Posts Tagged ‘bale’

vice

Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) was a ne’er do-well young man with a drinking problem who hung telephone wire for a living in Wyoming.  His girlfriend Lynne, (Amy Adams) was the one with the smarts and ambition in the family.  She threatened to leave Dick, unless he promised to stop drinking and get his act together, and so he did.  He won his first Congressional race in Wyoming, thanks largely to Lynne, and went on to work as an intern in the Nixon administration under Don Rumsfeld. (Steve Carell) Just before Watergate, Rumsfeld was named Ambassador to NATO, and Cheney went into the private sector.  Unscathed by Watergate, they returned to government in the Ford Administration, Rumsfeld as Chief of Staff, and then Secretary of Defense, and Cheney as Chief of Staff.  Cheney was then Defuse Secretary for HW Bush in 1988, and just when he thought he was done with public service, he got a fateful call from newly elected President George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) in 2001, who wanted him to be his Vice President. Lynne Cheney thinks he should refuse, as the vice presidency is a do-nothing job, but Cheney is seriously mulling over his answer.  Does he take the job?

Vice is an alternately funny, and painful retelling of the life of Richard B. Cheney.  What a viewer thinks  is funny, and what a viewer thinks is painful depends wholly on his/her political point of view. Vice posits a lot of theories about Dick Cheney.  And whether a viewer believes the theories about Cheney’s power and his control over the policies of the Bush administration, and whether one believes all those theories or dismisses them is again viewed from a political prism.  There were things that were amateurish and overdone, like a ubiquitous all-knowing narrator, who seemed to be everyone and no one all at once, like a Greek chorus telling viewers what the writers thought was important.  There were also phony end credits half-way through the movie, for comedic effect, all of which manage to undermine the serious subject matter.  There is one moment that stands out, however and that is Cheney’s final soliloquy, it expresses Cheney’s world view perfectly, and justifies, at least in his own mind, what he did and how he did it.  But the script can’t decide if it’s a tongue-in-cheek satire or a documentary style fictional drama, and that hurts this movie a lot.  If it had decided on a tone, and stuck to it, Vice would have been a much better movie.

The one aspect for this movie that is clear is Christian Bale’s absolute mastery of the role of Dick Cheney.  It is more than an impression, he gets the mannerisms the facial gesticulations, the voice, everything  is perfect, he doesn’t become Dick Cheney, he IS Dick Cheney.  Even the way Bale walks after he amasses all this power, astride the world like a Colossus, he’s the most powerful man in the world and he knows it. The writers also portray Dick Cheney as ruthlessly Machiavellian, and Bale portrays the cold-bloodedness with a Cheshire cat grin.  Amy Adams gives a surprisingly strong performance, Lynne Cheney is not a shrinking violet standing by her man, she actually shapes Dick Cheney to be the man she wants him to be, and Amy Adams sinks her teeth into this meaty role and makes Lynne Cheney a fierce human being. Kudos to the writers, and also Adams for making Lynne Cheney much more interesting than I ever thought she could be.

From the dizzying heights of Christian Bale and Amy Adams, the acting precipitously descends into ham handed mediocrity.  Steve Carell is most guilty of horrendously bad acting.  He plays Don Rumsfeld as as a completely unserious person, and I’ve watched enough press  conferences with Don Rumsfeld and he always struck me as a serious person, not someone who  is used for comedy relief.  Sam Rockwell  does perhaps the best impression of George W Bush I’ve seen so far,  but the writers give him nothing to work with the character is a  dim-witted, hallow party-boy, not interested in governing, and willing to hand over power to Cheney.  This is a total caricature of a man who was our president.  And Tyler Perry was just the first available black actor to play Colin Powell, he brought nothing to the role. Go back to putting on a dress Tyler Perry.

The direction is gimmicky visually, using Cheney’s heart problems as a metaphor, as in black hearted Cheney, the heart of all evil.  The omnipresent narrator is gimmicky too, and totally unnecessary.  Audiences can understand a narrative without it being spoon-fed to them.  The performances by Bale and Adams were outstanding, but Adam McKay, who also wrote the movie, turned this movie into much more of a comedy routine than it should have been.

