"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Vice: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. Although a cinematic misfire of sorts, it is worth seeing for the extraordinary performances and for the civics lesson.

Vice, written and directed by Adam McKay, is the story of the meteoric rise of former Vice President Dick and his Machiavellian use of power. The film stars Christian Bale as Cheney, with supporting turns from Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell.

Vice is another one of those films of 2018 for which I had high hopes. I absolutely loved director Adam McKay’s last film, The Big Short, which brilliantly dissected the 2008 financial meltdown and I hoped that when he set his sights on Dick Cheney he would be equally effective in his vivisection of that worthy target. McKay proved with The Big Short that he was more than capable of turning a dense, intricate, complex and complicated topic into an entertaining and enlightening movie, a skill that would be desperately needed for a film about Dick Cheney.

Watching Vice was an odd experience as I found the film had multiple great parts to it, but on the whole, while I liked it, I didn’t love it and ultimately found it unsatisfying. I was so confounded by my experience of Vice that I have actually seen it three times already to try and figure out specifically why I feel that it missed the mark and is not the sum total of its parts. And yes…I realize that seeing a movie I don’t love three times makes me sound insane.

Why am I so interested in figuring out why Vice is not great, you may ask? Well, the reason for that is that Vice desperately needed to be great because it is such an important film for the times in which we live. Trump did not come out of nowhere…he is a fungus that grew out of the shit pile that was Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush/Cheney and Obama…and as we all know, past is prologue, so if we don’t fully understand and integrate the lessons of Dick Cheney’s nefarious political career, we are doomed to stay stuck in the tyrannical rut in which we find ourselves.

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Dick Cheney was a pivotal, behind the scenes player in American politics for four decades (70’s through the 00’s) and so bringing his sprawling yet mundanely bureaucratic career successfully to the screen is a massive and difficult undertaking. It is also an vital undertaking as the argument could be made, and Vice makes it, that Cheney’s underlying cosmology and his political and bureaucratic success are what has brought the U.S. and much of the world to the brink of collapse.

Sadly though, Vice is so structurally unsound as to be nearly untenable. McKay cinematically stumbles right out of the gate and makes some poor directorial decisions that lead to a lack of narrative coherence and dramatic cohesion that diminish the impact of this important movie.

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I could not help but think of Oliver Stone as I watched Vice. Stone’s Nixon is an obvious cinematic parallel to Vice in that it is a bio-pic of a loathed political figure whose career spans multiple decades. The problem with Vice though is that McKay not only lacks Stone’s directorial skill and talent, he also lacks his testicular fortitude and artistic courage.

In Nixon, which is a terrific film you should revisit, Stone and his cinematographer, the great Robert Richardson, go to great lengths to show us Nixon’s point of view and perspective, and it works in drawing viewers into the man who otherwise may have repulsed them. Stone and Richardson occasionally used the technique of switching film stocks and going from color to black and white in order to distinguish Nixon’s point of view and to emphasize flash backs and time jumps. (Vice certainly could’ve used this sort of approach to make the time jumps it uses more palatable and cinematically appealing)

Of course, Stone was pilloried for his dramatic speculation in Nixon by the gatekeepers of Establishment thinking, but despite the critical slings and arrows, it was the proper creative decision. Stone turned Nixon into a Shakespearean character and we knew him and understood him much better because of it, which turned the film about his life into fascinating and gripping viewing.

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Cheney, like his one-time boss Richard Nixon, is also cold and distant figure in real life, but McKay never emulates Oliver Stone and bridges that distance by using dramatic speculation in telling his story. McKay makes the fatal directorial error of only on the most rare of occasions allowing viewers into Dick Cheney’s head and giving them his distinct perspective and point of view. For the majority of the film the audience is forced to be simply spectators to Cheney’s villainy and not participants or co-conspirators, which undermines the dramatic power of the film.

The most interesting parts of the film are the two parts where we are actually given Cheney’s perspective and inner dialogue. The first time that happens is when we hear a voice over of Cheney’s thoughts as he meets with presidential candidate George W. Bush to talk about the Vice Presidency. In this scene we are given access to Cheney’s Macchiavellian musings about the man, Dubya, that he will use as an avatar to bring his dark vision to life, and it is intriguing.

McKay’s brief speculation of Cheney’s inner thoughts in the Bush scene propels the audience into Cheney’s head…which is where we should have been all along. We are then ushered out as soon as we arrive and are left with only a bird’s eye view of Cheney’s world until the final scene. Vice would have benefited greatly from McKay throwing the audience into Cheney’s head from the get go, but instead we get a rehash of Cheney’s greatest hits, or worst hits, depending on your political point of view, which is neither illuminating nor gripping. ( to be fair, McKay’s refusal to speculate on Cheney’s inner thoughts and motivations could be a function of the fact that Cheney is still alive and able to sue, but regardless of the reason, it does a terrible disservice to the cinematic enterprise)

McKay was obviously going to great lengths trying to be “historically accurate” in this bio-pic, but he falls into the trap of many, if not most bio-pics, in that he tries to recreate history instead of creating cinematic drama. McKay simply shows a series of well-known events in Cheney’s life (hey…remember that time Cheney shot somebody in the face!) without any new or interesting insights into them. In this way, Vice is less a drama/comedy than it is a docu-dramedy that merely skims the surface of its subject and re-tells history for those who already agree with its political perspective.

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The biggest hurdle though in telling the story of Dick Cheney is…well…Dick Cheney. When your film’s lead character suffers from an egregious charisma deficit and has created a persona of impenetrable banality, you have quite a hill to climb. Besides mastering the art of dullness, Cheney is also an unlikable and politically despicable person, which only adds to the burden that this film must carry. Unlike in The Big Short, where McKay was able to use multiple characters to propel the narrative, each one different and interesting in their own right, in Vice, McKay is forced to have Cheney be the sole focus and driver of the narrative.

As vacant a character as Dick Cheney is, Christian Bale makes him a genuine human being. Bale disappears into Cheney and crushes the role to such an extent that he solidifies his place amongst the best actors working today. Bale’s confident use of stillness and silence is volcanically potent. There is no wasted motion with Bale’s Cheney, and it is when he isn’t saying anything that he is saying everything. Bale fills Cheney with very specific and detailed intentions that radiate off of him and penetrate his intended target with deadly precision.

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The rest of the cast do outstanding work as well. Amy Adams is simply one of the best actresses on the planet and her work in Vice is a testament to that fact. Adams’ first scene as Dick’s wife Lynne is so dynamically compelling I nearly jumped out of my seat. Right out of the gate Adams tells the viewer everything we need to know about Lynne, she is smart, tough and will not put up with any bullshit. Adams’ Lynne is insatiable when it comes to power, and she is the Lady MacBeth behind Dick’s throne. Amy Adams has given a plethora of great performances over her career, but she has never been better than she is as Lynne Cheney in Vice.

