Friday, December 27, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, and The Past

“A time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.”

                           “Bookends Theme” (Paul Simon, from the Bookends album, 1968)
          Review by Ken Burke         Inside Llewyn Davis
Return to those glorious days of yesteryear, the 1961 Greenwich Village folk scene for a sad but hilarious story of a hard-luck guy never in the right place at the right time.
                                                                American Hustle
Know about the Abscam FBI stings of the late 1970s?  If not, this is an hysterical, vaguely-historical primer of corrupt politicians being caught by less-than-ethical G-men.
                                                               The Past
A well-acted intra-family drama packs in a wealth of emotional resonance when a woman asks for divorce in order to marry her new man, leading to a lot of revelations.

[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting.  But please be aware that the links we recommend in our reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]

At least until the Oscars for 2013 have been awarded on Sunday, March 2, 2014 (which, in no relationship whatsoever, is also Texas Independence Day—some things you don’t forget after they’ve been drummed into you for 37 years [after which I finally escaped to California]) I’m also going to include reminders in each review posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2013 films made various individual critic's Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success—which you can monitor here—and any sort of critical/statuette recognition), but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they've never seen).

There’s also getting to be a bit of a gap (↑ just like the unintended one above this opening paragraph, which Blogspot refuses to let me fix) between the titles of these reviews and the point where you can actually start reading them because of all of the opening hoopla I’m presenting, but if you can even remember what I started with this week you know that it comes from Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends album (which I noted right at the end of our December 12, 2013 posting, along with a link to listen to the whole thing if you like); still, you probably don’t know yet why I consider it relevant to the films under review this week.  Basically, they’re all about the past in some aspect, either by being set there relative to our time—Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen) occurs over a few days in the winter of 1961, American Hustle (David O. Russell) also takes place during some chilly times, a bit later in 1978—or by being impacted with occurrences where what’s gone before sets up the conflicts for what happens in the current settings of these stories—Llewyn Davis is a folk singer whose connection to the late-1950s trend of reviving traditional tunes is about to be replaced by the emerging-era of the singer/songwriter; the various hustlers and their intended victims in Russell’s story are all driven and shaped by prior events in their lives; and while The Past (Asghar Farhadi) takes place in our present it’s vitally informed by actions taken in the recent memory of the primary characters.  Further, there’s a melancholy—if not outright tragic in some instances—aspect to all of these films’ defining experiences, so I think you’ll see in retrospect how Simon’s song relates to all that we’re about to explore this time (here’s the haunting musical reference, accompanied by some more-soothing photos).  So, let’s get into it in chronological order of the films' settings, starting with Inside Llewyn Davis in which our titular character is shown appropriately in the photo above in that he’s essentially alone even in the midst of traveling with dozens of other people in the subways of a city of millions that he has little connection to (symbolized nicely by the cropping of this picture where we don’t even see all of the guy sitting next to him), carrying a cat that’s not even his (due to some appropriate-bad-luck-circumstances), which, as a cat owner (or, in more politically-correct-terms, I guess I’m more of a “provider,” in that I facilitate their lives while they mostly tolerate mine), I can relate to as being one of the least-likely-scenarios you’d ever want to find yourself in:  traveling around in a big city with an un-caged cat, especially one who doesn’t even know you very well.  But, that’s life for Llewyn, an aspiring musician who’s got plenty of talent yet is constantly limited by his acerbic personality which lends itself to insults, sarcasm, negativity, and—at times—outright hostility toward anyone within the sound of his voice, a sound that often becomes very harsh when he's not performing, losing himself in the magic of his melodies.

Llewyn’s mood hasn’t been helped for quite some time by the suicide of his former singing partner, Mike Timlin, apparently more generally-despondent than just-plain-grouchy Llewyn because Mike jumped off the George Washington Bridge (at a time when the Jersey side wasn’t facing traffic snarls at the possible behest of a miffed governor, as may currently be the case with GOP-guiding-light Chris Christie—more on NJ politicians below as the review moves into American Hustle) just as their career was beginning to find some traction with their If We Had Wings album (Llewyn now has his own solo recording, Inside Llewyn Davis, but it’s not selling at all nor has he received any royalties from his duo work, providing another reason for his bitterness: he’s broke in a city where the high cost of living won’t tolerate those whose resources are constantly evaporating).  Thus, Llewyn has no permanent address, just a series of friendly couches, but even those are running short as with a case in point concerning his married colleagues, Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), an aspiring duo of their own (shown in a bit of irony in the photo above which evokes the frequently-assumed-black-and-white-images of the media-world of that day, even though our current film is shot in color) who provide Llewyn with his most-immediate crisis, the fact that she’s pregnant but has no idea which of these men the father is, so, just in case it’s Llewyn, she demands he pay for an abortion (a great sacrifice for her, given that she wants children), a statement that’s one of the few she utters in this film that’s not just a profanity-laced diatribe against Llewyn’s very existence (why he’s solely responsible for their affair as well as being personally responsible for the inefficiency of his condom is never clear, nor does her anger ever subside enough for Llewyn to get an answer either—even though we find out later that others have enjoyed her pleasures, including the manager of the Gaslight Café—but let’s just say that as unlikeable—although not unsympathetic—as Llewyn is for most of this film he’s not alone in being representative of a host of unattractive characters, with Jim as one of the few exceptions who consistently shows openness and decency [two others are the Gorfein’s, Mitch (Ethan Phillips) and Lillian (Robin Bartlett), non-music-business-patrons of Llewyn’s, but just as he privately fouls his friendship with Jim by sleeping with his wife he publically makes the Gorfein’s lives miserable by accidently locking himself and their feline out of their apartment (thereby beginning the cat-centric-aspects of this sad-sack-story) then showing up at their dinner party where he criticizes the guests and adds insult to injury by bringing along a cat he’s gone to great lengths to rescue only to find out via Lillian’s screams that it’s the wrong one, not even the right sex]).  Other less-than-savory-characters who populate Llewyn’s world include his manager, Mel Novikoff (Jerry Grayson)—not blind to his client’s financial plight (he finally gives him 40 bucks) but also not willing to adjust his bookkeeping to allow any royalties for Llewyn’s recordings—Roland Turner (John Goodman)—a jazz-lover-unenthused-about-folk-music-sourpuss-with-medical-problems who provides a ride for Llewyn to Chicago, where our desperate protagonist hopes to find a more-receptive-situation, but is constantly insulting when he’s not essentially comatose from some sort of illness—and Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund)—Roland’s “chauffer”—a disagreeable ‘50s-hoodlum-type who’s so antagonistic to an equally-brusque-cop who finds them napping on the highway shoulder that he’s whisked off to jail (at which point Llewyn sneaks away on foot into the night, leaving Roland unconscious in the back seat, never to be seen again in our story, along with that wrong-choice-cat still in Llewyn’s company after the fiasco at the Gorfein’s).  On his return trip to NYC with a hitchhiker-friendly-driver, Llewyn also abandons another cat (maybe the same one) that ran in front of them when he was on a driving shift, even though he sees the cat limping off into a snow-filled-forest, once again proving that either he has no idea how to react in confounding situations, he doesn’t have much of the decency needed to help others equally in need, or he just realizes that his life is destined to be a series of miserable choices anyway so he needs to minimize as best he can the further complications that he brings into it in order to reduce his constant grief.

