“It Has Been My Honor To Be Your Servant. You Chose Me. And I Did What You Asked…”
Reuniting the rather excellent filmmaking team behind 2016’s The Big Short, Vice, brings to the big screen a rather scathing, politically one-sided depiction of the rise and fall of one of America’s most infamous contemporary political figureheads, Dick Cheney, the Nebraskan born figure of ruthlessness who during the course of almost three decades rose to great prominence within the White House, eventually earning the title of the most powerful vice president in history in his time within the rather controversial Bush presidency at the turn of the twentieth century. Directed by Adam McKay, whose success with The Big Short seems to have thankfully pushed him away from the laddish cringiness of the likes of Step Brothers forevermore, Vice follows a very familial cinematic layout to the Oscar winning drama by essentially portraying a contemporary and highly controversial issue with a balance of both black comedy and seriousness, one led by the seemingly interchangeable figure of Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) who once again goes full-on The Machinist, albeit in reverse, by utilising the skills of prosthetics and his local takeaway in order to pull off a rather outstanding central performance in what is a considerably flashy ensemble acting piece. Slapped with a guarantee to inflame and provoke immediate discussion on both sides of the political fence, Vice is an explicit, highly intriguing, and at times, genuinely terrifying, depiction of modern politics in action which continues the notion that when handed the right material, McKay can truly be a standout figure of importance within the world of issue-based cinema.
Beginning with the successful rise of Christian Bale’s Cheney as he quickly progresses from drunken college dropout to falling under the wing of Steve Carell’s (Beautiful Boy) charismatic and wickedly devious, Donald Rumsfeld, McKay’s movie utilises the opening chapters in order to establish the unbreakable relationship within the Cheney household, with Amy Adams’ (Arrival) Lynne equally as power hungry as her aspiring husband, albeit burdened by her understanding of the limitations of her gender in the world of American politics. With it absolutely impossible to fit in every single point of interest within Cheney’s alarmingly elongated career, the central narrative of the movie begins and ends with the events of 9/11, a time in which Cheney’s tunnel vision for power is most clearly represented, and whilst at times the movie seems to disregard levels of depth for characters who seem to come and go, it comes at no surprise that those already slightly invested in such a crucial time in American politics may feel the ride much easier than those with absolutely zero interest or awareness of the events which occurred at the start of the twenty first century. Being part of the latter, the chance to witness Sam Rockwell portray (Three Billboards) George W. Bush as a drunken, easily led simpleton is almost too delicious to turn down, even when the film refuses to hold back in reminding the audience of the terrifying devastation at the heart of his particular tenure as President.
Whilst comparisons to The Big Short are obviously rather inevitable in terms of the storytelling, the most obvious and in-your-face connection between the two movies is of course the flashy, quickfire editing technique which McKay utilises so heavy in order to convey the many ideas floating around his head onto the big screen. With almost an uncanny sense of being handed subliminal messaging at times, the storytelling is constantly intercut with random segments of imagery and seemingly relevant newsreel footage which are used to reinforce the overarching political standing at the heart of the movie. With Jesse Plemons (Game Night) this time handed the reigns as narrator, Vice surprisingly never seems gimmicky or too confusing, with the constant editing shifts actually balancing the rather heavy and hectic central plot involving political jargon and offers a somewhat release and breakaway from characters who at the end of the day, are all downright slimey and evil to their core. With Bale supplying the archetypal, Marlon Brando-esque sense of commitment to the lead role of Cheney, Vice supplies the platform for yet another awards touted performance full of grandiose presence, even when the real life Cheney himself was renowned for being something of a introverted, slightly muted charisma vacuum. Whilst I was always destined to admire a piece of work with a political standpoint which pretty much aligns with my own when it comes to the downright illegal doings of one of the most infamous presidencies in history, Vice crucially did not disappoint and managed to handle the difficult subject matter with relative ease, supplying an excellent follow up to The Big Short and getting me excited for whatever Team McKay decide to do next.
Overall Score: 8/10
“My Son Is Out There Somewhere, And I Don’t Know What He’s Doing! I Don’t Know How To Help Him…”
Following on the early year release of the quite baffling Robert Zemeckis directed Welcome to Marwen, Steve Carell (The Big Short) returns once again to the big screen with Beautiful Boy, a low-key and rather delicate insight into the troubled family life of American journalist and author, David Sheff, whose 2008 memoir of the same name acts as the basis for a movie focusing on the central relationship between Carell’s Sheff and his young, overly troubled and drug addicted son as played by the breakout star of the past few years, Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name). Directed by Belgian filmmaker, Felix Van Groeningen, who also contributes to the screenplay alongside Lion screenwriter, Luke Davies, Beautiful Boy is a particularly somber cinematic glance into the effect of substance abuse and addiction, a film which although struggles to maintain a constant flow of greatness throughout its near two hour runtime due to some rather messy and dragged out pacing, succeeds in presenting a wide range of themes and ideas with a level of dramatic authenticity which makes the final product something both emotionally draining and cinematically fulfilling, and with a central acting duo with talent and chemistry to burn, Beautiful Boy is annoyingly just short of something rather excellent, but still highly impressive nonetheless.
