January is a time for Top 10 lists of the previous year, for catching up on holiday releases that you somehow never got around to seeing, and for recommending the only flick that's just edgy enough for one of your parents but not too risque for the other (scratch Wolf of Wall Street off that list). In any of these practices, you're bound to consider American Hustle, director David O. Russell's 2013 follow-up to Oscar contenders Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. Surely, even if you've somehow put off seeing the film, you've happened upon some decidedly lavish advertisements. The very first thing you're likely to have noticed upon scanning the Hustle posters or watching the trailer: the hair. But a second glance might awaken quite an interesting realization about the movie's all-star cast... especially for fans of the superhero genre.
Not only have each of the main players taken high, if not top, billing in a major superhero release (or, in the case of Bradley Cooper, one on the way), but a good number of the supporting actors have history in the genre as well.
Superhero: Batman, natch. More synonymous with his DC character than any of the other American Hustle stars are with their respective comic book roles, Bale redesigned Bruce Wayne with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, graduating from the property after trilogy capper The Dark Knight Rises.In American Hustle: Bale plays the schlubby but charismatic Irving Rosenfeld — a working class con artist who manages to work the magic of deceit with a strange air of earnestness.Powers in Common: Deception. Bruce Wayne spends his days cavorting, schmoozing, hobnobbing, elbow-rubbing, and other gerunds exclusive to the very rich. All the while, he's masking his true identity. Irv obscures his hidden intentions all throughout Hustle, living up to a Wayne-like standard of secrecy.
Superhero: Lois Lane, who, though not a superhero in the traditional sense, is the de facto sidekick of the most iconic comic book legend of all time (Superman) and a force to be reckoned with in 2013's DC release Man of Steel. Adams will return as Lane in the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman, opposite Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, respectively.In American Hustle: Adams plays Sydney Prosser, a.k.a. Lady Edith Greensley — a colossally powerful con artist at frequent odds with her own quest to forget who she really is.Powers in Common: Working people over. In Hustle Sydney/Edith is able to permeate the minds and hearts of everyone she meets. In Man of Steel, Lois Lane is the only Earthling (save maybe for a long deceased Jonathan Kent) who can get through to the lonely ol' Kryptonian Kal-El. Adams does have that charm.
Superhero: Rocket Raccoon. Technically Cooper hasn't played him yet, but he's slated to voice the animated live-wire in this summer's Marvel release Guardians of the Galaxy.In American Hustle: Cooper deals in Russell's special brand of emotional volatility with FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, prone to explosive bouts of "passion" (let's call it what it is — lunacy), such as fussing with partner/rival Irv's immaculately prepared toupee or beating the hell out of his own boss at the agency.Powers in Common: Unpredictability. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics recognize Rocket Raccoon as a bit of a wild card among the interplanetary heroes. You can easily say the same for DiMaso, whose hair-trigger temper gets him in a bit of (though not nearly enough) trouble.
Superhero: Mystique, the pupil-deficient X-Men villain. Lawrence plays Mystique and her alter ego, Raven Darkholme, in 2011's X-Men: First Class and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.In American Hustle: Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irv's hot-tempered, "free spirit" wife who just can't quite seem to stop setting things on fire, and loves the smell of a good rotting nail polish.Powers in Common: Funnily enough, Rosalyn is one of the only people in this movie not employing some metaphorical sort of shape-shifting (Mystique's signature ability). But the character's propensity for interloping the communities of kingpin criminals and persuading them to do her bidding does ring true for the X-Men villain.
Superhero: Hawkeye, the Zeppo Marx of the Avengers Initiative.In American Hustle: Renner plays good-hearted politician (go figure) Carmine Polito, who bends the law in order to afford his New Jersey community the funds it needs to thrive.Powers in Common: They're both straight-shooters!
