Movie Review ~ Vice


The Facts
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Synopsis: The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Allison Pill, Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, LisaGay Hamilton, Alison Pill

Director: Adam McKay

Rated: R

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: In 2015, writer-director Adam McKay made the rare successful transition from helming absurd comedies to becoming an Oscar winner for his work on The Big Short.  Whereas he was previously known for college dorm room friendly movies like Anchorman and it’s sequel, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers he was now responsible for a movie that the parents of his fans were buzzing about.  The movie that resulted from The Big Short was a fairly remarkable achievement given how complex the novel by Michael Lewis was and McKay justifiably shouldered much of the plaudits.  With that kind of clout, not to mention the big box office his comedies had already made, McKay was given a wide berth for his next movie and the super-charged political Vice is the result of an artist that has tried to use all of his bag of tricks to much less success.

Charting the rise to power of Dick Cheney from college dropout all the way to the Vice Presidency under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Vice is a peculiar film that suffers under McKay’s employment of a similar set of structural devices he used in his previous films.  There’s a lot of jumping around in time, numerous lines delivered directly to the audience, and multiple times where the action stops so a familiar face can break down to viewers what exactly is going on or give a greater description to a political term that may be foreign to audiences.  With The Big Short and it’s heavy use of Wall Street lingo, these asides proved helpful but in Vice they feel like a hindrance to the narrative thrust of the piece.  I feel like Americans are much more savvy to politics so it has the effect of being talked down to rather than it being explanatory.

Vice has a lot of ground to cover and even in 132 minutes it rarely dives below the surface to give us a view into the lives of the former VP.  We simply go through the motions seeing Cheney (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises) as a younger (thinner, less bald) man, a bit of a loser until his wife Lynne (Amy Adams, Her) threatens to leave him unless he changes his act.  Entering Washington politics as an intern to Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell, Welcome to Marwen) under Nixon and Ford before being ousted by a regime change when Carter was elected President, Cheney had his hand in multiple power plays along the way where he skillfully positioned himself while playing the long game.

The first hour of the film focuses on these early years while the last half is all about the Bush years when Cheney agreed to serve as the Vice President for the son of the former president.  Recognizing him as unqualified and easily manipulated, Cheney seized this opportunity to request more power and responsibility, which Bush handed over to Cheney and his cronies without much incident.  Essentially, Cheney was running the show with Bush the real figurehead that was controlled by his second in command.  With the attacks on 9/11, Cheney saw an opportunity to strike back at enemies and helped set into motion a war many of the issues we still face today generated from.  For anyone that has read a book about this political age in our country, these won’t be revelatory facts but it’s not any less frustrating to see how many of our current problems could have been avoided had the election that put Bush/Cheney into office been criminally investigated as many now agree it should have been.

Much of the hype surrounding Vice has been Bale’s performance as Cheney and I have to say the actor looks and sounds remarkably like the man.  Bale is known to be an actor that dives headfirst into his roles, both mentally and physically and the transformation here is commendable.  Still, this felt like an impression not a performance and nothing I saw on screen revealed to me anything about Cheney from an emotional perspective only from Bale’s impression of the man.  That could easily be a choice since Cheney is notoriously a hard person to pin down but I think there’s something more that could be done apart from the physical alteration he made for the role.

I’m not sure if I had an issue with Adams and her performance as Lynne Cheney or if I just didn’t like Lynne Cheney and that made me respond in kind to what Adams was doing.  In McKay’s eyes, Lynne was a Lady Macbeth for the 20th century, pushing her husband into this life and often encouraging him into his most trying periods of power.  The parallels are further drawn in an admittedly amusing scene where McKay has Lynne and Dick speaking in Shakespearan verse when discussing Dick’s consideration of taking the Vice Presidential nomination.  Adams is always a reliable presence and she and Bale have a good chemistry, perhaps they just were too believable as evil people.

McKay clearly knows how to attract a name cast.  Aside from Carell’s hammy take on Rumsfeld and Rockwell’s good ole boy ease as the younger Bush, there are nice cameos from Jesse Plemons (Game Night) as a fictional character that serves as a narrator who becomes an important piece later in the film and Tyler Perry (Alex Cross) as a morally conflicted Colin Powell.  Allison Pill (Hail, Caesar!) and Lily Rabe (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) have some nice scenes as the Cheney daughters, and a special shout-out to LisaGay Hamilton (Beautiful Boy) for her spot-on Condoleezza Rice.

