8. “A Star is Born”
6. “Green Book”
5. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
4. “Black Panther”
3. “The Favourite”
8. “A Star is Born”
6. “Green Book”
5. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
4. “Black Panther”
3. “The Favourite”
OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“Vice” is a 2018 film directed by Adam McKay about the former Vice President Dick Cheney (played by Christian Bale). The film follows Cheney from his early years when he failed out of Yale and racked up two DWIs, all the way through his beginnings and maturation while working in the White House, his appointment as Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford, terms as a Congressman for Wyoming, and ultimate ascension to the Vice Presidency. Though much of the focus of “Vice” is on Cheney in his VP years, the film bounces back and forth between various periods of his life. Recurring characters include Cheney’s wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) and a mysterious narrator named Kurt (Jesse Plemons) whose importance is revealed near the end of the movie. Other characters include a bevy of familiar faces associated with the Bush/Cheney White House, as well as Cheney’s two daughters Liz (Lily Rabe) and Mary (Alison Pill).
By far the strongest aspect of “Vice” is Christian Bale’s performance in the lead role as Dick Cheney. Beyond the sheer impressiveness of his physical transformation, which is on par with past weight fluctuations as seen in “The Machinist” and “American Hustle”, Bale’s acting just flows. Everything from his speech and mouth movements to his bulky stride is seamless. Sometimes major transformations can be distracting. Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” comes to mind as a good example where even if the performance is genuine, something about the character feels a bit off. This is not the case with Bale’s Cheney, and his presence on screen is undeniable. Amy Adams also deserves immense credit for her portrayal of Cheney’s ambitious wife Lynne. McKay casts her as a sinister presence in “Vice”, as she cajoles Cheney to pursue more and more power. Steve Carell’s Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld pales in comparison to the former two performances, as he comes off as a cartoonish villain plastered with cosmetics. He looks unnatural, and acts unnaturally. The same can be said of Sam Rockwell, who portrays former President George W. Bush.
McKay depicts several characters as arrogant bureaucrats, constantly chuckling and conniving in a silly manner. It is understandable that “Vice” straddles the line between drama and comedy, in the same vein as McKay’s masterful 2015 film “The Big Short” about the 2007/2008 financial crisis. However, “Vice” treats many of its characters, George W. chief among them, with an air of mockery that “The Big Short” never came close to. There is a difference between humorous cut-aways, such as those with Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain explaining subprime mortgages in “The Big Short”, and then scenes such as Dick and Lynne’s bedside bantering with lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III in “Vice”. If the film were meant to be purely comedy, then turning characters into clowns would not be such a big deal. However, “Vice” strives to be something more, and the various gags throughout the film undermine the greater message.
Indeed, “Vice” is out to make statements on serious issues. McKay makes a compelling, and evidence-based argument for Cheney’s responsibility in getting America into the devastating invasion of Iraq following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Much of the film is dedicated to that narrative. While there is a step-by-step chronological leadup to the Iraq invasion, “Vice” fails to thoroughly explain exactly why Cheney wanted it to happen in the first place. There are snippets depicting general US oil interests and Cheney’s former role as CEO of Halliburton as possible motives. Yet, we never get an idea of anything beyond these selfish business related themes. “Vice” avoids the harder questions surrounding Cheney. Iraq War aside, McKay attributes everything from the 2008 housing bubble to the recent California wildfires to Cheney, without any concrete explanation, accusations that are just thrown in. People who follow the ins and outs of politics might know what McKay is getting at, but the average viewer certainly will not. “Vice” is a film dedicated to painting Dick Cheney as an evil mastermind responsible for an array of foreign and domestic disasters regarding the United States, but it fails to provide substantiation (or evidence) for its claims. Coupled with the mocking tone evident throughout the movie, everything in “Vice” must be taken with a grain of salt.
This problem relates to what I see as the fatal flaw in “Vice”. Just as we never understand Cheney’s motivations on a practical level, such as with the invasion of Iraq, we also never understand them on an ideological one. Why did Dick Cheney believe what he believed? Why was he a Republican? There is a scene early on in the film where a young Cheney serving as a White House intern earnestly asks Donald Rumsfeld, “What do we believe in?” Rummy laughs off the question, and the scene ends. This was a mistake, and shows McKay’s own lack of knowledge surrounding Dick Cheney’s personal ideology. There is no rhyme or reason as to why he does what he does in “Vice” beyond perhaps simple power mongering. And if so, then is Lynne more to blame than Dick? It is clear from the film that McKay strongly dislikes Dick Cheney as he goes to great lengths painting him as a heartless villain and in one scene even shows Cheney in surgery with his chest cavity stretched open, literally without a heart. However, by failing to delve deeply into Dick Cheney’s motivations, the film ultimately falls flat. Haters of the old conservative power players such as Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld will probably enjoy “Vice”. But unlike “The Big Short”, which hit on an intensely personal level, “Vice” plays out like an inside joke, pre-packaged for a select audience. Such blatant and shallow one-sidedness errs on the side of cheap propaganda, rather than thoughtful filmmaking.
