Joy (B). So, I saw this movie about inventor and marketing mogul Joy Mangano a couple of nights ago. As I was driving home, I thought, “How odd that I have never seen or really even heard of this person before.” When I got home, I retrieved my mail, and, lo and behold, there she was on the cover of a Bed Bath & Beyond flyer, touting her redesigned Miracle Mop. Anyway, I basically agree with Mom Under Cover’s opinion that this is a pretty good movie. It’s Jennifer Lawrence’s picture all the way, and she (Winter’s Bone) delivers her typical go-for-broke performance. Like Mom Under Cover says, Joy is basically a human weeble–she continually gets knocked down, but she always gets right back up. I enjoyed watching her fight to realize her dream, with various degrees of help and hindrance from her divorced parents, her beloved grandma (Diane Ladd, TV’s Alice), her ex-husband, her jealous half-sister, and her dad’s flamboyant foreign girlfriend, played with flair by Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet). Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) has basically a glorified cameo as the QVC manager who gives Joy her big break. The ending wrapped up a little too quickly and easily for my taste. But on the whole, I enjoyed it.
I saw Joy recently and would give it a solid B. The third movie directed by David O. Russell starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro has much the same feel as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This movie is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the miracle mop (among other items) that sold like hotcakes on QVC and later HSN (Home Shopping Network). Ms. Mangano had consulting credits and apparently approved of the film but the story deviates quite a bit from her life. Joy (Lawrence) pitched her mop to a QVC exec (Cooper) after a cash infusion to make parts for the mop by her father’s (De Niro) girlfriend played by Isabella Rossellini. Russell throws out every imaginable obstacle to thwart Joy’s success but Lawrence’s Joy isn’t down for long before she overcomes. I found the movie a little long and slow in parts but it made me curious enough to Google Joy Mangano–and learn enough to wonder if the movie would have been better if it had stuck closer to her story.
I saw this over Christmas break and thought it was okay. However, I do keep thinking about it (perhaps I’m being taken in by all the Oscar buzz?) and I think it is better than okay. Bradley Cooper completely carried the show. He transformed himself into a reasonable facsimile of the real Chris Kyle. The movie is certainly violent but not gratuitously so. Without mentioning PTSD, director Clint Eastwood paints the picture well of the difficulty soldiers have in leaving the wartime reflexes on the battlefield and participating in life at home. You will want to have seen this before the Academy Awards and my money says it will take some of the Oscar gold.
American Sniper (B+). If you liked The Hurt Locker, then I’ve got a movie for you. Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima) directs this biopic about Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty in Iraq and became the deadliest sniper in U.S. Navy history. It is a solid piece of film-making. Bradley Cooper (Limitless) bulks up to roughly the size of a Sherman tank for the lead role, and he delivers a fine performance. Sienna Miller (Interview) doesn’t have as much to do as Kyle’s long-suffering wife, but she’s good in the role. The scenes featuring Kyle in action in war-torn Iraq, of course, are the highlights, and the last firefight between Kyle’s little squad and the enemy forces zeroing in on them is a real nail-biter. If you like war movies, you don’t want to miss this one.
Guardians of the Galaxy (B). I did not have particularly high expectations for this sci-fi special-effects extravaganza, so that may have helped me enjoy it all the more. I’m afraid a plot description will make it sound a little flat: a bad guy is searching for an ancient artifact of immense power that will help him rule the galaxy, and a band of misfits (the Guardians of the title) must try to stop his genocidal plans. But it’s more clever than it sounds, and it’s generally a pretty light-hearted romp. Likeable everyman Chris Pratt (The Five-Year Engagement) stars as Peter Quill, a Tomb Raideresque scoundrel who is really hoping his self-proclaimed nickname “Starlord” will catch on. Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness) is his enemy-turned-ally Gamora. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) has many of the best lines as a roguish raccoon named Rocket who has somehow acquired the power of speech and the ability to fly spaceships. Other notable faces show up, such as Glenn Close (The Stepford Wives), John C. Reilly (Walk Hard), and Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams). The film is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and violence and for some mild language. I guess that’s about right, although I don’t really think mature 11 and 12-year-olds would have a problem with it.
I liked American Hustle more than The Movie Snob. I would give it an A and totally understand why it won the Golden Globe for best comedy/musical. I found the opening scene a microcosm of the entire movie and a comment about life. Christian Bale (who underwent quite a physical transformation from his Batman days) is putting the finishing touches on his elaborate comb-over as he prepares to leave for the day. The things we do to feel comfortable going out in the world are a little bit of a con job. How much of it do we believe? How much are we really fooling others? In some ways, we are all conning each other and ourselves—just as these characters do. Sometimes we want to believe the façade we see even though clues abound. Bradley Cooper’s complete and utter confusion when he realizes Amy Adams’ character is not British is a good example. Cooper has the finesse to be totally believable as the FBI agent who thinks slightly higher of himself than he ought. J. Law rocks the ‘70s hair and makeup. The crazy schemes are a wacky laugh-out-loud romp.
Another good movie I saw recently was Philomena. B+. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan bring life to a real woman’s story about being forced by nuns to give her son up for adoption as an unwed, teenager mother. Stephen Frears (The Queen; High Fidelity) directed a well-paced, heartwarming tale in the style of an odd-couple buddy movie. The Catholic Church is scrutinized and found wanting for its treatment of young girls and their fatherless infants. You will leave the theater googling to find out how much is true (hint: all of it). Seeing the real Philomena at the Golden Globes was a kick.
American Hustle (B). Here’s the much-anticipated new movie from director David O. Russell, whose films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook I liked a lot. He unites four of the main cast members from those movies for this fictionalized tale about the “Abscam” scandal of the late 1970s–Christian Bale and Amy Adams plays a couple of small-time con artists, and Bradley Cooper plays a loose-cannon FBI agent who traps them into helping him set up a sting operation that gets increasingly crazy as it goes along. Current It Girl Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s wife, and she’s more than a bit of a loose cannon herself. There’s a lot to like about the film. It’s got a lot of energy, and the actors and actresses are at the top of their games. But I didn’t love it, or like it as much as Russell’s last two films. I think I just don’t like movies about con games. Most of the time I get totally confused and have no idea what’s going on. The con games going on in American Hustle aren’t as complicated as some, so I think I basically followed what was going on, but the movie just didn’t grab me. Still, it’s a decent flick, and it apparently got seven Golden Globe nominations, so by all means, check it out and see what you think.