Tag Archives: Amy Adams

Cosmic Conversation

Amy Adams cracks alien communication code in moving, contemplative ‘Arrival’

ARRIVALArrival
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner & Forest Whitaker
Directed by Denis Villeneune
PG-13
In theaters Nov. 11, 2016

Whenever space aliens plunk down—as they’ve steadily been doing, courtesy of Hollywood, for some 75 years—it’s always a priority to figure out why they’re here, what they want and if they have a message for us.

All little E.T. wanted was to “phone home,” then to go home. The friendly “greys” in Close Encounters communicated with a blast of now-iconic musical notes. In a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, people of Earth learn too late that a space alien’s book was not a humanitarian help manual, but a collection of recipes—To Serve Man!

In the moving, contemplative Arrival, people around the world wake up one day and discover gigantic, dark, featureless, pod-like spacecraft, all hovering silently a few yards above the ground—a dozen of them, in various locales around the planet.

What do they want? What’s inside? Extraterrestrial tourists? Scientists? Warriors? Should we welcome them? Fear them? Blast them out of the sky?

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

In the United States, one of the pods has “landed” in Montana and an elite team is scrambled to find out what’s going on. A key member is college professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist and communications expert whose outstanding translation chops are already renowned by the U.S. military, especially to Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker).

Whisked away in the middle of the night on a military chopper, Louise is teamed with a mathematician and man of science, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Can the two of them decipher the extraterrestrials’ language, decode their message and determine their intentions—before the rest of the world freaks out and starts shooting?

Working from a screenplay based on a short story by Ted Chiang, director Denis Villeneune, best known for the taut Prisoners (2013) and the gritty drug-war thriller Sicaro (2015), creates a trippy, timely tapestry about the power of communication—and about the possibilities of “language” far beyond simply spoken or written words.

ARRIVALOnly hours later, inside the pod, Louise and Ian interact—on the other side of a large window—with a pair of aliens, enormous, seven-legged, squid-like creatures that communicate in dark, circular “squirts.” These circles, Louise and Ian discover, are the aliens’ alphabet, their language, and pieces of a much larger puzzle—the keys to unlocking something much, much bigger and infinitely more mind-blowing.

To reveal much else ventures into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that when Louise cracks the code, there’s an ambiguity about a word that sends everyone into an international panic. A prequel to the whole alien “arrival,” at the very beginning of the film, sets up the entire movie and becomes its heart and soul in ways you won’t know until the ending twist. Amy Adams is brilliant as Louise, and it’s refreshing to see a whip-smart sci-fi movie that powers through so strongly and confidently on a character, an emotional human story and a performance, instead of special effects.

And coming on the heels of such a rancorous, noxiously loud political season, in an era of so much noise blasted ceaselessly over so many channels, this movie’s uplifting message about the unifying power of communication—to reach beyond time and space, as a tool instead of a weapon, to heal instead of harm, and to build bridges instead of barriers—is a welcome Arrival, indeed.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Superhero Smackdown

Batman and Superman duke it out in jam-packed double-bill epic

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Starring Ben Affleck & Henry Cavill

Directed by Zack Snyder

PG-13

In this corner, Gotham’s grim reaper—the Dark Knight! Opposite him, in blue tights and red shorts—the Kryptonion clobberer!

Two of pop culture’s most iconic superheroes face off in the year’s first comic-book-inspired double bill, director Zack Snder’s meaty, muscular epic in which Henry Cavill reprises his Superman role from Man of Steel (2013) and Ben Affleck capably becomes the latest actor to answer the big-screen Bat-Signal.

But why are two “good guys” fighting each other? What has brought them to this?

In this worlds-collide combo platter, people have mostly learned to put up with Batman’s fly-by-night vigilante crime fighting, even though he seems to care even less about “due process” than ever (especially when dealing with scumbags like human traffickers). With Superman, on the other hand, the honeymoon is over. People know he swoops in and saves people—but they’ve begun to question the heavy toll of his heroics, the death and destruction that often follow in his sonic-boom wake. And they’re worried about his true motives, his “alien” status (he did come from another planet, after all) and what he could do with all that power if he ever decided to use it against them.