It's not only the central five who have superheroic roots. Renner's screen wife Elisabeth Röhm was a recurring player on the fourth season of NBC's Heroes. Hustle mafioso Jack Huston had a role in the sci-fi epic Outlander. Cooper's FBI boss Louis C.K. wrote and directed Pootie Tang (it's kind of a superhero movie...). And Michael Peña has gone on record saying he'd like to work with Robert Rodriguez to develop a Mexican superhero flick. As you can see, Russell's movie runs deep with super powered blood... and the costumes are flashier than your standard cape-and-tights get-up to boot.
American Hustle is now open in theaters everywhere.
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There are few actors who transform so completely with every role like Christian Bale. Take, for example, the comb-over and belly paunch he rocks as the star of David O. Russell's newest film, American Hustle; his '70s style is a far cry from the skinny, crack-addicted Dicky Ecklund in the last film he and Russell made together, The Fighter. In American Hustle, Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con man who, along with his partner and mistress, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are recruited by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), to become part of a scam that will inplicate and involve politicians and mafiosi, including Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). And then, of course, there's Irving's wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who threatens to unravel the whole operation.
We sat down with the Oscar-winning actor to talk about his inspiration for the character, why Irving is actually "a romantic", and the important role that comb-over plays in Irving's cons.
You can watch the full interview, above, and catch American Hustle in theaters now.
When it comes to David O. Russell's latest film, American Hustle, Jeremy Renner has been a bit overlooked in terms of press and awards attention. However, he plays a vital role in the '70s era film, and we were lucky enough to get the chance to sit down with him and talk about it. Renner plays Carmine Polito, the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, who gets swept up in the scam being run by con man Iriving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).
We sat down with Renner to talk about his character's moral code, being the newcomer to Russell's star-studded team, and whether or not he would vote for Carmine if he ever ran for mayor.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Check out the interview, above, and catch American Hustle in theaters now.
The opening scene of American Hustle — a loud, loquacious, upper-fueled romp through the avenues of high stakes swindling — plays somewhat like a Buster Keaton short. We watch a schlubby Christian Bale fumble (with as much delicacy as someone can, in fact, fumble) with a greasy combover and a dime store toupee, laughing at the small scale physical comedy and learning more than you'd expect about Bale's con man character Irving Rosenfeld before we even meet him or hear him speak.
But there is nary a silent moment in the two-and-half hours to follow. Its people speak in explosions. The passions are dialed all the way up between Irv, his accomplice and girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and the venemous FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who rangles the pair into the biggest heist of their career. There's no tranquility in the waters of their high-stakes operation to take down a New Jersey mayor, the Italian mob, and quite possibly a few of the dirtier suits in Congress. When things proceed like clockwork, we're talking diving pendulums and cuckoo birds darting from every crevice. Naturally, it's all the more fun when things go awry.
And, of course they do. It wouldn't be a heist movie without a few cogs springing loose. But the beauty of American Hustle is in its undoing. From start to finish, Irv and Sydney are pros at the game. They leave no stone unturned in pulling the wool over the eyes of every deadbeat, mafioso, and active senator that finds his unlucky way into their eyeline. Even the misguided improvisations of Cooper's control freak lawman don't serve to uproot the plans from their course. We don't suffer through a dropping of their guard or an overlooking of important details. Everything that goes wrong in this movie is embedded in character.
The follies, screw-ups, and mutinies are all emotionally charged, inspired by romantic rivalry, ego, flights of affection, and the ribald distate that so many of these people have for each other. Everything in this big, flashy, high-stakes movie is personal. It's a toxic, burning love/hate/envy/longing/attraction/friendship/enmity between every conceivable pairing in this dynamic cast of rich, strong, uproarious characters that fuels the movie and drags down the scheme at its center.
