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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Vice


Vice -- Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Although our reviews are typically tardy, submitting a review on a film we had seen weeks ago is ridiculous. Sometimes our excuses are lame, but this one is genuinely lame: The Czarina's best friend smuggled in a vat of real absinthe for the holidays, and we just woke up an hour or so ago.

We loved Adam McKay's last film, The Big Short, so as we accompanied FilmZ and his youngest, it was with high expectations, and they were fulfilled for the most part. McKay's background is as a comedy writer, so no one should be surprised by the humor in this film about Dick Cheney, the most powerful Vice President in US history; in fact, we can't imagine how depressing and ponderous a story about Cheney would be if it weren't leavened by humor.  Our fellow-traveler, Don Swedanya, actually beat us to the box office on this one and related that he was "impressed and depressed by the film." We agree, and both emotions hung with us long after we left the theater.  And we were angry, too, as we could imagine viewers on both left and right could be.

McKay states up front that it is difficult to garner facts from one of the most secretive politicians in history, but he claims that what is portrayed is factual, and while McKay draws on historical fact to show Cheney the politician as Machiavellian, he portrays Cheney the husband and father as loving and compassionate, prompting one Conservative pudit to label W's Veep, "America's Dad."  How factual is it?  The basic outline of Cheney's career, his political alliances, and his policies are matters of record, starting in 1963, as we see the young Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as a wild-child who flunked out of Yale.  His then-girlfriend Lynne (Amy Adams) reads him the Riot Act, and the next thing we see, Cheney is a Congressional intern who opportunistically latches onto a crass young US Representative Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell).  "Rummie" is impressed by Dick's quiet, fierce loyalty.  McKay skims through the Reagan years and skips past the '90s quickly, highlighting Cheney's career in and out of politics, emphasizing his stint as CEO of energy industry giant Halliburton.  We slow to close scrutiny with the run-up to the George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) campaign and administration emphasizing Cheney's Vice Presidency.

It is here, the years 2000 through 2008, where we view the most inflammatory scenes, as McKay charts the Florida vote recount, 9/11, the Patriot Act, Afghanistan and Iraq, Halliburton's no-bid contracts, the torture issue, and the vindictive outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.  Condoleeza Rice (LisaGay Hamiton) and Colin Powell (Tyler Perry) are introduced as ethical pros.  The associates that join Rumsfeld in Cheney's inner circle receive more caustic treatment: Paul Wolfowitz (Eddie Marsan), David Addington (Don McManus), Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk).  At home, we see Cheney's love and support of his daughters, Liz (Lily Rabe), who is following her own political aspirations, and Mary (Alison Pill), who comes out as being gay.  It is here where Cheney is most humanized.  FilmZ's son said, "I bet you didn't learn anything from the movie because you told me most of this stuff already." We agreed, of course, because, much is a matter of historical record.  What isn't are the inner workings, the private discussions that lurked behind to facts.  Just between us, we did learn some things: We didn't know Lynne Cheney was such an ideologue and so powerful, we didn't know that the Right came up with the term "Climate Change" (we thought it was the Left).

As he did in The Big Short, McKay offers his trademark asides to explain concepts that might not be common knowledge, such as the "Unitary Executive Theory."  Look for a Shakesperean bedroom exchange between Dick and Lynne, a dinner menu conversation with Alfred Molina as the waiter, offering Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Addington menu specials of heinous wartime acts, and the lewd "Cheney could sell any idea, no matter how crazy" riff.  As always, Bale's transformation is incredible, and Sam Rockwell is perfection as "W."  We had trouble jiving Carell with Rumsfeld, though as the film rolled, the actor became the character.  Amy Adams, as always, is impressive as the strong, ambitious Lynne Cheney (In another article, Adams joked that this was the third movie where she got to scream at Christian Bale: The Fighter, American Hustle, and Vice).  Jesse Plemons grounds the film as its narrator and surprise contributor to the Cheney story.  Vice may meet some revisionist criticism that hurts it at awards time, and, in truth, it's a sliver below The Big Short, but the core actors deserve recognition, and the film itself is a contender.
8.5 out of 10

The Favourite


The Favourite -- review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

This is the third Yorgos Lanthimos film we have seen, and at this point part of the thrill is enjoying the crazy stuff he pulls off.  The first was The Lobster, a black comedy we liked less than the critical mass did, finding his insistence on having his actors deliver their lines without affect or inflection both distracting and self-indulgent.  We did appreciate its absurd originality, though.  The second was The Killing of a Sacred Deer, an update of the story of Agamemnon, the legendary Greek king who accidentally kills a deer belonging to the goddess Artemis.  In retribution, he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia.  Lanthimos' interpretation was riveting, though uneven. 

Those films were written as well as directed by the auteur.  Not so with The Favourite, the first Lanthimos film not written by him, and this might be the magic solution because it reined in his propensity toward excess.  Screenwriter Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara penned this one, and either they are perfectly attuned to Lanthimos or he to them. This is easily his best film; a period piece with a touch of madness, nastiness, and absurdity.  As a bonus, he lost the signature flat delivery of his characters and allowed his excellent, charismatic cast outlets for their talents.

It's the early 18th Century, and England is pitted against France in the War of Spanish Succession. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is ditzy, depressed, and distracted--in other words, uninterested in governing.  Thank goodness her childhood friend Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) is around to handle the affairs of state (and other affairs) whila Anne fusses over the 17 rabbits she keeps in her stateroom.  Steely and blunt, Sarah is the match for any man, including Tory opposition leader, Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who opposes Sarah's intention to keep the war going and her husband, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gattis) at its head of the army.  (Fear not, The Favourite is about as interested in the war as is Queen Anne; it is merely backdrop to inspire court intrigue.)

Enter Abigail (Emma Stone), a victim of circumstance--her father lost everything, including her, to gambling.  She introduces herself to her cousin Sarah and begs for a job at Kensington Palace.  Sarah takes pity and employs her as a scullery maid, but as we soon learn, Abigail is not the ingenue she appears.  She soon maneuvers herself into the Queen's good graces, setting up a rivalry with Sarah to become the titular "favourite."  Abigail also caught the eye of Masham (Joe Alwyn), Harley's best friend, and the Tory leader sees opportunity.  Frustrated by his inability to win against Sarah in head-on confrontation, he believes he can manipulate Abigail though Masham.  Thus sets up the most devious, humorous, and scandalous merry-go-round of period drama intrigue since 2016's Love and Friendship.

The Favourite pulls off any number of things a lesser film could not.  Cinematographer Robbie Ryan often employs wide angle fish-eye shots, production designer costume designer Sandy Powell elected to use only two colors--Oxford blue and white--for the dresses of all of the ladies of the court, the only differences among them being the patterns.  The film is a comedy, and Lanthimos--or the screenwriters, or both--walk the tightrope of what we can accept.  Their eccentricities bring a delightful originality to the period piece: champion racing ducks, pelting a naked man with pomegranates, a ballroom scene with dancers voguing, and a sprinkling of contemporary termiology, like "OK."  The pitched rivalry between Abigail and Sarah is hilarious, reminiscent of 1989's War of the Roses in its inventive nastiness, but Weisz and Stone sell the underlying pain and desperation each woman feels.  It is Colman, though, who grounds the film.  Though her behavior is at times farcical, her insecurity and the sadness at her failing health bring depth, and when we learn the reason for her devotion to her rabbits, it is heartbreaking.   We beieve this is a major awards player, destined for 8-10 Oscar nominations, and perhaps the best film of the year.
9.5 oiut of 10

 
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