Reviews and other Features: American Hustle

American hustle

There’s something to admire in Hollywood con artists. Scheming, ambitious, charismatic and glamorous, they find an ingenius way of making their dreams come true.

So David O Russell’s latest venture has plenty to live up to. Especially when you add in a funky 1970s setting, an original premise loosely based on a true story, and an impressive A-list cast. And for the most part, despite obvious flaws, it’s a highly enjoyable and highly entertaining ride.

It’s 1978 and Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is determined to avoid becoming like his father; a man who worked hard for little reward. Rosenfeld decides to live life by his own rules. So as well as owning a dry cleaning business, he has other creative ways of making money, which become more profitable when he meets his girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). She changes to Lady Edith Greensley and willingly shares in his loan scam business.

But things unravel when FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) manages to infiltrate the scam. Di Maso will offer immunity if they help him make four additional arrests. Tempted to just escape to Cuba, Rosenfeld has family commitments and feels he can’t leave. The duo instead adhere to Di Maso’s plan.

And this is where the film starts to get its swagger as we get to see just why Rosenfeld is such a great con man. He knows what to say and how to say it and it’s a joy to watch him in full flow. Di Maso, in awe of Rosenfeld, struggles to assert his authority. Not to mention being smitten by Greensley but having to hold off any feelings until the operations are over.

But what starts off as a simple scam to capture a few minor politicians, runs into complications when Di Maso wants to infiltrate more people. Di Maso’s ambition opposes Rosenfeld’s rules of keeping it small scale, especially when the mob become involved. And chaos ensues as Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) soon ends up part of the scheme. Trashy, useless in the kitchen and capable of all kinds of emotional blackmail, she is a wildcard in the pack.  Impossible to control, she indivertibly threatens to ruin everything.

While American Hustle isn’t as cool or sophisticated as it would like to be, it’s still hugely entertaining with a superb ensemble on top form. With weaker co-stars Bale would steal the show. His portrayal is the perfect balance of slickness and sleaziness, with the skill of being able to manipulate people out of their money hilariously merging with his comb over and beer gut. With his controlled world threatening to collapse, Bale is able to show a man caught between all kinds of obligations.

But Adams and Cooper also rise to the occasion. Adams captures the seductive and teasing nature of her part, and leaves us guessing of her motives until the end. Cooper’s comic ability helps to fully explore Di Maso’s reckless ambition as a man with it all to win and everything to lose. Lawrence continues to raise her already impressive reputation and is huge reason as to why her character is convincingly able to manipulate a professional con artist. Vulnerable, vain and foolish, it’s an astonishing performance.

The opening voiceovers are often flat and the ending tries too hard to tie together everything neatly, but the film is an overall delight. As well as the winning performances, there is a great overall pace and neat mix of comedy and drama. The part of Mayor Carmine Polito (played by the excellent Jeremy Renner) helps bring a stronger emotional attachment to the story and acts as a reminder why good people would get involved with such a scheme.

After all, just like Polito, who of us can resist charisma, glamour and the difference we could make with a lot of money?

Reviews and other Features: William Curley, London


The very appetising menu from chocolate patisserie William Curley in Sloane Square, with the third and fourth selections below.

If you like chocolate you have to check this place out. You can’t book ahead but you can usually get a table but you wouldn’t have to wait long if there wasn’t. As well as the set menu, there are plenty of small chocolates you can have if you want something lighter. The menu changes every month in case you wanted to go as a monthly treat!


Poached pears

Reviews and other Features: Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hunger Games - Catching Fire

Adapting the second film of a highly successful literary franchise must feel like juggling between “don’t to screw it up”, “make it bigger and better” and “leave them desperate for the third”. In other words, entice new fans while cranking up the action, style and intensity from its predecessor. And don’t give too much away for the third.

Director Francis Lawrence has undertaken the challenge with relish. Best known for the films ‘I am Legend’ and ‘Constantine’ as well as a wide array of music videos, the man relatively new to the big screen heads up a team that has come up trumps.

This is helped by a stronger story that shows how much the major characters have learned. Whilst in the first film Hunger Games there was the need for an introduction to the characters and the premise, here we can shoot right in and continue where it left off. So Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have survived the 74th Hunger Games but rather than being able to enjoy their victory, they face events more treacherous than ever.  The menacing President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) is on the scene and out for blood. The pair’s unlikely and unprecedented survival has inspired an uprising in District 12 and Snow makes it clear there will be serious consequences to them and their families if they don’t quell the rebellion.

Katniss and Peeta do their best but things are far more complicated than even they can imagine. Realising that Katniss’ popularity is unprecedented and fearing further repercussions, President Snow knows he has to destroy Katniss in a way that will not harm the Capitol. He instructs new tournament director Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to create an even grander Hunger Games, using the fact that it is the 75th anniversary to allow them plenty of creative license. The sneaky gambit this time is that two recent former winners of all the districts will be the contestants. Katniss will not only have to fight against her good friend Peeta or mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), but the most skilled of enemies. And as per usual, only one person will be coming back.

The premise is so brilliant it is tempting to keep describing the story as it is so well thought out and brilliantly executed. The script never fails to highlight the immense pressure that is on each of the characters, whilst not losing the touches of humour that were so notable in the first film.

The stronger script allows previous characters to reveal all kinds of personal development. It isn’t just limited to the main characters. Katniss’ sister Primrose (Willow Shields) has become skilled at nursing and is confident enough to take responsibility. We see beyond the helpful showman side of Haymitch, who is caught with all kinds of horrible obligations and see how Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) cannot abandon his people despite knowing how violent it will get.

But such is Jennifer Lawrence’s presence on screen that is of course impossible to ignore how much of this film almost belongs with her. Her Katniss is a heroine of modern times, filled with consummate skill, but with a compassion and sensitivity that is never made to look one-dimensional. Philip Seymour Hoffman brings gravitas to his scheming role, and Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks revel in their maverick roles.

It could be argued that that those who didn’t see it will struggle to understand the context, though this is what helps it maintain its pace. One or two parts are overly sentimental and the ending even for the second part of four is a bit too abrupt.

But the film rises above any perceived limits of the genre to be far more than an entertaining ride. It’s more than just action and adrenalin and a good looking heroine. The Olympic Games may be the ultimate in sporting achievements, but Catching Fire shows how fun and exciting it is when you push the limits of human endurance even further.