Category Archives: Con Game

Blu ray reissue: Barry Lyndon ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 9, 2017)

https://i2.wp.com/www.indiewire.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/barry-lyndon-landscape.jpg?w=474

Barry Lyndon – The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Stanley Kubrick’s beautifully constructed, leisurely paced adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s rags-to-riches-to-rags tale about a roguish Irishman (Ryan O’Neal) who grifts his way into the English aristocracy is akin to watching 18th-century paintings come to life (to its detractors, about as exciting as being forced to stare at a painting for 3 hours, strapped to a chair). This magnificent 1975 film has improved with age, like a fine wine; successive viewings prove the legends about Kubrick’s obsession with the minutest of details regarding production design were not exaggerated-every frame is steeped in verisimilitude. Michael Hordern’s delightfully droll voice over work as The Narrator rescues the proceedings from sliding into staidness.

Criterion’s superb 4K restoration is a vast improvement over Warner’s 2011 Blu-ray release; finally giving full due to one of the most visually resplendent costume dramas of all time. Criterion also packed in the extras on this one, including new and archival interviews with cast and crew, as well as featurettes covering everything from cinematography, production design, costume design to critical reappraisal. A must-have.

Funny games: Tickled **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 9, 2016)

https://i2.wp.com/www.nzonscreen.com/content/images/0028/4056/15961.wide.KEY.jpg.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

-William Shakespeare, from Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5

With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever. Always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all of his favorite bars, men in red woolen shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know.

-Hunter S. Thompson, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Oh yes, there are a lot of things going on, involving a lot of incredible kicks, behind a lot of narrow doors, that you and I will never, ever, know. Although…after watching David Ferrier and Dylan Reeves’ Tickled, I’m inclined to think that perhaps it’s all for the best.

That’s because I cannot un-see what I have seen in the course of watching the pair’s documentary, an expose that starts off like a fluffy nightly news kicker, but eventually morphs into something more byzantine and odious. Okay, it’s not All the President’s Men; it’s more aptly described as Foxcatcher meets Catfish. I’m speaking in generalities because Tickled is a difficult film to describe without possibly divulging a spoiler or two.

Ferrier, a New Zealand-based TV entertainment reporter, came across a click-bait item regarding a “sport” called Competitive Endurance Tickling. It was all rather amusing…at first. As he dug a little deeper, he was surprised to find himself becoming increasingly stonewalled by the organizers; soon after he was weathering harassment from lawyers and P.I.’s. What were they covering up? Now completely intrigued, Ferrier decides to go totally Mike Wallace on this (now) shady operation. What he discovers is…some shady stuff, involving some big money types. Nobody gets murdered, but it’s still pretty creepy.

You’ve been warned. Not essential viewing, but you won’t see this story on 60 Minutes!

I did not see that coming: Top 10 April Fool’s flicks

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 2, 2016)

https://i1.wp.com/s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/63/e7/74/63e7744382723392e49590ecfa8d79fd.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

I know. April Fool’s Day was yesterday. But then again, in the grand scheme of things, does that really matter? What is reality, anyway? Besides, this piece is about film, which is scant more than a “ribbon of dreams” (to quote Orson Welles) to begin with. So with that in mind, I’ve curated my top 10 narrative films wherein the characters, the viewer, or both are fooled, conned, surprised, or shockingly betrayed. Or was it all a dream…or a living nightmare? Maybe the protagonist is really d- …oops, spoiler alert! In alphabetical order:

Carny–This character study/road movie/romantic triangle is an oddball affair (Freaks meets Toby Tyler in Nightmare Alley) yet one of my favorite films of the 1980s. Set in the seedy milieu of a traveling carnival, it stars the Band’s Robbie Robertson as the carny manager, Gary Busey as his pal (and dunk tank clown) and Jodie Foster as a teenage runaway who is swept into their world of con games and hustle. The story is raised above its inherent sleaze by excellent performances. Whenever he inhabits the Insult Clown persona, Busey reminds us that at one time, he was one of the most promising young actors around (at least up until the unfortunate motorcycle mishap). Director/co-writer Robert Kaylor also showed promise, but has an enigmatic resume; a film in 1970, one in 1971, Carny in 1980, a nondescript Chad Lowe vehicle in 1989, then…he’s off the radar.

