“Batman: Assault on Arkham” Review

The villains of Batman tend to be much more intriguing than the title hero and now a handful of them have been given their own animated film. But rather than admiring their pathos, this film is more a Dirty Dozen deal. The villains are not spruced up to be more redeemable protagonists and are instead given the reluctant rouge angle. They’re all still evil characters, but just evil enough to be likable for the rather violent mission forced upon them.

The secret government organization known as Suicide Squad takes in villains and offers them a chance to shave off some time from their prison sentence. In exchange, they must complete a secret mission for the government. If they fail, being captured won’t be an issue as the explosives attached to their necks will explode. And, naturally, these missions are not voluntary. The group selected for this mission includes the keen-eyed assassin Deadshot, the witty Captain Boomerang and the overly eccentric Harley Quinn among others. Their mission is to break into Arkham Asylum and take out the recently captured Edward Niggma. But once the group starts questioning the reasons behind the secret murder, they try to stay one step ahead of Suicide Squad supervisor Amanda Waller. And with The Joker running loose inside the asylum and Batman hot on their trails, they’ve got their work cut out for them in addition to dealing with the security.

While the villains we follow for this story are mostly B and C listers of the DC Comics roster, they’re still very fun to follow in a darkly comedic way. It helps that the film is setup with this tone similar to that of a 1970’s mercenary ensemble feature. I was reminded of those 1980’s mercenery ensemble pictures if not for the music and editing than for the slick introductions given to our key players. The manner in which they proceed to carry out their tasks while retaining their despicable behavior is incredibly entertaining. I guess I was just more impressed that film did not dial back on the villainy. This is a group that while reluctantly working together still will not hesitate to kill one of their own if they can get ahead. There is just enough backstory given to Deadshot where we identify with him the most and hope he’ll make it out alive.

It may sound strange writing this, but Batman and Joker are the weaker links of this movie. The Dark Knight manages to pull off shreds of good detective work, but his master plan for infiltrating the Suicide Squad could be seen a mile away and wasn’t all that surprising when it was revealed. The twisted love triangle between Joker, Harley and Deadshot was not as strong acting as a setup for the third act showdown. Joker manages to get in some mildly amusing bits, but nowhere near as entertaining as the relationship between Killer Frost and King Shark or the sly wit of Captain Boomerang. This group manages to hold their own in this thriller of bad guys working for people are far more worse.

While ‘Batman: Assault on Arkham’ does have a thriller angle to uncovering the secrets of the Suicide Squad program, it’s much more enjoyable for its bombastic directing. It’s ruthlessly violent, scandalously sexual and a clever script to boot. This all manages to come together in a fun, almost campy appeal to prisoners breaking into a prison. It manages to be vastly different from DC Comic’s previous direct-to-video animated films which all seem to follow a similar template. For being so wildly different, I can’t help but recommend such a movie even with our title character missing for half the film.

“The Wind Rises” Review

The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki have always been one step above the competition in animation and storytelling, humbling even the best directors at Disney. So you can imagine my excitement and sadness to discover that The Wind Rises will be his final film. Even though this isn’t the first time he’s made this announcement since all the way back in 1997, this latest animated feature seems to have all the signs of a final curtain.

Unlike Miyazaki’s other features, The Wind Rises takes place in a realistic time focusing on the real life of World War 2 fighter plane designer Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). This is not a war movie, however, as it mainly focuses on Jiro’s dreams and aspirations of designing planes. Air combat does appear in his dreams, but most of his visions are that of speaking to famous plane designer Caproni (Stanley Tucci). In his dreams, Jiro discusses his career aspirations with Caproni as the two of them float and walk along various aircraft in flight.

This continuous inspiration helps fuel Jiro’s desires for becoming a top-notch aircraft designer. Not even the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that mostly decimated his school could hold him back. All Jiro could think about was how to make a design soar faster and better, despite limited materials. He spends most of his lunch breaks in college looking at fish bones trying to find the perfect curve for his masterpiece of engineering. While every waking moment seems to be obsessed with his craft, he still manages to find time for love when he crosses paths with the beautiful Nahoko (Emily Blunt). And though they spend most of their lives separated by tragedy, their romance stands the test of time.

