Tag Archives: amy adams

Sunshine Cleaning

Rose is a single mother who has a son who’s just a little weird. A complete genius according to grandpa Joe, but his school doesn’t want him back. So Rose (Amy Adams) needs to make some serious cash in a hurry, to pay tuition fees at a private school where weird kids can thrive, and cleaning houses just doesn’t cut it.

So she assembles a crack team consisting of herself and her flaky sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and together they start cleaning crime scenes. Blood and guts equal serious hazard pay. Of course, there are also serious hazards. And I’m not just talking decomposition smells and bodily fluid leaks and brains on the ceiling. I’m talking about emotional hazards, like bereft widows who don’t know how to deal with Film Title: Sunshine Cleaninghusbands of 50 years being reduced to a blood stain in the living room. Not to mention the fact that Rose and Norah’s mother committed suicide when they were young girls. So, you know, this is potentially triggering work, and Rose and Norah aren’t hardened enough yet to have strict professional boundaries.

As the title suggests, director Christine Jeffs puts a sunny spin on a macabre subject. Well, sunny-ish. Overcast anyway,  which is pretty amazing considering the long shadows cast by tragedy. Sunshine Cleaning is a low-key movie. It’s intimate, with a light touch. Amy Adams is the sun at the centre of its universe. Everyone orbits around her, basking in her glow. Although I’m sure her character would not describe herself thusly, Rose is a fighter, a quiet fighter maybe, but she doesn’t give up. She persists. She’s seen hardship but you rarely see the cracks, which she deftly caulks with hard work and optimism. She’s the kind of character you root for even though she doesn’t ask for your sympathy – still, you feel she’s earned a break or two, and you hope to see her get them. Is that how life works? Not really. But it’s nice to dream.

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Vice

So Dick Cheney is an evil piece of shit. You may remember him from such roles as acting like a cardboard cutout of the American Vice President while he secretly usurped the president’s powers to rewrite the U.S. Constitution, orchestrate wars, and author ISIS.

Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is a power-hungry beast who doesn’t let anything stop him from acting as the Leader of the Free World – not ethics, not the well-defined roles of President and Vice President, not democracy, not NUTHIN. Adam McKay’s film, Vice, MV5BMDY1MTdkODgtZjYyYy00ZTQ4LTliN2YtOWZhZGFiMzNmNjdjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzg2ODI2OTU@._V1_shows Cheney’s reluctance to be George W.’s running mate. Even though Cheney views VP as a “zero job,” he is always thinking dozens of steps ahead; he’s not going to sit around waiting for the president to die so he can wear the crown. In W., Cheney found a moron so empty, so distracted, so willing to give away all the actual power, and Cheney’s astute enough to surreptitiously pull the oval office throne right out from under Bush Junior. McKay brings Cheney’s machinations to the silver screen – every scheme, every lie and every gory detail.

This movie takes some big risks and its story-telling bravely exists outside the normal narrative bounds (though fans of The Big Short won’t find it nearly so fresh). With such big swings, there are inevitably some big misses.  This movie didn’t always work for me, but I still admired it for having such a distinct voice.

Christian Bale undergoes quite a transformation to play Cheney, though I never forgot I was watching Bale like I did when I was watching Sam Rockwell play Dubyah. Credit to the actors of course, but I believe the incredible hair and makeup effects team will be recognized for astonishing work – Tyler Perry as Colin Powell is a prime example. Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney round out an enviable cast doing some very fine work.

Unfortunately, the script isn’t consistent. This isn’t really a Dick Cheney biopic, it’s the incredible true story of how a rogue Vice President hijacked George W. Bush’s entire administration. It would be a monumentally impressive heist if it wasn’t so mind-meltingly devastating to the world at large. But to tell the story in sufficient detail, McKay has to take some moon-gravity-sized leaps. Decades of Cheney’s life are not just gone, but forgotten, which results in some swiss-cheese-plot-holes that were hard to forgive – though a liberal sprinkling of heart attacks like sea salt on fries went a long way.

The truth is, though, that Sean and I dissected this movie backwards and forwards and then we poked at it from the side too, over Doritos-dusted mac and cheese bites, and while that doesn’t mean Vice is a flawless movie, it must mean that it’s a good one, a worthy one. In fact, part of its brilliance is how it draws you in at the end, turning audience members into characters partially responsible for these atrocities. Vice depicts events of recent history, and like it or not, we’re complicit, and McKay inspires us to take a hard look in the mirror and a cold drink at the well of social responsibility.

Justice League

“What movie are you seeing?” the waiter asks.

“Justice League!” I answer with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been waiting for this night and all the sheepishness of someone who is fully aware that this movie is going to suck.

“I didn’t even know that was out yet. Are you a fan of Marvel?”.

