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‘Vice’ Traces Disturbing, Precedent-Setting Network of Complacency Surrounding Greatest Political Sham in Modern History

Vice
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 hours 12 minutes
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, and Alison Pill


Vice is the satirical docudrama recounting the activities of the political players responsible for the global, ideological fiasco that was/is post-9/11 American politic. Very much in the same vein as director Adam McKay’s previous film The Big Short (2015), which told a tantamount story concerning the economic travesty that was the 2005 U.S. housing mortgage crisis. This time though, we’re instead filled-in to the quiet, but monumental circumstances surrounding enigmatic figure, past Vice President Dick Cheney (played by an impressively stout Christian Bale) and the unsettling precedent he so vicariously set in his pursuit for power. Once again, Capitalism is front and center (albeit unnamed) in this historical case study of perhaps the single most fatal vulnerability in the American governing framework.

We first meet Dick Cheney inebriated, making his way down a desolate back road in an old beat-down car before getting pulled over by a cop. Surely we’re to think, “how did this troubled man come to be the cold opportunist who justifies this film?” The unsurprising answer being familial privilege. Cheney isn’t as well off as the son of a former US President, but his family ties run deep enough to earn him admission to Yale, where he quickly flunks out. Seemingly fallen into the working class rut, Cheney begins the familiar life trajectory of overworked alcoholic as pleaded by his wife Lynne (Amy Adams), whose father ends up killing her mother out of that exact truth. Lynne reminds Dick of the long list of suitors that would be happy to marry her if he doesn’t find it in himself to take care them and their own in the growingly widening socio-economic valley. It’s here in Cheney’s “lowest” moment that he makes a choice, the choice to engage the world in a way he otherwise wouldn’t. In order to spare him and his wife and family, Cheney must commit himself to power. So likely from pulling those same familial strings again, Cheney manages his way into a White House internship under the Nixon administration and crosses paths with Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), who comes off as the caricature of what every middle-aged white man aspires to be: a wise-cracking, assertive, self-fulfilled “winner”. Cheney is immediately enchanted by Rumsfeld’s over-the-top shtick, wanting so badly to be just like him. The problem is, this aspiration model he’s chasing is just that, a caricature.

This moment is key to what the rest of the film is playing at; I’m afraid too many viewers will not recognize it and be eager to dismiss it as a kind of “lazy” evocation, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong with that assessment, but the deeper truth on display is the one denied by Republicans and Democrats alike. As necessary participants in the neoliberal state, we are all forced to presently exist in a power structure that subjugates anyone who doesn’t actively serve it, which becomes the source of contradiction that leads to global and local exploitation, death, retaliation, and a lesson perpetually ignored by those fortunate enough to find themselves in the few positions of power. Dick Cheney didn’t “invent the wheel” so to speak, but what his story very nicely encapsulates is the volatile danger of late-stage Capitalism as it pertains to socio-political conduct. Cheney’s success in achieving proxy unitary executive power is due largely in part to the use of a combination of social engineering and new age marketing tactics, fundamental Capitalist tools, to establish the stimulus feedback that still exists to this day and fine tune his gross machination as needed. With the only actionable concern being how to gain more power than presently had, the political game now becomes just another marketing campaign – a communication framework that is at its core not real. It can never be real. When the same tactics used to sell widgets is now used to sell policy, marketer intent dictates the depicted reality that the masses will begin to believe, the more that narrative is repeated by trusted faces. The film shows us a montage of various politicians, Democrats and Republicans, echoing the same lies thought up by Cheney and company to sell to the American people and the rest of the world. And we keep buying it.

Vice has to be my biggest surprise of 2018 – even if the execution is a bit heavy-handed at times, leaning into the more sensational contemporary parallels a little too much. But it’s clear that McKay and Bale are in on the “joke,” with the punchline being the identity of whom or what Cheney swore his agency to. It’s who a teary-eyed, helplessly obedient Cheney truly addresses in the film’s final moments, as he’s channeling his inner Frank Underwood and lying directly to the audience trying to justify his evil actions. For a brief moment, the facade of strength fades and a breeze of distress rises as he turns his words to whom he was really serving the entire time: the power that compels us.

