Vice

Vice

Bale. Christian Bale. He’s the reason to see Vice.

The chameleon/actor portrays former U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney. And, although Bale doesn’t really resemble the ex-veep, his transformation is pretty amazing. Not just Bale’s weight gain but also his accurate mimicry of Cheney’s speech patterns and Cheney’s penchant for talking out of the side of his mouth.

Cheney’s story as told in Vice is not a flattering one. Though not quite “gonzo journalism” a la Hunter S. Thompson, this “sort of” biopic has a lot of what David Letterman used to call “writer’s embellishment.” Yes, there is a framework of true facts here but parts of this narrative are bent to poke holes in Cheney’s legacy and deliver laughs. And, yes, Vice is funny!

Writer/director Adam McKay presents Cheney as a guy with little direction until his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) sets him straight. He’s a bit of a bumbling conniver when he gets to Washington and soon goes to work to establish his own sphere of influence.

(Cheney’s career included tenures as a White House Chief of Staff, a U.S. Representative, Secretary of Defense and Vice-President, so he must have demonstrated at least a modicum of competence.)

As with The Big Short, his previous comedy rooted in fact, McKay tries to simplify a complicated story that has many nooks and crannies. Should America blame Cheney for everything that has gone wrong with our nation’s involvement in Middle Eastern politics this century? McKay would have you believe that Cheney should shoulder much of the blame.

Admirably, Cheney is shown to be sympathetic and loving when his daughter Mary (Alison Pill) comes out to her parents as gay. (Lynne is not so understanding.)

Other key players in the film include Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell). They are sources of some of the funnier moments.

I called The Big Short a failure in my review of the film in 2015. Click HERE to read it. Like Vice it was wickedly funny but as an explainer for what happened to cause the financial crisis, it fell short. Vice, on the other hand, is focused and proceeds in a linear manner with few course changes. It tells its tale well, however with a liberal bent (which McKay acknowledges in a hilarious coda).

See it. Enjoy it. Don’t take it as gospel.

 

 

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The Old Man And The Gun

Redford

The Old Man And The Gun has all those classic indy film elements: quirky characters, quirky plot, a few slow periods where little happens, a mediocre song and a general low budget look.

But this one also has Robert Redford! He may have lost some speed on his fastball, but he still cuts an impressive figure on a movie screen. And he is fun to watch in this one. (Redford just turned 82 in August, FYI.)

Forrest Tucker (Redford) was a real life bank robber. (Not to be confused with the “F Troop” actor.) For Tucker, robbing banks is a bit of a sport. He’s polite to bank staff (and to the authorities who arrest him), not like the fearsome trigger-happy criminals often seen in films and on TV.

As he flees the film’s opening heist, Tucker stops to help a woman whose truck is broken down on the side of the road. He invites her to join him for a bite. So begins his relationship with Jewel (Sissy Spacek). She is charmed and they begin to get together often for apparently non-carnal reasons.

Casey Affleck mumbles his way through his role as Dallas police detective John Hunt. After the feds take over the pursuit of Tucker, Hunt sniffs out Tucker’s backstory, which features a life of crime and incarceration. Also in the cast are Tucker’s sometime accomplices played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits.

For a movie about a bank robber, with car chases and other tense situations, The Old Man And The Gun is relatively light entertainment. Redford’s smiles and chuckles play a big part in softening the feel of the film.

David Lowery is the movie’s writer/director. He did an interesting crime drama I enjoyed (also featuring Affleck’s mumbles) in 2013 with the puzzling title Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

Supposedly this is to be Redford’s last movie. But, as with many music acts who’ve had farewell tours and then later reappeared on stage, there’s a Bond title that applies here: Never Say Never Again. Whether he returns to the screen again or doesn’t, it’s good to have one of one of filmdom’s greats back in a starring role right now.

 

A Star Is Born (2018)

A Star Is Born

The surprising thing about the new A Star Is Born is how fresh it feels. It is a thrice-told tale, but this version does not scream: “retread.” The film’s stars and (especially) its music energize the storytelling and make A Star Is Born truly satisfying.

Even moviegoers who have zero familiarity with the previous iterations of this plot can guess early on where it’s going. Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a big rock star with booze and pill addictions. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a food service employee who sings for kicks in the gay bar where Maine just happens to stop in for a drink.

He gives her a leg up into the music biz and, as they fall in love, their careers move in separate directions: one up, one down.

