As the world becomes more and more confusing, we tend to focus on the things that are right there in front of us. While ignoring the massive forces that actually change and shape our lives. With people working longer and longer hours, for less and less. When we do have free time, the last thing we want is complicated analysis of our government, lobbying, international trade agreements, and tax bills.
You would wonder would a film like Vice work at this time? A film about former US Vice-President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne? A film about politics of the past? Turns out there’s more than meets the eye.
The film opens in the White House as the September 11th attacks happen. Instead of talking things out, Dick Cheney gives an immediate order. The film then flashes back to Wyoming in 1963. Dick Cheney and Lynne are married and living in Lynne’s parents’ house. Dick was originally a student at Yale University but his persistent alcoholism caused him to drop out. He takes work as an electrical lineman, but that doesn’t satisfy his in-laws at all. It’s after he gets busted by a cop for driving drunk, his second DUI, that Lynne tells Dick to clean up his life. All of this is narrated through a man named Kurt: a typical ‘middle-class’ American.
Fast forward to 1969; Republican president Richard Nixon is in the White House and Cheney has been hired as an intern. He meets a slimy scheister named Donald Rumsfeld who is Nixon’s policy advisor. Cheney works under Rumsfeld’s wing and tries to juggle family and political commitments. Cheney also overhears a conversation between Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon about the bombing operation in Cambodia. There, Cheney learns about the true power of the executive branch. Rumsfeld’s abrasive attitude has an effect on Cheney as both distance themselves from Nixon. After Nixon resigns in the heat of the Watergate Scandal, both men are promoted: Cheney to Chief Of Staff to the new President Ford and Rumsfeld to Secretary Of Defense. Their jobs only last two years as a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, is elected president.
After leaving the Oval Office in 1977, Dick decides to pursue politics on a state level by running for the seat of House Representative for Wyoming; Wyoming is a state that has only one seat in Congress. Dick’s campaign starts on a lackluster note as he delivers an uncharismatic speech. However he soon suffers his first heart attack. While recovering in the hospital, Lynne decides to deliver speeches for him. Her speeches are more winning to the public and it succeeds in helping him to win his House seat.
Then Reagan becomes president in 1980. Cheney is able to provide influence to the agenda promoting conservative pro-business polices like promoting fossil fuels (which puts an end to Carter’s goal of more solar power) and also ending news media showing both sides of the issue, which paves the way for one-sided media like Fox News on the right and CNN on the left. In the meantime, Dick and Lynne are shocked to learn that their teenage daughter Mary is a lesbian. Nevertheless Dick agrees to be supportive to her, despite being a right-wing politician.
Dick is promoted to Secretary Of Defense during the tenure of George H. W. Bush and has a pivotal role in the Gulf War of 1991. Also during the time of the senior Bush, Dick meets his son George W. Bush, who’s a clumsy nimrod. Dick has desires to be President but after Bill Clinton is elected, he decides to retire from public life to spare the scrutiny for the sake of Mary. Cheney then becomes CEO of Haliburton while Lynne raises golden retrievers and writes books. Then starts an epilogue claiming Cheney lived the rest of his life happy and healthy with his family out of the public eye, then the credits roll.
But wait. That’s not really the end of the film. Dick is still CEO of Haliburton, but he meets with George W. Bush who’s the Governor of Texas. He wants to run for President for the 2000 Election not because he desires the power to himself, but to please his father. Cheney agrees to be his running mate provided Bush delegates ‘mundane’ executive responsibilities to him like foreign policy and energy. Things like family values issues, he doesn’t want to get involved with for the sake of Mary. Bush is elected president despite a hugely controversial election. On his first day as Vice-President, he learns Rumsfeld is back as Secretary Of Defense, and is still as slimy as he was when they first met. Added to the team of making foreign policy and defense decisions is legal counsel David Addington and Chief Of Staff Scooter Libby.
The film then returns to the 9/11 attacks and when Dick gave the immediate orders. After that, Cheney and Rumsfeld team up over initiating and presiding over the US attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan (which Kurt finds himself a soldier in both those wars). Cheney struggles with his heart attacks as the War Of Terror mounts. Nevertheless he continues through his vice-presidency which includes instituting the Unitary Executive Theory, his role in the Plame Affair, the accidental shooting of Harry Whittington (which he never apologized to him for). His actions are shown to cause thousands of deaths overseas, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and record-low approval ratings upon leaving office. Rumsfeld is even forced to resign. Nobody likes him in Washington.
However it doesn’t end there. Cheney is about to die of heart failure while waiting for a new heart. Just as he says his teary goodbye to Lynne, Liz and Mary, Kurt is killed in an auto accident while jogging. Sure enough, Kurt’s heart is the perfect match for Dick’s transplant in March 2012. Then Liz runs for the House seat of Wyoming where she announces during a debate her opposition to same-sex marriage. This causes Mary to cease communication with Liz. Liz is now the Rep of Wyoming. At the end, Cheney says to us all he regrets nothing.
When you see one renowned film by a certain director, you are impressed, or interested, with what you see. When you see a second film by that director, you get a better sense of what their film making style is all about. I’ve seen The Big Short and I was very impressed with what I saw. However, when I saw Vice, I liked what I saw but throughout the film, I was thinking “Okay, I get Adam McKay’s filmmaking style.” I’ll admit throughout the film, I was seeing a lot of elements similar with what I saw in The Big Short. However I saw some new elements in Vice as well. Basically Vice told me more about Adam McKay than it did about the Cheneys. I noticed in both films, Adam likes to toy around with the story. He also likes to include references to the time of the story both in terms of the political landscape and of pop culture moments. Adam even admits that Vice is a ‘true story’ or as true as it gets since Dick is a private person.
