Political Biopics Gleefully Leaning Left
Reviews by Ken Burke
After a lengthy summary last week of what I’d seen over my holiday break, I’m back with my regular format exploring a couple of films based on 2 major sociopolitical figures of our time (neither film likely to appeal to right-wingers, although the latter one should be appreciated in a bipartisan manner except possibly by avowed troglodytes [although that reference might be an insult to our prehistoric-ancestors]) with their titles in my posted order implying erotic activities that actually have no existence in either of these narratives (except both of these principal players created children, so, yes, some sex was involved at some point—but that's not the point here; just move on, please).
Vice (Adam McKay) rated R
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): This scathing biography of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (with his official title taking on unintended connotations based on his behavior in various high governmental positions) mixes established fact, creative conjecture, some outright (obvious) fantasy (including a scene set in the Gerald Ford Oval Office where swaggering Cheney suggests a group of top officials—all men—could put little wigs on their penises, then walk around on the White House lawn with no adverse impact on their public images [sounds like someone else currently in that 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address bragging about how he could shoot someone in broad daylight on NYC’s Fifth Avenue without losing any favor among his core supporters—with political events of the last couple of years likely proving him correct])* in looking at the rise to increasing levels of power of a former drunkard dismissed from Yale (factual) who learned his ruthlessness lessons from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (more fact), then put those manipulations in place with his oversize (I’m not just talking about his protruding gut in later years) influence during the Presidency of George W. Bush. On first glance this film would appear to be a biased, scathing portrait of a devious, seemingly-immoral man (which it clearly has aspects of, much to the delight of Cheney-opponents such as me), but a lot of what’s presented is grounded in historical reality (unless you dismiss those published records as “fake news”) so there’s lots to appreciate here if you didn’t like Cheney to begin with or to learn from in terms of how insider-power-plays inhabit (inhibit?) the running of our government (no matter who’s in charge, as we saw with “Honest Abe”’s horse-trading to get the anti-slavery 13th Amendment passed in Lincoln [Steven Spielberg, 2012; review in our December 28, 2012 posting]), but if you’re a Cheney supporter (or member of his family, whom I seriously doubt have watched this presentation of the heart-challenged patriarch [from both physical and empathetic viewpoints]) I doubt you’ll want to bother, although for me it’s shaping up as the best accomplishment of 2018 from a cinematic—not just an ideological—perspective, easily available at 2,500+ theaters nationwide if you’re interested.
*In another Vice fantasy scene, related in concept to the Trump Fifth Avenue-braggadocio above, Dick (Christian Bale) and 3 of his henchmen (don’t recall exactly but could easily have been his other 3 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Rumsfeld [Steve Carell], Scooter Libby [Justin Kirk], David Addington [Don McManus]) are in a restaurant where the waiter (Alfred Molina) offers them choices of various torture procedures against terrorists to which Cheney cheerfully says “We’ll take ‘em all!”
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Welcome to another film based in history but which admits from the start it includes some speculation (as well as riffs of no-debate-pure-fantasy) given the secretive nature of its subject, Dick Cheney, who’s held many crucial positions of power during his lifetime (White House Chief of Staff, Congressman from Wyoming, Secretary of Defense, CEO of energy giant/military contractor Halliburton) but none as significant as Vice President for 8 years under (seemingly in official designation only) President George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), the years of the aftermath of the infamous 9/11/2001 al-Qaeda attacks on NYC and D.C., early on focused on U.S. military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (“The public wants relief, not insights”). What we see before that in his life, though (1963), is a youthful drunk working as a lineman in WY after being kicked out of Yale, earning the ire of his ambitious wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), to better live up to his potential. That transformation begins in 1969 when he’s a Congressional intern, then works in the Nixon White House tutored by ruthless Donald Rumsfeld on political strategies, manipulations, and soulless victories (when Cheney once asks Rumsfeld “What do we believe in?” all he gets in reply is lengthy, devious laughter). This all leads up to Cheney’s increasing fascination with the Unitary Executive Theory (cited, by some, in the Constitution’s Article Two, arguing the President is beyond control of the Congress or the courts [sound familiar regarding the White House’s current occupant?]), espoused early on in this film by Antonin Scalia (Matthew Jacobs) who’ll later be on the Supreme Court that essentially handed the 2000 election to Bush—and Cheney—by stopping the recount in Florida. Cheney was able to manipulate this to his own sinister Executive policies by his control of Bush (an agreement they made during the 2000 campaign, although it’s unlikely G.W. truly understood how this was occurring), a situation Cheney had to put on long-delayed-hold after Gerald Ford (Bill Camp) lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter, pushing both Cheney and Rumsfeld out of their prestigious D.C. jobs (“Rummy” as Sec. of Defense, Dick [an appropriate nickname as his true nature continues to “mature”] as Ford’s Chief of Staff, after they helped dethrone Henry Kissinger [Kirk Bovill] as National Security Advisor [although he continued as Ford's Sec. of State]).