Bouncing back and forth throughout the early life of Chalamet’s Nick across three main time periods, Beautiful Boy takes the nonlinear narrative approach in attempting to portray a boundless familial bond between father and son, with Carell’s David a well educated, respected and grounded caring family man who is completely bedazzled by a fundamental lack of understanding regarding his son’s reliance on a horrifying range of illegal substances when the world has seemingly been handed to him on a plate. Will Carell and Chalamet joyously bouncing off of each other with a level of acting which just breathes authenticity and has no problem whatsoever in attempting to construct a sense of realism, the differences in performance type also benefits the film as a whole, with Chalamet’s drug-fuelled transformation carrying the almighty stand-out heft seen before from other actors in the likes of films with tonal similarities such as Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyers Club, and Carell counteracting the extreme side of things with a nuanced, empathetic and quite understated performance which ranks up there with his best dramatic work since Foxcatcher. With an ocean-like cinematography, a really interesting soundtrack which blends indie guitar riffs with a jukebox soundtrack, allowing for one of the best scenes in which a teenage Nick bellows out “Territorial Pissings” alongside the radio, Beautiful Boy is indeed a really interesting two-sided character piece, which although does let itself down with a rather silly elongated runtime, works best in the dramatic sense by having that horrific sense of unease the most impressive works about substance abuse always need to include in order to really stick and make a lasting impression.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Was Beaten Up Because I Was Different, So I’ve Built A Place Where I Can Heal…”
Inspired by the life and artistic works of Mark Hogancamp, who in Kingston, New York on April 2000 was left with severe life changing injuries and little memory of his previous life after being the victim of a vicious and brutal hate crime, Welcome to Marwen takes inspiration from the 2010 documentary, Marwencol, from independent filmmaker, Jeff Malmberg, which focused on the titular 1/6 scale World War II-era model town embodied by a collection of handcrafted dolls all designed with an uncanny resemblance to Hogancamp himself, his close friends and his now incarcerated attackers. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) whose recent cinematic output has been somewhat rather patchy, with the likes of Allied and The Walk by no means reaching the lofty filmic heights the American is best known for, Welcome to Marwen blends a soppy, emotional drama with oddball digital effects for a movie which cannot decide whatsoever what it wants to be, resulting in a final picture that on the one hand does feel considerably admirable considering the heartbreaking true story sitting at the heart of the drama, yet on the other, does feel entirely misguided and just way too experimental for a picture that due to having Zemeckis’ name stamped all over it, will arrive with certain high expectations from critics and audiences alike.
Perhaps the best way to review Welcome to Marwen is to critique the movie in the two separate halves the film plays out against, with one half the grounded, real-life drama focusing on the life of Steve Carrell’s (The Big Short) Hogancamp set during the aftermath of his vicious assault, and the second half whereby Zemeckis returns to his well-known knack for digital effects with a particular narrative which sees the Hogancamp crafted dolls come to life and play out WWII style fantasies, all with on-the-nose modes of symbolism which mirror the horrors and fears of Hogancamp’s scarred mind. Whilst the approach is bold and the digital effects are impressive, blending a mix of Anomalisa inspired visual imagery with weird, off-beat action set pieces which seem to have fallen right out of the Team America textbook, Welcome to Marwen still fails to really have the desired impact the filmmakers were obviously intending, with the sensibility of the movie falling too heavy on the schmaltzy in regards to the true-life drama, even with yet another rather impressive dramatic lead performance from Carrell, whilst becoming more and more alienating and irritating each time we are dragged back to the world of the digital dolls, which even after the second time when the point becomes abundantly clear, just feels repetitive and come the end of it, rather quite pointless. With an over-exaggerated runtime, some sloppy and misjudged casting choices, with the awfully accented Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) the prime example, and an overarching stench of sticky sentimentality, Welcome to Marwen is unfortunately the first ripe dud of the year. We expect better Zemeckis!