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Sam Rockwell is also outstanding, playing the cocksure but dim-witted poseur of a president George W. Bush. Rockwell plays Bush as an unwitting moron and dupe who is so stupid he doesn’t know how stupid he really is. Cheney’s manipulation of Bush is seamless and entirely believable with Rockwell playing the insecure second generation President. Rockwell never falls into caricature with his Dubya, and fills this empty man with a delightful and at times poignantly meaningful nothingness.

Steve Carell is also great as the enigmatic Don Rumsfeld. Carell morphs into the irascible political climber Rumsfeld with ease and shows a deft touch in making Rummy a genuine human being, a sort of arrogant fly boy whose wings never get permanently clipped.

All in all, the entire cast do great work with Bale, Adams and Rockwell all deserving Oscar nominations for their work, and Bale and Adams very much deserving of the trophy.

As much as Adam McKay won the casting room, he did have other failures when it came to filmmaking. I am sure it is no coincidence that McKay hired editor Hank Corwin to work on his film, as Corwin edited Stone’s Nixon as well. Surprisingly since he was so good on Nixon, Corwin’s editing on Vice lacks a cinematic crispness and is one of the weak spots of the film. Corwin repeatedly uses a black screen for transitions which I found broke the pace and rhythm of the film and scuttled any dramatic momentum. Of course, this is not all Corwin’s fault, as McKay may have demanded that approach, but regardless of why it happened, it happened and the film suffers for it.

Another issue with the film was the use of a narrator. Well, to be more clear, it wasn’t the use of a narrator, but the choice of the narrator and how that character fit into the story. Jesse Plemons, a fantastic actor, plays the role of the narrator but it never quite comes together. Plemons is fine in the part, but considering the amount of information that needed to be passed along to the audience, a more direct and straight forward narrator would’ve been a better choice. Once again, Oliver Stone comes to mind and his mesmerizing opening to his masterpiece JFK, where Martin Sheen (and phenomenal editors Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing) masterfully set the complex stage for everything that follows.

As much as I was frustrated by McKay’s direction, there were some moments of brilliance. McKay’s use of Alfred Molina as a waiter explaining the crimes of the Bush administration was absolutely magnificent. His expanded exploration of the idea of the “Unitary Executive” was smart and well done too.

Other sequences by McKay that were simply sublime were when McKay would show the global and life altering power of the Presidency. In one sequence we see Nixon and Kissinger having a discussion about their Vietnam and Cambodia policy…and then we see the catastrophic results of that policy on regular people. The same thing occurs in relation to Bush and Iraq in one of the finer cinematic moments of the movie, where all of the power politics in America reduce people half way around the world to cower under a table in fear for their lives.

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There was one other scene that is worth mentioning, and not because it is so great, but because it reveals something nefarious about the film itself. In one scene where the principals of the Bush administration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice etc., are debating whether to invade Iraq or not, there is a bit of dialogue which states in essence that Israel is opposed to the U.S. invasion because it will destablize the region. This is historically completely inaccurate and entirely at odds with reality. Why would Adam McKay put this bit of Israeli misinformation into his film that purports to tell the truth about the Bush administration? I think I know the reason why…but that is an uncomfortable discussion for another day.

In conclusion, as much as I wanted to love Vice because it shares my vision of the world and of the Bush administration, I didn’t love it. Cheney, like Nixon before him, should have been prosecuted and imprisoned for his crimes, instead of having his lackeys turned into exalted talking heads on MSNBC and CNN. If Vice were better made, if it were more coherent, cohesive and effective in its storytelling, it could have done to the Bush/Cheney administration, what The Big Short did to Wall Street…exposed them bare for the repugnant, amoral and immoral criminal pigs that they are.

Sadly, Vice doesn’t rise to the challenge, and so the historical myopia that pervades our current culture will persist and prosper. Liberals will continue to think everything was great before Trump and that Trump is responsible for all that is wrong in the world…and thus they doom themselves to repeat the cycle that brought us Trump in the first place. Just like Nixon gave us Reagan and Reagan gave us Clinton and Clinton gave us Bush/Cheney and Bush/Cheney gave us Obama and Obama gave us Trump…Trump will birth us another monster and it will devour us all unless we wake up and understand that it isn’t the individual that is rotten, it is the system that is rotting.

With all of that said, if you get a chance I do recommend you go see Vice, it is worth seeing for the exquisite performances of Bale, Adams and Rockwell alone. It is also worthwhile to see Vice to understand that as much as we’d like to blame others, be it Russians, Republicans or Democrats for all of our troubles, the truth is that Cheney bureaucratically maneuvered to give us the fascist tyranny for which we were clamoring. The fight is simply over who gets to control it the beast that is devouring us, and to see how much we can make selling rope to those who wish to hang us. My one solace to this national existential crisis is revenge, and the hope that I will get to see Dick Cheney and the rest of his gang at the end of one of those ropes before I die.

©2019

Snowden : A Review and Commentary

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES AND 39 SECONDS

MY RATING : 3 out of 5 Stars

MY RECOMMENDATION : If you saw and liked Citizenfour, see Snowden in the theatre. If you don't like Edward Snowden, or are indifferent, see it on Netflix or Cable.

Snowden, written and directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone, is the story of famed NSA whistelblower Edward Snowden. The screenplay is based upon the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The films stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, with Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans and Nic Cage in supporting roles.

Director Oliver Stone, like Edward Snowden, is a controversial figure who is despised and ridiculed by those in the establishment, which is a pretty good reason to like the guy. Stone has spent his career sticking his finger in the eye of those in power and their sycophants in the media. Stone and his films have been an important cultural counter weight to the prevailing winds of his time. During the height of conservative rule and thought in America during the 80's, when the nation was all too happy to forget its sullied not too distant past and corrupt present, Stone reminded America of its unresolved hubris with his Vietnam films (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) and his indictment of then U.S. foreign policy in Latin America with Salvador and the economic ruse of the times in Wall Street.

In the early 90's, while the nation was still basking in the warm glow of sunlight from Reagan's "morning in America", Stone pulled back the veil and tore off the scab to reveal the rot at America's core underneath the flag waving veneer with his films JFK, Nixon and Natural Born Killers.  Stone's insistence that America look at and acknowledge its true self was never warmly welcomed by those who need to deceive in order to succeed, thus the Washington and media establishment have always loathed him. All the more reason to admire the man and his work, which certainly struck a raw nerve for those in power.

