Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

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Tag Archives: Jeremy Renner

ANCC: Catch Up! Volume 2

It’s time for another episode full of ketchup! Who’s up for some some All-New Culture Cast starring the infamous trio of the Gorehound, Jen, and Nick?

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image below.

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I Saw American Hustle

When I first heard that David O. Russell was making a movie so soon after he directed the ultra-successful Oscar winning Silver Linings Playbook, I was a bit skeptical. Russell has never worked a production so quickly. He very famous took a six-year break between 2004’s I Heart Huckabee’s and 2010’s The Fighter. Russell is a notorious control freak on set and has feuded with stars like George Clooney (including an alleged fist fight between the two). Anyway, I was skeptical that American Hustle wouldn’t be as good as the previous few Russell films because of the quick turn-around on production. Well, I was wrong – American Hustle is a fantastic film filled with fun performances. It puts character over plot in the best way possible, and is also the funniest movie I’ve seen in theaters all year.

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American Hustle is the story of three con artists. Irving Rosenfeld (a fantastic Christian Bale) is a small-time New York City businessman and loan shark. Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, who is also fantastic) is an ex-stripper with a dream of making it big in the city. Richie DiMaso (a manic and fun Bradley Cooper) is a borderline insane federal agent out to make a name for himself. The three team up to form a loose and unlikely alliance to take down corrupt politicians in the New York/New Jersey area in the late 1970s. Complicating matters are Cooper’s boss (a wimpy but hilarious Louis C.K.), Bale’s wife (an hilarious Jennifer Lawrence), a budding friendship between a remorseful Bale and Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, also good), and a big-time Miami mobster (Robert DeNiro, in a cameo role). The plot and characters are loosely based on the real-life ABSCAM controversy, with character names changed for the film production.

This is an incredibly funny film. Cooper is hilarious as a disheveled, manic FBI agent. He’s constantly on edge, consistently high on cocaine, and isn’t afraid of anybody. As an actor, Cooper is as fearless as anyone this side of Nicolas Cage. Jennifer Lawrence, who is the definition of a supporting character, is equally hilarious. Her bored Long Island housewife is just too much fun. Bale hasn’t been this good in a film since 2010’s The Fighter, a film he won an Oscar for. I would be very surprised if he wasn’t nominated again for this film. His portrayal of a low-life businessman and wannabe loan shark is just great. Amy Adams is also fantastic, and brings real depth to her character almost solely with her facial expressions and body language. I would be surprised if she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar as well. I really think Sandra Bullock has major competition in the Best Actress race after seeing this film.

The various complaints I’ve seen thus far about American Hustle have focused on its lack of a focused plot. The film runs just over two hours and does contain a lot of extraneous material (a subplot about a love affair between Cooper and Adams could have been shortened up or even left on the cutting room floor), but the lack of focus really didn’t bother me all that much. These characters are just so much fun to spend time with. Maybe the parts with the Miami gangsters could have been a bit more integrated into the main plot, but that would have only made the film longer. American Hustle is really a film about its characters, and its characters are fantastic. This is one of the most fun films I’ve seen all year, and probably slides into the top spot as my favorite film of the year. Bale, Adams, Cooper, Renner, and Lawrence lead an absolutely phenomenal cast. This combined with its stranger-that-fiction story makes American Hustle one of the best films of the year.

-Z-

Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Before going into the film I was expecting something similar, but better than, Red Riding Hood (with Amanda Seyfreid) from a few years ago.  Hoping for a fun night out, we went to spend a Christmas gift card on a SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES. You know how much a Saturday night with some snackies cost? $33.75. Yes, ridiculous! But it was certainly enjoyable because I didn’t feel guilty sneaking in some PBR. It’s wrong to be sneaking some booze in to a film before noon, but it was it was 9:45pm. And for almost $40, I’ll do whatever I want, AMC! Directed by Tommy Wirkola, the guy who also brought us the Nazi-zombie story Dead Snow (‘09), and starring Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye from The Avengers) and Gemma Arterton (from nothing I’ve seen — Editor’s note: She played Agent Fields in Quantum of Solace), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a  creative spin off of Grimm’s Fairy Tale, the iconic story of Hansel & Gretel.

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The beginning of the film corresponded with the long lost middle-aged languages of old Europe, but the film quickly lost me when the script went stale and uninspired almost immediately. Moreover, there was much potential for some spectacular one-liners, and my anticipation grew bigger as the minutes elapsed, but it was all to no avail. Gretel, the sister in the duo, stole the show. Sizzling hot, smart, and completely influential, she said all the right things and lured me back in.  Her relationship with the fanatic/admirer young man throughout the film put her on a well deserved pedestal.  Her role glued everyone together. You see who’s in front in the cover? Damn straight. Story should have been called Gretel and Hansel, if you ask me.