Opportunities aren’t totally lacking for Llewyn, but even when they arise nothing good ultimately comes of it.  Jim asks him to join in on a recording session of a novelty tune called “Please Mr. Kennedy” (more on that in the next paragraph), along with also-helpful Al Cody (Adam Driver)—another couch-provider and acquaintance of Turner's, leading to Llewyn’s lift to Chicago—but he takes the quick payout for the session rather than later royalties (a bad choice as the song becomes a hit) in order to pay for the abortion, then finds out that there’s no charge because the last one he arranged with this same doctor never happened, as Llewyn’s former girlfriend kept the baby and moved to Akron where he’s now got an unknown-2-year-old-son.  Upon arriving in Chicago he gets a less-than-enthusiastic-response to his audition from folk-impresario Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) but still is offered an opportunity to join a new trio in the making, which Llewyn declines based on his bitter memories of his deceased former partner, with the clear implication that this group is what became Peter, Paul and Mary (especially because Dave Van Ronk, a true Greenwich Village troubadour of the 1960s, called the “Mayor of MacDougal Street,” whose music and life was a major inspiration for this film, was considered for that spot which eventually went to Paul Stookey—probably just as well for all concerned, in that “Peter, Dave and Mary” may not have “played” out as well as the name with the quasi-Biblical-connotation; Van Ronk also had a 1963 album called Inside Dave Ronk, so the associations to the Coen’s film continue there as well, and, for that matter, Lou Grossman could easily be based on Albert Grossman, the fierce-but-successful-manager of P, P & M, as well as Bob Dylan).  Then, at the end of the film (which is actually a reprise of the beginning, where Davis sings a soulful version of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” [on the original 1963 album, Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger as well as a 1989 compilation of this material and the Inside Dave Van Ronk songs, re-released under the latter title], but it wasn’t clear to me that this wasn’t just a similar scene where Llewyn once again gets punched out by a mysterious stranger until I had the full context that this was a repeat of the opening business because now we know that the angry guy is the husband of a sincere-self-accompanied-on-autoharp-singer whom Llewyn had heckled in an unprovoked manner the previous night at the same Gaslight Café), as Llewyn heads out to the alley to see who his unknown “admirer” is, we catch just a glimpse of paradigm-changer Bob Dylan making an early impact as Llewyn’s follow-up act, so maybe the reporter we know is there to hear new-guy-Dylan also was impressed by Davis; however, in typical Coen brothers fashion we’re never going to find out about that (although we do know that the film is having great critical success, as of this writing placing at #4 on the compilation of critics’ Top 10 listings that I noted at the head of this review and being chosen by 4 of those critics as best of the year, including writers from the New York Times and Variety; it’s also #4 on the list of awards wins and nominations for Best Picture [winning choice at the Gotham Independent Film Awards and the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards], with Oscar Isaac at #5 for lead actor [winner from the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards and the Toronto Film Critics], the Coen's at #3 for original screenplay [winner from the National Board of Review], and #2 for Best Cinematography [Bruno Delbonnnel; winner from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards], as well as being the Grand Prix winner from the 2013 Cannes festival—although it’s only at about $2 million in domestic box office so far; however, that’s from a mere 148 theaters so there’s likely better proceeds in the offering as the number of screens increases).

  What we do know about what’s inside Llewyn Davis involves a lot of hostility yet dogged determination to keep reaching for that one big break, but often because that’s because music is his only hope for a meal ticket (in a fit of blasé attitude he tells his sister, Joy [Jeanine Serralles], to throw away his belongings from his now-deceased-parents’-home, not realizing that his Merchant Marine license was in the box so even after finally paying his long-delayed-back-dues with just about all of the cash left from that pre-paid-abortion to get reinstated in the union he’s not allowed to ship out unless he can come up with another $48 for a replacement license, a sum that now eludes him so it’s back to the stage for another pass-the-hat-set and a few more bummed cigarettes).  If this guy’s life gets any worse (much like the similar hard-luck-loser in the Coen’s equally-marvelous A Serious Man [2009], where Larry Gopnik [Michael Stuhlbarg] moves from one disaster to the next) he might have to join Mike Timlin at the bottom of the Hudson River, that is if he can make the long trek to the George Washington Bridge without first freezing in his tracks in Manhattan’s winter snows (here I should easily insert Dylan’s “Talking New York” [from the 1962 Bob Dylan album] but I just used it in my last review regarding Out of the Furnace, so how about a slightly-different-version of it at, a session from April 1962, recorded at Gerde’s Folk City, another of the great Greenwich Village live-performer-locations like the Gaslight Café; in this rendition, though, the lyrics are all about the difficulties of NYC for an aspiring-musician rather than anything about the harsh winters I previously cited).

