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Ben Nyce | Via Latina


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“American Hustle” is a high-energy romp on the art of the con, loosely based on the Abscam affair in the 1970s. Bravura performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are its main strengths, as well as the lively script by David Russell, the director. It is also a film about performance – about the need for personal reinvention. Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) are caught in a small time con by FBI agent Ritchie Di Maso (Cooper) who uses them, along with a fake Arab sheik, to entrap politicians who accept bribes to arrange for the mob to take over gambling in Atlantic City. From the opening scene in which Bale carefully arranges an elaborate fake comb-over, we’re tipped off to the disguise each character uses. Adams changes from a go-go dancer to Lady Prosser, helped by high-end dresses from Bale’s dry cleaning business. The complications involved in their scams are too dense to go into but involve zany improvisations and hi jinks. The actors wing it with gusto. “American Hustle” provides a fun and funny experience.


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Whatever happened to Marcello, the bored playboy played by Marcello Mastroianni, in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita?” Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” gives us an answer. Jep Bambardella is an aged Marcello. He published a good novel as a young man but now he writes society columns. He “knows everyone” in Rome, goes to endless parties at which he witnesses erotic behavior which makes “La Dolce Vita” seem tame. He’s seen it all; nothing holds surprise or shock – or much interest. Slim and immaculately dressed, he’s languid, flaccid. We follow him as he saunters Rome’s streets. But what a strange Rome it is. There are no crowds, none of the graffiti we see today. True, Jep’s peregrinations are at 3 or 4 in the morning, after one of the parties at which the same people always seem to be doing the same things. He’s most alive in the visual pleasure he takes in Rome’s byways and the film does a good job of showing us the glowing stones and fountained squares of the city’s less frequented areas. Still there’s an unreality to the settings. Jep’s apartment overlooks the Coliseum and a heavily trafficked street but we hear none of the noise. This is a Rome of nostalgic fantasy, like “the great beauty” Jep says he wants to recapture in a work of fiction he will never write.

The Cineopolis effect is spreading. A recent visit to the AMC theater in La Jolla revealed two liquor-serving bars and wide deep lazy-boy seats you could go to sleep in. The price is 13 dollars – a 30% increase. I guess the big chains are frightened by growth of home theaters with huge screens.

Ben taught literature and film at USD. He wrote “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorsese Up Close.”



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