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Film Review: Vice

“It Has Been My Honor To Be Your Servant. You Chose Me. And I Did What You Asked…”

Reuniting the rather excellent filmmaking team behind 2016’s The Big Short, Vice, brings to the big screen a rather scathing, politically one-sided depiction of the rise and fall of one of America’s most infamous contemporary political figureheads, Dick Cheney, the Nebraskan born figure of ruthlessness who during the course of almost three decades rose to great prominence within the White House, eventually earning the title of the most powerful vice president in history in his time within the rather controversial Bush presidency at the turn of the twentieth century. Directed by Adam McKay, whose success with The Big Short seems to have thankfully pushed him away from the laddish cringiness of the likes of Step Brothers forevermore, Vice follows a very familial cinematic layout to the Oscar winning drama by essentially portraying a contemporary and highly controversial issue with a balance of both black comedy and seriousness, one led by the seemingly interchangeable figure of Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) who once again goes full-on The Machinist, albeit in reverse, by utilising the skills of prosthetics and his local takeaway in order to pull off a rather outstanding central performance in what is a considerably flashy ensemble acting piece. Slapped with a guarantee to inflame and provoke immediate discussion on both sides of the political fence, Vice is an explicit, highly intriguing, and at times, genuinely terrifying, depiction of modern politics in action which continues the notion that when handed the right material, McKay can truly be a standout figure of importance within the world of issue-based cinema.

Beginning with the successful rise of Christian Bale’s Cheney as he quickly progresses from drunken college dropout to falling under the wing of Steve Carell’s (Beautiful Boy) charismatic and wickedly devious, Donald Rumsfeld, McKay’s movie utilises the opening chapters in order to establish the unbreakable relationship within the Cheney household, with Amy Adams’ (Arrival) Lynne equally as power hungry as her aspiring husband, albeit burdened by her understanding of the limitations of her gender in the world of American politics. With it absolutely impossible to fit in every single point of interest within Cheney’s alarmingly elongated career, the central narrative of the movie begins and ends with the events of 9/11, a time in which Cheney’s tunnel vision for power is most clearly represented, and whilst at times the movie seems to disregard levels of depth for characters who seem to come and go, it comes at no surprise that those already slightly invested in such a crucial time in American politics may feel the ride much easier than those with absolutely zero interest or awareness of the events which occurred at the start of the twenty first century. Being part of the latter, the chance to witness Sam Rockwell portray (Three Billboards) George W. Bush as a drunken, easily led simpleton is almost too delicious to turn down, even when the film refuses to hold back in reminding the audience of the terrifying devastation at the heart of his particular tenure as President.

Whilst comparisons to The Big Short are obviously rather inevitable in terms of the storytelling, the most obvious and in-your-face connection between the two movies is of course the flashy, quickfire editing technique which McKay utilises so heavy in order to convey the many ideas floating around his head onto the big screen. With almost an uncanny sense of being handed subliminal messaging at times, the storytelling is constantly intercut with random segments of imagery and seemingly relevant newsreel footage which are used to reinforce the overarching political standing at the heart of the movie. With Jesse Plemons (Game Night) this time handed the reigns as narrator, Vice surprisingly never seems gimmicky or too confusing, with the constant editing shifts actually balancing the rather heavy and hectic central plot involving political jargon and offers a somewhat release and breakaway from characters who at the end of the day, are all downright slimey and evil to their core. With Bale supplying the archetypal, Marlon Brando-esque sense of commitment to the lead role of Cheney, Vice supplies the platform for yet another awards touted performance full of grandiose presence, even when the real life Cheney himself was renowned for being something of a introverted, slightly muted charisma vacuum. Whilst I was always destined to admire a piece of work with a political standpoint which pretty much aligns with my own when it comes to the downright illegal doings of one of the most infamous presidencies in history, Vice crucially did not disappoint and managed to handle the difficult subject matter with relative ease, supplying an excellent follow up to The Big Short and getting me excited for whatever Team McKay decide to do next.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Daddy’s Home 2

“This Year It’s No More Back And Forth At Christmas. It’s A Together Christmas..!”

With 2015’s Daddy’s Home being one of the few cinematic releases which managed to simply pass me by without me having the chance, time or perhaps the need to catch up and review it, the release of it’s inevitable sequel after the comedy hit became Will Ferrell’s highest grossing live action film to date brings with it a sense of heavy duty dread, particularly when reminiscing the more contemporary Ferrell releases such as The House and Zoolander 2, and whilst it requires quite an extensive amount in the American comedy genre to actually impress me, who would have thought that a Christmas themed sequel to a film which never really was asking for a continuation in the first place was actually somewhat quite good fun? With Mel Gibson and John Lithgow added to the cast as the fathers of Mark Wahlberg’s Dusty and Ferrell’s Brad respectively, Daddy’s Home 2 is a surprisingly sharp and witty sequel which although suffers from a overly formulaic plot, some interesting narrative swings and a completely saccharin sweet ending which nearly resulted in me chucking up into the nearest popcorn box, is throwaway comedy trash of the cheesiest order which just happens to be quite enjoyable.

