Oscar Review – Vice: Being Evil Is Bad and Stuff

Adam McKay brings us an off-kilter movie about the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

SUMMARY

The movie is narrated by Kurt (Jesse Plemons), a soldier, as he discusses the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as well as the impact his presence had on the Bush administration.

The film starts with an alcoholic Dick Cheney getting a DUI and being told to clean up his life by his wife, Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams). Later, Cheney works for the Nixon administration and discovers that the US secretly bombed Cambodia under the advice of Henry Kissinger (Kirk Bovill). Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) ends up being distanced from Nixon, and Cheney, his intern, starts to fall out of grace, but then Nixon resigns and Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense and Cheney becomes White House Chief of Staff, due to them being the only members not really connected with the fallout.

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Behold, the face of… not Richard Nixon.

After the Ford administration ends, Cheney has a heart attack and becomes a Congressman from Wyoming, mostly with his wife’s help, and starts to support a bunch of policies that blatantly help corrupt corporations gain lucrative positions and greater control over industries. Cheney serves as Secretary of Defense during the first Bush Administration, but then decides to retire from public life after finding out that his youngest daughter, Mary (Alison Pill), is a lesbian. He then becomes the head of Halliburton and becomes fabulously wealthy.

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I have avoided a single joke about his name. I want that on the record.

Cheney gets asked to be the running mate for George W. Bush (Sam “Regular or Extra Menthol” Rockwell) during the 2000 Presidential Election, which Cheney agrees to on the condition that he be allowed to have more power than a typical Vice President. Bush, not particularly caring about actually being President, agrees. As VP, Cheney brings Rumsfeld in as Secretary of Defense, David Addington (Don McManus) as legal counsel, and Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk) as Chief of Staff. Together, they make all of the actual foreign policy and defense decisions in the administration. Then, 9/11 happens.

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Again, this is mostly a comedy film.

The movie depicts Cheney as using the attacks as a way to preside over the U.S. Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, resulting in numerous deaths and the rise of ISIS. Kurt, the narrator, served in the military during both of these invasions and witnessed killing of civilians and extrajudicial torture of prisoners.  Meanwhile, Cheney has multiple heart issues which eventually put him on his deathbed. He says a tearful goodbye to his family, but Kurt is killed while jogging and his heart saves Cheney’s life.

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He’s not in great health.

At the end of the movie, Liz Cheney (Lily Rabe) wins her father’s seat in Congress after speaking out against gay marriage, leading Mary Cheney to leave the family. The film then breaks the fourth wall and has an angry Cheney state that he has no regrets about anything he’s done. A mid-credits scene depicts a focus group where a right-wing viewer calls the film biased and violently attacks a panelist who disagrees while most of the other panelists focus on upcoming action movies.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, this was the movie that I least imagined would get nominated for an Oscar out of all of the nominees, even Black Panther. I didn’t think super highly of A Star Is Born, but I thought it was Oscar bait. BlacKkKlansman seemed like a shoo-in, same with Roma. Bohemian Rhapsody wowed me with spectacle in the theater, so it wasn’t until later that I realized “oh, this dialogue is actually kind of lousy.” Green Book had Mahershala Ali’s performance in a film that makes Hollywood feel good. The Favourite was a period piece with great costumes and three amazing leads and artistic angles, so that’s basically a gimme. This movie, though…

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But Boots Riley gets nothing.

Adam McKay is a very talented director, ranging from Anchorman and Talladega Nights to The Big Short. He’s great at doing very stylized movies that have lots of solid comic elements, as well as occasional sudden shifts in tone or focus, like the “Afternoon Delight” scene in Anchorman or the multiple fourth-wall breaks to explain concepts in The Big Short. This movie has devices similar to those, but I think it went a little overboard on them while trying to handle a subject that it simultaneously wants to mock and also to take seriously. You have the framing device of the narrator, but also false endings, fourth wall breaks, the focus group, the double time shift from 9/11… it’s just a little too much structural mutation within a film that isn’t exactly sure what tone it wants to take. This film portrays horrible events and wants you to think about how horrible they are… but then makes a few one-liners about how ignorant Americans are. It’s not impossible to do both of these tones in one film, but I don’t think they quite pulled it off here.