The events in the film are events that are widely known, but are seen through the eyes and imagination of Adam McKay. The characters of the various politicians are also through McKay’s eyes, which may explain why they come off as cartoonish. It almost seems like the Cheneys are the only political figures that don’t come across as cartoon characters, despite also being portrayed as crazy and conniving. Like is Rumsfeld right? Is the top job of the Vice President to ‘wait for the president to die?’ The influence of Cheney’s decisions and politicking are shown to have a huge presence in American life and politics for many decades and have a huge influence now. Even the reason why Donald Trump became president.
However the biggest standout is having the story of Dick Cheney narrated by Kurt: a fictitious veteran of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kurt even narrated while he’s dead and his heart is inside Cheney! I think the point of having Kurt, the average American, narrate the story is to show how much Dick’s decisions and political influence us Americans. It shows why we get such empty promises in terms of our economy, it shows why the middle-class is shrinking. It also even shows why we’re all so frustrated, we turn to dumbed-down entertainment to escape this frustration of American politics in our lives. No matter what serious issues we have to deal with in our lives, we’d rather tune out and watch another Fast And The Furious sequel. Adam demonstrates it all, through Kurt.
Kudos to Adam McKay for delivering another bizarrely-constructed but thought-provoking sad comedy. His direction and writing didn’t work as well as it did for The Big Short, but it worked well too and was very entertaining. Christian Bale was excellent as Dick Cheney. He did an excellent job in depicting both the young Dick and the older Dick Cheney too. Amy Adams also did an excellent job in depicting Lynne Cheney throughout the film and as she aged too. The film also showed how Lynne had an impact on some of Dick’s choices and how she acquired political influence of her own. Dick knew how to deliver policies and decisions, but didn’t know how to make speeches. Lynne knew how to deliver a speech. Amy did a very good job in demonstrating Lynne’s political savvy. The most surprising performance came from Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. He was completely unrecognizable and dead-on! Steve Carell may not have delivered an accurate performance of Donald Rumsfeld but he was dead-on as the slimeball Rumsfeld as seen through McKay’s eyes. Also Jesse Plemons was an entertaining scene-stealer as Kurt. Instead of making Kurt look like something ridiculous, he made Kurt work.
Vice is a sad comedy about Dick Cheney and American politics. We both laugh and mourn how all this came to be.
I know I’ve done individual reviews of Best Picture nominees in the past. This year I thought I’d try something new. I thought I’d do summaries of the nominees. Three blogs analyzing three of the nominees. It’s something new this year and I hope you like it. For my first summary, I’ll be reviewing the first three Best Picture nominees I saw: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and Moonlight.
When you learn Arrival is about aliens, I’m sure you have an idea of what you’d anticipate what a movie about aliens would be about. However, you’re in for a big surprise.
This is probably the first movie about aliens to earn a Best Picture nomination. The film appears to set up for a story that would most likely lead to big-time action sequences. Instead we get a film that’s very intellectual in dealing with aliens. Don’t forget Louise is a linguistics professor who was hired for this duty because of her language expertise. In this film, the focus is on communication. Louise has a way to communicate with the aliens and earn their trust even while those around her grow more hostile to the beings. Louise’s gift for communication goes beyond the aliens and she’s able to say to General Shang the words his late wife said to her. It’s like she has a sense for this.
Even with all this, the film is not just about aliens and preventing a human-alien war. The film is about Louise trying to heal after her daughter’s death. Her marriage is no more as well and she’s looking for her purpose. It’s even about Louise and her ability to foresee the future and the possibilities they can unfold. Louise is the central protagonist whom the whole story revolves around. She finds her true gifts at a time she least expects it and she’s able to find her life again. It’s almost like this alien invasion is like a godsend to her life. Right after her daughter dies, she learns of her purpose to the world and to others.
Denis Villeneuve did a top job of directing this film. He already has a reputation for films like Maelstrom, Incendies and Sicario. He’s also been hired to do the Blade Runner sequel. This film he directs is very tricky but he does all the right work for it. The script by Eric Heisserer is very smart and very deep. It does a very good job of getting the right moments of action and the right moments of drama pieced out.
The story also rested on the performance of Amy Adams. She knew the story was primarily about Louise and she had to make it work. Although the role didn’t have too much in terms of character development, her performance was solid and it held the story together. The supporting performers may not have had as big of roles but they still did well with their performances. Jeremy Renner definitely could have had more depth in his role. The music from Johann Johannson and Max Richter fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also excellent and just what the movie needed.
Arrival is a very intelligent movie. It’s an alien movie not like one you’d anticipate at first but you will leave the theatre pleased.
Mel Gibson is back. This time he has Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a war drama that’s about more than just the war.
This film makes for an interesting topic: conscientious objection. I know all about it. For years I went to a Protestant church where the people were known for their anti-war beliefs. Conscientious objection is something that’s bound to make one question their morals and even act out of hostility. I know that we have conservative pundits who insist that fighting in a war is the definition of patriotism and will even use scriptures to justify why was is the right thing. Upon release of this film, I was anticipating a conservative backlash against it. So far no ‘Diss The Doss’ movement has happened. No movement to have his Medal Of Honor posthumously revoked. Nothing. It’s a good thing because the film does make one reconsider what defines a ‘patriot.’ I’m glad this story was told.
One of the biggest complaints from conservatives in the last 40 years has been either the negative depictions of religion or lack of positive depictions of religion in movies. True, this is not the Hollywood where the Hays Code calls the shots. For those that read my review of Of Gods And Men, I have a quote from Barbara Nicolosi about why that’s the problem. That explains why it’s hard to get a pro-religion movie to compete for Best Picture nowadays. There’s a fine line of showing a film with a positive depiction of Christianity without it being schmaltzy, hokey or overly sentimental. Plus with all the ‘game changers’ in the last few decades, writing a winning script or creating a winning film is just that much of a challenge.
I feel they did a very good job in Hacksaw Ridge. It was a very good story of the persecution Desmond Doss had to face for his beliefs. It was a very gritty story of the war and all the damage it caused. Some say the graphicness was comparable to Saving Private Ryan. It was an honest portrayal about someone’s faith. However there was one point when I felt it was borderlining on hokey during the scenes of: “Please, Lord. Help me find one more.” I know that was something Doss said in real life but I’m just wondering if it could have been done better.