(Sorry, another unfixable 
layout ↑ override from 
Blogspot.) I’ve seen some commentary that for an historically-set-film, the Coen’s haven’t properly captured the very-early-‘60s-gestalt in Inside Llewyn Davis (they certain did on Llewyn’s trip to Chicago where the travelers stop at a Gulf gas station [which has since been absorbed into Chevron, but thanks to my only credit card in 1972 (probably obtained about 1965), for Gulf gas but also connected to Holiday Inn, I was able to get a room when I arrived at NYC’s Kennedy Airport a night sooner than I was expected for a job interview] with an S & H Green Stamps [still barely in existence but largely defunct] sign on the wall; further, it’s shot in now-passé 35mm celluloid, which also adds to the proper look of the times being depicted, just as does another b&w promo photo above of Llewyn at the Gaslight despite that not being the tonality of the actual film), but precision-depiction’s not necessarily part of their standard operating procedure (given that they begin Fargo [1996] with a “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” statement when the plot therein [which did win them an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay] bears only passing resemblance to anything from real life, just as they based O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000] on Homer’s Odyssey without reading the original [although they continue a connection to it in their current film by naming that lost cat Ulysses]) as much as is choosing a concept, then developing it as they see fit (although they did stick much closer to the original in adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel for their take on No Country for Old Men, a profitable decision given its 2007 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director[s], and Best Adapted Screenplay).  Of course, maybe I’m just being forgiving because I have such a strong affinity for the type of music used here (and an appreciation for these songs being sung in their entirety, even if the soundtrack must switch at times from live performance to background music under following scenes), which then evolved quite naturally into the mid-'60's-era-folk-music of Dylan and his followers, a genre of songs still embraced in the college scene by the time I arrived in 1966, which I performed with my more-talented-friends in Austin in local coffeehouses and bars until the reality of jobs and relocation sent many of us all around the country, effectively ending my short-lived-musical-“career.”  Consequently, given that a main theme of Inside Llewyn Davis is the protagonist’s plight of being part of the earlier folk revival of the 1950s-early-‘60s based on singers doing covers of traditional tunes just as the new generation of writer-singers led by Dylan were bursting onto the scene to change it completely with their own original tunes (or someone else’s, as was the case—in their beginning at least—with Peter, Paul and Mary) it seems fitting to me to finish off the comments on this film with a recording of Bob Dylan singing the signature tune from the Timlin and Davis album, If We Had Wings,” “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song),” which you can find at a marvelous site where the soundtrack contents from Inside Llewyn Davis are presented by singers from the early 1960s folk scene or in their style, including Dave Van Ronk’s rendition of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” which we get at both the beginning and end of the film as sung by Oscar Isaac (the last song in this website grouping is Dylan’s “Farewell,” which we get a bit of in the film but has been blocked from this site—you’re certainly welcome to buy it on the soundtrack if you like, although I should note that it was written in 1963 so it’s unlikely he’d have been performing it as shown in the film’s conclusion at the Gaslight Café in 1961).  If you’d prefer, there's also this version of “Fare Thee Well” sung by Oscar Isaac in the film, accompanied by a few stills from the story (including proper color versions of the 2 b&w's I've had to use above).  Also in this grouping, you’ll notice different lyrics to “Please Mr. Kennedy,” because in the film it was rewritten as a plea to not be shot into space (sung by the so-called John Glenn Singers) rather than not be drafted into the Army (the earlier one, by Mickey Woods, is part of the Inside Llewyn Davis playlist connected to the “Dink’s Song” link noted just above; you can also listen to the version written by T Bone Burnett, along with the Coen bros, used in the film, performed by Isaac, Timberlake, and Driver, as well as see why it’s not eligible for Oscar consideration as Best Original Song).  When you’re finished with all that folksiness, though, you’ll need to dust off and dry-clean your polyester suit because it’s time to hustle off to the disco.

As far as those previously-cited-awards-tallies go, American Hustle is just a couple of notches behind—or about even, depending on how you factor in actual award winners—Inside Llewyn Davis as of this writing where it’s #6 in the critics’ Top 10 tally (with 2 of them choosing it as the year’s best) and #5 with awards and nominations for Best Picture, #4 for Best Director, #2 for Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence; winner from the Indiana Film Journalists Association, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards), #2 for Original Screenplay (Russell and Eric Singer; winner from the New York Film Critics), and winner of Best Ensemble from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Awards, the Detroit Film Critics Society Awards, the New York Film Critics Online Awards, the Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards, the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards, and the Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards.  This level of high praise is no surprise to me, as I find American Hustle to be hilarious, constantly creative, and also properly-fast-and-loose with its historical inspirations so as not to ruin a good story with too much attention to unnecessary accurate detail.  Unlike Inside Llewyn Davis, though, there are a lot of characters to keep up with (as opposed to those in Inside … who simply move the story along, then move along themselves—we probably see as much of Ulysses the cat as we do of just about anyone else except Llewyn himself, an appropriate situation as this picaresque tale is about a guy ramblin’ ‘round New York town [mostly], so we don’t want to be distracted by too much about the surrounding characters     [I never did quite understand why Roland and Johnny were giving Llewyn a lift to Chicago except for some vague connection to Al Cody, but what mattered was the movement not the motivation), so let’s start with some I.D. (as the involved FBI agents might insist) of the main movers and shakers (especially Jennifer Lawrence in that category) of American Hustle, this re-imagining of the 1978-begun-Abscam-scandal in the above photo:  from left to right we have Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greenly (Amy Adams), partner in crime with Irving Rosenfeld but no more of an English noble than I am; she’s also the obsessive-love-object of next-in-line FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), a lower-level-operative-with-grander-ambitions, no matter how much he has to bend the law to achieve his goals of fame and Sydney; Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden, NJ, a true-man-of-the-people who’s hell-bent on reviving Atlantic City by introducing casinos even if he has to find alternate routes through the existing bureaucracy for the financing; Irving (Christian Bale), a hustler from childhood on, satisfied to succeed at small-time-scams of his own but forced into much bigger territory as a means of escaping prison after he and Syd are busted by Richie; like Richie, though, he’s hooked on Sydney, even though he’s firmly entrenched in marriage to Rosalyn (Lawrence), who’s not nearly the sharp con-artist as her husband (or sharp about much else, given her propensity to start fires in their home) but she’s still able to entice him with her lusty needs, the fragrance of her nail polish, and the true love he feels for her young son, Danny (Danny and Sonny Corbo), from a previous marriage that he’s adopted and wants to keep even if he can somehow get divorced from Rosalyn.  So, that’s the main lineup and what you need to know about them, unless you’d like to explore in much greater detail more about those who inspired all of the above semi-fictional-characters, which you can do at a marvelously-informative-website, History vs. Hollywood.