Even Batman—and his billionaire/socialite/playboy alter ego, Bruce Wayne—thinks we’d be better off without Superman. Spurred by a dastardly plot twist, an even bigger crisis and a rising global tide of public opinion, the fight, as they say, is on.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) menaces Lois Lane (Amy Adams)

Jesse Eisenburg has a fidgety ball as Lex Luthor, a refreshingly younger version of the iconic DC über-villain and perennial pot-stirrer. Amy Adams returns as Daily Planet star reporter Lois Lane, Superman/Clark Kent’s love interest (their bathtub scene is surely one of the sexiest rub-a-dub moments in any superhero flick). Holly Hunter is a U.S. senator who supports the Man of Steel. Jeremy Irons is the “new” Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s hi-tech butler.

Gal Godot—from the Fast & Furious franchise—debuts as Wonder Woman in a blatant plug for future D.C. movies, including her own spinoff (next summer) and two Justice League flicks stretching into 2019. (You’ll also see quick cameos by a couple of other new, upcoming DC characters.) Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien, Nancy Grace, Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson play themselves, as talking heads talking about Superman.

It’s long (two and a half hours), jam-packed, sometimes overly so, mostly humorless and generally a bit grim. But at least it’s not all crash-boom-bam. The solid script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer often steers into think-tank territory—about gods and demons, politics and paranoia—and Synder (who directed Man of Steel and also steered Sucker Punch, 300 and Watchmen) pumps up the religious allegory and symbolism that have always been part of the Superman mythos.

And of course, there’s the Big Event itself, the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world,” as Lex Luthor calls it, the sprawling slugfest when the Bat and the Son of Krypton actually come to blows—before their superhero smackdown is eclipsed by an even bigger call to arms. It’s big, all right, epic and operatic. Who wins? I certainly won’t spoil it.

Except to say the real winners will be viewers who keep eyes totally glued to the screen for the split second just before the screen goes dark and the credits roll.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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The ‘Eyes’ Have It

Amy Adams & Christoph Waltz shine in quirky true retro-art tale

BIG EYES

Big Eyes

Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz

Directed by Tim Burton

PG-13

Appropriately enough, the opening shot of Big Eyes is a big eye—and a tear.

For this is a sad tale—sort of. Based on the true story of Margaret Keane, the artist whose paintings of children with big, sorrowful eyes became a kitschy art sensation in the 1960s, it stars Amy Adams as Margaret and Christoph Waltz as her husband, Walter.

The “sad” part of the story is that Walter took full credit for Margaret’s paintings, keeping his wife and her talent hidden in his shadow for almost ten years.

BIG EYES

Christoph Waltz & Amy Adams

“People don’t buy lady art,” Walter tells Margaret, convincing her that “they” would benefit more if he becomes known as the creator of the wistful-looking, saucer-eyed waifs on the canvasses—and above the signature that read simply “KEANE.”

Amy Adams, whose career has spanned a spectrum of widely diverse roles (American Hustle, The Muppets, Her, The Master), shines with a wounded, subdued glow as Margaret, making us understand both the weakness that would let her character remain a victim of Walter’s bullying, as well as the strength it took for her to finally leave him—and then, 20 years later, sue him to prove her rightful claim to the paintings.

Waltz, the German-Austrian actor who became known to American audiences in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, brings a manic, electrified energy to Walter, depicted him as a trifecta of showy self-promotion, talentless hackery and scary domination.