Vice:  The story of Dick Cheney’s vice grip on power.

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Movie Review: Hostiles (2017)

Posted: September 16, 2018 in Drama
Tags: ,

hostiles

In 1892, Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is ordered by Colonel Abraham Briggs (Stephen Lang) to transport Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his native home in Montana.  Yellow Hawk is a member of the Cheyanne tribe, dying of cancer and wants to be buried in his native land.  The directive to transport Yellow Hawk came from President Benjamin Harrison himself, but Blocker initially refuses to obey it because he thinks of Yellow Hawk as a murderer.  Briggs threatens Blocker’s pension, so Blocker reluctantly agrees.  Blocker put together a team and starts toward Montana.  On the way he finds a widow named Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) whose husband and three children have been killed by Comanche, who burned her house to the ground.  She is traumatized and in a state of shock.  Blocker sympathizes with the widow, helps her bury her children, and takes her along with them. One night, Rosalie and the Native women are kidnapped by fur traders.  Chief Yellow Hawk offers to help Blocker rescue the women.  Does Blocker take him up on his offer?

Hostiles should have been the story of two psychologically traumatized people living in the old West.  The second half of the movie becomes something else entirely, and the movie stops working on any level.  The writers should have left the main characters alone, and the movie would have been much better. There’s already a movie like this, it’s John Ford’s classic The Searchers, John Wayne plays a bigot, who hates Native Americans, but has to go into Indian territory to save a little girl.  The villains in this movie are also Comanche, don’t know what the Comanche ever did to traumatize Hollywood writers, but they’re the heavies again.  The point is, John Wayne’s character never changed in The Searchers and didn’t have to, Hostiles should have followed similar character development. The climax of Hostiles violent and unnecessary, the whole movie is a wasted opportunity.

Christian Bale is one of the best actors in the world, he’s been acting well since he starred in Empire of The Sun as a 13 year old.  In Hostiles, however, Bale underplays the character so much that he’s barely noticeable.   The script doesn’t help him either, he’s asked to play the character one way for the first half of the movie, and another way during the second half of the movie.  Rosamund Pike has the opposite problem, she overplays the traumatized Rosalie to the point of hysteria, she was not good in Gone Girl either.  Wes Studi plays Yellow Hawk as a sympathetic character, but it’s a small role.

This movie was written and directed by Scott Cooper, who directed the awful Black Mass, and the good Out of The Furnace.  I am hesitant to watch movies written and directed by one person,  because the writer thinks his dialogue is great, so he rambles on, and the director thinks the writer is great, so he doesn’t edit any of the scenes to pick up the pacing.

Hostiles:  Christian should have Bale-d out on this movie.

Movie Review: Newsies (1992)

Posted: February 27, 2016 in Drama, Music, Romance
Tags: ,

newsies

In 1899, newspapers were delivered by largely destitute young boys.  Newspaper publishers like Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) and William Randolph Hearst wanted to raise profits on their newspapers, so they increased the distribution price a tenth of a cent per paper, 10 cents per hundred.  This inspired the newsboys to go on strike.  Led by a charismatic street kid named Jack “Cowboy” Kelly, the newsboys go on strike crippling, the Pulitzer and Hearst operations.  Pulitzer tries especially hard to break the strike calling in the head of the New York corrections department Snyder (Kevin Tighe) and dangling plum jobs in front of him in return for the arrest of Jack Kelly.  Does Snyder find Kelly?  Does Pulitzer break the newsboy strike?

Newsies is disappointing on many levels, it starts out as a light hearted musical.  The songs are great and they should be, because they are written by Alan Menken, but then the light musical suddenly lurches into being a dark melodrama, and not coincidentally the songs disappear.  When it’s going through its light musical phase, the story tries to introduce a romantic element between Jack and a sister of one of the Newsies. Sarah, but that doesn’t work.  The story tries to be a historical drama by trotting out people like Pulitzer, Hearst, and even Governor Teddy Roosevelt, but it doesn’t work as a historical drama either.  The ending is oh so predictable and the story that’s too long crawls to a finish.  The inability to settle on one tone throughout ultimately hurts this movie, as it whipsaws its audience through too many emotions. It was a hit on Broadway, so hopefully they re-tooled the story, and got some actors who can do decent New York accents.