And just about everyone we meet is dragged into the maniacal nucleus by the arms of anxious passion. Irv's spitfire wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) outranks the lot of her company in the screws-loose department, stirring the pot of her unfaithful husband's business dealings as soon as she crosses the threshold into his world. The psychopathically dutiful Richie (Cooper) sees anyone who tries to temper his occupational obsessions as the enemy, even his pragmatic Midwesterner boss (Louis C.K.). And at the head of the race is Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), unaware of his place in this tremendous game but coursing at top speeds on an engine of his democratic heart nonetheless. The characters are all operating at 11, and most of the actors are able to keep up.
As Irv, a uniquely undesirable Bale is a laugh every minute. We enter this world through him — a world of accessible lies, of rough-and-tumble New York streets, of Long Island parties, of Duke Ellington, of hairpieces, of dry cleaners, of only conning the men you can stomach the idea of laying to waste — and have a terrific time walking in his footsteps. Always just out of reach is Adams as Sydney, who cons herself just as often as she does Richie, Irv, and the poor saps who fall for her seductive act. Bale and Adams are the standouts of the cast — playing their hearts on their sleeves and tucked away tightly, respectively — so it's good fortune that most of our time is spent with one or the other.
The power players from director David O. Russell's last effort, Cooper and Lawrence, shine a bit dimmer here — Cooper plays Richie as petulant, misguided, and teetering on the edge, but he's undercooked beside the far meatier material presented by Bale and Adams. Lawrence, while not without her moments, never seems to commit altogether to the loon that is Rosalyn, alternating between too reserved and too outlandish to really make the character feel like somebody. But the biggest surprise of the lot might be Renner, who has more fun as his Jersey boy Carmine than he ever has onscreen. But in earnest, some credit goes to the hair.
It's the electricity of American Hustle that keeps its long narrative from dragging. We have fun with the characters, the performances, and the colorful world itself. The movie never insists that we feel anything beyond that, but offers a few bites of some authentic empathy for Irv and his kind nonetheless. So we can dip into the bustling character work that Bale and Adams are mastering, Cooper is handling, and Lawrence is just falling shy of delivering on, but we're free to latch onto the life preserver of this movie's output of comedy. There's so much to laugh at in American Hustle, and some wonderfully molded characters to do all your laughing with.
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Based on James Bradley’s bestselling book of the same name Flags of Our Fathers is Saving Private Ryan meets Stand By Me. Buried in the collective national conscious the Associated Press photo of six American soldiers raising a flag of victory over Iwo Jima is the basis of the film. Bradley’s father Doc Bradley (played by Ryan Phillippe in the film) who was one of the flag-raising soldiers never fully shared the details of the experience with his son but Flags meditates on some of those unanswered questions. The Iwo Jima conflict fortified by crags of Japanese snipers lays siege to thousands of messy casualties and the tattered flag--immediately seized by U.S. government officials to rallying and recruit soldiers--emerges as a symbol for American pride while the five Marines and one corpsman who raised it are basically forgotten. Heavy dramatics are saved for Adam Beach (Windtalkers) as Ira Hayes the Native American Marine who degenerates into madness. He represents the bittersweet languor of lost ambition and broken spirits. Director Clint Eastwood is actually the film’s best actor even though he isn’t in the movie. We can see his simmering restraint in the Flags’ acting ensemble as he guides his actors into finely tuned performances. From Beach to Phillippe to Paul Walker (2 Fast 2 Furious) Eastwood gets the most out of his young cast by playing them down. Similar to real-life soldiers allegiance to the team is the actors’ goal creating authenticity. Intense stress requires the actors to have genuine instincts. But by intentionally constructing a more lived-in feel there is consequently no flashy or Oscar-worthy stand-outs. To his credit Walker who usually goes for the brain-dead million dollar paychecks tries something different here while in his pivotal role Beach plays the juicy role as best as he can. Still Beach’s breakdown scene is quite honestly one-dimensional and doesn’t have the same dramatic impact as say Born on the Fourth of July’s Tom Cruise. Of Flags’ likely award recognitions the acting seems to have the least chance of reaching the winner’s circle. Vintage Eastwood is a lion in winter directing as though there’s no tomorrow. With Flags he interweaves numerous themes to create a war movie which despite its cliché-filled genre is constantly real in tone. The film is historically credible from the American perspective only but Eastwood has also directed a companion piece Letters from Iwo Jima about the Japanese side which hits theaters next year. Complex themes of celebrity worship also give the film a post-modern jaded Iraq War-era vision. Then there are the visuals. Eastwood incorporates breathtaking CGI shots of the fleet of warships reminiscent of Troy on top of an old-style photographic framing black and white and green all washed-out. It’s like looking at a scrapbook of old photos on a high-definition CD-ROM. Naturalistic scenes--sprawling in their panoramic framing with cactuses and hills of black sand--remind us we’re watching one of America’s cinematic icons at work. Flags could be Eastwood’s third Best Director Oscar--and will likely net him $100 million-plus at the box office.
