Who is Dick Cheney? Well I don't think Vice even knows the answer to that question. When the Academy recently announced this year's nominations it was revealed that Adam McKay's wickedly comedic political biopic scored a head turning eight nominations. Whether Vice is Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Make-Up and Hairstyling or Best Director material is another matter altogether.
In the same zany formula as his last movie The Big Short McKay tells the story of Dick Cheney - a washed up hell raiser freshly booted out of Yale - who subsequently rose through the ranks to become Veep to the 43rd President of the United States, one George W. Bush. Vice spotlights Cheney's behind the scenes influence, quietly building eye popping power, his involvement with the war on terror and consequent invasion of Iraq, and how his legacy has shaped American democracy for years to come.
Vice is fragmented, provocative and worst of all underwhelming. There is a great film underneath this political mess; McKay's eccentric direction remains as niche as always but his latest Oscar orientated endeavour does a poor job of piecing itself together. The film uses freeze frames often for comedic effect but it becomes jarring for the audience when the gag is proceeded by a slice of serious information - and confusing - it's extremely difficult to know when to laugh and exhausting when the narrative spontaneously shifts tone. Frankly, the curious story of Dick Cheney is swallowed up by McKay's chaotic formula.
Christian Bale is the exemplar chameleon actor. Wasting away into the gaunt Trevor Reznik in The Machinist (2004) then beefing up into the Bat of Gotham in The Dark Knight (2008), Bale piles on the pounds as America's former vice president. However I don't think his performance genuinely lives up to the hype - this is by no means a discredit to Bale's capability as a method actor but Vice fails to develop his character beyond that of a reserved career politician. Fundamentally, McKay's batty biopic tells us no more than we already knew about Cheney, there's no deep insight into American politics and nothing proves particularly revealing.
That said All the vice president's men do a better job in the Oval Office. Amy Adams is remarkably strong willed as Lynne Cheney and Steve Carell brings his cheeky but obnoxiousness humour as Donald Rumsfeld - however counter to that, Sam Rockwell is middling in his small role as George W. Bush. Bale - the supposed centre of the story - is quite disappointing. Vice never gets down to the nitty gritty of The Big Short, feeling no more than a scattergun, politically biased story that lacks any real concentration.
Nichole Kidman looks like she's been dragged through a hedge backwards, amongst many other things. Watered boarded, burnt, bruised and blistered - this is the most method we've ever seen this Australian actress. At a (reportedly) modest $9 million budget It's also one of the smallest film she's appeared in, at least for a very long time. Karyn Kusama, whose previous work includes Æon Flux and Jennifer's Body, has dreamed up an arty but dark and dirty thriller with the intention of showcasing Kidman's raw talent - glossy Hollywood effects aside.
Broken police detective Erin Bell is dragged back into the legacy of her first undercover operation, which went badly wrong - with disastrous consequences - after she discovers the leader of the gang she infiltrated has re-emerged. Kidman is truly unrecognisable in Destroyer - a quirky film noir with lots of loose ends. Kusama's latest effort mixes Taxi Driver with Three Billboards - but without the brutality of Travis Bickle or cut throat wit of Mildred Hayes. This rampage fable flip-flops between the past and present, but it isn't until the final act we fully absorb Kidman's emotional and physical trauma. In the constant flashbacks Kusama spotlights Kidman's relationship with FBI partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) - it dominates the majority of the film, but this plot device feels flimsy and quite unconvincing.
By the same token, Toby Kebell is about as menacing as Kidman's ratty old wig. Bell sets out on this furious stampede, all guns blazing for revenge on Kebell's gang leader Silas - but Kebell's performance is so tame and wishy-washy its inconceivable he is the initiator of this bloody mess.. Add on an unsatisfying and poorly orchestrated sub plot involving Erin's daughter Shelby, the film attempts to make Erin a bit more personable and human but this sub-plot has a tagged on and uncomfortable feel
Destroyer is chiefly about Kidman's gruelling and driven performance. She storms around the shabby and disillusioned streets of LA all blood thirsty, battered and broken - her lived in stench positively radiates off the screen. She provides fixed stare, teeth clenched anger and bitter despair whilst skulking around in her bashed up saloon. This is a striking and transformative role for Kidman and it's refreshing to see her star in such a small flick - that said, Destroyer would have virtually nothing about it if it weren't for her superstar appeal
It's small scale but equally small in ambition.
