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Vice (2018) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

Vice

Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell

Adam McKay has always been one to watch. His transition from an inspiring bro-comedy director to the creator of an Oscar winning educational, political dramedy has been astounding to observe and grow with. From the second The Big Short ended, I was eager to see his next move. Sticking with the latter of his skill set, McKay has followed up with Vice, a political satire with a dash of lunacy and frenetic drama. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Vice to have nearly the same level of appeal as McKay’s previous works.

Vice follows the story of Dick Cheney, the famed enigmatic political mastermind, so to speak, behind the Bush administration. Of course, by the movie’s own admission in the opening title card, liberties had to be taken. The lines between historical accuracy and fiction are blurred, with the approach aiming to use its self awareness to its advantage in order to separate itself from your typical biopic. From the jump, McKay guarantees a polarizing experience, knowing full well his political leanings will influence the story. I only mention this to acknowledge that certain biases exist. Some audiences will appreciate them while others won’t, but in terms of objective criticism (if such a thing exists), I believe it bares no weight on my review of the film. What does, however, is McKay’s incessant need to make his film chaotic to avoid it being boring.

Vice utilizes an ‘objective’ narrator, title cards, and even voiceover from the inner monologue of Cheney himself. It has several sequences of entirely satirical circumstances, poking meta textual fun at the real life events. If you ever wanted to watch Cheney and his wife spontaneously bust into Macbethian soliloquy’s, you can find it in Vice. If you ever wanted to see an entire sequence of fake final credits, you can find it in Vice. And hell, if you want to see Christian Bale stare straight into the lens of the camera and talk directly to the audience in a way that would make you wish House of Cards had been remade and recast, then you will get that in Vice. The point I’m making is that McKay utilizes a lot, and I mean A LOT, of storytelling devices to keep his film new and entertaining, but it doesn’t mean it makes his film better. I’d argue it makes it worse.

The frenetic pace established early in Vice has no identity. The aforementioned opening title card hints at a comedic opening, but it takes nearly 20 minutes for another joke to land. Why? Because Vice can’t decide whether it wants to be a straight political satire or a dramatic character study. The occasional display of satirical showmanship detracts from the credibility of the storytelling. McKay’s previous work, The Big Short, played its hand similarly. In fact, it’s fingerprints are all over Vice. The difference is that The Big Short wisely separated it’s self referential moments from the story at work. It used those meta conversations to propel and strengthen the core narrative. Vice can’t separate the two, and as a result the audience can’t either.

Perhaps my biggest contention with the film is that by its end, I don’t really understand Cheney. Dick Cheney is intimidating and calculated, but he’s constantly being resorted to a figure as opposed to a character. I never get to watch him think because I’m busy being told by the narrator that Cheney is thinking. Despite him dominating the screen time, I don’t exactly know much about him beyond what he’s done according to the film. As far as I can tell, the moments and decisions that propel Cheney in this film are little more than a strong desire for power.

Rarely do characters ever sit and have a straight conversation because McKay is constantly playing with the frame, throwing images at it to see what sticks. The timeline is another point of contention. There is a flippancy to which Vice works with Cheney’s past. At any given point, we are constantly being tossed from one period in his political career to another. Sometimes, McKay finds life and significance in this choice. For example, Cheney looking upon the Oval Office after being elected Vice President juxtaposed with a memory of Cheney getting his first ever office, essentially a desk and walls and no windows. Other times, the story changes timeline with no discernible rhyme or reason and detracts from the storytelling and momentum of whatever previous scene came before it.

My contentions with Vice aside, this isn’t a film void of impressive features. It should come as no surprise that Christian Bale is immersive and utterly brilliant. Not only is it a role with intense focus on the nuance of Cheney’s mannerisms to capture his persona, Bale also finds plenty of opportunities to pursue the character’s wants and desires with little more than a glance. This is a performance that completely elevated the character beneath it. With Bale at the helm, Cheney becomes almost appealing, despite being a villain for much of the film. This may be the most intimidating presence Bale has ever portrayed, and I’m including Bruce Wayne in that hot take. Generally, I avoid performance bashing in my reviews, because actors are so often front facing and have such little to do with the larger picture, so all I’ll add is this: The other performers do relatively well, but Bale is undoubtedly the highlight. For all that I have to say against McKay’s frantic display, he does make impressive storytelling choices. Tethering themes of fishing and heartlessness into the greater narrative takes a bold, ambitious mastermind. The handheld camera work adds to the story, creating an atmosphere of intimacy for a character that can seem so ‘larger than life’.