“DC,” I quickly correct him.I remind myself not to be offended, that it’s an easy mistake for anyone with a life to make.

“Whatever,” he replies.

That’s the thing though. It’s not whatever. For many comic fans, the rivalry between the two publishers is as bitter as that between Star Trek and Star Wars. And I’m a DC guy. It’s not that I can’t admit when Marvel does something right. I can admit that their movies- especially within their respective shared universes- have generally been much better than DC’s. It’s just that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man will never mean as much to me as Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, or even Aquaman.

I’m such a DC guy that I could even find something to love in the colossal messes that were Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. I have rooted for this universe since it began with Man of Steel and celebrated when they finally did something amazing with Wonder Woman. But there’s something about Justice League that’s hard for even me to defend.

Maybe I’m just getting tired of making excuses for mediocre movies. Or myabe it was just different sitting next to Jay. I couldn’t help putting myself in her shoes and worrying about how painful this must be for her. Because a fan can find lots love if they’re feeling generous but those who haven’t read the comics are sure to have a harder time. Those who are unfamiliar with the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are counting on this movie to give them a reason to care about them  and it’s here where Justice League fails the most.

Ben Affleck continues to be a much better Batman than I ever would have expected him to be and he’s in most of the film’s best scenes. Wonder Woman continues to feel like a fully realized character mostly thanks to Gal Gadot’s performance and all the good work that she and Patty Jenkins did in her much better stand-alone film. The new characters are a little more awkward. Ezra Miller’s charm goes a long way in making Barry Allen?The Flash likeable (although, for the record, TV’s Flash is better) but his backstory feels vague and rushed and we don’t know nearly enough about who he even is or what makes him special. Aquaman and Cyborg get barely any introduction at all. They’re just there.

The good news is that Justice League is shorter and more focused than Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were and is almost never boring. The bad news is that it’s not nearly as exciting as it should be, especially considering what a dream come true this big-screen live action team up really is for me and so many others. There’s just not nearly enough attention paid to what makes these characters great and what’s worse is that there is even less attention paid to their relationships with each other. The Zack Snyder era of DC movies has not ended on a high note.

Nocturnal Animals

As the film opens, Susan (Amy Adams) feels guilty for not being happy, despite having ‘everything’ – Armie Hammer plays her current husband, but apparently they were maybe never truly supposed to be together.

A successful art gallery owner, Susan’s home is perfectly styled, filled with lacquered objets, 18nocturnal1-master768-v2beautiful things, much like herself, impeccably dressed, heavily made up. Her “bare” (movie bare, of course) face comes as a shock when she curls into bed to read a manuscript that has arrived that earlier that day, a surprise from the ex-husband she hasn’t heard from in 20 years.

She’s immediately engrossed in the story, which we see recreated as a movie within a movie. Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher play two halves of a couple travelling down a remote road at night. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a sinister man threatening them. It’s immediately tense. Disturbing. Distraught, Susan slams the book shut.

But that’s not the end, is it? No, she keeps going. And things get darker, and trickier. Director Tom Ford pulls a nasty trick on us: in casting Isla Fisher, he is intentionally making her a very easy substitute for Amy Adams (Isla Fisher once sent Christmas cards to friends and family with Amy Adams photo-shopped in her place, and no one noticed). But we’re not the only ones to notice the similarities: Susan starts to feel a little unsettled too.

This is only Tom Ford’s second film; I was blown away by his first effort, A Single Man. He has a distinctive style, he’s incredibly visual, but the story in A Single Man held up. More than that: it crawled right into my soul and crushed it, just a tiny bit. Colin Firth was robbed when he didn’t maxresdefault-6win an Oscar for it (well, he lost to Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart, and that was certainly deserved as well; luckily Firth one the very next year for The King’s Speech). You may know that Tom Ford is a fashion designer, but that’s clearly not the only trick up his sleeve. His direction is not a gimmick (it likely helps that he leaves the costuming to someone else, and that no Tom Ford suits appear in the film). Maybe it’s little more style than substance, but it’s not without substance, or merit, or worth. Nocturnal Animals is dark and moody and horrible. It is sometimes graphic, and psychologically tortured, and stunning.

It’s the kind of movie that will haunt you for days. There are lots of performances worth talking about: Amy Adams, and the sadness she can convey in her downturned eyes; Jake Gyllenhaal’s fire, and his anguish. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe for his supporting skeevy work here, but I think it’s Michael Shannon who maybe deserved the nomination, mustache and all. Can this man do any wrong? Oh wait

Most people bill Nocturnal Animals as a work of revenge, but I feel it’s more about regret. I suppose your interpretation may rest on the ending, which is intentionally vague, but I believe an indictment on Susan’s character. What did you think?

