On the Basis of Sex

January 11, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Therox
Directed by: Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact”)
Written by: Daniel Stiepleman (debut)

Much like last year’s documentary “RBG,” the feature biopic “On the Basis of Sex” doesn’t depict current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s full contribution as an iconic legal scholar but manages to hit enough high points early in her career to deem it mostly inspirational. Still, for a film highlighting such an esteemed women’s-rights activist like Ginsburg, it is unfortunately much too conventional to make a worthwhile impression.

“OTBOS” begins with Ginsburg (Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones), a married mother of one, enrolling in Harvard Law School in 1956, where she was only one of nine women in her class (Harvard started admitting women six years prior). Her husband Marty (Armie Hammer) was also attending Harvard Law at the time, although their relationship isn’t given as much emotional weight as in the 2017 doc.

Written by first-time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman, who happens to be Ginsburg’s real-life nephew, “OTBOS” focuses on the challenges Ginsburg faced after she graduated from law school (she transferred to Columbia) and couldn’t find a firm that would hire her despite the fact she was at the top of her class. There are plenty of examples of mansplaining to choose from during OTBOS, but it’s during her time in college and while searching for a job as a lawyer that will spur the most indignation from audiences. In one scene, a potential employer explains to her that although her credentials are second to none, his firm couldn’t hire her because the wives would get jealous.

Along with her battle through the unapologetic trenches of New York City law, “OTBOS” follows Ginsburg, who at the time was a law professor at Rutgers University, as she preps for one particularly groundbreaking case — a 1972 lawsuit known as Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The case saw Ginsburg representing Charles Moritz, her client who was denied a tax deduction for caregiver expenses simply because the tax law only identified female caregivers as the rightful recipients of the deduction. She argued the gender-discrimination case in front of Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and won — thus opening the doors for other gender-discrimination cases to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court, such as Frontiero v. Richardson, Ledbetter v. Goodyear and United States v. Virginia.

Directed by Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact”), who is a glass-ceiling destroyer herself (in 1973, she became the first female to graduate from the American Film Institute Conservatory), “OTBOS” plays it as safe as possible and misses an opportunity to package Ginsburg’s six decades of influence on the courts into an absorbing two-hour history lesson for mainstream audiences who only know her as the “Notorious RBG” or as a viral meme. Instead, Leder relies on simplistic storytelling and clichés to drive the narrative forward. Objection sustained.

Sorry to Bother You

July 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Boots Riley (debut)
Written by: Boots Riley (debut)

Embrace the absurdity. That’s the best advice anyone could give moviegoers who walk into the bizarre, dark comedy “Sorry to Bother You,” written and directed by rapper Boots Riley. It’s one of the most original films you’ll likely see all year, which, depending on your threshold for certifiably crazy storylines, could be a rewarding experience or one that frustrates you.

“STBY” is really an indie movie told in three substantially different acts, all of which progress (or digress, if you refuse to go along for the ride) into a stranger narrative than the one before. To begin, we’re introduced to Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young black man desperate to find a job and move himself and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) out of his uncle’s garage apartment.

He gets the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder when he takes a job with a sketchy telemarketing corporation that promises him a bright and prosperous future if he is able to work his way up and become one of their elite “power callers.” With a promotion comes the opportunity to rub elbows with Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the coke-snorting CEO of a controversial company that profits from slave labor.

The first act is clever and funny as we watch Cassius make sales calls and transport into the houses of the people he is trying to pitch. It’s an inventive way to show the intrusive nature of Cassius’ position and how little power he wields as an insignificant voice behind a telephone. Cassius starts to get the hang of it, however, when a veteran coworker (Danny Glover) advises him to use his “white voice” when speaking to customers. The trick works, and Cassius skyrockets to the top floor, to the frustration of his co-workers who hoped he would support their efforts to unionize so they could demand higher pay and benefits.

Seen as a sell-out — a theme Riley also explores with Detroit, an aspiring performance artist — Cassius pursues his capitalistic self-interest, which leads him to the discovery of what “power callers” are actually selling their clients, and calls into question Cassius’ own sense of moral responsibility. Riley piles on the surreal, politically charged metaphors and satirical scenes at a frenetic rate, so if you keep up, you’ll probably enjoy most of the insanity.

It’s the third act of “STBY” that’ll certainly be the defining moment for viewers who are on the fence about whether Riley lets his sometimes unfocused ambition as a first-time filmmaker get the best of him. What “STBY” has going for it in these final scenes is that it never loses its identity as a bat-shit ridiculous concept that doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously. If anything, it’s refreshing to know there are creators bold enough to attempt something so risky and anarchic.

