‘Vice’: an overwhelming satire

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“Vice” (2018) is, at the end of the day, a damning portrait of former Vice President Dick Cheney. It is also a bit of a documentary, a bit of educational entertainment, a bit of a comedy and a lot of finger-wagging. 

Some of director Adam McKay’s non-traditional concepts work. Many of them don’t. 

Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer “Vice” to about any hum-drum historical biopic that would warrant multiple looks down at my nonexistent watch. McKay has a vibrant, particularly meta style of satire (at least in “The Big Short” and “Vice”) that makes important, but potentially dull historical material more interesting.

But at the end of the day, “The Big Short” told a coherent and effective story. “Vice” leaves me with a somewhat perplexing stew of thoughts on its subject matter. The film is heavily condemning (at times almost fatiguing) but also reveals a more tender, family-driven and loving side to the character as well. Cheney as a character is well rounded, but his motivation is a bit cloudy (perhaps that’s the point).

“Vice” is humorous throughout, with the non-traditional storytelling often being the joke itself. The film is narrated by a character that is revealed at the end, and this narrator interjects with overwhelming consistency. The problem with the constant explanation is that it undercuts the drama at times, and throws the tempo out of whack. Though the narration gets tiring, a solid-as-always performance from Jesse Plemons helps it out. 

The film is flawlessly cast, from the transformative performances of Christian Bale and Amy Adams to Steve Carrell’s rather hilarious portrayal of Donald Rumsfeld.

I was not a big fan of “Vice,” but it was an interesting experience, especially for the politically interested. 

Status: Recommend for Fans (poltics, big Oscary prosthetic performances, history). 

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

‘Aquaman’ Diversifies

Brandon, Will and Jared discuss and pitch a sequel for “Aquaman” in Ep. 7 of the Film Diversifies podcast. The group also discusses the AFI Top 100 film of the week: “It’s A Wonderful Life.” This podcast was produced by Jackie Goff, featuring music from Doqtr Shine. It contains some expletive language.

Drawing by William Hensley

‘Roma’: a study of compassion

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“Roma” (2018) observes the smallest, and largest acts of compassion and care that can hold a family together, no matter the bleak circumstances that may confront it.

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s crisp black-and-white imagery captures the beauty of the most seemingly mundane activities; activities that mean the world to a family, whether or not they choose to acknowledge it. 

The film centers around a family in Mexico City in the 1970s — and their maid, Cleo, in particular — as it endures both internal and external hardships. 

Much of “Roma” is a fly-on-the-wall observation of these simple activities. Washing a dish, cooking an egg, watching the television with loved ones at your side, singing with a child before they fall into slumber, the sound of lights clicking off at night — Cuarón makes these small moments a fixture of his film, incorporating some of the most immersive sound design of anything released this year. 

The cinematography — impressively handled by Cuarón — elegantly captures the busy streets of Mexico City, the rolling hills of the countryside, the sun-soaked beach and the busy and the crowded home kitchen as the family prepares for the day.

Though much of the film is a record of these small, beautiful moments, sad realities begin to burrow their way in, as Cleo — the linchpin holding this family together — begins to endure some changes, as does the family itself. Much of what unfolds is hard to watch, though the film never looses its appreciation for the little things. 

Yalitza Aparicio delivers one of the most stunning performances of the year as Cleo. It is quiet and understated, with windows of joy and moments of devastating sadness throughout. Her emotions are rarely displayed on the outside, but much of it in conveyed in the eyes. And when it is displayed on the outside, and is impossible to turn away from. 

“Roma” is currently available on Netflix.

Status: Strongly Recommend

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

“Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” Diversifies

Brandon, Will, Jared and Jackie discuss and pitch a sequel for Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” in Ep. 6 of the Film Diversifies podcast. The group also discusses “Roma,” “Vox Lux,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” This podcast was produced by Jackie Goff, featuring music from Doqtr Shine. It contains some expletive language.

‘The Favourite’: Lanthimos takes on the throne

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“The Favourite” is twisted, satirical and crass — and damn, is it delightful. 

Featuring knockout performances from its three leads, “The Favourite” is a biting satirical comedy/drama that benefits greatly from the eerie flourishes of its director, Yorgos Lanthimos.

The film might be Lanthimos’ most straight-forward yet, but his fish-eye lens shots and sarcastic tendencies give the film the injection of eccentricity that it needs. 

The film centers around a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her ambitious and at times domineering assistant Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), as a new employee Abigail (Emma Stone) begins to climb the ranks of the queen’s favor, engaging a competition with Lady Sarah for power and security. 

The main shooting location, The Hatfield House, is regal and stunning. The gorgeous high ceilings are captured with the lower camera angles, as the height and extravagance of the place towers above the characters’ heads. 

