Ford v Ferrari = Friendship!

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I’m not sure what the message of Ford v Ferrari is, and I’m not sure if that’s a mostly good or mostly bad thing. (We could be doing a lot worse in this world!) Is it about how you can’t ever stop American individualism from being as individual as possible? Or is it about how the United States won’t ever stay an underdog for long, even in pursuits usually dominated by the Europeans? If it’s either of those, then why is the main character an Englishman? Maybe it’s about how teammates stick with each other no matter what, and the whole American-ness of it all just be how it be. Certainly what stuck with me the most is the friendship between Christian Bale’s vroom-vroom-goer Ken Miles and Matt Damon’s vroom-vroom-guider Carroll Shelby. It’s an oft-contentious relationship, which only makes sense when you’re gearing up for a race that lasts a full day. Such competition, such support, such politics behind the whole affair – I saw it all!

I give Ford v Ferrari 240 out of 360 Laps.

This Is a Movie Review: Vice

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Justin Kirk, Tyler Perry, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan

Director: Adam McKay

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for Profanity in the Halls of Power and Images of War and Torture

Release Date: December 25, 2018

If I’m understanding Vice correctly, then Adam McKay believes that Dick Cheney (here embodied by Christian Bale) is directly or indirectly responsible for everything that is wrong with the current state of American politics. That actually is not as much of a stretch as it sounds. During his eight years as vice president, Cheney wielded a degree of influence that was profoundly unprecedented for the position. The conventional wisdom is that his views on executive power and surveillance now represent the status quo for whoever is occupying the White House. Thus, McKay is not so far off the reservation to imply all that he is implying. But he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew with the expansiveness of his argument. He was similarly ambitious with The Big Short, but that earlier effort is more durable to scrutiny because there he laid the responsibility on forces that were perpetrated both actively and passively by many people. It may very well turn out to be true that Cheney’s influence is as wide-ranging as McKay claims – it’s just tricky to say so about a person who is still living.

Interestingly enough, that tenuousness is baked right into the script. If not for a few key decisions, the life of Dick Cheney, and ergo America, could have played out very differently. Without the presence of his wife Lynne (Amy Adams conjuring Lady Macbeth), he could have ended up a drunk nobody. And if not for his propensity to see life like a chess match in which he is ten moves ahead of everyone else, there might be no Patriot Act, ISIS, or extreme income inequality.

The thesis of Vice is that it was all so close to going differently. Through fourth-wall breaking and formal experimentation (like playing the end credits halfway through), the message is that all that we have been living through was not foreordained. Some may find that frightening, as it indicates that we are always on the precipice of disaster. And McKay’s propensity to cut to random footage of pop culture ephemera may come off as a lamentation that we are too distracted to do anything about it. But I actually see encouragement. You don’t have to like Cheney for him to be an inspiration. If you have a problem with the way things are in the country right now, maybe you can see an opportunity where everyone else sees the masses placated by “Wassup!” commercials. I’m not sure how well Vice works as a movie, but I choose to see it as an exhortation to make things right.

Vice is Recommended If You Like: The Big Short, Oliver Stone’s political thrillers, The Daily Show, Fourth-wall breaking

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Unitary Executive Theories

This Is a Movie Review: Hostiles

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Lorey Sebastian/Yellow Hawk, Inc.

I give Hostiles 2.5 out of 5 Hostiles: http://newscult.com/movie-review-christian-bale-gives-it-his-grimmest-in-the-dour-distressing-hostiles/

This Is a Movie Review: The Promise

Leave a comment

This post was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale

Director: Terry George

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Acknowledging Crimes of Humanity Against Humanity

Release Date: April 21, 2017

This February’s Bitter Harvest strove for epic love against the real-life backdrop of the Soviet Ukrainian famine of the 1930’s. The effort to shine a light on an oft-ignored chapter in history was admirable, but the tame dramatization resulted in a less-than-memorable story. The Promise operates by much the same principles of historical examination but ends up with something more compelling, thanks to a more complicated romantic scenario. The setting in this case is especially relevant: the World War I-era systematic extermination of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire, which the Turkey (Ottoman’s successor) to this day refuses to refer to as “genocide.” If shots of fleeing Armenians can stir up empathy for today’s refugees, then The Promise will prove its worth in at least one way.

Furthering the Bitter Harvest comparison, The Promise is the latest in a long line of American-produced historical epics with questionable casting. There are some Armenians and Turks among the supporting cast, but the main players consist of a mix of Guatemalan (Oscar Isaac), Iranian (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and French Canadian (Charlotte Le Bon, although at least in her case she is playing an Armenian raised in Paris). Even the main American is played by a Welsh-Englishman!

I am not systematically opposed to an actor’s ethnicity not matching up with the character, but when a movie is about the attempted destruction of an entire people, and only one of the principal roles is played by a member of that people (Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan), the optics do not look great. Isaac’s accent work is solid, and he brings so much decency to his performance such that his lack of Middle Eastern heritage does not detract from the film’s overall quality. Still, it is worth considering this issue from a business and humanistic standpoint.

The Promise illuminates how emotional and familial well-being are insignificant but also essential in the face of widespread disaster. The synopses I have encountered have billed this as a love triangle, but it is really more of a quadrangle. Armenian villager Mikael (Isaac) moves to Constantinople for medical school, which he can afford thanks to the dowry he receives after agreeing to marry fellow villager Maral (Sarafyan). While in school, he meets and falls in love with Ana (Le Bon). She quite passionately reciprocates his feelings, though she is married to American journalist Chris (Bale).

As war breaks out, the story takes a turn toward labor camps, escapes under cover of night, and attempts to flee the country. The romantic rivals are allies in the greater struggle of exposing the truth and rescuing their loved ones. Isaac conveys the burden and resolve of a man bound by duty that is at odds with his once-in-a-lifetime romance. When he and Bale share the screen, the tension is riveting – you are never sure if they will punch or hug each other. This is the struggle of an existence driven by both emotions and morals. When humanity – both the principle and the population – is threatened with extinction, living right and living passionately still must find a way.

The Promise is Recommended If You Like: Atonement, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan

Grade: 3 out of 5 Sacrifices