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American Hustle (2013)

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It’s been quite a while since a film’s come along and moseyed its way on in to the lore of cinema. You know, the type of film you can watch over and over again…that plays on TV every other weekend. A film you’ve seen so many times over you can catch it midway, watch till the end, and still enjoy each and every part. A movie that plays in the background of gatherings, parties, or while you’re performing other tasks without taking away from these other primary distractions. These are the flicks we quote day in, day out to no end. Now, these pictures may not always the best of what cinema has to offer, they might not have even garnered many awards or much critical acclaim, but still we love them more than most things we’d care to admit.

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On the other hand however, these timeless movies do pertain to our greatest cinematic achievements and have been acknowledged as such by critics and cinephiles. And of course the odd award or two has been bestowed upon them. Nonetheless, what’s so special, enduring about these films is that they’re so appealing and appeasing. They’re fun, entertaining, and most importantly, they never seem to get old. “American Hustle” fits somewhere in this criteria, I’m just not quite sure where exactly. It’ll win its fair share of accolades come award season 2014, it’s endlessly entertaining, and full of quote-able dialogue. Wherever it finds itself, expect this flick to be on television in the near future and in your hearts after the initial viewing.

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Directed by the aforementioned David O. Russell, “American Hustle,” is the much anticipated follow-up to his Best Picture nominee “Silver Linings Playbook.” Glamorizing the lives of a couple of con-artists and corrupt politicians until they are dealt a harsh reality check by a power-hungry detective. I think it’s safe to say O. Russell went in a completely new direction with this one. Using a magnificent soundtrack, the trademark styles and imagery of the late 70s and early 80s, and extremely potent, masterful performances from his entire ensemble to conjure up a mafioso-like thriller with moments of overwhelming drama and an array of diverse comedy. O. Russell has truly created a unique cinematic experience with “American Hustle.” Although, it is one that feels vaguely familiar, even Scorsese-esque. Yet, it remains so original and genuine that Marty himself would be proud.

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There is so much that makes O. Russell’s “American Hustle” this instant classic, a modern masterpiece. The first thing to hit you is this obscure, dated, penetrative humour executed flawlessly by the film’s cast. Speaking of which, has an undeniable, limitless chemistry that bursts forth from the screen and roots in their bones. It’s this bizarre, surprising nature that spawns so many instances in which you’ll find yourself asking, was that just said? Did that just happen? It’s content and characters are fresh and honest, the “what you see is what you get” type that refrains from being bland and predictable. O. Russell’s camerawork is the most stellar I’ve seen in recent memory, reminiscent of the aforementioned Scorsese, albeit younger. It’s a concoction of all these facets mixed with impeccable timing, immense, boundless talent, and extraordinary vision by all involved that makes “American Hustle” shine so bright.

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Fine, you got me, it’s not all sunshine and roses. The story definitely takes a bit of a backseat to the characters, which isn’t necessarily a big deal. That being said, with “American Hustle,” the stakes don’t ever appear or feel as high as they actually are, or at least should be. I mean, I never really feared that the lifestyle or the lives of those who’ve been chosen to lead us through this picture were ever compromised. They just never seemed to be in as much danger or trouble as they should have been, if that makes any sense? It’s plot is as captivating, enthralling as can be and the characters are some of the most well-written and developed of the year. The end however, the last thirty minutes give or take, is a tad anticlimactic. That being said, the fact that the film’s ensemble and spectacular, utter enchantment can overcome this slight blemish should speak to its almost fully realized immaculacy.

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The cast, the ensemble, that’s all I keep blabbering on about. I supposed it’d make sense to inform you of who comprises this plethora of talent and achievements. Returning are O. Russell vets Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence, with new faces Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner rounding out the unit. Now, I could go on and on about the superlativeness of each and every member and how it wouldn’t surprise me at all if each individual got a nomination come award season, but I’m a realist. If I had to stake my life, I’d say Christian Bale is the front-runner to take home some hardware. The rest, I feel are too up in the air. There’s been a surplus of solid flicks with tremendous portrayal this year, so it’ll be tough to break through. Cooper, Adams, and Lawrence bring their predictable flair and still manage to stun. Renner is the only one who comes close to rivalling Bale’s brilliance and already his outstanding performance is being overlooked. Oddly enough however, is that funny man Louis C. K somehow steals every scene he’s in. Figure that one out and let me know.

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Hilarious, intoxicating, and bloody brilliant, “American Hustle” is, without question, one of the best films of the year.

American Hustle: 9.5 out of 10.

