Tag Archives: Steve Carell

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.

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Welcome to Marwen

Mark Hogancamp was beaten nearly to death by 5 men outside a bar where he’d casually mentioned enjoying wearing women’s shoes. When he awoke from his coma 9 days later, every memory of his life over the last 38 years was gone. Just gone. His life was changed forever. Formerly a talented artist and illustrator, Mark could no longer wield a pencil well enough to write his own name. Not that he remembered his art anyway; looking at his own stuff was no different than looking at a stranger’s. Imagine how sad, how profoundly sad it would make you to know that you had been capable of such beauty and now you don’t even have the memories.

So that broken man is who Mark is when we first meet him in Welcome to Marwen. He is crippled with PTSD. He lives in fear. He’s over-medicating. Mark (Steve Carell) has an ingenious coping mechanism, though. Unable to do art the way he used to, his innate MV5BMTg5Y2M2YWEtNzU5OS00MzlkLWE5YWItZDliZGE1NzhjOWY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_abilities are leaking out however they can, and now Mark is a photographer, and his subjects are quite unusual. Hogancamp has constructed a village in his backyard, a village called Marwen, which is inhabited by dolls. He sets the dolls up in war-time scenarios, and each one represents someone special to him in real life, namely the women who care for him. Living among Marwen’s women is Captain Hogie, the stand-in for Hogancamp, a tough soldier who lives his life fearlessly. And so he should, because as invariably as he is captured and beaten by the Nazis hiding on the outskirts of town, his lovely ladies come to his rescue, time and time again.

Carell has made it his business to understand the outsider, and Mark is more wounded, more vulnerable than most. But he’s not defeated. He’s fighting back in small ways, in brave ways. He is a complex man and Carell embraces that. I’m just not sure his director does. Robert Zemeckis prefers to stay away from the tricky stuff. He’s made a feel-good movie where perseverance triumphs over adversity. I suppose that’s nice, but I’m not sure it’s a good fit for the story, or true to Hogancamp’s experience. Likewise, Zemeckis seems puzzled about how to treat the women of Marwen. The movie incorporates some truly incredible animated sequences as we see the dolls come to life and act out the scenarios that Hogancamp devises for them. The animation is informed by motion-capture and it looks really, really cool. Voiced by some very talented actresses (Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie), the dolls are absolute bad-asses. In real life, Hogancamp’s photography of them has resulted in gallery shows around the world. But they’re also comfort items. The dolls are how he deals with his fear, they’re talismans, protectors, therapeutic symbols of safety and security. Zemeckis seems more interested in treating them like sex dolls, which is a creepy impulse, and one that is not reflected in the dialogue, so it’s like the story disagrees between what it shows us and what it tells us, and that discord can be quite distracting.

I think the actors involved in this project strove for an authenticy that perhaps Zemeckis overlooked, or failed to value. Which is too bad, because this movie had real oddball possibilities. It’s still a pretty incredible story, and I don’t mean to discourage anyone from seeing it, because Hogancamp’s story is worth being told (although there is a book and a documentary that may do it better). The way Hogancamp’s experience informs and describes trauma is unique and real and complicated, but I don’t think Zemeckis trusts us to get it, or else he doesn’t get it himself. He gets such a stiffie from all his special effects that he robs the movie of what actually may have made it special. We shouldn’t be dissecting a man’s trauma just to give it the syrupy Hollywood treatment. There was an opportunity to be real, to be honest, to show life’s ugliness and be brave and bold about it, but Zemeckis took the road too frequently traveled. He played it safe, and disappointing, and the movie just can’t live up to the truth.

TIFF18: Beautiful Boy

Wow, fucking Steve Carell, eh? What are we doing to deserve him?

Some say burying a child is the hardest thing a parent can do, but Beautiful Boy proves there are much, much worse things: watching your child suffer; watching him kill himself, slowly; having him cry for help and refusing; waiting for That Call; mourning him while he’s still alive. For years Steve Carell was America’s favourite clown, but his movie career has proven him equally capable in both the comedy and dramatic worlds.

Beautiful Boy is a memoir of sorts, written by a father in crisis. David (Carell) has always been close to his son, until suddenly he’s not. In just a matter of weeks he’s felt him slip away, and now he’s questioning whether he ever knew him at all.

