Thursday, October 27, 2022

‘Till’: Loss, resolve, and the fight for justice

   In death, Emmett Till became an iconic figure of the American Civil Rights movement.
   Till’s story is well known. In August of 1955, Till was kidnapped and murdered, his body dumped in Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River. Fourteen at the time, Till was accused of whistling at a white woman at Bryant’s grocery store in the town of Money, Miss.
    If Till were alive today he’d be 82 and the odds are good that we’d never have heard of him. Because he was killed, Till became a symbol of the torment and injustice that helped define the Jim Crow South.
   Emmett Till was also a person with a family and a mother whose life was transformed by the torchbearers of white supremacy who murdered her son.
    Directed by Chinonye Chukwu and starring Danielle Deadwyler as Emmett’s mother Mamie, Till stands as a powerful and moving story built around Deadwyler’s shattering performance. 
   After her son’s murder, Emmett’s mother made a difficult and, as it turned out, monumental decision. She insisted that Till’s bloated, mutilated body be returned to her in Chicago. She allowed Till’s body to be photographed. An open-casket bore shocking witness to the horrific consequences of Jim Crow lawlessness.
    Confronted with unbearable tragedy, Mamie met the moment and helped turn it into a galvanizing event. Deadwyler also meets the moment as an actress playing a woman whose pain runs as deep as an inconsolable moan and whose anger fuses with righteousness.
    A Chicago kid, Till traveled to Mississippi to visit cousins. His mother warned him that the attitude toward Black people would be different in Mississippi. She feared that her son might not fully grasp the dangers he could face. 
    As the young Till, Jalyn Hall creates a plucky teenager who arrives in the South with a playful attitude.
     The scene at the tiny convenience store creates additional tension because we know that Carolyn Bryant, the store’s clerk, will distort what happens as a result of Till’s outgoing personality 
    And, well, you know the rest of the story.
    Because we know the fate that awaits Till, the early scenes brim with impacted tension, a sense of unease that undercuts the portrait of closeness that Chukwu paints of a mother and her son. 
      Wisely, Chukwu doesn’t show Till’s torment at the hands of his murderers. She films the shed where they take him from a distance. We hear shouts and screams. The brutality remains off-screen, at least temporarily: It will reemerge more effectively when we see Till’s bloated body.
     The second half of the movie covers the trial of Roy Bryant and JW Milam, the white men accused of Till’s murder. Few expected that justice to be done. It wasn’t. 
     Chukwu, who directed the equally powerful Clemency,  grounds the movie in Deadwyler’s performance as a mother and supports it with performances from actors who play Till’s relatives and the team of Civil Rights workers who gathered around Mamie after the murder.
    Whoopi Goldberg delivers a strong small performance as Till’s grief-stricken grandmother, a woman who encouraged the young man’s trip to Money, a town where the welcoming sign carried a cruelly ironic motto, “A Good Place to Raise a Boy.”  
     It’s difficult for the movie not to lose a bit of steam after Till’s murder. The trial made a mockery of justice. Mamie traveled to Money to witness the proceedings, which were rigged from the start.
    But there’s no denying the sense of loss and will that Deadwyler’s performance makes so vivid. And let’s be honest: In a sane world, it should have been possible to put a teenager on a train, have him visit relatives in the South, and return to Chicago to get on with the rest of his life.
     That future — so simple-sounding and ordinary — was brutally stolen in Money, Miss.       

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A tale that takes an unexpected turn


   Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who appeared together in In Bruges (2008), reunite in The Banshees of Inisherin, the story of two former friends living on a fictional island off the coast of Ireland.
   Martin McDonagh, who directed In Bruges, locates Banshees'  characters on an island where the residents seem to regard the mainland as if it were another world. It is: Engulfed by civil war, Ireland feels more than a boat ride away from isolated Inisherin.
    A simple conceit drives the story. Once best friends, Gleeson's Colm suddenly and without explanation stops talking to Farrell's Padraic. We suspect that Padraic committed some terrible slight. He must have done something.
    That's not the case. Colm refuses to acknowledge Padraic's existence for no apparent reason at all.
    Faced with loneliness and beset by consternation, Padraic won't take "no" for an answer. Again and again, he presses Colm to explain his sudden change of heart.
     Eventually, Colm, an obstinate rock of a man, tells Padraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) that his former pal, is just too dull for sustained companionship.
      Siobhan counters. Padraic always has been dull so why shun the poor fellow now?
      Farrell excels as the good-hearted and insistently sincere Padraic, a guy whose social milieu consists of his farm and animals, most notably a pet donkey called Jenny.
    Padraic gives Jenny access to the cottage he shares with his sister, which -- not unexpectedly -- annoys her.  Siobhan yearns for better things and bristles under the weight of her island confinement.
     Later, we learn that Colm -- despite his stoicism and silent smoking -- is fighting a losing battle. Facing his own mortality, he realizes that he has accomplished nothing. He wants to devote the rest of his life to writing music for the fiddle he plays with a few other musicians at the town pub, the only place on Inisherin that accommodates any public gatherings.
      With the clock ticking, Colm has no time for distractions.
      At first, McDonagh seems to have made another movie steeped in colorful turns of phrase and Irish rue. But hints of darkness soon cast  a bit of a pall over the proceedings.
       The local policeman (Gary Lydon) sadistically abuses his son Dominic (Barry Keoghan). An old woman (Sheila Flitton) makes pronouncements of doom.
       The supporting actors excel, although Condon -- as the short-tempered, literate, and essentially decent Siobhan -- proves exceptional. Siobhan realizes that sustained isolation leads to unbearable desperation.
      The landscapes of Inisherin are stark, the ocean forbidding, and just about every aspect of life feels irrevocably meager.
      When the movie takes its darkest turns, we realize that McDonagh has serious intentions. In a fit of understated rage, an increasingly frustrated Colm pledges that every time Padraic talks to him, Colm will chop off one of his own fingers. 
        I won't tell you how the story arrives at its chastening conclusion but McDonagh takes us to places we hardly could have anticipated when the movie began.
        Fine performances and McDonagh's commitment to the odd edges of his material enables The Banshees of Inisherin to amuse, shock, and get under the skin, a bitter Irish chill of a movie.
        But more than an expression of Irish parochialism, this quasi-folk tale shows how tragic results can spring from something that borders on the trivial, irreparably altering the way life stumbles onward when something happens that can’t be made right.

Monday, October 24, 2022

A less-than-arresting ‘My Policeman’

 My Policeman deals with the sadness of lives that have been deformed by laws and values that changed too late for its principal characters to reap the benefits of social advancement. The movie examines the relationship between two men and a woman during the 1950s, a time when homosexuality was against the law in Britain. We meet the same characters in the late 1990s after the law and attitudes have evolved. Based on a novel by Bethan Roberts, the movie uses two sets of actors to play its characters as young people and as senior citizens.  Emma Corrin plays the young woman in this triangle with Harry Styles and David Dawson playing the men. In this case, the older actors (Linus Roach, Gina McKee, and Rupert Everett) don’t look enough like their younger counterparts to keep from being a debilitating distraction. Director Michael Grandage keeps the tone steady as Styles’ Tom (a policeman by trade) and Dawson’s Patrick (a museum curator) negotiate the difficulties of being gay in a country that won’t allow them to be themselves, something that Tom has trouble with on his own. Looking for cover and continuity, Tom marries Corrin’s Marian. Unsurprisingly, the two don’t live happily ever after. In the '90s scenes, Patrick -- disabled by a stroke -- is brought by Marion to share Tom and Marion's Brighton home.  My Policeman asks us to feel the weight of suppression that warps the lives of three people but the story’s tight focus and split narrative produce a dreary, often stale affair.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Roberts and Clooney in a mediocre romcom

