Monday, January 7, 2019


Lemme start at the end… and not work my way backwards.  I’ll just start at the end and go wherever comes next.  I never promised linearity.  And if I did, I am taking it back.

When we go to screenings, like the one for the new film Vice we recently attended at the Writers Guild Theater, we never stay for the following “Q & A.”  I mean, we must have stayed sometime.  That’s how we know we don’t like them, and flee the theater the moment they bring out the drum-rolling chairs.

Why don’t we enjoy “Q & A’s”? 

INTERVIEWER:  “You’re so great.”

FILM-MAKER:  (Humbly) “Yeah, well…”

INTEVIEWER:  “No, I mean it.  You’re terrific.”

FILM-MAKER:  “That means a lot, coming from you.”

INTERVIEWER:  (Humbly)  “Yeah, well…

FILM-MAKER:  “No, I mean it.  You’re terrific.”

INTERVIEW:  “Let’s open this up to questions from the audience.” 

AUDIENCE QUESTIONER:  “You guys are so great.”

And we’re gone.

A few years ago, we walked out during a “Q & A in which Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) interviewed Judd Apatow after a screening of Apatow’s This is 40.  Apatow actually made fun of us as we headed up the aisle.  Something about the elderlies’ need for imminent bowel movement relief, or something equally tasteful.

I felt so mortified by his remark that it was only later I imagined myself stopping in my tracks, turning back towards the interview area and saying,

“This is sixty-eight.”

That would have told him!  But, you know… thinking of it later is the same as not thinking of it at all.  But with the added “I wish I had said something.”

So we did not stay for the “Q & A” with the man behind Vice, Adam McKay  (conducted by David O. Russell, who served as the “A” in another Q & A” we once mistakenly stayed for and did not enjoy his subliminal “Look at me” stage presence.)

Adam McKay is a highly successful writer-director, often collaborating with Will Farrell.  My incentive to see Vice came specifically from McKay’s film The Big Short (2015), concerning the financial crisis leading up to the Wall Street meltdown of 2008. 

That movie I liked. 

A lot.

Like The Big Short, Vice, a biopic about “W’s” Vice-President Dick Cheney, includes numerous surrealistic interludes, humorously clarifying the film’s occasional “insider” information.  One of them – I will not give them all away, only the best one – involves “rolling the ‘End Credits’” in the middle of the movie, signaling where the Cheney biography might have ended, but unfortunately for the country and the world, especially Iraq, didn’t.

Here’s the difference between The Big Short and Vice, leading me to appreciate the former while the latter made me sick to my stomach.

The Big Short is about money.

Vice concerns a man who caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people.

There are things to appreciate about Vice, particularly the winning performances by Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, and Christian Bale’s eerily accurate portrayal of Cheney.

But it’s like saying, “It was a great game but the stadium blew up.”

You can make a comedy about anything.

The question, sometimes ignored by gung-ho practitioners with a “No Taboos” mentality is,

“Should you?”

By which I do not mean “Should you sweep historical evil under the rug?”

But I instead mean,

“We know he was horrible.  But where’s the understanding?   Where’s the illuminating depth?”  The Big Short, based on a heavily researched book (by Michael Lewis), explained the complex underpinnings of the financial crisis.

Vice, by contrast, explains nothing.

In McKay’s single effort to justify Cheney’s actions, we get a concluding “You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall” rationale, which would have delivered a mightier wallop if we had not been previously treated to scenes of cynical focus-group-driven manipulation, and if we had not already heard that excuse in A Few Good Men.

Maybe it was not meant to be a rationalization but rather the mindless ravings of a misguided American.  Or maybe a supporting nod to conservatives – who also buy tickets to movies – that Cheney’s betrayal of democracy made actual arguable sense.

With the dominating “anti” perspective of the rest of the movie, however, I am not sure that salvaging “Hail Mary” will be enough.  In fact, I am comfortably certain it won’t be.

Anyway, summing it up...

A horrible man.   Overstepping the parameters of his office.  Lying us into a war.

To quote the classic “catch-phrase” from a radio comedy of the past:

“T’ain’t funny, McGee.”

And a smart writer-director could do no more than put comedy lipstick on a nightmarish pig.

Not exactly a review.

More a wrenching reaction.

But, of course,

That’s just me.

1 comment:

Jahn Ghalt said...

Your objection to Q's and A's speaks to two deficiencies - one of which is easier to fix than the other:

The easy one - get an intelligent, not-lazy interviewer who has prepared. A standard go to method would be to pre-interview the film-maker - that is, if intelligence pertains.

The harder one - get intelligent audiences. One would think that to be admitted to "screenings" would have a salutary effect - but I accept your observation as showing that practice does not necessarily conform to theory.

My limited experience (at our little "international" film festival in Anchorage) is that Q's and A's are worthwhile, non-trival affairs. It probably helps that the film-makers are not usually "famous" thus have fewer (or no) fans - expect for those ginned up at the showing.