Vice reviews

The Original BJ
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Re: Vice reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Nov 28, 2018 2:17 pm

Great review, Sabin. I'd say Vice is probably even more Big Short-ier than The Big Short, which is to say, if McKay's earlier film wasn't to your sensibilities, I doubt you're going to respond much differently to the filmmaker basically doubling down on his everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach. I was a fan of The Big Short, though, and I'm a fan of Vice as well -- the movie feels like it's constantly on the verge of flying off the rails completely, but I found this approach perfectly in tune with its subject matter. As Sabin says, McKay sets his targets on everything and everyone -- the film actually says a lot less about Dick Cheney himself than about the last fifty years of American politics and culture, and how the toxicity of the current moment is nothing more than a metastasization of the greed, cynicism, and power grabs of the decades prior. And the film's constant freneticism, full of bouncing around in time, cutting to random pieces of pop cultural footage, and consistently inventive storytelling devices (the bedtime monologues between Dick and Lynne, the restaurant scene with Alfred Molina, the Plemons narration) captures the mad chaos of all of this in a manner both enraging and humorous. (The mid-film joke Sabin cites is the kind of thing that if I described it, it probably wouldn't sound that funny, but the way the sequence is constructed, building to the perfect punchline, is comic perfection. I could NOT stop laughing over it.)

I see what Sabin is saying about Bale's last speech, and how it seems to undercut much of what the film seems to be saying about Cheney. My take on it is that McKay is suggesting that even the worst things Cheney did while in power were (somehow) motivated by his own belief that he was doing the right thing, which is, essentially, the most frightening aspect of every leader who uses their position of strength for evil, as they've so convinced themselves they're on the side of angels that they're willing to justify anything. (And again, this seems to be less a statement about Cheney specifically than political leaders more broadly.)

Up until his last big speech, Bale's performance mostly exists in quiet moments, but I like a lot of what he does here. He captures Cheney astonishingly well -- I know we always mock those "he WAS Cheney!" reactions, but the point has to be made -- and finds all kinds of compelling beats along the way, whether in line readings or reaction shots. (In a way, it's sort of the perfect performance for a man who accumulated his strength in about as un-Trump a manner as possible, by yielding the spotlight rather than reveling in it.) And Amy Adams is probably an Oscar clip or two short of a trophy (unless the overdue narrative for her really kicks in), but I think she's a consistently strong presence here, adding lots of complicated shadings to her role as the Lady Macbeth to a man who (in a sense) was a Lady Macbeth figure himself. And while none of the other actors are quite as central, I'm pretty impressed that in a film whose tone is on the exaggerated side, so many of the performers capture the essence of the people they're playing so effectively, without feeling like caricatures -- Rockwell's Bush, Carell's Rumsfeld, Perry's Colin Powell, Lisagay Hamilton's Condi Rice.

Not every movie has to feel like a "movie of the moment" but this certainly seems like it's tapping into something vital in the (American) cultural zeitgeist right now.

Sabin
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Re: Vice reviews

Postby Sabin » Sat Sep 15, 2018 5:01 pm

Greg wrote
Would that be lead or supporting?

Supporting.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Re: Vice reviews

Postby Greg » Sat Sep 15, 2018 4:48 pm

Sabin wrote:Amy Adams has a chance at a nomination. Her scenes are bigger as the film positions Lynn Cheney as the most energetic and ambitious figure in his life. Her old age makeup is fine. She gets to tell Young Dick to shape up, she gets to campaign for him when he has a heart attack... the film doesn't quite give her enough to do to warrant a win but she is the most recognizably human individual. Another nomination but if the competition is weak, who knows?


Would that be lead or supporting?
"Wall Street is not the solution to our problem. Wall Street is the problem!"