OK, history aside here (which we need to do to avoid endless “gotcha” games of “that’s not how it happened,” the favorite sport of fact-obsessed-fiction-busters, whose “What-part-of-this-is-an-entertainment-story-don’t-you-understand?”-personas can make any fictionalized narrative difficult to watch as they’re constantly carping about what’s inaccurate based on the official records), the main dynamic in this film is between Richie and Irving, although the friction that grows between them on account of Sydney reminds us that we can never discount her impact on everything we see even though I’m not sure that she’s any more clear than we are just how far she’s going in trying to seduce Richie in order to keep him off-balance vs. how much she might actually prefer him to Irving because she knows that it will be nearly impossible to pry her actual lover away from Rosalyn because of the Danny trump-card.  She seems sincere when she snaps to Irving that “You’re nothing to me until you’re everything to me!,” just as she seems ready to accept the one bit of wisdom that Rosalyn offers:  “Sometimes life just gives you rotten, shitty choices.”  (I used to censor myself a bit on using Anglo-Saxon language in these reviews as an attempt to keep this site family-friendly, but given that Google’s made it clear that advertising will never be accepted here for a host of other-robot-identified-nonsensical-reasons unrelated to R-rated vocabulary and that any family who doesn’t know the kind of street language that their “innocent” kids are already using probably doesn’t allow their brood to see the kinds of things I review anyway, I’m just going to let quotes remain as they exist, although I’ll try to keep my own comments at the PG level.)  However, whatever happens with Syd on-and-off-screen as this complex plot winds its way to a rapid conclusion, following a couple of hours of equally-rapid-twists, what constantly drives the action is Richie’s frantic insistence—to his beleaguered “colleagues” and to his FBI superiors (especially constantly-thwarted-immediate-boss Stoddard Thorsen [Louis C.K.], who hilariously never finishes his famous moral-lesson-ice-fishing-story, just out of pique at Richie’s constant-interpretation-assumptions)—that he’s on the verge of a great chapter in law-enforcement-history and Irving’s required cooperation in what came to be known as the Abscam stings (commonly understood as an abbreviation for “Arab scam” because of the use of a phony sheik played by FBI men to entrap prominent politicians accepting bribes for cutting various legal corners but explained by the agency as “Abdul scam,” referring to the fictional Karim Abdul Rahman after this operation became public and the name brought complaints from the American-Arab Relations Committee), although Irving's focus also includes strategies for protecting himself and Syd while discrediting Richie enough so as to be free of his constant desire to up the ante on what was supposed to be their simple-immunity-from-prosecution-deal as Richie’s ambitions just increase with every possible bust that presents itself.

The other source of pressure on the intended plans of escape and relocation by Irving and Sydney comes from Rosalyn, an incendiary character with a fascinating-in-a-train-wreck-manner-personality who also deserves commendation for her fierce loyalty to what she still finds to be the potential for a functional marriage.  (Despite her dawning awareness of Irving’s affair, which has been clearly presented to us in very serious terms, not only in the intensity of their sexual encounters [where Syd essentially admits that she’s more attracted to Irv’s hutzpah than to his physical attributes, understandable given his bulging gut (Bale assaulted himself physically again for a role, this time gaining about 40 pounds to distance himself from the matinee-idol appearance he could so easily flaunt if a different, Bruce-Wayne-type-role called for it; Cooper does the same so the scenes of his home-applied-pin-curlers and his night-on-the-town-disco-era-chest-and-chains-wardrobe emphasize his ridiculousness, which reads more as pathetic than sexy, unlike the barely-contained-boobs-wardrobes of Adams and Lawrence which speaks to the sensual desirability of those newly-body-conscious-post-hippie-times for anyone who could sell the look, as opposed to guys like Richie who tried desperately and failed and those like Irving who didn’t even try, instead making himself attractive with money, material goods, and outrageous self-confidence) and comb-over-for-the-ages, which takes quite a ceremony to push into place along with an extra hairpiece, some glue, and a final dose of hairspray] but also in terms of Irv’s fiercely-jealous-reactions to the ongoing interplay between Syd and Richie—even at the very beginning when they mistake him for one of their easy marks who put up non-refundable $5,000 deposits in hopes of getting hard-to-come-by-loans from Syd’s nonexistent lenders.)  I was prepared to denigrate Lawrence a bit, in that I appreciate the pressure she’s under from all sides in her Hunger Games movies to protect herself, her family, her quasi-boyfriends from the harsh maneuvers of the Panem government (which I now understand the geography of better than I did when reviewing those first two episodes, having stumbled upon this map) but I still see her as more suffering from this manipulation than being able to assert herself (except in self-defense-situations) so, for me at least, she’s so far too often pouty rather than dynamic in the Katniss Everdeen role (but that will likely change in the final episodes) and I still haven’t gotten over what I feel were bad voter decisions in her Golden Globe and Oscar wins last year (for Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, also starring Cooper; maybe the “I beat Meryl Streep!” comment was intended as some sort of self-deprecating-joke, but I still seem to be more steamed by it than Meryl was), yet I must admit that she was hilarious, dynamic, scene-dominating, and perfect in this American Hustle role so I’m now willing to open my rusty-hinged-mind toward better appreciation of her abilities and agreement with my active collaborator, Richard Parker (help me out, rj; make some comments on this review, please), that Lawrence is a talented, versatile actress who will continue to make cinematic impact for years beyond her Hunger Games and X-Men (Raven/Mystique) mega-fame, especially if she chooses to take on more unconventional roles as she did in her great embodiment of an Ozark girl trying to redeem her drug-dealing father in the marvelous Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010).

