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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Carell’

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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Steve Carell

“WELCOME TO MARWEN” My rating: C-

116 minutes | MPAA rating:PG-13

In 2000 cross-dressing artist Mark Hogancamp suffered a barroom beating that left him in a  coma.  When he awoke he  could remember little of his previous life and could no longer draw.

Unable to afford therapy, he found an artistic and healing outlet by building a 1/6-size World War II Belgian village in his yard, populating it with G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls, and telling elaborate melodramas of Nazis and freedom fighters captured in striking photographic images.

Sounds like a story ripe for cinematic adaptation…and, indeed, Hogancamp was the subject of the excellent 2010 documentary “Marwencol” (that was the name of his miniature town).

Now writer/director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” the “Back to the Future” series) has given us a feature film with Steve Carell as Hogancamp…and it proves one movie too many.

“Welcome to Marwen” has its heart in the right place, but it just doesn’t work.

If Zemeckis and co-writer Caroline Thompson (“Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Corpse Bride”) had simply stuck to Hogancamp’s day-to-day life they might have had something.

Instead they devote half the film to animated fantasy sequences set in Marwen.  Here Hogancamp’s toy alter ego — a downed American pilot named Hogie — and his all-woman crew of resistance fighters take on nasty Germans.

There are violent shootouts and unsettling scenes of torture. Our knowledge that these are dolls being blown apart makes it a bit more  bearable, while their dialogue — thick with Saturday matinee cliches — is initially  amusing.

In the real world the traumatized Hogancamp must deal with all sorts of issues.  He’s expected to attend the sentencing hearing for the five men convicted of beating him. He has a big photographic show planned in NYC, but may be too rocky to attend. And he’s always having to explain his obsession with women’s footwear (he has more than 200 pairs of ladies’ shoes in his closet) and his need to drag behind him a toy jeep containing the Hogie and girl gang dolls (think of them as a sort of service dog).

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Timothee Chalamet, Steve Carell

“BEAUTIFUL BOY” My rating: B

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Drug addiction movies are a bit like Holocaust movies.

Even if the film is well made, the subject matter is tremendously off-putting and depressing. It takes something remarkable, a new way of looking at the topic, to make the painful bearable.

“Beautiful Boy” comes close. It is based on journalist David Sheff’s memoir of dealing with his son Nic’s addiction, as well as a second memoir by Nic.  There’s little emphasis here on the usual tropes of the genre…back-alley drug buys, spoons and needles, withdrawal agonies.

Instead the film puts a parent’s horror and anxiety front and center, and by doing so it forces every viewer — or at least those with children — to question how they would deal with a similar situation.

Coddle? Criticize? Wash your hands of an uncontrollable child?

At various points in Felix Van Groeningen’s film, all those options are examined. And it helps immeasurably that the film stars Steve Carell as the elder Sheff and the ever-resourceful Timothy Chalamet as his tormented son, Nic.

The  screenplay by Van Groningen and Luke Davis cleverly juggles its time frame, opening with a conversation between the deeply concerned David and a drug counselor and then employing a series of jumbled flashbacks to tell the story of this father and son.

A narratively straightforward, step-by-step depiction of young Nic’s descent into depravity might be too much to handle; by zigging and zagging between the family’s homey past and its uncomfortable present, the film offers an emotional buffer between the audience and the film’s inescapable angst.

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Steve Carell, Emma Stone

“THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES”  My rating: B+

121 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Those going to “The Battle of the Sexes” expecting 0nly a bit of lightweight nostalgia had best gird their loins. There’s more going on here than a re-creation of a oddball moment in our cultural history.

Yes, this retelling of the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs has its share of humor and historic earmarks. (Those costumes. Those hairstyles.)

But you’ll leave Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ film (they were the pair behind “Little Miss Sunshine”) struck by how relevant its issues remain, by the anger percolating just beneath the surface, and for its implicit warning that  the bad old days may be making a comeback.

