Friday, January 17, 2014

A Movie Day For Mr. & Mrs. Monkey: Gravity And American Hustle (Mini Reviews)

Once in a blue moon, Katie-Bar-The-Door and I like to have a movie day, where we go see two or three movies in a single afternoon. That's our idea of decadent fun. And after a particularly crummy week at the office, Katie needed a movie day. So she took annual leave and off we went.

On our to-do list: filet mignon for lunch and for dessert, two highly-touted best picture nominees, Gravity and American Hustle.

Gravity was directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n and stars Sandra Bullock in the best performance of her career. It's the story of a couple of astronauts (Bullock and George Clooney) who are set adrift alone in Earth orbit after a catastrophic accident destroys their space shuttle. They have very little oxygen and even fewer options for survival and with Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography and some brilliant special effects putting you right in the spacesuit with Bullock, it's just as terrifying as you might imagine.

At just 91-minutes, it's a bracing burst of adrenaline, a rollercoaster thrill ride with an undercurrent of philosophy about life and death, well-made and well-acted. I can't say it's the best picture of the year—all its pleasures are on the surface with no hidden treasure to find on repeat viewings—but it's definitely something you want to see in the theater while it's in re-release during Oscar season.

4 stars out of 5.

After a cup of coffee at a nearby establishment, it was on to American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell who helmed two of my favorites from the 1990s, Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings.

Starring a potbellied Christian Bale and a jiggly, tired-eyed Amy Adams, this is the story of a pair of con artists who make a modest living squeezing the last drop out of desperate middle class people like me and thee. Complications arise in the form of Bale's neurotic, manipulative wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who is as dumb as he is ambitious. With Bale and Adams under Cooper's thumb, the three cook up 1978's real-life Abscam scheme using a fake Arab sheik and briefcases full of cash to entrap U.S. congressmen and the Miami mob in a high-level bribery probe.

Since everyone involved is only half as smart as they think they are, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.

Apparently every critic in America—except me—loves it.

If it were darker, it would be film noir; if it were funnier, it would be screwball comedy. As it is, it's not much of anything at all. Not for me, anyway. Like some other award-winning movies—The English Patient, Remains of the Day, In the Bedroom—it sat there inert on the screen, the charm that seduced everyone else stubbornly eluding me. If I had been wearing a watch, I would have checked it every ten minutes to see that only thirty more seconds had gone by.

But as they say, it's not you, it's me.

I actually lived through the 1970s as a teenager and I can't connect with the tendency of certain filmmakers—Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater, and now David O. Russell—to have ironic fun with it. Maybe the problem is that I was too young then to indulge in the decade's perverse pleasures, but remember it too well now to romanticize it. For me, the '70s was a ten year long shit sandwich that started with VietNam, ended with the Iran hostage crisis, and in between featured Watergate, Jimmy Carter, stagflation, disco and polyester leisure suits. It wasn't fun, it was long and boring and stupid.

And that's my review of American Hustle. I am, however, very nearly alone in my assessment of it. Pay no attention.

2.5 stars out of 5.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

First time i can ever remember being current with the Monkey on any moving viewing, but, ta-da! Ms. Who & I actually just got home from seeing Gravity. We loved it. Loved the 3-D too. Almost as good as SCTV's old Monster Chiller Horror Theater presentations. Probably even a close runner up to the classic <a href="”>3D House of Beef</a> and where i come from that's high praise.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

man i'm some kind of html wizard aren't i? but what's wrong with it -- the code looks OK to me but no

Erik Beck said...

The Oscar nominations come out and I hadn't seen any of the Best Picture nominees for the first time in 25 years.

So, I did a similar thing. On Thursday, after I wrote my Oscar trivia piece, I went to Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. But, ending with 12 Years made me really wish I had seen them in the opposite order.

Mythical Monkey said...

3-D House of Beef -- I see we were watching the same shows back in the day, Who. I also remember 3-D House of Pancakes and another with Count Floyd introducing smell-o-rama which turned out to be a disaster what with the chili dogs and the actor's gastric distress.