Certified Copy – Just as you’re lulled into thinking this is going to be one of those brainy, talky, yet pleasantly diverting romantic romps where you and your date can amuse yourselves by placing bets on “will they or won’t they-that is, if they can both shut up long enough to get down to business before the credits roll” propositions, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami throws you a curveball. Then again, maybe this film isn’t so much about “thinking”, as it is about “perceiving”. Because if it’s true that a “film” is merely (if I may quote Mr. Welles again) “a ribbon of dreams”-then Certified Copy, like any true work of art, is simply what you perceive it to be-nothing more, nothing less. Even if it leaves you scratching your head, you get to revel in the luminosity of Juliette Binoche’s amazing performance; there’s pure poetry in every glance, every gesture. (Full review).

Chinatown – There are many Deep Thoughts that I have gleaned over the years via repeated viewings of Roman Polanski’s 1974 “sunshine noir”. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.
  • Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.                                                                                                                  
  • You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but, believe me, you don’t.

I’ve also learned that if you assemble a great director (Polanski), a masterful screenplay (by Robert Towne), two leads at the top of their game (Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway), an ace cinematographer (John A. Alonzo) and top it off with a perfect music score (by Jerry Goldsmith), you’ll have a film that deserves its designation as a “classic”. I know to expect it now, but that family secret revealed at the end still “surprises” me.

The Godfather Part II – “I knew it was you.” The betrayal (and the payback) remain two of cinema’s greatest shockers, and Coppola’s sequel is more than equal to its predecessor.

Mulholland Drive – David Lynch’s nightmarish, yet mordantly droll twist on the Hollywood dream makes The Day of the Locust seem like an upbeat romp. Naomi Watts stars as a fresh-faced ingénue with high hopes who blows into Hollywood from Middle America to (wait for it) become a star. Those plans get, shall we say, put on hold…once she crosses paths with a voluptuous and mysterious amnesiac (Laura Harring). What ensues is the usual Lynch mind fuck, and if you buy the ticket, you better be ready to take the ride, because this one of his fun ones (or as close as one gets to having “fun” with David Lynch). Some reviewers have suggested the film is structured as homage to The Wizard of Oz; while I wouldn’t dismiss that out of hand, I’d cautiously file it under “Pink Floyd theory” (see my review below). At any rate, this one grew on me; by the third (or fourth?) time I’d seen it I decided that it’s one of the iconoclastic director’s finest efforts.

Siesta – Music video director Mary Lambert’s 1987 feature film debut is a mystery, wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. Ellen Barkin stars as an amnesiac who wakes up on a runway in Spain, dazed, bloodied and bruised. She spends the rest of the film putting the jagged pieces together, trying to figure out who she is and how she got herself into this discombobulating predicament (quite reminiscent of the 1962 film Carnival of Souls). It’s a bit thin on narrative (critical reception was mixed), but high on atmosphere and beautifully photographed by Bryan Loftus, who was the DP for another one of my favorite 80s sleepers, The Company of Wolves. Great soundtrack by Marcus Miller, and a fine supporting cast including Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, and Isabella Rosselli. The script is by Patricia Louisianna Knop, who would later produce and occasionally write for her (now ex) husband Zalman King’s Red Shoe Diaries cable series that aired in the ‘90s.

The Sting – George Roy Hill’s caper dramedy is pretty fluffy, but a lot of fun. Paul Newman and Robert Redford reunited with their Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid director in this 1973 star vehicle to play a pair of 1930s-era con men who set up the ultimate “sting” on a vicious mobster (Robert Shaw) who was responsible for the untimely demise of one their mutual pals. The beauty of screenwriter David S. Ward’s clever construction is in how he conspiratorially draws the audience in to feel like are in on the elaborate joke…but then manages to prank us too…when we’re least expecting it!