The tit-for-tat battle between the Abigail and Sarah is made hilarious by the vicious and cunning performances of Stone and Weisz. As the two lock into a showdown that takes some dark turns, Colman delivers one of the year’s best performances in her comical but tortured portrayal of Queen Anne.

True colors are revealed and permanent paths are forged in a manner only Lanthimos could execute. This film is an absolute blast. 

Status: Strongly Recommend

Drawing by William C Hensley

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

‘The Favourite’ Diversifies

Brandon, Will, Jared and Jackie discuss and pitch a sequel for Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” in Ep. 5 of the Film Diversifies podcast. The group also discusses “Minding the Gap,” “You Were Never Really Here” and “Sorry to Bother You,” as well as films that they are looking forward in the remainder of 2018. This podcast was produced by Jackie Goff, featuring music from Doqtr Shine. It contains some expletive language. 

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’: wild, weird and wonderful

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

If five years ago, someone would have approached me and said “you know, in 2018 there will be an animated Spider-Man film — released at the same time as a successful live-action franchise featuring the hero — that will include multiple Spider men, girls and a ham,” I would have called that person insane. 

But, yet, here we are. And we’re quite lucky for it. 

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a chaotic, colorful foray into a world of multiple Spider-beings, displaying some of the most impressive animation in recent memory. The technology at play is, at times, truly jaw-dropping, offering a dimension and texture to Spidey’s web slinging that has not been seen before (there is a reason Sony is currently seeking patents for the tech). 

The film sets its sights on Miles Morales, a high-schooler living in Brooklyn with his family and attending a specialized prep school. He is — you guessed it — bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him the ability to awkwardly walk on walls with sticky hands and gnarly senses. But soon, he realizes that because of an inter-dimensional portal, he is not the only Spider-Man in his orbit, not by a long shot.

A blend of hand-drawn comic-book images and computer animation gives the action a unique sort of electricity, like its jumping off the screen. According to Wikipedia (only the best sources for this journalist): around 140 animators were used for this project, the largest of any Sony Pictures Animation film.

Aside from the incredible animation at work, this film is hilarious, drawing the best from the powers of Lord and Miller, and an exciting cast of voice performers. The film navigates the inter-dimensional madness with elements of slapstick humor, meta-commentary and heartfelt drama. While sometimes the humorous and dramatic notes are sporadically mingled, the film’s inherent weirdness seems to give it a pass to do so. Or perhaps it was just so funny, I didn’t care. 

Shameik Moore delivers a terrific performance as Miles, while Jake Johnson plays perhaps the most compelling Peter Parker ever. Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney) is a straight-up loony toon running amok and Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir  is a dark, black-and-white figure who brags about beating up Nazis.

The film is an absolute oddity, and a refreshing step in the world of comic-book adaptations. One can only hope it will be successful, and will cause studios to lean a little less formulaic and a little more risky. The gamble paid off with this film. 

Status: Strongly Recommend

Drawing by William C Hensley

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

‘Minding the Gap’: the doc of the year

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” is a standout in an already impressive year for documentaries, weaving together the stories of three young men passionate about skateboarding in Rockford, Illinois, over a period of several years.

Liu — both the filmmaker and an active player in the story — unfolds the different paths the three friends take, but focuses on the similarities that brought them together and magnetized them to the challenging, painful activity they love. 

“Minding the Gap” includes some of the best skateboarding sequences ever put on film. The camera glides smoothly with its characters down empty streets, through parking lots and up and down half-pipes, giving the viewer just a slice of the soaring ecstasy that keeps these skaters getting back up, no matter how intense the fall.

Though the skating sequences are executed brilliantly, the film is far more focused on the broken homes and shared traumatic experiences that led these men (children at the time) to seek solace at the skate park.

Liu fabulously bridges the gap (or, perhaps, minds it) between filmmaker and subject by establishing himself as both early on, even including some interactions where he clarifies from behind the camera that the person being filmed can address him as a person. 

Some of Liu’s moments as a participant are the most powerful. During a scene in which an important confrontation is taking place, Liu seems to almost hide behind the camera and lighting equipment, as if he wishes he could be a third-person observer instead of enduring the difficult emotional situation he finds himself in.

The film also manages to serve as a lens through which men view masculinity, responsibility and family as time goes by and the burdens in life become heavier. New paths are forged and then retreated, pivotal decisions are made for better and worse and independence is sought. It’s young adulthood in a nutshell, and for these characters who have not had the smoothest path in life, it’s tough (as it is for all of us).

One does not have to be a skater, or part of the skateboarding community, to enjoy this film. It is currently streaming on Hulu.

Status: Strongly Recommend

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

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