Edward Snowden is also quite a controversial figure to say the least. As the marketing of the film tells us, some people call him a traitor, like those in the establishment and media, others call him a hero. The film Snowden itself is probably a Rorsharch test for viewers, with those who think Edward Snowden a hero liking it and those thinking he is a traitor hating it. The reality is that if you already think Snowden is a traitor, you probably aren't going to go see this film anyway. The people who believe Snowden is a hero are the most likely ones who will go and see this film.

With that context in mind, director Oliver Stone surprisingly pulls a lot of his punches in the film. In Snowden, Stone "bottles the acid", to quote Judge Haggerty from JFK,  and never goes in for the kill shot on the intelligence community, which is very out of character for the rebellious director. Considering Oliver Stone's past work, I found his indictment against the intelligence community in Snowden to be rather tame. That said, Stone certainly shows Edward Snowden in as positive a light as he can, and there is never any doubt as to Snowden's moral and ethical superiority throughout the story, but the scope, scale and magnitude of the evil being perpetrated by our intelligence community, and the impetus for Snowden to act, is under played and never fully fleshed out to satisfaction.

All that said, Snowden, while not a great film, it certainly is a good one. It is without question the best Oliver Stone film of the last twenty years or so since Nixon in 1995. The only other film of note from Stone during the second half of his career is 2008's W., which like Snowden, is also a Rorsharch test for viewers and is a good but not great movie. Both Snowden and W. pale in comparison to Oliver Stone's genius work during the first half of his career, when he made a bevy of tremendous films such as, Platoon, Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, JFK, Nixon, The Doors and Natural Born Killers. When I speak of the futility in the second half of Stone's filmmaking career I am not counting his documentaries which can be quite good. His Showtime series Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States is extremely well done and should be mandatory viewing for any citizen.

As for Snowden, as much as I enjoyed the film, the greatest issue I had with it was that it failed to use Stone's signature visual and editing style (think JFK) to tell the complex and mammoth tale of the various surveillance programs that Ed Snowden uncovered and revealed. This is the crux of the story as it shows why Snowden risked so much in order to inform the public as to what was being done to them and in their name to others. Stone does try to personalize the snooping that the programs do, but while that sequence is effective it isn't quite enough. Stone also under-uses actual news footage and cutting between it and the dramatic narrative of Snowden. Stone used that technique to great effect in JFK but fails to utilize it enough in Snowden, much to the detriment of the film. Stone's masterful work on JFK showed how to take an enormous and complex subject and whittle it down so that people could understand and digest it, he needed more of that approach in Snowden, not less. Oddly enough, Snowden almost feels like it was directed by someone other than Oliver Stone, as the film lacks his visual and storytelling trademarks.

As for the acting, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is simply miraculous. Levitt's work is meticulous, detailed and vibrant. Levitt perfectly captures Snowden's unique vocal tendencies and looks strikingly like the man, so much so that in some shots I was wondering if that actually was Edward Snowden and not the actor. Snowden is not an easy character to take on, he is an enigmatic man, probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, who is both self conscious and self confident, sometimes all in the same moment. Levitt creates a genuine, complex human being with all of his intracacies and inhabits him fully, never letting the character slip into caricature or imitation. Levitt's Snowden is multi-dimensional and is a truly remarkable piece of acting work, proving Levitt to be among the best actors of his generation. In comparing Levitt's performance as Snowden to other actors in previous Oliver Stone films, the thing that is strikingly obvious is that other actors in Oliver Stone films were actors in "Oliver Stone films". For instance, Born on the Fourth of July is an "Oliver Stone film", not a "Tom Cruise film", the same can be said for Charlie Sheen in Platoon or Kevin Costner in JFK or Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, these actors all did solid work but were overshadowed by the talent and vision of their director Oliver Stone, hence they were in "Oliver Stone films" and not in "Sheen/Costner/Hopkins films". The very high compliment I can pay Joseph Gordon-Levitt is that Snowden is, without question, a "Joseph Gordon Levitt film", and not an "Oliver Stone film". Levitt outshines his director, which is a tribute to him as an actor, and a recognition of some creative slippage on the part of Stone the director.

The supporting cast is hit and miss. Shailene Woodley does a solid job in the terribly underwritten role of Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Woodley is a strong actress, approachable and artistically honest, who has an undeniable charisma that lights up the screen. On the other hand there is Nic Cage, who is simply a dreadful actor of epic proportions, and frankly, contrary to popular opinion, always has been. Cage is in some very crucial scenes but is so distractingly bad that those scenes and the highly critical information they convey, get scuttled, much to the detriment of the film. It feels like Cage is in one of those god-awful National Treasure films and not a serious Oliver Stone film.

Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo and Tom Wilkinson all do solid work as the documentarians and reporters Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. The scenes with Snowden and the reporters in the Hong Kong hotel room are surprisingly compelling since they are scenes we have already seen in the documentary Citizenfourthat is a credit to the actors.

Snowden reminds me of two films, one, Citizenfour is pretty obvious. Snowden is a very nice companion piece to Laura Poitras' Academy Award winning documentary Citizenfouras it dramatizes and expands on what was revealed in that excellent film.

The second film I was reminded of is much less obvious, at least on the surface. That film is American Sniper. Here is the round-a-bout way in which Snowden reminded me of American Sniper. As I walked out of the theatre post-Snowden, I was wondering if Oliver Stone has simply lost his fastball as a filmmaker and was not able to land his punches quite as crispy and effectively as he was twenty five years ago in films like JFK, Platoon, Wall Street etc. Then I wondered if maybe Stone had just grown weary of the cultural battle to which he has dedicated his life, which seems never ending and futile at best. I thought this because of Stone's surprisingly conventional storytelling in Snowden, punctuated by an upbeat ending that, in my opinion, defies the reality we find ourselves in, in regard to surveillance and what the intelligence community is up to. And then I wondered if…and this gives a big benefit of the doubt to Oliver Stone, who, frankly, with the stellar filmography of his earlier years has earned that benefit, Stone had made a truly subversive film with Snowden, but it was hidden beneath the surface of the rather tepid bio-pic it was buried under. It could be that Snowden is Oliver Stone's answer to American Sniper, right down to mimicking its flaws?

Here is my theory…that Oliver Stone intentionally made Snowden to undermine the propaganda of American Sniper and reduce its power on the American collective unconscious.  Snowden the film and the man, are counter-myths to Chris Kyle and American Sniper. Like American Sniper, Snowden is structured as a standard bio-pic, almost hitting the same exact beats and with the same exact rhythm as American Sniper. Also like American Sniper, Snowden ties the dramatic film to the actual, real-life man in it's final scenes, blurring the lines between what is dramatized and what is real. That said, one real life difference between the films is that unlike with the Kyle family and American Sniper, Edward Snowden had no say or final approval of the final script, and received no money for Snowden.

