Like its Protagonist, Vice Takes No Prisoners

Vice President Dick Cheney’s life is creatively recounted in this bullish political biopic.

Written and directed by Adam McKay, Vice (2018) is bolstered by incredible performances by its lead cast, but hindered by strange and often jarring film techniques that pull your attention away from the drama. Both Christian Bale and Amy Adams show once again why they are among the best actors of our time by saving what could have otherwise been another mediocre polemic against the Bush Administration.

As the film opens, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is a young man struggling to find his place in the world and teetering on the brink of alcoholism. His wife, Lynn (Amy Adams), gives him an ultimatum to clean up his act. Cheney gets a job as an intern in Washington, DC and is fatefully taken under the wing of Congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), who becomes the youngest Secretary of Defense in U.S. history under President Gerald Ford. For a time, the two men’s fortunes seem to go hand in hand.

After seemingly retiring from politics, Cheney is approached by presidential candidate George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), to be his running mate. Cheney manipulates the gullible Bush into handing him unprecedented control in the executive branch. He uses his influence to fill various White House positions with loyalists, and virtually runs the administration from behind the scenes, when he’s not recovering from numerous heart attacks. There he pushes “unitary executive theory,” which seeks to hand greater control to the President, and by extension, himself.

Vice interweaves these political machinations with Cheney’s personal struggles. At home, he tries to juggle his deep love for his two daughters, Mary (Alison Pill) and Liz (Lily Rabe), while shielding them from the public eye. When Liz decides to enter politics, Cheney must decide between supporting her (and her position against same-sex marriage) and his longtime support for Mary, who is a lesbian. This more intimate look at Dick Cheney’s life almost translates into a sympathetic portrayal. At least, his motivations are more relatable.

Continue reading “Like its Protagonist, Vice Takes No Prisoners”
Advertisements

Did Lynne Cheney’s Dad Murder her Mom?

That’s the outrageous implication in Adam McKay’s new film, Vice.

Edit: this article has been updated to reflect paragraphs in Lynn Cheney’s autobiography.

Edna Lolita (Lybyer) Vincent, Lynne Cheney’s mother.

I watched Adam McKay’s unusual biopic of Vice President Dick Cheney a few days ago, and one scene in particular stood out. For all its focus on Cheney’s political machinations, Vice briefly touches on a personal tragedy for Cheney’s wife, Lynne, whose mother drowned at the age of 54. It is the second time Lynne’s parents are mentioned, the other being a brief interaction in the opening scene in which Lynne’s mother is portrayed as a doting and abused housewife.

Early in the film, Lynne Cheney (competently played by Amy Adams) receives a phone call with terrible news. Her mother, Edna, has drowned. Lynne openly wonders why she would be in the lake, knowing she can’t swim. Lynne, her husband Dick (Christian Bale), then Assistant Director of the Cost of Living Council for President Richard Nixon, and their two young daughters fly home to Wyoming to attend the funeral.

At the cemetery, Lynne’s father, Wayne Edwin Vincent (played by Shea Whigham), acts suspiciously and tries to ingratiate himself with his daughter. Dick Cheney interposes and warns him to never try to make contact with them again. It’s almost explicitly stated that Edna’s death wasn’t an accident, and the film wonders why it was never investigated. Then it just moves on as though this isn’t a least bit controversial depiction of events. “Is there more evidence for this than is presented in the movie, which is none?” National Review‘s Kyle Smith asks.

Continue reading “Did Lynne Cheney’s Dad Murder her Mom?”

The Mule: Best Film of 2018?

When 90-year-old Earl Stone loses everything he loves, can he use ill-gotten gains to win it back before the DEA, or the cartel, takes him down?

Written by Nick Schenk and directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, The Mule (2018) was inspired by a New York Times article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick. The Mule uses true events to frame a much more compelling  story. Bucking the current trend of emotionally monochrome dramas, this film is a rich tapestry of triumph and tragedy, humor and sadness, and guilt and forgiveness.

Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a successful horticulturalist in Peoria, Illinois but neglectful of his family. He finds himself estranged from his wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood), but is still admired by his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). Mary and he divorce, and after failing to embrace the digital age, Stone’s business falls on hard times. He takes a mysterious offer to deliver a package from Mexico to Chicago. With his newfound income, he rebuilds the local VFW after a fire and helps pay for his granddaughter’s cosmetology tuition. Meanwhile, he frustrates his cartel handler, Julio (Ignacio Serricchio) with his unpredictable behavior.

