Sneak Peek – American Hustle

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The 1927 New York Yankees were dubbed Murderers’ Row because of their spectacularly stacked batting lineup. The first six batters in particular – Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri – were so good and effective at the plate that they could kill any pitcher that was unfortunate to throw them the wrong pitch. Anyone of them could get you; if you were lucky enough to strike out Keonig, you still had to face Ruth and Gehrig. That team was blessed with an inordinate amount of talent and could do some devastating damage at the plate.

I bring this up not because I am a Yankees fan, but because David O. Russell’s new film American Hustle reminds me of the 1927 Yankees. Russell has taken the great actors that the worked with in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and has brought them all together to create the acting equivalent of Murderers’ Row: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. No director should be so lucky to have all these amazing actors to play with; this acting lineup is so good that you have Louis CK and Robert DeNiro in this film “batting” sixth and seventh. I honestly didn’t even know either of them was in the film before I went to a preview earlier this month. American Hustle is like my dream cast assembled.

Of course, you can have all the acting talent in the world in your movie and it doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t know how to properly use it. American Hustle had a lot of potential, but could it live up to the caliber of actor that had been amassed. The answer is a resounding yes; American Hustle is the most fun that I’ve had at the theater in a very, very long time. Though I saw this film in the beginning of December, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It was so good that I may have to go see it again when it is finally released this weekend. For once, there is a movie that lives up to the hype.

If you have seen the previews for American Hustle, you know that this film takes place in the 70s – that much is evident from the clothing, hair and music that are used. What you may not know is that the film takes place against the backdrop of the Abscam scandal, though the film is very upfront about the fact that it is playing fast and loose with the facts. This film isn’t Argo; it gets the decade right but everything else is questionable. Irving (Bale) and Sydney (Adams) are small con artists that are partners in love and hustling. When their scheme is uncovered by ambitious FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), they are forced into working with him to bring down larger targets to earn their freedom. One such target is Carmine Polito, the mayor of Camden, NJ who is willing to make some questionable deals to bring back his city. They are all thrown down the rabbit hole of Jersey politics and Mafia connections and it isn’t clear who is being loyal to whom. The real wildcard in their elaborate con is Irving’s wife Rosalyn (Lawrence), who is so unpredictable and volatile that she could easily destroy everything.

Every actor in this film is absolutely tremendous; they are like kids in a candy store and go for broke in each and every scene. It is so clear that they are having fun with the juicy material and they work incredibly well with one another. Bale is almost unrecognizable with his balding hair and paunch, but he is so charming and smart that you understand why both Adams and Lawrence fell in love with him. This film is a good reminder that Bale is capable of way more than being The Dark Knight; it’s the best I’ve seen him in a while. I have always adored Amy Adams and she is at the top of her game in American Hustle. Sydney brings her own baggage to the table and of all the characters in the ensemble she is the one whose motives are the hardest to determine. She’s just great and looks amazing doing it. Cooper is so good as DiMaso; though he’s made a name for himself lately as a more dramatic actor, American Hustle shows that he can knock it out of the part when he’s given a well written comedy. DiMaso’s ambition makes him reckless and Cooper’s increasingly erratic behavior and inflated sense of importance are a fascinating transformation to watch. He really becomes unhinged. Renner’s previous roles tend to require him to be hard and scowling, so it is nice change of pace to see him smile as much as he does during American Hustle. He artfully demonstrates Polito’s heart and love of community, making the character more nuanced than the typical target of a scam. His Frankie Valli pompadour is really a sight to behold.

And then there is Jennifer Lawrence, who even among this beautiful and talented cast is able to pretty much steal ever scene that she is in. This woman has no right being as good at her craft at such a young age, but she nails every scene that she is in. She is so very funny and so ridiculous that the movie kicks into a different gear every time she appears on screen. She just continues to be amazing in everything that she does and Russell brings out the absolute best in her.

The story has so many twists and turns and shifting allegiances that I really had no idea who was playing whom at any given time or how the film was going to resolve itself. It’s a real rollercoaster ride and the film zigs when you expect it to zag. Between the mesmerizing performances and the dazzling camera work, the audience never knows what is going to happen. It’s just whole lot of fun and outrageously entertaining.

The one knock that I’ll put on American Hustle is that I’m not sure how much the story actually holds up under close scrutiny. Because the audience is so disoriented and overstimulated from all that is going on, it is quite possible that we are getting hustled as well. I was enjoying the ride so much that I didn’t have time to analyze what I was actually seeing (unlike The Desolation of Smaug, where I had plenty of downtime to think about plot holes and weaknesses). Ultimately, I don’t really care if this film is actually just a dressed up trifle; it was such a sharp and exciting film that I was completely satisfied with the finished product.

Some other thoughts:

  • I have a weird fascination with the 70s, so I totally ate up all the fashion and the music in the film. I think half the reason I was so excited to see American Hustle was their use of Led Zeppelin in the original trailer.
  • It is worth plunking down your hard-earned cash just to see Bradley Cooper in curlers. That perm deserves its own Academy Award.
  • Russell also knows how to get the best out of Robert DeNiro; his role is small, but he’s great as well. And Louis CK is just perfect as Cooper’s exasperated supervisor.
  • The microwave over scene in the film absolutely KILLED at my screening. That may have been the hardest that people laughed in the entire movie. Have I said Jennifer Lawrence is the best?
  • If you enjoy seeing Bradley Cooper dancing – and who doesn’t – you won’t be disappointed.
  • There is a definite Goodfellas vibe to the film, which is probably the highest compliment I could give it. Russell channels his inner Scorsese in more than a few shots.