Kudos for not using a blatantly CGI troll. Some of it may have been CGI but I, for one, believed it to be actual makeup and effects. And indeed, the troll character was incorporated well in the film. There was a stupid white witch which didn’t really serve a purpose. Maybe to reinforce an R rating with a glimpse of unnecessary nudity? The R Rating was undeserved; should’ve been PG-13.

Now, I don’t know when exactly gunpowder had been discovered and became popular, but I certainly don’t think machine guns were used in this age. The director could have kept a folklore-friendly atmosphere very easily by eliminating just a few elements. Weaponry was such an integral part in most of the actions scenes, and using guns and other modern inventions was kind of a cop out. It irked me. For example, a stun device used to stun and revive a nearly dead troll? Really not cool. But, the forest was very striking, fantastical, and complimentary to the tale.

The antagonist, the evil dark witch (Famke Janssen) was pretty good. Jean grey/Phoenix from X-Men. She held a solid central role with her minions carrying out actions all around. She put up a good final battle. It took place in a small, but significant, house that should have been brighter and larger… by which I mean, they could have amped up the scenery a bit. It just looked like a dim cabin’s kitchen. The violent fight more than made up for that creative slight.  The few minutes leading up to the credits were also memorable and leaves me wanting a sequel of some sort.

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Was I happy at the end? Yeah, it was a good time. I love cinema and what better way to enjoy it on a big screen with a bunch of other cinemafanatics. I simply like movies enough to critique them, think about them, and dwell on them afterwards. It was only a 3/5, but it does measure up to Grimm’s classic story.

-K-

Re-Bourne: Nick Saw ‘The Bourne Legacy’

I was curious how they were going to extend the Jason Bourne series after the departure of director Paul Greengrass and, more importantly, star Matt Damon.  I think they took the best approach.  It is neither a reboot, nor a sequel in the traditional sense.  It feels more like a spinoff where it follows on from the previous three, but is its own thing.  We have a new lead in rising A-lister Jeremy Renner (who, along with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is in every film this year) and a new director in Tony Gilroy (who scripted the previous movies).  But is this enough to justify a 4th entry?  Eh…not especially.

This film just does not quite work for me.  I appreciate a lot of what they were trying to do, but when I reflect on the movie, I realized that there is not much is really at stake.  The basic premise is that after the events depicted in The Bourne Ultimatum, the government decides to temporally shut down all of their black-ops related programs (for fear of a public backlash). This, for some unexplained reason, involves killing all of their agents and scientists involved with the project.  Aaron Cross (Renner) and a scientist (Rachel Wiesz) go on the run after both surviving their respective assassination attempts.  The film then becomes a cat and mouse chase sequence with the government trying to track these two down, while these two try to find a cure for Cross’s medicine dependence (more on that below).

Compared to the earlier entries, this is really a mundane storyline.  I suppose it had to be considering we are working with (mostly) all-new characters in a (mostly) all-new situation.  A good portion of the film is setting the stage for this new corner of the Bourne world.  Furthering the underwhelming nature of the story is that Cross never actually interacts with the main antagonist (played by an increasingly bored-looking Edward Norton) during the course of the main narrative.  By the end of the movie, I could not help , but ask, “what was the point of this?”.

I like Jeremy Renner.  He is a capable actor, and I really like how his Aaron Cross character is completely different form Damon’s Jason Bourne.  It was probably a smart move going in this direction to lower comparisons between the two.  However, he is not nearly as interesting a character as Bourne.  With Bourne, there was a mystery about him because of his non-existent memory.  Cross has a bizarre backstory which, while interesting in its own way, incredibly simplifies the conflict into an “us vs. the evil government”.

Speaking of which, am I the only one who notices that the bad guys in these movies (with the possible exception of the second) are not really bad guys?  Sure, the government set-up these black-ops programs to do some nasty, off-the-books stuff, but they were all legally sanctioned  and done with the intent of keeping America safe.  Why are they portrayed as being in the wrong?  But, I digress

The most unusual thing about The Bourne Legacy is that it has this unexpected science fiction element to it.  The premise behind Cross is that he is taking this medication that greatly enhances his intelligence and his physical strength.  Yes, the back story is that Cross (and his fellow agents) is, in essence, super-soldiers (although, I do not think the film actually uses that term).

After the overly realistic tone of the previous three movies, this seems like such a bizarre addition (then again, without it, there would be no movie).  I suppose it allows the movie to have its own feel, separate from the previous three.  However, it pops-up so casually and thrown in the audience’s lap that it feels out of place.

So, that is The Bourne Legacy.  For an action film, it is alright.  I would not race to the theaters to see it.  Maybe check it out at the RedBox if you get a chance.  I should mention that I had the same apathetic attitude when I saw the first Bourne movie.  Maybe now that the ground has been set, a follow-up will deepen the characters and give viewers a reason to care.

~N

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