‘Vice’ Examines The Most Powerful Vice President of Them All

vice movie poster

“Is it better to be loved or feared?”

“I would rather be feared because fear lasts longer than love.”

-from “A Bronx Tale”

There is a key scene in Adam McKay’s “Vice” which serves as a reminder of how Dick Cheney was the most powerful Vice-President who ever lived. It takes place on September 11, 2001, and Cheney and the key members of George W. Bush’s administration are gathered together in room, but Bush himself is away from the White House. During a conversation with a military general, Cheney orders any suspicious aircraft to be shot down. Another person quickly raises an objection, but Cheney simply raises his hand ever so slightly to silence her. He doesn’t have to yell at or ask her to be quiet; just a simple movement was all that was needed to remind everyone in the room who was the one with all the power. Cheney instilled fear in everyone, even George W.

Christian Bale goes to great lengths in transforming his body into the characters he portrays, and his performance as Cheney will definitely go down as one of his memorable to say the least. There were times where I kept waiting for Bale to raise his voice a little higher as the monotone he was speaking at threatened to be more grating than the voice he gave Batman. But again, Cheney never has to speak up to get his point across. It reminded me of what Henry Hill said about Paulie Cicero in “Goodfellas:”

“Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”

Bale put on 45 pounds for to play Cheney, and he gets the former Vice-President’s mannerisms down perfectly to where you completely forget it is an English actor playing this American politician and one-time CEO of Haliburton. It is such a mesmerizing portrait as he makes us see how slowly but surely Cheney got seduced into the realm of power hungry politicians whether it was serving under his mentor Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) or being manipulated by his wife Lynne (Amy Adams). But even better is the way Bale, as Cheney, subtly worms his way into becoming George W. Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) VP to where he has more control over certain areas of government than Bush, as he is portrayed here, would care to have.

The fact we have any kind of biopic on Dick Cheney is astonishing as he and Lynne remain very secretive about their lives to where McKay employs a disclaimer at the film’s beginning which is as wickedly clever as the one Steven Soderbergh gave “The Informant.” This disclaimer ends with McKay saying he and his fellow collaborators “did our fucking best,” and I guess that’s all we can ask for.

It’s no surprise the director and co-writer of “The Big Short” has chosen an unorthodox approach to making this biopic as it shifts back and forth in time to Cheney’s college days where he spent more time getting drunk than studying or playing football. McKay also has Jesse Plemons playing Kurt, an everyman narrator who says he has a close connection to Cheney, a connection which will eventually be made clear. Throughout, we are shown images from real life which, if they haven’t already, should forever be burned into your conscious memory. Among them is former President Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention where he vows to “make America great again.” From here on out, this is a phrase which should forever live in infamy.

One of “Vice’s” most inspired moments comes when McKay begins the end credits midway through the film. What’s especially hilarious about this is how it reflects the conclusion many of us would have preferred Cheney’s to have had in American politics; the kind where he never would have become Vice President. But those familiar with American politics and the Bush Administration cannot and should not expect a happy ending here. Cheney left a lot of damage in his wake, and his political power still remains constant even though he no longer holds public office.

Indeed, Dick Cheney is a tough nut to crack as “Vice” can only get so far under his skin to where you wonder if this man has anything resembling a soul to explore. As the film goes on, he is shown increasingly to be a heartless individual, both figuratively and literally speaking (he did have a heart transplant), and he comes across as such a cold human being to where his muted reactions to the multiple heart attacks shouldn’t be seen as much of a surprise. The fact he even noticed he was having them is more surprising.

Where McKay really succeeds is in showing those closest in Cheney’s inner circle, among which is his wife Lynne. Amy Adams gets the opportunity to play a Lady Macbeth-like character much like the one she played in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” and she is fantastic from start to finish. Adams makes Lynne into the key motivator for Dick’s ascent into American politics to where she fearlessly campaigns for her husband while he is laid up in the hospital. Lynne recognized she lived in a time where she could not do all the things she wanted because of her gender, and she finds immense satisfaction through her husband’s rise to power. Adams is brilliant in portraying Lynne’s fascination with the political world and in showing her quick concerns when anything threatens Dick’s standing in Washington D.C.

Another great performance comes from Steve Carell as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Carell makes Rumsfeld into a gleefully cynical politician whose values have long since been corrupted by the quest for power. Just watch when Cheney asks him what they are supposed to be believe in. The gut-busting laugh Rumsfeld gives off speaks volumes as it illustrates exactly where his interests lie, and it is not with working class Americans.

As for Sam Rockwell, his portrayal of George W. Bush feels pitch perfect as he portrays a man whom even Cheney can see is more interested in pleasing his father when it comes to running for President. After watching Will Ferrell’s classic impersonation on “Saturday Night Live” and Josh Brolin’s portrayal of him in Oliver Stone’s “W,” it seemed all too difficult for any other actor to offer a unique interpretation of this unfortunate White House resident. Then again, Rockwell proves once again what a brilliant actor he is as he captures George W.’s mannerisms while humanizing this man in a way I did not expect or was ever in a hurry to see.

I was very much entertained by “Vice,” but I did come out of it feeling like it could have dug deeper into Dick Cheney’s life. Also, the nonlinear storytelling format is at times jarring as we are thrust from one moment in history to another with little warning. Then again, in retrospect, I wonder what more could have been said about Cheney as he seems to be this malignant vessel of a human being who is never has the look of someone who could ever be fully satisfied by anything. The only positive thing I saw of him was his acceptance of his daughter Mary’s (played by Alison Pill) sexuality when she comes out as a lesbian. If only Cheney had treated all Americans like they were Mary, things would have been much different than they ended up being. Of course, when his other daughter Liz runs for public office…

One of the last moments of “Vice” has Bale breaking the fourth wall as Cheney where he looks directly into the camera and tells all those listening he is apologizing for who he is or anything he has done. I’m fairly certain Cheney has not made any statement like this on camera in real life, but the speech Bale gives as him rings frighteningly true. Considering how complicit the former Vice-President was in war crimes which included torture and sending American troops into a war based on false evidence, he has a lot to apologize for, let alone answer to. But let’s face it, he’s never going to apologize. Ever. “Vice” has as many funny moments as it does haunting ones, and this speech is especially haunting because, let’s face it, he will die before he ever considers apologizing. Heck, he almost did.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’ Gives Empathy to an Unfortunate President of the United States

W movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008.