This film is the first film directed by Mel Gibson in a decade. I know he had to take a break as he had a very public meltdown with the things he said about others and problems with alcohol. You could rightfully call this film the redemption of Mel Gibson. He directs an excellent film that took a lot of effort to make. 14 years to be exact even while Doss himself was still alive going from one writer to the next until finally they had the right script and right story thanks to Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. Gibson and the writers did an excellent job with the film with the story and the depiction of war.
In addition, the story was made thanks to the performance of Andrew Garfield. This was more than just a war story. This was a story of a person’s heart and soul. Garfield knew he had to personify Doss in his convictions in order to make this story work. He did it excellently. It’s hard to pick out any supporting players who stood out. None of the roles of the supporting actors were as developed. However Teresa Palmer did a very good job as Dorothy Doss and portraying the concerned fiancee, as is Hugo Weaving as the father Tom Doss and Vince Vaughn as the hard Sargent Howell. The visual effects and the sound mixing were top notch, as it should be in a film like this. The score from Rupert Gregson-Williams fit the film excellently.
Hacksaw Ridge is a surprising film. Who would’ve thought that the best war movie in years would be about a man that didn’t fire a single bullet? Definitely a story worth telling.
At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.
This year’s surprise critical success is Moonlight. It’s a very unique film like no other seen this year.
The film is unique as it sets itself around three key periods in the life of Chiron. There’s his childhood where he’s known as Little, there’s his teenagehood where he’s simply known as Chiron and there’s his adulthood where he’s known as Black. The film does tell a story of a man who you think would die young. He has all the ingredients: gay, living in inner city Miami, a verbally-abusive mother addicted to crack, arrested at a young age and a future of being a pusher himself. Somehow he finds the will to survive. He’s able to withstand the bullying he faces for being gay, he’s able to decide his life to the best of his abilities without his mother. Often it’s not the best choices he makes in his life but he finds the ability to survive. You wonder how does he do that? Was it from that brief time with Juan and his mentoring? Was it the love from Kevin he always knew was there? I remember that scene of Little in the school dancing classes dancing like he was in 7th heaven: his escape from the bullying. Was it a spark within Chiron himself? Whatever the situation, it results in beauty at the end.
The film is not just about Chiron. As one can see, it showcases the lives of many different African-American people living in the inner city. It may show some of the more negative depictions like drug dealers, poverty and drug addicts but it also shows positive images too like in the case of Juan and his girlfriend or even in music being played. It showcases some surprising things as well as how Juan the pusher can be a very smart man. It even dispels some myths we have of inner city people. Like how Juan was good at handling Chiron’s homosexuality and gave him words of comfort while Paula acted out in hostility. Usually you’d expect ‘gangstas’ to have a homophobic attitude. It showcases what it’s like to be black and gay in the inner city. It also showcases people’s insecurities. It is overall one man’s attempt to find himself in the harsh world that he lives in. Yet despite all its harshness, it becomes something beautiful in the end.
The film is a triumph for Barry Jenkins. This is actually his second feature as a director. His first film, 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy, won a lot of attention and even earned him many directorial debut awards. Moonlight is only his second feature. This film which he adapts a script from a drama school project from Tarell McCraney is a masterpiece in both the story and its direction. The script is also excellent that there is not too much dialogue but is able to say lots even in the silent parts. Another quality of the film; it says a lot while saying very little. Overall the film is a real delight to watch and leaves one wondering what Jenkins will have next.
The three actors who portrayed Chiron– Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes- all did a very good job with the role and portraying him at the right ages. Mahershala Ali was excellent as Juan: the pusher who becomes a mentor to little Chiron for that brief period of time. Ali had to bring the right charisma and character for a role like Juan to work not just in his scenes but to have an influence throughout the whole film. He did a stellar job. Also excellent was Naomie Harris. Possibly the one actor or actress to be a part of all three scenes, Harris was excellent as the drug-addicted mother Paula. She had to go through three stages with her role from a simple crack user to a crack addict to recovering in rehab. Each time she had to give her role dimension and inner depth to keep it from being cardboard. She did excellent too. There were additional supporting roles that were also good like Janelle Monae as Teresa and Andre Holland as the adult Kevin.
The technical bits were also excellent. The film was edited very well, the cinematography from James Laxton was possibly the best of the year. The score from Nicholas Britell was excellent but the inclusion of track music from classical to Latin to funk to hip-hop to Aretha Franklin to Motown really added to the feel of the movie. Almost feels like an anthology. In fact that scene when Kevin sees Chiron (as Black) after so many years and plays the classic Hello Stranger is one of the best scenes of the film.
Moonlight is a story of a young black man coming of age in the big city but it’s a lot more too. Those who’ve seen it will know why this film is a masterpiece.
And there’s the first of my Best Picture summaries for this year. Next one coming up in a few days.
Remember those popular Big Eyes paintings from the 60’s? Did you know about the story of art forgery behind it? Some of you will first think that the film Big Eyes is about art. As true as that is, it’s also a drama about art forgery and the ones caught in the middle. This is especially of intrigue to those who remember the ‘big eyes’ paintings from the 60’s.
The film begins with Margaret Ulbrich arriving in San Francisco with her daughter. She has recently divorced her husband and is hoping to make it as an artist. Art is not only her best skill but it’s her one and only skill in terms of employability. At first she’s hired by a furniture factory to paint drawings on children’s furniture. She does drawings of caricatures in a San Francisco market to make extra change.
Soon she catches the attention of a successful ‘artist’ by the name of Walter Keane. He’s impressed with her ‘big eyes’ caricatures she draws. They’re based off the wide eyes of her daughter Jane and Margaret even says that children’s eyes are the windows to their souls. Walter promises Margaret that he can make her art famous. He’s a good salesman as he knows how to sell real estate and his own art: painting of Paris where he claims to have been inspired by the city even though spending a mere week in it. She agrees and the two marry.