It should go without saying that the latest film from Studio Ghibli is nothing short of a masterpiece. The animation completely wraps you into the setting with lush green landscapes and bold aerial visions with a painterly quality. The musical score composed by Joe Hisashi matches the majesty of the visuals. I don’t honestly find this to be one Ghibli’s best productions, but even their lesser films are still a massive cut above the rest. There really is nothing like them, even for a film as down to earth as The Wind Rises.

It’s clear why Miyazaki chose such a story for his final film. He identifies with Jiro’s desire for perfection and getting the most out of one’s life. This makes The Wind Rises one of his most personal films that honestly feels more like an examination of how Miyazaki recognizes his lifetime than an analysis of Jiro Horikoshi’s legacy. He inserts several elements from his previous films that captured the wonder of imagination and the human spirit.

That’s not to say that the story of Jiro doesn’t stand well enough on its own. It’s amazing to watch both his career soar and his love for Nahoko develop. Though I must admit we spend much more time inside Jiro’s head than we do with his love interest. This makes the romance feel a little rushed and slightly inorganic given the large amount of time the two spend apart. Uneven as it is, the moments where the two connect are touching and overflowing with emotion more than any other animated couple I’ve ever seen.

At one point Jiro is invited to Germany to examine various aircraft and is thrilled with the experience though heavily censored by officials. As I said, this is not a war movie so you won’t hear much mention of the Nazis or tension with the United States. This is a more personal look at one’s life during rocky times in the background.

If the film had to be classified, it would have to be a romance. This is for both the tragic love story between Jiro and Nahoko as well as Jiro’s passionate obsession with perfection. In one of his visions, Caproni tells Jiro that he’ll only have ten years in the sun. After living through a decade of triumphs and failures, the icon of Jiro’s dreams asks if it was worth it. He agrees as he watches his designs soar off into the sunset. It’s a fitting final scene and a wonderful way to remember one of the greatest animation directors of all-time.

“Twin Peaks, The Entire Mystery” Review

‘Twin Peaks’ may be one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen produced since it hit ABC in 1990. Now the classic detective show that it is any thing but ordinary has finally come to Blu-ray in the form of ‘Twin Peaks, The Missing Pieces’. All the episodes from the TV series including the prequel film ‘Fire Walk With Me’ are included on this set – all of them with a new HD transfer supervised by creator David Lynch himself.

For those not familiar with the series, it takes place in the fictional rural Washington town of Twin Peaks. It seems like a quaint logging community, but when the popular high school girl Laura Palmer is found dead on the beach, the resulting investigation reveals the dark and sinister nature of the town. Overly-thrilled FBI Agent Dale Cooper, Kyle MacLachlan, is sent to the town to solve the crime and take in the charms of the area. The deeper Cooper goes, he slowly realizes that he’s dealing with much more than just a murder case. This is one case that leads to strange clues, intricate love triangles, creepy characters and a dark force from another dimension that seems to control the woods of Twin Peaks. What makes this show so unique is that it never settles for one note. Sometimes it’s a tongue-in-cheek satire of a soap opera, other times it’s a hard-nosed detective show or even a paranormal thriller. This may seem like a lot of balls to juggle, but creators David Lynch and Mark Frost pull off a very intricate balancing act. The result is a challenging and entertaining adventure through the dark corners of this small town.

The Blu-ray comes in a lavish box unlike anything I’ve seen before with an easy method for flipping through the multiple discs. The set contains all the same extras as the previous DVD boxed set as well as some new features including an interview with David Lynch talking to some of the cast as both people and the characters they play. That’s fun stuff, but the biggest draw is the Missing Pieces feature which contains 90 minutes worth of deleted scenes from the ‘Twin Peaks’ movie ‘Fire Walk With Me’. My only complaint is that the ‘Fire Walk With Me’ disc is a tad off-sync after the first hour. It was only slightly noticeable on my Blu-ray player.

