Knee-jerk review: "American Hustle"

1. Overrated.
2. This is another movie that feels flat because it just goes on too long.  The plot gets a much-needed kick when Robert DeNiro shows up as a menacing mobster.  That cranks up the stakes considerably and takes the story to a whole other level.  So the last half hour or so is very strong.  And the final twist is particularly delicious, delivering a great comeuppance to one very-deserving character.  But the rest...
3. The fact that it was nominated for ten Oscars and won zero leads up to suspect that the Academy kind of fell for the hype also.  Looks good enough for lots of nominations, but less so upon further inspection when it came time to actually choose winners.
4. Here's a little more about the real-life "Abscam" case that inspired the movie.
5. The Fighter had a lot of grit and punch, true.  But to us, Silver Linings Playbook and Three Kings remains our favorite David O. Russell movies.
6. These are some pretty unlikable people, which doesn't always make for a fun moviegoing experience.  And the fact that everyone's wearing ugly 1970s clothes and ridiculous hair... it can sort of be unpleasant just to look at everyone.
7. Christian Bale really is a marvel, don't you think?  This guy completely disappears into his roles.  Here he's hiding behind a bad comb-over, giant amber glasses, a beard, plus a beer belly and a New York accent.  It's hard to believe he was ever Bruce Wayne.  
8. Looking back over the list here, we can't help but notice parallels to The Wolf of Wall Street, another too-long movie based on a true story (and directed by a celebrated auteur filmmaker) full of icky characters making amoral, selfish choices.  And both involve awful scenes where parents curse and shout and attack one another in front of their children.  Is there something in the cultural zeitgeist that's leading to this kind of story?  
9. As with any self-respecting movie set in the 1970s or 1980s, the soundtrack is chock full of fun old songs.
10. Amy Adams' dresses are certainly memorable. 
11. We wonder what might have happened if the story focused more on the machinations of the swindles and the "who's conning who?" ambiguities and less time exploring the confusing layers of these obnoxious characters.  
12. We suppose we're glad we saw it.  Kind of.

Knee-jerk review: "Her"

1. It's a completely crazy premise: man falls in love with artifically-intelligent operating system that's just a voice in his earpiece.
2. But this movie sells it.  What happens - and a lot of odd stuff happens - always seems completely plausible.  
3. In fact, we wound up rooting for the romance of Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson's voice in a way that we don't often root for movie couples.
4. The look and feel of this movie (set in the future, but not that far into the future) made us want to learn more about the minimalist future style created by K.K. Barnett.  Genius.  Fun fact: the filmmakers avoiding showing any cars in the movie to give it a strange, future feel.
5. At this point, you really do have to sit up and pay attention when a new Spike Jonze movie arrives.  His work is always singular in ambition and technique.  See also: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are.
6. We all have this image of Phoenix as this exaggerated, look-at-me weirdo, but here he's completely normal and ordinary and sweet.  We suppose that's a tribute to his talent.
7. There's a lot going on here.  Questions about our interactions with technology and how that shapes our interactions with others, about what it means to be human, about the fragile nature of love and marriage, about conforming to social norms.  
8. We feel like we need to see it again to really appreciate the layers.  It's that good.
9. Love the little video game avatar guy.  What a quirky detail.
10. The nuanced, powerfully evocative way the film captures both the giddy excitement of falling in love and the scary panic of realizing your relationship is crumbling reminded us of how rarely these things happen in most movies.  It's a hard thing to pull off.  And most movies don't even try to go beyond superficial romance cliches.
11. For a story about a guy in love with his computer, it's surprisingly sexy and romantic.  And maybe a little unsettlingly so.
12. Oh yeah, and the third act works in the theory of singularity. Wow.
13. It's just a brilliant movie.


Knee-jerk review: "The Wolf of Wall Street"

1. Maybe you like to spend 165 minutes with despicable, amoral, drug-addicted thieves.  Turns out we do not.
2. You may have heard about all of the f-bombs.  It's true.  This is one supremely foul-mouthed movie
3. There's no denying Leonardo DiCaprio's charisma.  He's magnetic, even when playing someone this unlikable. 
4. It's all just a little... much.  There's no reason this movie should run longer than two hours.  Some scenes go on too long, others serve no clear purpose.  The same beats get hit again and again and again.  One critic argued that director Martin Scorsese was making the movie excessive to echo the movie's theme of excess.  Yeah... we don't buy that.  There's an arrogant indulgence to the movie, a mistaken belief that every little moment is gold.
5. There's a definite GoodFellas vibe here.  You have the period costumes and music, the extravagant rise and fall of a criminal, the R-rated vice, the documentary element of learning about a strange subculture.  You even have the hero thwarted by a dimwitted sidekick to whom he feels a foolish loyalty.  Casino used the same template.  A kind of trilogy, maybe?
6. The better movie may have been the crackling 10-minute scene with (a very gaunt) Matthew McConaughey shamelessly explaining the cruel truth of the stockbroker business to DiCaprio...
7. ...or the darkly comic sequence involving FBI wiretaps and "lemon" quaaludes.  That's a great bit full of twists and outrageous imagery, though the film ruins the fun - probably intentionally - with an uncomfortable shot of a little girl watching her father stumble around high on drugs.  Not cool.
8. You ever hear of something called penny stocks before?
9. Strange how the many many supporting characters make so little impact.  They're mostly interchangeable.
10.  This is becoming a real pet peeve of ours: movies that hold all of the titles until the end.  This seems pretentious somehow, like the movie is so urgent and important and special that it can't waste any time on something so common as titles.  Here, you get the Paramount logo and then the movie just starts.  It's not until after the last fade-out that we get "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Directed by Martin Scorsese" and all the rest.  Stop it, Hollywood.  Just stop.  Quit trying to be cute and different.
11. It's an interesting moment when the camera shows an audience of "regular people" paying rapt attention to DiCaprio's instructional bluster about how to sell.  This may be the film's most subtle moment, a suggestion that as awful as that world of lying, stealing stockbrokers may be, we all want the secrets to wealth.  We want to be just like them.  And, perhaps, if given the chance, we would be.  Not sure if we agree with that or not.
12. It didn't win any Academy Awards.  It didn't deserve any.  Too harsh?
13. A disappointment.