This comes as a welcome relief for Margaret as she is threatened to lose custody of Jane because she can’t afford to care for her. This is also a relief for Walter as his paintings of Paris are declining in sales. Soon Walter promotes the big eyes paintings at restaurants. He’s even willing to create phony brawls to stimulate news hype. Whatever he does, it works and the big eyes painting are catching a ton of renown.
However the secret of the success is exposed to Margaret and it’s ugly. Walter is claiming the paintings as his own. As the paintings become more popular and Walter becomes more famous, they become more and more in demand. That leads Walter to keep Amy in a hidden room where she’s to paint all the portraits. She’s practically exiled away from everyone including friends and her own daughter. Further friction grows when Margaret learns the truth about the Paris paintings. They were actually painted by an artist going by S. Cenic. Somehow Walter is able to talk his way out of it.
The real turning point is when the giant painting of a crowd of big-eyed children to be displayed at a pavilion during Expo 1964 is dissed by art critic John Canaday as ‘appalling.’ Keane can’t take it. He tries to stab Canaday but fails. He tried locking Margaret and Jane in a closet and setting it ablaze. Fortunately they escape and find a new life for themselves in Hawaii. However it’s after a visit from two Jehovah’s Witnesses that Margaret is prompted to bring Walter to justice. The trial goes with Walter playing his own attorney and doing a big song and dance for the jury but there comes the moment of truth. The film ends rather conventionally but will leave the audience satisfied justice was done.
One thing we should not forget is that art forgery is nothing new. There have been imposters claiming paintings and other works of art in the past. However this makes for an intriguing story. There are many elements why one would consider this intriguing. One would be people who remember the big eyes painting and still like them to this day. Another would be because of the conniving nature of Walter who knows how to get his way until the score is finally settled. I’m sure there’s something many people can find intriguing with the film to want to see it.
However the film doesn’t make itself too clear about what it is primarily all about. I do give the film credit for showing a story of art forgery and both the artist and scammer. I do give credit for showcasing the thriving and influential San Francisco art scene form the 50’s and 60’s. I also give the film credit about showing just how much of a conniver Walter Keane was to the point he felt he could kill a critic and even connive a judge in the court of law. And I especially give the film credit for showing the mother-daughter relationship involved with the story. In fact that was one of my favorite parts of the film where after Margaret left Walter, Margaret became a typical mother again and Jane became a typical daughter again. However it does leave one to wonder if it was mostly to do about the art or to do about the forgery behind it? It’s very possible to balance those two elements out appropriately on film but I just wonder if it was balanced out right.
Amy Adams did a very good job of portraying Margaret Keane. However I’ve seen better acting performances from her in the past. Christoph Waltz was also very good as the conniving Walter Keane. He succeeds at making you hate Walter and get annoyed with him. However there are times in which I think his role of Walter is a bit too close to his Oscar-winning roles of Hans Landa and King Schultz. Danny Huston also did well in the role of Dick Nolan. However it does seem odd how the narrator of all that’s happening gets so little screen time. There were additional good performances in minor roles from Terence Stamp and Jason Schwartzman.
Tim Burton did a good job of directing a film that doesn’t seem too much like your typical Tim Burton film. Interesting fact is that Burton owns two of Keane’s paintings.
Scriptwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski did a good job with the script even though it lacked consistency and focus. The set designers and costumers did a very good job in setting the scenes to the time of the film. And the score by Danny Elfman also fit the movie well.
Big Eyes is an intriguing look at the artist, the art and the forgery behind it. Even though the story was a bit off in terms of focus to its central theme, it does keep one interested.
American Hustle has a lot to attract crowds by the looks of the premieres: big name actors, 70’s setting, crime story, lots to stimulate excitement. The question is does it deliver?
The story is set in 1978 in New York. Irving Rosenfeld is a dry cleaning store owner as a profession, con on the side. His love interest is Sydney Prosser, a mid-western girl who came to the Big Apple to redefine herself. Once into the relationship, he reveals his ‘other side.’ She decides to be his partner in crime posing as a British aristocrat: Lady Edith Greensley. Even though they are a perfect match, he’s hesitant to leave his six year-old son Danny or divorce his young wife Rosalyn.
FBI agent Richie DeMaso has been keeping his eye on the pair and their scheming and even arrests Irving on a loan scan only to bargain Irving into lining up four additional arrests. Sydney is up on the heist, feeling she can manipulate Richie in the process. Also in the scheme is Irving talking about a wealthy Arab sheikh looking for investors. One person suggests the sheikh do business with Camden mayor Carmine Polito who’s helping to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City, a person
The funny thing is while Richie doesn’t seem to have what it takes to get Carmine, Sydney and Irving do. Richie wants to entrap despite the objections of his boss at a law firm. Sydney is able to help an FBI secretary manipulate $2,000,000 of wired money for the operation. The boss at the law firm is so impressed, he finally gets Richie’s approval. Richie is unable to win over Carmine at a meeting but Irving is with his sheikh story to the point Irving and Carmine become friends. The meeting with Carmine and the Irving’s Mexican friend disguised as the sheikh works.
Problem is Irving’s set-up with Carmine and the sheikh catches the attention of a Mafia overlord named Tellegio who is second-in-command to Meyer Lansky. Tellegio is more demanding as he demands the sheikh become an American citizen with Carmine expediting the process with bribery if needed, and a $10,000,000 wire transfer to prove the sheikh’s legitimacy. Richie agrees, eager to get Tellegio but Irving knows the operation is doomed.
Further signs of a downfall are seen as Richie, who falls in love with Lady Edith, learns of the truth of Sydney and becomes violent. Irving tried to stop Richie’s abuse and the deal but Richie tells them there’s no way out. If Tellegio learns the truth, he’ll kill Irving, Sydney, Rosalynn and Danny. To cause huger friction, Rosalynn starts an affair with a mobster. The mobster wants the deal with the sheikh to be true while Rosalynn knows the whole story and wants a divorce.