Besides that one error, this is one of the best Blu-rays of the year despite the hefty price tag.

“Zero Charisma” Review

While shows like The Big Bang Theory seem to emphasize that geek is chic, Zero Charisma doesn’t shy away from the destructive personalities of the culture. It may seem like a dated perspective, but the truth is anyone who frequents comic & game shops is aware of this exact individual. He’s the self-righteous game master who thinks so highly of himself that a mere pebble thrown at his towering ego will unleash a storm of dork fury. We may choose not to acknowledge him in the “cool geek” crowd, but he still exists and makes for the perfect destructive character in this film.

Scott doesn’t have much to look forward to in his life. He works part-time at a Chinese take-out joint, lives with his bitter grandma and his flaky mother is attempting to sell her house to pay off her debt. The only thing Scott lives for is his original tabletop roleplaying game which he spends the majority of his time assembling each week for his gaming group. When one of his members departs due to marriage problems, he seek to bring a new player into the fold. Enter Miles, the hipster geek who happens to be an outgoing journalist and comic artist. He is charming enough to work his way into the hearts of the D&D group and begins taking the gaming group in a different direction. It isn’t long before his warm personality and talent breed jealousy within Scott turning him into his rival. And with everything else in his life going downhill, Scott’s rage boils over into insanity as he alienates and attacks everyone in his wake. He can start fights so effortlessly over the most trivial of matters. This soon turns into a battle of the casual geek versus the hardcore geek.

This film is essentially a portrait of a self-destructive individual born within the realm of basement dwelling fantasy lovers. He has become so dedicated to his craft and routine that any altercation sparks his own personal war. This makes him both frightening and hilarious. You hate to see somebody go through such anguish, but you also feel that he’s painted himself into this corner. And you just can’t help but laugh at the fact that Scott lacks the proper mentality to deal with these issues. His life is a mess and he lacks the tools to clean it up. This does, however, provide an interesting enough conclusion that doesn’t take the Taxi Driver way out. Rather, it brings an air of uncomfortable truth and resolution to social relationships in these small-knit communities. Scott is given some heart, but just enough so he doesn’t make any wild leaps in personality.

The script for this project has a biting and insightful wit as when Scott grows irritated by Miles showing him up with his geek knowledge. Scott claims that arguing over starship speeds is irrelevant, but Miles brings references and math into the equation to solve it. Scott at one point claims he was the original writer of The Matrix to which Miles buries his statement in the dirt with several sources. There’s even some strange and uncomfortable bits as when Scott attempts to pop a zit on his pal’s forehead in a rape-esque moment. Scenes like that took me out of the picture, but the hilarious dialogue that goes on at these D&D gaming sessions kept winning me back over. In its own morbid little way, Zero Charisma is a triumph of nerd depiction that I sure hope echos within the various communities to which it plays off of.

“Son of Batman” Review

I fear that Warner Brothers may have exhausted their Batman animated movie ideas if they’re now resorting to estranged child plots. Such a concept seems like something more common for a television program in the twilight of its run. It’s a move that one would have to be very brave and very capable of pulling off to make for an entertaining movie. This is not that movie as the whole idea is given a very lukewarm presentation.

Damien Wayne has grown up far from his father Bruce Wayne in the mountain HQ for the League of Assassins. His entire life has been spent on intense warrior training with his mother Talia and his grandfather Ra’s. Terror strikes, however, when the evil Deathstroke descends on the stronghold with his highly-trained minions to destroy the League. When Ra’s is murdered in the scuffle, Damien vows swift revenge for the death of his grandfather. His quest leads him to Gotham City where he finally comes face to face with his father. Naturally, being the dark knight, it isn’t long before Damien takes an interest in the Robin costume and the dynamic duo takes on a father-son relationship.

The two are polar opposites, however, with Damien being more of a killer than a crime fighter. Growing up with assassins, he’s been taught some rather nasty lessons that Bruce must now rectify with his more humane approach to vigilantism. He shows him the ropes by following the trail of clues that leads them to some fights with Killer Croc and a gang of Man Bats. Those fight scenes are decent, but never really ascend past the level of television animation. And the final showdown between the two and Deathstroke is so underwhelming for a fight with swords and martial arts. These three are supposed to be masters of their fighting craft and here they’re pulling out amateur moves and mistakes. This could have been an impressive display and instead it just feels like another uninspired moment.