Nic (Timothee Chalamet)was not an abused kid, was well cared-for during childhood. But he chases the high, craves it, needs it. And crystal meth is the absolute worst drug of choice, its use destroying nerve endings, requiring the user to need more each time just to feel the same high. Those escalating quantities worsen the addiction, making his body MV5BNTRmNjFlYzEtMzVhZi00NmEwLTgxYTktYTQ1OTgwNDc2ZDZkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODE1MjMyNzI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_crave it even more: a vicious cycle. It doesn’t always happen like this, but sometimes it’s a normal, happy, middle-class kid from a good and loving family who falls prey. Nic feels he’s disappointing his family. His parents feel they’ve somehow failed him. But now what? Do you support/enable him indefinitely, do you watch his teeth rot and his flesh waste and the life behind his eyes disappear? Do you allow his behaviour to tear your whole family apart, exposing younger siblings to it? Or do you cut him loose, not knowing where he is or if he’s safe, hoping every day that his rock bottom isn’t 6 feet deep?

I am astonished by the mastery of Steve Carell as he shows the impact of these decisions with his drawn, haggard face. He isn’t an overly emotive man, nor does he need to be to convey his agony. But the movie itself never quite comes together as successfully as the performances. I did appreciate the structure and how it mimics the highs and lows and false promises of recovery and relapse, but audiences may find it frustrating.

Beautiful Boy was never going to be a beautiful movie, but it works better as a portrait of a family in crisis than it does as a treatise on addiction. This story belongs more to the father, safe if worried in his warm, comfortable home. His son, who disappears for large chunks, is not shown in the direst of conditions in which he must live. If anything, the film nearly glamourizes drug use without being honest about the consequences for balance, which feels a little irresponsible.

This movie will be remembered for its performances, Carell’s especially, but not its content.

Last Flag Flying

Doc shows up in his old pal Sal’s bar, unannounced. They haven’t seen each other since they served together in Vietnam. The trio isn’t complete until they pick up Mueller, now a reverend, and only then does Doc confess the true nature of their journey. Doc’s son has just died in Iraq, and they’re on a mission to bring his flag-draped body home.

The kid’s getting a hero’s burial but Doc learns that the circumstances of his son’s death were a little less than heroic – nothing against his kid, just the same tragic junk that the government would prefer to mislabel  – and it’s tearing him apart. So instead of leaving his son’s body in government hands, he resolves to hijack the coffin and he and his buds travel across the country to bring him home.

324633-last-flag-flying-la-derniere-tournee-gagnez-vos-places-2But you may recall that these old guys (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne) were also marines, and they have their own tragic story that they tiptoe around and unravel slowly. And butting these two wars together, it’s rough; it may be 30 years later, but the senselessness feels eerily similar.

Richard Linklater puts together a really tough movie. It kind of flew under the radar when released so I didn’t have great expectations for Last Flag Flying, but in fact it does a pretty good job handling conflicting themes between grief, friendship, patriotism, service, and sacrifice. While it may suffer somewhat from the shifts in tone from levity to the more somber, it has a really incredible cast that brings warmth and real humanity to what is an otherwise fairly standard script.

Steve Carell: wow. We’ve seen him be extraordinary before, between Foxcatcher and Freeheld and Battle of the Sexes and more besides, there’ more to Carell than just a funny guy. He maneuvers between similar chords and discordant ones like this is some kind of masterclass in acting and fucking Laurence Fishburne has front row seats. And that’s no kind of knock against Carell’s costars, who really make this a tight little dramedy.  Bonding happens during acts of bravery, but also, apparently, in unheroic moments. Men make war, and war makes men. It’s dark, could stand to be darker, but that’s the stuff that works the best, and is deeply moving to watch.

Battle of the Sexes

In 1973, a tennis has-been named Bobby Riggs thought of a great way to become relevant again: he challenged current champion Bobbie Jean King to a game. No, not just challenged her: assured the world that he would win, because he was male, and that was enough. Bobby Riggs probably didn’t truly believe in most of the chauvinistic slogans he chanted, but he knew they’d get him attention in the era of “burning bras” and “women’s libbers”, and he was right. He was a Kardashian of his time; he knew how to work the media and how to gain attention for himself. It just so happened that the women’s movement generally, and women’s tennis particularly, needed exactly this kind of opportunity.

Battle-of-the-Sexes-posterSteve Carell does an excellent job of making the buffoon Riggs more than just a brash loud mouth; in fact, Carell was probably my favourite part of the film. And that’s maybe a little sad considering this really should have been Billie Jean King’s story to tell. And to some extent, it is. It’s just that I thought Emma Stone’s version of her was pretty beige. She’s more than just a prominent pair of glasses with a side of closeted lesbian.

But at least the film is layered and tries to establish the game within the context of its time, not just within the characters’ lives but societally as well. The film may bear the name of The Battle of the Sexes but directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to know that the most interest part of the conflict happened off the court.