But, if we’re going to talk about screen impact with American Hustle we need to give the primary focus to Bale and Adams, who (despite their superb performances aren’t getting quite-enough-Oscar-buzz [even with a boost from the Golden Globes, but their nominations came in the Comedy or Music cinema designation which often doesn’t transfer over to the lead-performer-Oscar-short-list as opposed to the Globes’ Drama nominees] to be as sure a shot to Academy acceptance as Lawrence seems to be in her Supporting category) give this film the rock-solid-foundation that it needs in terms of screen presence, acting quality, and habitation of flawed-therefore-not-always-directionally-assured-characters to allow it the power offered by its constantly-unconventional-script (another essential aspect of the film’s success, which should bring an Oscar Original Screenplay berth for Russell and Singer).  Bale never ceases to amaze me with his ability to adapt to roles as diverse as he’s played in recent years in such work as The Fighter (Russell, 2010)—for which he won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor—The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012; review in our August 5, 2012 posting), and Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper; review in our December 17, 2013 posting), as well as an earlier wide range of performances that for me start distinguishing themselves with American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000), then continue with such examples as The Machinist (Brad Anderson, 2004), Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005), 3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold, 2007), I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007), The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), and Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009).  In American Hustle he’s a Bronx-born-guy who learns early on that he’s more likely to succeed in situations where he controls the variables than in fully-legitimate-businesses, so while he inherits a glass company and some dry-cleaning-outlets from his father his main income comes from the loan scams and selling stolen/forged art.  Likewise, Adams has had a long, steadily-building career which begins to manifest itself for me with Junebug (Phil Morrison, 2005), Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs, 2008), and Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, 2008), then really takes off with The Fighter (Russell, 2010), The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012), Trouble with the Curve (Robert Lorenz, 2012), and Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)*.  As Sydney, she’s just a lost kid from Albuquerque who came to the big city determined to reinvent herself but neither stripper nor Cosmopolitan-journalist jobs took her where she wanted to go, so a chance connection over Duke Ellington and the ability to sell herself as Lady Edith, supposed-British-royalty-with banking-connections, in league with Irving proved to be her needed path, although she seems to seriously consider cashing that in for Richie’s offer before realigning with Irv to set up Richie in a sting of their own so that even though our aspiring-FBI-hero manages to get the hidden-cam-goods on various politicians (beginning with Mayor/NJ Assembly Head Carmine [I haven’t forgotten about him, but with all of the interesting characters and fast-moving-plot-points in this film, there’s only so much you can cover in one multi-focused review, even one of my interminable length], then going up to several NJ Congressmen and 1 NJ Senator, all whom were too eager to help the faux-sheik funnel money to prop up the incoming casinos) he overreaches with an attempt to also bust mob-big-shot Victor Tellegio (Robert De NIro), a set-up which is engineered by Irv and Syd to fail, leaving Richie disgraced but our 2 main hustlers able to get immunity and move on to legitimate business with custody of Irv’s son as Rosalyn willingly runs off with another mob guy who gives her the kind of lavish attention that she desired for far too long from Irving but failed to receive so she signs over Danny to her second-ex.

* 2 of the last 3 reviewed in our blog, with posts on The Master on September 27, 2012 and Man of Steel on June 19, 2013.

To appreciate American Hustle you have to be willing to embrace the ideals of right-minded-but-compromised-procedure-public-servants like Carmine as more about community-building than personal-profiteering (which is what finally led Irv and Syd to turn on Richie, as a guy doing what he was up to more for personal prestige than civic-minded-societal-improvement, unlike the essentially-decent Carmine); you have to be willing to see one of our chief law-enforcement-agencies as being internally-dysfunction as to what their real purpose is in going after certain criminals rather than others (Irving notes to Richie that he never caught anyone who’s really responsible for serious, ongoing crime in America); you have to be able to accept low-level-crooks as being lovable and admirable in their back-against-the-wall-creativity (in the tradition of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting [George Roy Hill, 1973]); and you have to just let yourself flow “from the feet up” (as Richie says about understanding something based on its fundamental details) with an unfolding plot of continued elaboration that might be a bit hard to follow at times (but is clarified enough during and at the end, through concise voice-over-explanations), a lot of hilarious dialogue, interactions, and surprises (such as when De Niro suddenly starts speaking Arabic to the phony sheik [Michael Peña]), and a pace that never leaves you feeling like there’s padding here to fill up mandatory feature-length-running-time-expectations.  American Hustle is a witty gem in many aspects, although beneath the comic surface you feel how all of the major characters have been shaped by earlier failures (illustrated with Richie, as he’s on the phone with “Lady Edith” [both of them in curlers] trying to have a conversation with the woman he’s lusting after even as his mother—yes, this middle-aged-never-lived-up-to-his-own-self-image-of-potential-accomplishment is still in his original home despite having a well-paying job in NYC—yells to him to come back to supper while his fiancée sits there incredulously as he denies her existence while taking up “Edith” on her offer of a night at the disco clubs), now trying to heal themselves while they hope there’s still time.  As with Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle provides me with an easy option for a concluding-metaphorical-musical-comment by again taking an optimal choice right from the existing soundtrack (which is full of well-loved ‘70s songs), in this case the BeeGees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (from their 1971 album, Trafalgar), with this video at watch?v=ZInWGC5L2T8 from 2001(I think) before the deaths of brothers Maurice in 2003 and Robin in 2012 (making the comic sketch on the December 21, 2013 SNL rather odd as guest-host Jimmy Fallon once again played group-leader Barry in the parody “The Barry Gibb Talk Show” [with theme music based on “Nights on Broadway” (from the 1975 Main Course album)—too good not to include, so here it is at, from a 1975 broadcast of the old TV series Midnight Special] but with guest-artist Justin Timberlake portraying Robin as if he were still alive, followed by the actual Barry joining them at the end, looking oddly like the spirit of departed Maurice in that Barry is now bald on top just as his brother was later in his career; given that Barry appeared in the skit I guess he had no problem with the deceased Robin being portrayed in this manner—here’s the clip if you like at _saturday-night-live-barry-gibb-talk-show_fun?search_algo=2 [may be slow on the download]).

