Talking Movies

February 14, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXIV

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a blog post proper? Why round them up and turn them into a twenty-fourth pormanteau post on matters of course!

The Valley of the Short

National Geographic’s Valley of the Boom has been an odd watch. Coming off the back of 4 seasons of The West Wing re-runs on TG4 it’s been quite nice to see Bradley Whitford in light suits walking around corridors again, but this time affecting a drawl and dispensing gnomic wisdom. Elsewhere it’s been fascinating learning about Facebook before Facebook in the shape of TheGlobe.com, but there’s no compelling reason this couldn’t all have been a documentary; even if that would mean losing Josh Lyman himself. Making it a docudrama is a baffling decision, and one which ‘creator’ Matthew Carnahan seems to have interpreted as license to war on the fourth wall to make sure we understand that what little drama there is is not as factual as the documentary surrounding it. Interestingly enough in light of Vice’s suffering the law of diminishing returns when employing the tricks of The Big Short the deployment of those self-same tricks here actually work reasonably well, and even include a musical number; something filmed for but dropped from Vice.

You Don’t Know Dick

All roads lead back to Vice… The more I’ve thought about Vice the more uneasy I am about it. McKay’s interest in Dick Cheney is that which animates all Presidential biographers – the years in the Oval Office. So why bother making a film about the years leading up to it as well, and not just zero in on those eight years? Those eight years, after all, are what really (and clearly) gets McKay’s goat. And yet Vice gallops thru them, offering Cheney’s infamous (and cheerfully repeated by myself and Emmet Ryan during writing sessions, explicitly mentioning that Vice-Presidential imprimatur) “Go F*** Yourself” to Senator Patrick Leahy, and his accidental shooting someone while hunting, almost totally decontextualised, purely because they had to be included; because they’d been fodder for the SNL writers, as McKay once was. The scene in which Cheney demands to see all intelligence, no matter how flimsy, is presented as his quest for a fictional casus belli to invade Iraq. I’ve been thinking though of how that scene could be written, with the same misgivings by the agency directors, and the same outcome, but an entirely different and equally plausible motivation for Cheney’s actions. The truth is that is possible for many scenes in Vice, because McKay always assumes the absolute worst of Cheney, usually in the absence of any information whatsoever. So try this on for size as reason for trampling the constitution beneath his feet:

CIA: There’s only one source for that, Mister Vice-President, that’s why it’s not included.

CHENEY: I want to see everything.

FBI: But, Mister Vice-President, we have to sift thru the intelligence to determine what’s credible.

CHENEY: Do you? Is that what you did when you dismissed as ‘racial profiling’ a flag on an Arabic man saying he didn’t need to learn how to land the plane, just how to fly it? 3,000 Americans are dead because we dropped the ball. We dropped the ball, and they died. So from now on I see EVERYTHING. I don’t care how ‘credible’ you think it is. I need to see EVERYTHING. We are not going to have another 9/11, not on my watch. Now get out of here, and don’t fumble the f****** ball again…

And now perhaps imagine how McKay would handle a similar scene involving President Obama justifying lethal drone strikes on American citizens without any due process.

 

Our long national nightmare is over

And once again with The West Wing re-runs on TG4, because Declan Rice’s statement last night contained a fatal phrase that immediately had me humming Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore ditty. I have felt, almost from the beginning of this will he/won’t he saga, that it was unseemly. And as it progressed I felt it was increasingly humiliating for us to be so desperately begging someone to play for us. Especially as he is ‘a proud Englishman’. Sing it!

But in spite of all temptation

To belong to other nations

He remains an Englishman!

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January 27, 2019

Notes on Vice

Postmodern Dick Cheney biopic Vice was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Vice, perhaps fittingly, stands in relation to writer/director Adam McKay’s The Big Short as George Bush Jr stands in relation to Jeb Bush; not nearly as competent but more likely to be showered with unearned prizes. The Big Short was sprawling, but, despite following three storylines; Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, Finn Wittrock and Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale; was surprisingly focused in explaining the housing bubble and credit crunch they were all betting on. You would think that following just one character, Dick Cheney, would make for a tighter movie. And you would be wrong. This is a ramshackle mess; exemplified by its opening in 1963, purposelessly jumping forward to 9/11, and then back to 1963 again, followed by opening credits that feel like they belong in an early 1970s crime movie, about 15 minutes in.  There’s another two hours to go after that conceit and McKay has here achieved the unenviable and baffling feat of making a film that is both far too long yet also doesn’t go into enough detail on anything.

Listen here:

December 9, 2018

From the Archives: W

A penultimate dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up Oliver Stone’s forgotten and rather pointless George Bush Jr takedown.

