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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Rockwell’

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney

“VICE” My rating: A- 

132 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In 2014 comedy writer/director Adam McKay (a longtime partner of Will Ferrell) gave us “The Big Short,” a look at the 2008 market meltdown that featured gonzo moments like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining subprime mortgages.     “…Short” was nominated for best picture and took home the Oscar for screenplay adaptation.

It now is clear that “The Big Short” was a test run for the narrative techniques and off-the-wall attitude that come to full flower in “Vice,” an absolutely dazzling/incendiary screen bio of former Vice President Dick Cheney, the Darth Vader of the George W. Bush White House.

This funny/unnerving instant classic features a transformative Christian Bale (he might as well start clearing Oscar space on his mantel), a host of terrifically good supporting perfs from the likes of Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, and a seductive presentational style that’ll suck you in even if you hate the real Cheney’s guts.

An opening credit informs us that this is a true story, “or as true as it can be given that Dick Cheney is known as one of the most secretive leaders in history.  But we did our f**king best.”

In fact, writer/director McKay goes out of his way not to turn “Vice” into a ham-handed hatchet job.

For the film’s first half — as we watch Wyoming roustabout Dick (drinkin’, fightin’, D.W.I.s) straighten himself out for the woman he loves (Adams), start a family and dip his toe in the slipstream of Washington power-broking — you may find yourself admiring the kid’s drive and smarts.

By the film’s end — after Cheney has shanghaied the nation into a never-ending Middle Eastern war and done his level best to  legitimize torture — audiences will be wincing under the savagery of the McKay/Bale depiction of this consummate politician guided less by political principles than a Machiavellian appreciation of pure, raw power.

“Vice” does a pretty wonderful job of fleshing out and, yes, humanizing a potent figure who is described by one character here as “a ghost,” a man about whom most of us know nothing.

The film covers (in brief, arresting scenes) Chaney’s education under then-Rep. Donald Rumsfeld (Carell), who instilled in the kid a taste for the ruthless exertion of authority and brought him along when he joined the Nixon administration.

Eventually Cheny becomes the chief of staff to President Gerald Ford where he begins formulating the “unitary executive theory,” which maintains that the President, just because he is the President, can do pretty much anything he damn well wants.

Throughout this recitation we periodically  drop in on the Cheney clan, and it is as a family man that this Dick Cheney seems most human.  He’s lovable and playful with his girls; he and wife Lynne are ahead-of-their-time understanding when daughter Mary (Alison Pill) comes out as gay.

Repeatedly we see the big man — who has heart attacks with the kind of regularity more associated with heartburn — retreating to the relatively calm and harmony of a Wyoming trout stream. (Fishing becomes a metaphor for Cheney’s canny handling of friend and foe alike.)

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Frances McDormand

“THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” My rating: A- 

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Frances McDormand gives what may be her greatest performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

But then the film scores a trifecta of sorts by also containing best-ever perfs of both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

Add to that the fact that the latest from Irish auteur Martin McDonough (“In Bruges”) is the funniest movie ever about grief, and you’ve got a serious — and seriously hilarious — moviegoing experience.

Not a perfect one, though.  Granted, the first hour of “Three Billboards” is just about flawless. In the latter going McDonough abandons the brilliant character study he’s been presenting and tries to woo us with iffy melodrama.  Still…

The title refers to three billboards on the road near the Ozarks home of Mildred (McDormand).  Almost a year earlier Mildred’s teenage daughter Angela was raped, murdered and her body set afire.  The local cops have hit a dead end and the angry, acid-tongued Mildred decides to jump start the investigation through shaming.

She calls at the local advertising firm and soon those three billboards read like a grim set of Burma Shave signs: “Raped While Dying.” “And Still No Arrests.”  “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

This is a full frontal assault on the local police led by Chief Willoughby (Harrelson).  By all accounts Willoughby is a decent guy who has exhausted all leads. DNA collected at the crime scene doesn’t match anyone in the data base, and Willoughby rejects Mildred’s demand that the authorities collect samples from every boy and man in the county.

Willoughby reveals that he’s dying of cancer, apparently in the mistaken belief that this will soften Mildred’s wrath and she’ll take down the billboards. She’ll have none of it: “They wouldn’t be so effective after you croak, right?”

Woody Harrelson

Mildred may be the toughest, most uncompromising and prickly character of McDormand’s uncompromising and prickly career. You may not like her (she commits an unconscionable and, frankly, ludicrous act of arson against her perceived enemies), but you can’t take your eyes off her as plows through the town’s irate citizenry like a vengeful bulldozer. (One may look at the actress’s excellent work in HBO’s “Olive Kitteridge” as a sort of test run for this film.)