You really have to admire what Oliver Stone pulled off here as he himself has been a big critic of the Bush Administration (and who isn’t these days?). Like “Nixon,” Stone has given us an empathetic portrait of an infamous President and tears down the stereotypes we have about this particular person so we can see him up close for who he really is. It is not a Bush bashing piece, but that would have been pointless anyway because we bash George W. Bush on a regular basis. With “W.,” Stone has given us what is essentially a father-son story as George W. is a man who spent the majority of his life trying to get his father’s, President George H.W. Bush, respect. It is clear from the start Bush Sr. respects Jeb more than he who bears his first and last name, and this leads George W. to do things he would never have done otherwise, such as run for political office.

“W.” covers George W. Bush from his days at a Yale fraternity hazing to the end of his first term as President. His second term is not covered here which is just as well as we are deep in the muck when it comes to political and financial affairs. It flashes back and forth in time from when he is President to his days as a rootless young man who is unsure of what he wants to do with his life other than party and get drunk. The movie does have the feel of a comedy, but it gets more serious in other moments. The tone Stone sets here is not always clear, and it does take away from the movie a bit. Still. it kept me engrossed as it covered the life of a man I can’t wait to see leave the White House.

George W. Bush is played here by Josh Brolin, and he had a great streak last year with “Grindhouse,” “American Gangster” and of course “No Country for Old Men.” Christian Bale was originally cast in this role, but he dropped out at the last minute due to the makeup effects not working to his liking. It’s just as well because Brolin looks like a much better fit being from Texas and all. Playing Bush to a serious degree is a difficult challenge to say the least because we have long since gotten used to seeing him being lampooned on “Saturday Night Live,” and as a result, we cannot help but look at Brolin’s performance as a caricature of George W. But in the large scheme of things, Brolin manages to make the role his own, and it becomes more than a simple impersonation which was obviously not what he was going for in the first place.

In fact, Stone did a great job of casting as he got actors who don’t simply impersonate the people we know so well, but who instead embody and inhabit them. In the process, the actors force you to look at some of these personalities a bit differently than we have in the past. Getting past the preconceptions we have of people is always tough, but it is at times necessary in order for us to better understand how certain individuals, particularly those with the most power, tick.

One actor I was most impressed with here was Richard Dreyfuss who plays Vice President Dick Cheney. Dreyfuss has a great and frightening scene where, in a private conference with all the heads of state, he makes a case for attacking Iraq and Iran in order to get control over their vast oil supplies and keep dictators like Saddam Hussein from coming down on us ever again. The one moment which sent a chill down everyone’s spine is when someone asks Cheney what the exit strategy out of Iraq is, and he replies, “There is no exit strategy. We stay there forever.”

Everyone in the theater was frozen in silence as this is the one thing we keep begging future politicians to do, provide an exit strategy. Dreyfuss plays the scene not at all as a villain, but as a man who convinces the Commander in Chief of why he sees this path of action is the right one for the administration to take.

Another really good performance comes from Toby Jones (“The Mist”) who plays the master of smear campaigns, Karl Rove. Jones ends up making Rove seem both charismatic and likable, and he also subtly brings out the emotional manipulator in the man who succeeds in getting under George W.’s skin to make him the puppet he is today. I hate Rove for everything he has done, but Jones succeeds in making us admire him, begrudgingly so, for being so fiendishly clever. Rove’s powers of manipulation are ever so subtle to the point where we barely notice them, and Jones gets this across perfectly and with amazing subtlety.

As Bush Sr., James Cromwell makes us see that this particular U.S. President is fully aware of how his children are at a huge disadvantage. While he had to work hard to get to where he ended up at, his offspring had everything handed to them on a silver platter. Bush Sr. obviously wants the best for his children, but in seeing to his black sheep of a son’s needs and troubles, he comes to see he has done more harm than good.

As the movie goes on, Cromwell goes from presenting the elder Bush as being terribly disappointed in George W. to being deeply concerned over his son’s decisions about Iraq. We see Bush Sr. the end of the first Gulf War discussing his reasoning as to why they shouldn’t go after Saddam as it might make the dictator a hero in the eyes of many. Indeed, Stone makes us sympathize with the senior Bush in ways I never expected to. The moment where we see Bush lose the Presidential election to Bill Clinton, I actually found myself saddened as it comes across how there were many opportunities which would never be realized. This was shocking to me because I really wanted to see Clinton beat Bush, and I was thrilled he did.

In the end, however, the movie really belongs to Brolin who gives us a George W. Bush that is seemingly well intentioned and yet hopelessly naïve. You may not completely blame him for all the troubles going on in the world right now, but you can never excuse him for not taking more responsibility for his actions. We see Bush embrace God and become a born-again Christian, and while this helps him with his drinking problem, it also gives him blind faith which will prove to be his flaw as a person which will eventually undo him. Brolin makes Bush goofy yet well intentioned, and he makes clear the heartache he feels as he cannot escape the shadow of his famous father.