Finally, if you want a film full of broken hearts or if you just appreciate a well-written, marvelously-acted-exploration of the complexities of the human heart then you’d be well-advised to seek out The Past, although I know that as a foreign film requiring subtitles to translate the French and Persian languages it’s shot in it will not be easily found except in smaller theater chains located in larger cities.  Despite these geographic limitations on access, though, I encourage you to make the effort to find this quiet-but-emotionally-intense-film because you’ll be well rewarded for your investment.  It's been rewarded a bit as well already, having received the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at last spring’s Cannes Film Festival, along with the Best Actress Award for Bérénice Bejo; in the U.S. the National Board of Review added their prize for Best Foreign Language Film, an honor also being sought from the Oscar folks as this is Iran’s official entry into this year’s competition (additionally, The Past is a finalist for this award at the Golden Globes so we’ll know in a few weeks how the Hollywood Foreign Press deals with entries that are more representative of their own backgrounds).  Were it not for the relative difficulty of getting Academy voters to nominate non-U.S.-performers for the acting awards, Bejo might have a shot at a Best Actress slot also (especially given her track record of competing for Best Supporting Actress for 2011’s multi-Oscar-winning The Artist [Michel Hazanavicius; review in our January 4, 2012 posting], although anyone would have had a hard time beating Octavia Spencer that year for The Help [Tate Taylor]) but—ironically, given that this film is shot in France rather than Iran, her competition for Best Actress consideration includes another French powerhouse, Adèle Exarchopoulos, from Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche; review in our November 21, 2013 posting), which also is the film most likely to overwhelm other competitors for the Foreign Language Oscar as best we know at this point from industry buzz and existing awards actions.  But whether The Past takes home any more trophies or not, it’s a worthy human-interest-story, directed by an Oscar-winner himself, as Farhadi demonstrated his extraordinary ability to show the daily crises of people in inner turmoil with A Separation (more coincidence, in that it’s also from 2011 along with The Artist; review in our February 22, 2012 posting), winning that year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the first ever for an Iranian production.  Unlike A Separation, though, The Past doesn’t deal with the harsh light of public accusations and legal decisions (regarding reasons for divorce in a culture hesitant to consider such a drastic act, elder-care-abuse, responsibility for miscarriage, and child custody in a dispute needing a judge’s action); instead, here the focus is on a couple seeking an easily-granted-divorce in France so that the woman, Marie (Bejo), is free from the legal complications of a husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), who left her 4 years ago to return to his native Iran.  Upon receiving official sanction for their final separation, he will be able to go back home, she will retain custody of her two daughters from an earlier marriage, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and Léa (Jeanne Jestin), and be allowed to marry again, to her latest love, Samir (Tahar Rahim), who’ll also be bringing his young son, Fouad (Elyes Aguis), into the marriage finalizing the union of their separate families with a new addition, as Marie is already pregnant by Samir (although her doctor shouldn’t be pleased about her constant smoking, Frenchwoman or not).  Sounds simple enough—given that Ahmad isn’t contesting the divorce at all, having willingly traveled a great distance just to consummate it—but Farhadi’s not about to spend his time or yours on a narrative that just sets up a situation then easily resolves itself so let’s move on to the complications.

For one thing, of the 3 children involved, the only one who seems comfortable with the upcoming arrangements is Léa, although she loves her foster father, Ahmad, very much as she’s overcome with joy to see him again given her vague memories of his previous stay in France (another warning, though, if I haven’t put you off with the dreaded “subtitles” word already is that the action of The Past takes place in a mundane suburb of Paris, with the intention here to keep the emphasis on an ordinary story—with a couple of more dramatic twists—of working people in a near-metropolitan location, so you shouldn’t go expecting picturesque vistas of the City of Lights because all you’re going to get are neighborhoods that could just as easily be in Sacramento or Omaha, assuming you could convince everyone on camera to suddenly speak French; in fact, Farhadi uses an interesting cinematic trick to demonstrate how removed from normal engaging environments this film will be when he employs a disorienting-quiet in situations where a glass wall or a closed glass door suddenly encases us in silence where we can’t hear anything from within the closed-off-space any more than the involved characters can who are also outside of it: this is how actual acoustics work, just as this is how ordinary-but-distressed-lives work, where certain aspects are held back from us as observers just as much of the plot has to be progressively revealed to the film's characters intertwined in each others' lives as The Past evolves).  Samir’s boy, Fouad (both shown in the photo above), is clearly troubled by the situation, always acting out his anger to every adult in his vicinity, rejecting the new temporary sleeping arrangement where he has to share bunk beds with Ahmad (he and Samir have already been mostly living with Marie and her girls in preparation for their upcoming household-merger, although Dad has quietly gone back to his own home during Ahmad’s stay as neither man is really comfortable being around the other one, despite Ahmad’s obvious lack of investment in his own marriage for reasons that are never even discussed in this film), initially fighting vigorously against even being in Marie’s house when Ahmad is present resulting in a physical battle to keep him locked in (a conflict that Ahmad temporarily loses as Fouad escapes in an attempt to be with his father instead, a move nixed by Samir as he has too much work with his dry-cleaning-business to be able to care for the boy during the day, as well as wanting him to continue integrating himself with Marie’s girls, which is fine with Léa but of no consequence to Lucie who has bigger problems of her own).  As the story slowly but effectively progresses the tension shifts its focus from Fouad’s rebelliousness and conflicts with just about everyone, including his father (the kid pried into some gifts that Ahmad brought for them before they could be presented, so Samir insists that Fouad and Léa apologize for their transgression; the girl accepts her obligation [actually covering for Fouad, who initiated probing into Ahmad's broken suitcase] while the boy needs a lot of convincing before he’s even ready to admit any wrongdoing, continuing to refuse a face-to-face apology to Ahmad despite his father’s stern insistence, none of which eases the ongoing tensions among all involved), as we finally learn that Fouad’s transgressions are truly minor (Well, what kind do you expect from a minor?  Sorry, but this was all just getting too serious.) when we’re allowed into the reasons for teenage Lucie’s hostility to the upcoming marriage (she’s not that keen on the divorce either as she has great rapport with Ahmad—much better than with her mother at this point—but if the marriage to Samir goes forward she’s ready to run away from home, which she attempts at one point until she’s brought back by Marie).  She's truly in a very traumatic situation that puts her into an emotionally-violent-state-of-opposition to the new arrangement, not only because she accuses her mother of being attracted to Samir simply because of his resemblance to Ahmad but also more importantly because Samir is married too, although he’s essentially abandoned his comatose wife, deep in a coma after a failed attempt at suicide, which has more connections to Lucie than we're initially led to understand.