Simon Beaufort’s script wastes little time in setting up the basic conflict.  In 1970 nine of the best female tennis players rebelled against the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association over the disparity between prize money awarded men and women.

Outraged, the reigning women’s champion, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), and tennis journalist Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) corner USLTA head Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) in his exclusive men’s club.

Told they cannot be there, Heldman shoots back: “Why? Because I’m a woman? Or because I’m Jewish?”

Right there “Battle of the Sexes” draws its line.  Progress versus the reactionary status quo.

The upshot is the creation of the all-women Virginia Slims tennis circuit.

In a parallel plot line we eavesdrop on former tennis champ Billy Riggs (Steve Carell), now immersed in post-career boredom.

Riggs fritters away his days at a make-work job at his father-in-law’s business; at night he hangs with his drinking buddies, taking bets that he can beat anyone at tennis while tethered to two large dogs  or substituting a frying pan for his raquet.

His high-society wife (Elisabeth Shue) makes him attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings, which he breaks up by declaring that the problem isn’t that these people gamble, but that they’re bad gamblers. Winners don’t need support groups.

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Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

“CAFE SOCIETY” My rating: B-

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s tough getting a handle on Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.”

It’s not a drama, certainly. Its approach is too tangential and distant for any sort of emotional intensity.

But it’s not exactly a comedy, either. Despite a few chuckles there’s a noted paucity of laugh lines, and those bits of dialogue that do register are noteworthy not for their hilarity but rather for their weary resignation. (“Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.”)

And despite being set in 1930s Hollywood, it has none of the nostalgic warmth of “Radio Days,” Allen’s memorable reverie about growing up in NYC in the glory days of radio.

So what does “Cafe Society” have going for it?

Well, good performances from Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, spectacularly good cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor”) and detailed production design courtesy of Allen’s frequent collaborator Santo Loquasto.

As the picture begins young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) has fled his suffocating home in the Bronx (Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott are his bickering parents) to tackle life in wide-open Los Angeles. He hopes to get a job from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent who drops celebrity names with the frequency with which the rest of us use words like “a” and “the.”

Phil is so busy (or self centered) that he keeps Bobby cooling his heels for weeks. (It must be noted that unlike your usual Allen protagonist, someone who’s hugely clever and bent on a career in the arts, Bobby is pretty much an average guy.)

Finally Phil sees the kid and assigns his girl Friday, Vonnie (Stewart), to show his nephew around Tinsel Town.

Between gawking at the homes of the stars the two youngsters hit it off. But unbeknownst to Bobby, Vonnie is having an affair with a married man. This is no small roadblock to their relationship.

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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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Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell

Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell

“FOXCATCHER” My rating: B

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Funny guy Steve Carell dons prosthetic teeth and nose for “Foxcatcher,” transforming himself into the fabulously wealthy and seriously unhinged John du Pont,  a convicted murderer who died in prison in 2010.

He’s flanked in the film by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, both of whom give career-high performances.

Yet despite this terrific acting (or because of it), “Foxcatcher” is a squirm-worthy experience. We know going in that it will end badly, but Carell — with director Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) and writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman — ups the ante by creating a mood of queasy uneasiness that slowly builds in intensity until you want to jump out of your skin.

Which puts this critic in the weird position of subtracting points because the movie was too effective. At the risk of seeming a philistine, it is difficult to wholly recommend a movie that makes one feel so uncomfortable for two hours-plus.

The story begins in the mid-’80s with wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum), who with his older brother Dave (Ruffalo) was a big winner at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

While Dave is a family man with a decent gig teaching and coaching at a university, the unmarried, solitary Mark seems to be circling the drain, a not-terribly-bright jock whose glory days are behind him. He’s reduced to donning his gold medal to give talks to elementary school kids for a few bucks.

Enter the mysterious John du Pont, a ferret-like individual who invites Mark to become part of his Team Foxcatcher, a privately funded wrestling community the multimillionaire maintains on his vast estate.

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