During the years between 1977 and 2000 Cheney found himself as a clumsy candidate for WY Congressman, but after suffering the first of many heart attacks he relied on Lynne’s more-winning (yet equally-vicious, if not more so at times) personality to turn the tide in his favor, then under the first President Bush Cheney served as Sec. of Defense. About the only uplifting aspect of Cheney’s life during this time (as per the film; anybody know of any others?) was the support given by him and Lynne to teenage daughter Mary (Alison Pill), who revealed herself as lesbian, leading Dick to tamp down his own Presidential ambitions to protect his child from the hate sure to land on his daughter during the usual cruelties of a national campaign. At this point, the film takes a shocking turn with graphics about how the Cheneys happily retired from public life, with credits rolling noting the actual actors we’ve seen so far; this comic interlude comes to an abrupt end with a phone call from the younger Bush inviting Cheney to run as V.P. in the famous Bush vs. Gore contest, which Dick finally agrees too after convincing George (“Jr.”) to let him handle the more “mundane” aspects of the Presidency (augmented by fly-fishing-shots of actual-angler-Cheney reeling in his catch, followed by another fantasy scene where Dick and Lynne get Shakespearian in bed, spouting insidious dialogue akin to Macbeth), which turns out to be practically everything especially as the ever-widening War on Terror requires Sec. of State Colin Powell (Tyler Perry)—by now Rumsfeld’s back in as Sec. of Defense, along with other “neocon” (sadly, this loaded term’s now so embedded in our language it doesn’t even warrant a spellcheck) warmongers who outflank Bush’s direct advisors—to argue at the U.N. in 2003 for invading Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein’s use of WMDs (no spellcheck there, either, along with no WMDs in Iraq), despite Powell’s personal reservations such weapons even exist. (While I won’t offer an opinion on a related issue, the film clearly implies ISIS comes into existence during this time because of the Cheney gang’s flimsy argument a key terrorist was being housed in Iraq, seemingly verifying that country’s involvement with the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.; such “celebrity status” then led this previously-modest-group to evolve into the fierce ISIS force still creating chaotic disturbances in the Mideast.) Despite the U.S.-led-coalition’s military victories in Iraq, American attitudes eventually sour on the war, leading to Rumsfeld’s firing, then Cheney’s quite-low-approval-ratings by the time of Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential victory.
