Posts Tagged ‘Steve Carell’

Ahead of the Decision Curve

Incisive Political Drama

Vice

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Alison Pill, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Jesse Plemons, Shea Whigham, Tyler Perry

Thanks to a preview screening organized by United International Pictures at Suncoast Cinecentre, Durban, I was fortunate enough to see director Adam McKay’s highly anticipated biopic Vice about Republican Vice President Dick Cheney featuring an utterly unrecognizable Christian Bale as Cheney and Oscar nominee Amy Adams as his ambitious wife Lynne.

Inventively directed by Adam McKay, Vice does for Republican politics what The Big Short did so brilliantly for the 2008 Financial Meltdown on Wall Street. McKay, besides extracting superb performances out of Christian Bale and Amy Adams, also incisively cuts into the heart of Republican politics especially from George W. H. Bush’s Presidency in 2000 and right through the crucial months which followed the devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2001 to the eventual invasion of Iraq in 2003.

This is 21st century contemporary history which affected the world and writer and director McKay taps into the zeitgeist of those crucial turning points which changed American History and effectively portrays Vice President Dick Cheney to be a ruthless and opportunistic politician who believed in the executive powers theory which basically sees the President and Vice President of a country make executive decisions without any checks or balances from Congress or the U. S. House of Representatives.

Vice is an incisive look at American Politics and is much about how America got Trump into the Oval Office in 2016 as it is about any potential Republican failings in terms of U.S. foreign policy.

At the centre of this comedic biopic are two utterly transformative performances by Oscar winner Christian Bale (The Fighter) and Oscar nominee Amy Adams (The Master, Doubt, American Hustle) as this unassuming Wyoming couple who become the most powerful couple at the White House during the Bush administration from 2000-2008, always staying a step ahead of the decision curve.

Oscar winner Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri) is equally charismatic as the young George W. Bush who asks Dick Cheney to be his running mate for the 2000 elections.

Director Adam McKay also assembles an excellent supporting cast including Oscar Nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) as Donald Rumsfeld and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell. 

The film’s narrative is incisively told in a cleverly constructed pastiche of dubious politics touching on some controversial subjects like torture and rendition with some extremely graphic images thrown in.  Vice is a fascinating portrait of an unassuming bureaucrat who becomes so powerful that he fabricated reasons to invade a sovereign state and start the American invasion of Iraq, a move which definitely destabilized the Middle East as a whole.

For lovers of excellent political films, then viewers have to see Vice.

It’s an incredibly well researched indictment of the Republican Party made all the more pertinent by the disruptive Trump presidency which is currently dominating global media headlines.

Adam McKay’s Vice is brilliant and thought-provoking making Christian Bale a hot contender for another Oscar win as his transformative performance dazzles in every frame much like Gary Oldman ‘s vivid portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

Vice gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and accurately portrays how decisive strategic political actions by a global superpower like America can be indirectly attributed to the rise of global conflict and international terrorism in other regions of the world. Terrifying and fascinating stuff!

The Virginia Slims

Battle of the Sexes

Directors: Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming, Bill Pullman, Eric Christian Olsen, Wallace Langham, Austin Stowell

Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks directing duo Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton take on the extremely pertinent subject of gender inequality in sports in their latest film, Battle of the Sexes, a highly entertaining cinematic recreation of a historic tennis match which took place between the brash egotist and compulsive gambler Bobby Riggs and tennis women’s superstar Billie Jean King at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas in 1973.

Oscar winner Emma Stone (La La Land) plays Billie Jean King a tennis champion at the top of her game who is married yet battling with her own sexuality as she meets the provocative Californian hairdresser Marilyn Barnett wonderfully played by Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals, Birdman).

Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) plays the exuberant Bobby Riggs, the fiftyish tennis pro and self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig who is having a last gasp at his youth and decides to provoke Billie Jean King into a publicity tennis matched aptly named Battle of the Sexes. Riggs who is a sports hustler and whose lavish career is supported by his wealthy wife Priscilla Riggs superbly played against type by Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas).

Comedian Sarah Silverman stars as the outspoken Gladys Heldman who champions Billie Jean King and a collection of aspiring female tennis players to start their own female tennis match sponsored by Virginia slims cigarettes. This is in response to the chauvinism and unequal pay dispute between the women players and the exorbitant salaries that their male tennis players get which is almost ten times the amount.

