Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Vice (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B Entertainment

Vice  – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Tyler Perry

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: A study of the life of Dick Cheney and how he went from an alcoholic Yale dropout to becoming one of the most powerful Vice Presidents in the history of the United States.

Review:  The President of the United States, one of, if not the most powerful individuals in the world. Yet today’s political climate is one that, especially in the last few years, has become increasingly divisive and hostile when it comes to, well just about anything and everything. Yet while Presidents tend to enjoy the bulk of the limelight, the Vice President is someone who may not receive quite so much of the media spotlight, but, much like the President, the power and influence they can have is quite frightening given, the current incumbents in these positions.

For a director whose early films were very much in the realms of comedies, Adam McKay has experienced quite the transition into more serious heavy-hitting film-making. The Big Short dabbled in the 2007 collapse of the housing market, and he goes much more political with this film. To go from that to a deep foray into early 2000s US politics, which was a chaotic time (to put it mildly) for the country as a horrific attack on US soil, put them on the war footing, is a bold move. Not least because in a deeply divided political spectrum, if you’re going to tell a story about how one politician of a particular political persuasion ruthlessly rose to power, that portrayal isn’t likely to sit very well with those who also are of that politician’s political persuasion.

Christian Bale is no stranger to dramatic physical transformations, having done so for a plethora of roles, and here he does it once again. He is unrecognisable under all the make up that helps him deliver an emphatically authentic performances as Dick Cheney. he goes from a drunkard college dropout, to the very top of the pyramid of US politics. Right by his side is the ever reliable Amy Adams as his wife Lynne, who as her husband rises in stature and acquires more power, she takes full advantage to further her own career, making them an extremely powerful couple. With Cheney arguably becoming even more powerful than his commander-in-chief: one George W Bush, played by an entertainingly buffoonish Sam Rockwell.

McKay chooses to tell this story in a manner that is helpful to digest the information to the audience, especially if they’re not au fait with early 2000s US politics. What is irksome is the way that he jumps from one point early in Cheney’s life, to a much later point with no explanation as to why, it’s all a bit sloppy in terms of its structure and some streamlining would have been most beneficial. While there are some funny moments, these are ultimately few and far between, which is problem for a film that is clearly trying to portray itself as political satire, it isn’t really that satirical, or funny. Furthermore, at a run time of 132 minutes, there’s a lot of unnecessary filler that really hampers the pacing.

Though there is one instance that shows Cheney’s compassion, these are overshadowed by the cold and ruthlessness nature that he possessed on his way to the top of the Washington power pyramid. The way in which McKay delivers his overall message is done in quite a reprehensible manner that, quite justifiably, will leave those who dwell on the Republican side of the aisle feeling a bit peeved. Though having said that, when you think of the current administration and his VP, and the power that they can wield, that’s quite daunting to say the least.

There’s some good intentions here, but a strong pair of performances from Adams and Bale cannot save a film that is very obnoxiously put together and just too full of its own self importance. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

First Man (2018)

Image is property of Universal and Dreamworks

First Man  – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: Telling the true story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and how, through many years of intense training at NASA, he became the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Review: In terms of the greatest historical moments of the 20th century, there is perhaps few that could rival the moment where for the very first time, the world watched as the human race set foot upon the surface of the moon. The man who took that very first step, and uttered the immortal line “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind,” was Neil Armstrong.  It is this man’s remarkable life and journey that incredibly hasn’t really been explored to such an extent on the big screen before, this is until Damien Chazelle came along.

After working together so successfully on La La Land, Gosling re-teams with Chazelle to play Armstrong, and Gosling once again excels. Right from when we meet him, you get the impression that this guy is focused and determined, something that has run through both of Chazelle’s last two films. He’s much more stoic here, but no less resolute in his mission, except there’s no jazz clubs involved this time. Josh Singer’s script goes into some quite personal detail that people might know about Armstrong including his family life, and the deeply personal tragedy that he goes through in the early stages, whilst also focusing on his NASA training, and all the perils that he faced on his journey to becoming the first man to walk on the moon.

