*NEW* LIVE BY NIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Alright, alright.

The pace may have been a killer and we might have seen it all before BUT Affleck’s crime caper still packs a punch.

A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

The opening 20 minutes didn’t mess about. It set up Joe’s (Ben Affleck) past and got straight to business as he worked through the ranks from a petty thief to a bootlegger.

Being a noir nut, I was always going to be a little biased. It helps when some of Affleck’s better works; The Town, Gone Baby Gone (and now Live By Night) are heavily influenced by that very genre.

I’ve been impressed with Affleck’s transformation as a director. A maturity from his 90s blockbuster phase. And yes, I do think he will be a good Batman! Enough of these sad Affleck memes.

It was everything I expected from an Affleck penned gangster flick. I was already ticking noir traits off my imaginary checklist; embittered war veteran (check), disillusioned with the law (check), falling for a girl that can only mean trouble (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!).

I say Affleck penned. He did have a little help from Dennis Lehane’s crime novel (Thank you @TheMarckoguy). A noir author I intend to read up on. A man that has penned such works as: Shutter Island, Mystic River and The Drop.

I was engrossed in Joe’s game. Playing off the Irish against the Italians in their turf war. Just to get a piece of the action and stay out of the cross-hairs. BUT it wasn’t long before the protagonist had to make a choice.

Always felt that Robert Glenister was a very underrated TV actor. Just watch BBC’s Hustle. I didn’t expect to see him feature as Albert White, the Irish kingpin. He was brilliant. I wish he was in this more. A callous adversary if ever there was one. A ticking time bomb.

The fuse? A woman, of course. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) wasn’t in the film as much as I thought. Especially after all the interviews and heavy advertising.

She delivered a good performance as the moxy Emma BUT somehow I think if she had more screen time with that strange Irish accent, she might have overstayed her welcome very quickly.

Brendan Gleeson made a much more memorable impression as Joe’s father. A relief after his dire cameo in Assassin’s Creed (The less we say about that, the better). Sheesh.

Another character I would have been happy to see more of. His fractious relationship with Joe was an interesting angle that wasn’t explored enough. A copper desperate to see his criminal son on the right path.

“So you’re threatening me with people that are more powerful than you? So who am I talkin’ to you for?” Affleck was fantastic. Another powerhouse performance. He looked like a tank with that Bat bulk.

The pace did meander in parts with the middle act taking the biscuit BUT thankfully that was relieved by cracking dialogue, great action pieces and fantastic cinematography.

No, really. Robert Richardson’s cinematography was something else. The sweeping shots across Miami were breathtaking alone.

The car chases were brilliantly shot. It felt like you were in the car with the robbers as they evaded capture. And of course, no gangster flick would be complete without bodies being bullet ridden by Tommy guns.

I was a little disappointed with the female roles. Miller didn’t really come across as a strong femme fatale and Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) was completely wasted in her role.

The pair had good chemistry BUT there just wasn’t enough drama. Affleck missed an opportunity for sparks to fly when an old friend from Joe’s past crept out of the woodwork. Shame.

At first, I kept wondering why Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) was reduced to such an unnecessary cameo as the sheriff’s daughter. However, there was an interesting turning point with her character that took me by surprise and allowed the actress her moment to shine. A good performance.

Despite my niggles, Affleck perfectly captured a gritty criminal underworld full of rich and dark characters. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) played the holistic sheriff with aplomb. Happy to turn a blind eye on Joe’s “business affairs”. Appropriately calling him, “The Mayor of Evil”.

The tense encounters with the KKK saved a labouring middle act. The suspense and heated exchanges soon brought me back into the fold. The only problem with a noir is that the end game is always the same.

The fiery final act was worth the wait. Nail biting, gripping and action packed. Even if Affleck gave us umpteen false endings. Seriously, I kept thinking the film had finished. Only for something else to pop up.

A little predictable, long at the tooth BUT tense, gritty and still a bloody good watch.

