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Review: Vice

Vice is as noisy as the media landscape that writer-director Adam McKay holds in contempt.

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Vice
Photo: Annapurna Pictures

Writer-director Adam McKay peppers Vice‘s story of political corruption with surreal flourishes that recall the filmmaker’s collaborations with Will Ferrell. The idea is promising, as routine jokes like the ones found in a slob comedy such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby can feel shocking when applied to material that’s usually treated with a numbingly straight and Oscar-courting face. One doesn’t expect, for instance, to hear a reference to a circle-jerk puppet show in a biopic about Dick Cheney.

As he did in The Big Short, McKay attempts to forge a tone in Vice that’s capable of puncturing our indifference to the manna of political procedure, which is clouded by pop-cultural simplifications of personalities and of blockbuster issues like gun control, abortion, and immigration. As politics merges with show biz in our culture at large, McKay seeks to disguise substance as more noise. In this fashion, The Big Short and Vice are indebted to The Daily Show, and their slide-show montages and pithy cross-associations also suggest a cinematic merging of Vox and Wikipedia.

With Vice, McKay directly tackles the George W. Bush administration, a subject that’s been in his crawl, at least implicitly, since Talladega Nights. In that film, Ferrell played a red-state racecar driver in a manner that echoed his parody of Dubya on Saturday Night Live. Ricky Bobby is a classic Ferrell man-baby, a buffoon who luxuriates in a hopped-up “patriotic” image of America that’s been purposefully fashioned by the Republican party as a means of demonizing social services. Ricky Bobby’s product placement-laden fantasy of unbridled machismo isn’t dissimilar to Bush II’s careful references to his ranch or his jet-pilot photo ops, which, in Vice, are portrayed as gimmicks asserting the president’s gung-ho everyman status. Bush II, informed in Vice by Sam Rockwell with a wicked sense of cluelessness, is, like Ricky Bobby, a pawn who’s manipulated by higher forces—forces that are often drowned out in terms of public awareness by the easy gratifications of pop culture.

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In the case of Bush II, said higher forces are embodied in Vice by Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), a career politician who exploits Bush’s short attention span and daddy issues to effectively seize control of the United States, when many citizens were looking for simplified global vengeance in the wake of 9/11. Americans wanted a real-life western with a big bad, and Cheney, with his Halliburton connections, was more than willing to serve them Iraq.

McKay frames Vice as an ironic coming-of-age story, following Cheney as he rises from drunken ne’er-do-well to congressional intern in the Nixon administration to a trusted ally of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell), which eventually led to him serving as the White House chief of staff under Gerald Ford (Bill Camp). McKay reduces Cheney’s political maneuverings to a series of alternately sharp and glib sketches, with a cackling Rumsfeld teaching the future vice president to value power above ideology. Cheney lingers outside of Henry Kissinger’s office as Richard Nixon plans the bombing of Cambodia, which McKay pointedly contextualizes as an inciting incident that would inspire Cheney’s orchestration of Operation Desert Storm, as secretary of defense under George H.W. Bush, and later the war on Iraq under Bush II, as an unusually and disturbingly powerful vice president.

McKay’s essential point is unsurprising yet important: that American politics is governed by dynasties, and that this country’s most shameful debacles—the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia, the fabricated claims about WMDs in Iraq—have been fashioned by many of the same men and families, who’re waging mass destruction for profit and spite. McKay is desperate to cram in as many incriminating stories of Republican greed and hypocrisy as a 132-minute running time will allow, though he tries to sweeten the inevitable exposition overload with Shakespeare quotations, ribald dialogue, and other bits of business. A mid-film end credits sequence that postulates the world that might have been had Bush II not drawn Cheney back into the White House from the private sector is particularly resonant and hilarious.

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Yet McKay’s ambitions often cancel themselves out. So much is going on here that nothing seems to matter, and his endless digressions annihilate any impression of a present tense. Vice is as noisy as the media landscape that McKay holds in contempt, most notably when the filmmaker alternates footage of the Iraq War with scenes from Survivor, smugly illustrating what truly commands the attention of American citizens. And two of McKay’s conceits are embarrassing: a framing device with Jesse Plemons as a bedrock American who spouts factoids that McKay presumably couldn’t fit into other characters’ mouths, and a climax that literalizes Cheney’s heart replacement as the loss of his soul, upon his betrayal of his gay daughter, Mary (Alison Pill). (Never mind that Cheney’s already a war criminal at this point, as well as a potential traitor, in terms of his role in the Valerie Plame affair.)

For all of McKay’s self-consciousness, Vice is essentially another biopic that preaches to the liberal choir, with occasional bits of lunacy that surface seemingly out of nowhere, remaining isolated from the central, and momentum-less, drama. As grotesque as the protagonists of Talladega Nights and Step Brothers were, the director clearly loved them, which gave the films a majestic sense of empathy and political daring. In those films, McKay was willing to explore the pleasure of giving in to selfishness.

Bale has a few lovely and unexpected grace notes as Cheney, such as when the man indulges his young daughters’ mischief in the White House. But McKay’s revulsion with his subject is at odds with Bale’s empathy, rendering Cheney a remote paragon of unbridled evil. Where Bale dramatizes the steadfastness of Cheney’s will, finding a profound kinship with his own obsessive practices as an actor, McKay sees mostly a cautionary tale: a real-life Darth Vader. What emotionally drove Cheney’s unforgiveable actions? Bale suggests that Cheney was enthralled with an almost narcotic need for control, though McKay isn’t willing to elaborate on this possibility. McKay mistakes his own fundamental lack of curiosity for satiric integrity.

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Eddie Marsan, Shea Whigham, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Bill Camp, Lily Rabe Director: Adam McKay Screenwriter: Adam McKay Distributor: Annapurna Pictures Running Time: 132 min Rating: R Year: 2018

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2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

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The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

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Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

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Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk (s)
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

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Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

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Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

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Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

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Watch Stay below:

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