The Stunt Man – How tall was King Kong?” That’s the $64,000 question, posed several times by Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole), the larger-than-life director of the film-within-the-film in Richard Rush’s 1980 drama. Once you discover that King Kong was but “3 foot, six inches tall”, it becomes clear that the fictional director’s query is actually code for a much bigger question: “What is reality?” That is the question to ponder as you take this wild ride through the Dream Factory. Because from the moment our protagonist, a fugitive on the run from the cops (Steve Railsback) tumbles ass over teakettle onto Mr. Cross’s set, where he is  filming an arty WW I action adventure, his (and the audience’s) concept of what is real and what isn’t becomes hazy, to say the least. O’Toole really chews the scenery, supported by a cast that includes Barbara Hershey and Allen Garfield.

The Usual Suspects – What separates Bryan Singer’s sophomore effort from the pack of otherwise interchangeable Tarantino knockoffs that flourished throughout the 90s (aside from his tight direction) is a perfectly chosen cast (Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palmenteri, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollack and Stephen Baldwin), whip smart screenplay (co-written by Singer and Christopher McQuarrie) and a real doozey of a twist ending. The story unfolds via flashback, narrated by a soft-spoken, physically hobbled milquetoast named “Verbal” (Spacey), who is explaining to a federal agent (Palmenteri) how he ended up the sole survivor of a mass casualty shootout aboard a docked ship. Verbal’s tale is riveting; a byzantine web of double and triple crosses that always seems to thread back to an elusive and ruthless criminal puppet master named Keyser Soze. The movie has gained a rabid cult following, and “Who is Keyser Soze?” has become a meme.

The Wizard of Oz – So the jury is still out as to when to drop the needle. Conventional wisdom advises the 3rd roar of the MGM lion; but there are still those who would argue the case for the 1st or 2nd roar. Then is yet another school of thought that subscribes to waiting until the logo fades to black. I’m sorry, I just realized I’m being exclusionary to readers who don’t have time to fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way, hunting for that sweet spot that syncs up Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz. At any rate, long before that mashup was but a gleam in a stoner’s reddened eye, Victor Fleming’s 1939 beloved musical fantasy had already been emulated, quoted, parodied and analyzed ad nauseam. Obviously, it’s on my list for 2(!) Big Reveals in the third act.

Gall Street: The Big Short ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on January 2, 2016)

https://i1.wp.com/cdn1-www.comingsoon.net/assets/uploads/2015/04/BigShortBar640.jpg?w=474

In my 2010 review of the documentary Inside Job, I wrote:

I have good news and bad news about Charles Ferguson’s incisive parsing of what led to the crash of the global financial system in 2008. The good news is that I believe I finally grok what “derivatives” and “toxic loans” are. The bad news is…that doesn’t make me feel any better about how fucked we are.

Remember 2008? That financial crisis thingie? Well, it’s time to dust off the pitchfork. Good news first? Writer-director Adam McKay and co-scripter Charles Randolph have (somehow) adapted Michael Lewis’ 2010 non-fiction book The Big Short into an outstanding comedy-drama that doubles as an incisive parsing of what led to the crash of the global financial system. The bad news…it made me pissed off about it all over again.

Yes, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this ever-maddening tale of how we (meaning your everyday, average hard-working American taxpayer) stood by, completely unsuspecting and blissfully unaware, as unchecked colonies of greedy, lying Wall Street investment bankers were eventually able to morph into the parasitic gestalt monster journalist Matt Taibbi famously compared to a “…great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

However, what differentiates McKay’s film from the aforementioned documentary is its surprisingly effervescent candy-coating, which helps the medicine go down. For example, he sprinkles his narrative with helpful, interstitial tutorials that annotate some of the financial vernacular that gets tossed about. And as far as helpful, interstitial tutorials go, one could do worse than watching lovely Australian actress Margot Robbie take a bubble bath as she delivers an authoritative dissertation as to how junk bonds are created.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are other elements that help the film work as beautifully as it does; for one the impressive number of A-list cast members (shocking, when you consider the subject matter wouldn’t likely strike your typical Hollywood green-lighter to be as bankable as, let’s say…a story that is set in a galaxy far, far, away).