3/5

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FOCUS REVIEW

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The Fresh Prince does an American Hustle and it’s just as you expect.

Watchable but hardly memorable.

The allure of Margot Robbie almost made me lose my critical focus and the fact that beneath its easy going and glossy surface, there isn’t a lot going on here.

So what’s it all about?

Well this is a story all about how Will’s life as a con man got turned right upside down. And I’d like to take a minute. Just sit right there. And I’ll tell you how he got jiggy with a girl from Neighbours.

Okay, the serious blurb now. In the midst of veteran con man Nicky’s (Smith) latest scheme, a woman (Robbie) from his past (now an accomplished femme fatale) shows up and throws his plans for a loop.

First thing’s first. The positives. And there are lot more than I anticipated.

Will Smith is still a charismatic actor and knows how to boss the silver screen.

Only mark against him; I’m still waiting for another movie soundtrack.

Paired up with the beautiful Margot Robbie, we have gold. They have fantastic chemistry and certainly keep things watchable.

Their inevitable pairing was easy going viewing. Smith’s experienced hustler taking Robbie’s rookie under his wing as he shows her the tricks of the trade.

His network of hustlers and pick pockets was cleverly put together and certainly left me paranoid as hell, leaving the screen.

I couldn’t believe that Brennan Brown was in this. Brennan Brown? You don’t know? Come on. The Orange Wednesday guy!

Here’s a reminder . . .

Not enough of him. His role was way too small. Adrian Martinez (Yeah, the fat dude from Piranha 3DD) was quite funny but the rude pick up lines with Robbie fell faster than a lead balloon. I wish more of his screen time was given to the Orange guy.

It certainly killed the time and I wasn’t bored. As you know from my recent reviews, I’ve been having a bad run.

I say a bad run. A bad run of terrible movies.

Focus was very much in the reins of Ocean’s Eleven. Stylish with a great cast. MINUS the clever hustle. Xavier Grobet’s cinematography was a sight to behold. Let alone, Margot Robbie. Sorry.

Hey, ladies you got Will.

The only problem with these sort of films is that when you’ve watched 8 series of BBC’s Hustle, there aren’t many surprises that can get past you.

There was never really an air of danger around the couple.

AND even when things seem to heat up and trouble seemed to look a little more intense than an Asian guy that can’t grow a tash properly (I’ll get to that in one moment), you’ve always got that little niggle in the back of your head saying; “There’s another play going on here”.

Of course, there always is.

It was fun and charming. There was a sequence in which I felt things spiced up and looked to head in a different direction. Shame, it didn’t.

Now, the tash reference. It’s established quite early on that Will’s character is a hefty gambler. His ego is challenged quite easily by a drunk Asian businessman during an American football match.

BD Wong played the role brilliantly. A cat playing with a trapped mouse. Goading Will so easily into making a big mistake. It’s just a shame I couldn’t take him seriously with those strange patches on his upper lip. I don’t know what they were. BUT it was not a moustache.

Anyway, I think there was only one twist 30-odd minutes into the film that did stop me rambling.

From that, I hoped the film might do something. BUT it didn’t. This is where it lost points because the route it took (Although entertaining enough) was predictable as hell.

I hoped Robbie’s character wasn’t so weak. She seemed so strong willed and independent to begin with BUT falls into Smith’s arms too easily.

No, seriously. Every other scene. And they have a thing about not closing bedroom doors. My friend was complaining about it.

That’s the problem. If we have time to pick at stuff like that, the film is not doing it’s job of keeping our attention.

Rodrigo Santoro actually played his part well. He didn’t annoy the hell out of me. And it was good to see him fully clothed and without demented gold piercings.

The spanner in Robbie and Smith’s inevitable love machine.

Gerald McRaney (The Best of Me) was irritating. His sarcastic rambling came off unfunny and I found his character very unlikeable. A shame considering what a talented actor he is.

The closing act certainly made things a little more interesting.

BUT the end result was so predictable and surprisingly (the only surprise) open.

