Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

You know, I think I got about halfway through this movie before I realized it was about the ABSCAM operation. Of course, I was a little kid when that was all happening, so it doesn't live in my memory so much. But really, I was just distracted by the production design, the great soundtrack, the costumes, and the excellent performances. I've said before: I find truly great, electric acting very exciting, and this is one of those rare movies where ever actor is just firing on all cylinders. Christian Bale is fantastic as a low level con artist who falls in love with a fellow con artist (played enticingly by Amy Adams) and who are content to just sort of be in love and run these scams that net them some money but keep them more or less under the radar of the law. Then they end up getting trapped by an overzealous FBI agent (Bradley Cooper, almost hypnotically manic) who forces them to help him entrap others, leading to a sting operation centered around the mayor of Camden, New Jersey (Jeremy Renner, excellent). And the wild card in all of this is Bale's neglected wife, the brash and brassy Jennifer Lawrence--and I swear I was ready to hate her, like I always do, but I have to give her credit: this is the first performance of hers I've ever liked, and I thought she was great in it. (It probably helps that the screenplay mainly calls for her to be obnoxious, which seems like her natural setting.) The performances are excellent (also here: Robert De Niro, Louis CK, Shea Wigham, Michael Pena and Elizabeth Rohm), the screenplay crackles, and hell, I've said it before--I think I've been saying it since 2007--but I think Amy Adams is the most talented actress of her generation. Just an excellent American film. I haven't loved a David O. Russell movie like this since probably Flirting with Disaster. That's a long time. ****

Well, it means well. The film is about addiction, mainly sex addiction, and while I appreciate that its characters aren't treated like sleazy perverts, I do find it annoying when movies like this try to go to a really dark well to set up the third act and then the thing they think of seems so mundane to me (this movie goes out of its way to equate wanting to engage in ageplay and light masochism with profound mental instability, which I just found insulting and needlessly hysterical). It also tries too hard to draw a parallel between addiction and being overzealous, and not all of the performances serve the material very well (is Gwyneth Paltrow's character supposed to be so unlikable?), though I finally get why people are talking up Josh Gad so much. To my surprise, as an actress Pink more or less steals the movie. The whole thing is just too neat, to pop psychology. **1/2

Some more of those great new Mickey Mouse cartoons, each one of them fun and hilarious. I love Donald Duck in Tapped Out, especially ("Watch the nachos!"), but having just been ill, Flipperboobootosis was probably my favorite in this batch. Nice to see Pegleg Pete getting an appearance! **** each.

SAVAGES (2012)
Oliver Stone's movie about love and drug dealers isn't bad, necessarily, it's just incomprehensible. To the point that I could follow it, I didn't care what happened. And it doesn't help that the leads are all supremely boring, particularly the film's narrator and main protagonist, the ironically named Blake Lively. Dullsville. *

All the elements are there, but the film doesn't click on any level. There's a real problem here where the filmmakers can't seem to decide if they're making an epic fantasy or a fairybook story for children, and since no one commits to the tone, it ends up too aloof to care about. The filmmakers also seem to think they're above the material, which mostly the same cliches you expect in something like this. The costumes and special effects are particularly bad; too cartoonish to take seriously, but too dark to be fun. Waste of a good cast, and only Ewan McGregor has any real life in him. (But he's a Jedi Master, after all; he's the only one who gets the tone.) A waste of time.*1/2

I read a few Judy Blume novels when I was a lad, but never Tiger Eyes. I'm kind of surprised there haven't been a bunch of Judy Blume movies by now, honestly, especially with such an emphasis lately on adapting YA fiction. This film--directed and adapted by Blume's son Lawrence--is kind of a refreshing surprise. It's a smaller scale film than a lot of coming of age dramas now, but it's better for it. I'm not saying it's not ambitious, because so much depends on the lead performance by Willa Holland. But it's nice to see a film about a teenager going through an upheaval that isn't so overdramatic and deals with things rather matter-of-factly. It's grounded, but emotionally sincere, and I liked it so much for that. ***1/2


Roger Owen Green said...

There's a REAL backlash against American Hustle, maybe because, at its heart it's a comedy, so it CAN'T be Best Picture material, because it's not big (Wolf of Wall Street) or Important (12 Years a Slave). To which I call BS.

SamuraiFrog said...

I hadn't heard that--I really am out of the loop on critical consensus, etc, now--but I do agree that's BS.