Ep. 119 – Recapping the somewhat disastrous 91st Oscars

February 26, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod talk the mess that was the 91st Oscars, from highs like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” winning best animated feature, to awful lows like any wins for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book.”

Click here to download the episode!

Knight of Cups

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman
Directed by: Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life,” “The Thin Red Line”)
Written by: Terrence Malick

In 2011, a peculiar and prominently placed lobby placard accompanied the theatrical run of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” at the Austin, Texas, arthouse where my wife and I saw the film. Customarily, of course, studios will blow up favorable reviews of prestige pictures, poster-sized reproductions of admiring New York Times or Variety think-pieces intended to drive traffic, foster appreciation, and brand the property as “critically acclaimed” and “substantial” and “Academy Award-worthy.” (All three of which, of course, the thrice-nominated Tree [Picture/Director/Cinematography] rather objectively is.)

This lobby card was different, though. No monolithic rave or erudite recommendation, it bore instead a disclaimer. A warning, really. Very nearly, indeed, a tight-jawed semi-apology. It communicated something remarkably similar to — and may in fact have been a close paraphrasing or regionalized adaptation of — a like-minded and somewhat internet-notorious caveat that was displayed at Stamford, Connecticut’s Avon theatre and read, in part: “We would like to take this opportunity to remind patrons that “The Tree of Life” is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling. We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it … please go in with an open mind and know that the Avon has a NO-REFUND policy…”

In essence: “We realize that, technically, this is a summer movie featuring Brad Pitt and dinosaurs, but please don’t allow that to calibrate your attention span. Take a deep breath, and give it a shot. If you do, we think you might — albeit in spite of yourself — have a meaningful experience.” Or, Eat your peas because they’re good for you and because we can’t just have ice cream all the time, you feckless troglodytes.

The more-recent films of Terrence Malick are, in two insufficient words, lyrical and polarizing. A cursory Rotten Tomatoes jaunt confirms that “To The Wonder” was called both “the best American feature by far of 2013” and “a self-destructed misfire.” I saw “The Thin Red Line” in high school with friends who went in looking for two more hours of “Saving Private Ryan.” And post-screening eavesdroppings and conversations relative to the certainly lyrical-and-polarizing “Knight of Cups” have yielded (1) stunned, breathless utterances of profound gratitude, (2) shaking pledges of enthusiastic hatred from at least one respected friend and Malick fan, and (3) the overheard, apparently concerned puzzler, “Does Brian Dennehy have an issue with his back?”

The thing about “Knight of Cups” is that there isn’t just one thing about “Knight of Cups.” Or about “The Tree of Life,” or “The Thin Red Line.” “Knight” (literally) follows a reeling-and-gutted, hollow-eyed Bale (playing a screenwriter named Rick — though, I missed something, because I thought he was meant to be an actor until I checked the IMDB synopsis just now) through a numb, soft, swirling, glittering, emotionless-and-emotionally-harrowing minefield of beauty, decadence, lovers, and loss. Sounds are muted, dialogue Dopplers in and out, voiceover and chamber music and quotations from sources as varied as The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible and was-that-really-“Twin Peaks” abound, and the whole sordid, dreamy affair is awash in natural light and revealed by Chivo Lubezki’s always-swimming, too-close-for-anything-but-comfort camera. There’s a lot going on, always. You lean forward and push your ears up to catch everything, and you don’t catch everything. And so, you remain patient and open and have faith that everything will come together and make sense.

Increasingly, it may be said, certain of Malick’s films are in some ways less “films” and more experiential, stylized realities. And somehow, in their stylization, in their stream-of-fractured-consciousness, in their gauzy haze and sudden, uncanny specificity, they approximate reality and the sense of life more closely and accurately than the work of almost any other filmmaker who comes to mind. There is form in this formlessness, method in this Malickness. Malick’s work spends purposeful time breaking us of our expectations, of the ingrained and deep-dug structures and movie-languages we carry in unconscious second nature as veteran consumers of film; we find ourselves adrift, and it’s then that we truly begin paying attention — and finding inalienable personal meaning — moment by moment.