Final Portrait

April 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, Clémence Poésy
Directed by: Stanley Tucci (“Big Night”)
Written by: Stanley Tucci (“Big Night”)

While it’s usually never great to see “how the sausage is made” in most industries, there’s always been something intriguing — at least from a cinematic perspective — about peeking into the life of an artist and witnessing the inspiration, imagination and sometimes ugliness that permeates the creative process.

From the obsessed filmmaker Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) in Federico Fellini’s 1963 surreal Italian classic “8½” to last year’s neurotic dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic, stylish and strange drama “Phantom Thread,” watching masters at work (or in pain from their inability to create) makes for some fascinating substance for character analysis.

It’s especially true when documentarians are able to identify a compelling subject whose passion for their craft knows no limits and details something as specialized as video-game design (“Indie Game: The Movie”) or method acting (“Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”) or even preparing sushi (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”). The subgenre is one that extends across countless disciplines – none as tempestuous as visual art.

Although the tortured artist is a cliché that is often overemphasized, a number of biopics and docs such as “Basquiat,” “Pollack,” “Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry” and “Gerhard Richter Painting,” have proven that each of these artists’ insight is worthy of a deep dive into learning what makes them tick. The same can’t be said, unfortunately, about “Final Portrait,” a shallow, British-American drama that offers no real substance behind the paper-thin narrative and characters presented by Oscar-nominated actor-turned-filmmaker Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”).

In his first foray into the director’s chair in more than a decade, Tucci explores the connection between Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) and American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer), who poses as a model inside Alberto’s Paris studio in 1964. “You’re my husband’s next victim,” Alberto’s wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) tells James on the first day he steps into the studio for what is supposed to be a three-hour sitting.

A few hours, however, drag on for nearly three weeks as Alberto, surrounded by dusty sculptures and picturesque albeit dreary production design, transforms into a self-doubting, hopeless curmudgeon who curses at his canvas as much as he actually puts paint on it and delivers empty dialogue like “It’s gone too far; same time, not far enough” when he makes a potential breakthrough. James is also introduced to Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a pretty prostitute Alberto considers his muse and “nighttime companion.”

Alberto is a frustrating character, which was probably Tucci’s desire from the get-go, but the repetition in his process, or lack thereof, which spins in a loop from self-deprecating to compulsive to selfish, also twists him into a fairly unlikeable human being. Rush plays it with compassion much like he did in his Oscar-winning role in 1996’s “Shine,” but it’s a move that would only be helpful to the story if Hammer’s portrayal of James balanced it in a way audiences could feel a real relationship was present or at least forming.

Sadly, Hammer is a blank slate — a wet napkin dressed in a blue blazer and tie, sitting on a rickety wicker chair watching Alberto dip his brush into gray paint. He’s an emotionally absent pushover, and none of it is very revealing or in the interest of either gentleman. In fact, around day 12, James, through some ineffective voiceover narration, says the time he has spent with Alberto has put a “psychological strain” on him. However, Tucci, who adapted the script from Lord’s memoir “A Giacometti Portrait,” never gives an indication that James is stressed about the situation he has found himself in. Instead of just telling audiences that the prolonged art project is driving him nuts, it would have been beneficial to see something expressed on James’ perfect face. In “Final Portrait,” Hammer adequately plays what is ultimately the equivalent of a bowl of fruit.

Aside from a couple of short, thought-provoking discussions between James and Alberto about suicide and artists stealing ideas from each other, not much is memorable during their studio time. What we’re left with is Alberto scowling at his work, threatening to abandon the portrait, smoking, yelling “fuck” a lot, burying his head in his hands in complete anguish and going for occasional walks.

At one point, Alberto declares that “portraits have no meaning,” to which James questions with, “So, what we’re doing is meaningless?” As a moviegoer watching “Final Portrait,” the theory also rings true.

Ep. 108 – Call Me By Your Name and our Top Ten Films of 2017

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week, The CineSnob Podcast returns to review “Call Me By Your Name” and Cody and Jerrod run down their top 10 films of 2017.

Click here to download the episode!

Call Me By Your Name

January 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash”)
Written by: James Ivory (“Maurice”)

As the calendar turns to a new year and the quality of box office options are about the plummet, the one savior is the slow roll of award-worthy films slowly leaking their way to wider releases. Next up for audiences is the highly-acclaimed love story “Call Me By Your Name.”