Stone’s “W.” is not the classic political movie “JFK” was, but it is effectively made and shows how we need to understand the human side of those we brand as criminals in order to get at what makes them act the way they do. This is an important lesson to remember as we go on in life.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ is Michael Moore’s Angriest and Most Vital Documentary to Date

Fahrenheit 119 teaser poster

It’s bad enough Donald Trump is still living in the White House, so making a movie about the damage he is doing is pointless, right? Well, Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9,” you may be surprised to learn, is not just about Trump. In fact, we only see Trump on screen for 20 minutes at the most here. Instead, Moore is far keener to explore the state of America and how it led to the former host of “The Apprentice” to being elected to the highest office in the country. It has been almost two years, but even Moore still asks the question many of us asked on election night, “How the fuck did this happen?” What results is Moore’s angriest documentary yet, and one of the most vital he has ever made.

Like Dinesh D’Souza’s propaganda colostomy bag “Death of a Nation,” Moore takes us back to the months and days leading up to the election as we see George Clooney declaring Donald Trump will never be President, and media pundits laughing at the thought of it ever becoming a reality. Like many, I assumed Hillary had the election in the bag, but Moore knew better than anyone Trump would end up in the White House, and he takes us right back to the night of November 8, 2016 which started out with hope and euphoria, and ended with utter devastation as a certain victory proved to be anything but certain, and the man who captured the Presidency did not look all that excited about his win. Moore is in a perfect position to tell us “I told you so” in this documentary, but I appreciated the fact he did not.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” is of course a play on the title of another Michael Moore documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but it also refers to the date of November 11, 2016 in which the Electoral College, a political body which truly needs to be abolished, certified Trump’s victory after bringing in their ballots to Congress in containers which Moore loving describes as “baby coffins.” The fact Hillary steamrolled Trump in the popular election by almost 3 million votes did not matter as the Electoral College had the final say, and the world just had to live with it.

Moore does spend some time on Trump, reminding us of the unhealthy and troubling attraction he has to his daughter Ivanka, of how he walked in on Miss America contestants while they were naked, and of how he gleefully plays the media for suckers. There’s a montage of a press conference he arrived very late to, and we watch as the media outlets continue their coverage while endlessly waiting for him to appear. As tempting as it is to call Trump stupid, he is very smart in the ways of manipulation, and those at major networks (Les Moonves in particular) revel in the amount of money they are making off of his campaign.

But soon afterwards, Moore switches gears as he knows much of the information he is presenting us is nothing new, and we have certainly become attuned to Trump committing his crimes in plain sight. So instead, Moore focuses on the state of our union leading up to his shocking victory, and he makes us realize how we should have seen this coming as his political campaign was not as unique as we believed.

One of Moore’s big targets is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder whose actions in part led to the poisoning of Flint’s water supply and its residents developing high levels of lead, the kind of mineral which never leaves the body. What I did not realize about Snyder beforehand was how he had no political experience before taking office, and he was best known back then as one of the richest men in America. Moore ponders if Trump looked at what Snyder did, privatizing public services in order to make more money, and used this as one of many excuses to run for President. Looking at Snyder ends up reminding me and others of how Trump was never the first person to get elected despite having no political experience, and we are again made aware of how many Americans continue to vote against their own best interest.

Once again, Moore visits his hometown of Flint, Michigan to observe its still constant decay as it has long since become the town America has forgotten. Residents are eager to move, but no one will buy their homes. Medical professionals and social service workers alert Snyder and his cronies to the water poisoning situation, and they are silenced. Others complain about how high the water bill remains and of having to decide to pay it instead of getting food. Moore’s first documentary, “Roger & Me,” showed Flint at the beginning of its economic devastation, and it is devastating to see the city in an even worse condition now.

But while Moore has the Republicans in his sights, he is not about to leave Democrats off the firing line. Despite supporting the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he doesn’t hesitate to go after them, nor should he. President Obama gets it especially hard as his visit to Flint, Michigan resulting in filling his supporters with hope, and instead leaves them devastated to where they lose faith in the political system. Like Moore, I believe Barack Obama is the greatest American President of my lifetime so far, but the barbs Moore hurls at him here are justified as he attempts to drink a glass of Flint water and instead merely wets his lips with it.

Hillary gets some harsh criticisms thrown her way as well and for good reason. In reviewing her loss, we see the glaring mistakes her campaign made such as not visiting states like Wisconsin, and her ties to Wall Street were impossible to ignore. And yes, there were those damn emails which were brought up constantly. Despite many Americans getting sick of them being brought up, her political opponents never let the subject go.

But perhaps most damming is when Moore reveals how the Democratic National Committee, not Hillary, threw the election to ensure that Bernie Sanders would not get the party’s nomination. In an all-too-brief interview with Moore, Sanders admits the Democrats saw him as big threat to their platform, and had he clinched the nomination, he probably would have won the Presidency. As much as I wanted to believe the DNC would not stoop to such levels, the evidence presented here is impossible to deny. We even see a supporter from a certain state hold up a sign saying how Sanders won all the counties even though its delegates went on to favor Hillary.

But as bleak and angry as “Fahrenheit 11/9” is, there are moments of humor and hope. Moore limits the number of shenanigans this he performs time around, but we do see him trying to maker a citizen’s arrest of Rick Snyder and later spraying his mansion with water from Flint, Michigan. He even pulls an Erin Brockovich on one Snyder’s advisors by inviting him to drink a glass of Flint water, and the man’s reaction is not a big surprise. One of the biggest laughs comes when Moore accuses Gwen Stefani of being the reason why Trump decided to run for President as Trump discovered she was getting paid more for being a judge on “The Voice” than he was for being the host of “The Apprentice.” Granted, this is probably not altogether true, but considering how thin-skinned Trump is, it makes a hilarious amount of sense.

