Vice

Vice

Bale. Christian Bale. He’s the reason to see Vice.

The chameleon/actor portrays former U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney. And, although Bale doesn’t really resemble the ex-veep, his transformation is pretty amazing. Not just Bale’s weight gain but also his accurate mimicry of Cheney’s speech patterns and Cheney’s penchant for talking out of the side of his mouth.

Cheney’s story as told in Vice is not a flattering one. Though not quite “gonzo journalism” a la Hunter S. Thompson, this “sort of” biopic has a lot of what David Letterman used to call “writer’s embellishment.” Yes, there is a framework of true facts here but parts of this narrative are bent to poke holes in Cheney’s legacy and deliver laughs. And, yes, Vice is funny!

Writer/director Adam McKay presents Cheney as a guy with little direction until his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) sets him straight. He’s a bit of a bumbling conniver when he gets to Washington and soon goes to work to establish his own sphere of influence.

(Cheney’s career included tenures as a White House Chief of Staff, a U.S. Representative, Secretary of Defense and Vice-President, so he must have demonstrated at least a modicum of competence.)

As with The Big Short, his previous comedy rooted in fact, McKay tries to simplify a complicated story that has many nooks and crannies. Should America blame Cheney for everything that has gone wrong with our nation’s involvement in Middle Eastern politics this century? McKay would have you believe that Cheney should shoulder much of the blame.

Admirably, Cheney is shown to be sympathetic and loving when his daughter Mary (Alison Pill) comes out to her parents as gay. (Lynne is not so understanding.)

Other key players in the film include Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell). They are sources of some of the funnier moments.

I called The Big Short a failure in my review of the film in 2015. Click HERE to read it. Like Vice it was wickedly funny but as an explainer for what happened to cause the financial crisis, it fell short. Vice, on the other hand, is focused and proceeds in a linear manner with few course changes. It tells its tale well, however with a liberal bent (which McKay acknowledges in a hilarious coda).

See it. Enjoy it. Don’t take it as gospel.

 

 

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The Way, Way Back

You may not recall how uncomfortable it feels to be 14 years old. But I do. Not old enough to drive, attracted to girls but uncomfortable around them, wanting to be active but having few opportunities to do things.

The Way, Way Back is the story of Duncan (Liam James) and his summer in a Massachusetts shore town, spent with his mom Pam (Toni Collette) and her recent boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell). Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) is along for the ride, too. She’s an older teen who snubs Duncan and helps herself to her dad’s beers.

Trent is a total dick to Duncan who instantly resents Trent and his relationship with his mom. Truly, he’s more despicable in this movie than in Despicable Me 2 (which, by the way, is already the #3 movie for all of 2013).

While the grownups drink and toke and cavort, Duncan finds a friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of a water park. Owen offers Duncan a job and the kid finds a place where he has a purpose. Slightly older neighbor girl Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) becomes a friend. And, eventually, so does her nerdy little brother Peter (River Alexander).

Parallel to Duncan’s discomfort is that of his mom Pam. She’s not quite the party person that Trent and his shore friends are. She tries to be just as carefree, but she can’t quite pull it off.

The Way, Way Back has a timeless feel. Trent’s car is an old Buick station wagon with a rear-facing back seat (which gives the movie its title) where Duncan sits. The shore town has a mid-20th century look. Duncan first meets Owen at a Pac-Man game in a pizza joint. The water park appears older, more like Raging Rivers (Grafton, Illinois) than Hurricane Harbor (Eureka, Missouri). We don’t see characters grabbing laptops, iPads or smartphones—or even watching TV.

The original script is by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who worked on the Oscar-winning screenplay for 2011’s best movie, The Descendants. Faxon and Rash also are co-directors of The Way, Way Back.

Special acting honors go to Sam Rockwell, whose character has warmth and charm but is also a hilarious goofball, and Toni Collette, who is brilliant as the insecure girlfriend who has to balance her relationships with Trent and Duncan.

The Way, Way Back is a perfect summertime movie. It’s a drama; it’s a comedy. It has characters, locations and situations many of us can relate to. And, after a spring and summer of loud and explosive movies, The Way, Way Back is a breath of fresh ocean air.

 

Seven Psychopaths

Among a strong cast, Sam Rockwell is a standout in “Seven Psychopaths.” It’s not that the performances from Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Colin Farrell were lacking. They’re all good, but Rockwell’s character has the most to work with.

“Seven Psychopaths” is an ultraviolent comedy. As with “Pulp Fiction” and similar films, the audience goes from repulsion to chuckles (or vice versa) in seconds. Some of its elements are serious. We see innocent people meet violent ends. But soon after, absurd events or remarks bring us right back to the funny.

Farrell plays an alcoholic screenwriter in L.A. who has an idea for a movie called “Seven Psychopaths,” but just can’t get started. Walken and Rockwell are dog kidnappers who then respond to “lost dog” postings to collect rewards. Harrelson is a hood whose Shih Tzu, Bonny, is taken.

Walken and Rockwell provide Farrell with ideas for the movie’s plot—the one he’s writing, that is. Some of the elements discussed for that screenplay do turn up in the movie we’re watching. The trio takes refuge in the desert after Rockwell kills his girlfriend (who is also Woody’s girlfriend). Woody, meanwhile, wants his dog back.

Among the supporting cast is Tom Waits as a psychopath who shares his personal story with Farrell about the killing he’s done. Gabourey “Precious” Sidibe appears briefly as Woody’s careless dog walker.

“Seven Psychopaths” benefits from the strong quartet of leads, each of whom has been in absurd comedies before. Each man has a commanding screen presence and, as a group, they help the movie over a bumpy section or two.

Worth noting are a couple of fantasy sequences (involving a graveyard shootout and a Vietnamese holy man) that add compelling action.

Writer/director Martin MacDonagh (who also wrote and directed “In Bruges” in ’08) has put together an totally entertaining movie. Its violence makes it off-limits for the squeamish, but for the rest of us, it’s fun.