The narrative has several threads, encircling a quirky, Oscar-baiting turn by Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager (and possible Asperger’s sufferer) who appears to be a savant with numbers and financial trend spotting. He is one of the first to not only spot the needle heading for the “bubble”, but to figure out how investors, armed with such foreknowledge (and bereft of conscience) could become incredibly filthy rich.

Initially of course, everyone thinks he’s nuts. But as word gets around that the big banks (through oversight and pure greed) may have created an Achilles heel for themselves that could be exploited by a savvy few (at the expense of, oh I don’t know…the rest of us?) a few other players enter the story (played with equal aplomb by Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt). What makes these four primary characters compelling is that while each has disparate motivations, they all share one trait: thinking outside of the box.

McKay cleverly employs a variation of the network narrative; all of the primary characters may not literally cross paths, yet once all is said and done, you come to understand how each of them represents (if I may extrapolate on Mr. Taibbi’s cephalopod theme) a mutually exclusive tentacle of that great vampire squid, jamming and sucking.

Ew. I think that’s the most disgusting sentence I’ve ever written. Anyway…see this film!

Draw this pirate: Art and Craft ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 1, 2014)

https://i1.wp.com/media.tumblr.com/1e268fdc98f5b0c0cab01c706cf3696f/tumblr_inline_nblld0cFkT1s1cwks.jpg?w=474

It’s an age-old question: Who gets to call it “art”? Andy Warhol paints a replica of a Campbell soup can, signs his name to it (with no credit to the designer who originally created it), and it’s “art”, as opposed to “plagiarism”? Eye of the beholder, and all that, I’d reckon. Art and Craft, a documentary from directors Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker, adds a new spin to the question: Does someone talented enough to reproduce classic works of art that are so indistinguishable from originals that even professional registrars are duped deserve to be called an “artist”? And if that said individual is donating the work, is it still “forgery”? After all…as Jonathan Richman once sang, “Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole.”

Such is the strange case of mild-mannered savant Mark Landis, who has the dubious distinction of being considered the most prolific forger in art history. Amazingly, Landis was able to keep his secret safe for 30 years, during which time he took on the role of a “philanthropist”, crisscrossing the country to donate his uncanny reproductions to unsuspecting galleries and museums. The breadth of the works is genuinely astonishing; covering the full spectrum from Charles Shultz to Picasso. His streak ended when Matthew Leininger, one of the registrars he had initially duped, caught on to Landis’ con.

The film is ultimately a fascinating portrait of two obsessive individuals; each one operating within a gray area. While there are certainly ethical issues that can be raised regarding what Landis does, there is nothing technically illegal about donating objects d’art. Besides, as one art expert conjectures in the film, who is to say that what Landis does isn’t a kind of “performance art” in and of itself?

In that respect, one could argue he is free to go about his business, as long as he isn’t hurting anybody (save the wounded pride of a few museum curators). Likewise, while it could be argued that Leininger (at least as observed in the film) is exhibiting classic characteristics of stalking behavior, there’s no law against him going on his one-man crusade across the country to alert any museums and galleries that he suspects may have Landis’ work in their collections.

Anyone already aware of the art world’s inherently schizoid nature will probably not be too surprised by the film’s most enlightening segment, which takes place at a gallery that has offered Landis his own show. The only original in the installation is a portrait Landis painted of his late mother; the rest are his reproductions. Several attendees ask Landis the obvious question, “You’re so talented…why don’t you do your own work?” The soft-spoken (and heavily medicated) Landis responds to such queries with enigmatic shrugs.