Her (2013)

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As most of you should know, at the moment in the most general sense, we as a species are not headed in a good direction. Somewhere along the path, we lost our way. Our priorities and morals are misshapen and failing, the technological and political advances we make are cancelled out by our abuse of our planet and each other, and we’re struggling to co-exist, to keep our progression afloat. All in all, our future does not look bright. That being said, the ship is being righted somewhat, you know…we are getting there, even if it is just one maladjusted step at a time. We’re beginning to consider the consequences and outcomes of our actions and creations just as heavily and frequently as we marvel at them. And it looks as if our continued existence, harmony, and evolution is significantly greater in importance, well…at least mow more than it has ever been.

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Sadly however, despite this new growth and consciousness of how important our cohesiveness is, we continue to conjure up new ways of interacting with one another…quicker, inhuman, artificial ways. Devices, methods, and intelligence that instead of drawing us together, instead of doing what we intended them to do, is distancing us, alienating communication, both physical and verbal. It’s becoming a bit excessive and ridiculous, at least to me anyway. I get that with these tools we are also bringing the world together, but, I mean, at what cost? And where do we draw the line? We’re losing what makes our very presence in this universe so extraordinary. It feels as if these easier ways of connecting are hampering our intellectual ascension, creating an inability to converse face-to-face, and leaving us unable to read one another. “I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

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That’s an Albert Einstein quote, by the way, just thought I’d let you know so I don’t get tagged with plagiarism, but I digress. The quote, along with the personal rant before it was ignited by Spike Jonze’s transcendent film “Her.” I feel it’s important to convey what exactly a film evokes in me and the end result is often something like the rant above. Just so you know, “Her” centres around Theodore (Phoenix), a lonely, romantic writer who winds up falling in love with his new operating system (Johansson). I figured I’d let you in on the plot so you could know the reason behind my rambling. So, now that you understand where my blurb stems from, I bet it makes a lot more sense. To be honest though, there’s a hell of a lot more to this film than just singling out our mistakes and how we are going to pay dearly for them. So enough of my blabbering on, let’s get into the film.

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Unlike any love story you’ve ever experienced. “Her,” written and directed by the aforementioned Spike Jonze, is a bizarre concoction of comedy, science-fiction, and of course, romance. Its premise is a bit obscure and might take a little time to settle in. However once it does, the confusion and hilarity of what you are actually watching will will wear off and the film’s immersive, heartbreaking, foreshadowing nature will haunt you, make you ache. The script is genuine, disheartening, and completely captures the lyricism and poetic inconsistencies of the language we use everyday. It’s extremely difficult to recreate such instinctive, calculated emotions and dialogue, but Jonze does a superlative job in doing so. The soundtrack for this lovely film, which I am currently listening to, was composed by none other than Arcade Fire, amongst others. It’s one that’ll stick with you and you’ll be listening to it consistently long after the film is over.

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Jonze, whom you might know as the director of such masterpieces as “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” brings exactly what you’d expect to the table. His form is as impeccable as ever. The camerawork is really an achievement all its own. Shifting from the close, emotionally strong, driven performances to endless skylines and scenery. He displays this ambient, smart, poignant, vulgar, atmospheric, sexy, unflinching yarn flawlessly. The story moves swiftly and effortlessly. Transitioning from a simple tale of a lonely writer into an intricate, veritable look at our expanding knowledge and existence. Jonze does this while eventually, occasionally simultaneously, providing the reason why this growth will be our downfall…unless we come to terms with the truth. That being, no matter how we break our bounds and overcome obstacles, our structure, our very make-up will always bring us back to one another.

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Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the strongest ensembles 2013 has to offer keeping your footing. “Her” features Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson in the lead roles with Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, and Chris Pratt running support. We all know that Adams has the chops, so her magnificence shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Nevertheless, somehow, she still manages to bewilder and her performance here is nothing short of perfection. Wilde, who I feel finally won her critics over with one of my favourites this year, “Drinking Buddies” continues to move forward with another strong effort. Pratt plays the quirky, visceral, long-time friend infallibly, something he’s done for a long time. As for Mara, who still remains on the periphery of the mainstream for some odd reason, gives another powerful effort here. She’s that odd, house-hold name that everyone seems to push to the back burner.

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Phoenix and Johansson, our star-crossed lovers, search endlessly for a way to make their unconventional romance work despite all the restrictions. And I must say, they look…and sound I should say, quite striking doing so. It’s utterly remarkable how the two play off one another. Johansson might not be able to garner an Oscar nomination due to some idiotic stipulation, but in my books, she’s got the award wrapped up. As for Phoenix, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll grab a nod himself, possibly take it home all together. I know it’s simple fiction, a movie, but the chemistry, the sparks these two create is something of such authenticity, it has to be seen to be believed.

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Spike Jonze’s “Her” is beautiful, smart, disconcerting, and depressingly emotional. “Her” will be fighting for nominations this award season, there’s no doubt, the only question is, how many will it win?

Her: 9.5 out of 10.