However, Moore makes us see there is still hope for America as we are shown images of its citizens marching against gun violence and in support of underpaid teachers as they are doing what he wants all of us to do, make our voices heard and to do something about our anger. We see people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running for political office out of a need to make things better for Americans and make things like health care available for all. Susan Sarandon remarked recently how the election of Trump has inspired many people of color and different faiths to run for office. I initially rolled my eyes after hearing this, but after watching “Fahrenheit 11/9,” I believe she has a point.

We also see Moore with survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting including David Hogg whose activism has become an inspiration to many horrified by the number of school shootings in the United States which continue to occur with frightening regularity. As teenagers, we become quick to see through the hypocrisy of adults and are much more tuned in to issues many politicians will not even acknowledge. Hogg has taken things further with his fellow classmates as we watch them have an effect on the realm of politics and encouraging others to help bring about a much-needed weapons ban.

I came out “Fahrenheit 11/9” shaken and saddened as, like Moore, I wonder if the democracy Americans continue to fight for ever really existed in the first place. Many of the assertions he makes may not stand up to scrutiny, and the documentary at times seems a bit unfocused, but his point of view remains as strong as ever. His critics will be quick to call this one liberally biased, but Moore shows no real bias here as he shows we are all complicit in America being where it is today, and that we will be even more complicit if we don’t get out the vote in November. After all these years, Moore is still passionate about fighting for America its citizens deserve, and he is not about leave it behind.

And yes, Moore does take the time to make comparisons between Trump and Adolf Hitler. Just keep this in mind: Like Trump and Snyder, Hitler had no political experience when he took office.

* * * * out of * * * *

Michael Moore Unleashes the First Trailer for ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’

Fahrenheit 119 teaser poster

After witnessing the cinematic debacle that was Dinesh D’Souza’s “Death of a Nation,” I am now eager to watch something which looks at the state of America which actually resembles reality. Looks like I will have to wait only a month for it as Michael Moore has released the first trailer for his latest documentary, “Fahrenheit 11/9.” The title alludes of course to “Fahrenheit 9/11” in which Moore attempted to take down George W. Bush and deny him a second term in the White House, but it also alludes to the date on which Donald Trump captured the electoral votes he needed to become President of the United States. In this trailer, Moore asks the question we were all asking on election night in 2016:

“What the fuck happened?”

We are shown scenes of Trump acting irresponsibly during his campaign, scenes you will never see in any D’Souza movie. There is also a moment where we see White Supremacists burning crosses, and these are a group of people who have become far too emboldened during the Trump administration. But despite the images of doom and gloom Moore gives us here, he does appear to offer a glimmer of hope through his interviews with high school shooting survivor and activist David Hogg and progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And let us be clear, Hogg can in no way ever be considered a crisis actor.

Still, there is political consultant Roger Stone who is caught on camera saying, “Try to impeach him, just try. You will have a spasm of violence in this country like you have never seen!” Considering the tragedy this country witnessed in Charlottesville one year ago, this does seem like a promise people like him can deliver on. All the same, we cannot stay silent or back down.

As dark as this documentary may seem, especially with the image of the American flag made out of matches which are quickly lit to form a visual metaphor of what is happening to this nation, Moore looks to be up to his old tricks as he goes after politicians with a truck of polluted water from Flint, Michigan, and this had me laughing quite a bit. I do have to say, however, that the water looks a little too clean to be from Flint.

Granted, “Fahrenheit 9/11” did not keep George W. Bush from being re-elected (if you want to call it that) for a second term, but here’s hoping “Fahrenheit 11/9” succeeds in stopping Trump and his cronies in their traitorous tracks when it opens in theaters on September 21, 2018.

Check out the trailer below.

Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘Death of a Nation’ is Political and Historical Garbage

Death of a Nation movie poster

I couldn’t wait to see this movie. That’s right, I called it a movie, not a documentary. Dinesh D’Souza wants you to believe he’s giving you the god’s honest truth, but when it comes to his movies, he instead gives you a distorted vision of reality which he has put together by cherry-picking facts and presenting a thesis statement which any rational human being can easily disprove. As a result, I have come to enjoy D’Souza’s movies for reasons he did not intend as they prove to be both hilarious and infuriating, and whenever I am not bored to death by the ridiculous cases he lays out for us, the experience of watching them proves to be quite visceral.

D’Souza’s latest political screed is “Death of a Nation,” and it comes with the strange subtitle of, “Can We Save America a Second Time?” From the poster, I assumed the recently pardoned conservative political commentator was going to show us how Donald Trump is the contemporary equivalent of Abraham Lincoln, but he instead veers from this to show us in an ill-fated attempt how Nazis and Democrats were very similar in their economic and social policies. Along with co-director Bruce Schooley and producer Gerald R. Molen, D’Souza employs his usual tactics which include poorly acted and directed historical reenactments as well as scenes of him walking around and visiting locations which played a role in history. And yes, there are scenes of people (in particular, his wife Debbie) singing patriotic songs to an infinitely nauseating effect. What results is a veritable shit sandwich as D’Souza invites us to see history through his eyes as he begs the audience to see how Democrats are the real fascists, not the Republicans.

I can only imagine just how much glee D’Souza and his collaborators had in the editing room as we are shown scenes of well-known personalities like George Clooney saying out loud how there was no way in hell Donald Trump could ever be elected President of the United States. Indeed, I believed, as did many that Hillary Clinton would have an easy path to victory. So, it was a huge shock to the world at large when Trump scored one of the biggest political upsets in American history as he spent so much time giving us every reason not to vote for him. D’Souza presents videos of Americans sobbing at this victory as they believe nothing good will come from it, and you can sense him mocking them without any remorse. This whole montage really acts a porn for conservative who live to drink the tears of liberals.