Just the two for the two of them. They could have made it if they tried with a smarter hustle and better dialogue.

It’s watchable BUT memorable? Sorry guys, it needed a little more focus (Puts on shades and walks out door) on substance, story and suspense.

2.5/5

PLASTIC REVIEW

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Surprisingly watchable and entertaining. Hardly original or groundbreaking. Pretty much a darker Hustled up Hollyoaks hybrid but with a likeable and talented young British cast, I can think of worst ways to kill 90-odd minutes.

I went in expecting the worst and was relieved. A watchable easygoing crime caper, even if the end result is predictably the same. Ed Speelers has finally found a project to show off his talents after a number of misfires; Eragon and ITV’s Echo Beach. Playing the charismatic lead Sam, desperate to make a quick buck, he leads a rag tag team of chosen criminals who inevitably end up messing with the wrong people. In all fairness, the first 20 minutes zipped along quite nicely with the little fraudsters starting off as little Del Boys, fobbing off stolen merch to stereotypical posh toffs at uni. Stereotypical if hilarious riffs on the Made in Chelsea numpties.

The team of grifters get a passion for plastic. Stealing credit card information and data to buy a lot of expensive jewellery and  harvest a lot of wonga. The ease in which the team obtain their data is scarily realistic; perfectly demonstrated in a petrol station sequence in which cameras are positioned perfectly to catch pins and fake machines. A crime that does need to stop as the world goes DPA crazy. The “subtle” social commentary on the fact that students who are studying their degrees or have achieved them are probably not going to get a job in that field is a harsh reality that I can relate to. But resorting to corporate espionage and card crime, meh, I’ll stick to blogging. The lazy jibes about the economic crisis wasn’t necessary. We’re all stuck in it. Been there. Can’t afford the t-shirt. Felt like a mere excuse to help justify the cockney rebels’ cause.

However, the team soon rip off the wrong man, the ever reliable slithery Thomas Kretschmann (Dracula/Wanted). Not enough of him to be honest but he manages to make a mark. Hardly Brick Top from Snatch but impressionable none the same. He gives them a deadline of two weeks to pay up a £2 million “compensation” fee, leading to one massive, crazy, can’t-believe-it-but-apparently-a-true-story, con. Will Poulter (We’re the Millers/Son of Rambo) was arguably overshadowed. And for some reason, the lad had not grown up enough to carry the conviction his character craved. In one scene, the gruff gangster worked, the other he seemed more like he was doing one of his performances in School of Comedy. He delivers some of the more comical one liners. I mentioned overshadowed as one culprit in particular steals every scene and that goes to old Theon Lovejoy (prefer that comparison to sibling of Lily Allen) Alfie Allen.

Allen has always been able to play the shady, slick faced shithead but he does it so well and delivers yet again as the volatile Yatesey. A necessary, if untrustworthy, evil. A ticking timebomb waiting to explode. The beautiful eye candy, I mean, Emma Rigby (Hollyoaks) doing her best to be nothing more than a stocky love interest. I couldn’t believe that Graham McTavish (Dwalin from The Hobbit franchise) was in this, playing the ridiculous OTT and gullible mark to perfection, lapping up every minute.  It was great to see Ashley Chin (Starred Up) and Robbie Gee (speaking of Snatch) in somewhat limited roles. But talented enough to stand out. And Malese Jow. I only ever remember her from that Nickelodeon show Unfabulous. Wow. Stunning. But perverted comments aside, she plays the supporting role well. Sebastian De Souza (Skins/The Borgias) was originally quite a funny character and you did feel for him as he is rewarded the more irritating gigs but his character soon gets quite annoying and luckily subsides into the background. Shame.

