Saturday, December 21, 2013

American Hustle, Nebraska, and Saving Mr. Banks Capsule Reviews

In addition to the movie’s I’ve seen and reviewed (or have yet to review) of late, I was able to catch a few other movies on the side. I thought about writing long form reviews for each one but, with all the other work I’ve had to do and considering the fact that it’s Christmas time, I didn’t have the time to write three good, well thought out reviews quickly. So instead, I have written capsule reviews for them below.

“American Hustle,” dr. David O Russell, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper

Energetically directed by David O Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook) and with fluid camera work by Linus Sandgren, “American Hustle” is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Set in the seventies and partly based on a true story, the movie follows con man Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale, sporting an elaborate comb over and a potbelly) and his partner Sydney (Amy Adams) as they join forces with FBI agent Riche DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to take down politicians like Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Of course, since we’re dealing with con folk we can expect there to be a lot of secret scheming along the way. With an all-star cast that also includes Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife (he’s a con man after all, so of course he has two women), “American Hustle” is mainly an actors showcase and the dynamic between these exemplary players is no doubt the main reason why the movie is as fun as it is. On top of that the production design by Judy Becker, and the costumes by Michael Wilkinson are wonderfully extravagant (very very extravagant) and in keeping with the time period. Structurally, the movie resembles a Martin Scorsese crime epic in the vein of “Good Fellas” and “Casino” (Russell uses common Scorsese techniques, like multiple voice overs, and a combination of montages and dialogue heavy character interactions, for example) and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using these “Scorsese-isms,” sometimes the movie feels like a blatant imitation, which can be distracting. Also, the resolution isn’t quite as cohesive as it would be in a Scorsese picture. Even so, “American Hustle is still hugely entertaining, featuring one of the best ensemble casts of the year. (B+)

Nebraska,” dr. Alexander Payne, with Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb

“Nebraska” is photographed in beautiful black and white photography, giving the movie an art-house moodiness and underlines the stories combination of melancholy and humor. It’s about a feeble old man, Woody (Bruce Dern) who thinks he’s won a million dollars from a mega sweepstakes marketing company. Knowing that he hasn’t won anything at all, Woody’s son David (SNL’s Will Forte) decides to take him via car, from Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska to claim the prize, and to spend time with him and well, to humor the old coot. Along the way they stop in Woody’s home town, and run into family, old friends, and new acquaintances. Dern, Forte and June Squibb, (as Woody’s wife) along with the rest of the cast turn in great performances, and the level of craftsmanship Payne and co. have put into the movie is masterful. Despite this, on whole “Nebraska” feels kind of slight and the mundaneness of it (it’s set in the plain ol’ Midwest) tends to get repetitive and stale. I also I couldn’t help but feel like Payne is just trying to make fun of and patronize everyone in this Nebraska town. These are plain, narrow-minded people living unexciting lives, getting overexcited about something as stupid and insignificant as collecting a phony million dollar prize. There are some funny and endearing moments here and there but it all begins to wear thin after a while, and I have a feeling that without the black and white cinematography, “Nebraska” would feel even slighter. (C+).

“Saving Mr. Banks,” dr. John Lee Hancock with Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, and Colin Ferrell

The first hour or so of John Lee Hancock’s “Saving Mr. Banks,”—which recounts the true story of the grueling process Walt Disney went through to secure the movie rights to “Mary Poppins” from its protective author PL Travers—is absolutely dreadful. It consists of Travers (Emma Thompson) saying “no, no, no!” to just about every aspect of the planned “Mary Poppins” movie, which can be funny but gets real old, real fast. Not only that, this storyline is constantly interrupted by glossy, melodramatic flashbacks showing a young PL Travers and where the character of Mary Poppins came from. However, after that rough start, as the plot thickens and we learn more about the author and why she’s so protective of her beloved book character, “Saving Mr. Banks” settles into a nice little groove and finishes very strongly. The flashbacks stick around by they feel more and more necessary as the movie goes on. Tom Hanks is perfectly fine as Walt Disney, but the movie really belongs to Travers, and Thompson’s curmudgeon portrayal of her. It’s light fair for sure, but also pleasurable to watch, at least in the second half that is. (B-)


  1. I probably liked the film a bit more than you but I know what you mean about thinking Payne was making fun of Nebraska's residents. I'm not sure he was making fun of people from Nebraska as such (Woody, David, David's brother and mother all came across as flawed yet likeable) rather making fun of small town life. I myself come from a small town and can imagine many of it's residents behaving like this.

  2. I wrote my own review of Nebraska here (if you're interested):