From this point, the plot really thickens as various revelations from some central characters give us more background on Samir’s wife, so if you haven’t been concerned with my opening weekly reminder about important Plot Spoilers, I’ll issue the warning once again because you’re going to ruin the essential dramatic turns of this story for yourself if you don’t want to know everything before you seek out a screening. In this case, I’m being a bit more blatant in the spoiler warnings than usual because at least in my San Francisco area The Past is just now opening on Dec. 27 in conjunction with my posting (although I know it’s been around some already in other markets) so I don’t know how many of you are in the situation of first discovering the standard preview-type-reviews that most other critics write about this film and any others premiering in their cities (I was fortunate enough to attend an advance-screening like they do, but I’m still writing in my usual-full-facts-manner so as to get to needed discussion without being coy on essential narrative developments) and I don’t want to trip you up, given that I usually don’t get my reviews out until a few days or more after opening weekends, conditioning you to read my stuff without realizing that in this case you haven’t had the proper chance to check out the real evidence for yourself around debut time for the film.  OK, enough with the alerts; what are the horrible truths that Ahmad finds out while waiting for their assigned date in divorce court?  Well, to start with, Samir’s wife was clearly suspicious that he was having an affair with someone but she made the wrong decision as to whom her competition was.  She assumed he was involved with one of their employees, Naïma (Sabrina Ouazani), an undocumented worker that wife Céline (Aleksandra Klebanska) threatened with deportation which made the woman extremely tense and defensive, given that she was innocent of the sexual-dalliance-charges.  Then, when a customer complained about a stain that hadn’t even been on the clothing when brought to the shop Céline took the occasion to allow the customer to make harsh statements against Naïma which boiled over into such a confrontation that Samir ordered his belligerent wife out of the building, which first led to them not speaking but then tragically to Céline drinking detergent in front of her employee in a show of bitter accusation about the supposed affair (mixed with her guilt because she had purposely stained the dress in order to bring about a confrontation which she assumed would have led to Naïma’s dismissal—which does happen later when Samir fires her for her involvement with his wife’s suicide attempt).  But wait, it gets more complex than that because Naïma does have reason for guilt in that Lucie found Samir’s love-letter-emails to Marie, Naïma provided her with Céline's address, allowing the troubled teen to send the damning evidence to Céline, accounting for much of Lucie’s displaced fury about the planned wedding because she not only hates her mother for cheating with a married man but now hates herself for causing that man’s wife to be in this seemingly hopeless medical condition which will allow him to abandon her in favor of Marie—giving Lucie reason to hate Samir even more, overwhelming this confused, frightened, and distraught young woman with feelings that she can’t begin to sort out.  

  Gradually, both Samir and Ahmad become aware of the full, sordid story which is revealed after the divorce had already been finalized but it does lead Samir back to the hospital in a more-intensified-attempt to stir his wife back into consciousness, which he tries with a favorite cologne that might be his last hope of breaking through to her buried awareness.  He asks her to squeeze his hand if she can smell it, then we have a shot of her fingers around his thumb, but had he already put it there in a resting position or is this the sign of a revival-long-dismissed-by-the-doctors that will eventually bring these 2 back together, even as Marie and Ahmad drift permanently apart?  Farhadi makes sure that we don’t get the easy answer we yearn for here as the shot remains static through the first round of closing credits, just as he never lets us know for sure if Céline ever read the damning emails, a key point regarding Lucie's responsibility for what may or may not have happened (circumstances imply that she didn’t, that the suicide attempt from a woman who already was struggling with depression for much of her marriage was directed at Naïma instead of Marie which becomes a crucial but unresolved aspect of the very complex inter-familial-conflicts that this film—and especially Bejo—so skillfully depict).  Nothing is resolved by the end of what we witness, but that matters little given how effectively we’ve been brought along on the steadily unfolding events throughout this collision of needs, motivations, and actions in this no-doubt-4-star-story, which I hope is a contender for the 2013 Foreign Language Oscar.

And now to finish considerations about The Past, what should I offer for a musical metaphor?  You know, when I make my various music suggestions to accompany your understandings of and reactions to the various cinematic offerings I discuss each time we meet, my hope with the more obscure (if not obtuse) ones—the links that aren’t just direct borrowings from the films themselves, as with the 2 that began this review, or obvious commentaries on them (if, for example, I’d used the BeeGees’ Night Fever to resonate not directly but closely connected to the events of American Hustle or maybe the Kingston Trio’s Tom Dooley as a commentary on Llewyn Davis’ miserable life in which he might have considered suicide as a reasonable option, just as Dooley in the song’s story [at least in their version] has resigned himself to death at the gallows seemingly because of his guilt in killing his lover over her unfaithfulness with Grayson—although in earlier versions of the song it’s implied that she killed someone else but the singer’s taking the rap for her)—is that I can find something interesting to fire your neurons a bit beyond the expected.  Sometimes I prefer to wander a bit further afield, to find allusions of a more interesting or ironic nature, something that might resonate in a manner unintended in the existences of the original filmic and musical works (akin to a marvelous serendipitous combination I got on my radio headphones while sitting in my condo’s sauna, taking a break from writing this review—a laborious process for me that usually stretches from a today to a tomorrow … or, at worst, to Shakespeare’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” [Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5]—when I finished a 60 Minutes report on the upcoming freedom of recreational-marijuana-use in Colorado, then switched stations to stumble onto John Denver finishing the chorus of one of his most famous songs, repeating “Rocky Mountain high, in Colorado,” which I could barely hear over my own laughter).  So, for my extended-metaphorical-musical-reference to The Past to conclude this week’s review remarks I’m going to go much more allusional than I did with the previous 2 films, because in those cases I took music straight from the original cinematic works but here I’m stretching again, first with a serious option taken from where we started this review cluster, the Simon and Garfunkel 1968 Bookends album, with this melancholy tune, “Overs,” at, about a relationship that has clearly reached its end … but, yet, for the people involved there really doesn’t seem to be anywhere different to go either.  But, if that’s a little morbid (although it’s certainly in keeping with the mood and events of The Past) then we’ll stay somber in presentation (not a smile nor a well-lit-face to be found in this next video) but get a bit livelier in the snarkiness of the lyrics with Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band in a live version of “Garden Party” (from the 1972 album of the same name) at that addresses the confining aspects of anyone's past, that often trap you in expectations and memories which prevent needed growth into something more tangible for the future—along with offering much-needed-advice for all of the characters dealing with the specific events of a particular version of The Past: "You can't please everyone so you got to please yourself" (but Nelson livens up this downbeat concept with references to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, George Harrison [the actual “Mr. Hughes in Dylan shoes” noted in the lyrics], Chuck Berry, and even Elvis Presley’s pre-musical career as a truck driver) to leave us on a slightly-higher-note, as we must hope will be the case for at least some of the challenged souls of this film if they are ever to transcend what we've seen of them.

