It occurs to me that even seventeen years after the fact, it might not behoove me to discuss in too much detail the precise state I was in during the creation of this review. Suffice it to say it was not a condition of sobriety, and in the years since, I’ve often wondered: does the movie hold up? Can I actually stand by this review? And now I must face the question head on. Hold on a minute.
Nowadays, when people talk about American Beauty, it’s largely in terms of how overpraised it was despite being superficial and facile and full of it and how lame (sorry for the ableist language) that Wes Bentley plastic bag bit was, and so on. So, some of the yunguns in the audience might be wondering, who WERE these yoyos who thought the movie was so great?
“The black mirror is one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone,” says series creator Brooker, but unlike Jason Reitman’s what-the-Internet-is-doing-to-us flop movie “Men, Women, and Children,” the Black Mirror series challenges the intellect and eschews stark portrayals of teenagers texting and not making eye contact (oh, the poignancy!) and concocts futuristic-scenarios that are only slightly far-fetched, poised on the outer rim of the technology we already have.
American Hustle, the movie starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner, chronicles the misadventures of Bale’s pot-bellied, bad-combover con man in the late 1970s. He’s got issues, this guy, largely with the people in his life: his kooky shut-in wife, his partner-in-crime lover who sports a fake English accent too frequently, an FBI agent who’s caught him dead to rights and is forcing him and his girl to scam for the government, and the Jersey politico he’s supposed to set up, but of whom he’s grown kind of fond. “Some of this actually happened,” a title card announces at the beginning of the movie. That’s one way of putting it. American Hustle is a VERY fictionalized (to the point of pretty much every real name being changed) recounting of the “Abscam” investigations conducted by the Bureau, which themselves were investigated after it became manifestly clear that the Feds had overstepped their bounds in setting up sting operations to trap corrupt politicos. Bob Guccione's Abscam American Hustle, though was no fiction at all.
The lively Sheila Kennedy recounted her life during Penthouse magazine’s Guccione Era: “I was with Bob for ten years back in the 1980’s, and he shot me in Paris, Italy, and all over the world. We were international ambassadors for the Penthouse brand. I think. Bob put me on four separate Penthouse covers, which I think was a record. All that was great and lovely. I lived in the mansion for some time, with Bob, Kathy, and his extended family. We had holidays there and I felt like family too.”
Prosthetics, digitization, and other tricks of the trade can make fake sex look realer than real sex. The MPAA and its rating system are eager to put a damper on the Hollywood creatives who present new levels of verisimilitude to multiplex patrons. But most of us understand what the power of suggestion can do. Whether they are realistic or totally over the top, a good sex scene has the power to transform a movie into an Oscar-worthy production. They are not necessarily the most explicit, but the celebrity presence makes them the most powerful.