Christian Bale is a great actor, he is a great kid actor, don’t believe me?  Watch Empire of the Sun, Bale takes over that movie, and carries it.  Sadly, here he puts on a bad New York accent and wears it like an ill-fitting jacket.  I was deeply disappointed in this performance, I was expecting much better.  He tries to dance too, and he can’t do that very well either.  He can carry a tune, at least better than Russell Crowe, so that’s a saving grace.  Robert Duvall also has accent difficulties as in I didn’t know what accent he was trying to do.  And why the heck is Ann Margaret in this movie playing a lounge singer, this movie was made in the 1990’s, not the 1960’s.  Bill Pullman was playing what he always plays, everyman, nice guy, nothing new there.

The pacing is slow, not many, if any good performances.  The director here is Kenny Ortega, who’s directed tv movies like High School Musical, so maybe my expectations should have been set lower.

Newsies:  Newspaper strike movie that strikes out.

The Big Short

Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the founder of the Scion Hedge Fund.  He notices a trend in mortgage default rates,  based on the explosion of subprime mortgages written by banks. He predicts that subprime lending will cause the housing market to collapse in 2007, and finds a way to bet against the banks.  Burry goes to Goldman Saks and asks them to create a Credit Default Swap, which Burry used as a short selling tool against the impending mortgage crisis. Burry invests 1.3 billion of Scion’s money in shorting the banks. Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) learns of Burry’s idea and runs against the grain of the rest of the traders in his company by thinking Burry is onto something.

Mark Baum (Steve Carell) becomes interested in the big short when Vennett mistakenly places a call to Baum’s hedge fund companies.  Baum had always been suspicious of the banks and their motives for lending, but the banks’ use of collateralized debt obligations as securities, exacerbates the risk of global financial collapse, and makes Baum eager to short the banks.  Newbie investors Charlie Gellar (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Witrock) pick up a flier from Vennett and are immediately interested in making this transaction, but their hedge fund falls short of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association fiduciary requirement for making such an investment, so they seek the help of Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) a trader, who’s given up the Wall Street rat race, but agrees to help the young investors.  As 2007 approaches, the housing market is still going strong, and the premiums paid by these three sets of investors for shorting the banks continue to mount as does the pressure to dump their short positions. Do they stay with their original positions or succumb to the pressure and sell their Credit Default Swaps?

This is a great film, funny and smart and sharply written.  Best of all, it simplifies the complex financial transactions in an entertaining way so that everyone can understand.  Unbelievably, it is able to find heroes in the carnage of the financial meltdown of 2007, people who had the courage to bet against the banks, and so viewers have someone to root for in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  The ending of the movie is depressing and anger-inducing at the same time, but that is the intent of this complex movie to pull viewers in and then to have them realize the disastrous impact of what will take place. The only quibble is the movie lasts a few scenes too long and should have ended sooner.

The acting is superb.  Bale is nominated for an Oscar as Michael Burry, I think he overdid the Asperger’s Syndrome a bit with Burry, but overall, it was a good performance.  Burry was perhaps the most sympathetic of all the characters, and Bale plays him with the right amount of sensitivity.  The best performance was given by Steve Carell as angry, guilt-ridden hedge fund manager Mark Baum, sporting a bad haircut, and a nasal twang, Carell seems like the antithesis of a hero, but he gives this complex character many sides, one of which is an everyman fighting against the colossus that is the banking industry.  It’s nice to see Ryan Gosling play a relevant role again, he is not exactly a hero, he is more a jerk than anything else, but Gosling makes Vennett likable.  The only clunky performance was Brad Pitt, he tries to disguise himself with weight and a scruffy beard, but he doesn’t put much emotion into the role.  Like 12 Years A Slave, thanks Brad for Producing, stop casting yourself. Nice cameos by Selena Gomez,  Margot Robbie, and Anthony Bourdain.