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Those glasses are reserved for directors.

The film presents Dick Cheney as both a wasted dropout who lucked into a job and also a brilliant schemer who essentially uses Machiavellian tactics to gain power and wealth, but it never really connects with how he can be both. Yes, people are multifaceted, that’s the beauty of dealing with real people rather than archetypes, but even with Bale’s great performance (and it is absolutely fantastic), Cheney only seems to be a series of shifting characters, not one man that is all of these things. It clearly says that he’s a bad person, and the film takes the stance that everything he does is pretty much awful, but saying “oh, hey, this humorously over-the-top villain is bad” is a little less subtle than Bale’s performance merited.

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Again, the guy on the right is BATMAN.

That said, every performance in this is amazing. Bale’s so good you wouldn’t even believe he’s the same guy who played Batman or Patrick Bateman, while Rockwell reminds us once again that he is an almost unbelievable talent. If you haven’t watched Moon or Seven Psychopaths, you’re missing out. Amy Adams is a national freaking treasure and should be treated as such. Steve Carell, Lily Rabe, Alison Pill, Tyler Perry, all of them did amazing work. If there is one thing to be said about this, everyone was giving 110%.

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Jesse Plemons’ performance was heart-taking. I REFUSE TO APOLOGIZE FOR THIS DAD JOKE.

My biggest complaint, though, and it’s a very personal one to me, is that this movie breaks one of my cardinal rules of filmmaking: It tells the audience that you’re wrong to not like it. It presents all the people who aren’t excited about the film as either vapid idiots who don’t care enough about the world to pay attention or angry idiots who are going to be pissed about the liberalism of Hollywood. Even if you were to believe both of those things, and you very well might, just acknowledging these people to mock them doesn’t ever do anything positive. If you believe that what you’re saying, even if it will be criticized, is still worth saying, THEN F*CKING SAY IT. Don’t try to pre-defend yourself by taking shots at your detractors, just say what you believe and stand by it. 

Overall, I don’t dislike the movie, in fact I thought a lot of parts of it were good and inventive, but the structure was a little too messy for me to really think it was going to be an Oscar nominee. But maybe that’s why I only write for a few hundred people on the internet, rather than Time Magazine.

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37) Diversity Day (The Office)

I’m gonna catch crap for this one. People often have their choice for the best episode of the US version of The Office and will defend it fiercely. As such, I have to clarify: This isn’t my favorite episode of The Office, and you will never hear me state which actually is my favorite episode. However, I think this episode the one that most distinguished the series and also managed to make some important points on modern America. This was the second episode of the series, but since the first one was basically lifted directly from the UK series that it’s based on, this was the first episode to unveil what this version of The Office was going to be like, and it took some bold steps… some of which it would later have to walk back a little.

The show focuses on a documentary crew watching over the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s Scranton Branch. As this was the first real episode of the show, there hadn’t been much in the way of character development: Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is the boss, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) is a very odd, uptight, and ambitious salesperson, Jim (John Krasinski) is a more laid-back and mischievous salesperson who often uses Dwight as a target of pranks, and Pam (Jenna Fischer) is a receptionist who is both overqualified for her job and the subject of Jim’s crush. Other characters who appear in the episode would get much more development later, and most of it would be amazing, but these four were the ones that were developed at this point.

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Pam, Jim, Michael, Ignore Ryan (You’ll thank me), Dwight

SUMMARY

The episode starts with Michael announcing that Corporate has sent a speaker for their “Diversity Day.” Meanwhile, the feud between Jim and Dwight keeps getting in the way of Jim completing an annual renewal that accounts for over a quarter of his yearly sales. That’s basically the perfect set-up to play with the A and B plots.

