Category Archives: Cinema

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Paul Laight’s Film Review

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Film Review

I was looking forward to seeing American Hustle for a number of reasons:

1)  The brilliant ensemble cast featuring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K. etc. excited me greatly.

2) I love David O. Russell’s film-works such as Flirting With Disaster (1996), The Fighter (2010), Three Kings (1999) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). I even liked I Heart Huckabees (2004), I think.

3) I love ‘con’ movies; the twisty-turny-step-sister of the crime thriller genre.  My favourites include:  The Sting (1973), Matchstick Men (2003), House Of Games (1987), The Grifters (1990) and my all-time favoritest the Argentinian con-film Nine Queens (2000).

So in short I really really wanted to enjoy American Hustle and must say I did greatly.

The plot in a nutshell finds 1970s confidence-tricksters Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) ripping off small businessmen behaving like a High Street Bank for lowlifes.  Their behaviour mirrors the sub-prime market of the Noughties; robbing the skint to fund an extravagant and hedonsitic lifestyle.  In short they are scum; in Prosser/Adam’s case very sexy scum.

Eventually, like the greedy-bastard banks Rosenfeld and Prosser go bust when they are nicked by Bradley Cooper’s hyper-permed-FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.  In order to avoid jail they agree to become ‘bait’ to help capture some bigger fish including Jeremy Renner’s family and community driven politician, Mayor Carmine Polito. That’s where the fun really begins as all manner of cons, sleight-of-hand, bribes, palm-offs, seductions, stake-raising twists and turns begin as each character tries to outwit the other with crazy scheme piled upon crazy scheme.

The film opens with a hilarious set-piece as Christian Bale’s Rosenfeld goes to work by applying his rather extravagant stunt-hair. In fact, the wig work in this film is a joy and while it’s cheap and easy pickings at the expense of stupid 70s hair and clothes I loved it. Bale is very theatrical in this movie and I would describe his performance as a masterclass in over-the-top restraint.  The application of the wig and display of his paunch are his equivalent of Laurence Olivier’s hunchy Richard III:  “An Oscar! Oscar! My dignity and six-pack for an Oscar!”

Indeed, like O. Russell’s other movies this is a real actor-fest.  He just winds them up and lets them go in one entertaining scene after another.  Amy Adams is a real vulnerable-hot-like-fire-cold-bitch while Jennifer Lawrence steals the show with her ditzy-loose-cannon-flick-hair-nut-job portrayal of Rosenfeld’s wife.  Bradley Cooper follows up his great work in Silver Linings Playbook with a fine comic turn as the delusional and over-ambitious DiMaso.  While the most naturalistic and believable character and in turn empathetic portrayal is Renner’s politician. There’s some great support too especially from Louis C.K and Jack Huston.

One would probably argue that this is more of a comedy than a drama as the film retains a sense of fun throughout with some great physical performances and a sparkling script littered with zinging one-liners.  But there is some meaty drama and a serious subtext to the movie, and like O. Russell’s Three Kings which mixed humour with war, American Hustle has a message. Admittedly it is quite well hidden amongst the wigs and funny accents but that message is America is built on the con and that while everyone is trying to out-do each other perhaps they should just work together.   The law, the gangsters, the politicians and the business folk of the United States are all on the take and the American dream is simply a pyramid scheme built on sand.  That’s what I got from it anyway.

David O. Russell takes genre movies and applies a wonderful sense of chaos to the order allowing his actors free reign to express themselves.  His films are like watching Barcelona play football inasmuch as you’re really enjoying the pretty patterns being made by the players and then bang – the ball’s in the net! This is indeed Champions League movie-making with O. Russell’s wonderful style of direction giving all the cast their moment in the sun to shine with wonderful over-the-top characterisations, wigs, costumes and performances.

American Hustle is an entertaining movie which had the audience I watched it with laughing throughout. It works best as a crime-comedy with a bit of suspense; as well as being a mildly damning indictment the American dream. Ultimately, this film shoots, hits the mark and scores!

