Posts Tagged ‘bale’

Movie Review: Newsies (1992)

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

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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.

It’s eight years after D.A. Harvey Dent has died.  Dent is lauded as a hero, and many criminals have been locked away as a result of the Dent Law, which gives police more expansive powers when arresting criminals.  Everything seems tranquil, Batman (Christian Bale) has retired and is viewed as a villain to most of Gotham.  Bruce Wayne has become somewhat of a recluse, dealing with physical pain and mental exhaustion.  Newer, younger cops like Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon Leavitt) and Foley (Matthew Modine) are ready to stop crime in the name of Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is being put out to pasture.  Despite the seeming tranquility, several situations are lurking just below the surface.  A maid in Wayne Manor is really a cat burgler, named Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and is trying to steal Bruce Wayne’s mother’s favorite pearls out from under his nose.  If that isn’t bad enough, Selina kidnaps a Senator. While on the trail of the missing Senator, Commissioner Gordon follows two street criminals into the sewer, and finds a city beneath the city, being run by criminal mastermind named Bane. (Tom Hardy)
 Bane is planning nothing short of a revolution in Gotham City, he says he wants to give power back to the people.  As he emerges from the sewer, Bane’s first act is to short Wayne Enterprises stock, making it essentially worthless, and shoot several stockbrokers in the process.  Bruce hears from Alfred (Michael Caine) that Bane was trained by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) but then excommunicated from the League of Shadows.  All of this is enough for Bruce Wayne to want to don the Batsuit again, but first he has to prevent an energy source, that Wayne Enterprises helped develop for peaceful purposes, from falling into Bane’s hands.
 First Bruce turns over power of Wayne Enterprises to Miranda (Marion Cotillard) the scientist working on the peaceful energy source, and then Batman seeks to find Bane, but he needs Catwoman’s help to find Bane.  Batman’s first encounter with Bane does not go well, and he ends up in Gotham City jail, with a wall that has only been scaled by one person, according to rumor, and that is Bane.  Does Bruce get out of prison?  Does he take on Bane again? Does Bane learn to convert the peaceful energy source into a nuclear weapon?
 Despite all the hype, this movie is truly a worthy sequel to the Dark Knight. For the first hour and a half I did not think so and was ready to pan it, and ready to come up with snappy one liners about Bane, calling him Mr. Clean in a gas mask. I was also wondering tongue firmly in cheek, whether it was a sequel to Inception with all the stars from Inception in this movie.  Cotillard, Leavitt, Hardy, I was expecting Leo Dicaprio to hop out of the woodwork any time.  But then, a strange thing happened in the last hour of the movie. The story came together, Bane became more than a fat arch villain, he began to exploit the verbiage of the 99 percent for his own craven goals, and that turned this movie for me.  Then there was a huge plot twist toward the end of the movie which turned the movie into an absolute treat to watch. There is also and Inception type twist near the end, that I will not divulge that is also fun to speculate about.  That’s what makes Nolan’s films so much fun, there’s always more to them then meets the eye.  It was also fun to see Neeson again as Ra’s Al Ghul as well as Cillian Murphy as Sandman in this sequel. As good as this movie was, it requires the viewer to have a working knowledge of the first two movies, as such this is a sequel that doesn’t work as a movie on its own, usually that matters, not this time.
The acting as expected was top notch.  Bale owns Batman, he plays it better than anyone I’ve seen, no one should play this role for a long time unless it’s Bale, he’s perfected the duality of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Tom Hardy won me over as Bane, at first, I thought he was just a bellowing blowhard, but the details of his character and the way Hardy played it was superb.  Anne Hathaway also won me over, I really didn’t that she could pull off a complex, sophisticated performance, but she did, although I still think that she’s too young for the role.  My favorite performance belongs to Cotillard who has to give a complex and multilayered performance, and boy does she deliver.  Cotillard is a fantastic actress, and it’s getting to the point where I’d pay to hear her read the phone book.  Joseph Gordon Leavitt is one of the best young actors in the moies today, and he does not disappoint here. This is by far the best movie of the year.  See it.
 My first viewing of this movie came on July 21st, in  the wake of the senseless killing of 12 people in Colorado, who wanted nothing more than to escape the problems of society by watching a movie.  Little did they know they’d soon confront a grave problem facing our society, a madman with a gun.  I send my deepest condolences to the families who lost members of their family in the shooting spree.  While it was surreal seeing a movie with police standing guard outside the theater, movies are a way of life for me, and I will never give that up, no matter the circumstance.  I subsequently saw the movie two weeks later, and enjoyed it just as much, still saddened by the tragedy that happened two weeks before in my favorite venue, a movie theater.
The Dark Knight Rises.  Rise out of your chair, go to a theater and see it for yourself.