Someone else has shown up as well…Leininger (luckily, with his wife, who can be seen pulling him back several times when he looks for all intents and purposes like he’s seriously considering grabbing Landis and killing him with his bare hands). Inevitably, there is a brief (and obviously awkward) conversation between the two. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t been reading any of your emails, because I figured they would just be bad news,” Landis tells Leininger, “but if you want to send me any new emails, I’ll read them, because we’re all friends now,” and offers Leininger his hand. Leininger shakes, but still looks like he wants to strangle Landis. Everybody’s a critic, I suppose…

My life in ruins: The Two Faces of January **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 11, 2014)

https://i0.wp.com/4.bp.blogspot.com/-P3Ivo1KUOSs/VDm6uw1hUiI/AAAAAAAAVQ0/Z_OpudrUG_w/s1600/The-Two-Faces-of-January-International-Poster-slice.jpg?w=474

There’s something that Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, Rene Clement’s Purple Noon (and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 remake, The Talented Mr. Ripley) all share in common (aside from being memorable thrillers). They are all based on novels by the late Patricia Highsmith. Hossein Amini’s directorial debut, The Two Faces of January, is the latest Highsmith adaptation…but that may be all it has in common with the aforementioned. Then again, perhaps only time will tell us that for sure (and it wouldn’t be the first time that History has proven me an ass; but I digress).

While Highsmith’s pet recurring character Tom Ripley is absent in this outing, we do have our requisite Young American Abroad Who Becomes Ensnared In Intrigue (bet you’re glad I didn’t say that he “gets caught in a web of deceit”). His name is Rydal (played by Inside Llewyn Davis star Oscar Isaac), an Athens-based tour guide/con man who scams tourists. He may have more than met his match when he runs into Chester (Viggo Mortensen), an apparently well-to-do American who is traveling through Europe with his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). The three become quick friends. Too quickly. From the outset, Rydal and Chester circle each other warily, in such a way that telegraphs to the viewer that Someone’s Gonna End Up Dead. But who is conning who?

Don’t worry, I harbor no spoilers. If you’re an old-school mystery fan, and you’ve already read enough to be intrigued, I won’t stop you from buying a ticket. Just be forewarned: while this all sounds very Hitchcockian…don’t expect another Strangers on a Train here. The performances are good (Mortensen in particular) and the location filming is lovely, but there is something curiously static about the production. Maybe it’s because feels like something you might stumble across on PBS while channel-surfing on a Sunday night? I can’t put my finger on why it didn’t work for me. That’s the mystery…

SIFF 2014: Abuse of Weakness **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 31, 2014)

In this semi-autobiographical drama from writer-director Catherine Breillat, Isabelle Huppert plays a director who becomes partially paralyzed after a stroke. As she’s recovering, she brainstorms her next project. She is transfixed by (an allegedly) reformed con man (Kool Shen) appearing on a TV chat show. She decides he will star in her movie. The charismatic hustler happily ingratiates himself into Huppert’s life…with less than noble intentions. A psychological thriller recalling the films of Claude Chabrol.

SIFF 2014: The Servant **** (Archival Presentation)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 24, 2014)

https://i1.wp.com/4.bp.blogspot.com/-YLWn64xF_2M/U4D1O25jEPI/AAAAAAAAAkE/t-epXGGrT7c/s1600/kobal_theservant460.jpg?w=474

One of my all-time favorite British dramas has received a restored print for its 50th anniversary. Joseph Losey’s brooding and decadent class-struggle allegory features the late great Dirk Bogarde in a note-perfect performance as the “manservant” hired by a snobby playboy (James Fox) to help him settle into his upscale London digs. It soon becomes apparent that this butler has a little more on the agenda than just polishing silverware and dusting the mantle. A very young Sara Miles is memorable as Bogarde’s “sister” who is hired as the maid. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s striking chiaroscuro composition and clever use of convex mirrors (which appear to “trap” the images of the principal characters) sustains a stifling, claustrophobic mood throughout. If you’re an aficionado of the 60’s British folk scene, keep your eyes peeled for a rare, unbilled glimpse of guitarist Davey Graham, in a scene where Fox walks into a coffeehouse. Harold Pinter’s screenplay was adapted from the novel by Robin Maugham.