What’s missing from the movie are the moments between these big political benchmarks.  Skipping around in time (and over the Clinton administration all together) feels like McKay is cherry picking the passages he wants to highlight and that doesn’t feel fair enough in presenting an accurate picture of what was happening in the world that could have influenced Cheney in his later years.  I could easily have seen this being a Netflix series that stretched eight hours and being perfectly content to spend that extra time with these rather morally bankrupt people.  What’s not missing from the movie?  Symbolism.  McKay is a fan of making everything Symbolic with a capital S with many fishing/lures interstitials cut into scenes when Cheney is trying to hook another unsuspecting simp into his power plays.  At first it’s creative, then it becomes cloying.  Let’s also not speak of a dreadful mid-credit scene that Annapurna Pictures should immediately remove from all prints — totally unnecessary and weakens McKay’s argument up until that point.

There was little doubt before the release of Vice that former Vice President Dick Cheney was already considered one of the greatest villains our country but under McKay’s watchful eye he’s now become one of the screen’s most diabolical forces.  Vice is one of the most outwardly liberal movies to come out of a major Hollywood studio and in a way that’s refreshing because there’s no hidden agenda.  I just wish McKay’s message was delivered in a better envelope.

Movie Review ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

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The Facts
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Synopsis: As Shredder joins forces with mad scientist Baxter Stockman and henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady to take over the world, the Turtles must confront an even greater nemesis: the notorious Krang.

Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Stephen Amell, Tyler Perry, Laura Linney, Brian Tee, Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly, Gary Anthony Williams

Director: Dave Green

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: On the way out of the theater after my screening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I had to sit down. Feeling like I just got off of a carousel I rode upside down going backwards, my brain was mush, my eyes unable to focus. It’s only then that I realized that, like a crazy ride I rode recently at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN, I had only myself to blame for feeling queasy.  I’m not saying I knew I’d hate this sequel to producer Michael Bay’s mindless remake/reboot from 2014, but I didn’t know I would hate it so very much.

Where to begin when discussing this second installment in a franchise requiring a wealth of suspension of disbelief for its talking turtles, a crusty old rat father figure, and Megan Fox (This is 40) as a serious television reporter?  It’s been several years since the events of the first film which saw the teenage reptiles and their human helpers (Fox and Will Arnett, The LEGO Movie, who gets smarmier with each passing hour he’s alive) send big bad nemesis Shredder to prison. Preferring to stay underground, the turtles let Arnett take the credit for stopping the crime wave and while becomes a NYC hero the real champions are stuck eating pizza and watching basketball from the rafters of Madison Square Garden.

Meanwhile, scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, Gone Girl) breaks Shredder out of prison in an elaborately staged (and seemingly endless) action sequence for reasons never made totally clear to anyone, least of all audience members. There’s some mumbo jumbo about black holes and the time space continuum before Shredder comes face to face with another villain, Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb).  Looking like a Jell-O-molded brain creation housed within a titanic robot, Krang wants Shredder to gather some alien remnants on earth in order to create a portal between Krang’s world and ours.  In return, Krang gives Shredder a vial of purple ooze that will help enact revenge on the teen turtles that did him wrong.

Back on Earth, Shredder uses the purple ooze on fellow prison escapees Bebop and Rocksteady, turning them into a warthog and rhinoceros in order to take down the turtles. TMNT fans have been waiting a long time for these two popular villains to appear onscreen and if the overall result is less than satisfying (imagine Beavis and Butthead but uglier and stupider) it at least takes some attention away from Brian Tee’s stilted Shredder.  Add in some paltry dissention in the turtle ranks and you’ve got a lengthy film that eventually rendered this viewer completely numb.  At one point I considered taking a walk on the nonsense but the neverending onslaught of quick cut 3D action scenes coupled with a blaring soundtrack left me paralyzed.

Director Dave Green helmed the respectable family sci-fi yarn Earth to Echo so I was interested to see if he’d add the same heart and curiosity he brought to that little seen film. Taking over the reins from the bombastic Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), Green succumbs to the Michael Bay side of his directing psyche and delivers a movie that’s all noise. The CGI turtles feel less life-like than the previous entry and so much of the film is computer generated that action passages (nearly all at night in dark locales) turn into washes of greens and dark blues, indistinguishable from one moment to the next.

