The same Left that despises President Trump despised George W. Bush long before him... What’s driving McKay? The need to live out his anger against Bush. McKay recalls attending the victory party for John Kerry — who, needless to say, did not win. “Everyone you could imagine was there,” McKay describes, including Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, and Ferrell... According to McKay, Cheney was far more powerful than W... This, of course, is untrue. But the punch line is this one: “I would choose Trump over Bush and Cheney.” Why? Because, according to McKay, “Donald Trump has no belief system. So I would take the hyenas, the random wild animals running through the White House over Cheney any day of the week.”This is how you got Trump... Trump, for the Left, isn’t a departure from conservatism. He’s just another variation on a theme: All conservatives are evil... Which is why, of course, Trump is the president right now. Leftist contempt for conservatives seeps through Hollywood and drips off our television and movie screens. And conservatives responded in 2016 to that contempt by nominating a man who wouldn’t take an insult, who wouldn’t respect the office of the presidency enough to forgo a cultural fight. Those on the right elected Trump more to fight those like McKay than to fight those like Nancy Pelosi... That’s why they revel in Trump’s tweets (see Schitt, Adam) and his willingness to slam anyone who knocks him (see Admiral McRaven). Trump doesn’t take, for lack of a better word, schitt. And conservatives have been taking it for far too long.
.. There’s one problem for conservatives, however: They’re missing that McKay and his colleagues aren’t the target audience. The anti-Bush films bombed because most Americans don’t see politics the same way McKay doesThey do appreciate class in the Oval Office, and they do take dignity seriously. That’s why Bush won reelection in 2004, to McKay’s horror. The best revenge against Hollywood is political success, not temporarily cathartic blowback. Which is why Republicans — and President Trump — would do well to remember that strategic cultural warfare is useful, but if conservatism isn’t advanced, McKay and his ilk will sleep better at night.
Will [Ferrell] and I joke that we single-handedly ruined Paul Thomas Anderson’s producing career before it started,” Adam McKay says, casually splaying his 6-foot-5 frame across the couch, as though in a weekly therapy session. The original script for his eventual comedy classic “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” was so deliriously absurd that Anderson, the auteur behind “Boogie Nights,” “The Phantom Thread” and “Magnolia” — a movie that ends with a preposterous rain of frogs falling from the sky — threw up his hands and amicably bowed out of the agreement.
“He was, like, ‘I don’t know what to tell these guys, because I love this, but I know it won’t work,” McKay adds.
Of course, it did work — at least half a dozen lines from the movie are firmly entrenched in the greater American lexicon — and pretty much everything else has worked for McKay in the decade-plus since he brought Ron Burgundy into our lives.
.. He’s one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, albeit so self-effacing that you could never imagine him saying that with a straight face.
.. It’s an almost unrivaled come-up for the former head writer of ”Saturday Night Live,”
.. A decade later, 2015’s brilliant “The Big Short” permanently altered his trajectory from go-to comedy guru into one of Hollywood’s most astute chroniclers of political and economic corruption. Inspired by a Michael Lewis tome about the 2008 housing crash, the fourth-wall obliterating parable of American greed netted McKay a slew of Oscar nominations and a win for best adapted screenplay. At age 50, the card-carrying member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America has not only become one of the industry’s most sought after commercial filmmakers, he’s become an unlikely heir to ’70s political satirist Hal Ashby — or perhaps the answer to the question, what if Mike Myers directed “All The President’s Men?” And for this, you can blame Public Enemy.
.. “When Public Enemy hit, it changed everything,” McKay says. “Those songs stopped me from being a moron teenager and politicized me in a big way.”
.. With his gray hair and spectacles, worn T-shirt and loosefitting olive pants, McKay looks more liberal-arts professor than Professor Griff. But hearing him talk hip-hop and politics affirms the carefully considered values of a longtime traveler.
.. In a National Review screed against “Vice,” right-wing firebrand Ben Shapiro claimed that Hollywood’s “leftist contempt” for conservatives led to President Trump. He incorrectly attributes McKay’s critiques to a hardened ideology, rather than a caustic fury that takes widow-making aim at those who abuse power and the public trust.
.. “I remember people screaming at me when I was protesting the Iraq War, saying I was anti-American, anti-this. I wanted to call them up and go, ‘Okay, so that didn’t work. So, what am I? Am I still a liberal?’ I hate these tags you get whacked with. All I want to do is judge politicians and our government by their actions. Are they corrupt or not? Are they effective or not?”