I just straight up loved this movie – between the performances and the camera work and the awesome retro costumes it was an exhilarating ride. I can’t say that it is the best film of the year, but I can say that it is probably my favorite (sorry Mud – you had a really good run). It isn’t a serious film, but it was a really pleasurable movie going experience. The sign of a good movie is that as soon as I see it I want to talk about it; with American Hustle, I was barely out of the theater before I was texting people to make sure that they saw this movie when it came out. David O. Russell makes the most of his dream team cast and delivers a spectacular film.

 

American Hustle opens nationwide on Friday December 20th.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Breaking Bad Edition

I normally have a lot of Breaking Bad info in these pop culture roundups, but with the show recently returning for its final eight episodes ever (SOB!), there was more awesome info than normal this week. I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so sprinkled throughout the roundup is an abundance of links related to the show. And for the love of all that is holy, if you aren’t watching this show get to steppin’. You are missing out! So kick back and bring yourself up to speed on all the pop culture that you may have missed over the last two weeks. Let me be your pop culture curator.

  • N’Sync is rumored to be reuniting at the MTV VMAs on Sunday, which now forces me to watch the VMAs. I’m skeptical as I’m not sure what Timberlake gets out of this. But I do hope it happens.

 

  • Jimmy Fallon is doing a Breaking Bad parody. This will be amazing.

 

  • It’s hard to get excited about football season when you root for the Bills, but I do love when the Manning brothers do commercials:

 

  • This is an interesting casting rumor (emphasis on rumor) – could Charlie Hunnam play Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaption? By the time this movie comes out, will anyone still care?
  • Friday Night Lights, the movie? Make it happen!
  • HBO has released a trailer for the new season of Girls:

 

  • NBC is clearly in the Jonathan Banks (Mike, Breaking Bad) business. After a guest appearance on Parks and Recreation, the actor will be a regular on Community.

A quick break for the depressing stuff:

  • Lisa Robin Kelly, who played Topher Grace’s older sister Laurie on That 70s Show, died. She was 43.

OK – back to the more lighthearted links.

  • Blog fave Dean Winters (Dennis the beeper king on 30 Rock) is headed to the new Andy Samberg comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
  • Oprah gives away cars when she is just a guest on a show. Mental note – get in the audience when Oprah is on a talk show.
  • A trailer for the new season of Homeland:

 

  • Jay Leno’s last night on The Tonight Show will be February 6th. Believe it when you see it, Jimmy.
  • Mark your calendars: the third installment of Adam Scott’s The Greatest Event in Television History drops on November 7th. Nothing is confirmed, but speculation is that they are doing the opening credits from Too Close for Comfort.
  • Ha! Billy Ray Cyrus does look like fat Mac:

 

photo from Uproxx

photo from Uproxx

  • Whoa – it’s Walter, Jr. from Breaking Bad:

 

Photo from Uproxx

Photo from Uproxx

 

  • A tweet from Sons of Anarchy creator and showrunner Kurt Sutter makes me very nervous.
  • The chicken fight from Family Guy was never one of my favorites, but kudos to these two stunt women for the live action re-enactment:

 

  • This new trailer for season 3 of Revenge has piqued my interest:

 

  • The new channel FXX, which will show new episodes of The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, launches September. Use this handy website to find out if FXX is available on your cable system (Phew- it is for me!). The network is off to a promising start with a Parks and Recreation marathon.
  • This slowed down version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is pretty cool:

 

  • The house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is for sale.
  • This Avril Lavigne music video is a little nuts:

 

  • The White House Twitter account made a Mean Girls reference:

White House Twitter_Mean Girls

  • My birthday is a month from today and I would sure like it if someone bought me this Breaking Bad Lego set.
  • Another pop culture roundup, another American Horror Story: Coven teaser:

 

  • I’m surprised it took so long; watch a guy crowd surfs in order to “Come on Down” On The Price is Right:

 

  • Benedict Cumberbatch had a message for the papzrazzi trying to get spoilers on Sherlock:

 

Getty Image

Getty Image

  • In this trailer for Fading Gigolo, watch Woody Allen act as a pimp for John Turturro. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

 

  • I’ve always like Donal Logue, so I’m not surprised he helped a stranger propose. P.S. Terriers is now streaming on Netflix – do yourself a favor and watch this late great series.
  • J.J. Abrams released a mysterious trailer on Monday.

Turns out it was for a book.

  • Listen to the Breaking Bad theme played on meth lab equipment:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • Mean Girls mashed up with Book of Mormon

 

  • Here are some super cuts of movie clichés. First up “You just don’t get it, do you?”

 

  • Phone numbers that start with 555:

 

  • Superheroes introducing themselves:

 

  • Vulture put together a supercut of all of John Oliver’s explanations for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show absence.
  • Nerdist put together a Breaking Bad/Saved by the Bell mashup:

Dustin Diamond was available? I’m shocked.

  • Behind Elysium (A Behind the Candelabra/Elysium mashup)

 

  • The opening of Adventure Time done in Legos:

 

 

Another installment of a Seinfeld/Game of Thrones mashup:

 

  • Ha! Thor meets Arrested Development in Thorested Development:

 

  • Breaking Bad recut as a romantic comedy:

 

  • President Obama “sings” Demi Lavato:

 

  • Listen to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in the style of other divas:

 

  • We Are Never Ever Gonna Cook Together (Taylor Swift/Breaking Bad parody)

 

  • And finally – Walter White “sings” “My Way”