⇒Back in private life for the last decade, Cheney’s near death from his latest heart attack until a donor heart miraculously appears, courtesy of an Afghanistan-Iraq vet (fictional), Kurt (Jesse Plemons)—who’s narrated a lot of the film until his sudden demise in a bicycling accident—bringing Dick back to good health (much to Kurt's disgust) so he could support daughter Liz's (Lily Rabe) 2012 election as WY’s sole U.S. Representative (realities of population distribution), opposing same-sex marriage in the process, leading to bitter conflict with sister Mary (who no longer seems to have Dad's empathetic support). We now are truly heading toward the film’s end with a Cheney TV interview, which abruptly shifts to direct address from him to the movie theater audience as he turns from the scene’s camera to confront us with his defiant, no-regrets attitudes about how he still believes everything he ever did in public office was right, in keeping with his intentions to protect us naïve citizens from dangers we can barely comprehend (obviously reminding me of Marine Col. Nathan Jessup‘s [Jack Nicholson] similar furious assertion toward Navy interrogator Lt. Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee [Tom Cruise] that “You can’t handle the truth!” [implying we pampered, protected civilians can’t understand what a dedicated military man must enforce on our behalf, in defense of his order to kill a “soft” Marine] at the climax of A Few Good Men [Rob Reiner, 1992]).⇐
⇒Cheney sarcastically says “Thank you” for our supposed acceptance of his rationale as the film flows into its actual final credits. However, these are interrupted (just as the phony ones were about an hour earlier), this time by a scene of the same focus group of citizens who’d been polled—also orchestrated in their opinions—back in 2003 to help drum up support for the invasion of Iraq. This time, however, this situation enters meta-territory as one of the group suddenly complains about how Vice is just a bunch of liberal bias, leading to an argument with another member of the group who criticizes Trump (not by name but with an reference similar to Spike Lee’s renaming of our current Prez as “Agent Orange”), leading to an angry rebuttal from the “liberal bias” guy, then a violent confrontation between the 2 of them. We then cut away to the credits' true conclusion.*⇐
*Among newsreel footage (such as Reagan having the solar panels removed from the White House roof put there by Carter) used to emphasize the content of various acted scenes as well as other rapid scripted encounters, there are brief references to other items tainted with Cheney’s bloody fingerprints such as political scandals involving Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson, John Yoo, and Abu Ghraib prison, as well as the hunting accident where clumsy-marksman-Dick accidentally shot, badly injured Harry Whittington yet this hunting-buddy ended up apologizing “for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this week.” I’m numb from all this Cheney b.s. so feel free to look up any of these people or situations if you wish to explore more about them.
So What? As also noted in my next review below, it would have been difficult for me to not like Vice given how much I detest the politics, policies, personality of Dick Cheney (loving [or possibly hypocritical] father that he may be). McKay certainly delivers everything I’d initially hoped for in a critique of this power-driven-megalomaniac, except this film’s clearly not the ongoing comedy I’d been led to expect (ultimately, not a failing), based on the way it’s been promoted as well as its inclusion in the Golden Globes’ category of Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy. Of course, I often marvel at the Globes’ generous definitions of both “Musical” and “Comedy” given how this year’s groupings, for example, put both Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer; review in our November 7, 2018 posting) and A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper; review in our October 11, 2018 posting) into their top Motion Picture-Drama category, along with Cooper and Lady Gaga as nominees for Best Performance by an Actor (or Actress) in a Motion Picture-Drama (when I think you could easily argue both of these movies as musicals, given how integral song lyrics-as-dialogue along with impactful stage performances define both of these narratives), while their Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy category contains just 1 legitimate musical (Mary Poppins Returns [Rob Marshall; review in our January 2, 2019 posting]) while their “comedies”—Crazy Rich Asians (John M. Chu; review in our August 30, 2018 posting), The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos; review in our December 12, 2018 posting), Green Book (Peter Farrelly; review in our November 29, 2018 posting—glad to see it take some trophies at the ceremony but I disagree on 2 of its 3 wins, as if they care what I think), and Vice (along with some Best Actor/Actress noms from some of these also; more Globe details in the Related Links section far below)—do contain some well-earned-laughs each, yet, to me, they’re generally more serious in tone than how I view more defendable, recognizable comedic-structures.
