Vice (2018)

Vice

Christian Bale as Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

 

Very few actors do as well as Christian Bale when it comes to immersing into a character, and his take on Dick Cheney in Vice is no exception. It is a knockout performance, but it is one that I wished were in a better movie.

The film begins by telling us that the makers of the film did the best they could since Cheney is such a private man. As is the case with most biopics nowadays, we get a bit of jumping back and forth thru points of history (though thankfully it is not too confusing). We see the beginning of the marriage of Dick and his wife Lynn (Amy Adams, who always does even better work when working with Bale), his meeting of Donald Rumsfeld (an oddly cast Steve Carrell), and his workings all the way to the post of VP to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell).

The biggest flaw I feel the movie does it is goes for more exaggeration over realism. That is not to say some of the exaggerated parts aren’t funny (such as rolling credits a little too soon). I knew little about Cheney going in, but enough to know how much the man has suffered from heart problems over the years. Eventually, too many heart attack jokes can be pushing it.

Still, none of this takes away from the acting, and while most are well cast (even Tyler Perry does well as Colin Powell), it is clearly all to show more proof how ridiculously talented Christian Bale is as an actor. Yes, the make up department did a fabulous job, but acting is far beyond make up or even imitation. It is about connecting to one’s inner feelings, which Bale is always great at doing (though at some times, it seems he isn’t. This is not because he can’t, but because Cheney struggles to).

Parents, the movie is rated R for good reason, as it is filled with swearing and footage of violence. High School and up.

It seems that the only thing harder than playing Dick Cheney would be making a film about him. Director Adam Mckay (who won an Oscar for helping write 2015’s The Big Short) has given a movie that, even with a wonderful lead performance (and a nice post credit scene), seems a bit too off-putting.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Mildred (Frances McDormand), the maker of the Three Billboards

Just when you think you have seen enough movies to know what the film makers are going to give you, you get a film like Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, a film full of drama, wit, comedy, surprises, heart, and clarity.

The story takes place just seven months after the rape/murder of a teenage girl in the town of Ebbing, Missouri. Despite work from the local police, the culprit has not been found, and the case is at a stand still. This does not sit well with the girl’s mother, Mildred (Frances McDormand), who rents out three billboards on the road to the town (one that hardly anyone uses). They read,

“Raped while dying”

“And still no arrests?”

“How come, Chief Willoughby?”

Willoughby (played perfectly by Woody Harrelson) is no slouch at his job. Even as he is fighting cancer (which Mildred knows before she sets up the billboards), he is still a good, decent family man. The real slouch at the job is Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who seems just a step or two up the ladder from Chief Wiggum of The Simpsons.

The movie is not about necessarily finding the murderer. No, the film is far too smart for that. It is about much more. It is about the life in a small town in the south. Mildred still takes her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, who, along with this year’s Lady Bird, is having a great year after his Oscar nominated role in 2016’s Manchester by the Sea) to school, has a visit or two from her ex Charlie (John Hawkes) and his 19-year-old girlfriend, and still pester the law enforcement community about letting her dead daughter get justice.

Martin McDonagh directs and writes the film in a precise way that he did for 2008’s In Bruges. There is drama, but it is so well seasoned with huge comic moments it is impossible to ignore. Apparently, McDonagh wrote the role of Mildred with McDormand in mind. It is not hard to see why. If anyone else played the role, you would find yourself saying “Too bad Frances McDormand is not playing this role”. In a nutshell, it is pretty much her best performance since Fargo‘s Marge Gunderson.

All the other actors are superior as well, but the other who may finally get his share at awards season is Sam Rockwell. He has been a great actor in many supporting roles of the past, but here he gets a chance to show transformation like I have never seen in him before. It is stellar work, and deserving of Best Supporting Actor consideration.

Parents, in no way shape or form is this film for kids. The movie deserves the R rating, which is mainly for swearing (as well as some violence). Mature High Schoolers and above.

When you think of it, even the title is genius. As I entered the theater, I thought the title was going to be too long, and off-putting. The fact that it is so simplistic a title is the uncanny mastery behind it. I haven’t even mentioned how I found myself saying “good” when the movie ended, hoping it would not outstay its welcome, or the mere fact that the film even stars the highly talanted Peter Dinklage.

Clearly, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the best of 2017.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

Snow Angels (2007)

Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale.

 

67% is where Snow Angels stands on Rotten Tomatoes. It made a little over 400,000 dollars GLOBALLY. I state these facts not to turn you away from the movie, but as proof that this may be one of the most underrated films I have ever seen. I named it my favorite movie of 2008, and I still stand by that.

It starts off at a Marching Band practice (I did Marching Band in High School, and this movie gets it right). We here two gun shots, and we know this movie is about a small town. The story is a slice of life. There are two main characters (the first is Arthur) that we see the lives of. The first is Annie (Kate Beckinsale, in what may be her best performance), a run down, divorced mom of one living with her own mother. She works at the local Chinese Restaurant with Arthur, (Michael Angarano), who Annie used to babysit. The dialogue here is so real it is almost scary (notice the scene at the begining where Annie is talking about a time she “married” Arthur to another kid when Arthur was young).

Both characters have flaws that are not like ones you will find in cliche movies, but that you would find in life. Annie is trying to recover from her divorce from Glenn (played outstandingly by Sam Rockwell), who is trying to recover from his past mistakes. Meanwhile, Annie is having an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), the husband of her co worker Barb (Amy Sedaris). Katt plays Nate as someone who is (like so many in real life) really REALLY bad at lying.

Arthur’s parents are on the eve of divorce, and then meets the new girl Lila (Olivia Thirlby, also great here). There are seldom scenes in any movie I have ever seen that are truer than those with Arthur and Lila. Their chemistry together is truly magical, and is a testament to the young actors’ talents. It is one of the best examples of young love I have seen on celluloid (the scene where they say they like each other is sensational).

Things happen in “Snow Angels” that are funny, but also things that are very sad. I won’t ruin them for you. All I will say is that the director (David Gordon Green, who made this before he was making comedies like “Your Highness” and “The Sitter”) has made a film about normal people with normal struggles. There are so many examples of human behaviors that are hidden in site on the screen: a kid opening their eyes during a prayer, people saying “Cool Beans”, a school getting out early to help with a community issue, and so on.

Parents, the movie is rated R for Language and some sexual material. There are a lot of swears, but none that the normal High Schooler has not heard. The sexual material is there, but very brief. That all aside, this movie is a forgotten masterpiece, that deserves more attention.

Rating: Five Stars *****