American Hustle

Director: David O. Russel

Lead Actors: Usual Suspects


Plot Synopsis: Fat, balding con man Irving Rosenfeld's greatest con possibly was convincing Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence's characters to fall in love with him and fight over him. We meet Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale, as he is seducing Amy Adams' character Sydney Prosser.

Prosser, we find out, is as much or more of a capable con artist than Rosenfeld. As such, she uses her two most deadly tools - her cleavage. Every dress or outfit Adams wears throughout the entire movie seems to be split right down to the waste and does very little to hide Adams' braless chest. This is simply one aspect of late 1970s excess on display in David O. Russel's take on Abscam.

In reality though, Abscam plays second fiddle to strong character performances. In addition to Rosenfeld and Prosser, who form a formidable team, there is Rosalyn Rosenfeld - Rosenfeld's legitimate wife. She stays home all day with her son and burns things down on accident. She is beautiful and smarter and more capable than she gives herself credit for.

Then comes the Mayor of Camden New Jersey, played convincingly by Jeremy Renner who played Archer in the Avengers. Then last, and certainly not least, is Bradley Cooper, an FBI agent with a minor cocaine problem and a major self esteem problem. Add desperation to this recipe and mix, this gives you American Hustle.

Who Would Like it and Why
Fans of David O. Russel. This director is really coming into his own. Jennifer Lawrence is at her best. Amy Adams does well. Renner is surprisingly good.

Who Might not Like it and Why
I personally felt that Bale's Rosenfeld was too reflective and weighed by moral dilemma to be a good con man. He seemed to be watching things unravel rather than take action. Also, the plot moves fast so you have to pay attention.

Highlights/Top Scenes
Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams are both beautiful. Adams does a good job playing a conflicted con woman. Renner does a great job playing the mostly innocent mayor. His relationship with Rosenfeld is believable.

(Spoiler Alert)Deniro does a magnificent cameo.


Director: Stephen Frears

Lead Actors: Judi Dench, Stephen Coogan
Producer: Tracy Seaward
Plot Synopsis:
Philomena, a lovely, soulful elderly lady from working class Ireland mournfully commemorates her would-be son's 50th birthday. This is the son she had young, out of wedlock, and was forced to adopt out to Catholic nuns who sold the child to US parents.

Philomena is played at Oscar speed by Dame Judi Dench.
We also meet Martin Sixsmith when his career as a political journalist is in huge turmoil. The writers and director spare us the details of what Sixsmith did to fall out of grace from the elite, British, journalistic world. But, we are assured by several pundits that it is bad, as his face flashes across all major news networks.

One journalist describes the situation by stating that the organization Sixsmith worked for had to eat "humble pie with a side of grovel soup" because of his actions. 

In an early scene for Sixsmith, he is getting a checkup to see if he is depressed, because he feels aweful. He is still brooding later on at a party where his colleagues are teasing him about his career disaster. This is when Philomena's daughter, a caterer at the party, approaches him and asks him to investigate the whereabouts of Philomena's first son.

Sixsmith, who more than anything needs to get out of the house, agrees to look into it. Eventually,this leads to the pairing of Sixsmith and Philomena, who make the ultimate odd couple. Sixsmith is a disgruntled, angry, atheist journalist who had been living the high life in London and riding first class and renting luxury cars.

Philomena is charismatic and god-fearing, and charms every single person she meets. She is not used to first-class anything, and even hoards the croutons at an all-you-can eat salad bar during their first meeting.

Sixsmith pitches the story to a magazine, and the magazine pays for the two to journey to the United States to find out whatever happened to Philomena's first child. This moves things forward - but really the fate and whereabouts of Philomena's son takes backstage in this movie to the fascinating relationship that develops between these two.
Who Would Like it  and Why
Fans of good acting. Dench is at her best as the hardy Philomena with a heart of gold. She is flawless. Memorable. Also, fans of Cougan will be delighted to see him play a serious role in a serious movie. It is no small thing to act opposite Dame Dench, and he seems to hold his own.

Who Might not Like it and Why
I was hoping for a bloody buxomy holiday splash with underwear models and fight scenes. But went to Philomena because I was being treated to it, and I was thoroughly pleased. While this movie lacks physical sweat, Dench's sinking her teeth into a meaty, tricky role and nailing it dead on the nose will hook just about any movie-goer.  

Yes, Dench won me over with her graduate-level seminar on acting. I think few people would walk away with this movie displeased. She won an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love a few years back - that role lasted for only eight minutes. This is a much better exercise for one of the industry's finest to show us how it's done.

My Unfiltered Opinion
I think the directors of the Twilight series should be subjected to a triple showing of this movie so they can understand real acting.  

Highlights/Top Scenes
Coogan's face when he finds out what has happened to Philomena's son. Some of the scenes where Philomena is describing to Sixsimth, a writer by trade, the plot twists in her romance novels. These scenes were artfully extended as the director also recognized the good humor in them. There is another scene when Coogan attacks God and Philomena snaps and calls him a "feckin idiot", which  I can only take to mean "an f-ng idiot" in Galic.  

