Film review: Vice

Director: Adam McKay Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry

The office of US Vice President was for a long time commonly overlooked. The position was deemed “not worth a pitcher of warm spit” by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Vice President, John Nance Garner while as Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) points out here, the job is essentially based around the principle of doing nothing other than waiting for the president to die.

Dick Cheney was a different sort of Vice President, however. Whereas some leaders, such as the late George H.W. Bush have been fully aware of the potential opportunities afforded by the position, (Bush had, after all, spent two terms as Veep himself) and have thus deliberately picked non-threatening buffoons like Dan Quayle as their Number 2, Bush’s own son (played here by Sam Rockwell) recognised he was hopelessly out of his depth and thus when his turn came in 2000, delegated unprecedented power to an older man, much more experienced than himself. Cheney seized this opportunity head-on and exploited it to the full.

Richard Dreyfuss has already played Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W (2008). Now Adam McKay – a director once known for comedies such as the rather good Anchorman and the rather less good Talladega Nights and Anchorman 2, turns his focus onto the last US Vice President but one.

We first meet Cheney (Bale) at a low point. As a drunken hell-raiser in the 1960s, he is encouraged out of his decline only by the words of his strong-willed wife Lynne (Amy Adams, excellent). We then cut to the extremely dramatic aftermath of the September 11th attacks of 2001. Whisked away to a “secure location”, the Vice President turns this terrible occurrence into a golden opportunity for him and his ilk. Using the new atmosphere to test the limits of his power to the limit, Cheney, aided and abetted by the conservative cheerleaders of Fox News conspire to make war against Iraq, a country which had nothing to do with the attacks whatsoever.

Gruff and lacking in charisma, the real Cheney, 78 in 2019, has never been an obvious candidate for dramatic portrayal. Despite this and the fact he bears no real physical resemblance to the man himself, Christian Bale aided by prosthetics which increasingly make him resemble a modern-day Chevy Chase as he ages from his twenties to his seventies, is brilliant as the heart-attack prone Cheney. As with Sir Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995), it has taken a Welsh actor to most perfectly capture a pillar of modern American conservatism.

Steve Carell, who in McKay’s Anchorman played the idiotic weatherman Brick Tamland, (a man who we were told later “served in a senior role in the Bush administration”) is also great here as Bush’s defence secretary and Cheney’s long-time friend and rival, Donald Rumsfeld (he of the “known unknowns).

As in The Big Short which explained the reasons for the last recession in easy language, McKay deploys numerous clever tactics here – a scene performed in iambic pentameter, a false ending, a mystery narrator. Some of these work better than others: a sequence in which Alfred Molina’s waiter offers Bush’s cronies a “menu” of legal options in a restaurant, for example, just seems weird.

But, overall, this is a compelling, well-acted insight into the banality of evil.

Oscar predictions 2014

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Here are my predictions for twelve of the main categories at next month’s US Academy Awards.

Please note: These are not my favourite films (I have not seen most of them) nor are the ones I think most deserve to win necessarily. I am just making an educated guess at what will win.

Please note as well, that my track record on this is poor. Last year only a third of my predictions were correct! 

Best picture:

Oscar loves worthy films like this…

12 Years a Slave *

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

Best director

Assuming I got the Best Film right, this is a reasonably safe bet. The Best Picture’s director also wins 90% of the time (although this didn’t happen for Argo director Ben Affleck last year).

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave *

Alexander Payne, Nebraska

David O Russell, American Hustle

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street


Best actor

Could conceivably also be Bale or McConaughey.

Christian Bale, American Hustle

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave *

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club


Best actress

A consolation prize for Hustle? Might go to Bullock otherwise. Cate Blanchett was the favourite until the Woody Allen controversy. I’ve no idea why Naomie Harris didn’t get an Oscar for Long Walk To Freedom. She richly deserved one.

Amy Adams, American Hustle *

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Judi Dench, Philomena

Meryl Streep, August: Osage County


Best supporting actor

A brilliant performance. Fassbender deserves to win.

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave *

Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club


Best supporting actress

I’ve no idea really!

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

June Squibb, Nebraska *


Best animated feature

The Croods

Despicable Me 2

Ernest and Celestine

Frozen *

The Wind Rises

Best adapted screenplay

Taking a risk here as the best film usually gets a screenplay Oscar two out of three times. But that isn’t the same as every time is it?

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight

Billy Ray – Captain Phillips

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope – Philomena

John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave

Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street *

Best original screenplay
It won’t be Woody Allen anyway…

Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell – American Hustle

Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine

Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack – Dallas Buyers Club

Spike Jonze – Her

Bob Nelson – Nebraska *

Best foreign language film.

The Great Beauty (Italy)

The Hunt (Denmark)

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium) *

The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

Omar (Palestine)

Best original song

Let It Go – Frozen *

Ordinary Love -: Long Walk to Freedom

Alone Yet Not Alone – Alone Yet Not Alone

Happy – Despicable Me 2

The Moon Song – Her

Best documentary

No idea! Although this is one of the few categories I got right last year.

The Act of Killing*

Cutie and the Boxer

Dirty Wars

The Square

20 Feet from Stardom

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Man of Steel: A poem/review

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Look! Up there in the sky!

It’s time to get cape, wear cape, fly.

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

No, it’s Superman returning (again).

Truth be told, though not a flop,

The last Superman was not much cop,

So now it’s time for a British actor,

To try and win the Krypton Factor.

Henry  Cavill looks the part,

His accent’s decent for a start.

He doesn’t play Clark Kent enough.

But cheer up girls! His shirt comes off!

Michael Shannon excels as Zod,

An evil, contemptuous, little sod.

A tyrant, he is reviled and feared,

(To show he’s aged, he grows a beard).

Young  Kar-El  is under threat from birth,

And becomes the brat who fell to Earth.

Russell Crowe saves his son from Zod,

And doesn’t try to sing (thank God).

At school, Supe faces constant derision,

Cannot control his X-ray vision.

Saves school bus but is often sad,

Attack of wind still kills his dad.

Like this poem, it goes on too long,

Special effects are overdone,

Miss Adams is okay as Lois Lane,

(The best one lived in Wisteria Lane).

That said, this summer, you will see,

No better film than IM3,

For while okay, it’s hard not to feel,

We’ll soon forget this Man of Steel.

I’m sure it’ll make lots of money,

But like Batman should be a bit more funny.

Three out of five is my final score.

Interesting and yet also a bore.

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