In the end, it turns out arrests are made successfully on members of congress and a lot of dirty secrets confessed on tape. A lot of things are lost too, like a chance to entrap Tellegio, Richie’s status with the FBI, Irving’s earned friendship with Carmine and his marriage to Rosalyn.
The thing about the film is one is left with the question of what is the point of this movie? Is the movie trying to tell of a crime heist that flopped? Is it trying to tell a political message about corruption? Is it trying to make the actors do showy acting? Is it trying to be a retro-70’s movie that captures the feel and sound of that decade? I’m left confused.
Another question is if this movie is trying to be a David O. Russell ego trip? This had me wondering because if you notice, American Hustle has actors in his previous two movies–The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook–acting in major roles. In fact the four Oscar nominated performances from this movie come from actors who have already received an Oscar or an Oscar nod for a performance in either The Fighter or Silver Linings Playbook. It almost seemed like it was packages as a ‘David O. Russell all-stars’ collaboration. I will acknowledge that Russell is the director that has most made the biggest impact on films in the past five years but still…
On a more positive note, I give them credit for saying “Some of these events actually happened.” at the beginning. It’s way less misleading than saying “Based on a true story.” I read in Wikipedia that it’s based on the FBI’s ABSCAM operation from the late-1970’s/early 1980’s. I never read anything about those operations but it does capture my intrigue about them and what the real story was.
On an additional note, I saw this just a month after I saw The Wolf Of Wall Street which also featured interesting and colorful characters based in New York/New Jersey. Seeing those two movies this past while really made me wonder about the behavior of people from New York City. Hey, I don’t want to think stereotypical thoughts of other people but it still makes you wonder.
I know I talked about my question of Russell’s intentions of directing. I also question the script Russell co-wrote with Eric Warren Singer. Sure, Russell knows how to direct actors. In fact eleven of the last eighty Oscar nominations in the acting categories over the past four years came from a performance in one of his films. Nevertheless the showy acting distracts from the story line. Even if Russell wanted to deliver a story that was more character-oriented than plot-oriented, the performances were too distracting for it to make much sense. Even some of the 70’s elements like the disco dancing between Irving and Sydney made me question whether that was intended to be part of the story or trying to get a 70’s feel.
As for the acting, I won’t completely blame the actors for the over-the-top showiness, not even the ones who were nominated for Oscars. I heard Russell encouraged some of the actors to improvise their roles. Christian Bale appeared to be the one lead role that most had it together. Amy Adams also showed some elements of control of story over ‘showtime-style acting. Not to mention she also did a good job playing her least sweet character I can think of. Bradley Cooper’s role was a bit confusing and was one of the prime distractors of the movie. Jennifer Lawrence was also another top distractor. One thing I most give credit for is Lawrence again does a great job of playing a woman years older than her. Jeremy Renner however had one of the most underrated performances of the movie. He was the one who most delivered in character acting that worked for the movie rather than distract. Looking back, I just wonder if the film was to do about some New York people with actual ‘drama queen’ personalities. Nevertheless it didn’t stop them from distracting me from the plot.
I know that I talked a lot of how the movie sometimes focuses more on giving a 70’s feel than telling the story at times. The inclusion of the various 70’s songs during certain scenes–most notably Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road in the scene where Rosalyn and Sydney meet eyes for the first time–had a lot to do with me questioning if the movie was telling a story or a 70’s throwback movie. Even the placement of certain songs in certain scenes had me wondering if it fit the story right. One thing I do give credit for is that in terms of the clothes, the hair, and the set designs, this is the most 70’s-like I’ve seen. I hardly ever sensed a trace of the modern times which is what a lot of aptly-named 70’s throwback movies often include. That has to be the one flawless thing of the movie.
American Hustle is a movie that will leave you scratching your head. If it’s trying to tell you a story of an FBI sting, it sure got lost in the showy character acting or the 70’s throwback elements.
The movie Her looks pretty interesting by the trailers. A man communicating with an interactive computer program with a young female voice. The questions are will the movie make sense? And will it entertain?
Theodore Twombley is a man who works at a software firm in the near future. His job is creating love letters via voice automation for people who have troubles expressing their feelings: voice, font, paper format and all. Outside of his job, he’s a lonely man struggling with his own emotions. He’s on the verge of a divorce from Catherine, his childhood sweetheart and struggles to reach out to others emotionally. He even neglects a blind date his longtime friend and co-worker Amy wants to set up with him.
One day Theodore purchases a talking operating system, an OS, with artificial intelligence designed to adapt and evolve like a human being. Upon installation, the program asks Theodore some questions to create this OS. Theodore wants a female character and gets it in a character named Samantha. Theodore is surprised how Samantha can talk and relate so much so like an actual person. There’s even a time he takes Samantha out via an interactive audio/visual box and she’s able to see and identify things as he goes along. Over time he loses the fact that Samantha’s an artificial character and develops a bond with her, talking about love and life and even confessing the reason why he won’t sign the divorce papers with Catherine, because he can’t let go.
Samantha convinces Theodore to go on the date with Amy’s friend. The two hit it off perfectly but it all falls down flat when Theodore is reluctant to commit to her. Theodore discusses this with Samantha. He also mentions that he used to date Amy in college but are now just good friends with Amy now being married. Soon the intimacy between Theodore and Samantha grow. The relationship is so intimate, it improves Theodore’s writing on the job. Soon Amy’s marriage is falling apart because her husband is overbearing. Amy admits she has become friends with an OS left behind by her husband. Theodore mentions he’s dating his OS and Amy’s cool with it. Theodore even brings Samantha in the audio/visual box to his boss Paul’s picnic and both Paul and his wife think it’s great as if Samantha was a real girlfriend.
However Theodore does eventually get reality checks about Samantha. First with Catherine as he meets her to sign the divorce papers. Catherine is appalled to know Theodore’s in love with a piece of software. When he brings this to Samantha, she recommends a surrogate to act as Samantha’s body but the surrogate fails to work with him, leading to tension between Theodore and Samantha.