D’Souza wants us to see the election of Trump as America rising up against liberal tyranny, and he smugly pats himself on the back by saying his movie “Hillary’s America” played a big role in Trump’s victory. Truth be told, Trump won the election by one of the lowest margins ever, Clinton got almost 3 million more votes in the popular election, and the day of his inauguration had one of the lowest turnouts ever. Of course, D’Souza doesn’t bring these facts up as they would easily take away from he sets out to prove and instead shows us images of Americans howling in agony over the host of “The Apprentice” making his new home at the White House instead of Trump Tower.

As for “Hillary’s America,” it simply preached to an audience who never intended to vote for Hillary in the first place, and its biggest triumph came at the Golden Raspberry Awards where it won several accolades including Worst Picture. Please note, it is the first “documentary” to receive this award.

But following this, D’Souza puts his defense of Trump to the side and instead looks at Adolf Hitler and the history of the Nazi party in a hopelessly vain attempt to compare them to Democrats. As he lays out his pathetic case, I got lost in his convoluted logic to where I gave up trying to understand much of what he was trying to get across. The audience I saw it with was small, and an older guy sitting one row ahead of me began to snore quite loudly. What does that tell you?

The actors here are badly directed to say the least, and the one playing Adolf Hitler (Pavel Kriz) barely even looks like the infamous fascist dictator. I guess Martin Wuttke, who played a far more convincing Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” was unavailable, or perhaps he looked at what D’Souza hoped to accomplish with “Death of a Nation” and told him “bitch, please.” Other actors play famous Democrats to where they stare directly into the camera as if to say they know just how evil they are, and it got to where I expected them to sing “Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” by The Geto Boys.

Some scenes end up playing like something out of a sitcom as the actors playing Nazis keep screaming out their lines in an overwrought fashion. But nothing compares to the scene where Nazis break into the apartment of a “brown shirt” Nazi and catch him in bed with another man, highlighting the party’s position against homosexuality. After he is arrested and hauled away, the Nazis look under his bed to find yet another man in the apartment. This threatened to be as hilarious as anything in “Deadpool 2,” and I could barely contain myself while watching this scene as this discovery is presented in such an inescapably absurd fashion.

D’Souza does take the time to interview people like political scientist Robert Paxton, Civil War historian Allen C. Guelzo, sociology professor Stefan Kuhl, and syndicated columnist and investigative journalist Edwin Black to name a few. The interesting thing about these interviews is how the majority of them are shot to where we never see D’Souza and his subject together in the same frame. Seeing this, I cannot help but wonder if D’Souza and his accomplices took the words of his subjects out of context in an effort to add weight to a deeply flawed thesis. This makes me want to know how his subjects thought about how they were portrayed after sat through “Death of a Nation.” There is just too much doubt in the way these interviews are presented which cannot be easily dismissed. At least Michael Moore is smart enough to not make this same mistake in his own movies.

Then there is the interview between D’Souza and white supremacist (or white nationalist if you will) Richard Spencer. As D’Souza fumbles about in his attempts to expose Spencer as a progressive, he discusses how the founders saw government as being the enemy of the people. This is one of “Death of a Nation’s” most jaw-dropping moments as anyone with knowledge of American history will be quick to point out how our founding fathers created a government of, for and by the people. We see Spencer quickly disagreeing with D’Souza over this assessment as even he believes the founding fathers did not see the government as the enemy, and it doesn’t help D’Souza when he gets owned by a White Supremacist.

As “Death of a Nation” rolls on, D’Souza comes to repeat many claims he made in his previous movies. Among them is his assertion that Democrats never switched their political views in the past, and he made this same claim in “Hillary’s America.” When he presented us with this false information originally, we could barely make out the faces of the politicians on the silver screen, and we needed the Hubble telescope to make any of them out. In “Death of a Nation,” we get a better look at those democrats D’Souza was talking about, but it doesn’t change how Democrats or Republicans are no longer the same parties they once were.

When D’Souza finally gets around to defending Trump, he does so by presenting us with scenes of President Lincoln (played by Don Taylor) speaking eloquently and then tells the audience how Trump has the same integrity Lincoln had all those years ago. But considering how Trump has been proven to be very temperamental, has broken many promises he made on the campaign trail, cheated on his wife Melania with Stormy Daniels, has a history of stiffing people he was supposed to pay and, most unforgivably, valued the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over America’s own intelligence community, one has to wonder if D’Souza even knows the meaning of the word integrity. Once again, D’Souza does not acknowledge any of this, and it should not be hard at all to understand why.

D’Souza’s last bit of business is to show how Trump is not a racist, and he does so by showing him at a State of the Union address where he says, “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.” To this, D’Souza replies, would a racist talk like this? Well, there is a slight problem here. While what Trump says is technically true, the fact is unemployment rates for African-Americans and Hispanics have been decreasing steadily for years, so for him to take credit for this is deliberately misleading. For D’Souza to use this as evidence of Trump not being a racist is just hilarious, and he instead falls into a trap he would have been smart not to set for himself.

Look, I have no doubt D’Souza loves America, but for him to show this love through a manipulation of history and facts is beyond deplorable. These days, it is more about who controls the narrative than it is about verifying facts, and D’Souza seizes on this national weakness in a completely shameless way. “Death of a Nation” is a failure from the get go as it is impossible to put liberalism and fascism into the same category. Just ask historians Adam Tooze and John Broich who have gone out of their way to discredit “Death of a Nation.” Broich himself pointed out how fascism is essentially “anti-leftism,” and he quotes scholar Robert Paxton who said fascism is “dictatorship against the Left amidst popular enthusiasm.” Unlike D’Souza, these guys know what they are talking about.