 George Clooney and Julia Roberts go to Bali in Ticket To Paradise, a star-driven romcom with a sitcom-level plot. Clooney and Roberts play divorced parents who want to prevent their daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) from marrying a seaweed farmer (Maxime Bouttier) she meets on a post-college vacation in Bali. The parents fear their daughter is repeating the mistake they made when their marriage ended after five years. The scenery (the movie was shot in Australia) proves pleasant and seaweed farming never has looked more idyllic. Then again, it's a low bar because few Hollywood movies (if any) have referenced an occupation that may have grown with the rise of health-food marketing. To complicate matters, Roberts' Georgia is dating a younger man (Lucas Bravo), an airline pilot who wants to marry her. He shows up in Bali, too. But we know that the top-billed bickering stars are destined to reunite. Clooney’s David and Georgia concoct various silly schemes (including theft of the wedding rings) as they try to derail the pending nuptials.  Silly stuff, yes, but not especially amusing. In all, Ticket to Paradise stands as an undemanding mediocrity in which Clooney delivers wisecracks and Roberts fires back. Oh well, everyone looks nice, the warm waters appear inviting, a bit of Balinese tradition finds its way onto the screen, and no one ever mentions how much the hotel and airfare may have cost.

Lots of commotion, too few thrills


   Dwayne Johnson finds a superpower showcase in Black Adam, the latest entry into the DC Comics Universe. Johnson plays a character with superpowers but his Adam also has a vengeful side, which is supposed to make him more interesting — at least on paper.
   A noise machine built around a flood of unimpressive action, the movie features many battles in which bolts of lightning shoot from the fingertips of heroes and villains. There's enough zapping here to run a zillion microwaves but none of it has much real charge.
   A prologue explains how Adam acquired his superpowers by taking us back the ancient kingdom of Kahndaq where an enslaved Adam loses his wife and young son and finds himself in a state of suspended animation (or something like it) for 5,000 years. 
   Thanks to Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) Adam is revived in present-day Kahndaq,  a Middle Eastern-style country that is being invaded by militaristic thugs. The people of Kahndaq are not free.
   Adrianna comes into possession of a crown (well, it had to be something) that everyone else in the movie seems to want. Why not? It's made of Eternium. Ah, you say, that explains everything.
  Later, Adrianna’s son Amon (Bohdi Sabongui) will be kidnapped and Adrianna will implore Adam to help rescue the kid.
   Another story intersects with Adam’s. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to combat Adam by assembling a special team dubbed The Justice Society. Calling this four-member group a "society" stretches the term, but I guess Justice Quartet would impose too severe a limit on future growth.
   Society members include Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). An idiosyncratic array of powers, none of them especially intriguing, is distributed throughout the group.
    Toward the end, the movie goes sentimental over the friendship between Hawkman and the self-sacrificing Doctor Fate. My heart strings remained unplucked.  
    Adam, who flies but more often seems to float like a balloon in a Thanksgiving day parade, wants revenge for the murder of his wife and son five millennia ago.  Say this: The man knows how to hold a grudge.
   The only looming question: Will Adam unite with the Justice Society to help save Amon, presumably so that the kid can continue skate boarding through Kahndaq’s deteriorating streets?
   The future of a free Khandaq may also hang in the bargain.
   Not enough? Eventually, a character called Sabbac  (Marwan Kenzari) emerges to lead the legions of hell against …well … just about everyone. 
    Oh well, I liked the name. Sabbac has ring to it, don’t you think? 
    The movie makes attempts at humor but they are, for the most part, just that: attempts.
     To make the already obvious even clearer, the movie uses the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black to underline some of the clangorous action. 
      Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s best bit arrives in a postscript that involves a surprise appearance. Talk about too little too late.
    Will there be more Black Adam movies? I don't know but it might be best to say Shazam and hope for the best.
    And if you don’t know about Shazam, don’t worry. You’ll probably be doing something else this weekend anyway.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

When evil lives among us


   Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne give strong performances in The Good Nurse, a reality-based thriller grounded in the hospital environment in which two intensive-care nurses ply their trade.
   It's hardly a spoiler to tell you that Redmayne's Charlie Cullen is a serial killer whose kindly affect and cunning skill with computer systems enables him to obtain drugs that he uses to murder patients. 
   Gradually, we learn that Charlie has a checkered history. Many of his previous employers regarded Charlie with suspicion. 
   Fearing law suits and bad publicity, hospitals preferred to get rid of Charlie rather than call in the law. Demand for nurses being high, Charlie simply moved to the next job.
   Chastain portrays Amy Loughren, a New Jersey nurse with two daughters and severe health issues. Amy needs a heart transplant but can't take medical leave because she hasn't been employed long enough to qualify for it. Besides, her work-related health insurance has yet to take effect.
   Charlie builds a relationship with Amy, helping her to keep her job and offering support with her two daughters. She sees him as a good nurse and friend -- until she no longer can ignore the truth. 
   Director Tobias Lindholm works in a quiet style that keeps the lid on melodrama with Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich playing hard-working detectives who try to stop the string of killings. A hospital administrator (Kim Dickens) offers little help. Her priority: protect the hospital. 
    Lindholm puts complex issues on the table: the inadequacies of the American health care system, the timidity of medical bureaucrats, and the vulnerability of a good person to someone with heinous motives.
   Not all of these issues register equally but Chastain and Redmayne bring credibility to a story that would seem beyond belief if the core of it weren’t based on a real case involving one of the most egregious violations of trust imaginable.