Fox manages to retain a pouty face even in the most dangerous of situations while Arnett chews so much scenery I’m shocked he wasn’t 500 lbs by the time the film wrapped. Perry continues to be an absolute disaster of an actor but he’s given a run for his money by Stephen Amell as fan favorite Casey Jones. Poor Amell has to recite the most terrible dialogue from Josh Applebaum (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and Andre Nemec’s pathetic script, though I think if Amell was a better actor he could have made it less laughable. I mean, the awful lines can be given some dramatic weight and three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) shows us how its done. Make no mistake, Linney’s performance is as terrible as the rest but at least she knows she’s slumming it and nabbing a neat paycheck for her trouble.

It’s a pity that this turtle turd of a film will make enough money to warrant another installment while smaller films deserving of a TMNT -sized audience will go unnoticed this summer. Representing everything that’s terrible about summer blockbusters (no heart, no brain, no point), these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles need to be grounded.

The Silver Bullet ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles : Out of the Shadows

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Synopsis: The Turtles return to save the city from a dangerous threat.

Release Date: June 3, 2016

Thoughts: The 2014 reboot (the second attempt at one, mind you) of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a loud, crass, critically reviled bit of summer dunderheadedness…but it made a hefty profit at the box office…which leads us to this sequel subtitled Out of the Shadows.  Where the first film seemed to at least attempt to find a bit of grit, this one looks like a pure  gonzo fest of oversized performances, special effects, and cleavage shots of star Megan Fox (What to Expect When You’re Expecting).  Fans of the TMNT franchise will likely warm at the sight of villains Bebop and Rocksteady but I see just another questionable use of CGI and likely a large waste of time.

 

 

Movie Review ~ Gone Girl

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The Facts:

Synopsis: With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon

Director: David Fincher

Rated: R

Running Length: 149 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  I’ve been trying hard lately to catch up on my reading…especially with so many page to screen adaptations coming out in the next few months.  Even more challenging is that I try to time my finishing of a book as close to the release date as possible so the elements of the story are still fresh in my mind.  Recently, I finished the disappointing This Is Where I Leave You a few weeks before the slightly less disappointing film was released but with Gone Girl I was down to the wire, catching the film when the book’s pages were still warm from me blazing through them.

This actually helped me more than I could have ever dreamed because it afforded me the opportunity to pinpoint exactly where screenwriter Gillian Flynn improved upon her own novel.  By combining characters or excising them all together, Flynn has tightened what was already a taut narrative…and the end result is a film as razor sharp as they come.  Of course it helps that she had David Fincher as her director because he’s all about economical delivery, ready and willing to trim the fat to ensure his work is as lean and direct as can be.

That works well for Flynn’s tricky tale of marriage and murder where everyone seems to have a secret ready to be exploited.  Her novel was a blockbuster hit when released in 2012 and it’s truly a wonder it made such a seamless transition to the screen, largely keeping its twists under wraps until the moment of impact. Even knowing where the film was heading, I was engaged enough that I was on the edge of my seat right along with those in the audience that weren’t prepared for the journey Flynn and Fincher were about to take us.

It’s 2012 and the morning of the fifth anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne.  Transplants from New York, they’ve been living in Nick’s Missouri hometown thanks to the economic downturn that saw both lose their jobs and reexamine their financial future.  Instead of celebrating, however, Nick is plunged into a nightmare when he returns home to find Amy has seemingly vanished into thin air.  As the police, media, friends, and family descend upon the town and start to examine the crime and, by proxy, the Dunne’s marriage we learn that some secrets won’t stay hidden for long.

Like the novel, the movie jumps between Nick’s present day narrative and Amy’s diary entries written from the time they met up until she goes missing that paint a different picture of the happy couple.  So far the marketing of the film has kept Flynn’s surprising twists in check and you won’t get a spoiler out of me…but let’s just say that through some clever bits of storytelling the film is far from over just when you think you’ve reached the end.