Nate Johnson (Cedric the Entertainer) an insurance agent thinks it would be a great idea to take his estranged wife and three children to his family reunion in Missouri by car from California. Nate's motives are sincere enough: He is separated from his wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams) who has custody of teenagers Nikki (Solange Knowles) DJ (Bow Wow) and Destiny (Gabby Soleil) and hopes the road trip will help them bond as a family and with any luck re-ignite that loving feeling with the mother of his children. But everything that can go wrong does even before the trip begins. Nate brings his SUV into the shop to have an 8-track tape player installed in order to listen to his old Motown classics but what he gets is something straight out of MTV's Pimp My Ride although not even West Coast Customs would do something this gaudy. Off they go in their Burberry-outfitted low-rider Lincoln Navigator complete with four TVs and 26-inch Spinners. Vehicle with up-to-the-minute gadgetry notwithstanding the Johnsons encounter every clichéd road trip disaster including running out of gas and needing a pay phone. It's hard to figure out what's more trite--the journey to Missouri or what happens when they actually get there.
Cedric the Entertainer's trademark observational comedy which made him stand out as a cast member of The Steve Harvey Show simply isn't enough to carry an entire film. Cedric is truly the only funny thing Johnson Family Vacation has going for it and he has a few gags that are simply hilarious including a scene in which he bans CDs from artists who have been shot like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. from being played in the car. Imagine his dismay when his wife points out that also includes Marvin Gaye "who was shot by his daddy--twice." But the comedian's arsenal of jokes--no matter how witty--do not a story make. Speaking of wasted talent the casting of stunning Williams as Nate's wife Dorothy is quite baffling. While Cedric the Entertainer could be married to someone this hot poor Nate probably couldn't. Nonetheless the quick-witted Williams holds her own next to one of the Original Kings of Comedy. Seventeen-year-old Bow Wow has worked hard to prove that he's not just a flash in the pan--and it's worked for the most part. He proved with Like Mike that he can act but the role of DJ here gets buried in this lousy film.
Christopher Erskin who makes his directorial debut here delivers a mess of a movie despite having squeezed out everything he could from his stars. Visually the sets resemble skits on a TV variety show rather than professional feature film sets the worst being the sequences where the family is in the SUV--almost half the entire film. To wit: you see them driving with the same scenery in the background--it's like in the The Flintstones when Fred would drive past the same palm tree next to the same rock house again and again. You can't help but picture the actors sitting in the Lincoln Navigator prop car in front of a large blue screen windows rolled down with a wind machine pointed at them. Matching the abysmal visuals are writers Todd R and Earl Richey Jones' ill-paced script. The film drags as the Johnson family encounters unoriginal setbacks and the end is not even a payoff; it's punishment. See the film doesn't end when family finally reaches Missouri: Moviegoers must the sit through the actual reunion and the Johnson family's Brady Bunch-style musical performance costumes and all. The only moment of brief relief is Steve Harvey's guest appearance as Nate's brother. But wait! It doesn't even end then--we have to follow the family back home to California.