I only remember a few things about Adam McKay’s 2010 buddy cop comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Its opening death scene was hilarious, I don’t think I laughed a single other time after that, and the end credits involved a PowerPoint presentation describing the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. I guess one underwhelming comedy with that it its core wasn’t enough to get his disgust about the GFC out of his system. Because now McKay is back, with a much more grown up and direct take on the issue, with The Big Short.
Michael Burry (Christian Bale) isn’t your typical Wall Street trader. He wears old shorts and t-shirts with no shoes around the office, he listens to classic, thrash metal years Metallica, and he notices things that other traders don’t. Like the fact that the American property market is on the verge of collapse. With property being one of the few sure things in the history of US finance, he finds it hard to convince anyone else of his findings. But one other trader sees the value in Burry’s theory, and soon Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling) is pursuing the same idea. (more…)
I’m generally not a big fan of anything ‘based’ on a true story, or something that’s a fictionalised story, heavily influenced by real events and real people. I guess I think that if a true story is worth telling, it probably also deserves to be told truthfully. Make the effort to research the real deal, make the effort to get the guts of what really happened. ‘Based on’ or ‘influenced by’ just sounds like a lazy place to start to me.
I’m aware that could sound a little close mined. I’m also aware that it’s highly likely that I’ve liked plenty of movies in this category before and just can’t think of them now. And yes, Citizen Cane, arguably the greatest movie of all time is exactly that. With Charles Foster Cane a thinly disguised version of William Randolph Hearst. But I’m pretty sure that’s a rare exception to the rule. So what happens when this approach to storytelling is combined with a subject matter that I’m pretty quick to dismiss, like 70s glam rock? Velvet Goldmine happens, that’s what. (more…)
In 2005, director James Mangold made Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic. Before that he’d had a little success with Cop Land (a movie that is largely and unfairly forgotten now), plus pretty decent critical success and award recognition with Girl Interrupted. But Walk the Line was the one that really made me take notice and learn his name so I could keep an eye on what he did next. Then, what he did next seemed to be a bit of a flop and he slid off my radar of people to keep an eye on. But with the death of Elmore Leonard, author of the source material, the title 3:10 to Yuma kept popping up. So I finally got around to James Mangold’s supposedly disappointing follow up to Walk to Line.
Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a struggling rancher in in 1884 Arizona. He’s being run off his land by a rival rancher who controls the water supply. Russell Crowe is Ben Wade, a notorious outlaw who’s finally captured after robbing one stage coach too many. In order to make desperately needed money, Evans signs on to escort Wade to Yuma, where he’ll be put on a train to face trial.
Along the way, the lawmen are more and more revealed to be the not so good guys. And because Russell Crowe is the kind of actor who’s ego keeps him from ever playing an actual baddie, 3:10 to Yuma not only has to give him a redemption arc, it also has to give us, the audience, other legit villains we can all hate. Such as the rancher running Bale off his land, who has the thankless job of delivering the line, “Sometimes a man has to be big enough to see how small he is”. It’s the verbal equivalent of twirling a moustache.
But the dead horse flogging obviousness doesn’t stop there. Limping on a Civil War injury, Evans is constantly questioned by his eldest son who thinks he’s a coward, and even though his wife (Gretchen Mol) is always completely supportive, we know Evans is trying to prove his manhood to her, his son and most importantly, to himself. And just in case that still isn‘t obvious, Bale is given clunky dialogue to really hammer it home. Clunky dialogue like “I’ve been standing on one leg for three goddam years, waiting for God to do me a favour”.
It’s easy to crap on Russell Crowe as a bit of a dick. He constantly gives us all so much ammunition in his real life. But when I see him in a movie, I’m, always reminded that he is a good, naturally charismatic actor. He has a certain charm and cheeky glint in his eye that makes him really watchable. Combine that with the intensity of Christian Bale, and you’ve got a more than serviceable modern Western. It’s also pretty great to see an Aussie and a Pom in the lead roles of the most American of genres, and both nail it.
It does nothing to advance or add anything to the genre, and there are dozens better. And sure, compared to Walk the Line, it’s kind of disappointing, but it’s a totally fine way to spend a couple of hours. 3:10 to Yuma just had the misfortune of coming so soon after its director’s break through and still current high water mark.
David o Russell has always been an interesting film maker, but his career was pretty rocky for a while there. Early movies like Flirting With Disaster found appreciation over the years, but are still mostly unseen by the masses. Then there were leaked videos of onset screaming matches with his cast, and a lost movie that was shut down multiple times before disappearing all together. But a few years ago, something happened and David O Russell became a bankable, Oscar nomination regular. First the Fighter, then Silver Linings Playbook, and now a movie that seems like it’s sure a thing for a few categories, including Best Picture and Best Director, American Hustle.
Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a small time con man who falls in love with his new accomplice, Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser. Unfortunately, he’s already in a loveless marriage with Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Even more unfortunately, Irving and Sydney get caught in an FBI sting by Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso, that leads to working for the feds, trying to take down bigger targets, including Jeremy Renner as small town New Jersey Mayor, Carmine Polito.
Once the many balls are in the air, the multiple plates are spinning and various wheels are in motion (trust me, the complex, but never convoluted, story really does deserve that many metaphors), American Hustle plays out as an amazingly effective combination of drama, action, suspense, mad capped caper and broad comedy. And Russell really deserves all the credit for making these conflicting tones work with each other, instead of collapsing into a big mess.
A lot of American Hustle is about lies people tell to others. But even more of it is about lies people tell themselves just so they can survive. Irving knows his comb over isn’t fooling anybody, but he tells himself it makes a difference because running a confidence scam is all about having confidence. Richie knows he’s a substandard agent living a substandard life, but he tells himself he’s smarter than everyone else around him, hoping that one day he might actually believe it.
While Carmine might not be lying about doing everything for the good of his New Jersey constituents, you can see him tyring to justify his actions to himself as much as to anyone else. And as Irving’s bored and otherwise clueless housewife, Rosalyn is the only one completely self-aware of all their lies, internal and external, even getting a nice little rant about how we all tell ourselves whatever we need to just get through the day.
I’ve read a few comparisons between this movie and Goodfellas. And while American Hustle never attempts the real darkness of Scorsese’s masterpiece, I understand the link. The most obvious being the multiple character voiceover and meticulous period setting. But it’s more than that. A lot of the camera work, music choices and editing also make me think Russell has seen Goodfellas more than a few times. I don’t want that sound like I’m saying he ripped off Scorsese. I think it’s more of a respectful homage.
Bale, Adams, Cooper and Lawrence were all nominated for Oscars the last time they were in David O Russell films, and even though I think Bale, Cooper and Lawrence should all get another shot with American Hustle, I’m not sure if they will. The Academy really has a stick up its ass when it comes to great comedic performances. And even though they all get deep, dramatic moments too, they made me laugh way too many times for the prestige-addicted Oscar voters to give them a chance.
Few movies in the last couple of decades are the butt of more jokes than this one. Few movies are more famous for more bad reasons than this one. And I can’t imagine a single mainstream, family targeted movie that has more plastic nipples and gratuitous ass in tight leather shots than this one. I made it almost 20 years, but I have now seen Batman and Robin and am now forever unclean.
I’ll start by saying this, every terrible thing you’ve heard about this movie is an understatement. Director Joel Schumaker somehow took one of the darkest grittiest popular comic characters out there, and turned him into Mardi Gras float.
It’s hard to remember a time when George Clooney wasn’t a showbiz king, nominated for Oscars in acting and or directing categories most years, and making some of the most interesting mainstream movies on offer. But in 1997, it still looked like he’d made a Caruso sized mistake, quitting ER to pursue a movie career that just wouldn’t take off. So I guess taking the title roll in a massive budget superhero franchise seemed like a no brainer. Unfortunately, absolutely everything about Batman and Robin is completely lacking in brains.
Clooney takes up the Bruce Wayne / Batman mantle, vacated by Val Kilmer. Chris O’Donnell returns as Dick Grayson / Robin and the same old dudes who played Alfred and Commissioner Gordon are still hanging around, all those years after Tim Burton cast them in the 1988 franchise starter. This time around, Alicia Silverstone arrives as Alfred’s niece who becomes Batgirl, and the bad guy roster is filled by Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy.
There’s a story, I assume, I just never bothered to pay attention to any if it. Why would I, when there was a perfectly good blank wall above the TV to stare at while I waited for Batman and Robin to end?
I did notice this much, I think Arnie’s dialogue consists entirely of terrible, terrible puns.
Of course, watching this in 2013, I have the hindsight of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy to compare it too. But if you ignore the Nolan / Christian Bale lead series, even the Burton movies look dark, serious and gritty compared to Schumaker’s bullshit.
Batman and Robin is less like a movie and more like the biggest budget high school musical you’ve ever seen. Even then, it’s like that musical was still written and directed by the school’s dodgy drama teacher, and they spent all the money on the sets and a designer from the local theme park.