Overall Score: 4/10
“I’m Done Talking, Let’s Play…”
Fresh from her Oscar win in 2017’s best film so far in the form of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, Emma Stone leads Battle of the Sexes, the latest from Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and a film which focuses on the titular infamous tennis match in 1973 between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which ultimately lit the touchpaper for King’s advocacy for feminism and LGBT rights within twentieth century America. With Steve Carell co-starring as Riggs and the likes of Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman and Bill Pullman all making an appearance, the husband and wife directorial pair’s return is one of rousing success, a brilliantly acted docu-drama with a hell of a lot to say, and whilst the film sometimes doesn’t quite succeed in cracking open effectively all the notions evident on display, Battle of the Sexes is admirable in its’ attempt to raise the same questions which were raised forty four years ago but are unfortunately still increasingly evident even today.
With Stone continuing to prove why she is arguably the most in-demand talent within Hollywood at this moment in time with yet another brilliantly nuanced performance as Billie Jean King, the film’s strongest narrative thread is undeniably the relationship between her character and Andrea Riseborough’s stylist love interest, Marilyn, a partnership which not only holds the most substance between any of the leading cast in the movie, but thanks to effective dialogue and intensely invasive camera shots is so authentic in its’ design, the movie could have been good enough simply focusing on this particular plot thread alone. With a grainy, stylised 1970’s aesthetic and a jukebox soundtrack accompanying the story, Battle of the Sexes is undeniably a crowd-pleasing ace, and with a final act which although is undeniably inevitable in regards to its’ outcome, still manages to be rousingly intense, Faris and Dayton’s movie is ironically one of the more timely releases in a year rife with discussions regarding women’s liberation and the effect of feminism. Long may it continue.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Face It, Gru. Villainy Is In Your Blood..!”
Much like Transformers and even the MCU, Illumination Entertainment is the kind of film company that know the key to success in terms of financial revenue, and whilst expansive items such as The Secret Life of Pets wasn’t exactly received perfectly by the likes of myself and other, more famous film critics, the company know which one of their little darlings will always attract the younger generation and their parents’ hard-earned dollar. MINIONS! Returning in their animated form with Despicable Me 3, the famous yellow coloured dumplings take the backseat somewhat after their success within the standalone entry Minions in 2015, paving way for the return of the Steve Carell voiced Gru, the bad-guy-turned-good who this time faces up against the long lost presence of twin brother, Dru Gru in a reunion which sets the basis for a movie which knows what to do in order to make most of its’ animation-loving audience happy. With slapstick galore and some rather hilarious characterisation of the film’s leading villain, Despicable Me 3 is a solid enough threequel, and a movie which uses the appeal of the Minions to undeniable effect.
Released side by side with the likes of The House, the comedic arsenal of Despicable Me 3 makes the film look like an animated Annie Hall in comparison to Will Ferrell’s woeful excuse for a mainstream comedy, and whilst it is true that watching minions read out the yellow pages would probably be an entertaining pastime in itself, the unparalleled addiction of admiring the existence of their particular race is undeniably the best element about the Despicable Me series and whilst they somewhat play second fiddle in this particular entry, the moments they are on-screen are definitely the strongest. Add into the mix a villain with a penchant for shoulder pads, disco balls and a jukebox soundtrack which features everything from Madonna to Dire Straits, DM3 is a surrealist bag of kooky wackiness, using the animated platform to construct characters and sets which I couldn’t help but laugh at, with the best being the inclusion of a pig-infested Freedonia in which cheese is supplied and eaten between moments of courting. DM3 is actively funny enough to warrant its’ existence in the Despicable Me franchise and whilst the narrative is somewhat predictable and uninspiring at times, sometimes you have just got to leave your brain at the door and admire the madness on-screen. BANANA.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We’re Going To Wait Until They Feel The Pain, Until They Start To Bleed…”
To say Adam McKay was the last person on my mind to be at the helm of a film regarding the events leading up to and beyond the financial crisis of 2007 and into 2008 is quite a monumental understatement. Although previous movies of McKay, including Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and of course, Anchorman, have left with me with a fundamental sense of believing American comedy is well and truly heading down the toilet, The Big Short is a movie that tackles a ridiculously complicated subject matter for a member of the lay public without a background in hard economics, and throws in a surprisingly effective comedic element, one in which proves, when diverting from teeny-angst rubbish which has encompassed his previous selection of movies, that in fact, Adam McKay can in fact be a successful director in the hard-nut genre of comedy. With a strong band of actors such as Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, The Big Short is a movie of a highly enjoyable pedigree, if one that ever so slightly goes over your head in a “I’m so much smarter than you fashion,” but hey, who the heck knows what a credit default swap is anyhow?