FAVOURITE MOVIE MOMENTS OF 2013!

FAVOURITE MOVIE MOMENTS OF 2013!

To accompany the list of my most entertaining films I saw last year I’ve also compiled a few nominations for best this and that!

**** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS  ****


BEST PHOTOGRAPHY
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

What it lacks in plot it makes up with one incredibly designed scene after another.  And the violence is something else!


MOST HEART-WRENCHING SCENE – FLIGHT (2012)


The film opens with a tremendously staged plane crash. However, the scene where Denzil battles a miniature bottle of booze has almost more riding on it dramatically.  Tension, suspense and the agony of human frailty are all in this scene.  The moment we’ve all been through where we are battling our demons and trying to do the right thing is centre to the scene. Will Denzil pick up the bottle?  Will the angels or demons win out?


BEST CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE – GRAVITY (2013)


All I can say is wow!  This film was just wow! Some have criticized a lack of plot and characterisation but this is a movie which just takes your breath away. As I said, wow!


MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENE – RUST & BONE (2012)


Marion Cotillard’s Killer Whale trainer reconnects with nature in this serene moment from a compelling drama. It’s a beautiful moment for the audience visually and also the character.


BEST ENDING/BEST CAST – CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)


Whether the film is truth or fiction Tom Hanks’ acting throughout is superb. He’s none better than in the final scene when he reaches the medical bay. The way he releases the tension it so memorable. His co-star Barkhad Abdi has to get an Oscar nod too for Best Supporting Actor.


BEST MOVIE PLOT + TWIST – SIDE EFFECTS (2013)


This film genuinely pulls the rug from underneath your feet!  Fantastic storytelling!  It starts seemingly as a critique of the pharmaceutical industry but then becomes a nasty, lurid Hitchcockian thriller with great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara.


BEST BRITISH FILM – BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)


Both a tribute to Italian Horror and the Foley Artist this is a disturbing arthouse horror which generates its’ scares through the sound. You think you’ve seen something scary but haven’t. Incredibly constructed and recommended for cinephiles all over.


BEST GAG – ANCHORMAN 2


I couldn’t find a clip but Brian Fantana’s  gag was the funniest joke I heard at the cinema all year. The News Team’s attempt at 24 hour News has seemingly failed and in the scene Brian is asked what he will do next.  He replies:

“I’m going to cruise round with my friends O.J. Simpson, Robert Burke and Phil Spector.  We call ourselves the LadyKillers!”


BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACK – WORLD’S END (2013)


Pegg and Wright’s highly entertaining apocalyptic comedy is touching, action-packed and amusing. It gets a bit silly by the end but there’s a great energy and some funny dialogue and physical humour throughout. The soundtrack is a cracker featuring the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Sisters Of Mercy and the Soup Dragons to name just a few. It’s like the perfect Indie Disco in the cinema!


BIGGEST MOVIE LET-DOWN – MAN OF STEEL (2013)


A great cast and stupendous effects could not save the broken-backed Superman story crash and burn. Henry Cavill was a terrific Kal-El but the filmmakers ruined the whole piece by cramming too much into a few hours of screen time and not allowing the cast, characters or story to breathe.   It was sensory overload and bogged down with too much exposition.  The Batman v. Superman film under Zack Snyder’s direction could possibly signal the end of the comic book boom of recent time.  The bubble is going to burst at some point I tells ya!


FILM MOST F*CKED BY THE CRITICS  – LONE RANGER (2013)


This mega-budget update of the old radio/TV show from yesteryear was nowhere near as bad as the critics made out. It followed the ‘PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN’ template but perhaps the problem was Johnny Depp playing deadpan rather than drunken Pirate.  The critics didn’t go for it and nor did the audience as it kind of bombed as well.  However, Gore Verbinski directed with verve and energy and the final set-piece on the train is one of the best action sequences of the year.


