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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Bale’

Oscar Isaacs (left)

“THE PROMISE” My rating: C+ 

134 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Sometimes the story behind a movie is more interesting than the movie itself.

So it is with “The Promise,” a pet project of the late Kirk Kerkorian (one one of the architects of modern Las Vegas and past owner of the M-G-M Studio), who devoted years and a chunk of his fortune to create a film about the Armenian genocide of 1915-’20.

Never heard of the Armenian genocide?  Join the club.  Giving ill-educated audiences a glimpse of this swept-under-the-rug apocalypse is “The Promise’s” very reason for being. (Kerkorian was the son of Armenian emigres to the U.S.)

Historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians — members of a Christian minority within the Ottoman Empire — were systematically murdered during World War I.

To this day the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge that the slaughter — many see it as a sort of dry run for Hitler’s “final solution” — even  took place.

In fact, a well-financed disinformation campaign currently is underway to  dismiss the history presented in “The Promise.”  After several  preview screenings  earlier this year, the film’s IMDb page was flooded with more than 86,000 user reviews, with nearly two thirds of them negative. Apparently 86,000 persons showed up for a handful of preview screenings…not!

Clearly, “The Promise” is punching buttons.  But how is it as a movie?

Just  O.K.  This David Lean-ish effort (penned by Robin Swicord, an Oscar nominee for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) offers a three-way romance set against the sweep of churning world events (see “Dr. Zhivago”). It’s been directed by Terry George, who a few years back gave us the equally earnest “Hotel Rwanda” about tribal genocide in Africa. Production values are generally good, and in some instances outstanding.

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Christian Bale, Natalie Portman

Christian Bale, Natalie Portman

“KNIGHT OF CUPS”  My rating: C-

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There lurks in “Knight of Cups” the makings of a pretty good travelogue.

But on most other counts the latest feature  from the increasingly irritating Terrence Malick shows him firmly stuck in the same prison of self parody that doomed his last outing, the unromantic romance “To the Wonder.”

Malick, of course, is the low-profile cinematic genius who back in the ’70s gave us “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” then moved on to offbeat period pieces (“The Thin Red Line,” “The New World”) before delivering his ultimate statement, 2011’s memorable (for all the right reasons) “The Tree of Life.”

“Knight of Cups” is ostensibly a Hollywood insider tale, a sort of “La Dolce Vida” look at feckless, amoral living among the beautiful people.

In fractured, impressionistic style it follows a screenwriter named Rick (Christian Bale), as he engages in romantic wanderings, professional and family issues, and hedonistic pastimes.

That description makes the film sound coherent. It isn’t.

Malick eschews conventional narrative construction and character development in favor of sweeping, swooning handheld cinematography of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the desert by frequent collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity,” “Birdman,” “The Revenant”). His characters almost never actually speak lines, except in the form of vacuous party chatter. Instead we hear their innermost thoughts, whispered in voiceover.

As for the story…what story?

Rick goes through a series of lovers, all of them willowy beauties whose personalities are best summed up by their pre-Raphaelite tresses. Presumably he has sex, although there’s nothing remotely romantic or erotic going on here (Malick has never done sexy).

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Ryan Gosling...kicking Wall Street's Ass

Ryan Gosling…kicking Wall Street’s Ass

“THE BIG SHORT”  My rating: B+ 

130 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Everybody loves to see the little guy take on a giant.

But what if in rooting for the little guy we’re also advocating our own destruction?

In Adam McKay’s “The Big Short”  a handful of high-finance outsiders and weirdos smell something fishy in the pre-2008 sub prime housing market. They decide to beat the corrupt financial establishment at its own game.

Viewers of McKay’s ‘s grimly amusing comedy (he’s best known for lightweight Will Ferrell vehicles) will find themselves in a dilemma. For the story’s heroes to emerge triumphant the American and world economies will have to tank. Millions will lose their homes, their savings and their jobs.

But, hey, that’s capitalism. Somebody always wins. Somebody always loses. And making money off the other guy’s misery is the American way.

The screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph (adapting Michael Lewis nonfiction best seller The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine) begins in 2005 with Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the oddball manager of a California-based hedge fund.  Possessor of a medical degree and virtually no people skills, Burry prefers to hold his conversations with numbers.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale

Burry pads around the office barefoot and in cutoffs and has one glass eye — but he sees enough to recognize that the sub-prime housing market is destined to collapse. Banks have been giving home loans to people who shouldn’t qualify and are destined to default; those bad loans are then bundled and resold, building “worth” where there is no value.

So Burry offers the big Wall Street firms a deal they can’t refuse.  He has them create for him a financial instrument — the credit default swap — that will pay off only if the market collapses. The heavy players are only too happy to oblige…they can’t imagine the bubble bursting.

Burry is considered a madman by most, but to a handful of fund managers he makes real sense.  One is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who is as slick and gung ho as Burry is dweebish (think Matthew McConaughey in “The Wolf of Wall Street” ).  But numbers don’t lie and Vennett gets on board.
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Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Rhamses and Moses

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Ramses and Moses

“EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS” My rating: C

150 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” runs for almost 2 1/2 hours — and that still isn’t enough time for it to figure out why it’s here or what it wants to say.

It’s based, of course, on the Old Testament story of the exodus of the captive Hebrews from Egypt, but the filmmakers are obviously ambivalent over matters of faith. Heck, they explain away the story’s supernatural elements as the result of a bump to Moses’ noggin.

This is the second monster-budget biblical epic of the year (it follows Darren Aronofsky’s over-produced and over-thought “Noah”). If Hollywood doesn’t believe, why does it bother?

In a word: spectacle. Scott and his visual wizards pull out the stops to create the thriving Egyptian capital of Memphis, the parting and unparting of the Red Sea, a slam-bang  battle with an invading army.

But on a spiritual and dramatic level “Exodus” is a creaky affair.

Most of us are familiar with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 “The Ten Commandments,” an alternately silly and awe-inspiring affair. DeMille may have had the dramatic instincts of a snake oil salesman, but he was a fierce believer in his own showmanship, and if you can ignore the absurd emoting, his epic remains ridiculously entertaining.

Scott, on the other hand, delivers a film that is, well, grumpy. For all the f/x wizardly, there’s not much joy or discovery to be had. “Exodus” feels like a paint-by-numbers job assembled by an indifferent committee

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Christian Bale...fat, bald, and out of control

Christian Bale…fat, bald, and out of control

“AMERICAN HUSTLE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Dec. 18)

138 minutes | MPAA rating: R

David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” is crammed with near-brilliant moments and performances.

Yet the film itself left me cold. More than cold. Alienated.

Granted, mine seems to be a minority opinion. Other scribes are tossing words like “masterpiece” and “great American comedy”  at “Hustle.” Maybe they’re seeing something I missed.

Amy Adams

Amy Adams

Inspired (loosely) by the ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s (when the FBI lured — entrapped? — politicians into taking bribes through an elaborate ruse that involved a phony oil sheik), it’s the story of a couple of con artists who get swept up by the feds and, to avoid prosecution, agree to help the government set up an even bigger con.

The film begins with a superb wordless introduction in which con man/dry cleaning magnate Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) emerges from the shower and gets to work on the face he presents to the world. The normally cut Bale (he’s Batman, fer chrissakes) put on maybe 40 pounds to play the tubby, middle-aged Irving.  Now he stands in front of a mirror creating, strand by strand, spray by spray, the world’s most atrocious comb-over ‘do. It’s awesomely funny, in an I-don’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing way.

Irving is smoking a stogie at a pool party when he gets a glimpse of Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a young woman on the make both professionally and romantically. He’s ugly, she’s beautiful (unlike every other director in America, Russell looks at Amy Adams and sees rampant sexuality, God love him) and they bond over jazz. Soon he’s teaching her the ropes of financial scamming, and together they’re enjoying an erotic field day.

The catch is that Irving is married to the gold-digging Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a quintessential Jersey princess. She won’t divorce him and, anyway, Irving is absolutely crazy about her young son, whom he has adopted.

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