In the Summer of 1983, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is in Italy with his parents. His father, who is a college professor, has a student intern named Oliver (Armie Hammer) come to live with them in their summer home. As Elio shows Oliver around town and spends time with him socially, he begins to realize that he has deeper feelings for him. As he expresses this, he finds out that Oliver may feel the same way as the two head down the path of summer love.

The acting is across the board phenomenal, but much of the credit deserves to go the Chalamet, who plays the part to perfection. The role calls for much internal conflict and Chalamet has a piercing empty stare that is simultaneously expressionless and emotes deep agony. Beyond that, he’s magnetic and endlessly likeable, two qualities that will serve him well in almost any role in what is sure to be a bright future. Hammer, for his part, is great as well, as the confident Oliver. In a relatively low-key role, veteran actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays Oliver’s father. It’s a role that is solid throughout, but absolutely comes to life in a monologue later in the movie that is, hands down, the best scene of the movie and possibly the best bit of acting of Stuhlbarg’s career.

The ever evolving relationship between Elio and Oliver is at the center of the film and takes a more slow-burn approach. This allows for the film’s earlier moments to showcase gorgeous views of Italy and all of the care-free summer activities it has to offer. Even though they drift apart for various reasons (some of them intentional), Elio and Oliver eventually find themselves drawn back to one another, which is where the film takes off. The film almost takes a different tone altogether at that point, switching from a snapshot of summer life and fun to the intricacies and courtship of a new relationship, especially one which features so much self-discovery.

So often in modern “forbidden” love stories, the relationships feel more lustful than full of love and thus the films emotional moments feel unearned. That is not the case with “Call My By Your Name.” Perhaps it’s the slow build and push and pull of Elio and Oliver’s relationship, but there is not one false note between them in the entire movie. Sure, their sense of attraction is palpable, and there is plenty of sexual discovery, but their sense of true connection is even more powerful as the relationship feels less like a summer fling and more like two souls uniting. Elio and Oliver’s relationship is almost doomed to fail just by design and circumstances. There is something intrinsically beautiful, however, about two people who put their entire beings into a relationship they know can’t work. That pure display is exactly why “Call Me By Your Name” is a transcendent love story.

The Lone Ranger

July 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (“Rango”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“Snitch”), Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy),  Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy)

Every so often, one reads articles about a film, sees the cast, watches trailers and marketing campaigns and can smell a box-office bomb from a mile away. Remember last year’s “John Carter?” An ambitious project based on a nearly 100-year-old book, Disney spent approximately $250 million on the project. Starring in the lead role was an actor whose biggest role was a strong albeit supporting role on TV’s “Friday Night Lights.” The results were predictably disastrous with mixed results from critics. Even worse, the film earned a domestic gross of only $73 million prompting Disney to publicly blame the film for their earnings loss that year. Early looks at Disney’s latest film, “The Lone Ranger,” caused many to draw parallels to “Carter” and wonder if the bloated failed blockbuster will become something of an annual Disney tradition.

In “The Lone Ranger,” district attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) comes home to visit his brother (James Badge Dale), who is a Texas Ranger, and is deputized to help them hunt down a dangerous outlaw (William Fichtner). Soon after, the team is ambushed and Reid finds himself the only ranger left not riddled with bullets. Left for dead, Reid joins up with a revenge-seeking Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp), disguises himself with a black mask, and goes in search of the ruthless criminal who killed his brother in hopes of bringing him to justice.

At this point in his career, it seems like Depp has agreed to sign onto any movie where he is allowed to wear make-up and act goofy. As Tonto, Depp is less than inspiring, though his performance is not nearly as racist as it had potential for. Depp’s screentime is relegated to unfunny one-liners, weird stares and making dim-witted faces in a failed attempt to capture the fun best seen in the original “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Unfortunately, Depp’s gag is getting tired and a return to traditional acting would be more than welcome. As for Hammer, he simply doesn’t bring the onscreen charisma of a leading man needed for a film like this. His version of Reid as a do-gooder feels blasé and he puts no urgency into the role.

One of the strangest decisions of the film was to tell it through a framing device where a withered old Tonto rehashes his story to a child visiting the museum section of a carnival. It adds absolutely nothing to the narrative and feels shoehorned and awkward each time it is revisited throughout the film. There are some decent set pieces, but overall, even the film’s action sequences are pretty mundane. Like a lot of westerns, there are shootouts and train hopping scenes, but nothing memorable in the way of adventure. At one point late in the film, the familiar sounds of the William Tell Overture crank up during an extended action scene involving runaway trains and the film actually kicks into high gear. Hopes are promptly squashed as the film’s ridiculous tone gets in the way and a child slingshots a grape into Tonto’s mouth.

