Film reviews Part LXIX

American Hustle.

A couple of con artists are nicked by the FBI and forced to work for them to nick some corrupt politicians. The Mafia gets involved. Things could get very unpleasant, but our heroes manage to wriggle out of trouble and keep everyone happy apart from the FBI.

The film lacked spark, I thought. There were tense moments such as the appearance of Robert de Niro (yes, again) as the potentially über-violent mobster who could speak Arabic, but that was just largely a cameo which resulted in no particular payoff. All mouth and no trousers. No one seemed to be in any real danger and the denouement of the film was not one of those moments when the audience breathes a sigh of relief that the main characters have got away with it.


12 Years a Slave.

Solomon Northup get a job as an itinerant musician, but one night, after imbibing a little too much, he wakes up the following morning to find himself in chains and bound for the slave states where he is called Plat(t) and must hide the fact that he’s an educated freeman. During his time in servitude he witnesses and suffers all manner of barbaric treatment on the plantations, but eventually manages to get a Canadian to get word to people in New York, who rescue him.

Sad to say, Northup never received any justice for his abduction because although he had papers to prove that he was free, the law did not permit him to testify against the men who abducted him. He became an abolitionist and was involved in the underground railway that smuggled slaves to freedom, but the circumstances of his death are wholly unknown.

Not a bad film overall, but it suffered from feeling episodic in that there was this part from the book, that part from the book, and the other part from the book with only a fairly loose connection between them.


Saving Mr. Banks.

P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, proves to be a difficult collaborator during her involvement in the making of the 1964 film because she objects to almost everything about the production. Eventually, Disney mostly wins her over and everyone sings happily ever after.

The story is intercut with scenes from Travers’ childhood when she was Helen Goff, the daughter of an alcoholic bank manager in Australia who died of influenza at the age of 43.

As my subsequent research revealed, this is the Disney version of the making of a Disney film. In reality, much of Saving Mr. Banks is invention. More interesting would have been a biopic of Travers’ life because although she does seem to have had a very prickly personality, she wasn’t exactly conventional, having had a string of boyfriends and a very close, long-term relationship with another woman. She has started out as an actress and won fame and fortune as a writer. Although Travers had no children of her own, she had adopted an Irish boy, Camillus, whose twin brother (passed over by Travers on the recommendations of an astrologer) eventually found him in London. At the premier to which she had not originally been invited, she cried not because she was moved by the film, but rather because she was furious at what it’d done to her books.

But who cares about reality when Tom Hanks is playing Disney’s version of Walt Disney, the genial storyteller rather than the right-wing con­serv­at­ive?


The Butler.

After seeing his dad murdered with impunity, Cecil Gaines decides to leave a life of picking cotton behind him and gets a job in a hotel. He then gets a job in a hotel in Washington where he is headhunted to work as a White House butler, serving eight presidents and finally seeing a black man ascend to the American throne.

The film contrasts Gaines’ subservient role in the White House with events which were affecting black Americans as they fought for equality. One of Gaines’ sons gets involved in the Civil Rights Movement, but another goes to Vietnam and is killed.

Much of the film focuses on the 1960s and early 70s, and is dedicated to the people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Apart from protests against the apartheid regime in South Africa, much of the rest is glossed over.

The film does tend to drag on and I found my interest in it waning. Like other films I’ve been watching recently, this is an American film for Ameri­can audiences.

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