3:10 to Yuma (2007)

310_to_Yuma_(2007_film)I must preface this by saying I still have yet to see the original film starring Glen Ford and Van Heflin, but I must say I was just as intrigued by the pairing of Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. Bale plays against type as a one-legged war vet and rancher trying to make a living for his family.

Then there’s Crowe who takes a turn as notorious outlaw Ben Wade who has committed his fair share of crimes and bank jobs with his gang. It would appear they have very little in common, that is until Wade is captured by some local authorities and Dan Evans signs on to help take him to the train station since he’s in desperate need of money. So begins the dangerous undertaking, with Wade’s men looking for blood, Apaches waiting for them, and numerous other pitfalls. They are mistaken if Wade is going down without a fight, but he slowly bides his time getting under their skin.  Their plan to set a decoy also buys them little time after the bandits interrogate the stand in and let him burn.

Second in command Charlie Prince is not going to stop until he gets his boss back, and he proves that he will use any measures he deems necessary. Evans and the rest are held up in a town on the second story waiting for their assailants, but the odds get bad real quick. On a matter of principle, Evans decides to finish what he started while telling his son to leave the premises. The finale begins as Evans and Wade head to the train station with a barrage of bullets aimed in their direction. The old reliable 3:10 to Yuma is late, but in one final moment Wade willingly gets aboard the train probably knowing full well that he can escape a third time. There stands Dan Evans a man who did something extraordinary and will get the money he so desperately needs. But Wade and young William watch as Dan gets riddled with bullets from behind. But Wade and William are far from done.

Since the western is all but a dead genre nowadays, it’s always wonderful when a modern film is able to do justice to the lineage, and even as a remake this version can certainly stand alone. It fills a gritty, grimy, sweaty reality that in some instances feels a lot more realistic than early Hollywood westerns. In other words, it’s not bad, just different and aside from Bale and Crowe, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, and Alan Tudyk all are memorable. However, I lost Fonda under all that beard. Was that really him?

4/5 Stars

The Prestige (2006)

87836-prestige_posterStarring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johannson, and Michael Caine with director Christopher Nolan, this film is about two magicians who ultimately become rivals. After the death of Robert Angiers’ wife, he blames Alfred Borden and thus begins their quest to become the greatest magicians the world has ever seen. Along the way Borden finds a wife and has a daughter, while Angiers tries to discover Borden’s secrets various ways. Both men will stop at nothing to succeed even if it means sabotage, wounding, or even traveling to Colorado in Angiers’ case. With Borden in jail for murder of his rival, it appears as if Angiers has won. However, in the end all is not as it seems and it is revealed to the audience. Once again Nolan uses non linear storytelling to develop this intriguing mystery. I was not much of an authority on magic but now I know you have the pledge, the turn, and of course the prestige.
 
4/5 Stars

American Hustle (2013)

f88cd-american_hustle_2013_posterFrom the get-go, this film sets the tone when we are cheekily told that “some of this actually happened.” Not that it’s based on a true story or based on actual events, but some of this might be true and other parts might be livened up a bit. Then we are thrown into a story we do not quite understand as of yet. All we know is that it’s the 1970s, the hair is crazy, the clothes are tacky by today’s standards, and America’s “Horse With No Name” still sounds good even after all these years.

For me, if this film was all about the story it would be okay, but the reason to watch it is really for the characters. Each one is a caricature who we can hardly take seriously, and yet in many respects, they are going through some very serious stuff. Christian Bale is a con man with an epic comb-over, a pot belly to match, and a Bronx accident, wearing his ever-present shades. He is one of the smartest con men around, but he also has a family life since he married a widowed woman and adopted her young son.

Amy Adams is the stylishly smart dame he meets at a party, and the two of them start a lucrative partnership upping the profitability of his conning enterprise.  Adams character hustles everyone with her fake English accent and identity, that over time it seems like she even seems to believe it herself until it is too late.

They are flying high and the two of them are drawn to the confidence and smarts they see in each other. However, in one instance they are not quite careful enough, and they have the Feds giving them heat. Namely, Bradley Cooper’s character who is out to make a name for himself. He is a man will a lot of attitude and a primped hairstyle, yet he seemingly knows very little. He forces Bale and Adams to work under him in order to trap others and of course they do.

But his plan becomes so big that the con becomes extremely volatile. It involves an Atlantic City mayor played by Jeremy Renner, the Mob, some congressmen, and even a senator, who have all unwittingly gotten themselves into something illegal.

Bale and Adams are trapped living lies that they must stop at some point because he has formed a bond with Renner and she is still masquerading as Lady Edith Greensley.

The final act ends with one final con, and I must admit that I was satisfied with the ending because as a member of the audience I expected a twist to come and, sure enough, it came. But I would have never have guessed it. It ultimately lived up to its name American Hustle.

I think what makes the performances good in this film are not the fact that they are lifelike or even realistic, but they are, in fact, larger than life. Sure, people like Irving, Richie Dimaso, Sydney Prosser, and Rosalyn probably did walk this earth, but the film highlights all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Whether it is how they talk, dress, or even how they do their hair. Furthermore, they have even messier and crazier personal lives than their hair, and that’s saying a lot. These are not the kind of folks that you would want for friends, and yet could it be possible that there is a little bit of these characters in each one of us? Do we still live in a world where the Carmines are the victims and the real perpetrators get away scot-free? It’s something to ask ourselves.

I’m not sure why people compare this film to Scorsese, perhaps because it is a crime film, it takes place in the 1970s, it features the Mob, or it shows off one of Scorsese’s acting icons in Robert de Niro. No matter the reason, American Hustle is a separate entity that seems completely different from Scorsese. That does not make it bad, just unique. And that it is. You have to give David O. Russell credit for teaming his two previous casts (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) in this one for an acting extravaganza. It will be difficult to top this one as far as acting power goes. I must admit I was a sucker for the music too.

4.5/5 Stars

The Dark Knight (2008)

In honor of the release of The Dark Knight Rises next week, the last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I would like to review The Dark Knight.

Starring a great cast of characters including Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, this is a great incarnation of Batman. In this film Bruce Wayne, alias Batman (Bale), faces his biggest challenge to protect Gotham City yet in the form of the villainous Joker (Ledger) With the help of Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, Lucius Fox, and of course Alfred, he works to bring peace. However, the Joker is not your everyday criminal. This psychotic villain’s only goal is to create utter chaos and he forces the Batman into difficult choice after difficult choice. By the end, the lines are so blurred it is hard to tell who actually won. Ledger’s performance alone makes this movie a good one. His unpredictable and chilling portrayal has the audience constantly intrigued. Thus your everyday action packed, superhero film becomes an unconventional showdown between good and evil.
5/5 Stars

We will have to wait and see what the third installment starring Bale, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway, has in store for us.