I don't think those structural and narrative similarities between American Sniper and Snowden are accidental. If Oliver Stone is anything, he is a true-blue subversive and it is a stroke of genius to make Snowden a parallel to American Sniper. Oliver Stone has spoken of his masterpiece JFK as being a counter-myth to the prevailing myth of the Warren report. The only difference between the Warren report and JFK is that JFK readily admits it is a myth, while the Warren report holds onto the illusion and delusion that it is factual. And so it is similar with Snowden and American Sniper, as Stone sets out to counter Clint Eastwood in his bootlicking, ass kissing, myth making, propaganda with a counter-myth meant to celebrate the thoughtful, rebellious, principled subversive in the form of Edward Snowden.

Why do I think Oliver Stone is intentionally taking shots at American Sniper in Snowden? I think that because Stone has cast the remarkably wooden actor Scott Eastwood, American Sniper director Clint Eastwood's look alike son, as Trevor James, an NSA middle management type who never questions, or thinks, about what he is tasked to do, or much of anything really. It was seeing Scott Eastwood in the film that made me connect American Sniper and Snowden, and I think that that was not an accident. Stone could have cast a million other actors in that role, but he didn't, he cast Clint Eastwood's kid. Scott Eastwood being cast is not because of his superior talent (God knows) and it isn't a business decision, it is a creative and symbolic decision, and it is deliciously stealthy bit of cinematic intrigue.

Stone subtly and surreptitiously shows that Trevor James is, just like his father's American Sniper muse Chris Kyle, an unquestioning and unthinking fool who fights for tyrants and tyranny, as opposed to Snowden, who selflessly risks his life for the truth, and nothing else. That is what stands out the most to me in Snowden as a contrast to American Sniper, namely that Edward Snowden is smart and insightful enough to recognize the true enemy of America is within in the form of Bush, Obama, Clinton, Petreaus, Hayden, Clapper, the intelligence/political and media establishment et al. Stone is showing that Chris Kyle, like Trevor James, is a dupe, a sucker and a fool, who gives his life as a pawn for the powerful to exploit the weak, the stupid and the gullible. If Chris Kyle were a real man and the true American hero he has been sold to us as, he would not have gone to Iraq to keep us safe from phantom enemies a world away, he would have used his substantial sniping skill on the only actual threat to America that exists, namely the same tyrants who were sending him to war for their own benefit. Of course, Oliver Stone would be excoriated if he came out and said what I just wrote, and it is hard enough to sell movie tickets to a film about Edward Snowden, the man our country and culture has labelled a traitor, already, considering we live in a nation of propagandized flag waving dupes, dopes and dipshits who don't have a single clue between them and are as happy as pigs in shit about it. So Stone made a subtle and ingenious dig at Clint Eastwood, Chris Kyle and American Sniper, that only those cinematically savvy enough would be able to catch and I, for one, give him great credit for that.

One other thing to keep in mind in regards to Snowden and some parallels with American Sniper, namely that both of them may very well be pieces from the same propaganda puzzle brought to us by our power and control hungry friends who operate in the shadows (and are unaware of their own shadow - psychologically speaking!!). There is a part of me, and there is substantial evidence to back this up, that believes that The Legend Chris Kyle was created as a propaganda tool out of whole cloth. His story and his rise into public consciousness is very suspect to say the least, as we've seen from the revelations about his less than truthful depiction of his life and military career. The other thing to keep in mind though is that Snowden, as much as I admire what he did, he may very well be just another piece of counter intelligence propaganda meant to spread disinformation and to manipulate the masses. The reason I say that is because while Snowden revealed a great deal of government illegality, yet no one has ever been held to account for these crimes, which is quite convenient. One result of Snowden's revelations are that the public has become numbed into a shoulder shrugging apathy in regards to government surveillance. So with Snowden's revelations, the intelligence community gets to have the cover of being forced to  "come clean", meanwhile they can continue surveillance without anyone noticing or more importantly, caring.

In keeping with the intelligence communities playbook, right after Snowden's revelations the media went into hyper-drive to destroy Snowden personally. The usual suspects at the Washington Post and New York Times and all the television outlets painted him as a self serving, smug, fame hungry man trying to harm his nation for his own advantage. Even ferret faced "comedian" John Oliver got into the act. So now, any other whistleblowers will be reticent to come forward, and any other revelations of government criminality will be ignored. The cavalcade of information that Snowden revealed has been masterfully manipulated into having the effect of creating apathy in the general public and giving immunity to the intelligence community from any crimes committed.  Snowden may not have been a part of the bigger propaganda and counter intel project, but he was certainly useful to it.

Add to that that Snowden seemingly came out of nowhere…his life story reeks of someone who was snatched up by the intel community and groomed to be an asset. He never finished high school? Failed out of the Army Rangers? These are odd things for someone so obviously intelligent and highly functioning. To tie things back to Oliver Stone, Snowden may be a modern day Oswald, nothing more than a patsy. (Oswald too was a high school drop out and was seemingly much more intelligent than he seems at first glance, for example he allegedly taught himself to be fluent in Russian.)

The reality is that if I am to be suspect of Chris Kyle's story I need to be equally suspect of Edward Snowden's story, as both of them are littered with red flags, some waving higher than others. A giant red flag for both of them is that their stories were made into major motion pictures. Hollywood is a very useful tool to the intel community to shape culture and perception. The idea that Snowden is an intelligence asset meant to obfuscate the truth rather than reveal it may be a stretch to some people, but we must understand that nothing can be taken at face value. If you want to be a well informed human being, you have to be skeptical of everything you come across. Manipulation of the masses by the powers that be is as old as civilization itself, and one must always be vigilant against one's owns prejudices.  

The intel community could use Snowden's revelations to divert attention and distract us from what they are really up to, which is probably a hell of a lot more heinous than we can ever imagine. Maybe that is why Oliver Stone made such an un-Stone-like film. Maybe Stone had an inkling that not all was as it seemed in the Snowden story, and so he used the film as an opportunity to subtly undermine the military-industrial-propoganda complex by taking shots at American Sniper while telling a tepid version of the Snowden tale. Maybe…just maybe…Oliver Stone's Snowden is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or maybe my tinfoil hat is on too tight…who knows?

One final odd contradiction coming from people like Chris Kyle and his flag waving and ass kissing supporters, is that they are usually either Republicans or conservatives, and often times both. They dislike and rail against government, determined to reduce it to a size where they can drown it in a bathtub, but they fail to realize that the military, the intelligence services and law enforcement are all part of the government. In fact, military/intelligence/law enforcement are often times the most expensive form of government and the most dangerous to the things that I, and alleged conservatives, say we hold dear, namely, the constitution and our individual, GOD-given liberties. As Republicans and conservatives like to tell us, and as I certainly believe, government didn't give us our liberties, God did. So why are conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, so infatuated with government power, violence and secrecy? It is odd. And don't get me wrong, the Democrats are usually just as awful as Republicans on these issues…look at the superstars who have been my Senators and representatives over the years, Jane Harman, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton…they are like a murderer's row for the military/Intelligence industrial complex and against civil liberties.