The most important thing to note is that despite all my gripes, Vice still managed to keep me entertained. I enjoyed Vice more than the rating I’m giving it, and while I can’t argue that my enjoyment makes it better, I can argue that it might still be worth your time. Maybe. But Christian Bale is definitely worth your time.

6.5/10

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or “BvS” picks up directly into the climatic battle between Superman and General Zod fighting over the city, but from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Affleck) who witnesses death and destruction in the midst of the fight to the death between Krypton’s finest.

I have to say that when I decided to review this, I intentionally wanted to do this after my “Man of Steel” review I did a few moths back. That was until fellow Movie Burner Kevan recommend I view the ultimate edition before making my mind up on where I stood with The DCU’s latest instalment.

Coming in at just over 3 hours you could forgive me for telling Kevan to get on his bike after watching the first incarnation (theatrical cut) which I wasn’t to in awe with in the first place. One of the major issues I had with that version was the choppy pacing and plot of the movie. It felt rushed and key elements felt missing. But enough of that. I’m here to review the “Big One” yes as I said, 3 hours of Affleck’s Dark Knight and Cavill’s Son of Jor-El. Did it surprise me? Yes, It did in fact.

Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. This is the basis of the plot and of course the title of the movie. What I liked though was that this was actually a side issue if you please if you look at it from the real villains point of view. Yes Lex Luther played by Jesse Eisenberg is surprisingly unhinged as the famous and traditionally Superman villain. The character at times was a little annoying but to be fair I liked Eisenberg’s take on the character. He was unassuming and unpredictable, key factors in any villainous role.

Affleck’s Batman is possibly the biggest surprise in this movie and an interesting entrance for the latest version of The Dark Knight. You have to appreciate that the last portrayal by Christian Bale of the character was almost perfect in every sense and it was only 2012 that he hung up the cape. Anyone filling those shoes would find it tough to be accepted by the average fanboy. Ben Affleck up to this point was making more heads turn for his writing and directorial work, so you can imagine not everyone was pleased by the appointment. This is why I feel that this Bruce Wayne is interesting in the fact that it isn’t an origins movie (although there are a few flashbacks scenes that don’t necessarily overshadow proceedings). We’re stepping into this characters story somewhere in between a weathered Batman and still has a fight in him Batman. It is shown on screen that he has already lost a sidekick to the joker on on of his displays and I felt this was something different that could be accepted.

Cavill just appears to be made for his role as Clark Kent / Superman in every sense. He was consistent in Man of Steel and really picks up where we last saw him with ease. But it has to be said that the character is a lot darker in BvS. I suppose in the previous film you could get away with the introduction of the character finding his way and place in the world. Here that is established and that is credit to writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer for giving the character another dimension.

The reintroduction to Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White and Diane Lane’s Martha Kent cements the continuity from MoS to BvS flawlessly. All three of them have bigger part to play and have enough screen time to make an impact. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman is something that didn’t need to be there and along with some video footage of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg was there to set us up for The Justice League Movie a year down the line. It didn’t hinder or distract the audience from the storyline. In fact, it excited fans and hinted what was coming next.

The above is basically what I would have said about either version of the film if I’m being honest. The cast wasn’t the issue, nor was the storyline. It felt The had so much material that the decision was made to cut some interesting sequences to narrow the running time down a bit, resulting in a jolting and off the pace movie. This ultimate edition fills the holes in and as a result helps keep the flow of the movie going and keeping you entertained which is strange for a movie this length.

Visually Zack Snyder’s hands are all over this. The graininess of Man of Steel is still evident and I’m glad. The shades and colour schemes once more are like another character in the movie and gives it an edge that I’ve always enjoyed from Snyder. Did the movie still have issues after viewing the extended cut? Of course it did, but this version helped me to enjoy and absorb this universe a little easier. Some of the sub plot wasn’t exactly that interesting to begin with and the whole Martha Kent / Martha Wayne revelation still has me sniggering a bit.

Overall BvS could have been much more. But the Ultimate Edition is the only version I will watch now for its filling in the pacing a bit better and to be honest. The expectation of a Batman/ Superman face off is far greater than what actually came out but I can accept that as I don’t regard this as a bad movie at all. It is entertaining and multiple viewings are required to absorb the plot. If you haven’t seen BvS (any version) I would recommend the ultimate edition. If you have seen the theatrical cut and were initially put off (like me) I would give this one a chance. Recommend.