“Death of a Nation” still has a score of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it does not look to escape this rotten rating any time soon. D’Souza has blamed this rating on “leftist” critics as he is determined to stand by his movie no matter what, and he is daring the Golden Raspberry Awards to shower it with every “Worst of” accolade possible. Look, it’s one thing to criticize the Democratic Party, and D’Souza has the right to do so, but to sell the public on comparisons to the Nazi party which are blatantly fale is truly pathetic. Explaining to D’Souza just how wrong he got history in this or any of his other movies is pointless as he will be quick to put his hands over his ears and spin around in circles saying, “There’s no place like the Ronald Reagan Library! There’s no place like the Ronald Reagan Library!”

How will D’Souza react to my review, assuming any he ever bothers to read it? I imagine he will dismiss me as another leftist critic or something along those lines. Anyone who wants an idea of where my political beliefs are can check out my Facebook page. All that matters is this movie is anti-intellectual as well as political and historical garbage. Yes, I enjoy watching D’Souza’s movies, but mainly for the opportunity to analyze everything that’s wrong with them. When I get past the unintentionally hilarity they provide me, what I am left with is pure nonsense which is truly infuriating. If you choose to see “Death of a Nation,” see it as an example of how NOT to make a documentary and of how people will go out of their way to manipulate history to their own ends.

For those of you who are still willing to believe in D’Souza’s political and historical garbage, I have a used Yugo for sale which goes from zero to 60 miles an hour in five seconds. Please message me privately if you would like to know more.

ZERO out of * * * *

Please check out the following articles in which writers lay waste to the connections D’Souza makes in this movie:

“There is Nothing Liberal about Fascism” by John Broich

“Donald Trump Jr. Compares Democrats’ Policies to Those of the Nazis” by Andrew Buncome

“The Apotheosis of Dinesh D’Souza” by 

Kevin Kruse’s Recapitualation of Dinesh D’Souza’s View of American history

Dinesh D’Souza Unveils the First Trailer For His Lincoln/Trump Love Letter, ‘Death of a Nation’

Death of a Nation movie poster

Oh my lord, the poster above just has me howling with laughter. Comparing Abraham Lincoln with Donald Trump to where it combines the faces of both is just asking for endless derision, especially with the Trump Administration continuing to make disastrous policies which would make Lincoln gasp in disbelief.

That’s right folks, political commentator, filmmaker, convicted felon and (sigh) the recently pardoned Dinesh D’Souza has once again teamed up with co-director Bruce Schooley and producer Gerald R. Molen to gives us another cinematic political screed which Alex Jones cannot wait to see, “Death of a Nation.” The title is of course a play on “Birth of a Nation,” the 1915 silent film directed by D.W. Griffith which portrayed the Klu Klux Klan as being heroic and black men as unintelligent. Once again, D’Souza is out to show us the racist beginnings of the Democratic party, and he looks to pay careful attention to American history as he does to the tweets on Twitter which he re-tweets and that contain racist hashtags (which is to say, not carefully enough).

Seeing the trailer open with Abraham Lincoln with his hand moving gracefully through the fields looks like it was stolen from “Gladiator.” From there, we are shown many historical re-enactments featuring moments from the Civil War, a black man being whipped on a white plantation, and moments from Nazi Germany where we are reminded of what a fascist dictator Adolf Hitler was. Having seen “America: Imagine the World Without Her” and “Hillary’s America,” D’Souza’s attempts in giving us compelling historical re-enactments have failed miserablymore often than not as he instead gives us moments both hilarious and boring as they are hobbled by weak acting and poor direction. As for his portrayal of Lincoln, I cannot help but think D’Souza will continue to treat this American president as some sort of superhero instead of as a real person, something I think audiences of all kinds would benefit from seeing just as they did with Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

As for Trump, who issued a full pardon for D’Souza’s 2014 felony conviction, we do not see much of him here. But it is clear he is out to make Trump look like a heroic President who will “save America” from the Democrats just like Lincoln did back in the 19th century. Whether D’Souza will include anything in regards to Trump’s multiple infidelities, business dealings, numerous bankruptcies, that Access Hollywood video or the Mueller investigation remains to be seen. The movie’s subtitle says, “Can we save America a second time?” Well, perhaps D’Souza isn’t very good with math.

For me, D’Souza’s films (I’m not going to bother calling them documentaries anymore) hold the same fascination for me as it does with people who stop to look at car accidents. As much as I want to look away, there is just too much carnage and damage to ignore. This looks to be just another movie preaching to a particular crowd while its filmmakers attempt to make us see history in a way which doesn’t jive with the facts. D’Souza may want to control the narrative, but he has yet to prove he has any right to do so.

Anyway, “Death of a Nation” is set to arrive in theaters on August 3, 2018, just three months before the 2018 midterm elections (how convenient). I shouldn’t watch it, and I resent it being released the day after my birthday, but with D’Souza I just cannot help myself.

Check out the trailer below if you dare.

Ultimate Rabbit Exclusive Interview: Bryan Fogel Talks about ‘Icarus’

Bryan Fogel Icarus photo

Actor, writer and filmmaker Bryan Fogel first came to the world’s attention with “Jewtopia,” a play he co-wrote and starred in which went on to become one of the longest running shows in off-Broadway and Los Angeles history as it was seen by over a million viewers. Now he is set to reach an even larger audience with his documentary “Icarus” which will debut on Netflix on August 4.

Icarus documentary poster

“Icarus” follows Fogel as he went on a mission to investigate doping in sports. Like Morgan Spurlock in “Super Size Me,” he becomes the main experiment of his own documentary as he dopes himself with performance enhancing drugs to observe the changes they have on his body, and to see if he can avoid detection from anti-doping officials. By doing so, he aims to prove the current process of testing athletes for performance enhancing drugs does not work in the slightest.