With a script which ironically mirrors the Bad Moms Christmas approach by utilising the added input of an older generation to the plot and therefore the inclusion of much more acting talent, the inclusion of both Gibson and Lithgow does strangely work, with the latter using all his musky, outdated charm and guile to interfere with the family arrangements, and the latter’s penchant for cringe-laden conversations and weirdly intimate family relations managing to balance the widely cliched characterisation of pretty much everyone from child to elder. With rib-tickling set pieces managing to win me over from the start and Wahlberg being undeniably the star of the show, Daddy’s Home 2 does falter in an over-reliance on weak slapstick more times than necessary, whilst the inclusion of a strangely ill-judged gun scene is somewhat muddled in its’ execution, particularly when contemplating recent events in the US. Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t perfect, but nobody heading in was expecting It’s A Wonderful Life, and whilst some may feel the need to slate it’s cocksure and rather unsteady cinematic existence, it really isn’t worth getting angry about, and with that particular mindset in check, Ferrell’s latest is just plain dumb fun.

Overall Score: 6/10

88th Academy Awards: Best Director

Best Director

Within this penultimate examination into this years’ Oscar ceremony, with the annual event set to take place this Sunday evening and heading ever so early into the bright and early hours of Monday morning (Screw you time zones!) we finally come to the nominations for Best Director, a category currently filled with the winning shoes of one Alejandro González Iñárritu for his work on last years’ big winner Birdman. Once again Iñárritu is one of the five nominees for his work on The Revenant, a film which may indeed walk away with the top trio of awards in which it is nominated for with it standing a solid chance of winning Best Picture, Best Director and of course, Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio. Although Iñárritu may indeed carry on his success at the BAFTA’s and win at this years’ Oscar ceremony, being only the third director to win consecutive directorial awards after John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, there are of course four other nominations in the directorial category with Adam McKay for The Big Short, George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, Lenny Abrahamson for Room and finally Tom McCarthy for Spotlight. 

Inevitably, the odds are stacked highly in the favour of Iñárritu for The Revenant who is on course to make Oscar winning history, yet both Abrahamson and McCarthy shouldn’t be forgotten for their understated yet brilliant work on both of their respected films. As for those who may have been overlooked entirely, Denis Villeneuve should have had a look in for his brilliant work on the sublime Sicario whilst F. Gary Gray should have been rewarded for keeping control of the egoistic mayhem that must have ensued on the set of Straight Outta Compton. Looking further afield, maybe J.J. Abrams could have been praised for getting the Star Wars franchise back on track. I mean the decision to have no Jar Jar Binks in the latest entry deserves some recognition right? Right? Anyhow, here are the nominations:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant

Adam McKay – The Big Short

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Next Time: BEST PICTURE!

Film Review: The Big Short

“We’re Going To Wait Until They Feel The Pain, Until They Start To Bleed…”

To say Adam McKay was the last person on my mind to be at the helm of a film regarding the events leading up to and beyond the financial crisis of 2007 and into 2008 is quite a monumental understatement. Although previous movies of McKay, including Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and of course, Anchorman, have left with me with a fundamental sense of believing American comedy is well and truly heading down the toilet, The Big Short is a movie that tackles a ridiculously complicated subject matter for a member of the lay public without a background in hard economics, and throws in a surprisingly effective comedic element, one in which proves, when diverting from teeny-angst rubbish which has encompassed his previous selection of movies, that in fact, Adam McKay can in fact be a successful director in the hard-nut genre of comedy. With a strong band of actors such as Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, The Big Short is a movie of a highly enjoyable pedigree, if one that ever so slightly goes over your head in a “I’m so much smarter than you fashion,” but hey, who the heck knows what a credit default swap is anyhow?

Based on the book of the same name by author Michael Lewis, The Big Short details three intertwining stories of events proceeding the financial crisis of 2007/8, beginning with Christian Bales’ slightly exuberant and wholly unsociable Dr. Michael Burry who predicts the impeding collapse and leading on to Steve Carell’s Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett, all of whom are attempting to benefit from the ticking time-bomb of the US’s fraudulent housing market system. Like 99% of cinema goers who will go and see The Big Short, most of the film, I can freely admit, I was completely baffled, with the film being jam-packed with speech and set-pieces that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, with talks of hedge funds, CDO’s and subprime lending meaning absolutely zilch, and to be fair, it shouldn’t, I’m not exactly a top end economist. Thankfully, and critically, The Big Short knows this. Although its’ attempts to try and explain goings on with weird impulsed celebrity cameos just feel plain wrong, the film’s baffling nature is ultimately put to one side due to the sheer power of its’ actors and the swift nature of its’ comedic quips.

Star of the show is no doubt Steve Carell, whose character not only feels like the most three-dimensional out of the key components of the film, but it is a character that most people will find it easiest to associate with, especially in a stand out scene in which Baum is told straight-faced about the sheer unbelievable nature of the housing market by the creator of synthetic CDO’s, one of the core instruments in the downfall of the economy, a scene in which we witness Carell change from a state of interest to one of sheer shock and disgust. It’s a great scene and one in which embodies the hatred behind the capitalist, greedy nature of the US economy. If The Big Short makes you feel anything by the time the credits roll, it’s one that mirrors the state of Baum in such a scene. Hatred. Shock. Disgust. Feelings not aimed at the film in any sense, but feelings that are aimed towards the top one percent, those who watched millions fall to pieces around them whilst they sat and watched, earning profits in the process of doing so. The Big Short is not perfect by any means, but it is a film that encourages you to feel, and that, it sure did. Comedic in places, but straight-faced come the end, The Big Short is The Wolf of Wall Street reversed, attempting to show the sheer horrendous effects of greed and selfishness in a way that is enjoyable and entertaining whilst satirising the corporate nature of the US in the 21st century. Hollywood 1, Wall Street 0.

Overall Score: 8/10