Nineteen years in the making - Glass completes M. Night Shyamalan's realistic superhero trilogy. Although The Sixth Sense is far and away his best work - when it all stacks up, Shyamalan is better known for his career misfires rather than his handful of (albeit amazing) hits. That being said, Unbreakable and Split fall into the latter. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) better known as The Overseer, uses his abilities to track Kevin Wendlell Crumb (James McAvoy) - a Dissociative Identity Disorder sufferer with twenty four different personalities. The two super-humans soon find themselves detained in a mental institution however, alongside the meticulous Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson).
Glass shatters expectations. Although it may leave some fans split, Shyamalan concludes his thriller trilogy with a scheming and well realised final chapter. Bolstered by a trio of incredibly compelling and fleshed out characters - Glass turns down the Superman dial and questions what would it be like for superheroes to exist unseen in the real world. He softens all that bombastic and fantastical Marvel noise in his realistic take on super-humans; the special effects are kept to a minimum and the story is surprisingly subtle and deliberate. Like the villain of this tightly strung tale - Shyamalan's career is varying and unpredictable, luckily for us however Glass comes from the hit or miss director's good side.
Willis, McAvoy and Jackson are electric. McAvoy really out does himself once again, turning in twenty three different performances - however in this instalment we can see a lot more of his pain as Kevin. Willis - who has the least screen time of the bunch - continues his role as the noble, outside the law Overseer. Nevertheless, Jackson is not just the mastermind of the narrative but the centre of the entire feature itself - a very unusual and quiet turn for the actor, his performance is as delicate as Mister Glass's bones but also as razor sharp as his brain.
The chemistry between these three fizzles from the moment David locks horns with Kevin; they are all distinctly different but ultimately face the same threat: Sarah Paulson's Nurse Ratched inspired Dr. Ellie Staple. Glass is all about the supersession of supernatural phenomenon, with the three title characters suffocated by the their own so called "insanity".
Somewhere in some undisclosed location there is a vault full of ideas for twist endings - but it wouldn't take an Elijah Price's brilliant mind to figure out which studio office I'm referencing. For some reason fans seem enraged by the film's ending, but compared to his previous work the climax of Glass works very well. Shyamalan wraps up his realistic superhero trilogy with style, nuance and slow burning intention - there is little spectacular action for a reason, but seems some people might have been expecting more.
Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronin, who went head to head in the battle for best actress at last year's oscars, find themselves at odds once again. With sex, scandal and bloodshed all on the agenda Mary Queen of Scots offers Josie Rourke - Artistic Director from the Donmar Warehouse in London's theatreland - her full Silver Screen directorial debut. This historic drama examines Mary Stuart's attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth the First, followed by the years of imprisonment leading up to her execution.
About as engaging as reading through a battered old textbook, Mary Queen of Scots is a dry and draining as a year nine history lesson. Rourke, taking a modern approach, brings to light the challenges of being a woman of authority in what was absolutely a mans' world. As well intentioned as she may be however, the result is a chest beating feminist statement that really misses the point about these two amazing British queens. Doing everything in its power to be as painfully politically correct as possible, this biographical drama becomes more fantastic than authentic, and is far worse for it
The film takes a routine and unchallenging path through Mary's life - amazingly - as it was by no means unchallenging for her. As Mary Queen of Scots is built entirely around the conflict between Mary and Elizabeth, as the audience we don't really feel that pain or passion, ending up more like uneasy bystanders. Robbie barely gets a chance to showcase her phenomenal acting credentials - in comparison to Ronin she has very little screen time and ultimately makes poor use of what she does have, turning in a low-key and ineffective performance. Her co-star on the other hand further demonstrates her acting royalty - Ronin is strong willed and empowered as Mary Stuart, singlehandedly bearing the weight of this otherwise burdensome film.
For the most part Mary Queen of Scots has its head in the clouds. There is so much that the film could have done, but it embarrasses itself with forced relationships, an awkward supporting cast and stale storytelling. The film takes no creative leaps of faith yet paradoxically it's not entirely grounded in reality either, fundamentally Rourke fails to grab our attention with Queen Elizabeth and Mary's surprisingly underdeveloped relationship.
Rouke places two up-to-the-minute stars in a dusty and uninspired tumble through British history, with Ronin ruling as Mary Stuart. Mary Queen of Scots is devoid of the blistering political tension you would expect, and what's more the narrative develops in a particularly substandard way - packing no punch nor delivering any surprises. As bland and watered down as primary school squash, Mary Queen of Scots demonstrates that Brexit isn't the only political disaster currently doing the rounds.
Mary Queen of Scots:
Timothée Chalamet has risen to fame quicker than you can say Call Me By Your Name. At just 22 he became the third youngest nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and with many upcoming roles Chalamet has cemented himself as a rising star and gifted talent. Based on the pair of best-selling memoirs from David and Nic Cheff (Steve Carell and Chalamet) Beautiful Boy recounts one family's harrowing experience of addiction, relapse and recovery.