Man of Steel (2013) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

MAN OF STEEL

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay),  David S. Goyer (story)
Stars: Henry Cavill,  Amy Adams,  Michael Shannon, Russel Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne

Back in 2013 the “Man of Steel” opened the DC / Warner Brothers expanded universe doors and with a slight bump in the tracks regarding Batman versus Superman and Suicide Squad although it looks like they are on the right road again with this summer’s release of Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins.

I was almost convinced back when “Man of Steel was released that it wasn’t originally being set out as the first in this universe. Yes we spotted the LexCorp and Wayne Security Easter eggs planted throughout the movie but probably right up to a month ago I stubbornly refused to believe that DC and Warner Brothers had this planned back then. It convinced me even more this was the case when not until the last couple of years that the studio have gone full pelt on their comic book universe. But I have now been told that I am wrong (and even did a bit of research in secret shhhhh) and that of course “Man of Steel” is DCs what “Iron Man” is to Marvel (enough with the comparisons)

So we Kick Off the movie with Russel Crowe portraying Jor-El (Superman’s father) debating with the Kryptonian Council that he is convinced the planets core is unstable and the planets existence will cease in a matter of weeks. Falling on deaf ears, Jor-El and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) decide to take action of their own and save their child Kal-El (Superman) by sending him to the nearest inhabitable planet for his survival and the survival of the Kryptonian people. The sequence itself is just an updated version of the now legendary scenes starring Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Susannah York as Lara from “Superman: The Movie” from 1978.

I had always enjoyed rewatching the original movie back in my childhood. The John Williams score, the special effects had us believe a man could fly and the awesome casting of Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beauty, Jackie Cooper and upcoming stars in Margot Kidder and the late great Christopher Reeve who incidentally does not appear in the original movie until a good hour into it. “Man of Steel” on the other hand introduces the main players very quickly and at this point I think it’s only fair to say that I will not be making anymore comparisons between “Man of Steel” and “Superman: The Movie” from now on.

Michael Shannon is fantastic and ruthless as the military leader of Krypton “General Zod” and from that opening 10 minutes we realise how passionate and loyal he is to the people of Krypton in his own mad way. Zod and his Crew are captured and sentenced to the Phantom Zone (a solitary dimension) by the Council.

The scene involving Kal-El’s launch into the unknown is heartbreaking for Jor-El and Lara and you can sense the moral dilemma the father and mother endured to save their child. Kal-El’s arrival on earth is quick and effective that we don’t have to go into any great length or detail into his arrival into the small town of “Smallville” and Snyder’s  direction and Goyer’s writing allows us to focus more on the emotions of the characters throughout the movie without being bogged down with obvious exposition. The planet’s implosion visually is stunning and tragic and baby Kal-El is sent hurtling in space towards his new planet (plotted on some Kryptonian sat nav)

It is at this point we are thrown forward in time to the present and we are introduced to Henry Cavill as Clark Kent (Superman’s disguise) on a ship in his late twenties. The movie jumps back and forth throughout Clark’s younger years but it is done in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the movie nor confuse the audience members. It is also a great way to introduce Clark’s earth parents Martha and Jonathan Kent played by veteran actors Diane Lane and Kevin Costner. Martha and Jonathan’s role throughout the movie cannot be ignored or underestimated as they are essential to the upbringing and moral values that Clark has inherited and defines his character.

Another particular scene that has to be mentioned is Jonathan Kent’s beliefs
and willingness in guiding Clark in his growth as he develops his “special powers” and keeping them at bay for his own good and only using it when the time is right is powerful. For anyone who hasn’t watched this film yet I won’t spoil it but there is a moment during a hurricane sequence that in a brief moment is sad yet poignant to Jonathan’s relationship to Clark. This is storytelling and character development at its best and can never be taken for granted. The look Costner gives Cavill will hit you right in the feels.

Zod’s return is of course predictable and after Krypton’s doom it was inevitable and to be honest pointless sending him and his crew to the Phantom Zone to begin with as once the planet imploded it released them and Zod’s mission was to track down Kal-El and extract components from his DNA to give Krypton a rebirth using planet earth as a base.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane appeared to be a great casting decision and I always saw Lois as an earthy Princess Leia back into day. Headstrong and a leader in every sense. Adams manages to portray this character very quickly and is key to earth’s understanding of how we come to understand Superman and how the human race must trust this one man who is clearly their only chance against the General.

The climatic battle between Superman and Zod is shattering to say the least and if DC / Warner Brothers have one thing over their competitors that is their cinematography. Visually “Man of Steel” is shot uniquely and Zack Snyder’s hands are all over it, in a good way. The imagery is so crisp and precise and the choice of colours throughout the movie depending on the mood of the scene is vivid and stunning.