The director Adam McKay, is mostly known for directing Will Ferrell movies, but does an excellent job of directing this movie, the pacing is good, although it languishes a bit towards the end, and he gets good performances, even though it is not hard to get good performances from a cast like this. This isn’t even the best financial crisis movie made, that honor goes to Inside Job, a 2010 documentary narrated by Matt Damon.

The Big Short:  Long on entertainment.

out of the furnace

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is a steelworker, working hard to keep his family together.  His father (Bingo O’Malley) is dying.  Russell’s brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) is a soldier, serving his fourth tour in Iraq, Rodney is in debt to local loanshark John Petty (William Dafoe).  Russell has a difficult life, but finds solace with his schoolteacher girlfriend, Lena Taylor. (Zoe Saldana) When driving home drunk one day, Russell runs into a car, and kills a child.

After serving his time in prison, his life changes dramatically, his father is dead, his girlfriend has left him, and his brother is back from Iraq, yearning to be a streetfighter with the help of John Petty.  John wants Rodney to throw his first fight because Rodney owes John money, and John owes money to local drug dealer Harlan De Groat (Woody Harrelson)  Russell doesn’t want Rodney to get involved with John or Harlan and wants Rodney to work at the steel mill like he does.  Does Rodney start street fighting against his brother’s wishes?

This is an excellent movie.  The exposition takes a while to unwind, but once the characters are fully developed, the viewer wants to see what happens to each character.  The ending is somewhat formulaic, but even the ending keeps the viewer guessing, because of a scene that preceded it.

The acting is what separates this movie from most gritty crime dramas.  Christian Bale has to be one of the best actors in Hollywood, whatever he does he infuses the role with such emotion, that the viewer cant help but get lost in the character.  The viewer can’t help but empathize with this character, he’s trying to keep his splintering family together, bur one bad break and he ends up in jail, and loses almost everything.  It is a fine, understated performance of a man trying to play by the rules.  Woody Harrelson turns in another riveting performance as sadistic SOB Harlan De Groat.  All that needs to be said about Harlan is said in the first scene.  Casey Affleck also gives a fine performance as a vet suffering from PTSD, looking for an outlet for his rage.  There are also fine performances in smaller roles by Zoe Saldana and Forest Whitaker.  The ensemble cast enhances the movie greatly.

The direction is notable, there are shots from interesting angles, and utilizing the lighting whenever possible.  It uses the sparse landscape of rural Pennsylvania to illustrate the difficulty of life there, and uses the steel mill itself as an interesting backdrop.

Out of the Furnace.  Burning With Intensity.

american-hustle

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) runs a dry cleaner’s store in the Bronx.  Irving then branches out into making loans, where he doesn’t loan any money but is guaranteed a non-refundable payment of 5,000 dollars.  Irving also dabbles in selling forged art.  Irving is basically a con man. He meets a woman named Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party and the two all in love with each other.  Sidney adopts an English accent and becomes Lady Edith, and they con more local businessmen of their money.  One day, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) walks in to Irving’s establishment and asks for a loan.  Richie is really an FBI agent, looking to root out local corruption.  He will let Irving and Lady Edith walk if they give him four corruption convictions.  Irving gets Carl Elway (Shea Whigham) convicted, but DiMaso has his eyes on a much bigger target, the mayor of Camden New Jersey, Carmine Polito. (Jeremy Renner)  Richie is planning on a scam to trap Polito using a fake Arab Sheik, Sheik Abdullah (Michael Pena) to provide one million dollars in funding to renovate Atlantic City, using Polito as an intermediary. Richie has a suitcase of money waiting to give Polito as a kickback, but Polito gets squeamish, and it’s up to Irving to close the deal.  Does he succeed?

I like American Hustle, but it’s largely because it does a good job approximating the 1970’s and because of strong performances by Bale, Cooper, and Renner.  For all the good in this movie, I’ve noticed a troubling trend.  Movies are taking scandalous behavior and making it seem frivolous and lighthearted.  ABSCAM was a serious scandal in the late 70’s, many politicians went to jail for bribery, ABSCAM was another example of the dysfunction between government and the governed in the wake of Watergate.  But writer/director David O. Russell chooses to fictionalize ABSCAM, and make it seem like the FBI is running amok and it portrays Polto as a hero.  Russell uses the word entrapment several times in his script .  Frankly, that is editorializing and that is something a fictional movie should never do.  Russell trivialized mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook and that bothered me, now he trivializes political corruption, and that is too much, because now he is dealing with reality and not just a fictional story.  Russell is not the only one who is guilty of this, Martin Scorsese does much the same in the Wolf of Wall Street.