Malick isn’t the only cinematic artist who succeeds here. The universal value of film, and of art itself, lies (arguably, I suppose) in communicating love, in letting us know we are not alone. That’s the draw. I cannot, though, name another cinematic artist who does it quite like Malick, who achieves his particular, impressionistic poetry of intimacy. Is it repetitive and inscrutable, at times, or demanding of patience? Sure. Like life is. Is it susceptible to reductive parody? Yes, as are many vulnerable or distinctive works. Does he get more of a pass because he’s Malick, and because of his body of work? Yes, and that’s exactly as it should be.

There are wonderful, wonderful things about “Knight of Cups.” It’s a concert for the soul and the senses. Performances are raw, real, closer than you’ll ever get. Cate Blanchett shows, once again, that she can crack your heart wide open with a look. Michael Freaking Wincott is in it. (YES.) So is half of Hollywood. You still may not like it. (It’s kinda like “8½” meets Koyaanisqatsi, if that helps.) But there are very few films that will get you and everyone who saw it with you talking and feeling in the same way. And that, perhaps, is the point: “Knight of Cups” is the latest reminder and resounding reinforcement of how very, very desperately we need Terrence Malick — and the filmmakers he continues to inspire.

The Big Short

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale
Directed by: Adam McKay (“Talladega Nights”)
Written by: Adam McKay (“Ant-Man”) and Charles Randolph (“Love & Other Drugs”)

Filmmaker Adam McKay, best known for directing and writing broad and silly comedies like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” takes a swing at something a little more serious than Will Ferrell running butt-naked on a racetrack. Set a few years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, the self-important drama places audiences at the center of a three-ring circus where a group of stock market experts (Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and pals) find out the housing market is about to implode and that they can make a lot of money on the misfortune of others. What McKay creates here is his version of an exaggerated “The Wolf of Wall Street” that registers as phony and too shallow for its own good. Maybe that’s the point, but when the script spews out confusing financial jargon and then backtracks to explain economics by breaking down the fourth wall, it’s about as entertaining as listening to a comedian do a stand-up routine on predatory lending.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Prometheus”)
Written by:  Adam Cooper (“Accepted”), Bill Collage (“Accepted”), Jeffrey Caine (“GoldenEye”), Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”)

After the breakout success of “Gladiator” in 2000, director Ridley Scott seems determined to recapture the epic, action-packed period storytelling he and Russell Crowe delivered in the sword-and-sandals blockbuster, but with diminishing returns and emotionless digital matte paintings. From “Kingdom of Heaven” to “Robin Hood” to “Prometheus,” Scott has turned in some competent work buried in cold CGI to the indifference – or as with “Prometheus,” seething fanboy anger – of the movie-going public. “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” a big-budget retelling of the biblical story of Moses and his freeing the Jews from the control of Ramses, is ultimately another indifferent shrug.

Raised as brothers by the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro, first in a long list of WTF casting) the orphan Moses (Christian Bale) and heir to the crown Ramses (Joel Edgerton) fight battles for Egypt side by side. Before an upcoming battle, Seti tells the two men of a prophecy wherein one will save the other and become a leader. During the battle, Moses saves Ramses’ life, and is then sent to meet Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn) of Pithom, who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Moses is appalled by the treatment the Hebrews receive and, during his visit, is informed by Nun (Ben Kingsley) of his true heritage: that he is a Hebrew sent to be raised as a child of Phararoh. Two Jews overhear this information and report it back to Hegep. As Moses returns to Memphis, Seti dies and Ramses becomes Pharaoh. Hegep arrives and reveals Moses’ true heritage and, rather than see his sister tortured, Moses admits to his lineage and leaves the kingdom. Years later, Moses is injured in a rock slide, after which a burning bush and a boy named Malak (Isaac Andrews) command Moses to free the Hebrews from Ramses.