Based on the book of the same name by author Michael Lewis, The Big Short details three intertwining stories of events proceeding the financial crisis of 2007/8, beginning with Christian Bales’ slightly exuberant and wholly unsociable Dr. Michael Burry who predicts the impeding collapse and leading on to Steve Carell’s Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett, all of whom are attempting to benefit from the ticking time-bomb of the US’s fraudulent housing market system. Like 99% of cinema goers who will go and see The Big Short, most of the film, I can freely admit, I was completely baffled, with the film being jam-packed with speech and set-pieces that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, with talks of hedge funds, CDO’s and subprime lending meaning absolutely zilch, and to be fair, it shouldn’t, I’m not exactly a top end economist. Thankfully, and critically, The Big Short knows this. Although its’ attempts to try and explain goings on with weird impulsed celebrity cameos just feel plain wrong, the film’s baffling nature is ultimately put to one side due to the sheer power of its’ actors and the swift nature of its’ comedic quips.
Star of the show is no doubt Steve Carell, whose character not only feels like the most three-dimensional out of the key components of the film, but it is a character that most people will find it easiest to associate with, especially in a stand out scene in which Baum is told straight-faced about the sheer unbelievable nature of the housing market by the creator of synthetic CDO’s, one of the core instruments in the downfall of the economy, a scene in which we witness Carell change from a state of interest to one of sheer shock and disgust. It’s a great scene and one in which embodies the hatred behind the capitalist, greedy nature of the US economy. If The Big Short makes you feel anything by the time the credits roll, it’s one that mirrors the state of Baum in such a scene. Hatred. Shock. Disgust. Feelings not aimed at the film in any sense, but feelings that are aimed towards the top one percent, those who watched millions fall to pieces around them whilst they sat and watched, earning profits in the process of doing so. The Big Short is not perfect by any means, but it is a film that encourages you to feel, and that, it sure did. Comedic in places, but straight-faced come the end, The Big Short is The Wolf of Wall Street reversed, attempting to show the sheer horrendous effects of greed and selfishness in a way that is enjoyable and entertaining whilst satirising the corporate nature of the US in the 21st century. Hollywood 1, Wall Street 0.
Overall Score: 8/10
Oscars 2015: Best Actor
Second on this Oscar blog, is the Best Actor category, which features some brilliant performances, particularly from the two British representatives, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne (Or benedict XCuebrvatch and Eddie Redmaybe, as the Guardian call them*) portraying the iconic Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively. In terms of bookies favourite, Michael Keaton is top of the list for this years gong, for his portrayal of Riggan Thompson in Birdman. In terms of my own particular choice, it’s hard to shy away from Eddie Redmayne, whose transformative performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything is just a wonder to behold, and after winning the Golden Globe, where for the last three years the winner has gone on to win the Oscar, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lift the golden guy next month. In the category of “overlooked”, is Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brendan Gleeson in Calvary, and unbelievably Jake Gyllenhaal, for both Enemy and Nightcrawler. Don’t worry Jake, I thing you’re fab. Anyway, we have:
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Michael Keaton – Birdman
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Next… Best Actress
It’s award season everyone! On the day I am writing this, the Golden Globes is set to descend upon us with the majestic two-hour red carpet special lying in wait along with my pot of coffee and sugar-filled lemonade. Cheers time zones. Of the films listed in the “Best Films” category, Foxcatcher, Selma, and The Theory of Everything, are the only ones I hadn’t seen when the nominations were announced so I decided to catch up when they were released in UK cinemas, starting with Foxcatcher. Foxcatcher brings to life the true story of Jon Du Pont, played by Steve Carell, and his efforts in hiring the Olympic wrestling champions Mark and Dave Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively, to train under the “Foxcatcher” estate and ready a team for the 1988 Olympics. Although, from this short synopsis anyway, Foxcatcher seems to be primarily a sports film, the reality is that Foxcatcher is a different monster entirely.
When I first watched the trailer to Foxcatcher, I was astonished at the transformation of Carell, whose unrecognisable performance as Du Pont is undeniably the best feature of the film, with his character’s eerie presence and ambiguous nature symbolising the tone I felt the film was trying to convey throughout its’ two hour run-time. Both Carell and Tatum portray characters that are undeniably against type, and I felt this only enhanced the film’s strengths, as it’s dark and grim tone was unexpected, due in part to the fact that I had no previous knowledge of the events surrounding the story.
Another strength of the film is Ruffalo’s performance, who, like Carell, is nominated for a Golden Globe, yet what stuck me most about the film was it’s clear emphasis on the notion of family, with themes throughout focusing on brotherhood, paternal and maternal instincts, as well as feelings of isolation, particularly in relation to Du Pont, whose Gatsby-esque wealth and fame, brings with it a sense of loneliness and despair, helped only by his unusual love for his very own Daisy Buchanan, in the form of Mark Schultz.
Overall, Foxcatcher is a dark and twisted tale of one man’s isolation which engaged me throughout. Its’ grim nature and rather depressing feel may be too much for some, but in my opinion, Foxcatcher is a solid and surprising piece of cinema. Roll on the red carpet.