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Vice reviews

Postby Sabin » Sat Sep 15, 2018 12:17 pm

Well, not other people's reviews. Mine. Last week, I was fortune enough to sit in on an early screening of Adam McKay's untitled new movie, formerly titled Backseat but I believe it will now be titled Vice. Which is kind of a no-brainer.

Vice is a continuation of McKay's video essay style of filmmaking, utilizing newsreel footage, voice-over and a mysterious narrator played on-screen by Jesse Plemons to go after a big picture issue. While I think this technique was better utilized in The Big Short, I enjoyed Vice more. Vice reminded me of Nixon in that it is going after EVERYTHING. Not just Dick Cheney but the birth of Fox News, think tanks, and modern conservatism and how they all reached their fever pitch with The Iraq War. In the wake of the whitewashing of George W Bush, it wants to remind viewers of two things: 1) his Presidency was a disaster, and 2) in many ways, the rise of Trump is almost the logical extension of Reagan and George W. Bush. In the sole clip of Reagan, he says in his convention acceptance speech that they will "Make America great again." This film is an incredibly important reminder.

Like Nixon, Vice also has an insane cast of actors who pop in and out. Bill Pullman shows up at Nelson Rockefeller for one line during the Nixon and Ford administration, for me easily the most entertaining part of the film where Cheney the Page follows Steve Carell's Donald Rumsfeld around and learns the ins and outs of power.

Vice zigs and zags to get all of this but where it fails (or rather doesn't entirely succeed) is that Christian Bale's Cheney is no Anthony Hopkins' Nixon for a host of reasons but chief among them Bale is as uncomplicated as Hopkins is complicated. McKay's take on Cheney is something I haven't seen before: he's not a mastermind, just a patient opportunist. It should be said that Christian Bale is both very funny and unrecognizable as Cheney. When he first appears on-screen in the war room using presidential authority to shoot down the planes, I gasped. I couldn't believe it was Bale. The makeup is seamless and he has Cheney's mannerisms absolutely down. That being said... the film doesn't really give Bale much to do. There's not a ton of difference between what he is doing and what Darrel Hammond did. He has no big emotional scenes. The emotional crux of his arc (his relationship with his gay daughter) is sweetly underplayed, but it is surprising as he is unexpectedly protective and accepting (at the start).

By the way, Vice has an incredible joke about forty minutes into the film (I think) that I wouldn't dare ruin. It is absolutely inspired, perhaps the highpoint of Adam McKay's prankish career.

If Bale is nominated, it will be because in the era of blockbusters Best Actor will be a barren wasteland for years to come and Bale is just in the club now. Amy Adams has a chance at a nomination. Her scenes are bigger as the film positions Lynn Cheney as the most energetic and ambitious figure in his life. Her old age makeup is fine. She gets to tell Young Dick to shape up, she gets to campaign for him when he has a heart attack... the film doesn't quite give her enough to do to warrant a win but she is the most recognizably human individual. Another nomination but if the competition is weak, who knows?

Nobody else really quite has enough to do. Carell's Donald Rumsfeld makes appearances throughout the film but his Rummy just feels like another goofy Carell performance... which might not be a bad choice. Allison Pill and Sarah Paulson don't quite have enough to do as the Cheney daughters. Sam Rockwell comes the closest, but merely because his casting as George W. Bush is as perfect as it sounds.

All of this is subject to change because when I left the screening Adam McKay kept muttering to everybody "It's just a rough cut" with a forced smile. He knows this fucker isn't done yet. It's entirely possible that some of it will be stripped down and reshaped. At this point, I'm inclined to say it's a worthy effort that I enjoyed more than The Big Short simply because I found the first half more riveting but it has a huge problem at the end: I had NO IDEA what the film was trying to say about Cheney and with a final speech it became clear they had no idea either. As I said, the whole film positions him as a patient opportunist but by the end they want us to think that he thinks of himself as a patriot. And that doesn't track.

This is what I hate about test screenings. :)
Last edited by Sabin on Wed Nov 28, 2018 2:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver


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