BEST SCREEN CHEMISTRY – SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)


I was tempted to say BREAKING BAD but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were electric in David O. Russell’s bipolar romantic drama/comedy.  The whole cast were great in fact including Robert DeNiro as the bookie father and Chris Tucker as a friend of Cooper’s character. But Cooper and Lawrence made the film their own with their portrayals of damaged but very human couple finding each other in a crazy world.


BEST MOVIE WITHOUT A SCRIPT – WORLD WAR Z – (2013)


Brad Pitt’s travelogue around the World avoiding a zombie plague was actually really entertaining in places with some great set-pieces but it had a lousy script with essentially no story or plot.  They genuinely feel like they’re making it up as they’re going along. Having said all that I really enjoyed it at the cinema even though Pitt was miscast and this really needed a decent action-hero like Schwarzenegger in his prime to really boost the movie.

BEST FEMALE ARCHER – THE HOBBIT 2 (2013)

I love an action women especially one with a bow and arrow and this award came down to a toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence in HUNGER GAMES 2 and Evangeline Lilly.  In the end I came down on the side of Tauriel the Elf in Peter Jackson’s behemoth production of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG.  Jumping, spinning and diving about firing and killing Orcs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What a woman!


BEST DOUBLE ACT – RUSH (2013)
RUSH was indeed a big rush cinematically but the casting of Daniel Bruehl as cool Nikki Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as fiery James Hunt motored this movie along off the track too. The characterizations dealt solely in binary but provided much entertainment along the way. Of course Ron Howard and his creative team served up some wicked action as well.


BAD-ASSEST REVENGE – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)


Tarantino’s fantasy Western saw Jamie’s Foxx’s eponymous hero rise from that of a chained-in-pain slave to a kill-crazy-bounty-hunting-dancing-horse-riding-bad-ass-mutha-fuKKKa!   Everything about this film was a hoot and so entertaining!  It also has arguably the funniest scene I saw all year too with the racists on horseback including Jonah Hill arguing about the quality of their hoods.


BEST VILLAIN – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)


Calvin Candie was a horrific character and played with genuine charm by the masterful Leonardo DiCaprio. HE should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in my view as Christophe Waltz already had one!  Candie’s character was not only a vain, insane, murdering slave trader but there was a sense of an incestuous relationship with his sister. He got his just desserts in the end but alas DiCaprio didn’t from the Academy.


BEST FRANCHISE SEQUEL – IRON MAN 3 (2013)


2013 was big on Franchise equals, sequels and prequels including FAST & FURIOUS 6, THOR 2, HUNGER GAMES 2, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and THE HOBBIT 2.  They were all really really entertaining but my favourite was the ever dependable Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark.  It had some cracking one-liners and decent villains plus a lovely little twist which had all the fanboys up in arms because of Director Shane Black’s irreverent treatment of the Mandarin character.

2013 REVIEW: FAVOURITE FILMS

PAUL LAIGHT'S FAVOURITE FILMS AND CINEMATIC MOMENTS OF 2013!

Here’s a list of the most entertaining films I saw at the Cinema and on DVD/Blu-Ray in 2013!

There are LOADS of films I HAVEN’T seen but based on all the films I have watched at the cinema and on DVD these are the ones I enjoyed the most. I have favoured mainly commercial films over the World or Art cinema. This is because my taste over the years has admittedly become more conservative and I take less risk with my choices. It’s also because more challenging low budget movies rarely get on the big screen because of the hegemonic control by the imperialist Hollywood machine. Oh well, what you gonna do?

FAVOURITE FILMS 2013 (in Alpha order)

ANCHORMAN 2 (2013) – the News Team reformed with stupidity and laughs aplenty in this fun sequel to the original, classy comedy.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) – Hanks is incredible in the true-life story of a Ship-jacking off the African coast.