If you’ve seen “The Ten Commandments” or even “The Prince of Egypt,” the spectacle of the story of Exodus will be nothing you haven’t seen on a movie screen before. While the plagues that decimate Egypt – from locusts to frogs to rivers of blood rendered in photo-realistic CGI – are thrilling and frightening, they can’t smooth over the lumpy storytelling and warmed-over battle scenes. The screenplay, credited to a quartet of writers, attempts to humanize Ramses and give a moderately convincing scientific explanation to the plagues. Some elements work better than others, such as Moses’ conversations with Malek being made ambiguous enough to paint Moses as either a conduit to God or a brain-injured mad man. But by the climax, featuring chariots charging at one another in a mysteriously parted Red Sea as ocean-borne tornadoes loom in the background, you’ll be exhausted after meandering through a snazzed-up version of a story you’ve seen before. Let my people go…to see a better movie.

American Hustle

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams
Directed by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Eric Singer (“The International”)

As David O. Russell’s career trajectory continues to move upward, it seems he’s getting more freedom to make the films he wants to make. After the huge success of last year’s deeply personal “Silver Linings Playbook,” which garnered eight Oscar nominations and one win, Russell heads backs to the 70’s with the con-artist film, “American Hustle.”

“American Hustle” tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his accomplice Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who are forced to work for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after they are caught running an illegal business. As more prominent people become involved and things become more dangerous when they try to bring down a local mayor (Jeremy Renner), too many loose ends, including Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), could bring the entire operation to a head.

Much will be made of the cast, reuniting many veterans of Russell’s previous films and all principle actors being Oscar nominees or winners. As an admittedly impressive collection, the ensemble is certainly solid, but mostly unspectacular. Bale who gained nearly 50 pounds for the role is the best of the bunch, as a pudgy con artist with a terrible comb-over. As with many of his latest films, Bale disappears into the role and carries it with ease. Cooper is fine and Adams is hit or miss, with her fake but purposely imposed British accent becoming a little grating at times. For most of her career, Lawrence has been impressive at convincingly playing characters above her actual age. It might be the hair and costumes associated with the 70’s, or just her characters general life situation, but in “American Hustle,” Lawrence finally feels and looks too young for a role and is a little bit distracting.

“American Hustle” starts out with a bit of background on Bale and Adams’ characters and makes use of a dueling voiceover that bogs the film down and subsequently makes the film slow to get into. Once “American Hustle” gets going, Russell has a clear goal for presenting a playful and comedic tone, which is something that – for the most part – fails. Though the humor is a bit subtle, most of the jokes fall flat and there are only a few legitimate laughs in the film, mostly involving stand-up comedian Louis CK in a small role.

Russell does a few things right in the film. He nails the setting of the 70’s and there’s clearly an energy of filmmaking that transferred over to his actors. The issue here is that Russell appears to have had the intention of crafting something grander and more clever than what it actually is. Unfortunately for Russell, the film plays off as a by-the-numbers con movie and frankly, something akin to a second-rate Martin Scorsese film.

Out of the Furnace

December 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck
Directed by: Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”)
Written by: Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) and Brad Ingelsby (“The Dynamiter”)

For a film that boasts a principal cast of five previous Oscar nominees, as well as a recently lauded writer/director, “Out of the Furnace” struggles to put the pieces together and proves that, as cliché as it sounds, the whole really isn’t always greater than the sum of its parts.

“Out of the Furnace” focuses on two brothers living out in the economically-suffering U.S. Rust Belt. Russell (Christian Bale) is a hard-working steel mill worker who is focused on his relationship and taking care of his family. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is a soldier who has spent time in Iraq and finds himself in a massive gambling debt. As Rodney looks to settle his debt through underground bare-knuckle fighting, he mysteriously disappears. With little help from the police, Russell sets out to take matters into his own hands.

The big draw of “Out of the Furnace” is its previously mentioned impressive cast of Bale and Affleck as well as Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker. As the main focus of the film, the best of the cast is Bale. His performance is strong, most notably in his scenes with Affleck as well as a couple of scenes with actress Zoe Saldana who plays his girlfriend. While Harrelson’s performance in itself is quite good, his villainous character is written somewhat hokey and over the top.

