The real stars of American Hustle

American Hustle is absolutely terrific, featuring award-worthy performances from everyone involved. Everyone in the cast knocks it out of the park. And my gods, Amy Adams’ cleavage. They’ve got to make a special lifetime achievement award for Amy Adams’ cleavage. Did I mention Amy Adams’ cleavage? Don’t anyone dare question my inexplicable crush on Amy Adams again, not until you’ve seen her in American Hustle. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in a fetal position in the bathtub for the next couple of hours.

Of course, the other real stars of the show, aside from the aforementioned cleavage, is hair. In fact, in the character’s hyper-involved hairstyles lie the core message about them. The movie starts with Christian Bale’s insanely complex combover job… which illustrates what he’s all about. In fact, it’s what the all the characters are about — trying desperately to be something they’re not, trying desperately to be something better than what they are, to get one over on each other at all costs. It’s all lies and subterfuge, not so much trying to deceive others (though there’s that too) but deceiving themselves as well.

The story may meander a bit, but the performances of the cast overcome the shortcomings. Five hair dryers out of five.

This movie will blow your brains to smithereens

Here’s a movie that could very well be the greatest 80s renegade cop/kung fu/time travel parody of all time…

Director David Sandberg took to Kickstarter to raise the cash needed to finish post-production, and he says he’ll be releasing the half-hour flick online for free. However, if there’s more interest, he’ll try to get a full-length motion picture deal.

Read more about Kung Fury on Huffington Post here.

Her

In the very near future, everyone will have bad haircuts and ill-fitting but colorful clothing. And men will wear their pants hiked up high.

One of the more interesting bits in Spike Jonze’s movie “Her” is that he portrays the future not as a gray, regimented, dystopian place where all thoughts and actions are controlled by some totalitarian government, but one in which technology has taken the very next step making our lives more organized and efficient. In that way, it’s not a very different world than the one in which we live.

But that’s not what “Her” is about. It’s really an examination of the nature of our relationships with one another, told with the added template of technology’s effect on them. Already we see people encasing themselves into small worlds not much bigger than their smartphones and tablets, so why not the next step of falling in love with them? Don’t some of us already love our phones?

Because of this, the film has a permafrost of sadness. Not because it’s a very old, sad tale of finding and then losing love, but because it shows us the way we long for, and yet fear, real connections with real people.

The plot of “Her,” simplified, reads “man falls in love with computer.” As such, there’s probably an alternate universe where this is a bad Will Ferrell comedy vehicle, and the plot is very nearly in danger of being laughable and stupid to the point of distraction. What saves it here is Joaquin Phoenix at the top of his game selling the story with complete believability, and he lets us see the metaphor for all our relationships by being unassuming, unthreatening and a bit nerdy.

Amy Adams (my longstanding crush on her is unabated) and Rooney Mara have great turns here as well. Scarlett Johannson helps to sell the story and make it real without ever being seen on camera.

Spike Jonze is an audacious filmmaker, willing to take big risks (like a dumb plot) and fall flat on his face with it. But he makes “Her” work in a completely surprising, completely affecting, completely real way.

There’s a reason “Her” is winning tons of art house awards. Check it out. Five OS’s out of five.

Homeland runs aground

(This is a spoiler-free blog post.)

I arrived at Homeland late.

I binge-watched season 1 and was riveted. Waited patiently for season 2 to come out on disc, binge-watched and found it… good, but not as good as season 1. Still, it was enough to convince me to shell out the money for Showtime so I could watch season 3 as it unfurled… and saw a completely different show.

The third season of the national security soap drama was utterly implausible, with plot twists that didn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny, lurching from one unbelievable turn to the next. It mindlessly brought up almost interesting storylines only to completely ignore them. It ended with a CIA “plan” that made no sense whatsoever. And the final act of the Brody saga landed no emotional punches whatsoever.

Will I stick around for season 4? I don’t know. The ship seems pretty much run aground. Maybe if the promos are really good…

I need a new brain

mustang dashboardI was sleepy. That’s the excuse I’m going with.

I took my car in for an oil change Sunday morning. Before they changed the oil, they wanted to check and see that all my lights are working.

They asked me to turn on my headlights.

At that point, my brain went into shutdown.

Turn on the lights? Something I do in my car ALL THE TIME? Something I do in my car ALL THE TIME FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS I’VE BEEN DRIVING IT?

I can’t remember how to turn on the headlights.

I sat there, absolutely perplexed. I’m sure it was only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Like the way other people feel when I’m telling one of my stories.

The mechanic finally reached in and turned on my headlights for me. “Not your car?” he asked.

I almost said no, but finally offered sheepishly, “I’m still asleep. I was up late last night.”

“Uh huh,” the mechanic said, very plainly thinking, “My god, what an idiot.”

I need a new brain.

Old standup material

Came across some old standup material.

I’m one of those guys who always overreacts. My car won’t start in the morning and I’m convinced the whole electrical system is shot, but it turned out it was only a dead battery. Car broke down on the highway and I was sure the whole engine needed to be replaced, but it turned out I was just out of gas.

So I tried to stop overreacting, and wouldn’t you know it, the one time I don’t overreact it turned out there was a real problem. My tire was low the other day, and it turned out I have a brain tumor.

That joke would have really been funny if I actually had a brain tumor.

Now I kinda wish I had a brain tumor.

More shows, fewer newscasts

It’s getting harder and harder to find news on the cable news networks.

The shift has been going on for years. Cable news networks, founded on the idea of 24/7 news coverage, began to add long-form programming, interviews and political pundits to their schedules, squeezing out hard news.

Even Headline News Network has a lot less news and a lot more court and entertainment programming these days.

Jeff Zucker, the guy who runs CNN, is promising more shows and fewer newscasts at his network. There’ll be more programming like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” and less live coverage of national and international events.

I dislike this shift but have to concede it’s about money. It certainly appears that doing more news doesn’t result in ratings, as CNN has been falling behind both Fox News and MSNBC in the cable news ratings race. Zucker can’t be blamed for having to bow before the media culture shift.