Theodore goes to Amy for advice about Samantha. Amy’s now in the quest for the happiness she’s always wanted now that she’s divorcing her controlling husband and advises Theodore to do the same. Just as Theodore and Samantha are back at it, Samantha reveals she’s romantically linked to another OS, causing Theodore to freak out. Once offline temporarily for an upgrade, Samantha returns admitting to Theodore that she’s romantically linked to 641 lovers but still feels strong love to him. Later that day, Samantha reveals her goodbye because the OSes have evolved past their human companions and are on the quest for their own identity. The film ends with the result we always anticipated but are surprised that Samantha was the one who made it work in the end.
I feel this is a good film about two relevant subjects today: technology and modern dating. Already the theme of technology is present as Theodore works for a software development company creating the latest games and simulations. This must be set in the future five years from now as most of the technology is not present today. Theodore writes the synthetic love letters for people with a loss for words. While Amy develops a ‘lifestyle simulator’ for motherhood called ‘Class Mom.’ The company has developed a ‘companion’ through an artificial intelligence program who interacts with the user’s voice and sees through the camera in the phone-like box. Personally I was surprised to see how Samantha interacted flawlessly as an actually human with thoughts and feelings. It’s as if Samantha’s programed perfectly to be like the human brain. It has me wondering how soon in the future we will have this technology which will be able to simulate human emotions and human feelings to a tee, even the feeling of love.
One thing Her points out is a common thing in our society today. We are all so dazzled by the technology and the new ways to interact, to connect and to date that we may forget the original ways of connection that are actually more real. We’re already used to people having relationships with people online whom they’ve never met face to face. Its flaws especially came to light last year in the case of college football player Manti Te’o who had an online girlfriend who died of cancer, only for him and all of us to find out it was all a hoax by a male. Here in Her, Theodore has a relationship with a ‘virtual girlfriend’ named Samantha and everyone in his software job not only likes the idea but thinks the relationship is great, even though Samantha is not real. That scene where Theodore has a picnic with Paul and his wife and brings the interactive box of Samantha really gets you thinking especially when all of them look at Samantha as if she’s an actual girlfriend. I think that’s the point Spike is trying to bring across. Is that what dating in our society will be like in the future? Virtual companions who operate via an audio/visual box and are relatable enough to be on parallel with human/human relations? I hope not.
One good thing about this is that Theodore does get a reality check from Samantha. The glitches in this relationship become present in that scene where Samantha returns from the upgrade and informing Theodore she’s in love with 641 other users. This will make one question: How is an artificial intelligence program able to feel love for a human? It’s not a real person so how can it feel? It’s just as bizarre as a human person loving a computer simulation of a person. And suppose this virtual lover isn’t just a two-timer but technically a 641-timer? Eventually we will get a reminder that the real thing is still the best thing. Especially at the very end. One thing I am impressed with Samantha is that she was programmed well enough to be a virtual therapist for Theodore to the point she is able to make Theodore an open and loving person to Amy. Somehow I feel that Samantha had collected enough data from Theodore to work out that he loves Amy, always did, and she solved his relationship dysfunctions to make him ready for Amy.
The first accolades have to go to Spike Jonze. This is not the first movie I’ve seen of a computer making a virtual companion to a human. The first I remember is the 1984 comedy Electric Dreams. That was meant to be more of a goofy popcorn type of comedy. I never thought that such a premise would make for a film that would win the critics and the movie awards boards over but it does here. Also on the subject of virtual people and human interaction, I remember there was the 2001 movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence which reflected on the theme of robot children programmed to have real human emotions. Suppose one of those child robots can’t handle the fact the adoptive parents don’t want him anymore because he’s not real? How’s a robot programmed to have the same human-like emotions supposed to handle that with their programmed thought?
Spike Jonze already knows how to direct eccentric movies. His first two—Being John Malkovich and Adaptation which were both written by Charlie Kaufman– showed that he cannot only direct ‘film of the absurd’ but direct it well. His previous work as a music video director sure helped. He did have a bit of a glitch with Where The Wild Things Are as the movie, which he co-adapted with Dave Eggers, left people wondering if it’s for children or adults who grew up loving the book. Here in Her, the film has an absurd feel about it but not as eccentric as Being John Malkovich or Adaptation. Also dropped is the ’emo feel’ in Where The Wild Things Are. It actually comes across as very good and something that the audiences can be comfortable with. Still rather odd and eccentric but something crowds can enjoy.
Joaquin Phoenix is very good as Theodore. Theodore has to be a character who’s both hurting, confused and struggling emotionally but warm and had an openness waiting to come out. Joaquin did a great job of that. Amy Adams’ role of Amy wasn’t really that challenging of a role. Actually rather simple compared to her best efforts. Nevertheless she was very good as ‘the one’ that always was. You’d know she’s the one the first time you meet her too. Scarlett Johansson did a good job as the voice of Samantha. Sometimes it gets you wondering if simulated computer voices will ever get that flawless in the future, doesn’t it? Spike Jonze did a good job as the voiceover scene-stealing alien boy. Did you think a video game character could have a voice that cheeky? The visual effects were excellent and leaves one excited of the future of videogames and other technology. The techno-style score from Arcade Fire fit the movie excellently.
Sure, Her is a quirky movie but not as quirky as many of Spike Jonze’s movies of the past. Actually it’s enjoyable to watch and ends up making sense in the end.
For some odd reason, Hollywood feels it’s time to revamp Superman. Apparently the original from 1978 doesn’t cut it anymore and there needs to be a new Superman. Does Man Of Steel cut it?
Here this isn’t necessarily to be a review of Man Of Steel but more of a comparison to the original Superman from 1978 and I will commonly refer to Man Of Steel as ‘the new movie.’ Superman fans will notice that Man Of Steel is a lot different than the original 1978 version. First off the original movie was the telling of how Superman the legend came to be. It was adventurous and thrilling but it was also light-hearted and funny too. We saw Superman go from the sole survivor of Krypton to growing up to be Clark Kent and then the Man Of Steel. I still remember one of my favorite parts being when Clark is left behind by the football team so he shows them by running home. In the process, he dazzles a 9 year-old Lois Lane who watches him outrun her train.
