Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Couple of Excellent Movies in Roanoke

"American Hustle" and "Saving Mr. Banks" would seem to have very little in common, but the quality and depth of their casts is extraordinary for both movies.

American Hustle, based loosely on the convoluted 1980s Abscam scandle, is difficult to follow, but performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence make it a true joy to watch. Bale, as always, is simply over the top, Adams is solid and Lawrence is--oh, hell, I could watch her read the phone book.

Abscam is one of the messiest scandals in our history and not so much because of corruption in high places, but because of the way the investigation by the FBI was mis-handled and how people were set up using some form of government that doesn't resemble ours.

In this fictionalized version, Adams and Bale are the con artists who con the FBI and it's fun to go along, although it's easy to get lost. I don't know how director David Russell managed to bring together this darkly clever movie, but ultimately he does.

"Saving Mr. Banks" deals with the difficult--damn near impossible--relationship between Walt Disney and "Mary Poppins" writer P.L. Travers, played with near perfection by Emma Thompson, one of the most talented actors living. Disney is Tom Hanks' typical understatement and he's just the right foil here.

"Mr. Banks'" cast is one that is uniformally excellent, top to bottom and features veterans like Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker and Ruth Wilson (whom I like a lot), as well as extraordinary strength in the peripheral characters. There's always something and somebody watchable on screen. How about an Academy Award for casting here?

This is a bit more than a typical Disney movie, though. It has some shades of Hitchcockian emotional difficulties at its roots and is instructive in the damage people do to each other.

I strongly recommend both and my guess is come Oscar time, you'll be hearing from both movies.

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