As Sam says at the start of the film, “it’s not how it started but how it ends. How you got there”. And that’s a little bit of the problem, the start was highly watchable and once the con gets going, the plot holes start appearing and once the crazy Mission Impossible costume work comes into it, well it all gets a little silly. There were missed opportunities; most notably in Sam’s recruiting techniques. Intriguing at first, it soon didn’t surmount to anything by the end, without spoiling too much. And when I say, silly. The strange overuse of slow motion by the end of the film was irritating. I mean, a tense build up to an inevitable shoot out sequence borders on parody by the end, with people being shot left right and centre, then popping back up like they have been re-spawned in a game of Call of Duty.

Arguably this could have been a TV movie but in comparison to the bigger budgeted and supposedly more talented counterparts that have been released this year, this fares reasonably well. More so for me as a movie aficionado after an atrocious April of one star cinematic car crashes. Enough to stay afloat. At this moment, I’m looking for films that are watchable and this one falls into it. If you’re expecting Lock, Stock then you will be disappointed. I’m glad that this didn’t try to be, it’s better for it at that sense. But maybe a little of that ambition would have helped it fare a bit better and all. It’s 3 (just) out of 5 for me!

Currently ranks #86 out of 170!

AMERICAN HUSTLE REVIEW

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A great ensemble could only hustle my attention away from the messy story and lengthy pace for so long. A mixed bag, to say the least.

A con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

Performance wise, this film was a perfect showcase for one of the best ensembles going. Normally with a David O’Russell movie, you’re either going to get something brilliant (The Fighter) or enjoyable but flawed (Silver Linings Playbook). American Hustle didn’t quite hit the mark. It seemed to struggle with what tone to take. Torn between being a comical crime caper and a tense mafia thriller. Not quite succeeding on either.

The main issue for me was the 138 minute length. Like the pace, I could feel my attention dipping in and out. This could have easily been cut by a good 30 to 45 minutes and been better for it. The hustling was entertaining enough BUT the agonizing build up was too much.

The story was hardly original and far too predictable. I’ve seen better stories in BBC’s hit TV show Hustle (Even the weaker series). You always know that there’s a bigger play in motion and the BIG REVEAL was hardly a revelation as the closing act reached it’s chaotic climax.

David O’Russell grabbed all his regulars for this one. Bale was very good. However, the main problem I had with Rosenfeld’s character was that he didn’t do as much as I thought. He became more passive as the film progressed. He only really got to shine in the last 20 minutes.

My future wife Jennifer Lawrence (What?) was fantastic as the neurotic Rosalyn. She stole every scene. Only she could make (an unnecessary) supporting character funny, watchable and entertaining. Her angry spring clean to Paul McCartney &Wings’ Live and Let Die had me in stitches.

Amy Adams was superb as Irving’s partner in crime, Sydney Prosser. The only thing that irritated me was her hammy ‘English accent’. She just talked in a slower and more patronizing fashion. That’s it. When she reveals she’s not English to a character later on, he’s completely baffled. Even though in the previous scene, she was talking in her normal one. Bad continuity? Maybe.

The main plaudits have to go to Bradley Cooper. It’s great to see how far he has progressed from his Hangover days. His performance as the relentless and ridiculously permed Richie DiMaso was fantastic. He spurred this lacklustre effort along with humour and suspense.

Linus Sandgren’s cinematography was superb. Capturing the glossy look of the old 70s flicks. The props and clothes really brought that authentic 70s feel. You could always bank on Danny Elfman to provide a cracking soundtrack to fit the era. So many belters!

When AH was funny, it was a hoot. BUT O’Russell had the tendency to bleed those gags dry. A gag involving Bale adjusting his horrendous comb-over with clumps of hair soon overstayed its welcome. We get it, he’s bald!

There were so many missed opportunities. A tense encounter with the Mafia (and a surprise cameo from DeNiro himself) could have been so much more and was breezed over far too quickly. Thankfully, the closing act did deliver moments of genuine suspense.

Performances can’t be faltered. Where AH lacked in originality and pace, it made up with humour and energy but it still couldn’t hide a very mediocre movie. It was watchable BUT far too patchy and predictable. Certainly worth a gander BUT I’d be scamming you if I said it was any better.

3/5 (Just)