The reason for this inequality, as sports commentator and organizer Jack Kramer played by Bill Pullman gives is that the tennis watching public love men’s tennis and that the male tennis players have ten times the stamina, strength and speed to sustain an exciting match unlike their less competitive female counterparts. Naturally this outdated mode of thinking has thankfully be reversed by the recent star power of such female tennis champions as Venus and Serena Williams.

Battle of the Sexes is a relevant film not only in terms of recent sexual harassment scandals which has rocked the Hollywood establishment but also in terms of LGTQ rights in sports, a controversial subject which has barely been explored in contemporary cinema.

As Billie Jean King’s husband Larry, played by Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies), says to her lover in one poignant scene, all that sponsorship of hotel rooms, flights and TV coverage would evaporate if King came out as a lesbian. Which she eventually did in the wake of the 1970’s queer rights campaign that activists like Harvey Milk and Cleve Jones fought for so vehemently, brilliantly illustrated in the Oscar winning Gus van Sant film Milk.

Battle of the Sexes is a thoroughly entertaining film about two tennis professionals who not only stake the reputations on a publicity tennis match. Battle of the Sexes is peppered with some flamboyant supporting roles including Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming as Cuthbert Tinling whilst held together by exemplary performances by Stone and Carell.

Battle of the Sexes gets a film rating of 8 out of 10, featuring wonderful seventies tennis costumes by Costume Designer Mary Zophres capturing the zeitgeist of the decade, adding to a thoroughly slick and entertaining sports film.

Love Letter from Rudolf Valentino

Café Society

cafe_society

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Ken Stott, Parker Posey, Sheryl Lee, Jeannie Berlin, Stephen Kunken, Sari Lennick, Anna Camp

Opening the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 in typically whimsical fashion, Woody Allen’s Café Society is set between the golden age of Hollywood and the gangster nightclubs of New York.

Auteur director and veteran screenwriter Woody Allen like many of his previous films, decelebritizes his stars and makes Cafe Society a brilliant ensemble piece. At the centre of the witty comedy are two sterling performances by naïve Bronx youngster Bobby wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and seemingly ordinary yet duplicitous Vonnie, played by Twilight star Kristen Stewart.

Vonnie is the secretary to Bobby’s powerful uncle Marty Dorfman, played by Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher). The smooth talking Marty introduces Bobby to the Hollywood inset as he hires his nephew to become general gopher and invites him to sumptuous brunches at his Hollywood Hills mansion. There Bobby meets chic New York couple, Rad and Steve, played by Parker Posey (Grace of Monaco) and Paul Schneider (Water for Elephants).

It’s really Vonnie that Bobby is in love with, but Vonnie is dating a powerful married man and as a surprise for her boyfriend’s birthday she buys him a framed love letter from Rudolf Valentino. That love letter becomes the main visual key for Café Society as soon a love triangle emerges which places Bobby in an awkward familial situation.

Meanwhile, back in New York, audiences catch a glimpse of Bobbie Dorfman’s Jewish family, his dotting mother superbly played by Jeannie Berlin and his father played by British actor Ken Stott. It’s really Bobbie’s gangster brother Ben who has gone into the nightclub business who is the centre of the Bronx world. Ben is superbly played by an unrecognizable Corey Stoll who was so tremendous in the Netflix’s series House of Cards.

Bobby is crushed when Vonnie calls off their impending romance on a Malibu beach and soon returns to the glamourous world of nightlife, helping his nefarious brother Ben at one of his dazzling nightclubs. As the action of Café Society shifts seamlessly from Los Angeles back to New York, audiences know that they are back on familiar Woody Allen territory.

Part of the New York set is the fabulous Veronica Hays who Bobbie dutifully falls in love with, played by the gorgeous Blake Lively, even though he secretly pines for the more illusive Vonnie.

Wonderfully irreverent to anything vaguely serious, Café Society is a gorgeously shot comedy with gorgeous costumes and suitably fabulous production design, pointing to the fact it’s one of Woody Allen’s most expensive films.

cafe_society_ver3

With a witty script and outstanding performances by an ensemble cast especially Eisenberg and Stewart, Café Society is recommended viewing in the vein of similar Allen films like Bullets over Broadway. Allen’s faithful recreation of the Hollywood golden age in Café Society certainly signifies that his European phase is over, which did produce some brilliant social comedies including Matchpoint, Vicky Christina Barcelona and his acclaimed Midnight in Paris.

Café Society is a breezy and funny affair, tinged with delightful moments of guilt mixed with old fashioned nostalgia. A refreshingly stylish visual feast especially in this age of CGI and digitally reliant cinema.

No Income, No Jobs

The Big Short

big_short

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Jeffry Griffin, Billy Magnussen, Max Greenfield, Tracy Letts

The critically acclaimed film The Big Short is a highly inventive tale of how six men predicted the collapse of the US housing market and actually made money off this economic disaster.

Christian Bale turns in a brilliant Oscar nominated performance as the socially awkward Dr Michael Burry, a neurologist suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome who gives up medicine to become a hedge fund manager in director Adam McKay’s frenetic financial diatribe The Big Short, about the collapse of the American housing market in 2007 and 2008, which precipitated the worst international financial crisis since the Great Depression back in 1929.

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Joining Bale in the cast are Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) as Wall Street trader Jared Vennett, Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) as hedge fund manager Mark Baum and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) as reclusive banker Ben Rickett. These four men together with two young eager investors Charlie Geller played by John Maguro (Carol) and Jamie Shipley played by Finn Wittrock all predict the imminent collapse of the US housing market due to the instability of unsecured sub-prime mortgages.

Through a series of inter related events between 2005 and 2007, these guys develop a system of credit default swaps by betting against the housing market which like the Tech industry bubble, eventually burst in 2008 bringing down Lehman Brothers in September 2008, one of the world’s largest investment banks, and forcing the entire global economy into a devastating recession.

What makes the entire dodgy financing worse is that the banks and the international rating agencies collude to actually validate the profiting of these credit default swaps, causing the Biggest Short in economic history which inevitably lead to no income and no jobs for millions of people worldwide.

Best Line in the film is prophetically “In five years’ time, everyone is going to be blaming the immigrants and the poor.”

Financial films are never exciting unless the director makes the viewer totally engrossed in what they are watching. Fortunately Anchorman director Adam McKay through some inventive directing and skillful editing along with a fascinating script by Charles Randolph which makes The Big Short an utterly engrossing film.

The Big Short is anchored down by four great performances by Pitt, Carell, Gosling and particularly Bale. Christian Bale and Steve Carell are particularly good and while some of the narrative devices are quite ingenious like Jared Vennett directly addressing the audience or using celebrities like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain the financial fundamentals especially of synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), the latter of which ironically taking place at a Blackjack table in Las Vegas.

The Big Short is an engaging, masculine portrayal of greed and power running unabated and the most frightening part about the story is that it is all true. The effects of the 2008 global financial meltdown are still being felt around the world in 2016.

Audiences should also look out for cameos by Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei along with Rafe Spall (Life of Pi) and Hamish Linklater (Magic in the Moonlight). Unlike Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Adam McKay’s The Big Short does not glamourize greed but rather sheds light on how reckless and unchecked rampant capitalism has its pitfalls as the entire world was to find out in September 2008.

The scary part is that, these real life characters portrayed in The Big Short made money off the eventual collapse of a national housing market and some of the larger Banks got away with dishing out unsecured loans to unsuspecting home buyers simply by restructuring the debt packages.

The Big Short is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy financial films with edge, tenacity and an inventive style without resorting to profanity or decadence.

 

 

 

Wrestling with the Wealthy

Foxcatcher

 foxcatcher_ver4

Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall

Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller returns to the more sinister side of American life: wealth, competitiveness and guns in his new film Foxcatcher.

In some interesting casting choices, Miller assembles comedian Steve Carell along with action star Channing Tatum (GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Magic Mike) and the talented Mark Ruffalo in a three man drama about a truly bizarre actual series of events which occurred between the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s in Pennsylvania, America.

Foxcatcher is the true story of heir to the multi-million dollar Du Pont Family fortune, John E. Du Pont, creepily played against type by Carell whose wealth and influence entices the young Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, who has won gold at the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles to train at the Foxcatcher Farm.

Du Pont was an eccentric man, living on the vast estate in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, known as Foxcatcher Farms, heir to the incredible Du Pont family fortune, whose money was made in chemicals and ammunition manufacturing over two and a half centuries in America since the family first arrived in the States from France at the beginning of the 19th Century. This is old American money, built up over generations, in the tradition of the Gettys, the Hiltons, the Astors and the Vanderbilts.

John E. Dupont, heir to a $100 million family fortune has always been overshadowed by his disapproving mother Jean Du Pont, coldly played by a rarely seen Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End), who even paid people to be friends with him. To state that he never quite fitted in was an understatement. Du Pont was an ornithologist, an avid philatelist (stamp collector), a gun collector and oddly enough, an ambitious coach of male wrestling http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Eleuth%C3%A8re_du_Pont.

On the other end of the spectrum is the young and impressionable Schultz, expertly played by Channing Tatum in one of his best screen performances ever, who has trouble articulating for a public speech, who is battling for money and is desperately trying to escape the shadow of his older brother, a fellow wrestler and family man, Dave Schultz, wonderfully underplayed by Mark Ruffalo (The Kids are Alright, The Normal Heart).

Du Pont invites Mark Schultz to train at his Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown, Pennsylvania, a vast estate, in preparation for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He also would like the older more responsible Dave to be there, but in a rare glimpse of rivalry, Mark tells Du Pont that his brother cannot be bought, not realizing that with this type of wealth anybody can be bought.

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Soon Mark Schultz is socially seduced by the eerie Du Pont and invited to stay at the Foxcatcher farm to become part of team Foxcatcher. The younger Schultz even gets introduced to East Coast high society in a bizarre scene whereby Du Pont offers him cocaine in his private helicopter on the way to a glamorous charity event in Washington D. C.

What Miller does so well is set up this strange but surreal dichotomy between the eccentric and hugely influential Du Pont and the weird intensely physical world of male wrestling, which is part bravado and more homo-erotic than spectators care to admit.

Du Pont creates a haven for USA Wrestling to flourish in his own private dominion soon enticing both the Schultz brothers into Team Foxcatcher in an effort to recapture their glory at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

In a rare scene between Carell and Redgrave, wealthy mother and renegade heir apparent, she tells him that his infatuation with male wrestling is low. This sets the stage for an even more devastating end to the sinister relations between Du Pont and the Schultz brothers.

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In re-imagining a truly bizarre encounter with the superrich, Miller does not captivate the viewer in Foxcatcher, like director Barbet Schroeder did so brilliantly in a similar eighties true life drama Reversal of Fortune with the Claus von Bulow case, but then again Steve Carell is not quite Oscar winner Jeremy Irons.

Director Miller instead downplays the historical aspects of the actual events and leaves the viewer hungry for more details, not to mention motive. The end result is a deeply disturbing film, excellently acted especially by Tatum and Carell, but nevertheless wanting for more. After all Foxcatcher isn’t as fine a film as Capote or as tightly directed even though Miller did win the Palm d’Or for Best Director at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

If viewers have not researched the actual story behind Du Pont’s involvement with the Schultz’s brothers, Foxcatcher could appear as bizarrely fictional as it is actually real. Nevertheless the lingering sense of suspense and unease is perfectly captured against the raw aggression and male physicality of competitive wrestling, a sport as old as the Olympic Games itself. Recommended viewing for those that like All Good Things and Reversal of Fortune.

 

 

 

Moscow vs Hollywood

Get Smart

get_smart_ver4

Director: Peter Segal

Cast: Steve Carrell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Terry Crews, Terence Stamp

Review originally published in July 2008

After Anne Hathaway’s wonderful performances in Brokeback Mountain, The Devil Wears Prada and Becoming Jane, I was intrigued to discover her cast opposite comedian Steve Carrell (The 40Year Old Virgin) for the Spy adventure, Get Smart, a big screen adaptation of the 1960’s American comedy TV show.

Get Smart started off as quite an amusing film, more spoof than serious action, but what occurs is that the first half of the film, making excellent use of its initial stylish Moscow and Russian locations, fares better than the second half, set in a tired-seen-it-before downtown Los Angeles. With Mel Brooks famed for such classic comedies as To Be or Not to Be as an executive producer, I was expecting a comedy, however the joke in Get Smart starts running thin to such an extent that by the end of the film, it seems to be more on the audience who actually spent time and effort sitting through a two-hour movie, than on this half-hearted affair comprising of a mismatched pastiche of James Bond and Mission Impossible films, with scenes reminiscent of Octopussy and Entrapment combined with more high-octane car and plane chase sequences certainly suggestive of the Terminator movies.

Steve Carrell is a talented actor as noted in such independent films as Little Miss Sunshine, yet his particular style of comedy is confusing at times, sometimes serious, but capably funny. His lack of desire at playing the character completely straight or inanely goofy, gives the audience a mixed idea of Get Smart’s main protagonist Maxwell Smart, a desk-bound covert analyst who gets the opportunity to experience the long-anticipated thrills of dangerous espionage fieldwork.

Anne Hathaway, who makes the best of the material of this shallow spoof whose greatest flaw is not taking itself too seriously, seems almost lost as to how to play the super-efficient Agent 99, deadpan or with a comedic wit, leaving her floundering as the better half of a miscast screen couple. Either way she is left grappling for a more meaningful character, not to mention storyline, only to be left smirking on the sidelines, almost acknowledging herself that Get Smart falls short of the mark, which is clearly a waste for such a talented actress.

In the hands of a more astute director such as the brilliantly comic Blake Edwards, this film could have been a really witty sophisticated and stylish spy-drama in the vein of the classic Pink Panther movies, especially given the talents involved. Director, Peter Segal whose previous Adam Sandler movies, The Longest Yard and Anger Management, fails to pool the adequate acting resources and whilst there are too few genuinely hilarious moments in Get Smart, most notably the lavatory scene in the airplane and the sequences set in Russia, particularly Moscow, while the Hollywood finale leaves one wishing for a more substantial filmic experience.

Such great character actors like Alan Arkin and Terence Stamp are wasted in this poorly directed film, which could have been so much sharper than what it was aiming for. Get Smart saving grace is that it portrays Moscow as smarter than Hollywood, which inevitably is always worth a laugh.

2014 Cannes Film Festival

2014 Cannes Film Festival Winners

Cannes Festival 2014 (2)

 

Winners of the five main prizes at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival were as follows: –

Winter_Sleep_(Poster) Palmd'Or 2014

Palm d’Or: Winter Sleep directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

foxcatcher unofficial poster

Best Director: Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller and Vanessa Redgrave

mr_turner

Best Actor: Timothy Spall for Mr Turner

 Maps_to_the_Stars_poster

Best Actress: Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars

leviathan

Best Screenplay: Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for Leviathan (film poster not yet released)

Source –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannes_Film_Festival

http://www.festival-cannes.com/en.html

 

 

A Familial Take on Loves Labours Lost

Crazy Stupid Love

Reclaiming his Manhood

The lack of a single director for this convoluted and at times funny romantic comedy owes very much to the obvious plot contrivances of Steve Carell’s latest film Crazy Stupid Love. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who excelled in the more flamboyant film I Love You Philip Morris, and written by Dan Fogelman Crazy Stupid Love is a familial take on Loves Labours Lost but does not match up to the brilliant script of Friends with Benefit, despite having an enormously talented all star cast including Ryan Gosling as the playboy Jacob Palmer, the new hip girl Emma Stone as the quirky law graduate Hannah and Julianne Moore as Carell’s weak and superficial wife Emily Palmer.

Where this oddly titled romantic comedy does excel is in showing that love across the generational divide is unpredictable, quirky and sometimes comical. The best scenes in the film are when Cal Weaver, a frumpy mid-forties office worker played with the usual lack of appeal by Steve Carell is challenged by Gosling’s character, the smooth talking womanizer Palmer to rediscover Cal’s manhood and assert his sexual dominance in the dating arena. It is Gosling who shines in this role, along with Emma Stone as the cautious Hannah who eventually couple up much to the horror of Hannah’s parents. The ensemble cast of Crazy Stupid Love resemble a more cinematic version of a Shakespearian comedy and while like any ensemble cast, supporting characters often outshine the leading players.

Watch out for Josh Groban as Hannah’s boring lawyer boyfriend, Marisa Tomei as a depraved school teacher and Kevin Bacon as a thoroughly unattractive accountant. While the talents of Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei not to mention Julianne Moore are largely wasted on a script with shallow character development, Crazy Stupid Love is another version of Steve Carroll’s breakthrough comedy The 40 year Old Version. Steve Carell should perhaps play a villain in his next film role, while Ryan Gosling should really stick to more profound cinematic roles as in Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, although his brilliant role in Crazy Stupid Love is one of the films’ redeeming features.

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