Things get complicated when DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and his partner Trevino (Michael Peña) flip a cartel employee and he tips them off about a successful drug mule known as “Tata”, or grandfather. The unassuming elderly white man with a clean record was able to slip under law enforcement’s radar. At 90 years of age and with the DEA on his tail, Earl Stone is running out of time to reverse his fortunes and reconcile with his family.

The Mule is loosely based on the life of Leo Sharp, a WW2 veteran and Detroit-based horticulturalist and daylily farmer who began working as a drug mule for the Sinaloa cartel after his business fell on hard times. His life of crime made him a millionaire. Sharp was finally caught in 2011 at the age of 87, pled guilty to drug conspiracy, and served one year in prison before being let out due to his declining health. He died in December 2016.

Continue reading “The Mule: Best Film of 2018?”

Outlaw King: It’s Not Braveheart

This Netflix film praised for its historical accuracy is missing that essential ingredient to make it great.

Robert the Bruce’s fourteenth-century rebellion against England is cinematically recounted in this Netflix feature that tries to cram as much history as possible in 121 minutes. Directed by David Mackenzie, Outlaw King (2018) brings to life all the intrigue and violence of late medieval feudalism. Though the film comes across as authentic and makes a genuine effort to get the history right, it lacks some essential ingredients to break into the top tier.

As the film opens, the defeated Scottish lords are vowing fealty to King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane), including Robert Bruce (Chris Pine), Lord John III Comyn (Callan Mulvey), and Aymer de Valence (Sam Spruell). Robert has history with King Edward I’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), a weaker man who just wants his father’s approval. As a parting gift, King Edward I sends his goddaughter, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh), to become Robert’s wife.

Things get complicated when Robert’s father dies, and Robert is left competing with Lord Comyn for the Scottish throne. When Robert learns King Edward I executed William Wallace, he senses an opportunity to renew the rebellion. Lord Comyn wants to remain loyal to England, so Robert brutally murders him in a church and then gathers an army. Unfortunately, Aymer de Valence has also remained loyal to England, ambushes Robert’s army in a forest, and destroys it.

Robert and a few companions are forced to flee. He sends his wife and daughter into hiding, where Edward, Prince of Wales captures them and brutally murders Robert’s brother. Robert decides to fight a guerilla war, culminating in the Battle of Loudoun Hill, where Robert uses the boggy terrain and clever tactics to his advantage. He defeats the English army and humiliates the Prince of Wales, who is revealed to be a miserable coward. Robert and Elizabeth are reunited and live happily ever after.

Continue reading “Outlaw King: It’s Not Braveheart”

Three historical films I’m looking forward to in December, and two I’m not

There are a couple “based on a true story” movies being released in December, three of which pique my interest, but two look like complete eye-rollers. There’s nothing worse than a flop that had the potential to be good, especially when it comes to historically-based films, and there are some major red flags here. I can’t wait to see if my predictions come true.

Interesting:

  • Mary Queen of Scots, directed by Josie Rourke and staring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. A historic epic about the rivalry between Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I sounds compelling if done right. I’m not familiar with Saoirse Ronan’s work, but Margot Robbie has been great in everything she’s done. I’ve already read a couple reviews that set off alarm bells. My fingers are crossed that the filmmakers didn’t try to shoehorn a modern social or political message into this.
  • The Mule, directed by and staring Clint Eastwood. Based on the true story of 90-year-old drug mule Leo Sharp. Clint Eastwood usually hits it out of the park, but we’ll see if his age has finally caught up with him.
  • Vice, directed by Adam McKay and staring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Sam Rockwell. This film purports to tell the story of how Dick Cheney became George W. Bush’s vice president. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Vice will portray Cheney, Bush, and company in an unflattering light, but the cast is filled with talent so maybe it’ll end up being a compelling political drama.

Eye Rolling:

  • On the Basis of Sex, directed by Daniel Stiepleman and staring Felicity Jones. The film follows a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she teams up with her husband to bring a discrimination case before the U.S. Court of Appeals. I don’t understand the celebrity worship surrounding Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and I couldn’t care less about this. Courtroom dramas are boring and the only people who will watch this film are female undergrads at Harvard.
  • Welcome to Marwen, directed by Robert Zemeckis and staring Steve Carell, Diane Kruger, and Eiza González. This pretentious art film tells the story of Mark Hogancamp, a guy who worked through the trauma of an assault by replicating a WW2 Belgian village in miniature in his backyard. The special effects are cool, but this obvious Oscar bait looks like it belongs on the Hallmark Channel. I think I’ll pass.