As is typical with Fincher’s work, the casting is pretty spot-on even if several choices are quite different from the original novel.  Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the blond-haired tanned creation on the page but he’s wholly convincing as a husband on the edge, trapped by evidence that suggests he should be more concerned with his wife’s whereabouts than he appears to be.  Same goes for Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) as the vanished Amy who has an even more delicate balance to play.  Pike’s always been an interesting actress but I was wondering if she was perhaps too chilly to play Amy, and boy was I wrong.  Her steel gaze turns out to be a major advantage here and Pike handily swipes the movie away from her more famous co-star every chance she gets.

In supporting roles, Fincher scored with Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister caught between what she knows is true about her sibling and the evidence that suggests more and more he knows where his wife is.  Another fine performance comes from Kim Dickens as a local cop assigned to the case with good instincts that she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Both Coon and Dickens represent Fincher thinking out of the casting box — here’s hoping their work elevates them as it should.  Also, I should add as a longtime fan it’s also nice to see Sela Ward cameo as a scoop hungry television personality.

Surprisingly, Fincher makes two unfortunate mistakes with the casting of Neil Patrick Harris (A Million Ways to Die in the West) as a man from Amy’s past and Tyler Perry (Alex Cross) as Nick’s high-powered attorney.  Harris seems too slight and off the mark for where the character needed to be, though admittedly he’s saddled with the least successful dialogue Flynn transported over from her book.  Perry, meanwhile, looks positively giddy to be out of his Madea garb and into some power suits…though his unconvincing acting still borders on atrocious.  These two distractions could be written off had they not been so pivotal to the story.  Too bad.

At 149 minutes, I was worried the movie wouldn’t be able to keep its momentum going strong but Fincher has never met a film he couldn’t move along at a breathless pace.  Like the book, the movie is pleasing enough for the first 45 minutes or so but really hits its stride around the hour mark before making a full out sprint to the finish line.  There’s some devious work afoot here and it’s incredibly satisfying.

I realized about halfway through Gone Girl how starved I’d been for a sophisticated, adult thriller.  Though it seemed to go out of style in the late 90s and been replaced by the political/espionage mystery fare Fincher has made his second bid (after 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) for its resurgence.  When the story is so good, the lead performances so on the money, and the direction this precise, the bar has been raised again for any takers that wish to challenge themselves to rise to Fincher and Co.’s level.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gone Girl

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Synopsis: A woman mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary.

Release Date: October 3, 2014

Thoughts: I’ve yet to meet a David Fincher film or marketing campaign I haven’t liked and it appears as though Gone Girl will be no different. From the clever poster to this simple first trailer for the drama/thriller adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, this looks like the dark material that Fincher thrives in. Another thing Fincher always seems to have going for him is surprising casting and while Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the most out of the box choice for the role of the husband suspected of being involved with his wife’s disappearance, it would appear he fits the role quite well. Though multiple A-list actresses sought the titular role, Fincher opted to go with the lesser known Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, Die Another Day) and if early buzz is to be believed, she’s a revelation. I’m waiting until later in the summer to give the book a look-see but have every confidence Fincher and Flynn will deliver the goods.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club

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Synopsis: Brought together by a vandalism incident at their children’s school, a group of single mothers from different walks of life bond, and create a support group that helps them find comedy in the obstacles of life.

Release Date: March 14, 2014

Thoughts: Make no doubt about it, mogul Tyler Perry is one smart businessman.  Writing, producing, directing, and sometimes regrettably starring in his own films, Perry (Alex Cross, Star Trek) can make films for pennies that rake in millions.  Though his films aren’t as boffo profitable as they once were, each turn a profit so as long as tickets are sold his movies will continue to be churned out.  I just wish the films were as good as the casts he manages to assemble.  In his latest picture he’s gathered what could be called a “B” cast of familiar character actors from television in a story that looks like it could be called The First Wives Club are Waiting to Exhale.  These films aren’t my bag but I will admit to being interested in seeing what dramatic chops comedian Wendi McLendon-Covey has in her bag of tricks.

Down From the Shelf ~ Alex Cross

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A homicide detective is pushed to the brink of his moral and physical limits as he tangles with a ferociously skilled serial killer who specializes in torture and pain.