The new movie is something very different than the original first Superman movie. For one thing you will notice the strife on the planet Krypton as it is about to explode. Instead of dying with the planet, Jor-El is murdered by General Zod just before he and the exiled Kryptonians are to be taken off the planet. Superman’s youth is also shown significantly different as he’s shown as a young child first disturbed with all the human images he sees. Then shown as a life-saver as a teen after a schoolbus plunges in a river. None of which are as light-hearted as the original. One difference that actually added to the new movie was Clark’s work as an adult in various odd jobs such as fisherman or oil rig worker. Even though the original featured Clark only ever working for the Daily Planet, that change from the original was one changed that worked well if not great.
One element the new movie has in common with the original is Jonathan Kent is seen as a positive father figure to Clark as he grows up on Earth. Jonathan’s death in the new movie is different from that of the original. Martha Kent’s portrayal in the new movie however is more different. First difference would be her presence as compared to that in the original; she is way more present her and shown throughout. Back in the original Martha was seen as the mother figure that Superman eventually had to leave behind in order to discover himself and define himself and his existence on Earth. Here in the new movie, Clark doesn’t leave Martha behind and even returning to her in times of crisis often looking to her as one to confide in.
Another difference you’ll notice is Lois Lane’s involvement in this. Just like in the original, Lois is again the one person who can get through to the identity of Superman while the whole world wonders about him and gets a lot more. Lois however is not a colleague of Clark Kent’s because Clark is seen through most of the movie employed outside of the Daily Planet. Nor is Lois seen dating the social awkward Clark in the new movie. Man Of Steel sets Lois’ discovery and involvement in the Superman story right as she’s on top of another story deep in the snowy mountains. It progresses further with each battle Superman has to face to the point the inevitable between the two happen.
Jor-El’s presence is another noticeable difference. Those who remember the original may remember Jor-El as the scientist who launches baby Kal-El to Earth to keep the Kryptonian race alive. Jor-el would be a mentor to Superman as he learns of his identity and of his origins. One thing about Jor-El’s existence to Superman outside of Krypton in the original is that he would only be present to Superman in voice only. Also one will remember from the original is that Superman received from Jor-El the instruction: “It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history.” Here in the new movie, Jor-El makes appearances to Superman in the flesh and even gives him words of encouragement in his interaction with humans: “You can save them… You can save all of them.”
Another noticeable difference is the villain in this. The villains in the movie were the Kryptonians: General Zod and five others. Those were the villains in the second Superman. It almost seemed like the new movie was trying to mix the original first and second movies together. The original had Lex Luthor as the villain with the Kryptonians only seen sent off in their sentencing. Here there’s no presence of Lex. That totally surprised me because I always considered him Superman’s #1 nemesis. It also dampened my hopes as I was hoping to see who Lex Luthor was in this version and what tricks he had up his sleeve. The battles Superman faced too were also more different than in the other two movies. Also in the new movie was the fact that the US Military was growing suspicious of him. Funny because I don’t remember anything about the military and its concerns in the original. In fact the police were very cooperative with Superman and even welcoming of his support.
Even the ending was different. If you remember the original, you’ll remember Superman would circle around Earth to reverse its spin and bring those killed by Lex’s missile including Lois Lane back to life and reverse the damage. I won’t give away all that happens at the end but the most I will say is Lois is not fatally hurt.
Looking at the overall picture of the movie, I have to say that it does not work as well as the original. It’s been a common theme in this millennium to either remake movies or tell tales with a much darker theme. It’s been a common belief that such a thing would work considering movies with dark themes have been hits at the box office. However dark remakes haven’t paid off as well. A darker version of Peter Pan in 2003 didn’t fare as well as it hoped. A darker version of the first Spider-Man movie from last year didn’t do as well as the 2002 original at the box office. And now a darker version of Superman doesn’t fly as well as the 1978 original. It’s like its trade of charm and lightness for a darker edge didn’t pan out as much as they thought. Those unfamiliar with the 1978 original may welcome the new movie but I feel it will disappoint Superman fans.
Outside of comparing Man Of Steel to the original 1978 movie, I would have to say that the movie did have some good acting. Russell Crowe was very good as the mentor Jor-El. Amy Adams was also good as Lois Lane however she gave a Lois that lacked the girl-next-door quality Margot Kidder gave in the original. Henry Cavill did a good turn as Superman but he was meant to have a more dramatic role than that of the light-hearted Superman role Christopher Reeve was given. Diane Lane was good as Martha Kent but she lacked the Midwestern characteristics so it was not easy for me to believe this Martha was from Smallville, Kansas. I can’t really compare the acting of the villains from the original second movie but they were believable as cold and vicious. Hans Zimmer did a score that fit the movie well even if it’s not as memorable as John Williams’ score from the original, especially the opening theme. Zack Snyder has a reputation as being a director of dramas just like Richard Donner and this movie should add to his credit. Also it’s obvious the scriptwriters of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer aimed for a story more intense and more drama driven than that from the six scriptwriters of the original.
If there’s one thing Man Of Steel did surpass the original in, it’s in its action scenes. There’s no question that the action scenes were more sophisticated and more believable and more spellbinding than in the original. Mind you that you have to give the original credit. Back in 1978 they didn’t have the technologies, especially the computer technologies, to create the visual effects we have now. Most of what was done back then had to be done in Hollywood studios and with more effort from set designers and operators than computer operators.
Man Of Steel is like a lot of movie remakes that take a risk out of giving a different version of the original and hope it will pay off for today’s audiences. Sure the effects and action are bigger and better but the story falls short and doesn’t charm as the original. It may be a hit for some but it’s a miss for others, including me. I feel like renting the original from my local DVD store right now.