THE CONJURING (2013) – Pretty standard spooky story raised in quality by James Wan’s fluid direction and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s brilliant couple of Ghosthunters.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – Tarantino throws his postmodern hat over the Western in this rip-roaring and politically incorrect revenge story.

FLIGHT (2012) – What begins with an incredibly nail-biting plane crash becomes a fascinating character-study of one man battling his demons.

GRAVITY (2013) – Alfonso Cuaron’s breathtaking space odyssey-survival thriller finds Clooney and Bullock up space creek without a shuttle. Gripping from start to finish.

LOOK OF LOVE (2013) – Steve Coogan is brilliant as immoral pornographer Paul Raymond, and Michael Winterbottom again shows why he’s one of the best directors around.

RUBY SPARKS (2012) Paul Dano stars as a writer with both creative and romantic block who somehow “writes” about a girl who comes to life. Sharp and witty romantic comedy.

RUSH (2013) – Daniel Bruehl and Chris Hemsworth play Lauda and Hunt in this cracking 70s based biopic centring on one of Formula One’s closest championships.

RUST & BONE (2102) – Audiard’s dark, love story which is both brutal and beautiful in equal measure. Wonderful chemistry between the leads Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.

SIDE EFFECTS (2013) – Twisting thriller with the captivating Rooney Mara and Jude Law which appears at first to be a critique of the pharmaceutical industry but bends into something more tricky.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) – David O. Russell does genre films like no one else and his bi-polar romance finds Lawrence and Cooper on terrific form as are the rest of the ensemble cast.

THIS IS THE END (2013) – Hollywood frat-boy comedy about the end of days with Franco, Hill, Rogen, McBride etc. trying to survive the apocalypse. Laugh-of-minute and full of great cameos.

HAPPY ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS 2013!

HAPPY ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS 2013!

I’m not religious or addicted to buying crap for people but Christmas is always a great period of the year because I get time off work. To celebrate this I have chosen some alternative Christmas music, films, TV and other ephemera to talk about. Anyway, Merry Christmas everybody! Good luck in 2014!


BAD SANTA (2003)

This film is THE greatest Christmas film of all time. This is just one of the great scenes of many great scenes.


TRADING PLACES (1984)

Dan Ackroyd gives his finest acting performance in this movie and his desperate, drunk and destroyed Santa Claus really hits rock bottom at the hands of arch-capitalists. While it’s very funny there’s some real satirical subtext in there too. Probably.


CHRIS KAMARA – born December 25th 1957

I’m an internal enthusiast but Chris Kamara is heralded here due to his incredible energy and extrovert enthusiasm. I like that he doesn’t mind being the clown either. Great catchphrase too: UNBELIEVABLE!

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE – 2009 Christmas Number One!

The people who got this to number one deserve much much much kudos. Personally, I quite liked Joe McElderry on X Factor but was glad Simon Cowell got screwed over by the incredible musical geniuses that is Rage Against The Machine. Joe McElderry didn’t do too badly as he switched career and became an Olympic diver named Tom Daley.


BIRTH OF THE INTERNET (SORT OF) – 25th December 1990

Did you know on Christmas Day in 1990 there was the first successful trial run of the system which would become the world wide web. And thank god for that as without it we would not have millions of cat videos online. 9 millions views! Stop the world I want to get off!


LEWIS BLACK ON CHRISTMAS

Shamefully I didn’t know this comedian until I saw him in an episode of Big Bang Theory and then checked him out. He’s grizzled, bitter and very funny. My kind of humourist.


RED SLEIGH DOWN – SOUTH PARK (SEASON 5)

This episode is hilarious as Santa’s sleigh is shot down in Iraq because Cartman is trying right all his wrong-doings over the past year. Jesus and the boys go to Iraq and kick some butt to save Santa! One of South Park’s shittiest characters also makes an appearance – the Christmas Poo – Mr Hankey! What can be more Christmassy than Santa, Jesus and a stinking pile of crap!


SEX PISTOLS – final UK gig – Huddersfield 1977

Johnny Rotten and the lads played a benefit for striking firefighters before their ill-fated trip to the United States. The rest they say is history. And what went on before as well.


MAD WORLD – ANDREWS/JULES Christmas Number 1 2003

This moody, introspective and pretentious song was a great alternative to the usual Christmas hits. Cursory research shows the songs’ lyrics were inspired by Arthur Janov and his book The Primal Scream. I don’t know much about this but it makes me seem mildly intelligent. It was also in Donnie Darko; a brilliant yet very over-rated film. Jake Gyllenhaal was incredible in it though.


BLACKADDER’S CHRISTMAS CAROL

The Christmas Carol story has been done to death and even had Ross Kemp playing a version of Scrooge recently on ITV12 or something. This one-off special subverts the story by initially showing Blackadder as good and then deciding to be bad. Very clever that. And very funny!


THE SILENT PARTNER (1978)

This excellent crime thriller starring Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer was a real eye-opener to me as a kid as it was the first time I’d seen Santa Claus shown as a negative figure. It’s not shown on telly much now but it certainly stuck with me. Worth checking out if you get the chance.


DIE HARD (1988)

Did you know that Yippee-kay-yay is actually the Eskimo phrase for Happy Christmas. And of course John McClane’s catchphrase in Die Hard. It’s not really a Christmas film as such but shoe-horns Christmas into the plot quite neatly using it ironically to show families brought together in conflict rather than round the table stuffing themselves with turkey and pudding.

CLASSIC MOVIE REVIEW – THE BIG LEBOWSKI by PAUL LAIGHT

CLASSIC MOVIE REVIEW - THE BIG LEBOWSKI by PAUL LAIGHT

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) – Classic movie review Paul Laight

“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.” THE STRANGER

The Coen Brother’s comedy-noir-musical par excellence The Big Lebowski (1998) is a film that shouldn’t really work. A hybrid of various genres with the spine of Raymond Chandler’s classic noir novel The Big Sleep; skin and bones of upper-class, artistic and counter-cultural characters; clothes of idiosyncratic narrative twists; all the while tattooed with chimeric pop references and eclectic soundtrack. But you know what? It does work. Brilliantly! Because it has a big, big heart. A heart transplanted via the screenplay and direction of arguably the most inventive filmmakers of a generation, Joel and Ethan Coen. A heart given its’ beat by Jeff Bridges laid-back, insouciant career-defining performance as Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski.

The Big Lebowski opens with tumbleweed drifting across the beachy Los Angeles landscape as the Sons’ Of the Pioneers warble, appropriately enough, Tumbling Tumbleweeds on the soundtrack. The Stranger’s (Sam Elliott) warm laconic tones establish time (circa 1991) and place and then introduce us to “quite possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles County” – our ‘hero’ – The Dude. But from the moment two thugs piss on the Dude’s rug, the gentle opening gives way to a series of hilarious misunderstandings and scenes involving: double-crosses, ‘kidnappings’, car-beatings, bowling, toe-cutting, naked art, doped-up musical numbers and purple lycra jump-suited pederasts.

The Big Lebowski – like many Coen Brothers’ movies – is one that actually gets better with further viewings. On first watch there is so much going on, so many elements, surprises and odd characters that’s it’s difficult to know what to make of it. It’s essentially a comedy with a noir plot which borrows heavily from Raymond Chandler’s aforementioned The Big Sleep but the plot is very loose and really just a way for the Coen Brothers to showcase their latest band of eccentrics. Indeed, as with Fargo (1996) – where the criminals are revealed from the start – the Coens’ screenplay is not interested in following genre convention. The Big Lebowski reveals a major plot point (Bunny has kidnapped herself) early in the film, thus, subverting the conventions of the detective story so reliant on mystery and intrigue.

Jeff Bridge’s ‘Dude’ is arguably one of the most memorable characters the Coen Brothers have created. He is the ultimate dope-smoking slacker and probably the most unlikely ‘detective’ in cinematic history. His relationship with Walter, and the hapless Donny, anchors the movie in a heightened, yet believable reality. These are just three working class guys chewing the fat while bowling who happen to fall into a manic misadventure involving the kidnapping of a rich man’s trophy wife. Obviously, the term ‘working class’ is used loosely where the Dude is concerned, as he doesn’t actually work. Together, Dude, Walter and Donny resemble a postmodern Three Stooges going from one crazy situation to another and while their hilarious and antagonistic dialogue at the Bowling Alley add real fizz to the story.

The roles were all written specifically for Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi and in many scenes Bridges actually wore his own clothes. Even more interesting The Dude is apparently based on a real-life character, independent film promoter Jeff ‘The Dude’ Dowd; who helped the Coen brothers secure distribution for their debut feature noir-horror, Blood Simple (1984). Meanwhile, John Goodman is quoted as saying Walter Sobchak is his favourite film role and who can blame him. Walter is a gift of a role with Goodman playing this loose cannon, Vietnam vet, “I can get you a toe, Dude” nutter brilliantly. Walter, like the Dude, is inspired, in part, by a real life person – the bombastic film director John Milius. Lastly, Steve Buscemi, as “Shut the fuck up!” Donny excels in a much understated performance; unselfishly playing the permanently bemused straight guy.

The Coens take these three social underachievers – the Dude and Walter especially – and contrasts them with a whole host of misfits, from the Dude’s dancing landlord, marmot-wrangling German nihilists to one of the most incredible individuals from all Coen Brother’s movie canon. I am of course talking about Jesus Quintano played with joyful abandon by Coen cast regular John Turturro. “The Jesus” receives a grand introduction – for a minor character with no bearing on the story – in purple, in slow motion with the Gypsy Kings’ version of Hotel California blasting over the soundtrack. And it is in this moment that you realise that you are watching a film of unbridled fun. The fact Jesus is also a “flasher” adds a guilty edge to the scene. Should we be laughing at this ridiculous character who happens to be a pederast?

Within the subtext of the screenplay there are elements of a class struggle between the Dude, his Musketeers and the upper class LA types represented by The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston) himself and his daughter Maud Lebowski (Julianne Moore). But it is not the Coen Brothers’ intention to comment on such socio-political conflict; merely an opportunity to create humour from such contrasting styles of people. Throughout the film the Dude finds himself a dupe or conduit in the underhand plans of the rich. But he’s either knocked unconscious, drunk on White Russians or so doped up that any potential drama is undercut with a sense of the ridiculous. Indeed, in another odd plot twist the Dude is ‘seduced’ by staunch feminist Maud, so she can conceive a child but have nothing to do with the father. Conversely, much of the conflict is undermined by unconventional characters and there is little palpable danger even when Dude is being attacked in the bath by the nihilistic ferret. Only poor Donny’s heart attack lends the movie a sober and poignant end but it’s a sense of reckless fun rather than suspense or danger that permeates the movie.

Overall, The Big Lebowski is an alternative comedy from filmmakers taking chances and playing with genre expectations in the most unexpected ways. It has no intrinsic meaning and makes little sense narrative wise. Flowered with coarse and colourful language (fuck is said over 250 times) it’s a rich postmodernist movie which references or pastiches everything from: Busby Berkeley musicals to porn movies, Krautrock, film noir, progressive rock, TV show Branded (1965), The Eagles, avant garde painting and even has time to feature a cameo from Saddam Hussain in one of the bizarre musical dream sequences. After the critical and commercial success of Fargo the Coen’s delivered the offbeat The Big Lebowski to confused critics and relative commercial failure. While The Big Lebowski made $27million worldwide ($15million dollar budget) it is a cult movie in the true sense of the word and in The Dude it has one of funniest characters ever committed to celluloid. But as the man himself said, “that’s just my opinion, man.”