During this process, Fogel comes to meet Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a pillar of Russia’s “anti-doping” program who aids the filmmaker in avoiding doping detection through various processes which include being injected with various substances as well as collecting daily urine samples which will be smuggled from one country to another. But as Fogel becomes closer with Rodchenkov, he soon discovers the Russian is at the center of his country’s state-sponsored Olympic doping program. From there, “Icarus” goes in a different direction as it delves deep into Russia’s program and discovers the illegal activities go all the way up to the country’s highest chain of command which includes Vladimir Putin. The deeper this documentary goes, the more aware we become of how truth can be an easy casualty as others die under mysterious circumstances.

I had the opportunity to speak with Fogel about “Icarus” while he was in Los Angeles to promote it. He spoke about the documentary’s evolution from being a simple exploration into sports anti-doping programs to becoming a geopolitical thriller where witnesses are forced to go into hiding. Also, he spoke of how Lance Armstrong’s admission of using performance enhancing drugs was merely a needle in the haystack as many athletes were utilizing the same chemicals and threw him under the bus to save their own careers.

Check out the interview below.

The Ides of March

the-ides-of-march-poster

This movie’s title refers to the day Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators who feared his role as a dictator would forever destroy their constitutional government. Some of these senators were close friends of his which make their actions all the more shocking. In the political arena, then and now, you would think those running for office would have their friends and loyal advisors to instill their trust in. But as history shows, the quest for power can tear friendships apart and corrupt the seemingly incorruptible. In William Shakespeare’s play of “Julius Caesar,” a soothsayer warns him before he is stabbed to death:

“Beware the Ides of March.”

George Clooney’s film is based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, and it looks at how dangerous a political campaign can be for all those involved. They may not get stabbed in the back literally, but there is a lot of backstabbing to go around figuratively speaking. It all makes for an intense political thriller which never lets up.

Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers, a Junior Campaign Manager for Governor Mike Norris (Clooney) who is seeking the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. As the movie opens, Norris is campaigning in Ohio where a win there will all but guarantee him the nomination. Meyers is a strong believer in Norris and what he stands for, but his belief in him and the world of politics is in for a rude awakening. After a secret meeting with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), trust becomes a precious commodity in very short supply. Meyers also stumbles on an even bigger situation which could destroy the campaign to where it can never recover.

This is Clooney’s fourth movie as a director, and the abilities he shows behind the camera are never in doubt. “The Ides of March” doesn’t necessarily break any new ground in the political movie genre, but Clooney does great work in generating tension throughout as characters suddenly find themselves on a precipice which threatens to fall out beneath them with little warning. He also gets great performances from the entire cast as they face off against each other as if they are playing a game of chess. Everyone is holding their cards close to their chest, and only the eyes can give them away in showing where they are most vulnerable.

Gosling had a heck of a year in 2011 with this, “Crazy Stupid Love,” and “Drive.” As with the latter, he brings a smoldering intensity to his performance as he takes Meyers from a political idealist to one who sells out his values when things get rough. With one look, he can let us inside his thoughts without saying a single word.

Two of my favorite performances in “The Ides of March” come from two of the best character actors ever: Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. Playing campaign managers for their individual candidates, they brilliantly bring out the moral complexities of each person as their agendas become clear as the story continues to unfold. Both of them also make what could have been seen as convoluted actions or maneuvers completely believable as they try to get the upper hand in a fragile political environment. They essentially represent the cynical side of politics where idealism vanished a long time ago and the path Meyers may be forced to go down if he wants to continue working in this realm.

The fabulous Evan Rachel Wood is great as always as Molly Stearns, a campaign intern whose confidence collapses when her secret is realized. Seeing her go from a sexy seducer to the campaign’s most vulnerable employee is handled by her like a pro, and she makes us see Molly as a person while others view as a crippling concern which needed to be quickly and quietly removed. The cruelty of politics comes to hit her character the hardest.

And then there’s the equally fabulous Marisa Tomei who portrays New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz. She enjoys a friendly banter with Gosling from the start which draws us in on a more personal level. It’s there where Tomei traps not just Gosling, but the audience as well. She provides us with a friendly face, but she is later revealed to be a manipulative journalist who wields more power than you might expect a journalist to have. I have yet to see Tomei give a bad performance in anything she does.

What I really like about the screenplay of “The Ides of March” is it’s not about good guys and bad guys. It’s all about shades of gray and how the hope in politics can be easily and quickly worn down to a cinder of what it once was. Some of the actions in the movie almost feel like something out of the “Saw” movies as they almost seem illogical and impossible to put together, but it makes sense in regards to the political realm it takes place in. This would make a great double feature with Mike Nichols’ “Primary Colors” as both movies deal with the moral compromises made in getting your candidate elected. But while “Primary Colors” sees a light at the end of the tunnel, “The Ides of March” doesn’t let the viewer off as easy.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Hillary's America poster

This movie has some of the funniest scenes of any I have seen in 2016, but there’s one slight problem; it was not intended to be a comedy. “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is the latest political screed from Dinesh D’Souza which has him, along with co-director Bruce Schooley, trying to tie the Democrats’ racist past with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. In short, he attempts to show how the principles of the Democratic Party have never changed, and instead succeeds in making an even worse documentary (if you want to call this a documentary) than “America: Imagine the World Without Her.

Now while Hillary’s name and face are featured prominently in this film’s poster, D’Souza doesn’t really bother with her until the last half hour. Instead, he gives us a bunch of re-enactments (and this movie is overflowing with them) which chronicle his criminal conviction, the time he spent in a halfway house, the America of the 1800’s and the 1900’s, and of Hillary while she was in college. Perhaps a better name for this would have been “Dinesh’s America” as we are looking at history through his point of view, and his POV combines a selective sprinkling of facts with an overabundance of deluded paranoia.