What’s really so disappointing about the film is the very poor choice in voice talents. None of these voices really fit all that well. I couldn’t buy the emotion of Bruce Wayne, the cruelness of Damien and the evil of Deathstroke. All of the voice acting either feels ill-fitting or phoned in with a dry delivery. The animation looks decent, but does appear to be a step down from Warner Brothers’ previous direct-to-video animations. It has that sort of stylized jerkiness you’d see on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. For television, it looks great. But as an animated film for video, this needs an upgrade. I wasn’t entirely uninvested in the film as there are some great dialogue exchanges between Bruce and Damien as well as some fun lines for Alfred and Nightwing. As a whole, however, I was more distracted by the dip in quality for just about every department. In the canon of these direct-to-video DC Comics movies, this is certainly not a highlight and may be one of the worst they’ve made.

“Better Living Through Chemistry” Review

Even great actors can falter in a film if they’re not used properly. Take Sam Rockwell, a fantastic personality who can ooze charisma for any upbeat role. The only roles I could not buy him in are the sad wimp or the aggressive bully. ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ likes to think he can fill both designations and lets the trainwreck unfold in a terribly hateable script. Sam Rockwell is a great talent, but even he can’t save a comedy so vile and unlikable that’s devoid of almost all humor.

Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell) is the meekly innocent pharmacist in a town packed with jerks. His wife is a neglectful health nut, his son is a school shooting waiting to happen and everybody he knows more or less walks all over him. It isn’t until he meets lonely housewife Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde) when he actually feels needed and appreciated. Fed up with both their lives leading nowhere with little appreciation, the two have an affair behind closed doors or in a car when presumably nobody is watching.

Then, in a strange jump, Doug decides it would also be fun to start pilfering pills from the pharmacy he runs. I guess he figured that if you’re going to be unfaithful you might as well commit felonies and get high in the process. He also uses these pills to his advantage in order to beat his wife at a bike race and then ravish like never before in the bedroom. He’s also finally able to connect with his son, but only through cussing and causing public property damage with ninja stars.

I know this whole experience should be seen as a warped way for Doug to gain some backbone, but it’s more of the makings of a villain ala Falling Down. You wish you could be happy for Doug, but it’s hard to root for him when he sinks down lower than the awful characters who spit on him. It isn’t long before Doug and Elizabeth decide to off her old man so they can runaway together. By this point you naturally don’t expect the plan to work and look forward to the inevitable downfall of the character.

But guess what? That moment never comes and were instead treated to a happy ending via left-field accidents that resolve everything. Such an ending would imply that we like the character of Doug and want to see everything work out nice for him in the end. It’s a little hard to feel that when the character is committing all these illegal and immoral acts with a devilish sensibility. You’d almost feel sorry for his dark descent if it weren’t for the fact that he got away with everything. Instead, you just end up hating Doug the same way you despise all the other characters. He sinks to their level and succeeds.

I’m still hung up on how he decided to make the massive leap from having an affair to stealing prescription drugs. Maybe if he’d actually fantasized or considered it at one point in the film it would actually make sense. Heck, the film had a perfect opportunity to use his drugged up and party-boy delivery assistant as an inspiration. It wouldn’t make Doug anymore likable with this added in, but it would at least make some sense of his actions.

There are some early moments where I was convinced that this could be an acceptable dark comedy. In a scene similar to ‘One Hour Photo’, Doug explains the various customers of the small town and the secrets he keeps on all of them. That right there would’ve been a great starting point for the story, but it’s rarely taken advantage of in the movie. We’re instead led down a not-so-likable path of drug abuse and wild sex, but not the kind where anybody gets hurt. After all, that would ruin all of Doug’s “fun”.