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Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) works as a machinist and has suffered from insomnia for a year.  Coupled with the lack of sleep is Trevor’s alarming weight loss, he looks emaciated, and is dropping one or two pounds a day. To ease the stress, he pays a prostitute named Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to sleep with him, and has a cup of coffee every night with a friendly waitress named Maria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) .  Trevor’s work is filled with pressure, he accidentally turns on one of the lathes at work and the resulting accident costs one of his co-workers named Miller (Michael Ironside) his arm.  His co-workers already think Trevor is a bit of an oddball, but now that he’s causing accidents, they ostracize him.

One day on a break, he starts talking to a co worker named Ivan (John Sharian) When he mentions Ivan to his co-workers, Trevor is surprised to learn that no one knows who Ivan is.   At least his relationships with the woman in his life are going well.  Maria invites him on a date that ends bizarrely, with her son Nicholas having an epileptic seizure after going on a funhouse ride.  Stevie is willing to give up being a hooker for Trevor, but he is not sure that he wants to commit to her.  Trevor almost has an accident at work, and blames Miller for wanting revenge on him.  Miller just brushes Trevor off, thinking Trevor is a nutcase.  Trevor gets fired from work after getting into a fistfight with his boss, after a paranoid rant,  he thinks the answer to the bizarre incidents at work can be traced to Ivan, who always seems to be one step ahead of Trevor driving a red sportscar.   When Trevor tracks the license plate from the red sportscar, he finds out the car used to belong to him. And he abandoned it a year ago.  He accuses Stevie of being involved with Ivan, more paranoia.  Who is Ivan, is he a figment of an insomniac mind?  Is Ivan real?  Is Ivan leading Trevor somewhere?  Is there a future for Trevor and Stevie, Trevor and Maria?

This is a movie that pulls the viewer in right away.  The questions start almost instantly?  Why is Trevor losing weight why can’t he sleep?  Who is Ivan?  Is Trevor crazy?  The movie builds and builds, and then the ending happens.  Is it disappointing?  Is it mundane?  Yes to both. In some ways this film reminds me of Fight Club  after the twist, I just lost interest in Fight Club, after the reveal here, I didn’t care about the rest of the film.  It’s just that there is just so much momentum built up over an hour and a half and it just peters out in the last ten minutes and that’s a shame.  For the first hour and a half, this movie was destined to be a classic, reminiscent of Hitchcock, and Chris Nolan’s Memento.  The funhouse ride is definitely Hitchcock, or maybe Tim Burton, Trevor’s notes to himself are definitely Memento. Christian Bale is literally spellbinding, the viewer literally can’t take his eyes off the gaunt, skeletal frame of Trevor. Bale makes the character fully rounded, he’s not only playing someone who’s losing his grip on reality, he’s actually charming and funny with Maria and Stevie.   The supporting cast is just as good.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is lovable, but I have to argue with the choice of making her a hooker.  Hollywood has a problem, every other woman in America is apparently a prostitute, that needs to change. Aitana Sanchez Gijon is  very open and approachable as the waitress willing to listen to Trevor. I would go get a cup of coffee and a piece of pie from her every night if I could. John Sharion is a ghoul, a smiling menacing Jack O’Lantern. Every character compliments each other.

The Machinist:  Raging Against The Machine.