 

SIFF 2014: Mirage Men ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 17, 2014)

https://i1.wp.com/2.bp.blogspot.com/-9cD1hcK6XSg/U3fXZeC-5yI/AAAAAAAARKQ/HjtxPrxoKWU/s1600/Mirage-Men-promo.jpg?w=474

Remember the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where Roy counters the government official’s spin with “You can’t fool us by agreeing with us”? Life imitates art in John Lundberg’s brain-teasing documentary. Along with screenwriter Mark Pilkington, he’s assembled a treatise suggesting the government did, in fact, “fool” UFO conspiracy theorists over the years by “agreeing” with them. And if you ask the film’s central player, ex-spook Richard C. Doty, he’s more than happy to confess that his prime directive as the Air Force’s chief liaison with the Roswell believers was two-fold: keep tabs on the higher-profile UFO buffs, whilst feeding them enough tantalizing disinformation to keep the mythology thriving. Unless…that’s what he wants us to think (hmm). That’s the conundrum that kept me hooked. Fans of The X-Files will dig this one.

Bad hair decade: American Hustle **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 21, 2013)

https://i1.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/-Gt7P18062R4/UrYr4fwHoxI/AAAAAAAAPM0/W3To3wQUa-4/s1600/new-images-from-the-hobbit-american-hustle-and-the-monuments-men-142354-a-1375953418-470-75.jpg?w=474

While I was waiting for the lights to go down at a packed sneak preview for David O. Russell’s American Hustle, a Gandalf-looking fellow wearing what can only be described as a Jed Clampett hat squeezed in next to me, gave me a nudge and asked, “So, what’ve ya heard about this one…is it kinda like American Gigolo?” (They always find me…I don’t know how, but they do).

Now praying for the lights to go down, I forced a polite smile and said “No, I don’t believe it’s about male hustlers. It’s about con artists, although it does take place in the 1970s.” He paused for a moment of contemplation. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “so it’s kinda like Boogie Nights?”

While stealing a quick visual check of the house for any other available seats, I replied “No, I don’t think it’s about the porn industry. I understand that it’s based on the Abscam scandal…if you remember it.” Huge mistake. “Ah! We must be about the same age! What year were ya born? Tell me, do ya have a good home life?”

Mercifully, I was saved by the lights.

My new BFF may have inadvertently stumbled onto something. It turns out that American Hustle actually is one of those “kinda like” movies. It’s kinda like GoodFellas, just not as stylish. It’s kinda like Jackie Brown, just not as clever. It’s kinda like Married to the Mob, just not as funny. And if you’re expecting All the President’s  Men, fuhgettaboutit. Consequently, it is neither a candy nor a breath mint.

It’s best described as New Yorkers screaming at each other for an interminable 2 hours and 18 minutes (with guest conniptions from the Jersey side). After the winking disclaimer “Some of this actually happened“, we are introduced to sleazy con man Irving (Christian Bale), who preys on marks with the help of his “British” girlfriend Sydney (Amy Adams). When the two stingers get stung by an undercover FBI operation, the hotshot agent in charge (Bradley Cooper) offers them a deal if they help him catch bigger fish by conning a mobbed-up Camden, NJ mayor (Jeremy Renner) into serving as unsuspecting facilitator.

The “sting” here is on the audience, because Russell and his co-writer Eric Singer, while proving quite skilled at window-dressing this as some kind of rollicking, vaguely sociopolitical 70s period piece, use the retro vibe as sucker bait to string us along waiting for something interesting to happen; by the time we realize we’ve been had, the credits roll. There is far too little focus on story or character development and too much fixation on fashion, furniture and hair (Bale’s Rube Goldberg comb-over, Cooper’s perm and Renner’s pompadour deserve their own credits).

And while I’m nitpicking…about that music. While I love those super hits of the 70s as much as anyone else, if the story is set in 1978, why are 90% of the songs on the soundtrack from the early 70s?

It’s a drag to see such a good cast wasted. Bale, Adams, Cooper, Renner and Jennifer Lawrence (playing Bale’s estranged wife with aplomb) are skilled, but even the best actors need some direction every now and then (like when to dial it down to a dull roar, an instruction that apparently went either unspoken or unheeded). So don’t be conned.

Have a nice day!