The acting by the male leads is superb.  There are three aspects of the characterization of Irving that made it stand out.  The first is the comb-over, Irving’s comb over becomes a metaphor for the character. Irving goes to great lengths to hide that he’s bald, just like Irving goes to great lengths to hide the fact that he’s a con-man.  In the end both the fact that he’s bald and a con-man become glaringly obvious.  Second is Bale’s weight gain, call it method acting or whatever you want to call it, the weight gain was effective, it helped the viewer forget that this was Christian Bale, and put the focus back on the character.  Third, Bale’s Bronx accent was impeccable, it’s a very easy accent to get wrong, and he nailed it, further adding to the believability of the character.

Bradley Cooper continues his strong string of performances going back to Silver Linings Playbook.  Cooper plays Richie as a megalomaniac, who puts his hair up in curlers to maintain a certain look.  Richie’s hair is also a key to understanding that character.  He’s vain and self-important and has delusions that he can root out corruption on a large scale.  Jeremy Renner plays Carmine sympathetically, a little too sympathetically, the viewer actually believes that Carmine is working for the best interests of his town and his state.  The female leads don’t fare as well.   Amy Adams has trouble switching between an American and British accents, and Jennifer Lawrence is too young to play such a mature and worldly character.  Lawrence also has trouble with the New York accent.

The direction is nothing outstanding, there are no iconic scenes or quick edits, but the pacing is good, the two hours and 18 minutes goes by quickly.

America Hustle: Bale et al. do the hustle in the 1970’s.

John Dillinger (Depp) served 10 years in an Indiana prison for stealing 50 dollars, he engineered an escape from that prison that cost the life of Walter Dietrich. (James Ruso) After breaking out of jail, he settles in Chicago with Evelyn Franchette (Coutillard) a half French, half Native American woman.  He formes his second gang, featuring most notably “Baby Face “Nelson (Stephen Graham)  The gang starts robbing banks, until caught in Tucson Arizona and extradited and jailed in Indiana where he promptly stole the car of Sherriff Lillian Holley  (Lilly Taylor)  Dillinger’s jailbreak frustrates Melvin Purvis, (Bale), the FBI under J Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) has put Purvis in charge of catching Dillinger.  Purvis asks the FBI for more agents from Oklahoma and Texas. who don’t exactly go by the book.  The feds trap Dillinger in The Little Bohemian Lodge, but again Dillinger escapes.  Finally, the FBI cultivates an informant, Anna Sage (Branka Katic) who’s a friend of Dillinger’s new girlfriend Polly Hamilton (Leelee Sobieski).Anna tells Purvis that Dillinger will be at the Biograph theater watching a Clark Gable gangster movie.  Does the FBI finally kill Dillinger?

This movie has been praised by critics for its accuracy. But according to the facts I’ve read, it got at least two facts wrong.  The deaths of Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd did not occur before Dillinger, in fact both outlived Dillinger.  Michael Mann gets too caught up in the romance between Dillinger and Franchette. and almost forgets that Dillinger was an infamous bank robber. .I realize that Depp and Cotillard are big stars but does Mann really have to satiate their egos quite that much?  The acting is just so-so.

Depp plays Dillinger as taciturn and moody, not the gregarious populist that the real Dillinger was supposed to be Coutillard is beautiful, but her French accent gets in the way, and the accent only gets thicker as the movie goes on.  Bale gives the same brutally intense performance that he always gives as the Dark Knight, as John Connor, as this guy Purvis, he only seems to know one speed.  The movie is too long, and never does come together as one cohesive movie, it tries to be part romance, part historical drama and part action movie. It fails on all accounts.

Public Enemies  Love your enemies, but hate this movie.