Watching Steve Carell in the show is amazing, but in this episode his performance is a treat. As Michael, he is the most glorious lack of self-awareness on film. He is not a stupid man, by some standards, but he so avoids most levels of introspection that he seems naive to the point of being insensitive. And that’s where this episode starts to get going. After the presentation by the corporate speaker for “Diversity Today,” Mr. Brown (who Michael refuses to call by his name, thinking that it’s racist), Michael is told that the presentation was required because of Michael’s own actions: Namely, retelling, nearly verbatim, Chris Rock’s 90s routine “Ni**as vs. Black People.”

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The routine’s not called “Bring the Pain” for nothing!

Up until this point, Michael had actually been attempting to take control of the presentation, believing himself qualified to administer the program. Now that he has been told that he was reported to Corporate for racist actions, he is left with two choices: A) Undergo deep introspection and resolve to address his personal flaws or B) deny that he did anything wrong and go overboard trying to prove that he isn’t racist.

Michael picks A and the episode ends with him monologuing ab- oh come on, you know he picked B because it’s what everyone picks.

TheOfficeJudge

What follows is Michael doing a presentation called “Diversity Tomorrow,” with full sincerity, and it is beautiful. It is a bloody trainwreck made by Van Gogh, a work of art whose subject is so atrocious that only its magnificent execution keeps you from looking away. No description of what happens can give it the credit it is due. You just have to watch it. Ultimately, Michael keeps escalating things until finally one of his employees is forced to stop him.

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Sorry, I meant “Slap Him.”

Meanwhile, in the B plot, Jim finds out that Dwight has stolen his massive sale out from under his nose, devastating him and potentially ruining his entire year. However, the episode ends on a positive note, with Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder, and Jim, despite his massive loss, noting that it was “not a bad day.”

END SUMMARY

This episode is as well-written as it is provocative. It addresses several pretty complex issues and manages to not be horribly preachy about it.

Is Michael racist? Well, he doesn’t think so, but throughout the episode he progressively says more and more objectively racist things in his quest to prove that he’s not. He argues that he knows about diversity because he’s 2/15ths Native American (this is not a typo). He asks one of his employees if he prefers a “less discriminatory term” than Mexican to describe his heritage, because of the “connotations.” He gets slapped in the face for repeatedly imitating an Indian salesperson asking people to try his “googi googi.” He believes they’re called “colored greens,” instead of “collard greens,” because he thinks they’re not eaten by “collard people.”

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Stanley sometimes is all of us.

But, the thing is, Michael doesn’t usually treat people much differently based on their skin color once he gets to know them, and throughout the episode he isn’t really a “bad guy,” in the traditional sense. He respects Martin Luther King, Jr. If you asked him if he believes that people are defined by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, he would say yes, and he would mean it. He’s aware that both slavery and the holocaust were bad. In other words, he’s basically every middle-class northern white guy.

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Okay, not EVERY middle-class northern white guy.

Here’s the thing: Everyone’s a little bit racist. There’s a whole song about it in a show that won a Tony for Best Musical.

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It has puppets! Also porn!

And not in a way where you wouldn’t hire a black guy, or you wouldn’t want your daughter dating an Indian guy, but in the way that, if you’re honest, you tend to consider either your own race or, occasionally, the most dominant local race to be the “norm.” Not necessarily superior, just, normal. And that’s okay, because it’s something that basically nobody can help. But, you need to be aware that you’re doing it so that you don’t fly completely off the handle when it causes you to make a stupid assumption or unintentionally say something really inappropriate and you get called out on it.

This episode managed to address a big issue in a clever, funny, and ultimately, not that judgmental way. Not bad for what’s essentially episode one.

PREVIOUS – 38: I Love Lucy

NEXT – 36: Newhart

Michael Getting Slapped:

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.