Which brings us to another point made in Snowden, albeit only in passing. Namely that all of these surveillance programs run by the intelligence community aren't meant to stop terrorists at all, they are meant for corporate and government espionage, and to scuttle civil unrest and protest. In the film, Nic Cage's character Hank Forrester describes to Snowden how he had developed a much better, much more accurate and much cheaper surveillance program than the one the CIA and NSA currently use, but they chose not to use it because they wanted to fill the coffers of the military industrial complex by using a bigger, less effective and more expensive by billions program. This sounds exactly like our trusted government in action. Even applying the most basic, Luddite logic, one would understand that the more information you sweep up, the less usable information you will actually be able to focus on. When you expand the haystack, needles don't get easier to find, they get harder.

This is proven by the fact that the NSA and CIA have never used these surveillance programs to stop a terror attack. They have CLAIMED to have stopped terror attacks using these surveillance programs, but there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that is true. Like the overwhelming majority of police work, these surveillance programs, at best, give the intelligence services something to do AFTER an attack, but never before. So what are these programs really about? These surveillance programs aren't about security, they are all about power.

If the U.S. government were so interested in stopping terrorists, then why do they bend over backwards to protect the home and heart of terrorists, Saudi Arabia. Bush's bestest hand holding buddy Saudi Prince Bandar, has been proven to be an accomplice and paymaster to the 9-11 hijackers, as was his wife. And yet, Bush and his successor Obama have moved heaven and earth to protect the Saudi's at all costs and to protect that information from coming to light…why? The Saudi's have been proven to have supported the 9-11 hijackers…think about that. Saudi Arabia was complicit in 9-11, where three thousand Americans were killed. 9-11 has been used as the catalyst and excuse for all of the intrusive (and illegal) surveillance the government has undertaken, and yet, that same government has no interest in pursuing justice in regards to the Saudi's. In fact, not only are they not holding the Saudi's accountable, they are actively arming and protecting them. Any rational human being could, in the light of this information, see the War on Terror for the Kabuki theatre that it is.

Further strengthening the case against the alleged use of surveillance in the war on terror is the fact that the U.S. is also actively working with, arming and supporting terrorists in Syria. ISIS and Al Qaeda are being used by the U.S. as weapons in their war against the Assad regime and its Russian benefactor.  We are doing the same thing in Ukraine where we supply and arm jihadists in the war against Russian nationalists in eastern Ukraine. We play our little public game of charades and pretend to deplore terrorists but behind the scenes we do everything we can to arm and empower them in Syria, Ukraine and across the globe. Is this the act of a nation so desperate for security that they would trample the Constitution and our civil liberties in order to stamp out terror? 

In conclusion, I have an opinion of what Edward Snowden that is probably right in synch with Oliver Stone's, thus I enjoyed the film. I think it could have been much better, but in the final analysis I think it was good enough. I am sure people on the other side of the argument will loathe the film. I believe that if Edward Snowden is the man he says he is, this is the type of man we as a nation should celebrate and hold in the highest regard. It is a sign of our culture's decadence, intellectual indifference and moral and ethical decay that Edward Snowden has successfully been labelled a traitor and an enemy by those in the establishment. He may be an enemy of the state, but he is undoubtedly a hero for the people. If we plan on getting our country back from the oligarchs, aristocrats, corporatists and military industrialists who currently reign over us with their Eye of Sauron intelligence apparatus, the people will need to wake up and fight back. The film Snowden is not perfect, and seeing it will not be a cure-all for the fear, weakness and stupidity that cripple us as a people, that said, seeing it would be a small and positive step in the right direction. 

©2016

 

Oliver Stone : Top Five Films

Today, September 15, 2015 is director Oliver Stone's 69th birthday. The ever opinionated, and often controversial Stone has been both lauded and loathed, celebrated and denigrated during his thirty plus year career as a writer and director. After nearly two decades of artistic and box-office mis-steps, it is easy to forget that at one point in time, from 1986 to 1995, Oliver Stone was arguably the most powerful force creatively, politically and financially in both Hollywood and the culture. It is also easy to forget that Oliver Stone is one of the most important filmmakers in the history of American cinema.

To celebrate Oliver Stone's birthday, let's take a look at his meteoric, tumultuous and often-times brilliant career. Here are what I consider his top five films of all time.

OLIVER STONE'S TOP 5 FILMS

. THE DOORS (1991) 

Oliver Stone, like many of his fellow baby boomers,  excavated some of his most glorious inspirational treasures by going back to his formative years in the turbulent 1960's. In 1991 Stone went back to his, and my, favorite rock band, The Doors, and their iconic lead singer Jim Morrison.

Years ago I watched the dvd extras for The Doors which had a series of interviews with Stone and the actors talking about the process of making the film. It was pretty standard dvd-extra fare, until the very end of an interview with Stone. In it he talks about what Jim Morrison meant to him, both as a young man and as an artist, and Stone speaks eloquently about what Morrison represented, what he symbolized, and then he says, rather poignantly, with his voice breaking, "I miss him". It was a strangely moving, oddly touching and intimate glimpse into Stone, who is often portrayed in the media as a hyper-masculine, misogynistic boor. What that interview reveals is that The Doors was not just a bio-pic of Morrison, but also a deeply personal film for Oliver Stone and his artistic soul. That is what makes it both very good to some people (Me and John Densmore) and very bad to others (Ray Manzarek and Robby Kreiger). 

The Doors is a remarkably hypnotic film with Val Kilmer's magnetic performance as its center. The concert scenes are among the most vibrant and realistic ever captured on film. While the film is less a bio-pic of the band and Morrison than it is an exercise in cultural myth making and personal/psychological exploration, it still has a seductive and fascinating dark energy to it…not unlike its main character and its director.

4. NIXON (1995)

In 1995 Oliver Stone once again went back to the 1960's well and made a sprawling and peculiarly sentimental bio-pic about disgraced former president Richard Nixon. Shakespearean in its scope and execution, Nixon is a testament to Stone's skill as both writer and director. As a writer Stone is able to coherently and dramatically weave countless historical events amid intimate personal motivations all the while spanning multiple decades. As director, Stone coaxes a uniquely powerful and fantastically courageous performance from Anthony Hopkins in the lead, and Joan Allen as Pat Nixon. The supporting cast is terrific across the board, with James Woods and Paul Sorvino doing especially great work.

Nixon is a staggeringly ambitious film that only Oliver Stone would have made, could have made, or should have made. Nixon may be the last great film Oliver Stone ever makes, but even if it is, it is a worthy testament to his artistry and skill.

