Sandra Bullock is the best part of this wobbly farce

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 new movie reviews in brief: Truth, Suffragette, Our Brand is Crisis and more.

Based on a real event, “Our Brand is Crisis,” a new dramedy starring Sandra Bullock as a strategist working on a Bolivian election, shows just how fragile and easily manipulated the political process can be.

Sandra Bullock, one of my favorite actresses, is very much worth watching — even in a somewhat wobbly and very cynical political farce like “Our Brand Is Crisis.’’ She’s in top form.Cate Blanchett, left, portrays producer Mary Mapes, while Robert Redford stars as Dan Rather in the journalism drama Truth. (Lisa Tomasetti/Sony Pictures Classics/Associated Press) Though reporters bemoan the state of journalism today, in the movies, it’s the golden age again as films like Spotlight and Truth revisit the theme of hard-charging reporters fighting the good fight.

Bullock plays the fictionalized “Calamity’’ Jane Bodine in David Gordon Green’s very loose adaptation of a documentary about battling American political consultants who shaped the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Both consultants were men in real life, but one of the roles in this long-in-development project (originally intended for producer George Clooney) was rewritten to Bullock’s strengths as a comedian (including slapstick skills we haven’t seen in some time) and dramatic actress. From the screenwriter of Zodiac (and The Amazing Spider-Man) comes a dramatization of the Memogate controversy over a 60 Minutes report concerning documents critical of former U.S. president George W. When she is pulled back in the game to run the presidential campaign of unpopular Bolivian politician Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida) she finds herself face-to-face with her nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a Machiavellian politico who wants his candidate to win at any cost.

Bullock’s Jane goes to town as a ruthless consultant who is recruited out of retirement by a couple of other desperate consultants (Anthony Mackie and Ann Dowd) four years after a tragic incident led to substance-abuse problems and a breakdown. With Bolivia facing severe hardships she creates a campaign that plays up the country’s crisis and positions her man as a tough guy who won’t pussyfoot around the problems.

They convince Jane — renowned for jump-starting the campaigns of losers — to lend her expertise to an arrogant and charmless former Bolivian president who even looks like a bad guy (Joaquim de Almeida, often cast in American films as a drug lord) and is languishing in fifth place in the presidential polls. Once she gets over altitude sickness and her revulsion for the ex-president, Jane’s proposes an American-style campaign that offers the candidate up as the only solution to a manufactured “crisis” in Bolivia — arguing that voters will fall back on the familiar candidate rather than a more hopeful newcomer when they are afraid. Backed by an orchestra swelling with moral rectitude, Truth is so convinced of its righteousness that it turns a fascinating issue into a story about martyrdom.

There’s the re-branding of Castillo, a graphic showing how many days until the election and where Castillo is at in the polls, and even Jane rising to the occasion to create a winning campaign. It’s her Erin Brockovich, the story of a person’s realization that her efforts can affect, both positively and negatively, the lives of a great many people. Our heroine is energized by her longtime rivalry with the other candidate’s American consultant, whose ruthless tactics in an earlier election she suspects may have led to her breakdown. In his directorial debut, James Vanderbilt is so busy painting Mapes as the victim, he rarely stops to question her certainty or how facts become irrelevant in the 24-hour tweeting and blogging world we live in.

He’s played with malevolent charm by Billy Bob Thornton as a less flamboyant version of the real-life “Ragin’ Cajun” James Carville than the one Thornton offered in the Bill-Clinton-à-clef comedy “Primary Colors” (1998). Thornton has such great chemistry with Bullock (in his best film work in years) that I wish he had more screen time, but Thornton makes the most of what he gets. Carey Mulligan is Maud Watts, a woman who has been working in a laundry since the age of seven and goes from reluctant supporter to frontline soldier as her personal situation worsens.

Still, the combination of Gavron’s urgent, hand-held shooting style and Mulligan’s face – a mixture of pain and determination – create a stirring experience. A gourmet version of a familiar Hollywood recipe, Burnt finds Bradley Cooper and his immaculately groomed chin stubble cast as Adam, a broken but genius chef in London searching for redemption as well as his third Michelin star. Jane even gives a rousing speech saying, “I’m not going to stand by as this nation falls apart”, but it’s a speech to get people to campaign harder so she can beat Candy.

Directed by August: Osage County’s John Wells, Burnt transports us into the kitchen of the high-end restaurant where Adam bullies and berates his staff into a quivering crew churning out perfection. Leather jacket-clad Cooper tooling like a Top Gun stand-in can be hard to swallow, but Burnt’s excellent supporting cast, including Sienna Miller and Daniel Bruhl, elevate the film to cinematic comfort food of the highest order. Inspired by the documentary of the same name, the film mixes sometimes-biting satire with somewhat-bubbling farce – where llamas are used as punch lines.

There’s an entire sequence that involves two campaign buses racing on a cliff like Fast & Furious that ends with Sandra Bullock mooning the other bus. Laia Costa is shown in a scene from the German film Victoria, director Sebastian Schipper’s film about a late-night adventure that takes an unexpected turn. (TIFF) Filmed in a single continuous shot, the German film Victoria comes across as a mix of Birdman, Bonnie and Clyde and Before Sunrise.

As their late-night walking tour takes an ominous turn, the unbroken cinematography keeps the tension high, while the largely improvised script leaves room for expressive moments.

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