Since the narrative jumps around so frequently, many of the other cast members don’t really get a chance to shine in their roles. In fact, the lack of a narrative focus is one of the reasons that “Out of the Furnace” fails from a storytelling perspective. Not only is the plot wafer thin, but there are parallel narratives and thematic elements that don’t seem to ever sync up or fully connect. There are also plot points that happen throughout the film that seem important, but prove to be relatively and frustratingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Most of the first half of “Out of the Furnace” is spent waiting for the film to get going, which never truly happens. The film often feels stuck and by the end, incomplete. There are a few things to like: the cinematography is well done and there are a few scenes from world-class actors that are worth a watch. But as a complete work, “Out of the Furnace” lacks the finesse and construction of a well put together film.

The Dark Knight Rises

July 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) and Jonathan Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)

In full scope, “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, feels epic. From its majestic production value to its incredible IMAX-worthy set pieces, Gotham City has never looked so grandiose. Look beyond the technical and artistic achievements of this inevitable summer blockbuster and there are flaws. Despite the narrative’s overall maturation over the last seven years, Nolan has lost sight of just how 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight” successfully redefined the comic-book movie through intelligent design. Here, the bloated 165-minute superhero marathon is frustrating, especially with a script embracing a diluted story about the current financial crisis instead of actually entertaining moviegoers.

Picking up eight years after the last film ended, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has gone into exile after the death of Harvey Dent. Wayne’s retirement, however, is only temporary and Batman reemerges when a hulky mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy) marches into Gotham with plans to sever the city’s economic lifeline, thus causing civil unrest. As Bane, Hardy joins the cast with big clown shoes to fill after Heath Ledger won an Oscar posthumously for his role as the rageful Joker. Sadly, Bane is better suited for a pro-wrestling ring than as a substantial villain with real purpose. New to the franchise are Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, although the name never comes up), a saucy jewel thief who fights alongside the caped crusader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays rookie cop John Blake, the most interesting character of the DC Comics lot.

Where the Batman franchise goes post-Nolan remains to be seen, but whoever takes the reigns has a tough act to follow — even if this final chapter doesn’t necessarily reach its full potential.

Public Enemies

July 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Michael Mann (“Collateral”)
Written by: Michael Mann (“Heat”), Ronan Bennett (“Lucky Break”), and Ann Biderman (“Primal Fear”)

The scintillating cast may be blinding at first glance in director Michael Mann’s new gangster flick “Public Enemies,” but even the star power of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale can’t save the era piece from making a surprisingly ordinary entrance into the genre.

While all the style and technical work is masterful, there a little something missing between the lines of the 140-minute tribute to Chicago’s crime wave of the 1930s that most people would notice if it wasn’t for all the intense shootouts. Who knew that when Johnny Depp says, “Let’s go to Chicago and make some money,” that’s really all they were going to do?

Set four years into the Great Depression, bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) has just broken out of prison with a group of men who will help him rob more banks. Dillinger starts off enigmatic and screenwriters Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett, and Ann Biderman make sure he stays that way for the entire film. As a matter of fact, all we really find out about Dillinger is that he leads a spontaneous life, can handle a Tommy gun with the best of them, and is extremely slick with the ladies. Dillinger might have been an icon, but “Public Enemies” seems fine in simply promoting his cool factor as the basis to which he is remembered the most. There a sense of the loneliness that director Mann should have been more capable of exposing, but that character trait is left undiscovered until the finale when there not much left to say.

Despite his character’s shortcomings, Depp is the center of this show and delivers as much as the script allows. The same can’t be said about Christian Bale and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard (“La vie en rose”) whose characters, Agent Mevlin Purvis and Dillinger’s love interest Billie Frechette, are sorely underwritten. It’s not their fault. Their motivation to pursue Dillinger from a criminal and personal aspect never amounts to more than a few systematic scenes, which falls on the shoulders of screenwriters once again.

The writer’s biggest fault comes from skimming over the emotional impact in one of the most emotional times in U.S. history. And while the era and setting are very convincing (costume designer Collen Atwood should be getting some recognition by year’s end) nothing else develops around the picturesque scenes other than more bullet holes.

If you go into this film like Dillinger would – scene-by-scene without worrying about what is around the corner – “Public Enemies” could be a fairly interesting biopic minus the historical inaccuracies. But tie everything together and the film is deeply flawed and disappointing. Just when you’re hoping Mann will throw everything on the table, he folds without an ounce of expression.