3. PLATOON (1986)/ BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989)

When Platoon came out in 1986, I went and saw it and like most everyone else, I was blown away by it. The four time Oscar winning film, including Best Picture and Best Director, was an original and unique perspective on the daily grind of the regular soldier toiling away in the morass of the Vietnam war.  Ten years later I caught the film again when it was on tv somewhere and was terribly underwhelmed by it, the film simply did not hold up to the test of time at all. The main problem was that visually, the film looked flat and washed out. I came away thinking the film was, like another Stone film from that period, Wall Street, a superb script, but unlike his early 90's films , JFK, The Doors, Nixon and Natural Born Killers, a rather cinematically sluggish film. I was more than happy to share my self declared brilliance with anyone who would be foolish enough to listen to my insufferable ravings on the visual failings of Platoon versus Father Time. Now of course, I am unable to rave too loudly as my throat is stuffed with crow. Why the change of heart you ask? Well, I recently saw a restored version of the film, and boy oh boy, it looks really magnificent. Stone's longtime cinematographer, the brilliant Robert Richardson, creates a subtly vibrant and layered look to the film that shows an incredibly deft and masterful hand on his part.

The film also boasts powerful performances from a wide array of actors, including Charlie Sheen, of all people, in the lead. Stone is such a great director that he makes Charlie Sheen seem like he could be the next big thing in acting. Sheen would have been wise to keep his wagon hitched to the Oliver Stone band wagon rather than venturer off into the land of Young Guns, ahhh…what could have been. Willem Dafoe and Tom Beringer also give standout performances as the ying and yang of the American psyche in regards to the Vietnam conflict and the conflict over Vietnam.

The one thing that does hurt Platoon in retrospect is that it is compared to other films of the same Vietnam War genre. In 1987, one year after Platoon came out, Stanley Kubrick's vastly superior Full Metal Jacket hit theaters. Oliver Stone joins a long list of other great directors, in fact, every other director, who has failed in comparison to the singular genius of Stanley Kubrick. Platoon is, without a doubt, a truly great film, probably the third greatest Vietnam War film ever made, behind Full Metal Jacket and  Francis Ford Coppola's iconic masterpiece Apocalypse Now.

In keeping with the Vietnam War genre, Stone's second foray into that most personal of wars (he was a Veteran of the war and Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient), was 1989's Born on the Fourth of July. The film is the story of Ron Kovics, a Long Island born and raised, flag waving patriotic son of America, who enthusiastically enlists in the Marine Corps to go fight in Vietnam.  

Born on the Fourth of July won Stone his second Best Director Oscar, and for good reason. The film is a remarkable piece of work for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it is easily the best performance of Tom Cruise's long career. As good as Cruise is in the film, and he is in nearly every scene, it is an indication of Oliver Stone's power as an artist that you never feel like you are watching a Tom Cruise picture, but rather an Oliver Stone picture.

Like many of Stone's films, Born on the Fourth of July covers a staggeringly vast amount of history, and it is also able to personalize that historical struggle by poignantly showing the gut wrenchingly emotional struggle of its main character Kovics. 

The film is really a love story, with the love being between a man and his country. The man, Kovics, discovers that his lifelong love, America, has betrayed him by not living up to it's values, the war in Vietnam. This is wonderfully portrayed in a secondary narrative of unrequited love between Cruise's Kovics and his high school sweetheart played by the luminous Kyra Sedgwick. The film is at once heartbreaking and invigorating, and only Oliver Stone, with his deeply intimate relationship with Vietnam and America could have made the it. 

2. NATURAL BORN KILLERS

Yes, I know, Natural Born Killers at number two? Many people, maybe even most people, would more consider Natural Born Killers AS a number two rather than AT number two. I realize I am in the minority, but I don't mind. I think Stone's frantic, ultra-violent assault on the media and the culture is a genuine and daring masterpiece prescient in it's foresight.

The film precedes and perfectly captures the vile cable news era and the odious reality tv era. Remarkably the film came out a mere month after O.J. Simpson's wife was murdered and well before the sickening media and cultural circus of his trial. (As an aside, I hope you join me in praying that they find  the real killers!!).

Critics thought the film was a bombastic and vacant orgy of  sex and violence. Of course, what makes the film so genius is that it is a satire of American culture, which is a bombastic and vacant orgy of sex and violence. If you don't believe me, turn on any cable news channel at any time of the day, a reality show or a prime time network sitcom. In fact, one of the most inspired parts of the film is when it wonderfully eviscerates the vapid and insipid sitcom which had become the staple of the American tv diet at the time.  

What Stone did with Natural Born Killers was show how hyper, frenzied and frenetic our culture had become and how toxic that was to our collective and personal psyche. Of course, since 1994 our culture has only become more frenetic and frenzied. Our thirst for violence and our hunger for the salacious has increased infinitely since Stone showed us our true and more base impulses gyrating up on silver screens in cineplexes across America in the fall of 1994.

Once again the brilliant Robert Richardson does masterful work with the camera and gives the film a muscularly vivid visual style. There are also some great performances from some surprising places, most notably Rodney Dangerfield, (who you may remember previously "got no respect")  who deserved not only respect for his performance, but a Best Supporting Actor trophy for his work as a disgustingly repugnant sitcom dad, sadly he didn't get nominated. Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore and Robert Downey Jr. all give inspired and memorable performances as well.

You may hate Natural Born Killers, and you wouldn't be alone, but the reality is that Stone accurately depicted the rot at the heart of the American culture, and that rot has only grown more aggressive and malignant as the decades have passed.

1. JFK (1991)

JFK is Oliver Stone's masterpiece. It is also the film that garnered him the most criticism and made him a marked man of both the Washington and media establishment. With JFK, Stone did the near impossible, he made a uniquely original, intensely captivating, coherent, heart pounding suspenseful drama of President Kennedy's assassination, all the while challenging the establishment narrative in the form of the Warren Commission and it's lapdogs in the media with his own self described "counter-myth". He also forced the movie going public to actually sit down and watch the Zapruder film, over, and over, and over again, making sure there was no doubt there now dead President's head snapped "back and to the left". 

Stone wasn't saying that JFK was the absolute truth about what happened on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, what he was saying was that his film, an acknowledged piece of fiction, is as close to the truth as the Warren Commission, a supposed work of investigative non-fiction.

The best way to know that Oliver Stone was on to something with JFK, was in seeing the reaction of the establishment to it's release. The Washington and New York chattering classes went absolutely apeshit. Stone was attacked across the board, from those on the left, the right and the center. "Serious" people from "serious" news organizations told us that Stone was a mere "conspiracy theorist", so anyone who wanted to be taken seriously on any other subject, had to show their bona fides by knocking Stone as an unserious person and attacking the the film. This sort of thing has become old hat for the establishment. It is also a sure fire sign that the person they are attacking is cutting them close to the bone. If Stone were such an unserious kook, then ignoring him would have sufficed, but he wasn't and isn't, so the knives had to come out.  