I know that Geoff Moore and David Posamentier were aiming for dark comedy here, but I fear they have forgotten the comedy part. Every character just ends up becoming so over-the-top in their mean-spirited nature that they all turn into cartoonish villains. These two writers just cannot conceive likable characters with a script like this.

Doug bursts into his anti-social son’s room and gets on his good side not by being a dad, but trying act cool with foul language and encouraging violence. If my dad did that to me when I was 12, I would’ve called the cops on him. Instead, Doug’s kid learns to trust his dad and confess what’s wrong at school. And all it took was some illegal acts of destruction to get on his good side.

What’s really disheartening is that all these characters are so vile that you don’t feel anything for any of them. Then when the movie actually wants you to feel some emotions when the characters are sweet or placed in jeopardy, you couldn’t care less about how things play out. Then you see how things actually play out and you’re pissed at how lazy the writers were with the conclusion. This is one of the few films with an ending so terrible you may want to bolt yourself to the couch to prevent your fist from flying through the screen.

‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ never really delivers on being either a dark comedy or an uplifting tale of gaining confidence. If it weren’t so ridiculous in its plot and motivations, it could almost pass for a drama. But the combining of the two genres for a good-pharmacist-gone-bad story just doesn’t work here. The film has about two or three decent chuckles and maybe one or two moments of satisfying revenge, but nothing more than that.

“Best Night Ever” Review

Sometimes a filmmaker can surprise you. Take the writing/directing duo Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg for example. Up until now, they’ve only made awful parody films such as ‘Epic Movie’, ‘Disaster Movie’ and ‘Meet the Spartans’. But their latest film, ‘Best Night Ever’, is their first original film. There are no cutaway movie references or pop culture satire gags in sight. I’m impressed as I didn’t think these two could ever conceive a film without relying on making fun of films. And guess what? They’re still the worst filmmakers ever.

Told in the popular found-footage format, ‘Best Night Ever’ follows a bachelorette party bound for Las Vegas. When they arrive, however, a case of stolen credit card info leaves the four girls without a swanky room in the city of lights. Deciding not to let this set back their partying, they check in to a low-grade motel on the bad part of town. It’s then that the movie starts struggling to find things for these characters to do by throwing them into wild scenarios.

At one point they decide to buy cocaine from a valet. The valet then robs them and the girls are forced to find money via strange acts such as mud wrestling. The mud wrestling could’ve been interesting, but it’s entirely cut as it proceeds straight to the bloody aftermath. And then it’s just one forced scene after another including taking drugs they swiped from an ambulance because they literally do not know what to do next. This is a plot so bad even the characters know it.

As for the characters, you care for none of them because they never get proper development. All the ingredients are there as you have an uptight wife with criminal tendencies and a new mom who wants to be a party girl. Those are both great foundations to work from, but they never build to anything. You don’t make us care about characters by just slapping them with traits and then never using them. Without any characters to become attached to on any level, all we’re really watching is a bunch of crazy women running around Las Vegas doing stupid and illegal acts. No story, no character, no great lines; just random acts of stupidity and vulgarity.

The one good thing I can say about the direction is that Seltzer and Friedberg are committed to the found-footage format. They make sure a character is always holding the camera at some point with no weird or out-of-place shots. Everything else is a mess.

For making so many comedy films, Seltzer and Friedberg have zero sense of timing. Towards the end of the film, the girls run afoul of a naked, obese black woman that chases them through a hotel. That type of shock humor only has a lifespan of 30 seconds max. But, no, we follow her for what seems like forever in a chase scene that will not end.

But the worst moment by far is a sequence that lasts over 10 minutes in which the girls dash around Las Vegas fulfilling the bachelorette party scavenger hunt. These scenes are not scripted nor do they have any dialogue as that would detract from the annoying overlaying music. There are some films that feel like they were made just so the celebrities involved would get a chance to travel. It’s clear that these actresses were doing this for a chance to run around Las Vegas like loons and we get to watch them have fun without any acting.