OP-ROB RATING: LEGEND
“Mirai no Mirai” or “Mirai of the Future” is a 2018 Japanese anime film directed by Mamoru Hosoda centering on a toddler named Kun (voice by Moka Kamishiraishi). In the film he is referenced as Kun-chan, chan being a common name ending for Japanese children. Kun-chan’s life takes a sudden turn, as most first children’s do, when his mother and father return home with a newborn baby girl. Interestingly, Hosoda refrains from naming any of the adult characters who appear in the film; Kun-chan’s salary woman mother and architect father are simply cast with the Japanese names for each, Okāsan (voiced by Kumiko Aso) and Otōsan (voiced by Gen Hoshino). Through the lens of a toddler, parents first names do not matter so much. They are just mom and dad. The baby is named Mirai 未来, meaning “future” or “not yet come”. As Kun-chan’s life at the center of attention is shaken up by the newborn, he is whisked away on several imaginative journeys that help him to accept his sister.
Our initial impression of Kun-chan is that of a loveable, yet ornery toddler. He sleeps face-down with his butt in the air, is fascinated by trains, and loves playing with the family dog, Yukko. He also screams, cries, throws his toys everywhere, and is generally disagreeable. However, there are subtle signs from the beginning of the film that the young boy is perhaps wise beyond his years, on the cusp of maturing beyond his current rambunctiousness. This is alluded to early on, in a scene where Kun-chan looks out of the window waiting for his parents to return home with baby Mirai. He breathes on the glass, and then attentively wipes away the fog in anticipation for a car pulling in the driveway. In another scene his father asks him for baby name recommendations, as the boy stares wide-eyed at his newborn sister. Kun-chan responds with “Nozomi” and “Tsubame”, names his father realizes belong to certain Shinkansen (bullet) trains. It is in moments such as these when we witness Kun-chan’s profound thoughtfulness, as contrasted with his frequent temper tantrums.
As the film title implies, some of Kun-chan’s adventures take us into fantastical realms in the future where he encounters a teenaged version of Mirai and an anthropomorphized version of Yukko. Others take us as far back as 70 years in the past. Each of his journeys teaches a lesson, while also providing insight into his heritage. My favorite is his encounter his great-grandpa, identified in the film as Seinen (meaning “young man”). When Kun-chan meets his great-grandpa in a realistic, immediate post-war rural Yokohama, he is working in a motorcycle shop building engines. A note that permeates other parts of the story is that Seinen walks with a permanent hitch due to an injury during WWII. During the journey Seinen takes Kun-chan to a stable where they climb onto a horse and go for a ride through radiant fields in Yokohama, where Kun-chan’s urban neighborhood has yet to be built. Kun-chan is initially terrified, eyes glued to the ground. However, Seinen encourages him, telling him to never look down and always to the horizon. As the horse goes from a trot into a full on gallop a train speeds through the frame blocking our view, upon passing the two are suddenly on a motorcycle zooming along the seaside. This episode is preceded by Kun-chan failing to ride his bicycle at a local park, a feat he conquers immediately after the sequence with Seinen.
As with all great children’s movies, there is a mature and complex story accompanying the basic fantasy driven plot of “Mirai”, especially regarding the father and mother. Though the film begins with a whimsical introduction with still shots showing the progressions of life: a house renovation, the mother’s pregnancy, and the birth of Kun-chan, we soon get an idea that the marriage is not as rosy as it seems. In one scene the father speaks with a well-wishing group of mothers outside the house just after baby Mirai has arrived. He explains that he has switched to a freelance architect, and will be shouldering many of the domestic duties at home as the mother goes back to full-time work. Back in the house, she questions his authenticity, and essentially accuses him of phonily portraying the supportive husband. In subsequent scenes, we get the sense that he had been consumed with work and neglectful of his family duties during Kun-chan’s infancy. Mirai is born with a large birthmark on her right hand, perhaps indicating that she was born into strife, or maybe that she will play a special role. As the film progresses, we see the family come together, as they must face similar challenges of acceptance as Kun-chan, only entirely in the real world. Baby Mirai is a catalyst for introspection in the fantasy-laden imagination of Kun-chan, as well as the reality-based relationship of the mother and father.
My one complaint with “Mirai” is that Kun-chan’s fits can become redundant. Almost every one of the imaginative journeys is preceded by Kun-chan erupting in tears, leaving high-pitched echoes of “Okāsan” (mother) and “Otōsan” (father) ringing in your ears. Perhaps this is simply a realistic depiction of an irritable toddler, but certain tantrum scenes drag on far past their usefulness. Despite this considerably minor flaw, “Mirai” is a near perfect film. The run-time is a non-arduous 100 minutes, and the film has a breeziness about it that carries you from start to finish aided by a brilliant soundtrack featuring songs from Tatsuro Yamashita. Perhaps the genius behind “Mirai” is that it can be taken in lightly, as an imaginative and innocent story of a toddler coming to terms with a new sibling, but also as a complex story of a strengthened marriage and appreciation of family history. In many ways, “Mirai” harkens back to the mastermind of Yasujiro Ozu, with his focus on the subtle profoundness of family, but in this case through the eyes of a toddler.