Sunday, 19 January 2014

American Hustle

A film about identity, but then what film isn’t? This one though is about duplicity and betrayal, no still not unique. It’s about con artists conning con artists and the FBI using dubious tactics to take down elected officials who in turn may not have told the truth in their efforts to get elected. It’s also about hair and in 1978 that was a whole different ball game compared to todays. It’s easy to get transfixed by Christian Bale’s, Bradley Cooper’s and Jeremy Renner’s hair.

Perfume is another key to this as Jennifer Lawrence goes at length to explain about wonderful smelling perfume having something rotten mixed in their to make a more complex scent. This maybe the key to a good scam, a bit of argument to make it real, Harrison Ford adlibbing in Star Wars, Aberdeen footballers shoving each other around before taking a free kick.

The thing is though; we may be being scammed as well. We’re told at the beginning that some of this actually happened. What did happen, what did we just see? The ensemble are so beautifully balanced that Russell’s got you believing that their real people. He also uses that Scorsese confessional voice over as well; those are real people aren’t they? It helps as well when you can see what the characters could lose and what they could gain, and how when you reach the crest of that wave there’s always a chance that you’ll come crashing down into the surf.

Music is very important in this film. This is evident from the first bars of Duke Ellington at the beginning as Sydney and Irving connect at the pool party. Throughout we’re treated to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and The Jean Genie among others. The highlight though is Jennifer Lawrence’s cleaning session while she lip synchs to Live and Let Die. Christian Bale is also given the opportunity to exercise his Welshness when he sings along to Tom Jones’s Delilah, although Jeremy Renner may have been more enthusiastic. As it’s set in 1978 there is the trip to Studio 54 as well, Don’t Leave Me This Way, indeed. The only song that seems to be missing is Do The Hustle.

There aren’t many films that are as cleverly plotted as this, whilst remaining credible and funny at the same time. Jennifer Lawrence’s character has such a beautiful skewed logic as well that alleviates many a tricky situation. I love the way that she can turn the destruction of a microwave oven into a diatribe about how she didn’t want it in the first place. It’s delicately and finely balanced, wonderfully written, paced and plotted and gorgeously acted.

Thursday, 16 January 2014


The title could refer to the force that keeps us from floating out into space, although it could be a reference to the seriousness of a situation, things here are indeed heavy.

This film then is another in line of films, some based on reality some not, where things have not gone to plan on NASA missions; Apollo 13, Apollo 18, Capricorn One, The Planet of the Apes. Here though we have Sandra Bullock and George Clooney on the Space Shuttle Explorer attempting to break spacewalk records and to repair the Hubble telescope. Unfortunately a Russian satellite goes awry causing all sorts of havoc. Anyway in space it seems that no-one can hear you talking to yourself. Sandra Bullock takes a tour of space stations floating around the earth in an attempt to rectify her situation.

At the beginning we are told about the absence of sound in a vacuum which takes a little while to get used to. We are treated to a lot of Sandra Bullock's heavy breathing in her space suit. The silence though becomes kind of reassuring. Like those marvellous holidays taken far away from civilization, except you're spared the potentially incredibly noisy countryside. The way that sound is dealt with is part though of the whole restrained tone of the film. We see Bullock ache with restraint, also with great pain, as she deals with her misfortunes. The restraint and the subject matter lead to images of great beauty of the Earth for one example, but also of a serene, solitary tear floating in the space station at one point.

There is throughout the themes of vulnerability and ultimately chance. When I think of human space exploration and the deaths that have occurred in that, I’m not surprised that people have died, I’m surprised that more haven’t. At one point Bullock almost emulates Jane Fonda in Barbarella when she enters the International Space Station. The way she does this though reinforces the vulnerability of the situation. She is after all a woman being protected from the vast vacuum of space by the ultra-light heavily engineered materials to make her space suit and the space station.

What makes this different from most of those other films about space exploration, is that when it comes down to basics, when all else has failed, when the umbilical cord has broken; you're on your own.