Terminator Salvation

May 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
Directed by: McG (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”)
Written by: John D. Brancato (“Catwoman”) and Michael Ferris (“Primeval”)

What should have been a war for the ages quickly turns into an exercise in mechanics as director McG and team are somehow able to disconnect 25 years of apocalyptic mythology and groundbreaking cinematic moments with “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment of the sci-fi franchise.

Although director Jonathan Mostow helped spur the downward spiral with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in 2003, he at least left the final scene of the film wide open for someone else to take the reigns and drive the story to the inevitable war between man and machine. We’ve all anticipated it ever since Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) met face to face with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg in the 1984 classic. Instead, McG and unproven screenwriters John D. Brancato (“T3”) and Michael Ferris (“T3”) seem to feel that just because the foundation is there they can throw it into cruise control. Sadly, no one bothered to tell them that fans deserved more than a few loud explosions and artificial nostalgic moments.

The film starts with an introduction to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who signs his body away to science before he is executed for murder. Marcus unknowingly returns as a cyborg years after Judgment Day has occurred. With no memory of his past life, he roams the smoldering ruins until he meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who fans will know as the human sent back in time in the original film to protect Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and sow the seed that would later become John Connor (Edward Furlong in “T2,” Nick Stahl in “T3,” and Christian Bale in “Salvation”).

As the “prophesized leader of the Resistance” against the machines, John knows his future and the future of mankind lies with two things: the destruction of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network behind the nuclear holocaust, and the survival of his teenage father, a member of the Resistance. Marcus and John’s paths cross after Kyle is snatched up by a machine and taken back to Skynet. John is left to decide whether or not to place his trust in Marcus not knowing if he is the type of terminator that has been sent to destroy him.

The rescue mission, however, doesn’t happen until after a series of impressive special effects and some terrible choices in dialogue, narrative, and female characterization (Moon Bloodgood, Jadagrace, Helena Bonham Carter, and Bryce Dallas Howard do absolutely nothing to progress the story). In “Salvation,” the machines are the stars of the show – and well they should be – but not to the detriment of anything that resembles human emotion (Bale blasting off on viral audio doesn’t count). What McG and writers replace it with instead is 11th-hour metaphorical wish-wash that centers on the strength and resiliency of the human heart. Where that heart was for the rest of the film is anyone’s guess.

The Dark Knight

July 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“Memento”), Jonathan Nolan (“The Prestige”)

Is it possible for a film so saturated in hype to be blinding even to the most objective of viewers? With “The Dark Knight” sure to break a few box office records this weekend, it’s no surprise that a visionary director like Christopher Nolan can create such an immensely dim and entertaining crime drama masked as a superhero movie. It’s easily the best comic-book movie of the summer, but to call it more than that is the overstatement of the year.

The accolades, of course, start with the late Heath Ledger’s fiendish and amazing performance at Batman’s nemesis the Joker. Ledger is right on cue as the soulless clown who robs banks alongside his gang of criminals. It’s a completely different portrayal than that of Jack Nicholson from the 1989 version. It’s not better or worse, but it is distinctive and memorable.

Christian Bale returns to form as the most ruthless Batman of any that came before him. Torn between his responsibility as a vigilante crime fighter in Gotham City and settling down with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is now more interested the newly elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, who is later burned to become Two-Face) than billionaire businessman Bruce Wayne.

As in “Batman Begins,” Nolan has recreated the denseness of a city on the brink of chaos in “The Dark Knight” and it permeates through the entire film. It’s a real-world story with comic-book tendencies and Nolan is the one that is able to mold the two genres together to produce a sort of hybrid crime thriller.

There are moments in “The Dark Knight” where the screenplay has some opportunities to really sideswipe the audience, but chooses some easy way outs of a few intense situations. Where the film could have ended up becoming macabre and transformed the Joker into an incarnate of evil, it bows out and leaves him on a level of likability.

Overall, “The Dark Knight” wowed, but didn’t have a lasting effect despite it’s full-package delivery. That’s usually what happens with summer blockbusters, even when there as impressive as this.