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Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Annapurna Pictures 2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

8.0/10

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Movies Reviews

The Tragic Beauty of Black Love Transcends the Reality of Faceted Imprisonment

If Beale Street Could Talk
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, and Teyonah Parris


2018 was truly a year for Black cinema. Between Black Panther, Sorry to Bother YouBlindspottingBlacKkKlansmanWidows, and to lesser but still noteworthy (and questionable) extent, Green Book, you would be hard-pressed to claim the year didn’t offer arguably the best class of mainstream works from ethnic filmmakers in recent memory – and that’s without mentioning other exquisite films like Roma and Crazy Rich Asians. Although, clearly missing from this list of yesteryear’s finest is Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Best Picture winner Moonlight (2016), but not out of spit. Distribution minutiae standing, If Beale Street Can Talk was technically released in 2018, but didn’t receive a proper wide release until the other side of the new year. So when I declared my best films of 2018, I had no choice but to omit it. Let this late review of Beale Street be an inherent indication of just how highly I think of this deceivingly monumental film.

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If Beale Street Could Talk adapts James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, telling the story of Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) and their love in the face of a reality that actively seeks to deprive them of a dignified existence. Namely, Fonny is wrongfully accused of rape and is arbitrarily jailed with little to no recourse. The film goes to length to spell out the logistical unlikelihood of his guilt, but it doesn’t really matter. Fonny is Black man in America, the implications of which help shape the narrative beats in the film. The same is true for Tish as a Black woman in America. Just as Fonny is indefinitely sent to jail, Tish learns she’s with his child and reaches out to both their families for support for what will undoubtedly be a futile slog towards an unjust conclusion, but inspired by Tish and Sonny’s pure and innocent love, they soldier on. And so, the central tragedy in Beale Street doesn’t stem from infidelity or death or our lovers’ falling out, but from the scarier truth of the African American condition, as vast a definition as that is.

Barry Jenkins again demonstrates a mastery over emotional verisimilitude throughout the film’s series of connected vignettes and flashbacks that I felt was even more accessibly resonant than in his Oscar winning film. Every facet of the production from the delectable cinematography to the gorgeous aesthetic and composer Nicholas Britell’s beautifully harmonic score aggregate a well-crafted capsule poignant in it’s ability to capture the essence of what it means to be human with no real control of your life’s potential within the arbitrary social state; the best instance of which occurs in one of my favorite sequences in the film involving Brian Tyree Henry (AtlantaWidows) and his unsettlingly neurotic monologue to Fonny and Tish about his experience in prison.

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Tish and Fonny are the heart and center of Beale Street, so it’s imperative KiKi Layne and Stephan James contrive a palpable chemistry that can double as the thematic vehicle for the film, which they accomplish incredibly well – I fully expect we’ll be seeing more of them on the big screen in coming years. It’s what gives their tragedy emotional stake, as well as the film’s final, optimistic outlook; that is the consolatory triumph of love, a triumph that despite the helpless subjugation via shamelessly racist institutional handicaps (whether that’s labor or housing prospects, or safety) and random criminalization, manages to cut through the suffering.

By the end of 2018, I declared The Favourite best film of the year. I’m not sure if I prefer Beale Street over Lanthimos’ film, but I can say that they’re at least tied for the distinction in my mind, which brings me to the issue of the 2019 Academy Awards. Ever since I discovered my passion for movies as a kid, I always felt I could respect the Academy and its judgement of at least which films be nominated for the big awards, namely Best Picture. Sure, every year there’s one or two films I would have liked to see recognized, but generally I can live with the roster they put out. The same can not be said this year. It’s inexcusable that a film like Beale Street is absent from the Best Picture nominees the same year a objectively lesser film like Bohemian Rhapsody is not only nominated but somehow a contender to win. As subjective as film is, you can’t deny the discrepancy in artistic caliber between the two. It’s almost fitting that a film about the brutal truths of systemic prejudice is shunned by a legacy institution clearly ignorant of the true nature of the representation issues raised against it. Let If Beale Street Could Talk be a reminder that art and the necessity of expression cannot be determined by any central authority, whether that authority is an institution or an autonomous collective.

10/10