This film hit theatres in a very timely fashion – a reminder of how incredibly not very far we’ve come. Now that it’s available to rent, why not watch it as a drinking game, and take a shot of female empowerment every time a Grand Slam title champion is referred to as a “little lady.” On the press circuit, the real Billie Jean King reminded us that at the time, a married woman couldn’t hold a credit card in her own name. But here we are in 2018 (happy new year) and you just know this movie didn’t get made without someone getting sexually harassed. In 40 years, what will the #MeToo movie say about us?

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 1

I got TIFF Bingo! I never get TIFF Bingo!

I get close every year but I’m always missing something. Either I didn’t see enough foreign films or didn’t eat enough vegetables. And even for TIFF Bingo, I refuse to ARRRR!

But TIFF victory was mine this year and let me spend my next 3 posts telling you how I pulled it off.

3 Films By Female Directors

Battle of the Sexes– Okay, so only half of the directors are female but judges say… Still counts! Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes tells the behind-the-scenes story of the now-famous exhibition match between Women’s Tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It’s a hard movie to google or even mention without hearing about how this is the movie we need in these troubled times. “We could use more of those values today,” Dayton quipped while introducing the film. (While the directors deny that the 2016 election had anything to do with their interest in the project, its hard not to see the parallels between the 1973 match and the first Presidential debate last year).

Dayton and Faris’ film, written by Slumdog Millionaire’s Simon Beaufoy, relies a little too heavily on their positive message. It’s as if they felt that they were excused from making a smart movie jsut because most of us can agree that, yeah, sexism in general is bad and that King should be allowed to sleep with whichever gender she chooses. Battle of the Sexes has some serious pacing problems throughout the first half and Carell’s scenes tend to drag. And for something that’s billed as a “comedy”, it’s not very funny. Thankfully, things start to come together once King and Riggs start promoting the match and, by the end, the entire Princess of Wales theater was cheering for King to “whoop his ass”, as one audience member put it during the Q&A.

Stone and Carell are well-cast and do right by their characters, even if they both have done better work in better movies. Stone, in particular, nails King’s conflict with her own sexuality and the scenes between her and new lover Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) are the best in the film. So the script and direction are uneven but it’s enough to make all of us cheer for King by the end and the men in the audience howl at the screen in outrage at the old timey sexism of the early 70s as if they’ve never heard women described as “irrational” before. It’s just not enough to make anyone remember Battle of the Sexes on nomination day.

Euphoria-  Writer-director Lisa Langseth cast Alicia Vikander in her first lead role in 2009’s Pure and Vikander has never forgotten who gave her her big break. She took a break from winning Oscars and starring in franchise films to produce and star in her old friend’s English-language debut.

Vikander’s Ines and Eva Green’s Emilie are sisters who rarely speak to each other. When the two reunite for a mysterious road trip, Ines is shocked to discover that Emilie has taken her to a country retreat that specializes in assisted suicides. It turns out that Emilie has been secretly battling cancer for the last 3 years and has decided to end her suffering. Her euthanasia is six days away and she has chosen to spend her final days eating her favourite foods and reconciling with her estranged sister.

In an extended Q&A, which as far as I can tell is just as long as a regular Q&A just where guests sit in chairs, Langseth denied that her new film makes any kind of statement one way or another on assisted suicides. To her, the film is really about two sisters. Euphoria has plenty of intriguing ideas about its fictional retreat but it’s the relationship between Ines and Emilie that drives the film. And it’s that relationship that fails to convince. It’s a shame too because Vikander and Green are completely believable as sisters. From the very first scene, their chemistry works and their body language alone raises questions about their shared history that Langseth’s script doesn’t offer very interesting answers to. The two actresses try their best to breathe life into characters that never really come together on the page but it’s just not enough. The climatic scene is so beautifully acted and directed that it almost makes up for the film’s many faults but it only winds up driving home what a missed opportunity the whole thing was.

Angels Wear White– I don’t love that my first two films of my post on Female Directors at TIFF were so uninspired. Thank God for Vivan Qu.

Angels Wear White is the second feature from Chinese writer-director Vivian Qu. Unlike Battle of the Sexes and Euphoria, it takes its time developing complex and believable characters. While working at a quiet seaside inn, eighteen year-old Mia witnesses the assault of 12 year-old Wen by a prominent male member of the community.. Despite possessing physical evidence that could jump start a police investigation that’s getting nowhere, Mia is reluctant to get involved. It soon becomes clear that she has reasons of her own for keeping her head down.

Angels Wear White is a multi-layered look at the exploitation of women by powerful men and how some men of privilege can easily escape the consequences of their actions. It’s a film that trusts its audience to be outraged by the outrageous instead of manipulating its audience to feel a certain way. I highly recommend Qu’s latest film. I only wish that I had stuck around for her Q&A.

So, there you have it. Three films by female directors. Stay tuned for more behind the scenes details of my TIFF Bingo victory.

Oscars 2015: Best Actor and Actress

Finally, the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress. For most of us, this is the reason we stay up late through all the speeches from people we’ve never heard of, awkward presenters, and excrutiatingly unnecessary montages.

Best ActressTwo Days, One Night

Marion Cotillard- Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones- The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl

Julianne Moore- Still Alice

Reese Witherspoon- Wild

Best Actor. Best Actress. Best Picture. We wait all night for these Oscars and, once we’re finally there, it’s anti-climatic. There’s almost never any question as to who will take home the Oscar at the end of the night. “I just want to stay up to see who wins Best Actress” has become “I just want to stay up to see Julianne Moore win Best Actress”.

stillalice

All four of us here have predicted a win for Moore and so has pretty much everyone else. The inevitable may not be very exciting on live television where supposedly anything can happen but I won’t be a bit disappointed when she wins. I wrote at length about how good I thought she was in Still Alice (and in so many other things). It’s always gratifying to see the best performance be honoured, especially in cases like this where the performer has done good work for so long.

2014 may not have been a spectacular year for great roles for women but, now that I look at it, Moore’s competition isn’t half bad. I held out on commenting on this category because I was waiting for the chance to see Two Days, One Night which unfortunately didn’t come. Jay managed to see it and enjoyed the performance. I have no doub that Cotillard is amazing because she pretty much always is. She’s already won though in 2008 so the Academy won’t snub Moore to honour Cotillard a second time.

Gone Girl

I’ve seen Gone Girl twice and am still not enthusiastic about Rosamund Pike but I know a lot of people were. I know someone who boldly said that she was “guaranteed an Oscar” after seeing it for the first time. She won’t win but she deserves the nomination for getting such earnest support from so many, even if not from me. I can’t say that I’m much more excited about Felicity Jones, who did a very good job with a surprisingly good part. The Theory of Everything was almost as much about Jane Hawking as it was about Stephen but Eddie Redmayne seemed to overshadow her, probably because of the physical demands of his role.

Reese Witherspoon wasn’t quite as good in Wild as Moore was in Still Alice. Plus, she- like Cotillard- has won before. So she won’t win. But if the rules of your Oscar pool force you to pick anyone other than Moore, smart money would be on Reese. I was a big fan of this performance, even if not of Reese herself. She was believable in both working through her grief by using heroine and struggling through hiking the PCT. She never even seems concerned with looking cool while she does it.

Best Actor

Steve Carell- Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper- American Snipergame

Benedict Cumberbatch- The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton- Birdman

Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything

This is exciting. For once, I have no idea what’s going to happen. Luc and I have predicted a win for Michael Keaton and Jay and Sean are betting on Eddie Redmayne. I am not sure that any of us are confident though. It’s been a good year. It would be even better if Bradley Cooper’s nomination was replaced with either David Oyelowo for Selma or Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner. Bu still. A good year.

Even Cooper shouldn’t be ruled out completely. He managed to disappear behind that beard and that accent. When his character retreats within himself after his first tour in Iraq, Cooper seems to retreat even further into character. There are moments though, especially during the pre-Iraq scenes which I wish had been cut altogether, where he’s a little less than awesome. Maybe even a little miscast. Besides, American Sniper is by far the worst of the five films and that has to count for something.

How cool is it that Steve Carell has been nominated for an Oscar? His commitment to the character is even more complete than Cooper’s.  I’ll admit that he gets lots of help from the makeup department (also nominated) but the way du Pont moves, talk, and stares is all Carell and he nails it.

Cumberbatch. The movie’s not perfect but Cumberbatch nearly is. He doesn’t have to change his voice much or do an accent or anything like that but still manages to transform into the brilliant but socially inept Alan Turing just as much as Cooper or Carell disappeared into theirs. I’m a big fan of this performance.

Birdman script

Almost anything can happen here but it looks like it’s going to be between Keaton and theory of everythingRedmayne, two performances that are so different from one another that it’s almost impossible to judge one as better than the other. Keaton doesn’t change the way he moves or speaks as much as the other nomnees but his performance may be the most honest. Both Redmayne and Keaton have won several awards this season so it’s a tough race to call. I’m putting my money on Keaton there’s just no telling this year.