Overall, “Man of Steel” is a Superman movie in its own right. Yes it does retell the origins story and yes it does rely on a well known villain but Snyder and Goyer take the movie from a different angle and set the tone for the DC / WB cinematic universe going forward. Highly recommendable.

Nocturnal Animals (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

 

Director: Tom Ford
Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Nocturnal Animals, the latest film from Tom Ford, focuses on the beautiful, seemingly rich and successful, Los Angeles gallery owner, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). A west Texas debutant we learn later, she lives an extravagant lifestyle, with artwork aplenty hanging on the walls and other oddities dotted around her modern penthouse. It’s quickly apparent however that she’s deeply unhappy, with trouble brewing below the surface. She despises her job, is crippled with insomnia and her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) has made some bad business decisions, leaving them teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. A strange package arrives at her residence and after giving herself a vicious looking paper cut in the process of opening it, we learn that within this is the manuscript of a new novel penned by her ex-husband. Dedicated to Susan, and having not spoken to him for the best part of 20 years, curiosity gets the better of her and she begins reading it, quickly becoming engrossed.

The focus then flips to the perspective of the novel, becoming a mini film within the larger main story. Following the Texas man, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he sets out on a road trip with his wife and daughter. Driving in the dead of night, on an empty, pitch black highway, they become embroiled in a terrifying cat and mouse chase with degenerate rednecks. The three of them are attacked, the overly timid Tony is easily overpowered and both his wife/daughter are kidnapped and later killed, leaving him questioning his masculinity and power in the aftermath. The novel plays out as a sort of tragic, therapy session on their failed marriage. The events that transpire on screen during the fictitious scenes, a manifestation of the pain Edward felt after his split. He wants to make Susan aware of the suffering she caused him and it appears to work too, as she begins to look sorrowfully into her past.

The film utilises flashback scenes throughout to flesh out Susan’s past and we’re even offered a brief glimpse of the tumultuous relationship with her mother (Laura Linney). The latter prophetically telling Susan that a marriage between the two will be destined to failed and that Edward lacks mental strength, as well as the driven attitude to keep her happy. The highs and lows of her marriage are then played out, the brutal way she ends it giving an illuminating insight into the clear allegory of the novel. She’s seen questioning Edwards artistic ability, before ending their marriage prematurely and even going as far as aborting their baby behind his back. Meanwhile, in the novel, we continue to follow Tony as he enlists the help of gruff detective, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), in an attempt to get justice. They investigate for a year, before finally narrowing in on two of the three the culprits, Lou and Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Quick justice is served shortly thereafter, with Bobby, who we learn is suffering from terminal lung cancer and in no mood for letting the scumbags off lightly, shooting the former dead, whilst helping to lure the ringleader Ray to his end. Tony corners him, and after a short, tense standoff, finally avenges his family’s death. There’s a rather bizarre moment afterwards, when he appears to shoot himself accidentally, before crawling outside and succumbing to his wound.

Following these forays into Edwards past, the true allegorical significance behind his literary doppelgängers tragedy and the wider story as a whole is revealed. The devastation felt by Tony from losing his family within the novel echoing the grief of the author losing his unborn baby and wife. The emotional turmoil, eventual killing of the rednecks and his own death, representative of Edwards grief over the years, the eventual beating of his inner demons and finally being able to move on with his life. The films ambiguous end scene features Susan being stood up by Edward, after requesting dinner with her former husband. A final confirmation perhaps that he has moved on from his troubled past.

Both Adams and Gyllenhaal do a fine job in this film. Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson though, put in the standout performances for me. The former referring to his character as a ‘grotesque sort of angel’. A perfect description for the calm, guiding influence his character provides to Tony. He’s also highly likeable, his devil may care attitude, thanks in part to terminal cancer, giving him an almost humorous brutality when dealing with the murderous rednecks. Johnson is almost unrecognisable in this role as the redneck plumber/rapist/killer. Sporting an authentic southern drawl and long, unkempt hair, not to mention a shaggy beard, that’s every bit as crazy looking as the maniacal look in his eyes. I couldn’t possibly write this review without giving mention to the highly memorable scene involving Ray and an outside toilet. If any further insight is needed into the arrogant nature of the character then look no further.

The film itself is highly stylistic in its visuals. Seamus McGarvey, skilfully providing a stark contrast between the barren, gritty, rural Texas and the lonely cityscapes of Los Angeles. From the artwork on the walls to the immaculate costume. Musically, the score is well refined with clear classical origins. Featuring some beautiful string arrangements. It does a good job of switching things up as the film jumps between the action based novel scenes and the slower, more emotional parts featuring Susan.