Is it really a surprise that these guys don’t know how to write either? They may have done their best to stay original with the script, but their unfunny nature and terrible ideas remain intact. There is no real story or characters present in this movie. There are components that if properly assembled could make at least a cohesive story, but why use any of that when you can just cram in as many vulgar jokes as possible. Oh, and because they’re women partying, make sure they scream and squeal as much as possible at the top of their lungs.

Also, was I supposed to laugh at the scene where they kidnap the wrong guy who ripped them off, raid his house and then urinate and defecate on his face? Is this what comedy has come to in this day and age? I know some women would like to praise this film for being a raunchy comedy with an all female cast, but do you really want to bestow that progressive title on a picture that involves pooping on people’s faces for revenge? Even ‘The Hangover’, for all its vulgarity, still had some standards. Chalk this up to Seltzer and Friedberg’s inability to write women, characters, gags and comedy movies in general.

This is ground zero for humor. It’s as if an A-bomb of awful went off in this movie leaving nothing but plot-puppet characters dancing around Las Vegas. I know I’ve said this with every film they’ve ever made, but Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg need to stop making movies. There is no hope for these two as they’ve been making terrible movies for years and have shown zero sign of improvement. Move over, Ed Wood and Uwe Boll. Seltzer and Friedberg have secured their spot as the worst directors of all time and this being their first original movie ensures that title.

“The Hidden Fortress” Review

Akira Kurosawa is one of the best directors of all-time not just for his exceptional camera work, but for making samurai films both unique and fun. No film is more true of this then ‘The Hidden Fortress’, an adventure in feudal Japan seen through the eyes of two bumbling soldiers. It adds an unparalleled level of comic relief to a tale of sword fights and brutal warfare.

Trapped behind enemy lines after a failed campaign, Tahei and Matashichi try to lay low and find a way out of enemy territory. On their journey, they stumble upon a secret base for what they do not realize is a fallen clan. Within the mountains hides samurai general Rokurota and princess Akizuki who offer the two greedy men gold for safe passage to safer land. Agreeing to the task, Tahei and Matashichi try to maintain their friendship over monetary gain while Rokurota fends off any enemies and Akizuki deals with her lack of power. The journey is made all the more difficult as they hide the gold they’re transferring within wooden sticks that even the local authorities are aware of. Not to mention there is actually a price on the princess’ head.

This is easily one of my favorite Kurosawa films for the perspectives of both the characters and the camera. Several of the shots in the film are grand in scale involving hundreds of extras. One of the best scenes involves a massive wave of slaves rushing down a steep flight of stairs as guards attempt to fire on them before being rushed. The most memorable, however, is a pike duel Rokurota accepts with an old military buddy in a circle of soldiers.

The two comical soldiers are usually the trickster characters saddled to supporting roles, but it’s infinitely entertaining to watch them take center stage. They don’t become the heroes per se and they don’t exactly mend their ways all that much either. It’s a refreshing change of pace to the usual hero tale. Rokurota is best suited for this role as he makes the tough decisions that guides his group across shady ground. Princess Akizuki, however, has the most interesting development as she attempts to handle her fall from grace while still trying to do good for others.

It’s easy enough to see how this film was a large inspiration for ‘Star Wars’. The characters of C3Po and R2-D2 were clearly inspired by Tahei and Matashichi. I shouldn’t even have to mention who the samurai general and princess were inspired to create for George Lucas’ sci-fi epic. I cannot get enough of this movie as it just gets better every time I watch it. The film manages to mix perfect cinematography with an exceptional level of fun and cool. I still prefer ‘The Seven Samurai’ and ‘Yojimbo’ as the definitive samurai films of the genre, but ‘The Hidden Fortress’ is a close third simply for how much it redefined the architecture and looked good while doing it.

“VEEP: Season 2” Review

Does the need for jokes really outweigh the need for characters? I ask because the entire appeal of “VEEP” seems to be about nothing more than political officials spouting obscenities behind closed doors. Sure, that can be funny for a while, but after a few minutes the jokes gets old real fast. At that point you start looking for any likable characters you can latch onto that are not just vehicles for stupidity. Except once you start looking for something outside the crass humor and mean-spirited nature, there’s just nothing there.