Cate Blanchett commands the screen in 'Tar'


   Tar, an intensely realized drama starring Cate Blanchett as a revered conductor, extends beyond the world of classical music to take a penetrating look at the ultra-successful career of Lydia Tar, a fictional character who represents what we've come to regard as star power.
    The undisputed center of her world, Lydia's personal life can't be separated from her musical life. She lives with her wife (Nina Hoss) and her daughter (Mila Bogojevic) in Berlin. Hoss's character also happens to be first violinist in Berlin's Philharmonic, where Tar presides as principal conductor.
    To ensure that we appreciate Lydia's musical cred, Field opens the movie with an on-stage interview at Lincoln Center. The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik interviews Lydia, giving her ample opportunity to demonstrate an incisive understanding of her role.  
    We also watch as Lydia teaches a master class at Juilliard. She argues with an identity-conscious student who brings an aggressively woke attitude to the work of Bach. At least for this student, Bach represents the epitome of dead white man irrelevance and misogyny.
    The tense exchange suggests that Lydia will encounter more contemporary issues before the drama concludes. Maybe she isn't as shielded as she believes.
    No one questions Lydia's bona fides: She was mentored by Leonard Bernstein ("Lenny" to her) and has conducted in Boston and New York. She has a Ph.D. from Harvard and has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She's about to publish a book, immodestly titled Tar on Tar.
    Gender issues? She can't be bothered. She's above them, assured of her position by talent, achievement, and superior intelligence. 
      A dazzling Blanchett fills every scene with agitated anticipation. When she conducts, it looks as if she's mining veins of furious energy.
     The bulk of the story takes place in Berlin, where Lydia is set to record Mahler's Symphony No. 5. She faces problems. Her assistant conductor (Allan Corduner) has lost a bit off his fast ball. Her assistant (Noemie Merlant) has begun to resent her demanding, arrogant boss. 
     Lydia's the kind of boss who promises much but isn't beyond pulling the rug out from under anyone she deems unworthy.
     Jealousy and intra-orchestra rivalry arise when a young cellist from Russia (Sophie Kauer) lands the featured role in Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, an opportunity a veteran cellist thought she deserved.
     Lydia bristles with kinetic spark. She runs through the streets of Berlin. She attacks a punching bag. Cutting and angular gestures can make her imposing in the way that someone who’s super-smart can be threatening to others.
    The drama comes to a boil when Lydia faces charges of  sexually abusing a young mentee in New York, undermining the woman's career, presumably for refusing the conductor's advances. 
    Field leaves questions of innocence or guilt unsettled -- although the ensuing turmoil leads to an ending that's not nearly as original as the rest of the movie.
     After the story dips into the world of social media and MeToo-ism, it seems to be punishing Lydia for her arrogance in ways that seem both humiliating and, sadly, a bit conventional. The great person's untouchable world collapses.
     Field (In the Bedroom and Little Children) creates a movie of jagged edges, slicing through the narrative like a violinist with a wicked bow.
     For her part, Blanchett isn't just playing a character. She's commanding the movie, pushing the story forward and keeping us glued to the screen as Field demonstrates that power -- even when built on earned authority -- can be abused.  Tar stays with you, possessing you in much the same way that Lydia attempts to possess everything she touches. 
    If Tar were only about power, it would be interesting, but Blanchett’s performance heightens everything, outraging, alluring, and making us feel the consequences of public stature in the hands of someone who has the capacity to destroy, as well as to create.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