Her attitude even comes through in her choice of clothing. Nothing feminine about Mildred’s garb…she wears a blue jumpsuit and a Rambo-style headscarf, looking like Rosie the Riveter with a “can-fuck-you-up” attitude. (In one of the film’s slyer jokes, Mildred operates the Southern Charm Gift Shop — which thanks to her attitude is utterly devoid of  charm.)

Mildred’s contempt for the cops has its basis in more than just personal grief.  Deputy Dixon (Rockwell) is both astoundingly stupid and overtly racist and Mildred has no problem in calling him on his proclivities: “How’s it all going in the nigger-torturing business, Dixon?”

Dixon’s answer is that nowadays it’s “the person-of-color-torturing business.” (One of the iffier aspects of McDonough’s screenplay is that an honorable man like Willoughby employs a vicious asshat like Dixon; we’re led to believe that the Chief feels sorry for this moron and actually sees some potential in him. This strains credulity, but sets up later questionable developments in the Dixon subplot.) (more…)

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Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt

Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt

“DIGGING FOR FIRE” My rating: B (Opening Aug. 28 at the Screenland Armour)

85 minutes  | MPAA rating: R

If indie auteur Joe Swanberg isn’t careful, he’s going to start making movies that people actually see.

Up to now Swanberg’s heavily-improvised, generational-specific films have earned him cred on the cinematic fringes (and the irritating label “mublecore”).  But last year he made a modest though hugely likable splash with the family dramady “Happy Christmas” — a sign that he may be approaching his cinematic maturity.

With “Digging for Fire” he delivers his most mainstream-friendly effort to date…which is not to say that it’s conventional, only that he’s finding ways to finesse his austere signature style.

Married couple Tim and Lee (Swanberg regular Jake Johnson, who also co-wrote, and Rosemarie DeWitt) are a struggling L.A. couple with an adorable 3-year-old son (Swanberg’s son Jude, a born actor if there ever was one).  He’s a public school teacher.  She’s a yoga instructor.

A wealthy movie industry friend on a foreign shoot has invited them to spend a couple of months living in her ultra cool house on a heavily wooded slope high in the Hollywood hills. We’re talking swimming pool, hammock, plenty of room for the kid’s tricycle.

On their first day in the new digs Tim makes a discovery while walking around the property.  From an overgrown hillside he recovers what looks like a human rib and a heavily-rusted cheap revolver.

The cops aren’t interested in his find — they’ll only show up for an entire corpse. But Tim is intrigued.

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Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz

Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz

“LAGGIES”  My rating: D+ (Opens Nov. 7 at the **)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Every filmmaker is allowed a few career missteps.

Lynn Shelton seems to have spent all hers on just one movie.

“Laggies” is…what? An unfunny comedy?  An uninvolving drama?

Whatever it is, it wastes what looks like a dream cast on a script so wretched you’ve got to wonder what all these talented people possibly saw in it.

Shelton is the indie phenom who seemed on the verge of greatness with her 2011 release “Your Sister’s Sister,” a comedy about two sisters’ relationships with the same man marked by long, real-time conversations.

Perhaps we should have taken heed when her last effort, 2013’s “Touchy Feely,” vanished without so much as a whimper.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3561006.html

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way way Liam James“THE WAY, WAY BACK” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on July 19) 

103 minutes | MPAA rating:  PG-13

Coming-of-age-movies are a dime a dozen, and a plot outline of “The Way, Way Back” suggests just more of the same.

But five minutes into this first feature from the writing/directing team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (they wrote the screenplay for Alexander Payne’s marvelous “The Descendants”) you’ll realize that something special is at work. This movie is fall-over funny, emotionally resonant (without getting sticky) and astonishingly charitable toward a cast of characters who are, to put it mildly, majorly flawed.

Our  protagonist is Duncan (Liam James), a 14-year-old who appears to have no personality save for a bad case of sullenness. Duncan is stuck in the summer vacation from hell. His divorced and insecure mother Pam (Toni

Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Collette) has taken up with alpha-male car salesman Trent (Steve Carell in a straight role); now Duncan has been shanghaied into a summer at Trent’s beach house on Cape Cod.  Also on board is Trent’s high-schooler daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), who cannot mask her disdain for these interlopers.

Once installed on the shore Duncan can only observe with silent disgust the behavior of vacationing adults. Trent and Pam seem to party around the clock (after seeing this film you’ll think twice before drinking around your kids), acting like teenagers with Trent’s friend Kip (Rob Corddry) and his hot wife Joan (Amanda Peet).

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