Director David O. Russell is riding high now, but before “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” he was persona non grata — a difficult hellion whose actors hated him. Indeed, George Clooney loudly complained to anyone who would listen about his unsightly antics while filming this 1999 Desert Storm dramedy. But like 2004’s “I Heart Huckabees,”it turned out pretty great — despite the difficulty. Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube play soldiers so bored by the lack of action they try to steal some Iraqi gold. Sharp back then, it only seems more insightful now, an eight-year war, untold casualties and trillions of dollars later.
Remember when Jesse Eisenberg wrote a withering New Yorker short story about a venal, horny film critic? Apart from how lazy it was, it seemed inexplicable given he’s an actual critics’ darling. Case in point: his dual role as a mushy-mouthed sadsack and a cocksure extrovert who may be his evil doppelganger. Both extremes of his personality are well used by actor-turned-director Richard Aoyade (Moss from “The IT Crowd”), who sets his tale — loosely based on Dostoevsky’s novella — in a grimy, Gilliamesque city where all hope is crushed by bureaucracy and bad lighting.
‘An Honest Liar’
More than a catalogue of his greatest hits, this Great Man doc on James Randi — aka magician “The Amazing Randi” — is a sobering reminder that fighting the irrational is an uphill battle. Like most respectable conjurers, Randi, still razor sharp at 87, went from illusionist to professional skeptic, debunking those who would fleece the public by claiming their “powers” were real. Among his conquests are Uri Geller, who claimed his simple spoon-bending trick was legit, and nefarious evangelist Peter Popoff. And yet both have still found ways to thrive after their disgrace — proof that humanity’s prowess for self-delusion never completely dies. The only sour point: playing Randi’s homosexuality as a third act shock reveal.