A murky drama set in Nicaragua

  In Stars at Noon, director Claire Denis' latest serving of ambiguous drama, Margaret Qualley plays Trish, an American  journalist stranded in Nicaragua. Having had her passport seized,  Trish relies on a government connection and on her personal wiles to survive. She raises cash by charging for sex, primarily with a Nicaraguan soldier.
   Daniel (Joe Alwyn), an Englishman in Nicaragua for something vaguely approximating business, pays to have sex with Trish, whom he meets at a bar in his upscale hotel. The two develop a relationship. Both face undefined dangers. Both want to leave the country.
  As the movie unfolds, Trish drinks enough rum to sink a pirate ship, walks in the rain, and acts if she has an inside track on the mostly unseen political machinations that surround her. The country is on the eve of an election, which may or may not happen.
   For his part, Daniel smokes a lot of cigarettes and murmurs about this and that without revealing much about himself. For most of the movie, he's stuck wearing a white suit, even after he's caught in the rain. The suit makes it impossible for him to blend with the locals, which may be part of the point.
   It falls to Denis' two principal actors to fill in narrative blank spots with suggestion. Qualley has the showier, live-wire role, but both actors convey the difficulties of foreigners trying to survive and perhaps capitalize on the chaos of a volatile country.
    Based on a 1984 novel by Denis Johnson, the story has been updated to take place during the height of the covid pandemic, which means the characters carry masks. They sometimes even wear them.
    Eventually, Trish and Daniel make a run for the border encountering more vaguely defined figures as they flee for safety. A CIA agent? Another businessman? A representative of the Costa Rican secret police? All of the above?
     Dripping with atmosphere and sweat, Denis's movie captures the dislocation of  "international lives" being lived by people who would have done well to stay home. She allows the sex scenes to linger, evidence of desire and a desperate need to connect.
     At 137 minutes in length, soaks the movie in atmosphere. 
    Ordinary Nicaraguans (taxi drivers, a motel owner, and waiters) relate to these two bereft characters with varying amounts of helpfulness. Everyone seems to want US dollars instead of Nicaraguan Cordobas.
     I've appreciated the ambiguity of much of Denis' previous work (most recently Both Sides of the Blade) but Stars at Noon tries to turn a quasi-thriller into some sort of statement about ... well ... I'm not sure about what. 
    Sometimes, more clarity is needed to break through what feels like a self-imposed fog.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Bob's Cinema Diary: Oct. 7: 'Plan A' and 'The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’

Plan A

The Nakam was a clandestine group of Jewish Holocaust survivors who wanted to make Germans pay for what they’d done to European Jewry. The group planned to poison the water supply of post-war Nuremberg, considering it an act of justifiable revenge. Not all Jews agreed. The Haganah, a Zionist military organization that also operated in post-war Germany, worried that a Nakam success would turn the world against any attempt to establish a Jewish state. August Diehl anchors the story as Max, a survivor who lost his wife and child during the Holocaust. Will  Max choose revenge or a more enduring response; i.e., a victory for the fledgling state of Israel? That’s the moral territory that directors Dorn and Yoav Paz stake out. The setup couldn't be more interesting. The movie that follows? Not so much. Michael Aloni plays a Haganah operative who asks Max to infiltrate the Nakam ranks so that the poisoning plot can be disrupted. Sylvia Hoeks portrays Anna, a woman who works with the Nakam and faces her own moral crisis. In sum: intriguing subject but the movie isn't nearly as compelling as the questions it raises, perhaps because it fails to bring the drama to an exciting and suspenseful conclusion. Plan A begins by asking us what what we'd do in similar circumstances but doesn't do enough to involve us in the struggle the characters face as they move toward moments of grave consequence.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry 

