Vice (2018)

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons

Screenplay: Adam McKay

132 mins. Rated R for language and some violent images.

 

At the end of Adam McKay’s (The Other Guys, The Big Short) film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the narrator informs the audience that Brick, the character played by Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office), got a job working in the Bush White House. It’s nice to see McKay sticking with the narrative.

Vice is the first film about the life of a US Vice President, and it explores the political upbringing’s of the most powerful and dangerous Vice President in history, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle). It’s the tale of a man of immense power and the way he ran his political career with wife Lynne (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) at his side. It’s the true enough tale of his time learning from and working with Donald Rumsfeld (Carell), spanning from his time as an intern to the most powerful man in America.

What works so well in Vice is McKay’s storytelling style. He adopts what worked well in The Big Short for this larger-than-life vision of Cheney’s life and career. His film informs the audience early on that this film is as true as it can be given Cheney’s guarded and secretive life, and he puts as much truth to the screen as possible and lets his performers and absurdist storytelling gifts fill in the rest. McKay’s far-reaching ambition is on full display here, including his post-credits scene which brings us all the way to a discussion of present-day politics.

Bale is at his best here as he disappears behind his character. The weight gain workout regimen as well as the makeup effects work wonders here, but beyond that is Bale’s amazing quality to become his character, something he does quite well here. Adams is great here as well, a loving wife who has expectations for the man she marries and will not accept anything less than perfection from him.

The supporting cast is another strength of this film, littered with special performances like Carell’s. Sam Rockwell (Moon, TV’s F is for Family), just like Bale, expertly assumes the form of George W. Bush. Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, The Star) becomes Colin Powell. The performances in Vice are top-notch.

If there’s a fault in the film, it’s the difficulty in making such an unlikable man the focus of a 2-hour-plus runtime. McKay sticks close to the rule of characters: if you can’t make them likable, make them interesting, and he does just that, but as the film wears on, it does become difficult to maintain focus on Cheney with the same lightheartedness that permeates the early part of the film.

Vice is another strong outing for Adam McKay, a filmmaker who has proven to be as exciting now as he was over a decade ago when his satirical eye was used only for the purpose of comedy. His funny approach to unlikable characters offers up a different side of the coin to a filmmaker like Oliver Stone, and it is this keen eye for teaching through absurdity that makes this biographical drama such a winner. It’s runtime hurts the film a bit but McKay keeps things going pretty good aided by some astonishing acting from its principal cast. See Vice now before someone gets sued.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Lady Bird (2017)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen Henderson, Lois Smith

Screenplay: Greta Gerwig

94 mins. Rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress [Saoirse Ronan] [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Supporting Actress [Laurie Metcalf] [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [Pending]

 

I’ll be real here. I had no idea what Lady Bird was about. In fact, a small part of me thought it was a biopic about a certain famous First Lady. I had seen none of the promotional material, had heard nothing but the fact that it was a great movie. I’ve seen it twice now, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

Lady Bird McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn, Loving Vincent) is a rebellious youth experiencing her senior year in Catholic high school in 2002 Sacramento, California. The loose narrative follows Lady Bird’s senior year while exploring her strained relationship with mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf, Scream 2, Toy Story 3), father Larry (Tracy Letts, The Big Short, The Post), and best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising). Lady Bird is a little lost in her life. Her attempts at romantic relationships aren’t turning out how she plans, she is receiving a lot of rejection letters from colleges, and the lies she is spinning to make new friends are about to unravel at the seams in this coming-of-age tale.

Lady Bird is an absolute delight. It’s not too often that I sit in the theater with a big damn joyful grin spread across my face for 90 minutes, but that’s what Lady Bird did to me. I found it to be one of the sweetest and emotionally-strong experiences I’ve had at the movies in a long time, and it’s filled with terrific performances. I loved Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Hostiles) as Danny and Kyle, two of the potential love interests in Lady Bird’s life.

Greta Gerwig (Nights and Weekends) wrote and directed this deeply personal tale of youth so well that I found pieces of my own experience all over the film. I saw pieces of my fiancé’s life in the film. I saw pieces of my friends’ life in the film. Gerwig doesn’t judge Lady Bird or condemn her for her bad experiences. In fact, she celebrates them. It’s a celebration of bad choices and learning, one that mothers and daughters should experience together.

Lady Bird is a perfect film. There isn’t a single thing I would change about it. I wanted to watch it immediately after finishing the film, and even now, I could sit through it again. This coming from writer/director Gerwig on her first solo outing behind the camera is excellent, and it makes her a force to be reckoned with as her career continues.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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The Nice Guys (2016)

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Director: Shane Black

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger

Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

116 mins. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

 

It’s a great feeling when an artist takes on a project so perfectly in his wheelhouse that it’s all you can think of. I’m a big fan of director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). My fandom is really from his writing, as I grew up watching Riggs & Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, a film written by Black. The franchise is very near and dear to my heart, partly due to the brilliant writing and realistic dialogue crafted by the writer. I also really enjoyed Black’s foray into the MCU with Iron Man 3, but when I heard he was heading back to the buddy-cop-ish genre he helped perfect, I was floored. Sure, our leads aren’t extremely likable guys, but it is their flaws that make them so fun to watch, and the decision to set The Nice Guys in the 1970s…well, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Big Short) has been hired to find Misty Mountains, a porn star who actually died days earlier. His search for answers brings him into contact with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, The Water Diviner), who has been hired by one of the women Holland has been tailing. When the two discover something much more sinister is afoot, they join forces, and the unlikely pair, aided by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, Walking with Dinosaurs, Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows), attempt to discover the connection between this dead porn star and a secretly made adult film featuring a now missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, TV’s The Leftovers, Palo Alto) in 1977 Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys feels like a movie that so perfectly encapsulates Shane Black’s storytelling style, but it might be his riskiest movie yet. He takes several chances on pushing the envelope of the viewer and most (but not all) really work. Black has a gift of dealing with somewhat taboo subjects like porn without glamorizing or debasing them. There is a level of respect given to his seedier characters as well that doesn’t treat them any differently than how he’d treat any others.

In Crowe and Gosling I found the most unlikely chemistry from two leads that I’m likely to find this year. Both come from different cinematic backgrounds and mesh so damn well. Crowe is seemingly directed at being the lead here but it is Gosling’s performance that shines, and the way the two characters interact with Angourie Rice, who plays the young yet mature Holly March that shows the depths of Black’s character development range. The trifecta of characters are tested by a cadre of interesting secondary characters played by Matt Bomer (TV’s White Collar, Magic Mike XXL) and my personally proclaimed screen legend Keith David (Platoon, Cloud Atlas) in great supporting roles.

As a director, Shane Black is still fairly new, but he has tested the waters already and jumps right in, exploring some really interesting cinematography and musical choices that showcase the 1970s without throwing at you.

The flaws with the film? The editing is a little looser than it could be. Certain sequences should’ve been tightened a bit more to create a more cohesive pacing to the film. Black chooses to linger on some moments that I didn’t need him to linger on. There’s also a reveal at the end that I found both unsurprising and a little clichéd, something I didn’t expect to find here.

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The Nice Guys is a mostly fantastic romp through an often overdone time frame, but Shane Black chooses to populate his film with likably unlikable people and a few moments of genuine heart. It is the characters and their relationships with each other that drive this film to a pretty exciting conclusion. One can only hope that this has the making of a new franchise, and this reviewer would be more than happy to see the further adventures of The Nice Guys.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen The Nice Guys? What did you think? And what’s your favorite buddy pairing in film? Let me know!

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