.. The obsessive streak that led him to pore over every bit of available data about Dick Cheney was there when he was memorizing the lyrics to songs by Run-DMC, Mantronix, Three Times Dope and LL Cool J.
.. After leaving Temple University a few semesters short of an English degree, McKay moved to Chicago to co-found the Upright Citizens Brigade. He became a member of the last generation tutored by improv legend Del Close, the sensei who mentored Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Jim Belushi, John Candy and nearly every other major comic figure to emerge from the pre-millennium SNL pipeline. It’s also where McKay started attending protests.
.. “In Chicago, the improv and theater traditions were always tied to political activism,” McKay says. “But [early ’90s] culture wasn’t going in that direction. When I got to SNL, they asked me, with a bit of surprise, ‘you’re into politics?’ I was, like, ‘not really politics, but government.’ And so I become the guy writing a lot of the bits about presidents.”
.. At SNL, McKay quickly formed an enduring friendship with Ferrell and became head writer at 28, after just one year on the staff.
.. “I noticed that when you’re writing a comedy piece that has a bottom to it — that gets at something deeper — it hits 10 times bigger than a guy who just has a funny tick or needs to get his tooth fixed,” McKay says.
.. “Anchorman” mocks the misogynistic buffoonery of an insecure newscaster desperate to preserve his privileged status.
.. The genius of “The Big Short” lay in its ability to blend surrealistic gonzo comedy with a cogent unraveling of the impossibly complicated fraudulence that led to the financial crisis. The reflexive instinct would have been to play it straight and offer a sober rendering of the grotesque avarice that had ruined millions of lives. Instead, McKay had Selena Gomez (playing herself), sitting at a poker table next to the father of behavioral economics, explaining the intricacies of synthetic CDOs (collateralized debt obligations).
“I come from that improv background where you’re allowed to break stuff and narrate,” McKay explains. “It’s just a matter of getting the timing right. If you don’t, it doesn’t work.”
.. He cites one of “Vice’s” best scenes, a “Wayne’s World”-style fake ending that arrives at the end of the second act; it posits “what if” Cheney had opted out of the vice presidency, stayed at Haliburton and kept America out of Iraq.
.. Although “Vice” might not fully illuminate the inner murk at the heart of Cheney — the biggest “known unknown” conceivable — it remains consistently funny and doubles as an effective shorthand history of the past half-century of power politics in Washington, including ostensibly minor-but-myopic decisions such as Reagan dismantling the solar panels atop the White House roof.
.. McKay operates with the requisite curiosity of an outsider, dumbfounded at how everyone systematically abdicated their values, and does his best to find the tonal sweet spot between a Richard III soliloquy and Ron Burgundy blustering about being kind of a big deal.
.. He singles out Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’ Rourke for praise but reserves his highest admiration for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
.. “Wherever she’s going, I’m going,” he says. “She’s awesome, and what I’d like to see American government get back to: accountability, transparency and letting people know where you’re taking money from.”
.. “The midterms left me hopeful, especially the fact that 15 percent more people voted,” McKay says. “All I care about now is getting this guy out of there and us to an America that believes in and is working to fight global warming. What ties into ‘Vice’ is the need to get big money out of our democracy. It’s responsible for so much — from the denial of global warming to oil companies doing whatever they want.”
.. And like almost any worthwhile artist, there’s a deep-seated empathy for his subjects that McKay can’t shake. Even if his protagonists aren’t necessarily likable, he’s gifted at making them seem human — whether it’s a lecherous Southern California newscaster or the Mr. Burns of real-life political memory.
“I learned that these are people with actual vulnerabilities, who I could actually identify with when they were young,” McKay says. “Yes, there was some anger, but the biggest surprise for me was that I genuinely felt sad for [Cheney and his wife.] Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discounting the horrible things they did, the people who died, the torture. But I teared up at the first big screening. I couldn’t believe it, but it was like a spiritual tragedy, not just for them, but for the entire country enduring this similar kind of loss.”
A tough new Dick Cheney biopic is triggering some conservatives. Have they learned nothing?
So instead, I am summoned to a more urgent, if distasteful, task: to try and explain why anyone in the conservative movement (or anywhere else) would want to normalize Dick Cheney—let alone flat-out cheer for him. After all, this was a man who left office with an approval rating as low as 13 percent.
.. That’s lower than Richard Nixon when he resigned, lower than Jimmy Carter when he was replaced by Ronald Reagan. It’s as low as Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression and as low as Barack Obama among Republicans and conservatives.
