This Is a Movie Review: Vice

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CREDIT: Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Justin Kirk, Tyler Perry, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan

Director: Adam McKay

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for Profanity in the Halls of Power and Images of War and Torture

Release Date: December 25, 2018

If I’m understanding Vice correctly, then Adam McKay believes that Dick Cheney (here embodied by Christian Bale) is directly or indirectly responsible for everything that is wrong with the current state of American politics. That actually is not as much of a stretch as it sounds. During his eight years as vice president, Cheney wielded a degree of influence that was profoundly unprecedented for the position. The conventional wisdom is that his views on executive power and surveillance now represent the status quo for whoever is occupying the White House. Thus, McKay is not so far off the reservation to imply all that he is implying. But he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew with the expansiveness of his argument. He was similarly ambitious with The Big Short, but that earlier effort is more durable to scrutiny because there he laid the responsibility on forces that were perpetrated both actively and passively by many people. It may very well turn out to be true that Cheney’s influence is as wide-ranging as McKay claims – it’s just tricky to say so about a person who is still living.

Interestingly enough, that tenuousness is baked right into the script. If not for a few key decisions, the life of Dick Cheney, and ergo America, could have played out very differently. Without the presence of his wife Lynne (Amy Adams conjuring Lady Macbeth), he could have ended up a drunk nobody. And if not for his propensity to see life like a chess match in which he is ten moves ahead of everyone else, there might be no Patriot Act, ISIS, or extreme income inequality.

The thesis of Vice is that it was all so close to going differently. Through fourth-wall breaking and formal experimentation (like playing the end credits halfway through), the message is that all that we have been living through was not foreordained. Some may find that frightening, as it indicates that we are always on the precipice of disaster. And McKay’s propensity to cut to random footage of pop culture ephemera may come off as a lamentation that we are too distracted to do anything about it. But I actually see encouragement. You don’t have to like Cheney for him to be an inspiration. If you have a problem with the way things are in the country right now, maybe you can see an opportunity where everyone else sees the masses placated by “Wassup!” commercials. I’m not sure how well Vice works as a movie, but I choose to see it as an exhortation to make things right.

Vice is Recommended If You Like: The Big Short, Oliver Stone’s political thrillers, The Daily Show, Fourth-wall breaking

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Unitary Executive Theories

This Is a Movie Review: Justice League

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

I give Justice League 2.5 out of 5 Doomsday Clocks: http://newscult.com/movie-review-justice-league-is-okay-i-guess/

This Is a Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals

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The story-within-the-story in Nocturnal Animals – Jake Gyllenhaal teams up with Det. Michael Shannon to track down the rapist-killers of his wife and daughter in the Texas desert – is a satisfying pulp yarn on its own merits. But it exists as it does within a frame device so that we have the added pleasure of Amy Adams (Jake Gyllenhaal the author’s ex-wife) looking distraught as she reads the story that she believes she inspired, and so that director Tom Ford can play around with the editing and sound design as he cuts back and forth between reality and fiction in a way that gets under our skin and sticks in our craws. Also, there is a scene in the middle with Jena Malone that suddenly switches genres that will have you indelibly jumping out of your seat. That is certainly how my entire theater reacted.

I give Nocturnal Animals 9 Lovingly Framed Butts out of 10 Wails of Anguish.

This Is a Movie Review: Arrival

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arrival_movie

This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: Rated PG-13 for Visceral Disorientation

Release Date: November 11, 2016

Arrival takes the novel approach of making translation the focus of an alien invasion movie. Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a renowned linguist hired to attempt to communicate with extraterrestrials to understand the purpose of their visit to Earth. This may sound like a formula profoundly devoid of excitement, but if you believe that, then you are vastly underestimating humanity’s potential for paranoia, as well as director Denis Villeneuve’s (PrisonersSicario) proven knack for drawing out intrigue by just lingering on the vastness of his settings. Also, if you can get over the lack of typical sci-fi action, Dr. Banks’ sessions with the two main “heptapod” aliens (dubbed “Abbot and Costello”) are a lot of fun, in a Sesame Street-edutainment sort of way.

Ultimately, Arrival justifies its existence by demonstrating that the question of how to talk to the aliens should pretty much always be one of the most pressing concerns in this genre. More fantastically inclined entries may get away with universal translation devices, but the road to such an invention, as presented here, is a thrilling triumph of human ingenuity and transcendent gumption.

Cracking the code of whether or not the aliens are friend, foe, or something else entirely requires an entirely new way of thinking. Understanding context is always important when it comes to communication, but this is a film about when context does not exist, which is existentially terrifying. In the fight to create context, what emerges is a holistic approach that is simultaneously not at all about cracking any code and entirely about cracking a code that both exists and does not exist. To truly understand Arrival, you must accept that it can never be understood. This is filmmaking at the crossroads of theoretical physics, hope, and the sublime.

Arrival is Recommended If You LikePrimerClose Encounters of the Third Kind, the quieter moments of 2001

Grade: 4.5 Out of 5 Droopy Forest Whitaker Eyelids