Julia Louis-Dreyful once again plays the vice president who ends up being thrown into uncomfortable political situations. Some times they’re unavoidable and some times she walks right into them without any foresight. Her tactical team is just as inept and dumbfounded at both making smart tactical decision and generating a proper public image. Their angry frustration is mildly warranted by how the vice president just doesn’t take her job that seriously or stumbles into traps. At one point she ends up talking about Middle Eastern politics at a pig roast with a skewered hog directly behind her. Most political figures wouldn’t be able to recover so easily from such a fiasco, but the veep manages to come out of every disaster with few scratches. It sounds like her team works a miracle for this to happen, but it’s really just an unexplained miracle of wiping the slate clean for another troublesome scenario.

I kept trying to find something likable about any of these characters to make me route for them, but there is just nothing to them. Every single one if manipulative and only in the political game for their own gains. Most of these characters hardly bat an eye if given the opportunity to run for a higher office if they can sell out the vice president. And the vice president isn’t all that likable either given her awful mistakes, berating of her staff, constantly cussing and making some rather awful assumptions. There is nobody in this show to root for at all. In the season finale, it looks as though the vice president has a shot at being the actual president. Honestly, who cares about that if all the characters are vile messes? The only way these scripts could have been entertaining is if these characters got their just desserts in the end, but, again, they all come out of these incidents with flying colors. So, once again, who cares about them?

You can have a show with deeply flawed main characters that happen to be antagonists. Just look at “House of Cards”, “Breaking Bad” and “Archer”. However, those shows managed to be enjoyable simply for how well their little schemes were executed and the layered nature of their characters. “VEEP” has none of that; just jokes. Yeah, I laughed once or twice, but that was between long stretches of being bored and tired of the venom these characters spit at each other. It’s much more like “The Office” where it appears more focused on telling a real good joke no matter how out of place or inappropriate it appears for a story.

“American Hustle” Review

Director David O. Russel takes a con job tale and transforms it into a fast and stylish ride. He doesn’t gussy it up with lots of guns, gangsters and explosions, but keeps the plot moving so quickly with so many characters working on multiple levels. When it logically makes sense to take a dramatic approach, it goes for it. When there is a perfect moment for some comedy, Russel takes advantage of it. All of this feels organic and looks pretty darn sexy with the late-70’s backdrop.

Based on a true story, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) figures himself to be a mastermind con artist. He swindles many with various operations and his female partner Sydney (Amy Adams). They keep getting better and eventually fool around, despite Irving’s bitter wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and innocent son at home. Their scam operations are soon foiled by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), but he’s willing to let them off the hook if they work undercover to scam and blow the lid off a corrupt congressman. Irving ends up using all of his smarts to pull off a successful scam when the odds keep raising with so many changing variables involving the FBI, the mob and even his wife.

‘American Hustle’ has an organic flow, but still moves at a breakneck pace. It knows exactly when to be emotional, when to be hysterical and when to be sexy without wasting a beat. There are so many levels at play in this script for all these characters to shine and there is an undeniable charm in how they set out to achieve their own goals. Every character feels real and smart, including Jennifer Lawrence’s character. At first she just appears as an obnoxious wife who smokes too much and blows up the microwave, but she’s smart enough to keep a grip on her husband until she finally discovers what truly makes her happy in life. Needless to say, the performances from this all-star cast is a joy to witness. Christian Bale proves that he can fill just about any role as he embodies Irving with a potbelly and comb over.

At over 2 hours, ‘American Hustle’ felt like it went by too quickly given the quickness of the script and direction. We get to spend a lot of time with these characters and witness only the important and juicy scenes of this operation. Everything is kept extremely tight with hardly a single scene that doesn’t garner a laugh, a cringe or leave you salivating for more. At times the movie moves so fast that if you blink you’ll miss the ending. This may be a deterrent for some, but I just couldn’t get enough of how director David O. Russel was able to keep things moving with a smart and sexy vibe. It’s most certainly a film I’m going to want to come back to if not for the layered performances than for the amount of details that zooms past the screen.