As a result of the success of JFK and of Stone's tireless public work on the subject, Congress was persuaded to release some of the files relating to the JFK assassination. At the time it seemed like things might be changing, that all of the files might be released. That was over twenty years ago and still nothing has changed. The JFK assassination was over fifty years ago, yet we have barely gotten a glimpse of the vast seas of paperwork that remains classified on the subject.

As far as the film goes, Stone's script was, once again, Shakespearean in it's epic scope. His brilliant use of newsreel footage mixed with dramatic footage created an intense immediacy that brought the viewer ever closer to the edge of their seat. JFK was also cinematographer Robert Richardson's masterpiece as well. His use of multiple film stock was as vital a reason for JFK's dramatic edge as anything else, as was his impeccable camera work and framing. Editor Pietro Scalia also was a key figure in bringing this dramatic beast under control. Both Richardson and Scalia won Oscars for their work.

The acting was stellar across the board. Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald was particularly brilliant. Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as one of the alleged conspirators Clay Shaw. 

In many ways, all of Oliver Stone's other films, including his Oscar winning pictures, pale in comparison to JFK. JFK was a cinematic, artistic and cultural bellwether. It is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all-time, and it is a towering monument to the legacy of Oliver Stone.

(For more on the JFK assassination, the media and Oliver Stone, check out this article from my archiveJFK AND THE BIG LIE  )

FINAL THOUGHTS

In many ways, Oliver Stone reminds me of Francis Ford Coppola. Both men won Oscars for screenplays, Coppola for Patton, Stone for Midnight Express, before they had tremendous runs of artistic and financial success as Oscar winning directors. Then both men, for reasons that I can't quite explain, fell off a cliff creatively and never recovered. Coppola of course, had his incredible run in the seventies with both Godfather films, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, while Stone had his from '86 to '95 with the films listed above (among others).

I think it is a great loss for filmmaking that Oliver Stone has lost his cultural relevance. Cinema, and the culture, were much more interesting when he was at the top of his game and relevant. His willingness to stand for what he believes and to challenge the culture that bred him, are traits sorely lacking in todays Hollywood. My birthday wish for Oliver Stone, is that his next film, Snowden, lives up to his stellar previous work, and is as worthy a film as the subject at its center.

I tip my cap to you Oliver for your brilliance!! Happy Birthday!!

ADDENDUM:

I received a few emails regarding this post. One from a reader named "Captain Big Guy" and another from a reader named "Johnny Steamroller".

Capt. Big Guy wrote " In each of the 4 movies leading up to the 5th (#1), you described your thoughts on the lead actor - which I really enjoyed - BUT WHY NO MENTION OF COSTNER IN JFK?" In keeping with that thought Johnny Steamroller wrote, " Dude, you got me sooooooo interested in what you were going to say about Costner in JFK, your #1 movie!! Seriously, I kept reading. You do mention Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones by name but zero mention of the lead actor in "Oliver Stone's masterpiece"?? Arggggghhhhhh!!!"

Both the good Captain and the esteemed Mr. Steamroller make an excellent point. In my haste to post this piece I overlooked Kevin Costner's performance in JFK . It was an egregious oversight. Maybe not as egregious as Waterworld, but egregious none the less. 

So without further adieu…my thoughts on Costner in  JFK .

Let's be clear, Costner isn't Marlon Brando. With that said, he didn't need to be Marlon Brando in JFK. What makes Costner effective in JFK is the fact that he was maybe the biggest movie star  in the world at the time of the films release. In addition his persona was that of an all-American, squeaky clean guy. His image and persona were a key part of why he works in JFK and why he was cast. Casting Costner accomplished two things for Oliver Stone in his most ambitious film. 1. In terms of the business, it got the movie made. I am sure the studio was much more at ease making this rather challenging film with the biggest movie star in the world, at the height of his fame and popularity, on top of the marquee. 2. In terms of creatively, casting Costner made Stone's challenging the establishment, and the public, much more effective with the persona of the all-American good guy making the case to the public for Stone. It was a very wise move on Stone's part to use Costner and all of the good will he had accrued with the public through his earlier work.

Remember, just two years before JFK, Costner had starred in Field of Dreams, which is as mythically and archetypal an American film as has ever been made.  And the year before JFK was released, Costner had won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Dances With Wolves. In many ways, not the least of which was symbolically, by the time JFK came out Costner had become the modern day Jimmy Stewart.

Costner's acting in the film is pretty paint-by-numbers, leading man stuff. As in all of Costner's work, he doesn't have too much range or depth. But because of the intangible traits and very particular image Costner the movie star (as opposed to Costner the actor) brought to the film, I believe he ends up being very much a net positive for the film, and a very wise and shrewd casting choice by Oliver Stone.

So thanks to Captain Big Guy and Johnny Steamroller for the emails!! Hope my answer was satisfactory.

 ©2015

Inherent Vice : A Review?

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!

Inherent Vice, directed  and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, is an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix and boasts supporting performances from Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon among many others.

At this point in writing a review I will usually give a brief synopsis of the film's story. As I hopelessly stare at this ever ravenous and judgmental computer screen, with it's incessant hunger for words, wisdom and insight, I realize I am intellectually barren on this topic, hollow at my core, devoid of even the most primitive capacity to explain the labyrinthine plot of Inherent Vice. I have scoured my brain, even put on the complete Pink Floyd collection in search of inspiration, but to no avail. To paraphrase Ned Flander's beatnik parents on The Simpsons, who didn't know how to discipline young Ned, "I've tried nothing and I'm all out of ideas!"

The revelation that has dawned on me is that this is not really a 'review', but would more accurately be described as a 'viewers guide'.  Inherent Vice is a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by rolling papers. I have seen it twice already and it wasn't until well after the second viewing did things start to take shape for me in regards to figuring this film out. What I hope to do in writing this 'guide' is not explain the film to you, I think that is an impossibility, since my experience of the film will most assuredly be different from yours, but instead of explaining, I hope to help prepare you for your experience of the film. 

Inherent Vice is a film that is like a delicious Duncan Hines yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so dense and layered that it can be exquisitely delectable but at the same time down right overwhelming. The film is really three layers/films in one, if not many more. The key to watching Inherent Vice is to choose which version, or level, of the film you think you will most enjoy and gorge on it from there.  Here are the three scrumptious layers that are most apparent to me. Mmmmmmmm, yummy layers.