BIG EYES

A tense moment with Margaret’s visiting friend (Krysten Ritter)

Big Eyes might seem an odd, highly conventional choice for director Tim Burton, best known for the eccentric, wildly imaginative look, feel and subject matter of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and The Nightmare Before Christmas. But there are quirks a-plenty in the weird true story itself, and Burton’s signature touches abound, especially in the movie’s bight, day-glow colors; his attention to far-out, decade-spanning period details; and the casting of some fine character actors in supporting roles, including Terence Stamp (as a snooty New York Times art critic), Danny Huston (a tabloid reporter who serves as the movie’s narrator), Krysten Ritter from TV’s Breaking Bad (as Margaret’s best friend), Jason Schwartzman (an art gallery snob) and Joe Polito (a nightclub owner), all of whom provide their own dry, dark-comic edges to the central melodrama.

The movie culminates in a recreation of the 1986 trail, a showdown in which a judge orders Margaret and Walter into an easel-versus-easel contest for the jury to determine who was the real artist of the “big eye” paintings.

Burton’s movie brings up several issues: the subjugation of women in the 1950s and ’60s, intellectual property theft and the role of media and publicity in creating fads, movements and celebrity. But mostly it’s a wacky history lesson about a real-life woman who finally set the record straight, told by a director who loves a kitschy underdog tale, with two lead actors who put their own colorful brushstrokes on a zesty, little-known story. Big Eyes may not become a big breakout hit, but it’s certainly a big, bright surprise.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Love Bytes

‘Her’ raises questions about our connections to technology

Her

Her

Blu-ray Combo Pack $35.99 / DVD $28.98 (Warner Bros. Home Entetainment)

 

What does it mean to be in love? What senses are involved? Is it possible to love someone who isn’t there—who isn’t really “someone” at all? Director Spike Jonze’s provocative, critically acclaimed futuristic tale of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer’s new artificially intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), raises all sorts of questions about technology and our growing relationship to it—and also becomes a surprisingly sweet, sensitive ode to the basic, timeless human need to connect. It also features Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, an Oscar-winning original screenplay, and a captivating Oscar-nominated song by Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Con-Fabulous

Swirling scandal saga based on real events from the 1970s

American Hustle

Blu-ray $40.99, DVD $30.99 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

L01F_AmerHustle_BD_O-ring_Q8_bluray

Director David O. Russell’s sprawling, swirling ‘70s saga, nominated for 10 Academy Awards, is a tale of con artists, FBI agents, a fake oil sheik, real gangsters, crooked politicians and others hustling to make it or break it against the backdrop of a real-life American scandal. The fabulous ensemble cast of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner keeps the show rolling; the colorful clothes and disco-era hairstyles are dy-no-mite; and the soundtrack rocks with tuneful tracks of the era. Extras include a making-of documentary with the filmmakers and cast, plus deleted and extended scenes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Guy Meets Gigabyte

A surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted ‘what if’ about love in the not-so-far future

HER

Her

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Spike Jonze

R, 126 min.

Can you love someone who isn’t really anyone? That’s one of the questions at the heart of Her, in which a lonely writer in the not-so-distant future develops a romantic relationship with the operating system of his computer.

Think of Siri, the speech-recognition software that comes with an iPhone, or the “voice” that narrates routes mapped out by your vehicle’s GPS navigational device.

Only Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the first of an advanced new operating system (OS) product line, is much more than just a voice. She has personality and a powerful “artificial intelligence,” and she immediately begins to wow her new owner Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) with attention to his every need. She proofreads his work, composes music for their moments together, helps him play his favorite holographic videogame and sends him dirty-minded doodles that make him laugh.

HERSamantha “gets” Theo—understands him, relates to him—like no flesh-and-blood woman ever got him before. Soon enough, he begins to develop feelings for “her.”

Written and directed by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Being John Malcovich, Adaptation) Her takes an old-fashioned romantic convention—guy meets girl—and runs it through an innovative wavelength of sci-fi wi-fi that at the same time doesn’t seem all that out of sync with today. We never know when it takes place—presumably, it’s only a couple of decades from now—but its scenes of people walking around with ear buds, constantly speaking commands for their portable devices to check email or play songs, look oddly contemporary.

