CAPULE REVIEWS: American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks and Anchorman 2
December 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
America Hustle (10/10) Aping is the sincerest for of flattery, particularly when the copycat has enough natural skill and vision to add their own noticeable touches to an obvious stylistic homage. Such is the case with David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” about the FBI’s ABSCAM (Arabic Scam) operation to crack down on corruption amongst politicians at the state, local and federal level. Video taped accepting bribes to allow foreign sheiks to invest in the re-furbishing of the Atlantic City legal gambling industry in 1978 New Jersey, the sting resulted in the prosecution of Camden mayor Angelo Errichetti (renamed Carmine Polito in the film, played with beautiful humanity by Jeremy Renner) onwards and upwards and across the board. The film focuses on sham art dealer and bank loaner Irving Rosenfeld (based on Melvin Weinberg, portrayed with immersive believability by Christian Bale) who is coerced into overseeing their entrapment by FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (based on real agent Anthony Amoroso, Jr., played with manic obsession by Bradley Cooper, raising his ever improving thespian game) and their mutual love interest slash partner in crime and world class con artist Sydney Prosser / Lady Edith Greensly (based on Evelyn Knight, played to four-dimensional perfection by a game-changing Amy Adams), with Jennifer Lawrence scene stealing in the smallest main role of Rosenfeld’s depressed and bored trophy wife, amongst a cast of colorful characters, filled out and expanded upon for entertainment purposes. The film is a loving tribute to 1970’s style and 1990’s cinema, with the camera work, story structure and soundtrack recalling “Goodfellas” and “Casino” (including a brilliant cameo alluding to both pictures) while maintaining co-writer and director David O. Russell’s signature ability to capture three-dimensional humans amidst the quirky stylizations. Every actor gets to gnash their teeth without going over the top, thanks to Russell’s improvisational directing style. It’s an actor’s actors’ film and not to be missed.
SAVING MR. BANKS (7/10) Schmaltz needs to work well to not be eye-roll inducing saccharine malarkey. Director John Lee Hancock’s loving ode to Disney and film development (as opposed to film making) chronicling the final stages of a twenty year effort by the real Walt Disney (played with matter-of-fact sincerity by Tom Hanks) to acquire the film rights to author P.L. Travers’ (a rigidly British Emma Thompson) beloved children’s book series “Mary Poppins” and the ensuing battle of wills between Travers’ ferocious, personally-motivated protection of the material and Disney’s desire to commercialize it for mass audiences. The film is crisply shot in warm candy-coated colors, keeping events cheerfully mundane with any allusions to frivolous personality defects (Disney secretly likes to smoke…in 1961 when most people smoked) being immediately forgiven by the characters’ own admissions of guilt and desire to make an imperfect world more enjoyable before the harshness of life takes away imagination from their respective audiences. Even Travers’ own tragic family history is swathed in a forgivable overabundance of innocent imagination and lovingness, captured perfectly by scene stealer Colin Farrell in his most mature and nuanced performance to date, as Travers’ troubled real-life father. The film manages to maintain and justify its PG rating while addressing some very adult topics. Not without its heart-tugging faults of emotional manipulation, but skilled enough for the pandering to be forgiven, the film breaks down the most cynical mind’s walls until you can’t help but smile with the characters at the film’s denouement.
ANCHORMAN 2 (7/10) A sequel long over-due thanks to budgetary issues (i.e. the actors who were dirt cheap in the first film now command top dollar and had to figure out a way to work for less) tackles issues of the 1980’s in New York city at the birth of cable news. Burgundy (Will Ferrell, stepping seamlessly back into his signature role) finds himself at the precipice of cultural change, taking pot shots at FOX News, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Branson and other captains of infotainment that land well, but obviously. The film runs two hours and feels like it would have been more satisfying with twenty to thirty minutes cut, though that extra half-hour allows for every character to make their mark, for better or worse. The kind of film you convince yourself you love moreso than you truly do, Anchorman is chock full of cameos, sight gags and moronic lines to tickle the funny bone, just as the first one was. Perhaps it’s a bit stale ten years on, but I doubt people expected much more than what we got here.