Mary Shelley: The ‘Sturm und Drang’ that Inspired Frankenstein

The early life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein, is recounted in Mary Shelley (2018) a period drama/romance written by Emma Jensen and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. It was originally titled The Storm in Our Stars, and focuses mainly on the relationship between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and how their relationship inspired Frankenstein—the story of a mad doctor who reanimated a corpse using electricity. It left me wishing someone had shot a jolt of electricity into this sullen and mediocre film.

The year is 1814. Sixteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin (Elle Fanning) lives in London with her father, writer and book seller William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), her stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont (Joanne Froggatt), and stepsister, Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley). Mary greatly admires her birth mother, early feminist theorist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died when she was a baby. Her rebellious streak sets her at odds with her more conventional stepmother, and her father sends her away to Scotland.

In Scotland, Mary meets 21-year-old poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), who follows her back to London under the pretense of becoming her father’s student. The two fall in love, but things get complicated when Percy’s wife Harriet (Ciara Charteris) shows up with their young son. Bucking social convention, Mary, Percy, and Claire run away together and face financial hardship and the death of their first child.

Meanwhile, Claire attracts the attention of Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) and becomes pregnant. Together with John Polidori (Ben Hardy), they spend a few tumultuous weeks together in Geneva, where Byron challenges them to a ghost story writing contest. This inspires Mary to begin writing Frankenstein. After becoming estranged over Percy’s deplorable personality, the two reunite in her father’s bookshop and live happily ever after.

Historically, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) was the daughter of radical political philosophers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. She met Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley as a teen and they married in 1816 after Percy’s first wife, Harriet, committed suicide. Mary Shelley is mostly known for writing the Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818), which was published when she was twenty years old. Percy died in a boating accident in 1822 and Mary returned to England with their fourth and only surviving child. She went on to publish several other novels, in addition to promoting her late husband’s work.

Continue reading “Mary Shelley: The ‘Sturm und Drang’ that Inspired Frankenstein”

Summer of 84: A Suburb Can be a Dangerous Place

A gang of bicycle-riding teen boys try to track down a neighborhood serial killer in this suburban Gothic send up to 1980s horror.

Written by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith and directed by a trio known for their 1980s-style films, casual viewers will undoubtedly accuse Summer of 84 (2018) of ripping off the Netflix series Stranger Things, but it is far more subtle in its nostalgia and grounded in reality. There are no supernatural elements here, only the real-life horror inflicted by unassuming suburban dwellers like John Wayne Gacy and William Bonin.

The year is 1984, and a serial killer stalks the fictional county of Cape May, Oregon. Fifteen-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), an avid follower of conspiracy theories and reader of the Weekly World News, becomes convinced his neighbor, police officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), is the “Cape May Slayer” after seeing a photo on the back of a milk carton of a missing boy he previously noticed inside Mackey’s house.

He enlists the help of his skeptical friends, Dale “Woody” Woodworth (Caleb Emery), Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew), and Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis) to spy on Mackey. They follow him on his nightly jog to a storage unit, where they find several suspicious items, including the missing boy’s bloodstained shirt. Davey presents their evidence to his parents (played by Jason Gray-Stanford and Shauna Johannesen), but his plan backfires when they become angry and force him to apologize to Mackey.

Davey’s friend and former babysitter, Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye), also tries to convince Davey to abandon his pursuit, but after several strange interactions with Mackey, Davey convinces his friends to give him one last chance to prove Mackey is the killer. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is sickeningly real and terrifying. Summer of 84 pulls no punches when it comes to delivering an emotionally impactful climax.

Summer of 84‘s undercurrent of child abductions and neighborhood pedophiles is uncomfortably familiar to anyone who grew up during the 1980s. The only thing missing is a creepy white van and rumors of Satanic cults. High profile cases of missing kids in the late 1970s and early ’80s led to the “Stranger Danger” panic, and the use of milk cartons to spread photos of missing children. Before the Internet, a photo on a milk carton was the most assured way of reaching every home in America.

Continue reading “Summer of 84: A Suburb Can be a Dangerous Place”