Gently manipulative, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry combines sadness and sentiment in ways that make the movie feel formatted and formulaic. A.J. Fikry (Kunai Nayyar) runs a book store on an island off the Massachusetts coast. Mired in grief for his late wife, A.J. tries to drown his feelings with drink. Things begin to change when a publisher’s rep (Lucy Hale) tries to interest Fikry in her line. She's particularly enthusiastic about a book in which an old man acknowledges grief and loss. The heart of the movie involves an infant who's left in A.J.'s store. A.J. adopts the infant. The grim clouds hanging over A.J.'s life begin to lift, even though a rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane has been stolen from his apartment. It was supposed to pay for A.J.’s retirement. The story covers A.J.'s life as his young charge grows into her teenage years. A.J. also begins a relationship with Hale's Amelia. Christina Hendricks portrays A.J.'s sister-in-law and David Arquette plays the good-hearted local sheriff. Sprinkled with literary references, the movie eventually tells us how an infant landed in A.J.'s life. But sentiment overcomes sense the longer director Hans Canosa's movie goes on. Based on a popular novel by Gabrielle Zevin, the movie eventually dissolves into a soon-forgotten sigh. 


Thursday, October 6, 2022

Despite its ambition ‘Amsterdam’ falls short

      Director David O. Russell doesn’t always make things easy for himself — or for an audience.
      In Amsterdam, Russell aims big, offering a tilted comic take on a serious subject: the volatile political climate in America just after World War I and before World War II. 
    Creating a drama that swirls with plot and artifice in the early going, the story avoids disclosing its point until its final act when Russell not only clarifies what he’s been doing but tacks on an unconvincing message about the importance of love and kindness.
    That’s a mouthful of meaning and Amsterdam can't quite swallow it whole -- even with help from a strong cast that revolves around Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and David Washington.
   Bale, Robbie, and Washington play characters who meet during World War I. Assigned to lead a company of black soldiers, Bale's Dr. Burt Berendsen develops a lasting friendship with Washington’s Harold Woodman, who returns from the war to become a lawyer in New York City.
   After the war, Burt helps combat-disfigured vets reconstruct their faces using replacement parts that cover gaping wounds but have a stitched-together look that, to push a point, reflects the movie’s fractured soul. Berendsen’s patients are patchworks.
   Berendsen also suffered grave war injuries. He has a glass eye that Russell uses in comic fashion, abetted by Bale whose hair rises from his head like a garden of untended weeds.
   Married to a woman (Andrea Riseborough) whose family can't abide his mixed breed (Catholic/Jewish) origins, Burt struggles along until he and Harold are drawn into the mystery that propels the movie -- albeit in fitful fashion. 
  The movie's central trio is supposed to discover who killed their beloved military commander, a decent fellow played by Ed Begley Jr.
   Washington plays things fairly straight. During the war, Harold falls for Robbie’s Valerie Voze, a free-spirited nurse who creates art from shrapnel she removes from the bodies of wounded soldiers.
   In a playful interlude the three main characters travel to Amsterdam to recover from the war. Burt and Harold decide to return home, even though they might have continued to live with joyful abandon in Europe. 
   For a time, it seems that Amsterdam’s production design has been influenced by Wes Anderson, who specializes in creating environments that insist on existing on their own terms.
   Amsterdam features a host of talent in its supporting roles, too many to name here. I’ll highlight a few. Michael Shannon stands out as a CIA agent who works with a British secret agent (Mike Meyers). Bird lovers both, they make a fine comic duo.
   In the movie's third act, Russell introduces Robert De Niro as if he were a hole card being turned over by a gambler late in the game.
   De Niro appears as General Gil Dillenbeck, the most decorated marine in American history. American fascists and Hitler supporters are trying to turn Dillenbeck into a frontman for a coup.
    About three quarters of the way through a journey that sometimes seems mapless,  Rami Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy turn up as the bother and sister-in-law of Robbie’s Valerie.
   Loosely based on real events, the movie eventually whips comedy and thriller elements into a political cautionary tale with obvious relevance to the current political environment in which some view elections as inconveniences.
  Fair to say that Russell needlessly complicated a story that might have benefited from more straightforward telling. Besides this period of American unease has been dealt with elsewhere, notably in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which turned into an even better HBO series.
   For me, the always adventurous Bale and Robbie are the mainstays of a movie that tries to capture the ingrained absurdity of human interactions during moments of high stress. Think the Marx Brothers only not as funny and without the anarchic glee.
  Amsterdam doesn’t match Russell’s best work in movies such as Three Kings and American Hustle. Sure, the performances can be tasty but this oddly realized movie often has the feel of an interesting fellow who answers the doorbell without first pulling himself together.