Man of Steel (2013)

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Adding much needed depth and humanity to such an illustrious character, who’s storied and intricate history is as delicate as it is powerful. “Man of Steel” has the action, heart, and nostalgia to satisfy both fanboys and newcomers alike. While it may prove to be too bombastic and interwoven for a few critics and harsh naysayers. This polarization is nothing new to the Superman franchise. Nonetheless, “Man of Steel” is a revival with such exuberance, precision and emotion, that it is nearly impossible to resist its charms. However, having been built-up, collated, and magnified with significant importance and anticipation for close to two years. “Man of Steel” was arguably set-up to disappoint and sadly but inevitably, for some this is the case. Regardless, for die-hards, cinephiles, and inner-children everywhere, including myself. “Man of Steel” was well worth the wait and is a fresh, honest, and mesmerizing take on the world’s most famous superhero.

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Krypton and its inhabitants face imminent destruction due to an unstable core. To protect their new-born child, Jor-El (Crowe) and his wife Lara launch a spacecraft carrying their son Kal-El (Cavill) to Earth, in order to secure the fate of their race. Upon arriving at Earth, Kal is found and taken care of by his adopted parents Jonathan (Costner) and Martha (Lane) Kent, who rename Kal, Clark. Because of Clark’s Kryptonian physiology, he inherits superhuman abilities on Earth. Soon, Clark and the entire population of Earth are under attack from another native of Krypton.

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Written by the immensely successful “Dark Knight” trilogy scribe’s David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. Who make sure that “Man of Steel” contains all the wonder and amazement of the cosmic superhero’s intergalactic existence, in addition to the grounded and elemental nurturing that fortified the batman re-imagining. “Man of Steel” has all the makings of another fortuitous endeavour, not only for “DC comics,” but all involved. Nolan, who also produced the flick, oversaw most of the film’s creation and was essentially present for the ideal’s birth from Goyer’s mind. Although, clearly stating that he would not direct another Batman film, or superhero film of any kind, Goyer and company had to look elsewhere for someone to helm this reboot. After a slew of high-profile names fell to the wayside, it was visionary filmmaker Zack Snyder who was officially picked to take the reigns.

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Upon witnessing the triumphant boom of the Marvel franchise into multiple blockbusters and countless tangents. DC, simply put, had their work cut out for them. Looking to Christopher Nolan for a spark that would ignite a similar explosion, DC completely entrusted him with their future prosperity…and while it is decidedly easier to simplify Batman with a modern, realistic twist. It is near impossible to humanize and ground a hero who was born amongst the stars and soars through space. Be that as it may, with “Man of Steel,” Goyer and Nolan have managed to transform Superman into a dark and brooding character with a heart and mind just as strong as his physical capabilities. All in all, Nolan has been, and will continue to be the catalyst and made sure that the continuation of DC films not only goes smoothly and successfully, but will continue to thrive.

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Having director Zach Snyder’s keen eye for detail and jaw-dropping flare coordinating with Nolan and Goyer’s taste for believability, soul, and consciousness makes “Man of Steel” the most unique and honest take on the superhero to ever hit the big screen. The film has an exquisite blend of fast-paced action, atmospheric imagery, and heartfelt relationships that never cease resonating. Snyder’s vision for “Man of Steel” brilliantly collaborates with Hans Zimmer’s epic, melancholic soundtrack, Nolan and Goyer’s disheartening, but bewildering script making the finished product truly something to behold. If you let critical skepticism, minor blemishes, and transitional inconsistencies tarnish the films reputation or influence your opinion, this might not be the picture for you. Take my word for it, set aside the hype and reviews, appreciate this breathtaking rebirth for what it is.

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Obviously, without a cast to perfectly animate these features and hard work, the film would utterly falter, luckily, this is not the case. “Man of Steel” stars Henry Cavill in the title role, Amy Adams as the beautiful but brainy Lois Lane and acting heavyweight Michael Shannon as the blood-boiling villain, General Zod. The film’s supporting cast is equally as impressive, if not more so. Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne and the surprising Antje Traue solidify what is an outstanding ensemble.

It’s been a while since Kevin Costner has blown any of his co-stars out of the water. Yet, aside from Cavill and Shannon, Costner is without question the most sublime and really reminds us all of his staggering talent. Diane Lane and Russell Crowe aren’t far behind, preparing Clark for the brash and brutal reality of the world’s he is now apart of. The two are formidable in their supporting roles and add another layer of brilliance to an already astounding story. As for Fishburne, who is his usual, intimidating self. One can’t help but feel letdown by his standard performance, however, his role was extremely limited. If I’m being completely honest, I had never seen Antje Traue in a film prior to “Man of Steel,” but now that I have, I am smitten. She really captures the fearless mentality of Faora and if i might add, looks quite good doing so.