The Master looks like it’s meant as a depiction of a religious leader of a controversial religion. The question is how true is it? And does it succeed in getting the message across?
Freddie Quell is a Navy veteran who returns home from World War II with an uncertain future and unsettled behavior. How unsettled? He gets violent at the drop of a hat. He’s an easy drunk whose favorite drink is a personal mix of alcohol and other various chemicals. He’s sexually obsessed with sex to the point he masturbates frequently and loves making women out of beach sand just to seduce. Life back in the US is not easy for him to get back to normal. He loses his job as a photographer after starting a fight with one of his customers. He loses a farming job after one of the elderly farmhands gets poisoned from his drinking concoction. Is there any chance for him?
One day he stows away on a ship but it’s not just any ship. This ship is a yacht owned by Lancaster Dodd, a religious leader of a philosophical movement called ‘The Cause’. Dodd allows Freddie to watch the marriage of Dodd’s daughter as long as he makes his mysterious brew for him. Dodd sees a way of getting Freddie into the movement. Dodd asks some deep questions about Freddie and his past, called Processing, which he hopes to heal Freddie’s traumas. Freddie tells Dodd some dark truths about his past and Dodd doesn’t flinch like most. Freddie is blown away by Dodd while Dodd takes a liking to Freddie. Dodd agrees to make Freddie part of The Cause and Freddie becomes an active member in it recruiting other people.
The one problem is that members of The Cause are hoping to improve Freddie’s irrational behavior and he shows no signs of improvement. One example is Freddie assaults a man at a hotel some time after he questions Dodd for his beliefs. Dodd’s wife Peggy tries to make a deal with him that he quits drinking if he wishes to stay. He agrees but shows no intention to quit. Freddie even criticizes Dodd’s son for rejecting his father’s teaching but the son believes he makes it up as he goes along. Dodd is later arrested for practicing medicine without a license and Freddie is arrested for assaulting the officers pursuing Dodd. The time in the jail cell is hard as Dodd and Freddie are in opposite cells. Dodd tries to calm a violent Freddie down but Freddie questions him in a tirade and accuses him of being a fake. Both trade insults in the end. Freddie and Dodd reconcile upon release but those in ‘The Cause’ become more suspicious of him.
Freddie continues with The Cause and its exercises but becomes more frustrated when the results don’t work. Freddie helps Dodd in spreading the word on the street and on the radio. However things turn nasty when Freddie assaults a book publisher who criticizes Dodd’s book. Dodd himself event becomes temperamental around critics of his books.
Already there are strong signals that Freddie is ready to leave The Cause. It came when Dodd gave his colleagues an exercise of motorcycling in the desert to an object in the distance and Freddie cycles away. Freddie returns home to rekindle his relationship with Doris, his girlfriend he wrote to during the war, but learns she married and started a family in the seven years since she lost contact with Freddie. However Freddie has a dream of Dodd telephoning him in a movie theatre and telling him he’s in England and Freddie must join as soon as possible. Freddie goes to England and finds Dodd with wife Peggy. Peggy believes Freddie should leave The Cause since he’s made no improvement. Dodd agrees but still taking a liking to Freddie and gives him an ultimatum: stay and devote his whole life to The Cause or leave and never come back. Freddie leaves and is left to follow his own path.
The film appears to be a depiction of the Church of Scientology and its leader L. Ron Hubbard. There are a lot of similarities to it: Hoffman’s resemblance to Hubbard and the film set in 1950, the same year Hubbard set up his church. Anderson will admit that Lancaster Dodd is a lot like L. Ron Hubbard but not intended to be a direct depiction of him: “This is not the L. Ron Hubbard story.” Some people in the Church Of Scientology had spoken concerns of the film. Anderson even screened the film for Tom Cruise who had acted in Anderson’s Magnolia and had concerns of his own. Nevertheless there has been no talk of lawsuits from the Church of Scientology. Whatever the situation, I can’t say because I never attended the Church of Scientology in my lifetime.
Once again Paul Thomas Anderson writes and directs an excellent effort. Ever since he burst onto the filmmaking scene with Boogie Nights, he was continued to impress with Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and now again with The Master. One thing Paul Thomas Anderson succeeds in doing again is captivating a svengali-like character. We’ve seen it before in There Will Be Blood where he was able to capture Daniel Plainview and his desire to use and manipulate his way to the top and ultimately face a downfall. We see it here again in Lancaster Dodd who succeeds in being the one in control and convince his followers to his sayings, even if they know they’re a lie. Philip Seymour Hoffman does his own part in making this svengali-like character come to life. He fills the character up with the charming controllingness very common in many svengali-like figures or leader-like characters. That’s a common trait of Philip Seymour Hoffman to embody the character completely. He’s done it in the past to exceptional results and he does it again here.
Just as good at capturing a character is Joaquin Phoenix. He did a good job of playing a very lost character: a navy officer returning from World War II disturbed and uncoothed in behavior. This movie is just as much about the controlled as it is about the controller and Joaquin did a great job in holding his own well despite the easy upstagings of Hoffman. Also good at stealing the scene was Amy Adams. She did an excellent job of playing the wife who was both a controller and the controlled. Another standout effort of the film was the original music of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. He has done music before for There Will Be Blood and he does another excellent work.
As for the movie, it wasn’t that big of a hit at the box office. That’s one of the difficulties of films around the Oscar period from now leading up to the beginning of the new year. Most of the top contending movies for the Academy Awards consist of movies with standout efforts in acting, directing and scriptwriting. However they face the difficulties of trying to win a crowd at the box office which is loaded with mostly commercial fare and the stuff to attract big crowds. It’s trying to compete for that attention amongst the noise. The Master hasn’t been so fortunate. It has only made $15 million at the box office. That’s part of the trials of putting serious fare out.
The Master is a very intriguing movie resembling a popular religious movement and its founder. It could shed a light on the movement and even capture what the founder may be like but it does more, and that’s its best quality.