If there’s a justifiable need to separate out comedies and musicals from dramas (admittedly, the former pair don’t win many Best Picture Oscars, but entrenched-drama-favoritism hasn’t prevented triumphs such as Annie Hall [Woody Allen, 1977] or Chicago [Rob Marshall, 2002] from getting their deserved honors) then I’d at least like to see such comedy nominees more comfortably considered as fully humorous like Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938), Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959), Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974), Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1997), Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)—or even 2018’s The Death of Stalin (Armondo Iannucci; review in our March 21, 2018 posting), which I’ve considered but hesitantly dropped from my still-evolving 2018 Top 10 list—but I’ll admit if you’re going to try to distinguish comedies from dramas (or justify why something that’s fully driven by music isn’t actually a musical of some sort) you’ll probably need to stretch your rationale if you’re also trying to honor audience/critical favorites (which probably helps the Globes with their awards-show-ratings better than the Oscars, featuring their generally-respectable-but-somewhat-obscure-finalists, although that could change notably in 2019 if the Academy sees fit to include A Star Is Born and Black Panther [Ryan Coogler; review in our February 22, 2018 posting]). Comedy or not—with that mid-film fake ending, the focus group credits scene, the sarcastic tone of the voiceover narration, and the folksy scenes with G.W. Bush making good arguments that at least part of McKay’s script is fully intended for laughs—Vice to me is exactly what I hope to find as my #1 of any given year (especially as it also has nominations from the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America [Original Screenplay]), which I anticipate Vice to be once I’ve seen just a few others (including Polish drama Cold War [Pawel Pawlikowski], biodrama Stan and Ollie [Jon S. Baird]) when they finally open nearby later very soon.
The Golden Globe voters (roughly 88 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press, a small group whose awards shouldn’t logically have such outsize-weight compared to other similar organizations such as the LA Film Critics Association, the NY Film Critics Circle—both of whom chose Roma [Alfonso Cuarón; review in our January 2, 2019 posting] as Best Film—or even the National Board of Review [who picked Green Book as Best Film] but whose national exposure through a major network, prime-time TV broadcast seems to disproportionately impact Oscar nominations) initially appeared to agree with me on the high quality of Vice (1 of only 6 films I’ve rated at 4½ stars in 7 years of reviews for this blog [also just 6 films at 5 stars; see the Summary of Two Guys Film Reviews in Related Links for details]), giving it their most noms at 6 (in addition to Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, there were also nods for Best Director and Best Screenplay for McKay, Best Performance(s) by an Actor(/)Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for Rockwell and Adams [well-deserved for both; hopefully, Oscar folks will concur], Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy for Bale). However, only Bale prevailed (again, see below in Related Links for other Globe victors), with Bale and Adams (respectively, for leading and supporting roles) also nominated by the Screen Actors Guild, so, like the upcoming Oscar choices, we’ll just have to wait to see how the actual peers of these performers judge their depictions in this film. For me, though, the total experience was an outstanding combination of history (using newsreel footage at times), satire, unexpected-but-marvelously-effective-elements, a somewhat-complicated-but-easily-flowing structure, superb acting by all those involved (especially the various nominees so far, along with Carell who’s worthy of consideration but consistently's overshadowed by Rockwell), an amazing physical transformation by Bale who literally disappears into the image and mannerisms of Cheney as the character ages through a stunning weight-gain/makeup job demonstrating this superb actor’s full dedication to his craft, along with relevant information for those of us concerned about how dangerous a (current) imperial Presidency can be, verifying how egomaniacal actions of a Chief Executive (even a behind-the-scenes-one like Cheney) can lead to the chain-reaction of a falling-dominoes-event-cluster we must never assume “can’t happen here.”
