I’m providing you a warning, this was not worth it.
Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is a therapist with agoraphobia who has recently separated from her husband Edward (Anthony Mackie). Anna suffers from agoraphobia, a fear of going outside. She spies on her neighbors, the Russells, and drinks while taking a number of pills. Jane Russell, the matriarch of the family (Julianne Moore), comes over to visit and the two become friendly. Anna also meets her son, Ethan (Fred Hechinger), who implies that his father Alistair (Gary Oldman) is abusive. One night, Anna witnesses someone murdering Jane. She calls the police, only for them to find out that there is a woman named Jane Russell, but she’s now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Anna’s downstairs tenant, David (Wyatt Russell), claims he didn’t hear anything. The question becomes whether Alistair is a murderer or if Anna is going insane.
I’m not spoiling this ending only on the off chance that you still want to watch the film, but I’m telling you right now that this film was such a disappointment that I moved it up in the order so that I could make sure I told people to avoid it. This was not just a poor remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, it’s inferior to the Shia LaBeouf-led remake Disturbia. The thing is that this film is trying to do too many cliches and too many references and too many pastiches at once. It aspires to be an homage to Hitchcock, but it somehow doesn’t understand what was good about Rear Window or most of Hitchcock. It doesn’t have the mastery of film technique and atmosphere that make for good suspense, instead trying to borrow credibility from those who did.
The film fails to ever really come to life. It’s not suspenseful, it’s not exciting, it’s just slow. I was surprised that the running time was only 100 minutes, because I’d have pegged this film at 150 if you’d asked me during the viewing. It’s mostly made worse by the fact that the nothing you’re seeing onscreen never feels like it’s building, instead it just feels like it’s constantly trying to throw in another interesting idea that it will never follow through on.
This is not to say that the performers in the movie aren’t good. Amy Adams does a great job making herself ambiguously crazy and Gary Oldman similarly makes himself into a figure that could either be a murderer or a man getting upset at having a crazy woman spying on his family. Unfortunately, this is also part of the problem. Most of the characters are depicted as being extremely vague in whether they’re sinister or just misunderstood and the result is that it’s difficult to ever know what these people are actually like.
Overall, it’s just a waste of talent and money. I think the fact that they tried to advertise it with an “anatomy of a scene” breakdown tells you just how desperate they were to try and convince people this film was artful rather than awful. But, if people are looking at a painting and feel nothing, explaining what you were trying to do won’t make them feel more.
Ron Howard brings us a mediocre film that seemed like a guaranteed hit.
The Vances are an Appalachian family who moved to Middletown, Ohio first under Bonnie “Mamaw” Vance (Glenn Close) and her husband Papaw (Bo Hopkins) three generations prior to the present. J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso/Owen Asztalos) is a law student at Yale who is informed on the day before a major interview that his mother, Bev (Amy Adams), is in the hospital from a heroin overdose. He goes back home to help his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), deal with Bev. As he goes home, he flashes back to his youth as his family started to fall apart and he ended up being raised by his grandmother.
This movie should have been called “Oscar Bait,” because that’s clearly what it was supposed to be. It’s a sad, true story adapted from a book about poor people in Appalachia, drug use, and overcoming the odds that was directed by Ron Howard and stars Glenn Close in a role where she is hardly recognizable. Throw in Amy Adams doing an accent and playing a drug addict and everyone knows this film was going to get multiple statues. Unfortunately, it turns out that no matter how many guaranteed award ingredients you put in, you can still wind up with a big plate of mediocrity.
I’ll go ahead and say it, maybe whoever adapted this book to film didn’t quite understand it. Vanessa Taylor, the screenwriter, was the author of The Shape of Water, so clearly she knows what she’s doing in general, but the book Hillbilly Elegy is extremely personal and incredibly pointed criticism of society through the eyes of J.D. Vance. He mostly just uses his family as a way to explore the state of Appalachia and the politics he blames for the problems there. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, but I will admit that it is a well-written memoir that shows how well Vance can sell an anecdote as evidence. Since he’s a lawyer, that’s a useful skill, even though that kind of thing often results in people attributing the wrong causes to effects. Regardless, it’s hard to dissociate the anecdotes and the stories that Vance relates with the commentary and the commentary only works because of the personal relationship the author has with the story. It would require someone with a similar relationship to bring this book to film and I don’t think either Taylor or Ron Howard had it. They tried to take the politics out of it, which makes sense for an adaptation, but that means the only story that remains is an overdone mess.
The film is pretty unfocused. It tries to tell stories about J.D., Bev, and J.D. as a child, but it never really gets us involved in any of them. We know that J.D. will eventually get to Yale Law School so we’re always expecting that moment when he buckles down and takes control of his life. When it happens, the movie doesn’t feel like it’s hitting a climax, but instead just hitting a beat. Most of the scenes are like that, and it robs the movie of a lot of the emotional investment.
Glenn Close, though, almost saves this movie at times. Her performance is so very dedicated and powerful that it stands out quite a bit from the rest of the crowd. When, at the end of the film, you’re shown images of the real Mamaw, she appears to look and move almost exactly like Close’s performance. Close goes into the role almost as much as Gary Oldman did in his performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hours. Given how much people complain about Glenn Close’s lack of an Oscar and how few films have come out this year, I hope the Academy finally gives her her due.
Overall, though, this film just ended up being pretty middle of the road. I really can’t recommend it. If you can deal with the politics, read the book, but otherwise just let this one go.
Adam McKay brings us an off-kilter movie about the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The movie is narrated by Kurt (Jesse Plemons), a soldier, as he discusses the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as well as the impact his presence had on the Bush administration.
