Movie review: “American Hustle” (2013)

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“Who’s the master? The painter, or the forger?”

The buildup of David O. Russell’s American Hustle is much more intriguing and satisfying than its payoff, which the film treats like an afterthought, even though the stakes are undeniably high – $2 million (in 1980 money, mind you) in federally-funded bait that may or may not have been, ahem, misplaced, the careers and reputations of ambitious FBI agents and several crooked congressmen, and the tenuous fates of the hustlers themselves. Everything pivots on the presumably predictable human behavior that occurs, late in the game, in a shady lawyer’s office. Continue reading “Movie review: “American Hustle” (2013)”

DVR Hindsight #6 (5/22/14): The Americans – season two, and finale

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The Americans – “Echo” Season 2, Ep. 13 (FX)

Season two of The Americans exacted a heavy human toll. The damage was both concentrated and collateral, both highly precise and desperately messy, both pointedly patriotic and heartbreakingly pointless. Season two saw our proxies in the American FBI and Soviet Rezidentura escalate operations while simultaneously digging in their heels and steeling themselves against potentially deadly blowback. It began by embroiling its protagonists (and viewers) in a diabolical, highly personal murder mystery and ended with that mystery’s shocking solution. In the claustrophobic hours in between, the Jennings family scrambled for any vestige of security or stability while continuing to execute its increasingly difficult duties. Continue reading “DVR Hindsight #6 (5/22/14): The Americans – season two, and finale”

Concert review: Portugal. The Man

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Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, Tennessee – May 17, 2014

I had almost no idea what to expect from Alaskan indie rock adventurers Portugal The Man* in a live setting. Everything had happened so fast, after all – by which I mean not just the circumstances which led to me seeing them in impromptu concert two states and 350 miles away, in my old stomping grounds of Knoxville, TN, but also the process of becoming enough of a fan to want to do so in the first place. After years of merely knowing of PTM by name, I took a flier on the band’s latest album – 2013’s Evil Friends – at the end of last year, just before I launched this blog by publishing my cross-genre “best music” top twenty. I found the album’s mixture of confidence and playfulness intriguing and disarming. Continue reading “Concert review: Portugal. The Man”

Steelers Thoughts #2 (5/9/14): Draft, Punk…

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Quite a bit to chew on and mull over following a wild and woolly first round of the NFL draft that saw the Cleveland Browns careening all over the board, trading down then back up, twice, that saw three teams select their presumed QBs of the future, that saw ESPN trot out a group of on air talent that was the human equivalent of a black hole from which only bottomless Johnny Manziel speculation could escape, and then dutifully cut to a reaction shot from Johnny Football every time a pick happened to bypass him (as 21 did) or a commercial break dramatically ended. Continue reading “Steelers Thoughts #2 (5/9/14): Draft, Punk…”

Mad Magazine and editor Al Feldstein: An Appreciation

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In my mother’s house in Northeast Tennessee, at the top of a staircase that is far too narrow, steep and rickety for her to climb with any regularity, sits the last of my childhood bedrooms. Predictably, given its former tenant, it’s kind of a mess even today, a dusty three-dimensional collage disguised as something habitable and seemingly hammered together out of antique furniture, stacks of obsolete videotapes, B-movie and album posters and pictures of musicians decades old, or in a few cases (Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain, Joey Ramone), decades deceased. Every time I visit my mother’s farm it’s like sleeping in a time capsule, which honestly isn’t all that bad a deal. I can see empty, vaguely rectangular blue spaces on the wall, indicative of the choicest few posters, which migrated with me when I moved to Ohio. My old room is a valuable link, mentally and emotionally, to the teenager I used to be, and I think that’s just as much for the few items that are missing as for the many more that are preserved. Continue reading “Mad Magazine and editor Al Feldstein: An Appreciation”

Movie review: “Spring Breakers” (2012)

Spring Breakers

“It was just nice to get a break from reality for a little while…”

Not only am I still unsure exactly what I think of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, following what will likely be my first and only viewing, I have my doubts as to what the filmmakers intended for their audience to feel afterward, if anything, or even what they themselves thought while conceiving and making it. I could go with my instinct here, declare it a fairly awful movie with no further comment necessary, and be done with it, but what gives me pause is not the question of whether this is an authentically bad movie, but why. It’s a pretty enough-looking film about the intersection between hedonism and nihilism, between youthful rebellion and destructive abandon, in which cute girls in bikinis commit robbery, stare blankly at the ocean, play loose with boys and guns and fifths of liquor and behave in general with a distinct, I would say deliberate, lack of morality. Continue reading “Movie review: “Spring Breakers” (2012)”