Amy Adams

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

In what feels like seven decades in the making, two of DC’s mightiest heroes go toe to toe in an all-out no holds barred smack down. This, we’re assured by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor several times, will be the gladiatorial fight of the century. Is it though?

Don’t let the action figures and pint sized pyjamas on sale in Kmart fool you. Batman v Superman is not a kid’s film. Nor is it even a family film. This cinematic interpretation is aimed squarely at the adults who want, nay demand, that their childhood obsessions grow up with them. This is translated into a cinematic universe where Batman tackles paedophiles and sex traffickers by branding them with a hot bat symbol, where Superman’s deeds in Man of Steel resulted in the deaths of thousands and Lex Luthor waxes lyrical about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and sends jars of urine to his enemies before blowing them up. This is a DC comic filtered through the lens of a bad fan fiction. This not a universe I want to live in.

It may be an old fashioned way of thinking, but superhero movies need to show their heroes being, well, super. In Batman v Superman – a title bout that doesn’t happen till around the two-hour mark – both of our heroes are rarely seen doing anything remotely so.

As Bruce Wayne/Batman, Ben Affleck is in danger of tripping over his brow due to how furrowed it is. He lives in a modern condo down river from a desolate Wayne Manor. He spends his nights with literally faceless women and having violent visions about Henry Cavill’s Superman. Having seen the blue tighted one effectively turn Metropolis to dust two years previously, the playboy millionaire is concerned for the welfare of America at the hands of aliens. In a sense, he’s the Donald Trump of superheroes.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with his work life balance as the media slowly becomes obsessed with Superman and the untold damage his heroics have caused over the years. Would it have hurt the film to have a simple scene of Clark enjoying being a superhero? Evidently so. If you enjoyed moody space Jesus in Man of Steel, you’re going to get a kick out of watching him crying in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the whole murky affair – and director Zack Snyder has really gone out of his way to drain this comic book movie of most hues – is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Though even then, it’s hard not to feel her appearance would have had more effect had it not been spread thinly across every trailer in the last six months.

Later this year, Marvel will throw their own one on one into the cinema with Captain America: Civil War. It’s important to mention this, because with ten films down, Marvel has earned the right to have Captain America and Iron Man square off. This only the second film of the DC Cinematic Universe, and quite frankly everyone needs to be given time to breathe and think about what they really want to do. Sony’s aborted Amazing Spider-Man trilogy shows that trying to capture the same lightening as Marvel is going to be hard. DC can pull it off if they stop trying to rush everything and overstuff the film; spending close to three hours throwing everything at the screen in the hopes that something sticks.

There are several cameos, and (so. many.) dream sequences, that obviously hint at future adventures, which is fine. However, when a certain Justice League member turns up from the future to warn Batman about the past, and who is never referred to again for the rest of the film, its evident that DC comics doesn’t care for the casual viewer. They want the fans. They want the fan’s money. It’s marketing at it’s most cynical.

Overlong, dull and pretentious, Batman v Superman is the superhero movie that dyes its hair black, plays Lana Del Rey songs repeatedly and refuses to call Mum’s new lover Dad no matter how much Steve insists.

American Hustle (2013)

David O’Russell gets the band back together– Cherry picking his team of actors from his canon –  for American Hustle; a comedy drama with one tiny toe dipped in the truth. ‘Some of this actually happened’ it cheekily informs us before the beginning credits roll.

Christian Bale is morphed into Irving Rosenfield, an overweight, balding con artist who spends just much time on his comb-over as he does on his hustles. On one arm, he has Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) a fellow trickster who helps him carry out numerous loan scams, whilst on the other arm is his trophy wife Rosalyn, played like a hyena in a jumpsuit by Jennifer Lawrence, who seemingly aware of his infidelity refuse to divorce him. Which is fine by Irving. After they are busted by the FBI, Agent Richie Di Maso (A pubic haired Bradley Cooper) forces them to help set up a honey trap for corrupt politicians including coiffured Mayor Carmin Polito (Jeremy Renner).

