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Non-Review Review: Vice

Vice feels at once like an extension of both Adam McKay’s work on The Big Short and recent innovations on the biographic picture format codified by I, Tonya.

At its core, Vice is the biography of a man whose defining attribute is how unassuming he appears. The opening text lays out the challenges facing the production team in trying to structure a biographical film around a man who has spent his life lurking at the edge of the frame, how hard it can be to extrapolate his inner workings from the outline of his journey through the world. Dick Cheney worked very hard to erase his own footprint; it is with no small irony that the film notes how thoroughly Cheney cleared his own email servers.

No need to be a Dick about it.

The film’s anonymous narrator, himself framed as perfectly average individual, repeatedly stresses how “ordinary” the central character presents himself. At one point, he advises a former colleague that the new standard operating procedure is “softly, softly.” Similarly, the documentary acknowledges the lacunas in the narrative that is constructing, how difficult it is – to evoke a different Shakespearean play than he chooses to quote – “to see the mind’s construction in the face.”

The result is fascinating, a character study that becomes an exploration of systemic flaws and inequities. Vice is a story about a man who appears to have no fixed political beliefs, no strong political identity, no clear political voice. Instead, Vice is a study of the politics of power as politics of itself, a tale about a man whose central political motivation is not ideological or existential, but purely practical. Vice is the tale of the will to power of a perfectly mundane and average individual, and the carnage wrought on his journey towards that power.

Vice City.

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Non-Review Review: Anchorman 2 – The Legend Continues

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is perhaps twenty minutes too long, and indulges in a little bit too much of the nostalgia common in comedy sequels during its final act, but it’s a movie with its heart in the right place. More message-driven than its direct predecessor, and much more of an ensemble piece, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is an enjoyable example of the sorts of cringe comedy that made the original such a cult classic. While it might not measure up perfectly, it ranks quite highly among the annals of comedy sequels.

Jumping for joy?

Jumping for joy?

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Non-Review Review: Hansel & Gretel – Witch Hunters

There is a gem of an idea buried in Hansel & Gretel. Indeed, there isn’t too much excavation required to recover it. It lurks near the surface, visible to the naked eye. What would happen if you took a fairy tale and reworked it as a bombastic action adventure, complete with the clichés, archetypes and gimmicks you associate with such films? Hansel & Gretel veers on wry self-parody at points, as if an acerbic take on Hollywood’s fondness for “gritty” reimaginings of familiar concepts. With producers including Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, it’s not too hard to believe that this subversive exploration of genre tropes was explicitly intended as a sly joke at the expense of these sorts of nonsensical and gratuitously violent and aggressive takes on old classics. There are moments where Hansel & Gretel flirts with genuinely post-modern greatness.

Unfortunately, there’s also a sense that the film lacks the will to follow through on that somewhat sarcastic premise, and the result is that the shrewder gags are undermined by a surreal earnestness that seems to ask the audience to accept Hansel & Gretel for nothing more than what it is. The result is a discordant and scattered piece of film, one that seems almost at war with itself.

The hottest adaptation of Hansel & Gretel you have ever seen...

The hottest adaptation of Hansel & Gretel you have ever seen…

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Non-Review Review: Talladega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is not as good as Anchorman. That said, this reunion of Will Ferrell with Adam McKay has its charm – helped along by the fact that its comedy is framed inside a wonderful little story, and acted out by all manner of skilled performers. I think, if anything, the movie stands as a testament to the huge difference that a sympathetic and engaging protagonist and strong supporting cast can make to a comedy.

A breath of fresh air...

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Non-Review Review: Step-Brothers

Is just me, or are the Judd Atapow machine comedies getting crasser and crasser? Sure, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up weren’t exactly incredibly clean pieces of comedy, but they certanly demonstrated far more maturity than most of the recent output from that particular comedy factory – for better or worse. It’s just hard to find bodily function jokes and profanity funny for their own sake, and – if that is the measure of humour these days – that sort of humour is a dime-a-dozen these days. That’s not to say that Step-Brothers is entirely without charm (it has more than a few engaging moments), but just that it seems to think that appealing to the lowest common denominator is a legitimate form of comedy when it can’t think of anything better to do.

Brothers in arms...

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