This bleak druggy drama excels visually regardless of its scattershot structure. Carell and Chalamet deliver two winning performances as a son and father at their wits end. Beautiful Boy exhibits fittingly beautiful cinematography utilising warm, subdued lighting and numerous thought provoking shots giving the film a remarkably home-grown feel. Director Felix van Groeninegn visualises the ups, downs and sharp left turns of drug use, but consequently the film is edited with the same erratic inconsistency. Beautiful Boy abruptly cuts between the past and present - although trying to establish the father-son dynamic before narcotics overcame Nic's life has all the giddiness of shooting a line of cocaine. Added to this, the music just does not work in junction with the story. Although the score sometimes reflects that numbing sensation of being under the influence, overall its shrieking effect clashes with the film's more delicate tone.
Beautiful Boy is nevertheless an emotionally affecting biography. With the risk of being too soppy, Groeninegn has exposed all the truths and impacts of drug abuse, specifically focusing on the cataclysmic impact it has on all of the family members. Through Chalamet's detached performance balanced by the sheer desperation of Carell's this impactful story emphasises the prevalence of drugs in youth groups, along with the wayward and haphazard road to recovery.
Important albeit imperfect, Beautiful Boy is a hard-hitting drama that spotlights extremely relevant current social affairs. Groeninegn reveals a lot of obscure beauty through the camera demonstrating notably above average cinematography, although it's frustrating however that the film doesn't have the same flawless structure. Impulsively flipping between flash backs and modern day, Beautiful Boy is pretty confused - but beautifully bleak all the same.
Hollywood has seen many iconic comedy duos throughout time: Bop Hope & Bing Crosby, Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost - but none more iconic than Laurel & Hardy. John C Riley slaps on the prosthetics whilst Steve Coogan tries to shake off Alan Partridge in Jon S. Baird's tender biopic Stan & Ollie. Poles apart from his previous offering, dirty crime drama Filth, Baird takes a far gentler approach with his latest feature. Laurel and Hardy - past their heyday - set to reignite their careers on a nostalgic theatre tour across Britain.
This delightful double act will charm your socks off but their mediocre show lacks the same pizzazz. Riley turns in what is arguably the performance of his career, his portrayal of Ollie Hardy is delicate, humble and certainly understated. Though not quite as compelling Coogan is perfectly acceptable if slightly underwhelming as Stan Laurel, other great additions to the cast include Shirley Henderson as Lucile Hardy who dons a brilliant Texan accent. Yet despite all this, without some really great performances Stan & Ollie is just another bland, by the books biopic.
Moving on from his catalogue of Will Ferrell buddy comedy movies Riley wows in arguably the most sophisticated role we've seen from him. He adds the small touches like Hardy's precise hand waves and gentle voice, that in the end prove very effective. Coogan counters this charisma with an abrasive though compassionate portrayal of Stan Laurel. Even though Riley makes more of the character, it's still a nice change of pace for the Alpha Papa actor.
Baird's decidedly heartwarming drama has its fair share of charming moments - re-staging some of the comedy duo's most iconic skits, but for the most part the movie lacks real character. Stan & Ollie falls into the large box of conventional BBC dramas, there is very little to write home about when it comes to style and storytelling. The camerawork is somewhat limited - we hastily walk through the 30's before fast forwarding to 50's London, but there are hardly any remarkable frames that provoke their sense of showmanship. Maybe that's just a personal preference - I'm sure hard-core Laurel and Hardy fans will be swept away with nostalgia but otherwise the film is pretty lacklustre.
Stan & Ollie is pleasant though unremarkable; these two Hollywood legends should have been placed in a grander and more cinematic feature, one that really underlines their heavy influence in the industry. This is definitely a high point for Riley's career, demonstrating that the comedy actor does indeed have range. Otherwise, Stan & Ollie is missing the spark of the comedy duo and their legacy doesn't really shine.
Stan & Ollie:
Booting up the trusty flux capacitor Robert Zemeckis kick starts 2019 with Welcome to Marwen. Inspired by the 2010 documentary Marwenco, Zemeckis tells the true story of Mark Hogencamp - the victim of a brutal hate crime who loses his memory but finds a unique and therapeutic way to help him on his journey to recovery. Combining doll-like animation with live action and following his recent run of humdrum movies, can Zemekics make a fantastic return to form with this bold artistic move?