American Hustle is like a heady cocktail of two-thirds Goodfellas to one-third Boogie Nights. It zips along fair old pace as Cooper dances his way into Adams’ pants, whilst Bale develops bromantic feelings for Renner, seeing a kindred spirit in him. Everyone is on fine form. Bale reminding everyone that he can play a damn site more than a millionaire dicking around in a bat suit, and Adams giving a stellar performance as proof that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Meanwhile, although Cooper and Lawrence share little screentime together, they both surpass their performances in O’Russell’s optimistic outlook on mental illness, Silver Linings Playbook.

Irving et al are fully fleshed characters that have a life off camera and this in part to the terrific script co-written by O’Russell. It positively sizzles with comedic dialogue even when the story is, it’s fair to say, in fear of being crushed by the weight of its own convolution.

American Hustle is a funny and engaging movie that made us want to watch it again as soon as it was finished. A definite must see!

The Master (2012)

Possibly contains spoilers…between the lines at least. Sorry.

The Master lands not as just a film, but as an Event. Ever since Paul Thomas Anderson went to California with Daniel Day Lewis, expectations have been sky high. This tale of post war America and the beginning of a cult called “The Cause” (Not Scientology, never Scientology.) sees Anderson taking on another turbulent period of America`s recent past.

Freddie Quells (Jaoquin Phoenix) is introduced on a beach in the South Pacific at the death of World War 2. He is already a tragic figure, hunched, slurring, drunk on hooch (containing torpedo fuel!), ignored by most, masturbating into the sea. Life on his return to America doesn’t get any easier. His volatile temperament and seemingly magical ability to make homemade booze from anything get him fired from jobs as he drifts across America searching for something. Leaping over the rails of a ship bound out of San Francisco makes as much sense as the rest of his life has. He is awoken and dragged before the ship’s ostensible commander, Lancaster Dodds (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd’s describes himself as a “…a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher but most of all a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man…”. Dodd’s takes a shine to Freddie and his volcanic homebrew, taking him under his wing and teaching him of “The Cause”, his quasi-religious family of past life explorers. This is the crux of The Master. The relationship between Dodds and Quells. This is explored to such a level as to become almost a character study. Scenes of an ambiguous nature abound, purely to show tiny fractures or changes within the dynamic.

The performances that Hoffman and Phoenix deliver in their master and slave roles are astonishing. Given half an hour with Freddie before Lancaster even makes an appearance, it’s difficult to believe Hoffman will be able to stand up to such a tour de force from Phoenix. Shuffling, mumbling, sneering with hooded eyes and an unspoken air of violence, it’s an intensely physical performance. Quell’s inner rage is palpable and in several confrontations and scuffles, visibly painful. Phoenix has portrayed a character so expertly that mentioning him alongside De Niro’s troubled duo of Jake La Motta and Travis Bickle doesn’t feel like sacrilege. When Hoffman finally appears, his power is instantly obvious. Charismatic and still, he calmly guides Freddie and the rest of his cadre through the ins and outs of his thinkings. Never showing any doubt. He is the perfect counterpoint to all of Phoenix’s tics and lilted cadences. When giving speeches he makes little jokes with an overly expressive face, much like a certain Foster Kane, he’s a showboat, performing for everyone, family included. In long careers full of interesting roles it’s questionable whether either has ever been better suited to or executed a performance better.

The homo-eroticism is pronounced, at least one way. Quells never really shows any signs of being attracted to Dodds, being a simple creature in his black and white world the option probably never occurs to him. Dodds, however, spends his time wrestling Quells to the floor for rough and tumble, begging Freddie to return to him, plaintively screaming his name across the desert and serenading him in the denouement. Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams) even resorts to warning him against his fantastical pursuit of Freddie, masturbating him over a sink and demanding he orgasm to re-assert her sexual superiority in Dodd’s wandering mind. This is certainly a new edge to Anderson’s regular forays into the father/son relationship. Dodd’s at once wants to father Freddie, dominate him in the master/slave role and at least entertains the idea of sex with him. Perhaps this is the reason Dodds allows such a splenetic failure as Quells to remain within his family for so long.