Stars: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Ed Burns, Cicely Tyson, Rachel Nichols

Director: Rob Cohen

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:   When I heard that there were plans to reboot the Alex Cross films as a star vehicle for Perry, I shook my head ‘no’.  After I saw the preview for the film, I shook my head ‘no’.  Sitting down and readying myself to write this review, I can only shake my head with a mixture of incredulity and anger that a series with so much potential has yet again been squandered.  You see, while the first two stabs at bringing James Patterson’s famous detective to life were noble attempts that had their moments, this film is a piece of garbage not worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.

Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001) both featured Morgan Freeman as a wise detective up against various devious killers.  Freeman may have been a tad too old for the character but he added a grace and gusto that was needed as the transition from page to screen was made.  In reality, the novels have such a wealth of stories that a television series really should have been explored; it’s a format that would have served Alex Cross and his fans well.

When Freeman was done after two entries the character seemed kaput, until some genius thought that Perry would be the right guy to take another whack at it.  Wrong choice.  Perry has made a fortune off of his Madea films and other productions that are marketed one way but in truth are preachy messes that test the will to live of many audiences and critics.  As bad of a director as Perry certainly is, his acting is worse.  He’s so laughably out of his league here that one wonders if he thought he was in a comedy.  His unmotivated line readings and phony attempts at sounding concerned are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems Perry presents taking on this leading role.

To be fair, Perry isn’t the only offender in the acting category.  Pretty much everyone else in the movie sleepwalks through their roles – from Burns as Perry’s partner to lean and mean Fox as the killer that is seeking vengeance on Perry and his team for getting in the way of his work.  The only thing really scary about Fox is how much weight he lost for the role – his commitment is admirable but wasted in a film that offers no support for him.  Only Tyson, valued pro that she is, seems invested in what she’s doing and saying…but at times even she looks pained to say some of the incredibly adrift dialogue from Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson.

There’s so much wrong with the film, not the least of which is basic logic, timelines, and continuity.  Nothing makes much sense so if you must watch this try to appreciate it for Cohen’s direction which at least keeps things moving in an efficient way.  Cohen knows his way around an actor with limited range (he directed Vin Diesel in xXx and The Fast and The Furious) so the conclusion must be that Perry is beyond saving.

You know a film is bad when the best thing about it is the song played over the closing credits…and certainly “All Our Secrets Are the Same” penned by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Edelman, and Cohen is far and away the only redeeming point of the film.  I place the blame solely on Perry at the end of the day…his atrociously inept acting drags the film down at every turn…though Alex Cross lives on in novels it’s Perry that has put him in a cinematic grave.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

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Synopsis: A marriage counselor’s personal and professional life becomes complicated after she enters into a relationship with one of her clients.

Release Date: March 29, 2013

Thoughts: I have zero interest in seeing the latest film from the one man studio that is Tyler Perry.  I’m including it on my blog only to point out that if Perry’s films were as interesting and creative as his posters, he could really be a force in Hollywood.  It makes no difference, though, because Perry continues to churn out these thinning tales of morality doled out with a hackneyed hand that just doesn’t speak to me.  I realize I’m not the target market for these preachy relationship-oriented films he loves to make when he’s not dressed in drag as Madea (though he sometimes does fit her in somehow) but I’m waiting for Perry to let loose a bit more which I think will help improve him as a writer/producer/director/actor.

The Silver Bullet ~ “Alex Cross” Trailer

Synopsis: After Washington DC detective Alex Cross is told that a family member has been murdered, he vows to track down the killer. He soon discovers that she was not his first victim and that things are not what they seem.

Release Date:  October 19, 2012

Thoughts: Based on one of the 18 (and counting!) novels in a popular series by James Patterson, Alex Cross sees Tyler Perry stepping into the role created by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.  Nothing against Perry, who is a fine actor when he wants to be, but taking over for Freeman is no small task.  As a fan of the Alex Cross novels (though I admittedly haven’t read one since #10) I always considered this a series better suited for television than the big screen.  It doesn’t help that the films continue to be made out of order which means the Cross character will forever be scattered amongst movies.  The trailer doesn’t do a lot for me, looking to be more of a by-the-numbers police mystery.  Also, is Matthew Fox sick or something?  Rather than looking super ripped in his villain role he looks malnourished which maybe just adds to his creep factor.  In any event, I’m a proven sucker for a thriller so all gripes aside there’s no doubt I’ll be catching this one in October.