Bottom Line Final Comments: Furthering my disconnection from how others are perceiving Vice when the time comes to actually award various trophies (or announced decisions for the vast number of critics’ groups who don’t actually provide any hardware to accompany their winners’-tallies), not only did Vice lose in 5 of the 6 contests it was nominated for at the Golden Globes (I was delighted to see Bale win; so far he’s my choice for the Best Actor Oscar, more on that as I see the final other possible contenders) but also my probable “best of 2018” choice flies in the face of the critical establishment as a whole where Vice got only 63% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes (among writers I tend to trust, Kenneth Turin [Los Angeles Times] says “The fun of watching ‘Vice’ is not in having your preconceptions appealed to or assaulted, but in enjoying the rousingly cinematic way the story has been told,” yet James Berardinelli [at ReelViews] counters, stating “Well-researched documentaries have already examined nearly every angle of the Bush/Cheney era and Vice doesn’t offer much that’s new or compelling”), a 61% average score at Metacritic, while box-office results after 2 weeks in release are decent but not impressive either, with about $29.8 million at the domestic (U.S.-Canada) till. Still, I’m used to being out of sync with how the collective critical community makes some of their decisions—not on the whole where I’m often in agreement with either RT or MC (hard to do it with both as their results, unlike with Vice, are often different enough that my singular-stars-rating can’t span their divide [as you can note below regarding On the Basis of Sex]) but with individual situations where I’m usually much more supportive, as with Vice, or occasionally where I find myself unable to get on the bandwagon, as with The Favourite where my 3½ stars (mostly for the overall quality of the acting) pales in comparison with RT’s 94% positive reviews, MC’s 91% average score. As for my scant selections for 4½- or 5-star-films (with 4 of the 12—all in the 5-star-group—being re-releases of true classics from yesteryears), only 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013; review in our November 14, 2013 posting) and Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015; review in our November 19, 2015 posting) got Oscar’s Best Picture award while just 2 of my other 6 high-value-choices were even nominated for that prestigious prize. Still, with all that as background, I’m quite comfortable if I end up with Vice as my #1 for 2018, even if I’m out in the wilderness a bit (no surprise) making that (notable) oddball choice.
As all you Two Guys in the Dark regular readers know (OK, I have no idea who may be regulars, but our most recent monthly total from Google shows a continuing steady rise up to 21,045 so I hope some of you visit our site on at least a frequent basis; whether we’ll ever match our all-time high of 80,223 [from March 2018] or not is anybody’s guess, but we do appreciate all of you who read—or just access—our postings, no matter how often), I like to end my reviews with a Musical Metaphor, a final look at whatever’s just been analyzed but from the perspective of my equally-beloved-aural-arts. In the case of Vice I was easily led to the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” (from their 1968 Beggars Banquet album) because in my totally-biased, completely-partisan opinion Dick Cheney’s the most evil person who’s ever had so much control in the upper echelons of U.S.A. government in my lengthy (71 years) lifetime. (I can offer other adjectives for actual Presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump, but for me Cheney’s the franchise MVP for “evil.”) Oddly enough, I chose my song while in the sauna last Sunday afternoon having not yet seen the Golden Globes telecast where I now know Bale thanked Satan for inspiring his rendition of Cheney so it’s clear he and I think alike. To further this storyline, the Church of Satan (an atheist group) is in support of Bale for his statement, not because they see Satan as a grotesque evil spirit but rather as a symbol of “pride, liberty and individualism,” so they honor Bale’s victory as indicative of his talent (I agree with them there) which they see in anyone as being inspired by Satan. I, however, am thinking more along the lines of what I’m sure Bale actually intended, especially because that Washington Post link cites famous progeny Congresswoman Liz Cheney and evangelist Franklin Graham with negative comments about Satan. I realize the Stones song is about the Ruler of Hell, not any human comparison, but from what I understand secondhand about Dick Cheney (with eternal thanks I’ve never had to encounter or work with him in person) I think he easily fits the description of someone who’d say “So if you meet me, have some courtesy Have some sympathy, and some taste Use all your well-learned politesse Or I’ll lay your soul to waste.” With all that in mind, here’s Mick Jagger strutting his stuff (so to speak) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRXGsPBU V5g (a 2006 live performance in Zilker Park, Austin TX I just had to use given all the time I spent at that place in my childhood and college days but mostly in the frigid waters of the Barton Springs pool rather than at a world-class-concert, not part of the offerings there back in those much earlier days [although, unbeknownst to me at the time, Dick Cheney was already in the process of honing his disruptive skills under the tutelage of Donald Rumsfeld, 2 demons from the same fiery furnace]).