If you had doubts that Lady Gaga could handle the female lead, well, those doubts were mistaken. She has two killer musical numbers that bookend the film and several other songs in the film, including duets with Cooper. And… her acting beyond the music is solid. This film marks the birth of her movie stardom.

Cooper is an Oscar-winning actor but his musical chops are also impressive. He wears many hats here: he directed the film and is one of three credited screenwriters. His speaking voice in the film is deeper than in his prior films. It accurately sounds like that of a man who has been a lifelong boozer.

Daddy issues play a role in this A Star Is Born. Maine’s dad—also a heavy drinker—died when Jackson was 13. His older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) helped raise him, got him into performing and still works to keep the younger brother in line. Their relationship is not just brotherly but also a bit father/son.

Ally’s dad Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) points out that talent alone is not enough to be successful in showbiz, that looks matter. He says this to soften her disappointment as her musical aspirations stall. But when Maine offers her the chance to join him on tour, her dad encourages to go for it.

Along with the inspired casting of Clay, director Cooper brings Dave Chappelle to the role of Maine’s old chum who rescues him after a binge.

Sometimes the early positive buzz on a movie, often fueled by those who attend the late summer film festivals, fizzles when the movie finally appears on local screens. A Star Is Born (2018) lives up to the buzz. Strong box office is a sure bet. And this may become one that gets repeat viewings.

 

A Late Quartet

A movie about a string quartet? How tedious could that be? In the case of “A Late Quartet,” not tedious at all—this is a lively, energetic movie about a talented group of musicians, performed by a talented group of actors.

You don’t have to be a Beethoven fan to appreciate “A Late Quartet.” There’s plenty of music, but the story is more about the musicians and their passions, musical and otherwise.

Christopher Walken is a recently widowed cello player who is diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a violinist who is married to the quartet’s viola player, played by Catherine Keener. Ukraine native Mark Ivanir is the intense first-chair violinist who wants every note played perfectly.

But musicians do not always play every note perfectly. Christopher Walken’s character has a wonderful scene in the film in which he relates a tale about an encounter with violin great Pablo Casals. The point of his anecdote is that a live performance of music reveals personal interpretation.

The quartet has been together for nearly a quarter century when we meet them. The group is upset first by their cellist’s Parkinson’s, then by Hoffman’s character’s desire to make a change to the group. Then come marital issues between the couple and an upsetting romantic choice by the first chair.

Along with the quartet, a beautiful young actress with the unfortunate name Imogen Poots gives a nice performance as the aspiring violinist daughter of the couple.

Director Yaron Zilberman (such an unknown that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page) who co-wrote the original script, does an excellent job of making these actors appear to be real musicians. (At least to my non-musician eyes.)

Yes, the story is a bit soap opera-ish, but the cast is strong and the music enjoyable. While “A Late Quartet” is unlikely to move beyond art houses, don’t let Beethoven scare you away from a good movie.

Arbitrage

Every character in “Arbitrage” has to make choices. Deciding between doing what’s right and doing what’s expedient is not always easy to do.

“Arbitrage” crams a lot of plot and a good number of characters into this two-hour movie. And, yes, many choices.

Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, a New York finance tycoon who makes big deals and big money. As he turns 60 and prepares to sell his company, things begin to spin apart. His biggest deal may collapse. His mistress is angry that he is missing her art show opening. Should he cut out from dinner with the buyer’s reps and attend to the mistress? Choices.

To make amends he takes her for a drive away from the city. He crashes the car and she dies. He runs away and calls an old friend to pick him up. Should Miller go to the cops and fess up or should he attempt to move on and avoid being connected to the accident? Choices.

Turns out his company’s books are cooked, too. Should those who are privy to the irregularities speak up or risk fraud charges? Choices.

Should his wife, played by Susan Sarandon, put up with his infidelity in order to share his wealth? Choices.

Should the old friend who gave him the ride deny involvement to avoid possible jail time? Choices.

Should the associate who lent Miller 400 million to cover certain losses be patient about getting repaid or should he turn evidence of fraud over to the feds? Choices.

Should a detective play by the rules or should he do whatever he needs, to be sure a judge and jury hear the truth. Choices.

More on the cast: Miller’s mistress is played by former Victoria’s Secret model Laetitia Casta. The man buying the company is played by longtime Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Tim Roth plays the detective investigating the accident. Attractive unknown Brit Marling plays Miller’s daughter and handles a couple of pivotal scenes well.

The lead role in this movie requires a strong performance and Gere delivers. As you make your own choices for grownup entertainment, “Arbitrage” is a good pick.