So let’s recap: the film is based on a character that debuted in 1933, which hasn’t seen a meaningful iteration since the 1950s. One of the film’s major stars (Hammer), while a promising up-and-comer, is nowhere near the level he needs to be to anchor and sell tickets to a tent-pole blockbuster. The film’s budget is also estimated somewhere in the eye-popping $250-million range. Sound familiar?

But the worst offense of all? The film is just flat out bad. It fails not only as a western, but as an action comedy and a good old-fashioned summer family film. Put that and the constant struggle for a consistent tone together and you can see why “The Lone Ranger” is well on its way to being the biggest dud of the year. In the film’s closing moments, Hammer retorts to Depp and asks, “Do you even know what Tonto means in Spanish?” We certainly do, and chances are, some of the folks who greenlit the film at Disney will know soon enough, too.

Armie Hammer – The Lone Ranger

July 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

Standing on a rickety platform at the edge of a mountain in Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park, actor and San Antonio business owner Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”) could see straight down into the canyon 2,000 feet below. The shot for the action/adventure film “The Lone Ranger,” in which Hammer plays the title role, was captured from a helicopter that whizzed by the 26-year-old star with such force, it would’ve blown him off if it hadn’t been for the harness strapped to him. Hammer’s wife Elizabeth Chambers, who opened Bird Bakery in Alamo Heights 15 months ago with her husband, stood on the set watching the perilous feat transpire.

“I think she was concerned,” Hammer, 26, told me during a phone interview earlier in June to talk about “The Lone Ranger,” which hit theaters July 3. “But we had a really good crew standing around telling her, ‘Don’t worry! Nothing’s gonna happen to him!’”

The rising movie star, fledgling stuntman, pastry aficionado, and all-around nice guy talks with me about Texas and Tonto.

I just took a trip to Bird Bakery this weekend and was a little disappointed there weren’t any “Lone Ranger”-themed cupcakes. What gives?

(Laughs) We have to wait until the movie comes out! “Lone Ranger” cupcakes coming soon. We have to pace ourselves.

You and Elizabeth seem to really be making things work here in San Antonio with the new business. Do you feel like the community has embraced you?

Oh, absolutely. We couldn’t appreciate the entire city of San Antonio more. Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming. We really couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Now be honest, how much of taking on the role of the Lone Ranger, who is an ex-Texas Ranger, was due to the fact that you’re back to being a Texan and wanted more street cred?

(Laughs) Definitely all of it. I had lived in Texas before [Dallas]. I was very familiar with the lore of the Texas Rangers, so when I got the role I was like, “This is great!” The first thing I did was call my father-in-law in San Antonio, who knows everything about Texas history, and was like, “Bill, tell me everything!” He gave me a full rundown.

In “The Lone Ranger,” you’re taking on a pretty iconic character that has been around since the 1930s. Did you consider his long history when you joined the film?

Most definitely. I really had to pay attention to the long history because that is what made this project what it is. There are generations of people who hear the William Tell Overture and go right back to their childhood, whether it was sitting in front of a television or radio. We really wanted to pay attention to all that history so we could bring authenticity into this new adaptation.

We’re in a cinematic era where superhero movies are a rampant part of the industry. Do you hope people will consider the Lone Ranger a breath of fresh air since he’s a hero that doesn’t rely on superpowers?

You nailed it. He’s not a superhero. A superhero doesn’t have to eat. A superhero doesn’t get tired or weak. A hero knows he might get hurt, but he does it anyway.

In the past, Native American groups have considered Tonto politically incorrect. Did you worry about that or the fact Johnny Depp is a non-Native American playing the role?

I didn’t really think about it. When we were making the movie, it was just a bunch of actors — white guys, native guys — having a great time. As far as Johnny goes, he is 100 percent Comanche now. He’s been adopted by the tribe. He also has Cherokee blood in him. I don’t think they made a bad choice.

How much of reviving this character includes introducing him to a new generation?

We’d love to introduce him to a new generation. There are so many people who grew up with “The Lone Ranger,” but their kids might not know about it. If they tried to show their kids the originals today, they would probably be bored. We wanted to come up with a way to tell this great story and have it appeal to them.