 

 

Charlie Wilson’s War

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) was a Texas congressman, a jolly womanizer but otherwise fairly low-level until his good friend former beauty queen Joanne (Julia Roberts) convinces him to take time away from his hot tub shenanigans to make a little trip to help the Afghan people.

In the early 80s he visits the Pakistani president who is frustrated with inadequate American support in opposing the Soviet Union. Pakistan is flooded with Afghan refugees (a fifth of them!), but thousands of others have been slain. They send Wilson to a refugee camp and he can’t help charliebut be moved by what he sees there. Going home a changed man in his heart, he rallies around the cause. His personal life, though is still a shambles: US Attorney Rudy Giuliani is leading an investigation against him for allegations of cocaine use.

Philip Seymour Hoffman provides brilliant support as a maverick CIA guy who is leading the covert US effort in Afghanistan. Wilson ultimately multiplies the American contribution by a hundred fold, and it becomes a huge part of the foreign policy of the time, but there aren’t exactly a lot of easy answers here and Hoffman’s crazy windmilling arms tell us a lot about the near-impossibility of his job.

Julia Roberts is of course poised as hell, the perfect choice for a controlled, smart, beautiful woman who knows what she wants, and how to manipulate men to get it. The few scenes she shares with Amy Adams, playing Wilson’s administrative assistant, are quite punchy, their rivalry crackling. Emily Blunt makes a brief appearance in her underwear as well, which means I didn’t know who Emily Blunt was back in 2007 when I would have seen this for the first time.

Tom Hanks is commanding as always, but I have to wonder whether he was the right man for the role. Some of the juiciest material of this “true story” seems to have all but disappeared, his drug use played down (have we ever seen Hanks snort cocaine?), his DUI unmentioned, and his worry about what happens when the US inevitably disengages from Afghanistan only vaguely alluded to.

The truth is, there were unintended consequences to this involvement. When Afghanistan lay in ruins, the US pulled out, washed their hands of death and destruction they had funded, and this left a vacuum for Osama bin Laden to emerge as a power player. I have read from multiple sources that Tom Hanks couldn’t deal with the 9-11 implications, so they were largely written out, with just the identifiable sound of a plane flying over Washington hinting at what was to come. The film is quite good, almost great, but I do wonder if someone else was bringing it to life, could it have maybe been a Dr. Strangelove for a new generation? I guess we’ll never know.

The Ex

Is this movie worth watching for Paul Rudd’s douchey earring?

Jason Bateman plays a dick very well. Unfortunately, Zach Braff plays a dick very naturally himself. Like, even when he’s not supposed to. Even when he’s supposed to be the sympathetic character. Does anyone actually like Zach Braff?

Tom (Braff) is a NYC cook who loses his job on the very day his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) gives birth. As punishment, they move to Ohio where Tom mv5bmtkyodq0njk4of5bml5banbnxkftztcwnzc2ndywna__v1_cr025266150_al_ux477_cr00477268_al_will work with Sofia’s dad at some new-agey ad agency while she stays home to care for the baby. Tom is mentored at work by Chip, the son his father in law never had, and incidentally Sofia’s ex-boyfriend. Chip (Jason Bateman) is a grade A ass but for some reason only Tom (and we) see it, possibly because Chip is in a wheelchair and kind of milks that for all it’s worth. But as hard as Bateman tries to steal the scenes with smug, smarmy schtick, he just can’t keep this stinker afloat.

The Ex has been disowned by nearly everyone who made it. The credited screenwriters, David Guion and Michael Handelman, insist that most of what you see isn’t really their material, nor the director’s, come to think of it. “It was unfortunate because the director, Jesse Peretz, is great and very talented, but the movie was ultimately taken out of his hands.” I’m not sure if that’s true – certainly there’s not a lot of evidence of capable direction in the film. It feels half-cooked, sitcomy, and oddly truncated, like someone was just washing their hands of it rather than actually finishing it. And yet it’s been presented to audiences like it’s a real film that you should watch. And it just isn’t (despite the fact that I’ve seen it twice now). Viewer beware.

TIFF 2016: The Best

 

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Graduation

From time to time, we all have to compromise our own values. It’s part of growing up. But do you remember the first time that you betrayed your own moral code?

According to Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, director of the brilliant and beautiful 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (which I have not seen), Graduation is about a lot of things. “It’s about family. It’s about aging. It’s about you. It’s about me”. But mostly, as the Cannes Best Director winner articulated at the North American premiere, it’s about that pivotal moment in one’s life where they make a conscious decision for the first time to do what they know in their heart to be wrong.

