Vice 2019 ***


After the information dump of The Big Short, Adam McKay continues his post SNL career as a political activist with this scabrous portrait of US vice president Dick Cheney. As played by Christian Bale over several decades, Cheney is viewed here as the man behind, happy for others to take the limelight while getting what he wants behind the scenes. With make-up rendering him all but unrecognisable, Bale seems to submerge himself into the part to great effect, and Amy Adams matches him as his wife. McKay is an anything-goes director, and it’s no surprise to hear that an elaborate musical scene was cut; there’s also scenes which don’t quite land with relation to the Halliburton scandal and the final obsession with heart problems is the film’s weakest suit. But some of the comedy is proper satire and it works, notably Albert Molina as a waiter offering a menu of corruptions, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, and a interesting footnote on the creation of Fox News. As satire, Vice didn’t have much chance of reaching an audience, but it’s much more than just a glorified SNL sketch.


Battle of the Sexes 2017 ****

Tennis is generally something of a disaster area for films; fine for a single scene (Strangers on a Train), a feature film tends to come off the rails (Players, Wimbledon). For films like Borg Vs McEnroe, the narrative feels like a long build up to a climax that can’t match up to the actual event. Jonathan Drayton and Valarie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) take the media circus around the tennis challenge match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and dial back the obvious comedy potential; the film is light, but there are hidden depths in the portrayal of women fighting against male domination. Emma Stone and Steve Carell both personify their characters well, despite not looking much like them physically, and Bill Pullman has an effective villainous turn. The final match itself is fairly rousing, as Riggs comes undone in a public humiliation, and King reigns in a crowd-pleasing finale; for some reason, the crowds didn’t turn up for this enjoyable film, but perhaps streaming will redeem it for the ages. There’s also some nice support from Andrea Riseborough as King’s lover and Fred Armisten as a drug-peddling supporter of Riggs.

Foxcatcher 2014 ***


Bennett Miller’s claustrophobic true story about athletics trainer John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his sinister input into the well-being of his charges is a cold, unlikable but intensely gripping drama. Channing Tatum sports some amusing late 80’s hairstyles as Mark Schwartz, a champion wrestler that Do Pont wants to prepare for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but Mark’s brother David (Mark Ruffalo) has his suspicious about the millionaire’s methods. Tatum, Ruffalo and particularly Carell turn in darkly shaded performances, and the looming violence of the finale is handled in a calm and un-exploitative way. Carell is frequently off-screen for long periods of the film, but his physical transformation makes Do Pont into an unnerving and domineering creation.