Moviemakers have fallen so in love with the new tools at their disposal that they are using them at a tough cost to the audience: confusion. Vice is a prime example. The political figures of our era are shown at different ages – young here, old there, handsome here, bald and fat there. The scenes shift at bullet speed while we try to sort it all out. That said, this is a movie full of revelations that never came through in the press at the time. The audience at the opening on Christmas Day was thoroughly absorbed as they made their way through the confusion.

The link, of course, is Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) who we meet as a young man who loves to fish in his home state of Wyoming. He is also an irresponsible drunk with no future until he marries the smart and ambitious (for him) Lynne (Amy Adams). From the moment of their marriage this determined woman begins to redesign her new husband. He is to dress right, talk intelligently, and stop drinking – or she will leave. He was tossed out of Yale for drinking.

As he leaves his old self behind, he quietly accepts her as his life coach. We begin to meet the characters who would later become entangled in the George Bush presidency – a disgusting Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), Roger Ailes of Fox News, and a host of others with familiar names from that dark time.

Nixon resigns in scandal, Ford becomes a weak president, the Cheneys return to Wyoming, Reagan becomes president, Cheney has the first of several heart attacks, daughter Mary Cheney (Allison Pill) announces she is gay, Cheney becomes president of Halliburton Oil. If you think it’s easy navigating all this, it isn’t.

The summons from George Bush drops us into the most depressing part of the movie. Actor Sam Rockwell creates Bush as an overwhelming mediocrity and Cheney runs as Bush’s vice president. Halliburton, of course, gives him twice what he expected when he left the company, Bush wins by 537 votes, Scooter Libby becomes chief of staff, a Cheney granddaughter is born. Cheney sets himself up in offices in the Senate, the House, and in CIA, designs the invasion of Iraq, denies climate change, refuses rules against energy companies and assumes massive power when the World Trade Center is destroyed on September 11 th. Under Cheney, the U.S. tortures its prisoners and goes into Iraq and Afghanistan with encouragement from President Bush. Did I forget to mention that Vice President Cheney shot a man by mistake?

Are there any goods in all of this? Yes. Secretary of State Colin Powell struggles to do what is right but later labels his famous speech the most awful moment of his life. Cheney is accepting of his daughter’s lesbianism and loves both his daughters very much. This grim review is a loud howl that documentaries are trying to capture too much history in two-hour movies.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : VICE
Word Count : 500
Running Time : 2:12
Rating : R
Date : 30 December 2018

The Favourite

The Favourite

Favourite opened to a number of rave reviews and is in line for Oscar honors. I mention that because I thought the movie was intolerable. Let’s take a look at the positives first.

Set in the 1700s, it is a sight to behold. The castle where Queen Anne rules is especially beautiful, bathed always in the evening warmth of hundreds of candles and in the natural light of daytime. Against this fine background, the acting is predictably exciting. Olivia Colman creates the physically and emotionally unstable Queen Anne with great skill. Rachel Weisz gives us Lady Sarah, tough guardian and keeper of the unpredictable Queen. Abigail (Emma Stone) causes trouble in the palace as she plots her complex return to prominence after her royal family fell from grace into poverty and oblivion.

As the characters are introduced, the audience sits back in happy anticipation of what’s to come. We are watching first-rate competition among three selfish royals as each of them drives her cruelty into both the audience and each other with sharp verbal exchanges. As the drama unfolds, we are absorbed by the value systems of these characters, by the tools they summon to navigate their world. What’s more fun than watching three fine actors create trouble among themselves in the sophisticated language of their day?

And now, the unravelling. Writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, along with director Yorgas Lanthimos, decide to drop our contemporary American culture into their marvelous 18 th century story. They bestow the foul slang and behavior of 2019 America on their three grand actors and it doesn’t work. Instead of humor, the repetition of today’s boring swearwords turns the movie into slapstick. Imagine the humor that might have come from soaking this movie in the slang of the 1700s.

As the swear words and sexual proclivities of 2019 are plugged into the 1700s, the cruel sophistication already created by the sharp witted, selfish competitors is destroyed. Couldn’t the writers have laced it with the outrageousness of the era? It’s refreshing to see a movie about women running their world even when every one of them is entirely self-absorbed. But this movie, promising in so many ways, is set to a terrible score and is immersed in the boring repetition of the four-letter words of our day.

Favourite began with a grand cast and a strong story. Wouldn’t it have been funnier if their collective outrage had been expressed in the dirty slang and cruelty of their time rather than mixing the language of two centuries? If the intent of the filmmakers is to show that two centuries apart, sex still runs everything, that’s dull stuff compared to the superb family fight in the beginning of the movie. We need a script revision so the truly fine actors – Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz – can carry us through the feminine cruelty of the 1700s. The lazy foulmouthery of today doesn’t do them justice.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Favourite
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 1:59
Rating : R
Date : 23 December 2018