The Christmas Card- aired on the Hallmark Channel

Director: Stephen Bridgewater

Lead Actors:
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Randy Pope

Plot Synopsis:
A sergeant in the army seems jaded and out of touch as he "celebrates" Christmas at his outpost in Afghanistan. We can tell that he is loved by his men but that something is missing. Just in time for Christmas, he gets a Christmas Card from a lovely, blonde, vivacious woman in Nevada City to wish him merry Christmas from her church. She sends a picture of the church but not of herself, yet the sergeant is smitten with her warm Christmas cheer.

After he is sent home on leave, he realizes he is rudderless, except for a few beacons in the fog - the card, Nevada City and the church. So he gets on his "Hollywood sexy soldier off duty" standard issue chopper, and alpha males his way into this small lumber town.

"Fate" brings him into contact with Faith, the only young, vivacious and basically single woman in a town of gray hair and false teeth. Her father, played by a charismatic Ed Asner, happens to be a war vet, who after one look at the young vet, decides to take him in as his own (never mind the risks of PTSD, or of a soldier going A-wall a la Sylvester Stallone in First Blood) this guy is family.

So now, the underwear model caliber soldier and the hottie are sharing bathrooms and the father would love for them to fall in love. The only thing standing in the way of this inevitable Hallmark romance is a wafish, insecure, 40-something, rich wine connoisseur and merchant, who is not a good kisser. He is the leading lady's fiancé, and the father doesn't like him. They have a wine tasting at the house and the father insists everything her daughter's fiancé pours is "fruity".

Who Would Like it and Why
All sarcasm aside, I thought Ed Asner was charismatic, fun and believable in this winter wonder land where he runs a timber mill and lives in a beautiful cabin. The sets were wonderful and made me yearn for a simpler time. There is even one scene where Ed Asner and his peacemaking wife Lois Nettleton are actually in a "one-horse open sleigh". It should be said that Alice Evans plays her part well as a great catch in nice sweaters that are still acceptable to wear in front of the family. Her smiles light up the screen.

Who Might not Like it and Why
John Newton plays Sgt. Cody Cullen. I thought he was OK as the ingénue, but lacked any sort of colorful acting skill to go beyond his pretty face. He is a good-looking guy and that went far with the plot.

But his nice appearance matched, up with the not-so-attractive current boyfriend, suggested that all those who fight in the military look like underwear models, and anyone who stays stateside is a thin whimp who stays on the cell phone while the real men are cutting things down and operating power tools. I don't think that is true.

Indeed, I thought the family bias against Paul, played well by Ben Weber, was alarming. The Mom was somewhat innocent in this, as she insisted she was for what her daughter wanted. But Asner's character, as well as an uncle, actively conspired against Paul in favor of Sgt. Cody Cullen. They wanted Cullen to take the hand of the beautiful girl, played by Alice Evans.

I also was uncomfortable with the fact that Faith mentioned in voiceover that she had been given the chance to move to the "big city", but had never journeyed outside of her small hometown. Her mannerisms also brought me back to older movies in the way that she seemed flimsy and fickle and unsure of what she wanted as the two young men sparred and parried for her love.

Highlights/Top Scenes
Listen, all sarcasm put aside, this is a nice, warm Christmas tale. I could only wish that all veterans had so many wonderful things waiting for them when they came home.

I think that Nevada City, or wherever they filmed this movie to make it look like Nevada City, played its part as a desirable wintry wonderland.

Also, there is a scene in the beginning where our two lovers unknowingly order the same exact food from a diner-good foreshadowing to their chemistry. Ed Asner glues everything together as the lead. Lois Nettleton does a good job ignoring interpersonal tension and making everyone feel welcome and at home.

Peter Jason plays Richard, the jovial Uncle who helps Asner in guiding his daughter to the right man. He delivers some nice comedic relief in the movie.

Worthy of mention as well is the cabin which the Spellman family lives in, which anyone would love to nestle in, sip some egg nog and watch the snow fall. Also, there is a "special spot" along the river in the trees that plays a key point in the plot, well I'll just give it away - it hosts the first kiss. But it is beautiful. Not sure which river it overlooks, but it is majestic.

My Unfiltered Opinion
Like everyone else in the world, I love our troops. But I also have an open mind and believe that in some cases that the educated, world-class wine connoisseur/merchant might be a better partner for someone than the rudderless vet in a chopper.

Paul, if you're out there, don't despair, you'll find someone. My advice, try a big city where the women are well-educated, aren't as codependent to Daddy, and have an appetite for world-wide travel. You might do well in a place like this.

And, as for the Spellman family, into which Sgt. Cullen fell into like a glove, I wish you much happiness in your cozy Hallmark story.

Yes, Hallmark family values and patriotism took center stage in "The Christmas Card". The family was solid and did its best to weed out any weak links before they got too far. Also, the soldier was a hero, we could tell by his square jaw, even before he did anything heroic.

Paul's warning to Faith that people from the army can be just as dangerous and psychotic as anyone else was brushed aside early in the movie. And why shouldn't it be? This is Christmas, and lets face it, Sgt. Cody Cullen looks great in a Santa hat. The Spellmans will sort everything else out in the New Year...