The Master hinges on three scenes. First, there is Freddie’s first “processing” by Lancaster, a scene where the walls around Quell’s mind are broken down through persistent questioning, this cements the bond between the two men as it’s doubtful whether Freddie has ever revealed so much. Next, in adjacent cells after Dodds has been arrested for misappropriation of funds, Dodds stands tall and calm whilst Quells destroys his cell like an animal, this is the first time Freddie questions Lancaster’s integrity, something he doesn’t take kindly to all film. Finally we have a scene of Freddie traveling into his physical past, rather than his mental one The Cause has been having him visit, only to find that it isn’t there anymore. These scenes exemplify The Master and Freddie in particular, allowing us to have empathy if not sympathy for our protagonist.

Which brings us to the ending, just Quells and Dobbs in a well furnished room where Dodd’s finally reveals in which past life they had previously met and then serenades Freddie first gently, then forcefully. Whilst not as visceral and fierce as There Will Be Blood’s bloody finale in the bowling alley (Isn’t it unfair to compare one film to another? Tough, don’t make one of the best American studio pictures of this century then…), this proves to be just as emotional, underlining their tumultuous year or so together and at the same time solving nothing. This is as it should be, answers being too hard to obtain within this all too complex, unfulfilled relationship.

When Anderson really came to light with Boogie Nights and Magnolia, we thought we had found our new Altman, heavily influenced by Short Cuts and Nashville. Then after making a kind of musical without songs with Adam Sandler (Punch Drunk Love), he surprised everyone by delivering There Will Be Blood, a classically styled, birth of America film with hints of horror that wouldn’t have been out of place alongside Lean’s or Welle’s output. The Master continues this trend of modern throwbacks. Every frame is meticulous and some images linger (Freddie asleep on a sandcastle of a woman surrounded by whorled sand, A ship at night, lit up and drifting out to see for example.), the pace is stately and the exposition non existent. Anderson is in a field of one making films such as these.

What Anderson has achieved with The Master is merely add to and enforce his body of work detailing America as, once again, being the land of opportunity, where anything is possible but absolute power corrupts absolutely. Just that.

The Muppets (2011)

There was always a danger The Muppets was going to shatter our childhoods. Lord knows Frank Oz tried to sour everyone’s grapes before it was even released; constantly claiming to anyone that would listen that the film wasn’t within the spirit of Jim Henson’s vision. He cited the numerous film parody trailers that appeared on the Muppet YouTube account in the run up to the film’s release and Fozzie’s fart shoes. Whether Jim would agree is hard to say, what with his unfortunate passing back in 1990. However, EBFS fails to see how he could disapprove of Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller’s love letter to his most famous creations.

The story-line isn’t close to being complicated, but everyone on board knows it. So much so, the fourth wall is broken constantly as Muppets and humans alike openly discuss plot developments, and instigate montages when things appear to be taking too long. In between the meta-references, there are gags that everyone will get without mum and dad having to explain/ignore a penis reference (Shrek I’m looking at you). And yes, Oz, Fozzie’s fart shoes feel like a natural extension of the bad joke bear, so deal with it.

Like previous Muppet movies, the celebrity cameos are plentiful. Some do raise eye-brows (Sarah Silverman? Really?), but none are as bad the complete misfires of Kelly Osbourne and Quentin Tarantino in the Muppet’s Wizard of Oz. And what makes it better is that none of them overshadow Jason Segal and Amy Adams, the real stars of the flick, outside of Kermit et al obviously. Segal looks like he is in hog-heaven and EBFS is seething with jealousy. It’s bad enough he’s funny, musical and wrote a hit-comedy before he was 30, but now he’s acted alongside Gonzo the Great. Amy Adams is cute as a button and plays her part with gusto.

The songs by Bret Mckenzie are suitably catchy and cheerily ironic, without being cynical. A perfect highlight being ‘Are You a Man or a Muppet?’; a deliberately po-faced duet between Jason Segal and his muppet brother, Walter (Peter Linz).

In summary, The Muppets is as close to a perfect family film that you can get to. If you see it, and it fails to make you happy then you most certainly have lost your soul. And for that I’m truly sorry.