D’Souza re-enacts his time in a halfway house as a way to continue his ridiculous claim of being made a political martyr. He also portrays himself as a white collar criminal surrounded by vicious street criminals whose actions make his crime pale in comparison. Was this really the kind of halfway house he was sentenced to? Maybe, but he presents the inmates in such a stereotypical way that it’s hard to take much of what he shows us seriously. Plus, there’s a sequence where he befriends a fellow inmate who tells him about an insurance scam he and his friends pulled off. The re-enactment of this scam is so ridiculously directed and poorly acted that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud to where I thought I might get kicked out of the theater.

We later see D’Souza visiting the Democratic Headquarters, and when no one is looking he sneaks into an off-limits room which contains the Democrats version of Pandora’s Box. This allows him to uncover the party’s racist past which had them defending slavery instead of trying to abolish it. Seeing D’Souza, a Republican, infiltrating this “secret” room in the Democratic Headquarters brings to mind another alternate name for this movie: “50 Shades of Watergate.”

It is no secret that the Democratic Party of the 1800’s was much more KKK friendly and were never quick to pass the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery. This was even shown to be the case in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” where Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner never hid the fact that the Republicans were the real heroes when it came to ending this barbaric practice. This gives “Hillary’s America” some weight as this is a part of history worth paying attention to as the Democratic Party of today is much different than the one of the past. But it doesn’t take long for D’Souza to shoot himself in the foot as he bombards us with historical re-enactments so one-sided to where they quickly become boring and cruelly exploitive.

These historical re-enactments are further complicated by D’Souza treating Democrats like Andrew Jackson as one-dimensional villains in a bad 80’s action movie or a supervillain from a James Bond film, albeit ones completely lacking in charisma. It doesn’t matter which era is being re-enacted, he treats every Democrat as being drunk with power or as a vampire on a day pass. D’Souza even includes an especially ludicrous scene where Woodrow Wilson is watching D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House when a KKK member on a ghost horse comes galloping out of the movie screen. Wilson is made to look like he is transfixed by this sudden emergence, but it’s really just a bizarre fantasy.

In trying to show how the Democratic Party has not changed from its sordid past, D’Souza completely fails to prove this without a shadow of a doubt. He doesn’t so much cherry pick facts as whitewashes and manipulates them to form a thesis which defies all reasonable logic. Anyone with half a brain can see that the Democratic and Republican parties of today are so radically different from what they once were. D’Souza even tries to convince us the big switch between the two parties in terms of their views on civil rights was a flat out lie, and he presents his evidence of this in a way which requires the use of a microscope to fully discover what he is talking about.

When D’Souza finally gets around to dealing with Hillary Clinton, he portrays her as a self-centered and snobby bitch interested in her own ambitions more than anything else. In an article, Alex Shephard described D’Souza’s portrayal of a teenage Hillary as being like Reese Witherspoon’s character of Tracy Flick from “Election” if Tracy “liked to murder small animals,” and that is spot on. D’Souza shows her laughing at one of President Richard Nixon’s speeches on television as if it were a bad thing. But the most jaw-dropping moment comes when D’Souza flat out blames Hillary for her husband Bill’s numerous infidelities. This doesn’t really speak much of Hillary as it does of D’Souza’s criticisms of feminism.

D’Souza presents himself throughout “Hillary’s America” as a truth teller no one should dare question, but he rarely backs up his arguments with much in the way of convincing evidence. In fact, he even dredges up the Benghazi attack which has been beyond thoroughly investigated, Hillary’s emails which just about everyone is sick of hearing about, and he even includes a scene from those completely debunked videos from the Center for Medical Progress. Bringing these subjects up only weakens an already deeply flawed thesis to where it feels like D’Souza is just grasping for anything which might, and I strongly stress the word might, work in his favor. Oh yeah, he also throws in Saul Alinsky for good measure, but Alinsky comes across as a caricature more than anything else.

While there are many unintentionally hilarious scenes to be found here, there are others which are simply infuriating. D’Souza portrays Margaret Sanger, the mother of Planned Parenthood, as an emotionless sociopath. Granted, there is evidence she was a proponent of eugenics, but showing her as wanting to exterminate all black people is a flat out lie. His portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson as openly racist to where he only agrees to civil rights legislation just to quell his political opponents feels deeply insulting. And in portraying America of the past, D’Souza piles on scenes of slaves being whipped and tortured which soon feel cruelly exploitive of a national tragedy.

It’s tempting to call D’Souza stupid after watching “Hillary’s America,” but that may not be altogether fair. As a director, however, he makes one stupid mistake after another as he shamelessly manipulates the audience’s emotions while bashing their heads in with information based more on his distorted worldview than reality. He employs an overly dramatic music score by Stephen Limbaugh which becomes ridiculously bombastic in no time at all. And he concludes the movie with renditions of patriotic songs to show his undying love for America. I do not doubt his fervent patriotism of the United States, but it feels truly annoying that he needs to constantly remind us of this.

It doesn’t bother me that D’Souza has made an anti-Democrat movie as no political party is beyond reproach. What bothers me is how much he believes in what he is telling us as his view of history is more revisionist than it is accurate. Watching him in “Hillary’s America” reminded me of Bill Pullman’s dialogue in “Lost Highway:”

“I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

In D’Souza’s mind, Republicans have been and still are the heroes of justice and racial equality, but if Lincoln saw the state of the party today, there’s no doubt he would be crying a river over it and not just because Donald Trump (who is barely mentioned in this movie) is their presidential nominee.

Now, this review might be greeted by various internet trolls who claim I am deeply biased or a “libertard” among other things. I’m not going to go into who I am voting for this November here. Instead, I want to leave you with a couple of things to think about. Does it make more sense to base your views on a political party on what it was like when it began or how they treat the American people in the present day? If D’Souza loves being a citizen of America so much, why did he willfully break the law? Did he even realize before committing his crime that it would cost him a right which American citizens should cherish, the right to vote? Say what you will and believe what you want, but nothing will change the fact that “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is one of the worst documentaries ever made.

½* out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

Save

Save