Friday, January 31, 2014
Below are images from "SAVING MR. BANKS", the recent historical comedy-drama about the development of the 1964 film, "MARY POPPINS". Directed by John Lee Hancock, the movie stars Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks:
"SAVING MR. BANKS" (2013) Photo Gallery
Thursday, January 30, 2014
"AMERICAN HUSTLE" (2013) Review
For the past three years, the career of David O. Russell seemed to be on a roll. During said period, he has directed, produced or both three movies that have garnered a great deal of acclaim and awards. The latest of this "Golden Trio" happened to be a period comedy drama called "AMERICAN HUSTLE".
Set mainly in 1978, "AMERICAN HUSTLE" is loosely based on the ABSCAM operation, set up by the F.B.I. as a sting operation against various government officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The movie begins with two con artists and lovers, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, who are caught in a loan scam by F.B.I. Special Agent Richie Di Maso. The latter proposes to release them if Irving assists him in a sting operation against Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, New Jersey and other officials. Sydney tries to convince Irving not to agree with Richie's proposal. But desperate to avoid prison and reluctant to leave his adopted son with his verbose and slightly unstable wife Rosalyn, Irving agrees to assist Richie and the F.B.I. The sting operation nearly starts off on the wrong foot, thanks to a clumsy tactic on Richie's part, but Irving manages to woo back the charismatic and popular Carmine, who is seeking funds to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City. The scam seems to be going fine, despite Sydney's growing relationship with Richie. But when Carmine introduces Irving, Sydney and Richie to the notoriously violent Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio into the plan to raise money; and Rosalyn's jealous nature and notoriously big mouth threatens to expose the sting operation; Irving realizes he has to come up with an alternate plan to save him and Sydney from the Mob and the F.B.I.
While watching "AMERICAN HUSTLE", it occurred to me that it is filled with some very interesting and eccentric characters. First, there are the two lovebirds - Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser - with his odd toupee and her fake British accent. Then we have Richie Di Maso is an ambitious "Mama's Boy" with hair permed into tight curls, who is a bit too eager to prove himself with the F.B.I. Irving's wife Rosalyn is an unhappily married woman with a big mouth and a careless and self-involved personality. And Mayor Polito is a happy-go-lucky politician with a rather large pompadour hair-style and questionable connections to the Mob. The movie is also populated with a Latino F.B.I. agent recruited by Richie to potray a wealthy Arab sheik, a charming Mob soldier who ends up falling for Rosalyn, Richie's frustrated and wary F.B.I. supervisor, and a very sinister Mob boss that can speak Arabic. If I have to be perfectly honest, I would have to say that the movie's array of characters struck me as being the movie's strong point.
This should not have been a surprise. "AMERICAN HUSTLE" is also filled with some great performances. Christian Bale gave a wonderfully subtle and complex performance as the aging and stressed out con man who reluctantly finds himself involved with a scam operation set up by the F.B.I. He certainly clicked with Amy Adams, who gave one of the most subtle performances of her career as the charming, yet desperate former stripper-turned-con artist, who found herself in a state of flux over her freedom and her relationship with her partner/lover. Bradley Cooper was practically a basket of fire as the aggressive F.B.I. Agent Richie Di Maso, who become over-eager to make a name for himself within the Bureau. Mind you, there were moments when Cooper's performance seemed to border on hamminess. I could also say the same for Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Irving's not-so-stable wife, Rosalyn. However, I must admit that Lawrence also provided the movie with some of its best comic moments. Jeremy Renner was a joy to watch as the charismatic mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito. The latter must have been the most happy-go-lucky role he has ever done.
"AMERICAN HUSTLE" also featured some first-rate performances from the supporting cast. Louis C.K. was very effective Richie's long suffering boss, Special Agent Stoddard Thorsen. Michael Peña provided some memorable comic moments as Special Agent Paco Hernandez, who surprised everyone with his ability to speak Arabic. Robert De Niro, who also made a surprising appearance as mobster Victor Tellegio, gave a subtle and intimidating appearance . . . especially in a scene in which he tested Agent Thorsen's ability to speak Arabic. The movie also featured solid performances from Jack Huston as a young mobster, Alessandro Nivola as Richie and Thoren's boss, Anthony Zerbe as a corrupt congressman, and Elisabeth Röhm as Mayor Polito's equally happy-go-lucky wife Dolly.