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Out of the three leads, I’d say that Amy Adams is the most underwhelming. Albeit, that is in comparison to Michael Shannon and Henry Cavill, so a case can be made that it’s more of a compliment than an insult. Yes, she is sweet, cute, and calm in the face of danger. I’m not implying she performed horribly, I’m stating that Lois Lane in general was somewhat underwhelming. Which should be the case considering “Man of Steel” is dealing with the origin story of the man himself, not her. The severely underrated and tragically underused Michael Shannon finally gets his due as a ruthless, violent, determined villain who’s primary goal is to guarantee the safety of his people. One can tell that Shannon has always had this dark, primal catharsis waiting to be unleashed deep down inside. Now, finally, Shannon has burst into the mainstream and will hopefully stay there. Shannon delivers a powerhouse performance.

Henry Cavill is Superman: the body, the hair, the voice, everything. I don’t know how else to put it. His acting is superlative, he clearly got in incredible shape for the picture, so he obviously invested heavily in the role. Everything about his emotional range, mannerisms, even the way the suit fits him is enough to send chills down your spine.

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“Man of Steel” offers a never-ending series of heart-racing action seqeucnes that look anything but contrived or inauthentic. One thing on everyones mind prior to the film was how Cavill would look while flying, and thankfully, these segments look dignified. Snyder should gain a stronger fan-base with “Man of Steel” considering his preceding films left audiences divided to say the least. For those Superman enthusiasts, be sure to look out for a few easter-eggs throughout the film. They’re sort of like subtle nods to the audience, a way of saying thank you and we appreciate you.

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For the record, I’m overjoyed that I’m struggling to convey how I feel about “Man of Steel” in this review. As with every film that is or eventually becomes an all-time favourite of mine, I have a hard time dissecting them. I think it’s because I can never quite put my finger on what I love about them. It’s just a reaction, a series of euphoric shocks to my brain. I write excessively trying to unveil the root of my fascination, but never can, that’s why this review and all others like it are so long. I think this is the best way to describe how I feel about “Man of Steel.”

Man of Steel: 8.5 out of 10.

Top 10 Episodes of The Office

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WIth next weeks series finale looming over my head like a guillotine. I figured it would be best to honour The Office the best way I know how…with a cheap, under-seen, half-assed top 10. Of course I am just kidding. The Office has been one of favourite television shows ever since I can remember and its finale is weighing heavily on me. I know that a lot of you out there may be frustrated with its direction since Steve Carrell’s exit. However, I am one of the few who has stuck around through the good and bad and I hope there are more of you like me. While the seasons since Carrell’s exit have not been as fruitful, the characters remain potent. Now, before I start tearing up, let’s get into the top 10.

Honourable Mentions: “Garage Sale” Michael proposes to Holly, Season 7: Episode 19, “The Coup” Also known as the Call of Duty episode, Season 3: Episode 3, “Happy Hour” The date Mike episode, Season 6: Episode 21.

10: “Christmas Party” Season 2: Episode 10.

Highlights: Yankee Swap and the entire office gets drunk.

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9: “Cafe Disco” Season 5: Episode 27.

Highlights: Michael teases Kevin with a non-existant cookie, Dwight accidentally slaps Michael in the head, and Jim and Pam almost get married.

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8: “Booze Cruise” Season 2: Episode 11

Highlights: Guest appearance by Amy Adams, Michael causes panic claiming the boat is sinking, and Dwight thinks he is steering the boat.

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7: “Dinner Party” Season 4: Episode 13.

Highlights: Jim tires to ditch Pam and Michael and Jan’s epic fight.

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6: “Beach Games” Season 3: Episode 23.

Highlights: Pam’s assertive speech, Stanley sumo wrestling Jim, Andy floating helpless in a sumo suit on a lake, and Dwight laying down on hot coals.

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5: “Fun Run” Season 4: Episodes 1 and 2.

Highlights: Jim and Pam admit they are dating, Michael hits Meredith with his car, and Michael vomits fettucini alfredo.

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4: “Niagara” Season 6: Episodes 4 and 5.

Highlights: Pam and Jim finally get married, the employees of Dunder Mifflin dance, Dwight accidentally kicks his date in the face.

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3: “Goodbye, Michael” Season 7: Episode 22.

Highlights: The entire cast could hardly act due to actual tears off screen and Michael’s goodbyes with Jim and Pam.

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2: “Stress Relief” Season 5: Episodes 14 and 15.

Highlights: Dwight purposely locks the entire office in the building and convinces them there is a fire, Dwight cuts the face off of a CPR dummy and wears it.

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1: “The Job” Season 3: Episodes 24 and 25.

Highlights: Michael, Jim, and Karen interview for a job in New York, Jan gets fired and does not go quietly, and Jim finally asks Pam out on a date.

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“I’m sorry, what was the question?”