’t think she was all that enthusiastic in her love either. In any case from my point of view this is a movie that inspires respect and admiration more than devotion. Take from that what you will.

REASONS TO GO: High level performances all around.

REASONS TO STAY: Too long. For whatever reason I couldn’t connect with it.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a ton of swearing, some brief violence and some sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming in Boston was delayed because of the Boston Marathon bombing; afterwards Adams, Cooper, Bale and Renner all visited victims of the attack in area hospitals.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Iceman

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Apocalypto

Out of the Furnace


Woody Harrelson is perfectly willing to take off his shirt for Christian Bale.

Woody Harrelson is perfectly willing to take off his shirt for Christian Bale.

(2013) Drama (Relativity) Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower, Bobby Wolfe, Dendrie Taylor, Carl Ciarfalio, Nancy Fosser, Bingo O’Malley, Jack Erdie, Gordon Michaels, Angela Kauffman, Charles David Richards, Tommy Lafitte, Tiffany Sander McKenzie. Directed by Scott Cooper

Times are tough. You don’t need to go to a movie to tell you that. In the Rust Belt, the manufacturing  jobs that were once the bread and butter in the region have been shrinking away, slowly disappearing from view. That leaves the residents there scrambling to find other ways to make money.

Russell Baze (Bale) is one of the lucky few who still has employment at a steel mill. He lives with a young woman named Lena (Saldana) who adores him and the two are talking about starting a family. His brother Rodney (Affleck) is back home from a tour of Iraq in the army. Sure their dad (O’Malley) is dying of cancer but they have his  brother and their Uncle Red (Shepard) to help them out. Things could certainly get a whole lot worse.

And then they do. Russell is involved in an incident not his fault that results in him getting sent to jail for a few years. Things begin to fall apart. Rodney goes back to Iraq. Their father dies. Even Lena leaves him, taking up with the chief of police Wesley (Whitaker) of their small town outside of Pittsburgh. All of a sudden things don’t make sense quite as much.

When Rodney returns and Russell finishes his time in jail, they both need to pick up the pieces. For Russell, that means obsessively stalking Lena and getting his job back at the mill while fixing up his dad’s old place. For Rodney, that means bare knuckle fights to pick up cash for a debt he owes to local bar owner and dealer of all things shady John Petty (Dafoe).

Rodney needs more money to fix up his debt however and he cajoles Petty into getting him a fight in rural New Jersey where a meth kingpin named Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson) runs things. Like any decent mountain community, they don’t cotton to no city folk telling them how to run things. When things go bad, Russell is left to pick up the pieces and do the right thing for his brother.

First of all, this is a movie that isn’t well-served by its trailer. It gives away an important plot twist and intimates that this is a different kind of movie than it is. The trailer implies that this is a thriller and quite frankly, that element of the movie only takes place over the last 20 minutes or so. The rest of the movie is more of a drama which is how I’m characterizing it now.

Cooper, whose first feature was Crazy Heart takes a completely different turn here on this his second. The milieu is much bleaker which is saying something considering that his last movie was about an alcoholic country singer whose career is fading into the twilight. Cooper has a knack at capturing working class life and working class people. As an actor himself he also manages to wring some excellent performances out of his actors.

Bale delivers just such a performance. He’s low-key and soft-spoken throughout most of the film but rage boils in him and sometimes boils over. He’s a decent man at heart but life has thrown just about everything at him he can tolerate and then some. There’s a scene with Saldana on a wooden bridge in which he tries to rekindle things after he gets out of prison that is so heartbreaking that you won’t be able to get it out of your head. In fact, it’s not just Saldana and Bale that do good work here – nearly every member of the principal leads is mesmerizing.

Harrelson is also noteworthy as the villain. When DeGroat meets Russell for the first time in Petty’s office and the two have words, Russell asks him “You got a problem with me?” and DeGroat responds “I got a problem with everybody” and that encapsulates the character. He’s as mean as a rattlesnake and prone to outbursts of violence as evidenced by the very first scene in which DeGroat beats a man half to death for intervening when DeGroat assaults his date at a drive-in. Harrelson captures that meanness and rage. There’s nothing redeeming about DeGroat, no qualities at all that make things around him better. He’s a cancer in his community that everyone is afraid to operate on.

There are a lot of good things about this movie but for some reason I couldn’t connect with it. Maybe I wasn’t ready for a movie quite as bleak as this. Perhaps it’s because it’s a little bit too long. Maybe the ending scene which didn’t ring true and was followed by an extraneous coda did me in. Or maybe it just wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with. Da Queen was very taken by the movie and would have given it a significantly higher score than I did – she was frankly surprised that I didn’t enjoy it as much as she did because normally I go for these sorts of films.

For whatever reason I didn’t here and that can be taken for whatever grain of salt you wish to give it. The elements are all here for a good movie and in fact you may well find it to be more rewarding than I did. For me there didn’t seem to be much of a point to it – unrelenting violence and despair with nothing at the end that made me think it was all worth it. Perhaps that was the point. In any case, I found this a movie in which the ingredients were superior but it didn’t add up to a gourmet dish.

REASONS TO GO: Solid performances throughout by an excellent cast.

REASONS TO STAY: Overly long. The ending was quite the letdown.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of violence, some pretty strong language and some drug content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie playing at the drive-in during the opening scene is Midnight Meat Train.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Winter’s Bone

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Holly and the Quill Christmas movie festival begins!