‘Hustle’ hacks, ‘Anchorman’ annoys and ‘Mr. Banks’ bores

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Dec. 20 are a 70’s set crime drama, the return of Ron Burgundy and a behind-the-scenes dramatization of Walt Disney’s dealings with “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers.

American Hustle

Christian Bale plays a con man who, along with his seductive British partner (Amy Adams), is forced to work for a wild FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia. (R – 129 minutes)

“American Hustle” boasts a spectacular cast of actors, each of whom give a top-notch performance, as well as some stunning production and costume design. However, writer/director David O. Russell’s new 70’s-set crime drama suffers from a few too many cooks standing in front of the science oven, giving too many characters a narrative voice thereby making it a very verbose motion picture whose story is nearly impossible to follow from beginning to end. Moreover, star Christian Bale’s pot-belly and combover feel like farce that goes on for far too long. Having said that, the music and mood are magnificent, as is actress Jennifer Lawrence in a supporting role. (Thumbs Down!)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Will Ferrell reprises his role as newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) who this time takes the nations first 24-hour news channel by storm. Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner also reprise their roles. (PG-13 – 119 minutes)

When the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder plagued motion picture “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” calms down long enough to set its sights on a specific aspect of the television news industry, it does so in a razor-sharp way that yields a lot of laughs. Unfortunately, you can count those instances – which include the onslaught of on-screen graphics and the exaggerated-for-entertainment-value coverage of car chases – on one hand whereas the rest of the new way-too-long sequel to screenwriter/star Will Ferrell’s 2004 comedy plays out like sporadic series of skits. Worst of all, it seems completely ignorant of the real-life implications of its actions – akin to a Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon. (Thumbs Down!)

Inside Llewyn Davis

Oscar Isaac plays a young folk singer who navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles – some of them of his own making. (R – 105 minutes)

Is there anything that Joel and Ethan Coen cannot do? Among countless other things, they have made us laugh till it hurt by “A Serious Man,” thrilled to the edge of our seats by “No Country for Old Men” and now genuinely moved through melancholy by “Inside Llewyn Davis.” What is essentially the story of a man whose struggle to barely get by parallels that of a stray cat works on several levels. It is not only a poetic observation of how struggle inspires art but also an extremely entertaining satire of folk music history, filled with wry laughs and a soundtrack that you will want to own the moment that you leave the movie theater. (Breakthrough!)

Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson portrays author P. L. Travers who reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) during production for the adaptation of her novel “Mary Poppins.” (PG-13 – 125 minutes)

Fortunately, “Saving Mr. Banks” is not nearly the disaster that was 2004’s “Finding Neverland.” However, at more than just a few times during its long and drawn-out runtime, Disney’s new behind-the-scenes dramatization of Walt Disney’s dealings with “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers comes awfully close. There are moments that will bring a smile to your face while warming your heart but there are others that are too impassive and slow-paced. Having said that, Emma Thompson is terrific and it is an overwhelmingly pleasant motion picture. And you know what they say about spoonfuls of sugar… (Thumbs Down!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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