In that this is likely my last posting for 2013, I hope I’ve left you plenty to read and listen to while we wait for the arrival of 2014 (In fact, this is probably the longest review I’ve yet written so it helps me focus on my resolution to try—once again—to write more concisely in the future, but we’ll just have to see how that works out, won’t we?), which I hope to help inaugurate fairly soon after New Year’s because there are a lot of other worthy films piling up right now in the movie houses vying for a spot on those Oscar ballots so we’ll be looking at some of them quite soon.  Finally, here’s something to put 2013 in perspective, a marvelous collage of photos from CNN at
05/world/gallery/2013-year-in-pictures/index.html?hpt=hp_c4, brought to my attention by long-time-regular-Two-Guys-contributor (and, for all practical purposes, the actual second of the Two Guys until Pat ever finds time to start doing the film reviews that he envisioned lo those long 2 years ago), Richard Parker.  Merry Christmas to you, rj, and the best of this holiday season to all of you out there all around the world who’ve ever read a Two Guys review.  We appreciate your patronage and hope you’ll continue to follow us into 2014 and beyond.

If you’d like to know more about Inside Llewyn Davis here are some suggested links: (22:33 interview with co-directors/co-screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen and actors Oscar Isaac and John Goodman)

If you’d like to know more about American Hustle here are some suggested links” (22:56 interview with director/co-screenwriter David O. Russell and actors Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner)

If you’d like to know more about The Past here are some suggested links:

I’m not finding much other video on The Past so here are a couple of clips from the film at (Ahmad [Ali Mosaffa] returns from Tehran to finalize his divorce from Marie [Bérénice Bejo]) and C85Y (Marie and future husband Samir [Tahar Rahim] insist that the children apologize for rooting around in the presents brought by Ahmad before he’s had a chance to present them properly)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Ken,
    Just caught the much anticipated Coen Brother's Inside Llewyn Davis tonight and have to (once again) say thank you for reviewing (and explaining) this film in your always excellent manner. At a superficial level this work could seem shallow and pointless. It's not a murder mystery with twists and it's not George Clooney as a hillbilly fugitive. It is a subtle character study that is more real than than outrageous. I can't add much other than acknowledging further appreciation for the Coen Brothers' body of work. As the credits rolled, our "art film" theater audience was notably stunned while trying to compile the totality and purpose. (Interestingly, it was a bit like the sixties where everyone who wanted to see this had to be at the Bijou. Thank you Santikos in San Antonio). However the film soon generated more discussion and reflection than had Wolf or Hustle earlier in the week, even though they are clearly book office winners with many, many screens all over town.

    Carrey Mulligan has an amazing look and sensuality in this film and is far removed from her usual mild and meek persona. I thought Goodman's character was shooting heroin when he was found collapsed and not just in the grips of some mysterious illness. Overall Inside Llewyn Davis is not likely to be embraced by the majority, (not unlike many of Woody Allen's films); but for those who appreciate a stretch, the Coen Brothers have provided us with another opportunity to expand our perspective of what cinema can be in the hands of master storytellers.

  2. Hi rj, Thank you (once again) for excellent commentary and context (I can easily agree with you on the heroin option for Goodman's character, although it was useful for the film to not dwell on what the problem was so as to not distract from the main focus on Llewyn's journey). Thanks again also for the CNN photo link that I noted right at the end of the review, a fabulous retrospective of what went on around the planet over the months of 2013. Again, happy holidays to you with the best wishes for 2014. Ken

  3. Ken Burke: " yet I must admit that she was hilarious, dynamic, scene-dominating, and perfect in this American Hustle role so I’m now willing to open my rusty-hinged-mind toward better appreciation of her abilities"

    I agree that Jennifer Lawrence is the real thing and once again nailed her role in American Hustle. However, the casting director may have miscalculated who the hot actress would be in December 2013. Personally I would have switched the characters played by Amy Adams and Lawrence allowing Jennifer the screen time as Cristian Bale's English con woman. However Adams got the bigger role, ran with it and was excellent. Clearly Cristian Bale is this generation's Jack Nicholson, ready and able to morph as needed. I might have eliminated the introductory comb over scene, replacing it with a con. But maybe that would be too formulalistic.

    Overall an excellent film, warranting the praise and attention it is receiving. It's also good that upcoming generations will be able to witness a piece of American history in such an entertaining manner.

  4. Hi again, rj. Thanks for answering my request for commentary on Jennifer Lawrence, which you've provided in a most compelling manner. I can see where she would now rate the bigger role as her star is fast ascending, but I think that will continue anyway so I'm glad that Adams got to showcase herself a bit more in order that we don't forget about her in the process. Totally agree that this is an excellent film, surely one that will be in my Top 10 of the year and likely will make some impact at the Golden Globes if not as much with the Oscars (simply because of a lot of competition match-ups in the various categories from some very fine cinematic work overall this year). Ken

  5. To Everyone, As the final hours of 2013 are counting down I'd like to offer my final words of the year to my marvelous wife, Nina Kindblad, not only my loving companion of 26 years (and counting) but also my final after-the-fact-proofreading-editor who seems to be the only one out of the 77 (including me) who read this review before she did to notice that in the first paragraph of the American Hustle comments I referred to Amy Adams as Amy Irving (which should have caused further confusions with the Christian Bale character who's actually named Irving). It's fixed now but wouldn't be were it not for Nina's sharp eye.

    Thanks for all of your help each week, Sweetie. I'll try to leave you a bit less to read in each posting in the coming year, but that might work better if you just cut off the Internet connection after a couple of days' investment for each of these epistles.

    Love you, Ken