Romeo (Adrien Titieni) couldn’t be more proud of his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) when she gets accepted into a fancy British school but he still can’t relax. Despite her stellar grades, she still needs to pass her finals to get out their Romanian town. When a vicious random assault threatens to shake Eliza’s confidence just days before her exams, Romeo can’t help feeling tempted to use his position as a well-respected surgeon to bargain with her educators in exchange for some leniency.

Graduation takes its time. It takes time to establish the relationships, set up the scenario, and let the story play out. Mungiu doesn’t resort to melodrama or even a musical score to beg for our attention. Almost every scene plays out in just one meticulously framed take. It’s an approach that gives his actors plenty of room to shine and his story the time to come alive. If you don’t mind the slow pace, Graduation asks big questions and will get you talking. It’s a very rewarding experience.

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My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea

Dash Shaw was in high school when James Cameron’s Titanic was in theaters and couldn’t help imaging what it would be like if his school sank like the famous ship with all of his classmates inside. When you think about it, to avoid drowning to death in a sinking building, the smartest would head for the top floor and try to get to the roof. Once Shaw, director of My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea and apparently quite an accomplished comic book writer,  started imaging each floor being occupied by a different grade level, he knew he had a story worth telling.

To see a film called My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea without feeling like you’re seeing something completely unique would be a letdown. So I’m pleased to announce that, whether you love it or hate it, Shaw’s debut feature will not let you down. The unusual animation style takes a little getting used to at first and, even once you get comfortable, there is so much to look at that many of the movie’s jokes- and the jokes are almost constant- can be easy to miss. My Entire High School may eventually be best remember for its carnage (those who are spared from drowning are mostly impaled, electrocuted, or eaten by sharks) but it’s made all the more special by the hilarious and sometimes touching dynamic between three adolescent friends whose bond is in crisis just as their lives are in imminent danger. And it’s all brought to life by some of the best voice acting you’ll hear this year from Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, and Susan Sarandon.

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It’s Only the End of the World

I was one proud Asshole walking out of the Toronto premiere of Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s latest family drama. I was genuinely moved by a Xavier Dolan film. I admired Mommy, his last movie, I really did. It was just too self-indulgent for me to really relate to it in any real way.

So I was pleased to find myself loving this movie, more than almost anything else I saw at the Festival this year. I was finally starting to get it. I was quite disappointed to see that not everyone was as impressed as I was. It’s Only the End of the World currently has a score of 48 on Metacritic. If you’re not familiar with that site, let me put that in perspective. That’s only four points higher than Batman v. Superman’s score. Ouch.

I stand by my recommendation though. Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, It’s Only the End of the World tells the story of a family who are easier to relate to than to understand. After a 12-year absence, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is finally coming home but he is bringing sad news with him. He is very sick and doesn’t have much time left. He’s not quite sure how to bring it up but it wouldn’t matter anyway because his mother, brother, and sister can’t stop alternating between picking fights with him and each other and awkwardly trying to force reconciliation. They try to bond over trivial things and fight over tiny details but can’t seem to bring themselves to talk about anything important.

The claustrophobic family reunion atmosphere seems to rein Dolan in a bit. He still manages to make Lagarce’s play his own though. For such a talky film, it’s surprisingly cinematic with its unnerving score and great performances from Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotilliard, Lea Seydoux, and Vincent Cassell. Using his signature tight close-ups, Dolan works with the actors to find subtext amid all the shouting. No easy task. Hard to act like you’re holding back when you’re screaming at each other.

I’m still not entirely sure what they were fighting about. But the story feels real and profoundly sad.

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Nocturnal Animals

Careful with this one. The people around me at the TIFF encore screening of Nocturnal Animals were basket cases watching it.

It’s easy to imagine yourself in the same position as Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), a husband and father whose family finds themselves terrorized while driving a lonely Texas highway in the middle of the night. The tension is nearly unbearable as this story unfolds. Those around me could barely sit still watching it and Susan (Amy Adams) is getting even more stressed reading about it. See, the scary part of Nocturnal Animals is but a story within a story. It’s the plot of a manuscript that Susan’s ex-husband (also Gyllenhaal) has sent her of his latest novel. As unnerving as the novel is to watch, it’s even worse for Susan. She’s quite sure the novel is about her.

The three narratives (there are also a lot of flashbacks of Susan’s marriage) are balanced beautifully in the second film from director Tom Ford (A Single Man). Susan is a successful art dealer and everything around her is beautiful and fake. In the story within the story, Tony’s world is harsh and all too real. Nocturnal Animals is sure to be divisive. Ford lays out his themes very clearly and I’m sure I feel comfortable with all of his implications. But there’s so much to look at and so much to feel, think,about, and talk about that you kind of just have to see it.

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Oh, and if you’re not sold yet, Michael Shannon plays a crazy cop in it.