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder) rated PG-13
Here again is a big-budget-film “inspired by a true story” of a living person, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but, unlike the RGB documentary released earlier this year, this docudrama focuses on her law school years, early collaborations with husband Marty Ginsburg, and her first major case beginning a fabulous legal career pursuing gender equality.
Here’s the trailer:
Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
As with Vice, I’ve had to be critically-cautious with On the Basis of Sex (especially in awarding 4 stars; as such, it probably deserves more than a Short Takes summary, but I’ve already rambled on long enough about Vice so I'll try to master "concise") to not let my emotional response to what this film presents (with a particular fondness for actual Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as well as the gender-equality-issues her character supports in this film, then through many cases of her long career as chronicled in the documentary RBG [Betsy West, Julie Cohen; review in our May 17, 2018 posting] from last summer) cloud my somewhat-objective-judgment (admitting subjective reactions impact any form of arts criticism, no matter how an individual reviewer may try to argue otherwise) of what’s actually occurring on screen here, with the assumption the filmmakers needed to produce a narrative that doesn’t overemphasize her legitimate achievements in the courtroom as the products of some sort of legal “Wonder Woman” while appreciating the script was written by her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman (with some oversight from her that it not veer into hagiography), so I’d hope that much of what I saw is more factual—although surely romanticized somewhat for Hollywood marketing needs—than the flights of fancy cleverly woven into Vice. Unlike Vice, though—or even RBG—On the Basis … doesn’t cover nearly as much of Bader Ginsburg’s life, concentrating just on the years from 1956 when “Kiki” (Felicity Jones) was a first-year-student—1 of only 9 women at the time having to defend, at a “welcoming" dinner, their acceptance which prevented the enrollment of even more men at Harvard Law School (husband Martin Ginsburg [Armie Hammer] in his second year then)—to 1972 for the conclusion of her first major case at Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (here’s considerably more detail on this case and other aspects of her career, as a start toward a lot of easy research on her life if you wish). In the years leading up to this significant assault on the many U.S. laws recognizing male prominence over females (mirroring such a reality in our society and its antecedents for millennia) we see how she managed the Herculean task of maintaining her own studies, caring for Marty when he came down with testicular cancer, taking notes in his classes as well as typing up his assignments, all the while raising their baby daughter, Jane. Marty recovers (only a 5% chance), gets his degree followed by a great tax law job in NYC, but Ruth has to finish her degree at Columbia because her Law School Dean, Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterston)—shown to be an unrepentant chauvinist in later scenes—refuses to allow the courses she’d take when moving with her family to Manhattan to count toward his “proper” Harvard degree.
Despite finishing at the top of her class (making her an unwelcome “ball buster,” according to one condescending-law-firm-interviewer) she can’t find work as a lawyer during this male-dominant-era so she begrudgingly takes a faculty post at Rutgers Law School in somewhat-nearby-NJ, increasingly frustrated by the sexism around her but unable to challenge it in court until 1970 when Marty tells her of Charles Moritz who was denied a tax deduction for taking care of his ailing mother, a benefit he’d have received if he were a woman rather than an unmarried man. ⇒The rest of the film involves the Ginsburgs taking on Moritz’s trial appeal with encouragement from civil rights advocate Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates), support from ACLU Legal Director Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux). U.S. Dept. of Justice lawyer James Bozarth (Jack Reynor)—with Griswold’s help—is adamant that forcing gender equality for Moritz would lead to unraveling of all the laws privileging men over women—“to protect the family”—which seemed to be a slam-dunk-argument based on judicial precedent. However, despite her initial nervousness in presenting her Constitutional argument on Moritz’s behalf (after Marty began with tax arguments against the then-current-wording of IRS Code section 214, with the 3 male judges questioning him longer than he’d anticipated within their assigned-30-minutes) she reserved 4 min. for rebuttal to the government, then found her calmly-fiery-voice which must have been convincing as the ruling was 3-0 in Moritz’s favor.⇐ In my opinion, the team behind On the Basis … managed to hit that delicate balance of showing Ruth for the brilliant legal mind she possesses (along with passionate intentions in challenging discriminatory laws—many of which she also managed to undo in an ongoing career in the courtroom working with the ACLU until appointed in 1980 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, then to the Supreme Court in 1993) as well as being a human being confronting faults and weaknesses, primarily a very difficult mother-daughter-relationship with increasingly-radicalized-teenager Jane (who finally finds rapport with Mom during the Moritz case, eventually goes on to get her own law degree at Harvard, is now a Law Professor at Columbia—just as Ruth long ago became tenured at both Rutgers and Columbia). At the film’s conclusion we begin a shot from behind Jones walking up the long flight of steps to the Supreme Court building, then a position-cut to the front showing actual Justice Ginsburg entering those hallowed chambers.