1. The Surface Level. On the surface level, Inherent Vice is a stoner mystery comedy. Think Cheech and Chong meet Chinatown. Personally, I don't get into stoner films, they just aren't my cup of tea, or drug of choice, or whatever metaphor you'd be more comfortable with. So I didn't appreciate the film on this level a great deal, although I admit it is pretty fun trying to figure out what is actually real and what is a just a hallucination in the mind of Joaquin Phoenix' character "Doc". A lot of people do dig stoner comedies though, and if you do, you may very well really like Inherent Vice just as an entertaining, fun movie and nothing more. If that is the case with you, then dive right in and enjoy. If not, then head to level two.

2. A Political/Social Commentary. Dig a little deeper with Inherent Vice and you will find a meditation on American corruption, fascism, and the exploitation of the individual and collective psyche by government and corporate interests through marketing and manipulation. On this level, it is all about the co-opting of the sixties liberation and freedom movements, both personal and political, by the establishment. As you watch, take note of how nothing is ever what it seems on the surface, like the dental conglomerate that is really an Asian drug cartel, or the drug-addled-hippie-musician who is really a spy for Nixon. Everything is something other than what it appears, every person and every group has a hidden nefarious motive at the core of their actions. So, don't have a freak out man!! Remember...paranoia is just a heightened sense of awareness!!

Level two is also riddled with political and social symbolism. As a prime example of level two symbolism, take note of one scene as an example,  in which Josh Brolin's "Bigfoot" character, the symbol of the establishment, kicks in Doc's door and then gobbles down marijuana by the handful as an intimidating show of power, which is really an allegory for the usurping of marijuana culture by the establishment in the form of legalization. Weed is now 'officially' integrated, and by being so legitimized, it loses it's mysterious power. Weed has now been neutered as a political statement and muted as a sacrament for the counter-culture and a symbol of their anti-authoritarianism and rebelliousness.

If you have four hours to kill (in one hour increments)… a really great primer on the exploitation of the individual and collective psyche by those in power, and how they manipulate through marketing, is a series of documentaries from the BBC titled, The Century of the Self. It is about Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays and his creation of of the public relations industry. It is long, but it is a truly great documentary, and it really lays the groundwork for understanding the massive manipulation that unfolds on level two of Inherent Vice, and in our actual lives to this day.  Here is a link…Century of the Self. 

3. A Jungian Psychological Exploration. On level three the story of Inherent Vice is really the tale of the spiritual/psychological quest for wholeness and reunification with the Self by the bringing together of the opposites. Ok, this might be the least apparent and most inaccessible level of the three described, but I found it the most interesting. The way to understand this is to see all of the characters in the story as parts of Doc's psyche. Doc, the long haired, counter-culture hippie, and Josh Brolin's "Bigfoot", the flat-topped-square-establishmentarian, are symbolic opposites of the same coin, Doc's psyche. Shasta, Doc's ex-girlfriend, represents the Anima (feminine power) and Doc the Animus (male), with Doc trying to re-connect with the anima in order to be complete and whole. Also notice the other opposites that come together, Nazis and Jews, the Black Guerrilla Family and the Aryan Brotherhood, Nixonites and hippies, etc. Another thing to keep an eye out for are the religious/spiritual symbolism, including the Christs with Uzis (no, that is not a misprint), and the Buddhas, both gatekeepers and guardians that keep Owen Wilson's character, and Mickey "Wolfmann" mentally, emotionally and psychologically hostage.

The great symbol of wholeness in the film is hiding in plain sight. It is...of all things…pizza!! Trust me, when you see pizza or hear the word pizza, pay attention. Pizza is round and is the symbol of wholeness, so when Doc, or the other characters whom are symbolic parts of his psyche, are looking for, ordering, or eating pizza, they are really searching for wholeness and reunification with the Self. Thus the eating of pizza represents the integrating of wholeness and through this synthesis with wholeness, they, and the part of Doc's psyche they personify, are healed. This is the story of level three, Doc's quest for re-connection with Self and wholeness. 

Thus ends the 'viewers guide'. Those are just some of the ways you can choose to look at the film. You will probably find much more, as the film speaks to people in the language that they can hear. I never read the Thomas Pynchon book the film is based on, so readers of that book might have a greater understanding and appreciation for the film on every level. 

Just a few quick final notes on some of the specifics of the film. First the acting. Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead role of Doc, and he is his usual stellar self. Phoenix' work in the last few years, especially his previous work with P.T. Anderson in The Master, has been so ingeniously brilliant it is beyond description as merely the craft of 'acting'. Phoenix' artistry is so rare and original that I cannot compare him to any other actor we've ever seen, but rather to another revolutionary artist from another form, Pablo Picasso.  Phoenix is so far out there in terms of what he brings to a role, his authenticity, originality and inventiveness that he can only be described as some sort of Picasso-esque mad genius. But beyond his obvious transcendent talent, he also brings an immense understanding and mastery of his craft and a painstakingly meticulous specificity to the details of his work. Joaquin Phoenix is as unique a talent as we have in the acting world, and he is at the height of his powers. We should all consider ourselves blessed to get to watch his work.

Josh Brolin has a supporting role and is as good as he's ever been. Brolin devours the role of "Bigfoot" like his character "Bigfoot" devours that platter of weed, or his Japanese pancakes ("MOTO PANACAKU!!"...Oh wow man, I just realized, just now, that a pancake is another round food symbol of wholeness!! Bigfoot is demanding, in the language of the east, more servings of wholeness to integrate!! Wholeness prepared and delivered by a man of the East!! Whoa….). Brolin brings an unwavering focus and intensity to "Bigfoot", which plays as both frightening and funny. Brolin can be an underrated actor, but here he shows he is the real deal when in the right role, and his performance is a key part in making Inherent Vice work.

Robert Elswit is the cinematographer on Inherent Vice, and his work is dazzling. Elswit has worked on many of P.T. Anderson's films, and his work is always exquisite, and Inherent Vice is no exception. This is the second film of note for Elswit this year, his cinematography on Nightstalker is stunning as well. It is without question that Elswit deserves not only an Oscar nomination but an Oscar win for his work in either Nightstalker or Inherent Vice. Elswit, like Phoenix, is another artist at the top of his game.

And there you have some random, scattered thoughts on the enigmatic Inherent Vice.  I can honestly tell you that I am not sure which parts of this 'review/guide' were real, and which were simply entertaining hallucinations, but I guess you'll figure that all out when you see the movie for yourself. 

I do hope you find the viewer's guide useful, but remember, those are just some of the ways to watch the film. You will probably find much more, as the film speaks to people in the language with which they can hear it, and that is it's greatest strength and a tribute to the mastery of director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson is the great filmmaker of our time, and Inherent Vice is a tribute to his complexity and the intricacy of his work. I found the film to be fascinating, I think you may too.

© 2015

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , THE IMITATION GAME , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .