Based on True Story

Schindler’s List

Year: 1993
Directed By: Stephen Spielberg
Written By: Thomas Keneally (book) Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

 

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is seriously a bummer section of my movie collection. To start off the “S” section we have had to endure the Saw franchise only to come to this, and what follows is so odd in itself.

I own this movie because I needed to see it for a project in school once. After that last viewing six years ago I have promised myself I would never sit through it again. I respect the content but simply find it too heartbreaking. I have seen it once and frankly once was enough.

I do think this is a movie everyone should see, because we have to be aware. Never again as a species can we ever let something so obscene and ugly ever happen. Of course we live in a world where there is simply no stopping the awful consequences of xenophobia and hate. There is simply nothing worse than seeing the innocent suffer for something they have absolutely no control over.

It’s an ugly thing for the hearts of men to become so hardened that they can’t even look at women and children with pity. I can never hope to understand it. I can never hope to understand what it was like to be part of it or to have survived it. I have cried over it though and I don’t intend on shedding more tears simply for the sake of writing a review.

Readers who want to know about the Holocaust need seek better sources, because all I have is the confusion of an open minded person about how things could have ever went so far. I think you should see this movie, I simply don’t want to witness the ugliness again for myself.

NEXT MOVIE: School Ties (1992)

Platoon

Year: 1986
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone

RYAN’S REVIEW

Back in 2003 I was 19 years old, in college, and aggressively involved in the world on a larger scale for the first time. At that young adolescent age my mind was exploding and I was hungry for all the knowledge in the world. For the first time I had stepped out of the world of Ryan (high school years) and started paying attention to the world around me. I was heavily invested in the Iraq War, both politically and emotionally. I was inspired and full of ideas in a way that only the young can be. I’ll never forget the feeling of despair I had when I sat in front of the TV and watched as the Iraq War officially began. I remember that once it had ultimately started I went to my tiny movie collection and put in this movie. I no longer wanted to see the reality of what must be taking place on the other side of the world. Instead I chose to watch the only thing I had that remotely related to the conflict, which was this movie.

Now there are several similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq wars but that had nothing to do with why I watched this film that night. I not only watched this film that night but I watched it every night after for probably as long as two months. This movie drew me in, it taught me something. It was real and a representation of the consequence of such actions. I watched it so much I knew every character in the film and when their character perished. This movie was made by a man who knew, a man who gave up his cushy life to fight alongside the common man who had no choice. This movie was based on the real life experiences of the man who made it, a man who lived through war. That meant something to me as my country entered another war that would undoubtedly lead to dire consequences for so many.

This is the movie that helped me understand war. The movie that taught me that war is more than action and wrong on several levels. There is “the way of war” and it’s an awful thing. No matter the circumstances that bring it about, when war becomes an option it is the innocent that suffer. In the way of war people are fighting for their lives. You have two sides pushed to the extreme and you have people caught in the middle. Who is to blame when horrible and awful things happen? The circumstances are a recipe for mayhem. When war is established life becomes dog eat dog for the people involved. It sucks but that is “the way of war.” Once the point of no return has been crossed the consequences that follow are inevitable.  Wars are fought by the young, especially this war because most of the men serving were drafted. Teenage boys carrying guns through the jungle can’t be held accountable for when they snap under the pressure. The people caught in the middle can’t be to blame because they are just trying to stay alive. There are so many unfortunate circumstances created by war. These things can never be lost on the men making the decision to go to war. People are going to suffer when war becomes necessary, it has to be for good reason or else it is just wrong and there is no justice to it at all.

When I was 19 years old I thought Oliver Stone was a God. Not literally of course but I thought he was head and shoulders above other filmmakers. He was the number one director in my mind and I felt his career was one of the greatest. Those illusions came crashing down a year later when the much anticipated, to me at least, Alexander came out. I had eagerly awaited that movie only for it to claim the highest echelon in the ranking of movies that crushed my soul. That is neither here nor there though as a year prior when I was watching this movie night after night I still had all my hopes and dreams for films invested in this man. Oliver Stone was Private Taylor from this film played by Charlie Sheen. Stone had dropped out of Yale to fight in Vietnam, something admirable that I respected then and still do today. Oliver Stone may be a bit of a conspiracy nut and like all conspiracy nuts he will bend the truth to serve his own purposes but there is still plenty the man deserves our respect for.

I had become infatuated with Stone for the wrong reasons prior to 2003. Like most young adolescent boys I was rebellious and as a movie fan I was drawn to the films that inspired my wild and immature inclinations. I liked to walk the fine line between good and bad and experimented with an aggressiveness that was encouraged by the movies I loved. Stone came into the picture with films like The DoorsAny Given Sundayand of course Natural Born KillersThese movies fueled my endeavors into rebellion, drug use, promiscuity, and profanity. There were several films and filmmakers that had this affect on me but it was Stone I stayed with as I matured from a boy into a young adult. With films like Platoon, Wall Street, Nixonand JFK Oliver Stone inspired me in new ways that molded my personality during the developmental years that continue in college. I have since grown out of the stage I was in when these films inspired me and I no longer see Stone in the same light I did back then. Nevertheless I still hold most of his films in high regard and I will always respect the man. A man that lived the life he does and did the things he has done deserves respect. I know better as an adult than to take everything he made at face value but there are still plenty of things I took away from his films and I appreciate the lessons that they taught me.

I have always found the Vietnam War to be fascinating and prefer the war movies from that era as opposed to the ones from before. There are different themes from those differing generations that I think are important. WWII left Americans with the impression that they were the greatest country in the world and could do no wrong. Many WWII movies I find enhance this theme. As a young man I whole heartedly believed in these all-American ideas as well but when I grew up I felt differently. Vietnam was like a slap in the face to Americans because it reminded them that not only were they not the unbeatable super power who could do anything but they were not even the good guys in some circumstances. Vietnam happened during a time when the children of the Baby Boomers were coming of age and they had different ideas about the state of the union.  The things happening in Southeast Asia were being broadcast on television every evening for the first time and the news was rarely good. It left an impact on the younger generations not only because it was in their face but because many of them were being recruited to fight in the conflict. Vietnam was going on during a cultural change in America. It was not a time where the country united to protect the world for the greater good like in WWII, but a time when the country was bleeding at home and divisions among the public were fueled by the conflict at hand. I feel like WWII films tend to represent the propaganda age of America while Vietnam films represent the realism that the country had to face. Vietnam films usually focus on the reality of war, the consequences that it creates, and the truth that we all need to understand as a people.

This movie taught me many of those truths, and I took them more seriously because the man teaching was one who knew. He was there and had firsthand experience in what he was trying to explain. I still find this film just as inspiring as I did when I was watching it for the first time and I still find lessons in it that we can all learn from. I am no longer the diehard Oliver Stone fan I was in my youth but that is by and large due to growing up. As an adult I am not as infatuated with the stoned and suspicious mind of Oliver Stone. The man’s work is on screen and he made some incredible things, but in the grand scheme of things they spoke to a younger version of myself that went into hibernation years ago before my kids were born. There is often a fine line between brilliance and insanity and Stone danced that line till he fell over into the insane side a long time ago. I am no longer the young and impressionable adolescent who believed in such grand ideas as the JFK conspiracy and believed that with a strong enough voice things in the world would change for the better. The world is what it is; you can only accept it at face value and keep moving forward. Delving into the larger scheme of things is only going to bring you disappointment and amount to wasted time.

There is something from this movie that I always used as an example to suggest Stone’s abilities and it had nothing to do with his take on the war. In this movie Oliver Stone got an impressive performance from Charlie Sheen in the role of Private Taylor, and again a year later in Wall Street. Charlie Sheen is an incredibly interesting person, but that aside, he has never been a particularly good actor. In the years before all his crazy antics in the press I used to wonder how it was that this man was such a celebrity and made such a good living at it. There were so few performances aside from the two already mentioned that I thought were worth anything. Point being, he was not a very good actor. However, I have always believed that a bad actor can be made great in a film by the right director. Hence the impression of Stone I had grew because of the performance he was able to get out of Sheen. In contrast I felt that in 2004 the opposite was true. Despite all the time he had invested in the film Stone made a horrible movie with his Alexander and specifically got an awful performance out of another bad actor, Colin FarrellAlexander, as far as I am concerned, was the end of Oliver Stone’s career for me as a fan because it signified a decline in skill. A couple years prior to Alexander one of the greatest directors ever, Steven Spielberg, had gotten a good performance out of Farrell in Minority Report. If Spielberg could do something that Oliver Stone could not it suggested to me that Stone had lost something, and I still feel like that holds true because in the last 10 years nothing he has done has impressed me as it did prior to Alexander.

Beyond Charlie Sheen this movie offers a very rich cast of actors. Tom Berenger gave one of the best performances on his career playing Sgt. Barnes. The role of Barnes was initially meant for Kevin Costner, who I think could have pulled it off well but Berenger made it his own. Willem Dafoe gave an equally good performance as Sgt. Elias. Dafoe is such an interesting actor and continues even until today to show a range and diversity as an actor that is impressive. Stone intentionally cast Berenger and Dafoe in roles contrasting what the public was used to seeing them play. Berenger, who usually played good guys, was cast as the ruthless and cruel Sgt. Barnes while Dafoe, who usually played villains, was cast as the crusader Elias. An interesting idea that worked well and brought more diversity to the careers of both men.

In the roles of other Sergeants were long time Stone collaborator John C. McGinley and the scariest man ever, Tony Todd. McGinley never reached that upper echelon of stardom but he played so many terrific parts over the years. Tony Todd plays a small part in this movie but his presence in anything should never go unnoticed because when you fail to notice Candyman he comes up behind you with a hook and kills you. Johnny Depp played the translator Lerner in one of his first roles ever. Stone reportedly met with him during casting and immediately predicted his future fame. In fact he considered casting Depp in the lead role of Taylor but didn’t because Depp was so young and unknown at the time. Keith David plays one of the biggest parts of any of the grunts in King. I am a big fan of Keith David and like just about everything he has ever done. Also as another grunt was future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker whose part was small but shouldn’t go unnoticed.  Kevin Dillon played Bunny, the sadistic grunt who by the end nobody knows what to make of. Dillon probably had high hopes for his career in 1986 but he turned out to be the less famous brother of his not so famous older brother Matt Dillon.

The making of this movie was quite an incredible thing that went a long way with how the final product came out. As a veteran Stone didn’t just cast actors and put them in the jungle. He went farther and put them through an actual boot camp in the Philippines that ended the day before shooting. He didn’t want them to have any down time after the camp because he didn’t want them getting soft again before shooting the movie. It was a rigorous shoot that had some actors feeling like they had actually been in the war by the time they got home. Charlie Sheen reportedly kissed the ground upon his return to the States. These guys went into the jungle and did it the hard way; the way it should have been done to get it right. Even the fun stuff during this shoot was hard on the actors. In the scene where King takes Taylor to “meet the heads” the actors had been actually getting high all day on potent Filipino weed. By the time they actually shot the scene they were all stoned out of their minds and some were even feeling sick. An interesting story that I’ve always figured had to play into the long term drug use of the young Johnny Depp and Charlie Sheen. I don’t know but if I had to guess I’d wager Oliver Stone was the guy who introduced Charlie Sheen to his favorite drug of choice, cocaine. I imagine the Filipino weed was merely a stepping stone for Sheen as he moved onto coke and ultimately…tiger blood.

This movie is important to me because it taught me something that I will never forget. However this movie is important for many more reasons because it was a great movie and it accomplished what it intended to. The screenplay for this movie was written back in the 70s when Stone returned to America and didn’t appreciate how the war was depicted in John Wayne’s The Green BeretsIn that sense it succeeded in depicting a more realistic view of what the war was actually like. It wasn’t alone in trying to send that message as a few films about Vietnam came out around the same time. Most notably, Full Metal Jacket came out the following year. Both are great movies but they should not be compared because they are so different. Platoon was a film about the Grunts while Full Metal Jacket was a film about the Jarheads. The significant difference there was that men were drafted into the army while the marines are a branch made up of volunteers. That makes all the difference as one film is about men who chose to serve while the other is primarily about men who had no choice in the matter.

The Vietnam War was a fascinating chapter in American history and a true example of how history is never used enough going forward. Had the powers that be reflected on history during the development of the conflict in Vietnam the whole thing may have never happened. On the flip side, had the lessons from that conflict specifically been learned the US may not have entered another long war to force democracy down the throats of people who had no interest in it. It is difficult to fight a war on the other side of the world for reasons that mean little to the inhabitants. Guerrilla warfare is hard to combat, the British learned that over 200 years ago but somehow the lesson seems lost on the US. When the enemy can be anybody and can come from anywhere bad things will happen all around to everyone involved. The soldiers fighting under the pressures of their lives being on the line can’t be held accountable for the things that happen nor can the inhabitants who at some point may just get fed up and take up arms against the foreign soldiers in their country. It is the “way of war” and war never goes well. It’s not an action movie and it’s not a video game. When it happens people are going to suffer and someone’s hands are going to get dirty.

Movies are made to entertain but they are so much better when they can actually teach us something at the same time. This movie can do that and I appreciate it more for that very reason. This is a great film and it doesn’t need my stamp of approval on it because it has plenty already. If you haven’t seen this movie then you are missing out. If you don’t know the incredible history of the Vietnam War you are missing out, but you’d need a lot more than a movie to learn about that. As time moves forward things get lost behind us but it is important to never forget the lessons the past has to offer. This movie, for me at least, represents such a lesson and that makes it worth everybody’s time. This is an awesome movie and I think everybody should see it.

NEXT MOVIE: Pleasantville (1998)

Patton

Year: 1970
Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner
Written By: Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North (story and screenplay) Ladislas Farago and Omar N. Bradley (factual research)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I am generally not a fan of biopics but some men deserve to be remembered. Some men lived head and shoulders above others and occasionally a movie actually does them justice.

While this movie does do justice to General George Patton, it should only serve to inspire actual research into the real man. This movie does an excellent job of showcasing one of the most interesting men to serve this country during WWII but it is still a movie. Even when biopics do justice to their namesakes they still embellish where embellishment is needed for story telling purposes. This movie serves as a good and interesting template for a man who deserves more of your attention and respect.

I have never been a big World War II buff myself but I saw this movie in half a dozen classes throughout my time in school. When history classes cram to fit in the entirety of history into a specific time limit they always cop-out in the end. As the end of semesters and school years came near topics like WWII and Vietnam just get brushed over. More often than not it was the lazy period right before the end when the teacher would just pop in a movie that would “cover it.” In many cases in my experience that was simply playing this appropriately rated film so I and other students would shut up and watch a movie for a day or so. Nevertheless this movie made an impression on me when I was young and it has been part of our collection for a long time.

George C. Scott was a terrific actor whose performance here overshadows a lot of great work he did before and after. He famously refused the Academy Award for the role stating that he didn’t deserve an award for simply acting like a man who really was great. He did deserve the award however because nobody could have brought Patton to life on the big screen quite like Scott. Scott was against the famous opening scene of the film because he thought it would overshadow his performance as a whole. In fact there is a lot of speculation as to where the famous Patton speech the movie kicks off with actually came from. Patton was known for great and colorful speeches that motivated his men but what we see in this film is the product of someone’s writing. Patton also never wore his entire full regalia of military achievements. However in the movie this is how he appears and the speech is what he said. See? Even in a movie such as this you can’t take everything at face value and always remember it is what it is, a movie.

If you enjoy this movie then let it inspire you. Let it encourage you to find out more about the real story behind the film. There is a world of knowledge out there for anyone interested and it can offer you much more than simply something a 2 hour movie can cover. This is a great movie about an important topic, but it is only a taste of a greater story beyond.

I think this is a terrific movie, but it does not cover the entirety of WWII. If you are a high school history teacher I just want to suggest you don’t cop-out on teaching the topic by simply showing a movie at the end of the semester. Otherwise this is a great movie that is worth your time to see.

NEXT FILM: Paul (2011)

 

Notorious

Year: 2009
Directed By: George Tillman Jr.
Written By: Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker

RYAN’S REVIEW

This movie surprised me.  I did not expect much from it and I think Amber and I actually watched it on a whim one night because we had nothing else to do.  It not only surprised me but I found it exceptional enough to add to the collection.

I was still fairly young when Biggie Smalls was on his rise to the top but even at a young age I knew who he was.  Even in my household, of all places in the world, his music had been well received.  Although the edited version, supplied by Wal-Mart, who at the time only sold such.  I specifically remember my mom and step dad being really fond of “Big Poppa.” I find that perplexing even until this day but it serves as a glowing example of how overwhelming popular he was as an artist.

I was too young to understand the East vs. West feud that was brewing in the rap world in the mid nineties but I was starting to listen to both Biggie and Tupac around the time they were both killed.  I do remember some, but my understanding of it was vague and they were both gone before I really learned anything about the feud.

I do not know specifically how accurate this movie is but I think it covers the basics well enough.  I don’t think any film, no matter the content, should be taken as truth when it is “based on a true story,”  but I think they can offer an outline for the truth.  The story this one tells is a good one regardless where it might have embellished things here and there for dramatic effect.

The part of Biggie Smalls was a difficult one to play, but I think Jamal Woolard did as well as anybody could have.  In the part of the younger Biggie the part was played by the late rapper’s son Christopher Jordan Wallace. With such an iconic character as Biggie came to be it was a difficult role to play and I thought both held up nicely.  The same can be said about the role of Tupac Shakur.  Anthony Mackie didn’t look the part enough to sit right with me but his performance was good enough.  Derek Luke, in the role of Puff Daddy/Puffy/P. Diddy/Diddy/Sean Combs, didn’t look the part enough either but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.  He always has sunglasses on so he is doing the best he can but the guy just doesn’t look enough like Combs to me.  With a movie like this you can never find someone who looks enough like the person they are trying to portray but I do think they could have done better beyond Biggie.

Angela Bassett brought credibility to the film with her fame and she did a great job playing Biggie’s mom.  My favorite female role in the movie has to go to Naturi Naughton though.  She is just so smoking hot and does a fantastic job playing Lil Kim. I was never a fan of the actual Lil Kim myself.  I found her to be too vulgar, even in my immature and horny teenage years.  She is a very attractive woman but she was always too aggressive and obscene for my taste.  I will never forget her boob at the VMAs or whatever award show it was when she had one exposed breast covered only by a seashell or something.  I think it was Diana Ross who came on stage and bounced it up and down on live television.  This was before the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl that scarred the innocent eyes of Super Bowl viewers and led to a timed delay on live television.

This is a really great movie.  The only thing I can criticize is the casting which I’m just nitpicking about anyway.  I think a movie like this could have been bigger budgeted and more heavily promoted but I think what was ultimately produced serves well.  It surprised me the first time I saw it and it did exactly what it should have done by sparking a new interest in the rapper’s music.  Biggie Smalls was a significant cultural icon that maintains his big time status even nearly twenty years later.  This movie about him is worth your time to see.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I made Ryan watch this and now it’s in our collection. You have to understand, I get really excited about such things because Ryan doesn’t like to take my suggestions easily. He normally loves the things I suggest (imagine that after 13 years), but he doesn’t go into them with a smile on his face. I remember seeing this and stoping it, thinking Ryan should watch this with me. I think this a really good biopic movie. The characters are portrayed well, and I think the story is really interesting. Nobody really knows the full details about how close a movie like this is to the real truth, but the way this movie is laid out, is close to what my recollection is of how these events played out.

notrious

I really, really like this poster. I think it is cool and collective, just like most people remember BIG being. I love the dark monochromatic coloration of the portrait, and how very important it was to show the pinstripped suit and the rings, and the glasses; mostly showing the things that made Notorious, BIG. I love the tagline, which is everything to his story, and the simple typography of Notorious is well played, simply because this picture does the whole poster justice, the typography of the title simply becomes a needed assets, instead of the main focal point or purpose. It’s also in gold. That’s the perfect color for Notorious. This is such a simple way to convey the message and is probably one of my favorite posters to date.

NEXT MOVIE: Office Space

Nixon

Year: 1995
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone, Christopher Wilkinson, and Stephen J. Rivele

RYAN’S REVIEW

Richard Nixon was a profoundly interesting individual for so many reasons.  To imagine all the national secrets he must have known after his lengthy time involved in the highest levels of government is mind boggling.  The amount of history that he personally had a hand in is incredible and worthy of a number of films.  The problem with this movie is that it is painfully long but there was simply no other way to do it.  Even at more than three hours it had to gloss over so much of what Richard Nixon was all about. This is an interesting movie if you have a mind to see a biased and dramatized depiction of actual events but I wouldn’t call it entertaining.  This is a good movie but it is altogether too slow and boring to really enjoy.

Despite how great of an actor he is I feel like Anthony Hopkins is the problem.  He does a terrific job acting and was nominated for the Academy Award for his performance but I still think he is the problem here.  It’s not his fault either but he just doesn’t look anything like Nixon.  Nixon was a unique looking person but he looks so different I find it distracting.  Those distinct features that made Nixon so easily recognizable are necessary and no matter how good Hopkins was he just didn’t look anything like Richard Nixon. The nose is all wrong.

Beyond Hopkins this movie had a stellar cast and a director who had a passion for the content.  Nevertheless the movie drags and you really have to be invested to get into it.  I couldn’t successfully get my wife to sit down for this one with me and I’ll be brutally honest in that I found it difficult myself.  This is a great movie, but it is not a good one.  I could get really into the nuts and bolts of that but frankly don’t feel the effort would be worth it.

If you enjoyed this movie enough to say something good about it leave us a comment and speak your mind.  Otherwise, you won’t be missing much if you don’t see this one and I don’t consider it worth your time to see. This movie is in our collection as a stalwart from my college years.  I could have written a really in depth review about it back then but these days my passion runs colder for this type of film.

NEXT MOVIE: No Country for Old Men (2007)

American Gangster

Year: 2007
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: Steven Zaillian, Mark Jacobson (article)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I thought I was wrong about this movie.  I had seen it in the theater and wasn’t overly impressed but assumed I had to have been distracted.  Nobody agreed with me and after so long I began to question my initial judgment.  When I started it for the second time I found that I wasn’t in the mood for it and it sat on our shelf unwatched until I came up with this brilliant idea for a 4th of July themed series of reviews.  I have now given it my best effort.  I literally put in headphones and watched this movie completely consumed.  I gave over 100% of the two most observant senses and gave the film my best effort, in the name of the 4th of July! However, while I can see why this movie appeals to others I just simply hate it.  I feel like it is the most over exaggerated film cashing in on the pretext of being based on a true story. While I can accept that it is a good film I just don’t think there is anything that distinguishes this movie from other gangster films.

I know that this film is based on a true story.  I am from the area Frank Lucas hails from and he was actually interviewed on local radio stations when this movie was coming out. I think it’s really cool to see a movie about a local guy that really hit it big in the seedy underground of New York but I don’t know about his portrayal in the film.  All I’m saying is that Frank Lucas was not the Godfather and this movie is just all wrong for me.  In so many ways it is just more of the same without anything to set it apart.  I am a huge fan of Russell Crowe and I like Ridley Scott as well.  I am not a Denzel Washington fan.  Yet I find with this movie I don’t like Russell Crowe and I actually think Denzel Washington turns in one of his finer performances.

Of course the character of Frank Lucas is the better part. He is part Godfather and part Robin Hood in this film.  Albeit this Robin Hood doesn’t rob from the rich to give to the poor. He offers herion at discounted rates, and this just messes up everything for everyone.  The real mobsters don’t have the same type of quality heroin and they can’t buy it for what Frank Lucas is selling it to the consumer for.  Boo Hoo and Blah Blah.  The mega rich criminals have been robbed of an opportunity to make even more money and they have to pick on the kind and generous Mr. Lucas, who is just trying to do right by everybody with his generous nature, and reasonable rates on HEROIN.  Gotta love the guy, this Frank Lucas is portrayed in a manner that is totally contradictory to his actions.  I do appreciate his sudden and savage violence but that is only there to wake the audience up during what is otherwise a dismal film.  I can’t stand the man with the noble nature who earns his fortune doing something so despicable.  If you are gonna do it that’s one thing, but if you are going to do it you need to be Avon Barksdale or Stringer Bell and not the Don Corleone/Robin Hood we see in this film. No offense to Denzel, I think he was awesome in this part.  I just think the part was a little over the top and poorly written.

Russell Crowe is an actor that never ceases to amaze me, but I just can’t see it with this performance.  Granted he is great, he is a pro all the way and does his job well but I don’t think he does anything exceptional. To start with he plays the kind of character that nobody is going to like.  Who is going to pull for the straight laced cop among all the dirty ones when he is going after a criminal you are set up to pull for? If you want to make Serpico make Serpico, but don’t put so much of the focus in a film like this on him because it throws off the whole film.  I get that this is a story about both men but I think there would have been better angles to take that could have made a better film. You could cut half of Russell Crowe’s scenes and replace them something that builds up a different part of his character and achieved the same result.  There is undoubtedly more to the man than simply his honesty so let’s note his honesty and move on to more of what makes him character worthy. You have to admit a role is bad if Russell Crowe can’t even make something out of it but I’m sure plenty of people will argue the contrary point.

I love gangster movies and typically find something to like about all of them but I have failed to do so here.  I totally immersed myself in the film but cannot find myself wrong in my initial reaction to the film.  I don’t think it does anything at all to distinguish itself and I think it is one of Ridley Scott’s weakest films. Denzel did a great job but he can’t save what just isn’t any good.  I don’t know how accurate this movie is and truthfully I don’t think it matters.  There is too much to the story that we simply don’t see and all this film offers are exaggerated highlights to something that undoubtedly has more to offer. This film threw a bunch of big names on the screen and sold us on the pretext that it was based on a true story.  The key word in that, as always, is “based.” Sure there was a real Frank Lucas, I have heard him on the radio and know it for a fact, but I doubt this is an accurate representation of who the man really was and what he did.

I give this film two thumbs down and regret doubting myself enough to purchase it for the collection. If anybody I know personally is reading this feel free to text me if you want this copy.  I think the movie is so bad I will freely give it to whoever will take it off my hands.  In fact, if I don’t get that message I may just leave it on the curb with a note that says, “take me but watch at your own risk (your time will be wasted).”

Final note on the film: after writing all of this I did the most minimal of research to find that the movie is widely regarded as 99% false.  Basically there was a Frank Lucas and he did sell heroin but beyond that nearly everything you see in this film is false.  That only reinforces the hate I am developing for this film I wasted THREE viewings on.  I can’t bare to have a friend take this off my hands, if you happen to see a copy left on the street with a note on it then you may be looking at the very same one I am about to throw out.

American Hustle

Year: 2013
Directed By: David O. Russell
Written By: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell

RYAN’S REVIEW

When we watched this movie for the first time it immediately had me with the initial caption: “Some of this actually happened.” This movie goes against the grain and doesn’t claim to be based on a true story but simply admits “some” of it actually happened.  That’s incredible because nothing annoys me more than a movie that promotes itself as “based on a true story” despite how many several liberties that were taken with the truth.  So right off the bat this movie makes a statement.  It’s honest and that says a lot about the type of filmmaker David O. Russell is.  This is another stellar movie added to his already impressive resume.

I don’t know what parts of this movie are true and what parts are fiction.  In truth I don’t care and won’t look it up to find out on principle.  I don’t think it matters what really happened in this story.  All that matters is this story.  This story is awesome and it is brought to life by some actors that turn in some really impressive performances.  I think this movie looks and feels like David O. Russell’s version of Goodfellas. Christian Bale reminds me so much of Robert De Niro in this movie both by his mannerisms and voice.  The content may be different but the way these two stories are told are similar with the voice over and biographical feeling.  Nevertheless, I’m not criticizing, when something is great it is great and there is no disputing this one.  Both films are great and I can’t think of any scenario in which the two of them being similar is a bad thing.

I wasn’t a fan of Bradley Cooper when he first came around. I remember seeing him for the first time, in the days before The Hangover, playing Aiden in one of the later seasons of Nip/Tuck. The show had really gotten awful by that point and his character didn’t leave a good impression with me.  Despite the initial impression I received this guy has never ceased to distinguish himself, especially in collaborations with David O. Russell. I really like the character dynamic Cooper brings to this film. He is kind of brilliant but kind of stupid at the same time.  He is a goofy looking guy with his curls but he might snap and go a little crazy at any moment. Men who get into cocaine are like that, spur of the moment insanity. They start slow but over time it goes to their head before they know it. Cooper pulls it all off nicely. Great performance from an actor who has earned my respect over time.

Amy Adams continues to be flawless and incredible.  She is a beautiful woman who brings true talent to all her performances.  She has specifically shined in David O. Russell films as she was also great in The Fighter. She fits into his films so deftly, and brings it each and every time. In this film she looks so incredible in those dresses. She plays such a dominant female role and I specifically like that about her.  She isn’t just a pretty face in this movie she is another badass in a film about badasses.  She plays Bradley Cooper for a chump and owns him at every turn.  She is a strong female lead and she should have won the Academy Award for the part.

Christian Bale, second greatest Batman after the first, never fails to be incredible no matter what he does. Despite not having an upper lip the man has done well for himself. As I mentioned earlier, in this film he reminds me implicitly of one of the greatest. I do not know if it was intentional or not but it is so spot on that I feel like it had to be. It’s amazing the things he does to his body for his roles.  We have seen him on each edge of the spectrum and in between.  He has been anorexic in The Machinist and The Fighter, he has shown the in between as a muscular Batman, and we have seen him put on the weight for this film. He put on over 40 pounds for this film. Bale continues to build what has already been an impressive career.

Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal, plain and simple.  I wanted to be on the edge, I’m weird when it comes to trendy things and nobody has been trendier than Jennifer Lawrence for the last several years.  Nevertheless her performance speaks for itself.  Her accent is what shocks me so much in this film, it’s incredible.  Not only that but I refuse to acknowledge how hot she is because when she first came around I thought she was too much younger than me. I’m weird about that and it’s different as the years have passed. Nevertheless she makes it hard not to notice with this performance and I doubt anybody did. She plays the kind of woman that all men and women fear alike.  The unpredictable kind that can pretty much get whatever she wants and knows it.  She is intimidating in all the ways that only a beautiful woman can be.

For this whole film I kept telling Amber how much Christian Bale reminded me of De Niro.  Imagine my surprise when he actually showed up in the film.  I didn’t know prior to this although I should have.  I love his part in this movie and I love what he brings to this film.  Nobody does mobster like De Niro and I am happy to see how exceedingly well he can still pull it off. De Niro is just one of many gems playing a smaller role in this film. I remember an episode of Louie that was all about how uncomfortable Louis C.K. was acting in films.  I thought there was something to that episode and I had seen something into his real persona.  I doubt that now because he brings so much to this film with his performance.

The only thing that got Jeremy Renner on the poster for this film was that hairdo.  Otherwise I think his role in the film isn’t all that different than the ones turned in by De Niro and Louis C.K. and maybe they could have just as easily been that fifth person headlines for the film. Now don’t get me wrong, that hairdo is a thing of awesome and maybe he deserved that listing. Not only that but he is in the now, really hot at the moment and he does bring something significant to the film.

It’s not lost on me that two significant actors from Boardwalk Empire are in this film about Atlantic City. Shea Whignam, who plays Nucky Thompson’s brother Eli, and Jack Huston, who plays the assassin with no face Richard Harrow, both appear in the film.  That is another connection between Martin Scorsese, who serves as Executive Producer of the HBO series, and David O. Russell.  I am now inclined to think that Russell may be the second coming of Scorsese and if that is true then this man is only getting started.  We have a lot to look forward to from him and the actors he has drawn to himself.  In a time where marketable drives the movie industry it is nice to know that there are still men out there making art.  Making films that are more than just about making money and about lasting forever.  That is what we have in David O. Russell, a director that will make something unique and exceptional no matter what he has decided to do.  I have faith that he will continue to make the great films of the future and I can’t wait to see them.

This isn’t a movie that I need to recommend because it’s too recent to have been overlooked. It was a great film that received a lot of well deserved attention and respect.  It has no real connection to the 4th of July theme I suggested earlier other than having “American” in the title.  It might be a bit of a stretch but I was just looking for any excuse to watch this movie again and write a review about it.  I love it and I think it is proof that extraordinary films are still being made. This movie is worth your time to see.  If you somehow missed the boat then it’s never too late to climb aboard and see what you were missing.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I really, really enjoyed this movie. It is put together in such a beautiful, artistic way. Everything about this movie is beautiful. I think the entire cast was incredibly on point and the story keeps you interested until the end.

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The poster on the other hand, it could be better. Honestly, we like to say that everything could look better, and because I like this movie so much I am finding it hard to actually bash this one. I think it does what it needs to, but it also depicts some of the classic “no-nos” that I have been preaching to you guys for years. There is a MONTAGE of the cast. I hate to admit, but with a cast like this you almost have to put them all on the poster. Some people are going to come simply because they see Jennifer Lawrence’s name and others the same for Bradley Copper. Still, I think there were other ways they could have gone about it instead of putting them in the Mighty Ducks “flying V” and then feathering out the edges into black. The typography is intentional and it works for this period piece.

I still kinda of like it which makes me have some serious inner fighting people. I can’t decide. What do you guys think? I need your thoughts on this one!