As said before, I’m walking a fine line here between semi-objectively (the best I can ever do) evaluating this film on its own merits and easily applauding any cinematic tribute to one of my few heroes on the current Court (with true concern her latest cancer operation is finally taking a toll on this 85-year-old-body, causing her to miss this week her first in-Court-arguments in 25 years), but—even though I admit it’s still a bit of a reality check to watch a scene where it’s clear what’s going to happen when this now-judicial-icon falls into bed with her beloved-husband so many decades ago—I had to decide if this is truly an inspirational film for the purpose of advocating much-needed-gender-equality in a society where aspects of ages-old-patriarchy (at best) still stifle the hopes, ambitions, careers, public respect—lives overall—of many women long after the events of this story or whether it’s just another “liberal-bias” tale intended for the “Notorious RBG” (see the documentary review) choir. For me, any sense of softening-romanticism invariably floating into a Hollywood movie can be set aside as a problem as long as the intended impact comes through in a sincere manner, which I feel it does here (along with negated concerns about a Brit successfully portraying a Brooklyn Jew—Jones succeeds quite well as far as I’m concerned, as does Californian Hammer [who does have paternal Jewish heritage], also playing a Brooklynite), although my critical brethren are largely back in Vice-territory with 70% positive reviews at RT, a 60% average MC score; audiences haven’t had much of a chance to see this uplifting film, playing at present in only 112 domestic venues, raising only $3.7 million so far in ticket sales after 2 weeks in release so if you’re interested you might start keeping an eye out for video options (as Aquaman [James Wan; review in our January 2, 2019 posting] continues to dominate the new year [and screen availability], now up to $945.8 million worldwide, $262.6 of that domestically). Just like with Vice, I may be a bit out in left-field (where I couldn’t catch anything if I tried) with my solid support for On the Basis of Sex (no apologies in either case, though), but at least my Musical Metaphor came easily with Kesha’s “Here Comes the Change” (from the film’s soundtrack) at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=tYH9KJ_T6XM (the official music video, out last fall with a strong message to challenge the status quo by voting), a simple but determined anthem stressing “Here comes the change We’re coming of age This is not a phase Here comes, here comes the change.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributed to a lot of positive change for U.S. society, with this film successfully celebrating her determination gender equality’s our Constitutional right, not merely the result of a social negotiation.
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2018’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 24, 2019 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2018 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists. You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).
To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the current Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2018.
Here’s more information about Vice:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz8qRxVOkrs (10:00 interview with actors Christian Bale, Amy Adams and screenwriter-director Adam McKay [audio a bit low at times on the Bale and McKay segments]) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bjk3pe8jDD8 (4:41 interview with Bale on what he hoped to convey about Dick Cheney and what audiences will get from this film)
Here’s more information about On the Basis of Sex:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZJbUdSOgGE (5:00 interview with screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman [Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nephew]) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA22U1u5i48 (11:45 interview with actors Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux)
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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. (But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)
By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
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Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 21,045 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week: