Ryan Welton

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Movie Review: ‘Vice’ fantastic mimicry but at least partially unfair

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Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in "Vice"

A few weeks ago, I finished the Chris Whipple book called “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” a book that masterfully and I believe fairly documented the reigns of chiefs of staff from the Nixon era forward.

Here’s a video of my book review, below:

I’ve been fascinated by the presidency since I was 3 and memorized them all. I read biographies of every president although I have never come close to devouring near enough Lincoln material. For the love of goodness, I read a biography of Millard Fillmore once.

And I’m a devotee of “The West Wing,” and to know Leo McGarry’s role as Jed Bartlet’s chief is to understand what the chief of staff is supposed to do.

  1. Tell the president the unadulterated truth
  2. Control access to the president
  3. Wrangle Congress

So, when Kristi and I went to see Adam McKay’s “Vice” a couple of weeks ago, it was with an eye for how they treated its subject, Dick Cheney, during his era as the chief of staff for former President Gerald Ford.

A lot of the details it nailed, but the first thing the movie failed to acknowledge is how well liked Cheney was on Capitol Hill during that first run. The Whipple book painted the picture of an incredibly amiable man, willing to work with people from all viewpoints, a bridge-builder and not a Darth Vader.

Sure, I get that people can change over time.

With “Vice,” we have to acknowledge how terrific Christian Bale was, regardless of who inspired him. Sam Rockwell was terrific as W, and I enjoyed seeing Allison Pill of “The Newsroom” fame.

I think people of all political stripes should acknowledge the role Cheney played in creating the situation whereby America went to war with Iraq in 2003. Even the Whipple book acknowledged that Cheney’s reign as vice president was more powerful than any chief of staff George W. Bush could have had, and that’s a reflection of Cheney’s experience as chief and his interest in manipulating the powers of the executive branch.

A manipulation that every president since has leveraged and will continue to leverage. Forget parties and division, this is the concept that should scare any American. We want our government to have less power, not more.

So, for those who hated W, this movie will cement that further.

For those who hate the liberal media elite, this film won’t do a thing to dissuade you that the fix is in.

For me, I had no problem with how McKay portrayed Cheney as the vice president. My primary issue is how they portrayed him as Ford’s chief. In reality, it’s really as if the Dick Cheney of 1975 and the Cheney of 2003 were completely different people.

Otherwise, a pretty mesmerizing movie to watch. I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie Review: ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ Miranda a delight

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Mary Poppins Returns

As a 48-year-old man about to marry into a family with a 10-year-old girl, I have realized quickly just how little Disney I’ve ever watched.

I totally get what Mary Poppins was all about, and I loved her magic bag and its goodies, or at least the concept of it. I call my fiance’s bag a “Mary Poppins bag.” But I speak as a practicing admirer. If you’ve ever seen me pack my backpack, you’ll quickly learn that I take that stuff seriously. Always prepared.

However, I have never seen the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews.

I’ve never seen a lot of movies, and (squirrel) the Starbucks at which I’m typing this and sipping a caramel macchiato has George Strait’s “Fool Hearted Memory” playing on the sound system, and I can’t begin to tell you how awesome that is. What a fantastic 1980s country song.

Anyway, Kristi and I went with young O to see “Mary Poppins Returns” on Christmas Day. I knew Emily Mortimer was in the movie, and I know her from “The Newsroom,” an Aaron Sorkin TV show that I adore from a few years back. I’m not that big a fan of hers because, like many actors, I feel like she’s mostly playing the role of “Emily Mortimer.”

And I saw that the “Hamilton” guy was in the movie. Yes, I’m talking about Lin-Manuel Miranda. He plays Jack, who serves as a bicycle-riding narrator of our little story. I presume there was a similar character in the 1964 version of this movie.

Forgive me; I’m a newbie to all-things-Poppins.

He and Emily Blunt, who very capably played the title character, appeared on screen before the movie to welcome audiences to it, a nice touch.

While I’m not a cynic by nature, I was quite cynical about Miranda’s appearance in the movie, thinking it was more about his clout inside the industry as a guy who turned a Broadway show into a national phenomenon as opposed to on-screen talent.

Boy, was I wrong. Holy moly was I ever. I suspect the man is a national treasure, and most of us in America haven’t recognized it yet. Sure, the Broadway elite have, but Miranda reminds me of Tom Hanks and John Ritter, two of the most likable on-screen actors of the past 50 years.

My cynicism was turned into Lin-Manuel Miranda evangelism quickly enough.

And, even Emily Mortimer won me over enough to make me forget she’s actually MacKenzie McHale.

But I had no doubt for a moment that Emily Blunt wasn’t born to be Mary Poppins. She was fantastic, and I came away convinced that, in this political climate, Mary Poppins should just run for president.

Because that woman gets things done.

Thoroughly enjoyed it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: Roman J. Israel, Esq., another highlight in a brilliant career for Denzel Washington

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I had forgotten that Denzel Washington had been nominated for Best Actor for his titular role in Roman J. Israel, Esq. After watching it Sunday night, I’m not sure how he didn’t win it.

The Dan Gilroy film centers on a criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist who was less of a trial lawyer and more of a paralegal savant. Roman J. Israel, Esq., was the partner who knew every statute and organized everything for the firm. His ability on that front was matched only by his public awkwardness, characteristics that would deem most attorneys unworthy for trial.

Israel would say what’s on his mind to a fault.

He was highly odd and awkward around people.

But, damn, was he a righteous human being.

Until he wasn’t.

And that’s the crux of the film, starring Washington and Colin Farrell. Israel’s law partner, William Jackson, falls into a coma suddenly, and the firm is left in the hands of Farrell, who was a student of Jackson’s back in the day. Israel won’t take a job with Farrell’s fancy firm because he feels like he’d be a sell-out.

Yet the market is having no part of Roman J. Israel, Esq., and he reluctantly gets on board with Farrell’s firm. He did, however, meet a woman during the job interview process, a woman who runs an activist group planning a protest. That plot tangent not only showcased Israel’s heart, it provided a good chunk of comic relief, too.

I should mention that Israel’s life’s work is a class-action suit that would force judges into hearing every criminal case instead of lazily plea-bargaining young men of color into 5-, 10- and 20-year sentences just to make the court system move quicker. For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with that quest.

Not sure that Gilroy intended it, but Washington’s Israel reminds me of Cornel West, who I’ve always admired. Mostly it’s the hair and the glasses because, in real life, West is extroverted and charming, at least apparently. What they both have in common is a heart in absolutely the right place.

Along the way, Israel does something he shouldn’t have.

He sells his soul.

And regrets it.

I won’t give away any more, but Washington is fantastic in this movie. The plot wanders a bit, and I find it a tad unbelievable that a man as righteous as Israel would just suddenly give in to temptation. His character makes it pretty clear though. Israel was tired of “doing the impossible for the ungrateful.”

The movie did not get great reviews. However, Washington did, and deservedly so.

At no point did I think I was watching a modern masterpiece, but I was glued to the TV screen the entire time and wishing there were more folks around like Israel in real life.

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