I was also impressed by the production designs for "AMERICAN HUSTLE". Judy Becker and her team did an exceptional job of bringing the late 1970s back to life. She was also assisted by Heather Loeffler's set decorations and Jesse Rosenthal's art direction. Michael Wilkinson's costume designs did an excellent job of not only capturing that particular era, but also representing the major character. This was especially apparent in his costumes for the Sydney Prosser, who used low-cut dresses and gowns to distract her marks. And I mean very low cut.
If there is one problem I have with "AMERICAN HUSTLE", it is probably Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell's screenplay. At first, it seemed perfectly fine to me. But eventually, there were aspects of the screenplay I found either troubling or confusing. One, I noticed that Russell tried utilize the use of multiple narrations that Martin Scorsese used in his 1995 movie, "CASINO". At first, he used Irving and Sydney's narration. Then he added Richie's voice to the mix. The problem is that I can only recall Richie's narration in one scene. Nor do I recall Sydney's narration in the movie's second half. Also, the first half of the movie seemed to hint that Richie's mark in his operation was Camden's Mayor Polito, who wanted to raise funds to revitalize Atlantic City. Why? Why would the mayor of Camden be interested in revitalizing the fortunes of another city, located in another county? And why was the F.B.I. so interested in Camden's mayor? At first, I thought the agency was aware of his mob ties. But when Carmine introduced Irving and Richie to mobster Victor Tellegio, both the con man and the Federal agent seemed by the mobster's appearance. So, why did Richie target Carmine in the first place? To make matters even more confusing, Richie extended his sting operation to several members of Congress. There seemed to be no focus in the operation and especially in the story.
Despite the confusing screenplay, I must admit that "AMERICAN HUSTLE" was an entertaining movie. Not only did it recaptured the era of the 1970s, but also featured some superb performances from a cast led by Christian Bale and Amy Adams. I thought it was entertaining enough to overlook its flaws.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Below is my ranking of the TNT Network's 2013 six-episode limited series called "MOB CITY". Inspired by John Buntin's book, "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City", the miniseries was created by Frank Darabont and stars Jon Bernthal, Milo Ventimiglia, Neal McDonough and Alexa Davalos:
"MOB CITY" (2013): Episode Ranking
1. (1.06) "Stay Down" - With ex-wife Jasmine Fontaine safely out of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police detective Joe Teague set about making a deal with mobster Bugsy Siegel to guarantee her complete safety in this finale episode. Instead, events move toward an ending that proves to be as shocking as the beginning.
2. (1.03) "Red Light" - During a visit to Jasmine's apartment, Joe informs her that the L.A.P.D. knows about the pictures she took of Siegel's murder of Abe Greenberg on behalf of her current boyfriend, second-rate comedian Hecky Nash. This visit enables him to learn of mobster Sid Rothman's (a colleague of Siegel and Mickey Cohen) intent to bump off a potential witness to his murder of two Siegel soldiers.
3. (1.01) "A Guy Walks Into a Bar" - In this premiere episode, Joe accepts a commission to act as private bodyguard for Nash, who is blackmailing the mob with photos Siegel murdering Greenberg.
4. (1.05) "Oxpecker" - While Cohen and Rothman discovers that she is the photographer who had snapped the incriminating images of Siegel, Jasmine is forced to deal with Hecky's deadly partner in the blackmail scheme, Leslie Shermer. Meanwhile, the police's attempt to protect a witness against Rothman ends in violence and disaster, thanks to a mole within Captain William Parker's task force.
5. (1.02) "Reason to Kill a Man" - Following Hecky's death, Teague and the L.A.P.D. question Jasmine about his blackmail scheme against Siegel. Meanwhile, Rothman finds the two trigger men who had not only witnessed Greenberg's death, but also served as informants for the police. Also, Joe's fellow ex-Marine, attorney Ned Stax, warns him to get rid of incriminating evidence linking him to Jasmine.
6. (1.04) "His Banana Majesty" - Mobster Jack Dragna tries to shoehorn into Siegel's Los Angeles operations, while the latter is behind bars on suspicions of murder. And Joe is surprised by a visit to his apartment from Rothman.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Below are images from "THE FOUR FEATHERS", the 1977 television adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's 1902 novel. Directed by Don Sharp, the movie starred Beau Bridges, Jane Seymour and Robert Powell:
"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (1977) Image Gallery