The film starts with an alcoholic Dick Cheney getting a DUI and being told to clean up his life by his wife, Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams). Later, Cheney works for the Nixon administration and discovers that the US secretly bombed Cambodia under the advice of Henry Kissinger (Kirk Bovill). Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) ends up being distanced from Nixon, and Cheney, his intern, starts to fall out of grace, but then Nixon resigns and Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense and Cheney becomes White House Chief of Staff, due to them being the only members not really connected with the fallout.
After the Ford administration ends, Cheney has a heart attack and becomes a Congressman from Wyoming, mostly with his wife’s help, and starts to support a bunch of policies that blatantly help corrupt corporations gain lucrative positions and greater control over industries. Cheney serves as Secretary of Defense during the first Bush Administration, but then decides to retire from public life after finding out that his youngest daughter, Mary (Alison Pill), is a lesbian. He then becomes the head of Halliburton and becomes fabulously wealthy.
Cheney gets asked to be the running mate for George W. Bush (Sam “Regular or Extra Menthol” Rockwell) during the 2000 Presidential Election, which Cheney agrees to on the condition that he be allowed to have more power than a typical Vice President. Bush, not particularly caring about actually being President, agrees. As VP, Cheney brings Rumsfeld in as Secretary of Defense, David Addington (Don McManus) as legal counsel, and Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk) as Chief of Staff. Together, they make all of the actual foreign policy and defense decisions in the administration. Then, 9/11 happens.
The movie depicts Cheney as using the attacks as a way to preside over the U.S. Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, resulting in numerous deaths and the rise of ISIS. Kurt, the narrator, served in the military during both of these invasions and witnessed killing of civilians and extrajudicial torture of prisoners. Meanwhile, Cheney has multiple heart issues which eventually put him on his deathbed. He says a tearful goodbye to his family, but Kurt is killed while jogging and his heart saves Cheney’s life.
At the end of the movie, Liz Cheney (Lily Rabe) wins her father’s seat in Congress after speaking out against gay marriage, leading Mary Cheney to leave the family. The film then breaks the fourth wall and has an angry Cheney state that he has no regrets about anything he’s done. A mid-credits scene depicts a focus group where a right-wing viewer calls the film biased and violently attacks a panelist who disagrees while most of the other panelists focus on upcoming action movies.
Okay, so, this was the movie that I least imagined would get nominated for an Oscar out of all of the nominees, even Black Panther. I didn’t think super highly of A Star Is Born, but I thought it was Oscar bait. BlacKkKlansman seemed like a shoo-in, same with Roma. Bohemian Rhapsody wowed me with spectacle in the theater, so it wasn’t until later that I realized “oh, this dialogue is actually kind of lousy.” Green Book had Mahershala Ali’s performance in a film that makes Hollywood feel good. The Favourite was a period piece with great costumes and three amazing leads and artistic angles, so that’s basically a gimme. This movie, though…
Adam McKay is a very talented director, ranging from Anchorman and Talladega Nights to The Big Short. He’s great at doing very stylized movies that have lots of solid comic elements, as well as occasional sudden shifts in tone or focus, like the “Afternoon Delight” scene in Anchorman or the multiple fourth-wall breaks to explain concepts in The Big Short. This movie has devices similar to those, but I think it went a little overboard on them while trying to handle a subject that it simultaneously wants to mock and also to take seriously. You have the framing device of the narrator, but also false endings, fourth wall breaks, the focus group, the double time shift from 9/11… it’s just a little too much structural mutation within a film that isn’t exactly sure what tone it wants to take. This film portrays horrible events and wants you to think about how horrible they are… but then makes a few one-liners about how ignorant Americans are. It’s not impossible to do both of these tones in one film, but I don’t think they quite pulled it off here.
The film presents Dick Cheney as both a wasted dropout who lucked into a job and also a brilliant schemer who essentially uses Machiavellian tactics to gain power and wealth, but it never really connects with how he can be both. Yes, people are multifaceted, that’s the beauty of dealing with real people rather than archetypes, but even with Bale’s great performance (and it is absolutely fantastic), Cheney only seems to be a series of shifting characters, not one man that is all of these things. It clearly says that he’s a bad person, and the film takes the stance that everything he does is pretty much awful, but saying “oh, hey, this humorously over-the-top villain is bad” is a little less subtle than Bale’s performance merited.
That said, every performance in this is amazing. Bale’s so good you wouldn’t even believe he’s the same guy who played Batman or Patrick Bateman, while Rockwell reminds us once again that he is an almost unbelievable talent. If you haven’t watched Moon or Seven Psychopaths, you’re missing out. Amy Adams is a national freaking treasure and should be treated as such. Steve Carell, Lily Rabe, Alison Pill, Tyler Perry, all of them did amazing work. If there is one thing to be said about this, everyone was giving 110%.
My biggest complaint, though, and it’s a very personal one to me, is that this movie breaks one of my cardinal rules of filmmaking: It tells the audience that you’re wrong to not like it. It presents all the people who aren’t excited about the film as either vapid idiots who don’t care enough about the world to pay attention or angry idiots who are going to be pissed about the liberalism of Hollywood. Even if you were to believe both of those things, and you very well might, just acknowledging these people to mock them doesn’t ever do anything positive. If you believe that what you’re saying, even if it will be criticized, is still worth saying, THEN F*CKING SAY IT. Don’t try to pre-defend yourself by taking shots at your detractors, just say what you believe and stand by it.
Overall, I don’t dislike the movie, in fact I thought a lot of parts of it were good and inventive, but the structure was a little too messy for me to really think it was going to be an Oscar nominee. But maybe that’s why I only write for a few hundred people on the internet, rather than Time Magazine.