Jonze’s movie—nominated for four upcoming Academy Awards, including Best Picture—raises issues about relationships, intimacy, isolation, jealousy, sensory experience, and our connections to the technologies on which our lives have increasingly come to rely. Phoenix gives his usual standout, immersive performance in a very tricky role, playing to a co-star who isn’t really “there” in a physical sense.

As for Samantha, heard but never seen, Johansson is mesmerizing, a warm, sensual, palpable “presence” that moves from Theo’s head into his heart, re-awakening him in every way

_DSC2097.tifAmy Adams frumps down her recent firecracker role in American Hustle to play Theo’s old college friend with love problems of her own, and Rooney Mara portrays his soon-to-be ex-wife, scoffing at his inability to find and date a “real woman.” Theo’s co-worker (Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks and Recreation), however, doesn’t bat an eye when he finds out his girlfriend is an OS. Olivia Wilde has one scene as a date with doubts about Theo’s abilities to commit.

At one point, Theodore plays a ukulele and plunks out a song for Samantha. It’s a charming little tune about being “a million miles away” with the one you love. The very idea of a guy head-over-heels with a female voice coming out of a device in his shirt pocket may seem, indeed, w-a-a-ay out there. But Spike Jonze’s surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted “what if” makes you wonder if it’s not so far off, after all.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Do The Hustle

A sprawling, swirling period-piece parable of swinging ’70s greed

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

American Hustle

Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence

Directed by David O. Russell

R, 138 min.

“Some of this actually happened,” a placard playfully informs us at the beginning of American Hustle, director David O. Russell’s swirling, swinging tale of a pair of con artists in testy, zesty cahoots with an FBI agent to catch even bigger prey in the 1970s. It’s loosely based on the FBI’s real-life ABSCAM sting of the era, which ensnared several high-ranking politicians in a bribery and corruption investigation.

Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time Bronx con artist who’s made out pretty well in forged art and bogus loans. But his graft really kicks into high gear when he hooks up with Sidney (Amy Adams), a former stripper who sees a way to broaden their scams—and pave the way to a much bigger, richer life for them both.

But hold on: Irving’s a married man, and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is a real suburban scrapper.

Christian Bale;Amy Adams;Bradley CooperRichie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) is the hyper-adrenalized FBI agent eager to make his bones who brings down both Irving and Sidney, then uses them to make an even bigger sting, an elaborate affair that eventually includes a fake sheik (Michael Peña), a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner), a slew of politicians and the mafia.

The movie is a deep, delicious dish of late-’70s detail, from the music to the clothes to the hair—and oh, the hair! Bale’s character sports one of the most outrageous comb-overs in the history of cinema, and agent DiMaso reveals that his teeny curls don’t come easy (or natural).

Amy Adams;Jennifer LawrenceBale is always fascinating to watch as he burrows into a role, but Adams and Lawrence bring the heat that makes this sexy story sizzle. And Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) juggles his ensemble of complicated, conflicted characters with an orchestral touch that often recalls the mastery of maestro Martin Scorsese—especially in a Goodfellas-esque casino scene with a gaggle of Las Vegas mobsters….and a very special surprise cameo.

It’s all hip, humorous, sad, edgy and immensely entertaining, this sprawling period parable about a group of gaudy, needy, greedy people who aren’t who they purport themselves to be—people with fake tans, fake nails, fake hair, fake lives, people who aren’t “real,” who are always conning somebody, everybody, each other, even themselves.

As Irving says, there’s “a lot of grey” in the muddled middle ground between good and bad, right and wrong, between the forger and the artist, in a world where it seems that everyone’s on the make, on the take, on the hustle, on the scam. Especially when, as Lawrence’s character says, all you’ve been dealt in life are “poisonous choices.”

When that happens, as Russell’s outstanding American Hustle suggests, all any of us might do is whatever it takes to survive.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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