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This George W Bush biopic reunites Oliver Stone with his Wall Street co-writer. It is thus very disappointing that there is no trace of that film’s searing indictment of American greed, but perhaps even more amazingly the man who directed JFK has lost his visual flair.

W is a very odd film, it’s not satire and it’s not a factual drama. It attempts to straddle, and falls short of, both genres. 13 Days made the Cuban Missile Crisis gripping simply by showing how Kennedy dealt with it blow by blow. Channel 4’s The Deal made the trade between Brown and Blair fascinating, even if it was largely speculative. BBC 4’s The Alan Clark Diaries made real politics hilarious. W hopelessly tries to combine all three approaches. We follow the run-up to and fall-out from the Iraq War, while flashing back to the pivotal moments in W’s life that led him to the White House. Stone though has nothing to say about these moments except that Bush has ‘daddy issues’, and that’s why he went to war. This insight isn’t profound or original but could have been heard in bars, on both the sides of the Atlantic, after too many drinks, for the last five years.

James Cromwell alone among the cast does not try to imitate his character and so nicely counterpoints Brolin’s Jr. Cromwell’s George Sr (or Poppy) appears cold and disapproving but we realise that his shepherding of his son Jeb rather than W towards the Presidency is because he wishes to shelter W from the strain of a job that does not suit his temperament. Josh Brolin is extraordinary as W. He perfectly captures the voice and mannerism of Bush Jr but also makes us care deeply for this uncomplicated jock. When W loses a 1980 run for Congress and storms into his backyard exclaiming “I’ll never be out-Texased or out-Christianed again!” we feel his pain more than the obvious satirical anticipation of his 2000 run for Presidency that Stone intends. W’s born-again Christianity is handled with surprising (and welcome) warmth, but while personally Bush saw the light, politically it led him to some dark places. However to expect that sort of complexity is to want a different, less obvious, film.

And Stone does get very obvious… Jeffrey Wright plays Saint Colin Powell while Richard Dreyfuss needs a moustache to twirl villainously as Dick Cheney. Characters say in private their most infamous public gaffes while Condoleeza Rice is written out of history, perhaps because Thandie Newton’s forced attempts to get Rice’s voice right make her screen presence too painful to dwell on. George Bush is not a bad man, he’s just a very bad president, the worst since Herbert Hoover, who also made way for a charismatic Democrat offering change, FDR. But, Oliver, we already knew that…

2/5

September 24, 2013

5 Reasons to Hail White House Down

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Short & Sweet

This has not been a good summer for blockbusters but unlike endless nonsense like The Lone Ranger, noisy mayhem like Pacific Rim, or painfully overextended finales like Man of SteelWhite House Down doesn’t take forever to tell a reasonably simple story. And even when it throws in a ludicrous but logical twist at the end it sorts everything out in one stupidly simple scene rather than dragging us thru another 20 exhausting minutes of CGI chaos.

Everything Pays Off…

There’s a reason Keith Thompson and I chose Roland Emmerich when parodying well-made scripts. Everything pays off – nothing is too stupid to be forgotten, the President’s Lincoln fandom saves his life. Everything Roland sets up will pay off later, even down to Channing Tatum missing his daughter’s talent show. She practised for six weeks honing a skill that, like everything else, will come in extremely handy later on; so better make a mental note of it now.

‘Subtle’ Satire

Roland Emmerich gave you a Dick Cheney lookalike climate change sceptic VP in The Day After Tomorrow being humiliated when climate change forced his people into refugee camps in Mexico. Here he has a black academic President with a liking for Lincoln teaching John Cale what the military-industrial complex is and being prevented from withdrawing from the Middle East by those entrenched interests. And that’s before we get to the aggressive right-wing news anchor who won’t stop crying…

Actually a Good Day to Die Hard

So, there’s a villain discovering a connection between the hero and his prominent annoying female hostage. And, also, misguided good guys roaring in on helicopters to kill everyone with a ill-judged rescue attempt, who end up in flames because they won’t listen to our hero or his conduit; and then start machine-gunning our hero on the roof of the building as he tries to help. Hmm… Wait, and he’s wearing a white vest!

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Maggie Gyllenhaal is basically playing Al to Channing Tatum’s John McClane. That makes no sort of sense at all. She’s all wrong for the part in the Die Hard analogical sense in every way imaginable but her answer to that problem is to give it EVERYTHING she’s got. She’s so ferociously committed, especially in scenes revolving around betrayal and possible redemption, that she provides some kind of perverse dignity that makes all the nonsense around her cinematically plausible.

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