In Review: Vice

Vice arrives on the screen in a haze of dorm room pot smoke and farts, the kind of conceptual satire brewed up and whiffed out by dudes confusing vacuous provocation for sociopolitical sharpness. But the film’s larger problem is the self-awareness it lacks to see how its own gauche glibness bends closer to the boys club point of view of its demonic subject than it intends. The film belches ill-conceived sketches at us, guffawing at its structural somersaults as it depicts the wheel-turners of the Bush administration creating irrevocable circumstances both immediate and reemerging. Skewering is not enough to excuse how Vice renders some of the most dangerous people of our era into cartoons, resulting in a film grossly stooped in privilege, a film that wants to have its dumb cake and eat it too. It’s torturous, audience-hating claptrap.

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In Review: Ben Is Back

Consider Peter Hedges’ Ben is Back as a natural antecedent to his Pieces of April, with a few key improvements. The largely despised previous film was a Thanksgiving-set early-digital filmmaking effort with effortful emotional maneuverings in telling a story of a fractured family. This time he turns to Christmas to display deeper and wider reaching splinters within a broken home, this time coping with the addiction of the eldest titular son Ben Burns, played by Lucas Hedges. Though the writer/director delivers something less garishly composed than its quasi cinematic cousin, Ben is Back is largely aided by the vigor of Julia Roberts’ turn as the mother Holly.

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In Review: Boy Erased

Adapted from Gerrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased paints a picture of repressed queer white middle America, in all of the religious familial practice and assumption of normalcy to go with the setting. Lucas Hedges plays the author (here named Jared Eamons) as he is sent to a gay conversion center called Love In Action by his parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. In the hands of sophomore director Joel Edgerton (himself playing Love in Action’s mouthpiece and leader Victor Sykes) however, this search for healing is detrimentally willing to sacrifice what’s real.

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In Review: The Happy Prince

The Happy Prince suffers the familiar strains of the modern biopic, charting the humiliating downfall of Oscar Wilde with structurally scattered and emotionally limited effect. Obviously a project of great importance to Rupert Everett, as the actor wrote and directed the film in addition to starring as the notorious writer, the film is still notably passionate despite its haphazard expediency. What we ultimately get is affectionate portraiture shoved into a soggy package that often mistakes its ping ponging construction for insightful texture.

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In Review: The Oath

When dissension needs to be heard, is it still better to speak with nothing to say than to not speak at all? As Ike Barinholtz’s directorial debut The Oath shows, it may be better leaving the outcry to voices that can convince rather than be simply loud. The film feels spiritually adjacent to the quasi-science fiction of The Purge franchise, portraying a future where the American government institutes a signed oath to the administration, enforced by both shadowy agencies and the social demands of those around us. The potential consequences of opposition are as scary as the futility of dealing with the devoted. But Barinholtz can’t move deeper than the lowest common denominator of his themes.

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