Welcome to Marwen is just as plastic and hollow as the dolls that populate it. Although the film has a sprinkling of tender moments, for the most part Zemekics churns out a sloppy, schmaltzy bio-pic that consistently trips over its own feet. This ridiculously un-profound melodrama spotlights how a chalkboard brainstorm can completely collapse in on itself during production. Welcome to Marwen boasts an intriguing Barbie-esque style of animation, but as well as it blends with the narrative visually there is a lot left to be desired. Zemeckis makes a dogs dinner of some potentially brilliant source material, made worse by his and Caroline Thompson's awkward and clumsy screenplay.
Steve Carrell delivers a serviceable performance as the eccentric but broken artist Mark Hoggencamp, finding some nuance with certain mannerisms but is ultimately drowned out by the negative quirks of the film. Other great additions to the cast are wasted in cookie cutter roles - Leslie Mann is very one sided as Mark's love interest Nichol, and the same can be said for Gwendoline Christie and Janelle Monàe who are more compelling in their plastic form. Lacking the organisation of a typical dolls house, Welcome to Marwen is a jumble of abandoned bits and bobs, failing to tie its loose and elementary themes together.
Soppy and one dimensional - the film aims for the heartstrings but its over reliance on gushy dialog makes it hard to sympathise with at all. Watching this you'd be shocked to discover this is the same man behind the rich and highly sophisticated Forrest Gump; but don't expect any of the same artistry on display here. Zemeckis is so caught up in his own fantasy formula that in the latter stages of the film he even goes as far as to rip off his very own Back to the Future with a nonsensical, faux Delorean finale.
It appears you'll certainly feel unwelcome in Marwen. Zemeckis really loses his touch in this crummy turn for a director with a fair few notches on his belt. Steve Carell does his best to kick some life into this picture, but in the end Welcome to Marwen is plagued by a weak script and uninspired storytelling.
Welcome to Marwen:
The Favourite seems to be everyone's favourite to win big at the 2019 academy awards. Whilst it's still early days and nobody knows the certified list of Oscar contenders, Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos rockets into the new year with a foul mouthed and filthy period drama. This trailblazing director is notorious for his arthouse filmography and deadpan execution, with his latest feature certainly no exception. Winding the grandfather clock back to early 18th century England, we find a declining Queen Anne occupying the throne with the aid of her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. This intimate relationship is soon disrupted by the arrival of Abigail - Sarah's charming, yet misfortunate cousin.
Wicked, dark and meticulous - The Favourite flaunts a tour de force of contemporary acting royalty. Lanthimos unleashes a plethora of smut, scandal and deception in his latest cinema achievement. Although appearing as a standard historical portrait, The Favourite displays a complete lack of sophistication and civility. By the end of the story there is no glue nor plaster that can salvage this completely cracked canvas, and no way of keeping hold of any sort of decorum. Lantimos has put together a picture that is dizzying in every sense of the word; each element weaves into the other, culminating into a cut throat misadventure that leaves very little breathing room.
Through lavish cinematography and exquisite guidance with the camera Lanthimos immerses you into the turmoil of a troubled Queen Anne's reign. Boasting unorthodox shot types, he makes very effective use of the rather outlandish fish eye lens - emphasising the scale of Anne's loneliness as the broken hearted, childless widow. Lantimos embeds his unique artistic style within the foundations of this movie, using the camera as a tool to unravel the narrative; although it may seem arty-farty at times he has buckets full of substance to match.
The Favourite showcases a leading trio of the current creme de la creme. At just thirty, Emma Stone echoes talent on a Meryl Streep level. Feted for her nicey-nicey, girl next door roles to date - Stone is shocking as the manipulative Abigail, easily her most striking performance to date. Rachel Weiz stars as Lady Sarah; blunt and brutal, her almost hypnotic delivery underpins just how marvellous Debora Davis and Tony McNamara's screenplay is. Not to forget the amazing Olivia Coleman, triumphant as the complex, almost Shakesperianly tragic Queen Anne. Coleman whines, screams and vomits across the entire film but she brings a genuine sense or sorrow and vulnerability to her role. In spite of this The Favourite is an impish, mean spirited character study, and absolutely none of it would work at all if there wasn't such profound chemistry between the three of them.
The Favourite doesn't have a single composer but rather combines the likes of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel with a violent string soundtrack mimicking the unnerving twinge of characters and their relationships. The unusually spaced out lettering in the opening credits tell you everything you need to know - The Favourite really is an innovative and off the wall take at the period drama. Over the years Lantimos has pioneered himself as an envelope pushing filmmaker with a unique set of directing chops, here he delivers the same dark artistry we've seen in previous work Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Most of all The Favourite aligns three flawless individuals who together serve up an absolute whirlwind cinema delight - a surprising yet fantastic way to start the year.
The Favourite :
Pinch of info
Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.