Ultimately, I’d love to say sit here and say that it’s a fantastic film, but unfortunately that would be a lie and I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film, just merely above average to good. I highly enjoyed the thrilling trips the film took into Edwards brutal world and the acting throughout was fantastic. However, it lacked emotional substance of any kind and whilst I understood the underlying theme of the film. I just wasn’t invested in the two main protagonists enough to actually care.

Arrival (2016) Movie Review By John Walsh

ARRIVAL.png

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Arrival in its most basic concept is a story of Alien ships arriving on Earth. Twelve of them to be precise, dotted around various different locations. It focuses on the ever more frantic attempts of two scientists, one a linguistic expert, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and the other, an Astro physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), in their attempts to communicate with two large Alien creatures, before the worlds military declares all out war. Thankfully, at the heart of this sci-fi drama, is a considerably more complicated movie. Language is the key focus here, not the war or violent struggle for supremacy with galactic overlords that we normally see in films within this genre. It’s a wonderfully introspective look at humanity, how it deals with grief, compassion and most importantly communication.

Amy Adams, the standout performer in the film, delivers a confident, impressive performance as the linguistic professor tasked with the unenviable challenge of deciphering the alien language of two ‘Heptapod’, other worldly creatures, that seem resemble a cross between ‘Thing’ from the Addams Family and an Octopus. Louise has been asked to seek the answer to a simple question from the military, headed up by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker): What do you want? It doesn’t take her long to understand that written communication is required, with the Whale like vernacular proving impossible to translate. After a few visits with the otherworldly beings, she even manages to partly decipher their complex, inky circle, writing style. As both she and Ian face a race against time to convey the crucial question to the aliens, we see glimpses at the wider worlds growing uneasiness at the situation. With various news reports around the world flashing up on tv screens, providing regular updates on the ongoings of China, Russia and Pakistan. All of whom seem ready to nuke the visitors on their doorsteps at a moments notice throughout.

Louise is not short on emotional depth either. “I used to think this was the beginning of your story” we hear her narrate at the beginning of the film, whilst several visions of her young daughter, who sadly dies in her late teens play out. These visions reoccur, becoming more regular as her work aboard the shell gathers pace. These prove to be absolutely vital to the story and the key to finally transcribing the alien calligraphy. Adams never resorts to overacting in these delicate scenes, instead settling on using subtle expressions and body language to convey her mood and feelings perfectly. Her characters emotional conflict during these moments creates a deep undercurrent in the film, helping to steer it through a middle act that is often on the verge of lagging.

Bradford Young’s visuals are on point and absolutely spectacular. The black obelisk, shell of a ship is gargantuan in size, as it darts upward from the ground, though never actually touching it, every bit unnatural looking in stark contrast to the natural land that surrounds it, seemingly for miles. The first time it’s revealed is a thing of beauty, as the helicopter carrying the team to the site slips out from the fog that seems to cling to the air. The inside shots of the shell are not neglected either. Whether it be the equally foggy domain of the ‘Heptapods’, the beautiful inked rings they project onto the invisible barrier or the smooth, black alien interior of the walls or floor. It looks every bit an extraterrestrial vessel.

Also, how could I possibly finish talking about cinematography on this film without mentioning the gravity flipping ninety degrees as the team of scientists climb in for the first time? Young’s work on this only further increases my excitement for the forthcoming Han Solo standalone, which will see him apply his outstanding talents to the world of Star Wars. The brilliant visuals are equalled by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wonderful score, which really brings an eerie sense of trepidation to the early encounters in the film and an equally powerful, mellower hit of sadness at the end.

And speaking of endings. The film has been described as ‘thinking persons sci-fi’ and given the slow, deliberate pace it takes throughout, not to mention Villeneuve’s penchant for gradually releasing information to his viewers, it really would be hard to disagree with such an assertion. Arrival has a rather major twist in the final act, which I’d prefer to leave unspoilt, it truly should be experienced in the moment to be fully appreciated.

What I will say is that the ‘eureka’ moment is not too dissimilar in style to Christoper Nolan’s Interstellar. It’s a better film than Interstellar though, succeeding where the former failed in being at once epic, and yet also introspective and intimate. We hear Adam’s uttering the prophetic words “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and welcome every moment of it”. Bringing up the conclusion to the film, with Max Richter’s goosebump inducing music On the Nature of Daylight playing sombrely in the background. It’s a profoundly powerful and moving end to what is an excellent film.