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American Hustle

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American Hustle

American Hustle

Could it be that American Hustle is director David O. Russell's homage to the grand scam movie The Sting?

The dynamic is the same, given that the film centres on a seedy grifter and his beautiful young novice. Instead of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, we get Christian Bale and Amy Adams as, respectively, con artist Irving Rosenfeld, and his mistress/partner/soulmate Sydney Prosser.

The two enjoy a life of modest wealth and gaudy fashion in the late '70s as a result of miscellaneous art and finance scams. But they themselves are scammed by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious FBI agent who arrests Sydney as the opening gambit of a bigger game. He wants to employ the couple to realize a scheme that will net some high-profile government officials that may be willing to exchange favours for money.

That game-plan takes them into the orbit of Camden, N.J., mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a politician on a legitimate mission to invigorate his economically depressed community with the potential gold mine of legalized gambling.

Based on the real-life Abscam affair, the scheme has unforeseen complications: Irving is nearly immobilized by guilt when he realizes his mission will destroy the decent, good-hearted Polito. DiMaso presents as a ruthless lawman but is driven by need, either for advancement (pitting him against a glum superior, played beautifully by comedian Louis C.K.) or for an unhealthy attraction to Sydney.

The wild card in all this is Irving's estranged wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), enlisted to socialize with the Politos. Selfish and self-absorbed, Rosalyn may have been written as an avatar of the Me Generation, but Lawrence invests her with a ferocious Brooklyn charm, which explains how Rosalyn managed to ensnare a guy would should know a con when he sees one.

American Hustle didn't get any of the Oscar love bequeathed on The Sting back in 1974, but for my money, it was the best film of the year. 4 stars

Frozen

Even a visually dazzling Disney film might be a tough sell for audiences for whom the word "frozen" offers no escapist connotations.

Be assured, it's not a documentary about Winnipeg's endless winter of 2013. It's about a sorceress-princess who accidentally puts her kingdom in a deep freeze. Mitigating the content: snow and ice has never looked more beautiful onscreen.

Like The Little Mermaid, Frozen is a loose adaptation of a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Young princess Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) has been obliged to live in isolation in her castle with her elder sister Elsa (Idina Menzel). Anna doesn't know it, but Elsa is the reason for the enforced solitude. Elsa is a sorceress capable of conjuring elaborate ice formations with a flick of her wrists. When her secret is uncovered during her coronation as queen, Elsa accidentally puts the entire kingdom in a deep freeze and exiles herself to a nearby mountaintop. It falls on little sister Anna to take on a mission to find Elsa and try to reverse the magic.

The animation here is truly stunning. For comedy, there's the character of Olaf (Josh Gad), a living snowman, created as a childhood playmate for Elsa and Anna and now a plucky partner on Anna's mission.

The musical aspect of the show constitutes Frozen's most salient weakness. The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez occasionally deliver full impact, especially in the Oscar-winning song Let It Go, sung by Menzel with the same empowered intensity the actress brought to the showstopper Defying Gravity in the Broadway musical Wicked. Otherwise, the songs tend to be more poppy than the enduring Broadway-like songbooks of Disney musicals past.

The Blu-ray DVD includes the delightful animated short Get a Horse and a doc about how Frozen is the culmination of a 75-year-old plan to make a movie of the Andersen story hearkening back to Walt Disney himself. 3-1/2 stars

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 C16

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