Mythical Monkey said...

Haven't seen 12 Years A Slave. From the reviews, I'm not sure it's the sort of thing I could fit into a movie day. I remember twenty years ago, Katherine and I planned to see Schindler's List and The Piano back-to-back, then stumbled out of the former and sat in a Starbucks for 45 minutes without saying five words between us. Great picture, but probably the most draining experience either of us had ever had at the movies.

Saw it again a couple of years later. Absolutely absorbing, absolutely draining.

It was several weeks before we got around to seeing The Piano, which we liked and then promptly forgot and have never seen again.

Maggie Jean said...

Yep, loved Gravity in 3D.

Erik Beck said...

By the way, your comments on American Hustle reminded me of a great Doonesbury cartoon from late 1979:

Zonker: I can't stand it. That bozo's about to put on another disco record!

Mike: Courage, ol' buddy. Disco's days are numbered.

Zonker: That's pretty philosophical of you, Michael.

Mike: Only way I made it through the decade. I just kept remembering my grandma's favorite adage, "this, too, will pass."

Zonker: And your grandmother was right! The Seventies did just that!

Mike: They did, indeed!

Zonker: To a kidney stone of a decade!

Mike: To the worst of times!

KC said...

I don't know about the movies, but I definitely need to try filet mignon for lunch.

Mythical Monkey said...

I had forgotten that Doonesbury cartoon until you mentioned it, but it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about the 1970s -- a real kidney stone of a decade!

Mythical Monkey said...

KC -- with asparagus as a side. Quite tasty.

Mythical Monkey said...

By the way, we saw Dallas Buyers Club today. Good movie with great performances. I'll write one of these 400 word reviews tomorrow or Tuesday.

So far, though, the movie that most wow'ed Katie-Bar-The-Door and me was Much Ado About Nothing -- we've been talking about that one for three weeks.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Myth, I still have not watched Schindler's List. And I will say without exaggeration that this has flat-out horrified and pissed off a solid 5 people who I truly respect. One old bud in truth semi-recently mailed me his personal DVD of the movie and told me not to return it until i had watched it. Fourteen months later that DVD still sits on my shelf. The weekend nights go by, and each time i think, am I now, finally, ready to watch a work of genius involving the mathematically calculated genocide of Jews by ostensibly educated Germans? And every time I answer to myself, no, no, I'm not. It's been a helluva week, I think to myself. I'm feeling tired I say. I'm feeling ripped off, wiped out, and I'm feeling flat out BURNED. And I'm just. Not. In. The mood.

Mythical Monkey said...

Who, gearing yourself up to watch Schindler's List might be a little like preparing yourself to put your hand on a hot stove, and I'm lucky I saw it twenty years ago when I was just starting my alternate Oscar thing and watching everything. Now I suspect I'd just say, "No, I've only got so many days left and I don't think I can handle it."

That's why I haven't seen 12 Years A Slave -- the older I get, the harder it is to process such large emotions. You'd think having experienced plenty of real world grief, I'd be inured to it by now, but I find it's just the opposite.

But having seen Schindler's List, I will say it's on a short list of the most moving and worthwhile and, yes, even entertaining experiences of my movie-going life.

If you ever do see it, leave a comment on my blog or post about it on yours and we'll kick it around.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Re Schindler's List, will do; thanks! Re the 70s, well, we can stipulate that 1971 - 1976 was pretty irredeemable, but the last couple-three years of the 70s was a great, great time for new music, wasn't it? Elvis C. & the Attractions, the Clash, Ramones, Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, Pretenders, Tom Petty ... and so (not coincidentally i don't think) i have really fond if hazy memories of the end of that decade. Added bonus: The Beatles were all still alive.

La Petite Gallery said...

I am still trying to get my sea legs back from M. Streep's performance
in August. She is by far the best actress I have ever seen and I am a movie goer for 70 years.Take my word, she needs a bigger than just OSCAR for this extra mile she went.