Claire Foy, having donned the crown of Queen Elizabeth II, steps into a very different role as Armstrong’s wife Janet. A role that is quite clichéd for sure, yet it’s one she absolutely shines in alongside Gosling to be there as his figure of support, and at the same time, when it comes to the eve of his lunar mission, to voice her fury at the very real possibility that her husband might never see their kids again. Their relationship is the fierce beating heart of this story, and while the rest of the cast all give solid performances to complete a solid ensemble cast, no one else apart from Foy really has enough time to shine alongside Gosling.

For a director who’s only 33, he has already had a remarkable run of success with his previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, both garnering critical praise and awards aplenty, including the Best Director Oscar for Chazelle for the latter. The ambition for a film like this almost goes without saying, but Chazelle rises to the challenge and delivers another immensely well crafted film. Re-teaming with some of his frequent collaborators in the cinematography (Linus Sandgren), score (Justin Hurwitz) and editing (Tom Cross) departments, the film is crafted to perfection. The space scenes, especially the final lunar landing are so masterfully executed, it feels so real and authentic, and Hurwitz’s score is just superb.

Given the scope of this story, spanning almost over a decade into just over two hours, seems like an impossible task but Singer manages to streamline it as effectively as he can. Yet the pacing does suffer around the second act, especially when there is not a great deal happening down on Earth. However once, we gear up for the all important third act, the spectacle is turned up to ten, and never ceases for the rest of the film. For a director as young as Chazelle, to have an absolutely stellar hat-trick of films already under his belt is a remarkable accomplishment.

A remarkable and fascinating look at the mission to the moon and the man at the centre of it, with superb performances from Foy and Gosling. Another out of this world addition to the stellar filmography of Damien Chazelle.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Image is property of Legendary and Focus Features

BlacKkKlansman – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Suspecting that the Klu Klux Klan is planning an attack, black undercover police officer Ron Stallworth infiltrates the KKK and establishes contact, whilst another officer (Driver) poses as Stallworth when they meet face-to-face…

Review: It is scary to think that a film set in the 1960s could be a reflection of 21st century USA. Yet, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was exactly that, as it spoke volumes about the horrendous treatment of black people at the hands of police officers, something that is still horrifyingly relevant in 21st century USA. It is therefore all the more shocking that another filmmaker has come along, with another film (also based on true events) that also starkly reminds us just how racism and bigotry is startlingly prevalent in modern US society. Enter director Spike Lee, a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

The setting this time is 1979, as Ron Stallworth (Washington) joins the Colorado Springs Police and is soon appointed to become an undercover officer. When he finds a leaflet for the local KKK organisation, he bravely establishes contact over the phone and almost instantaneously strikes up a connection. To maintain the ruse another officer, Flip Zimmerman, assumes Stallworth’s identity whenever the organisation meets up whilst the actual Ron works behind the scenes, looking for any indication as to what the organisation could be planning.

To think that this is based on real life events is just completely astonishing for one thing. But also, to think that such acts of blatant racism and bigotry are still prevalent is equally nauseating, given that the very idea of one race being superior to the other, is to put it bluntly, absolute bullshit. Washington is superb in this lead role, clearly showing the talent that runs in his family. He portrays Stallworth as a guy who is intelligent and immediately likeable and you watch in anxiety as he goes about this extremely risky endeavour. As after a few exchanges, it comes across pretty quickly that, the members of the KKK are deeply unpleasant people and the risk of this operation going sour is very high right from the very first meeting.

Though having said that, there are moments of humour throughout which in such a heavy film, could be a huge risk, yet it all flows pretty seamlessly.  Lee chooses to tell this story in a manner that emphatically pulls no punches whatsoever, though there are some moments in which the pacing does suffer. Subtlety in such a heavy hitting story like this would not have been a wise decision, and thankfully Lee doesn’t choose to go down this route. There are of course two sides to this story as the story focuses on the Black Panther Party, and there are some intriguing moments in which the two movements are essentially shown side by side. While some stylistic choices are inspired, others are a little bit perplexing.

Spike Lee is a man who has not been afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the current White House incumbent and his inability to make a stand in the face of hate and division. And with this movie, and in particular the closing credits scene that utilises real life footage of the horrific events in Charlottesville last year. It is extremely thought-provoking and deeply moving imagery that will stir up the emotions. This bigotry and hate is something that should have been long since consigned to the history books. Yet unfortunately the famous saying “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” rings true now more than ever. Lee’s message is furious, it is loud, and it is crystal clear.

To think how relevant a film like this is, is frightening but the well balanced script, combined with excellent performances from Washington and Driver, make this an essential piece of cinema for this day and age.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Post (2018)

Image is property of DreamWorks Pictures, Universal and 20th Century Fox

The Post – Film Review

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons

Director: Steven Spielberg

Synopsis: When classified government documents concerning the Vietnam War end up in the hands of journalists for The Washington Post, they must decide whether to risk their careers and the paper’s legacy and publish these documents, whilst risking the wrath of the United States Government.

Review: There is something to be admired about those people who go above and beyond to try and report the facts in this crazy world we live in, especially at a time when journalists in this day and age find themselves under intense scrutiny. As so many people, especially certain world leaders, just dismiss stories about them that paint them in a negative light. Yet, the work these people do plays such a vital role in our society, and that cannot be ignored, especially when the work of journalists .

Indeed, the work of journalists has helped to break some pretty major stories like the enormous scandal that engulfed the Catholic Church, making films such as this and 2015’s Spotlight feel extremely relevant in today’s society. When some government secrets that reveal some shocking truths concerning the US Government and the Vietnam War fall into the hands of The New York Times, the US Government forbids them from running any further stories. When the same documents fall into the hands of The Washington Post, the editor Ben Bradlee debates with the paper’s first female owner Katharine Graham as to whether these documents should be published.

In much the same way that Spotlight was a very dialogue driven film, The Post follows in that manner. Therefore the screenplay has to be of a very high calibre, and that quality is ably provided by Spotlight’s scribe Josh Singer as well as Liz Hannah, marking her first foray into screenplay writing. Though the first half of the film delves into newspapers and business, it does mean that unless you’re extremely well versed in the worlds of newspapers, business, stocks and shares, then this could feel a little bit over-whelming. However, once we get to the small matter of whether the story should become front page news, is where it becomes very intriguing to watch.

Under the guidance of such a masterful director like Spielberg, the performances of everyone really shine. Yet in news that should not be surprising to anyone, the limelight belongs to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (more the former than the latter though). It is fascinating two of the biggest actors in the business, who had never worked together prior to this film, engage in some deep discussions about whether or not the decision is made to go to print. With this role banking her a 21st Oscar nomination, it’s little wonder that Streep is regarded as one of the finest women to ever grace the big screen, as no matter what the role is, she never fails to impress. Much like Streep, Hanks almost always impresses and as Ben Bradlee, the man who helped break the infamous Watergate scandal, he’s a man who is absolutely committed to telling the public what he feels they have the right to know.

Though the script doesn’t fully portray the important role that The New York Times played in the leaking of the documents, it does remind everyone that at such times when the press is under such fierce criticism, that this industry and indeed these people serve a role that needs to be respected. Otherwise politicians would try to  to sweep certain things under the rug. Though the film doesn’t carry the emotional sucker punch like Spotlight did, the key message about journalism integrity and the commitment to the truth retains its indispensable value to our society and our democracy.

Assured direction from Spielberg, and strong performances from Streep and Hanks ensure this trio of extraordinary talents provide a timely reminder of the power of the press and the fundamental aspects of a democracy.