Even today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have triple the approval ratings that Cheney left office with.
.. To plagiarize what Andrew Sullivan famously said about Hillary, anyone with Cheney’s destructive track record towards his own movement should have been drummed out “under a welter of derision.”
.. We don’t have to be “ordered” to remember and revere historical figures like Reagan, MLK, and JFK, or be shamed into doing so. But who the heck did Dick Cheney ever benefit outside of the corporate-crony one percent?
- What small, non-monopoly business did he ever give a chance to grow?
- What did he do to improve our schools and police?
- What did he do for balanced-budget conservatism, as he overruled Alan Greenspan and his own treasury secretary, gloating that “deficits don’t matter”?
- How did Cheney make us more secure, with Iraq and Afghanistan all but ruined, Iran and Syria feeling stronger every day,
- and ISIS having wrought its destruction—and with Osama bin Laden still livin’ large for two-and-a-half years after Cheney retired?
- How do you defend someone who literally went to the Supreme Court to keep the minutes of his infamous 2001 energy task force meetings secret (they were co-chaired by Kenny-Boy Lay during the height of Enron’s rape of California’s power grid),
- while at the same time suggesting the outing of a truly top secret CIA agent (Valerie Plame) just to get revenge on her journalist husband?
- How did Cheney uphold Ronald Reagan’s mantra of curbing big government excesses when he justified warrantless surveillance and straight-up torture?
- And what lasting benefit did Dick Cheney bestow on the conservative or Republican brand, with Barack Obama winning the biggest landslides since Reagan and Bush Senior?
It was my respected colleague Kelley Vlahos who solved the mystery of why some members of the Beltway press just can’t quit Cheney: “because they still won’t admit that the war was wrong.” Bingo. Expecting the U.S. to export insta-democracy to decidedly non-Western cultures? Putting overwhelmingly Christian and Jewish “viceroys” in charge of historically Muslim nations? Gee, what could possibly go wrong…
.. As chilling and thrilling as Christian Bale is as Dick Cheney, perhaps no scene in Vice is as squirmy as Richard Dreyfus’s impersonation of Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W., when he stands in front of a CGI map in the War Room and smirkingly announces, “There is no exit strategy. We STAY!” (If that scene didn’t actually take place, it might just as well have.)
.. Still, there are scenes in Vice that come close. For a biopic about a man who defined the adage “personnel is policy,” it’s fitting that director Adam McKay, who has a strong comedy background, chose actors who are known for being funny just as much as for their work in dramas. Those include Sam Rockwell as George W., Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. (Reuniting Bale and Carell also indicates that McKay rightly sees Vice as an unofficial prequel to his financial meltdown dark farce The Big Short.) Like the aforementioned W., McKay’s Vice is a sometimes frenetic, sometimes eerily calm black comedy satire. And like Josh Brolin in W., Sam Rockwell plays George Jr. as an easily played and comical doofus. There’s no doubt in this film as to who the real president was from December 2000 to the end of 2008
.. Watching Bale as a terse, leering, manipulative young reactionary as he grindstones and plays people against each other from the late ‘60s to his Bush-Cheney heyday, one is struck by his shameless entitlement. Cheney uses movement conservatism and old boy connections as his own Uber. If Christian Bale is a slim and athletic man trapped in a fat and ugly body, Cheney sees himself as the Richelieu or Machiavelli of his own real-life movie, trapped just one step behind the real decision-makers—until he finally gets that chance to ride his horse from Aqueduct to Santa Anita.
.. The other key role among these garbage men is Amy Adams’ take-no-prisoners performance as Lynne Cheney. Mrs. Cheney had the straight-A brains and Ph.D.-level drive to be a powerful judge or executive in her own right, and was, according to Adams, a better “natural politician” than her husband. But as a card-carrying member of the Phyllis Schlafly/Anita Bryant/Beverly LaHaye-era Right from rural Wyoming, Lynne had less than zero plans to transform herself into another bra-burning icon. Instead, “she lived her [considerable] ambitions through her husband,” as Adams said. Adams even added that compared to the iron-fisted Lynne, her husband Dick might have been the “velvet glove”!
.. And as these Cheney-rehabilitating articles prove, Lynne wasn’t the only one who got off on Dick’s raw exercise of power and privilege. Watching Dick Cheney at work must have been intoxicating for a Dwight Schrute or Montgomery Burns in his small pond, for someone who coveted the kind of vulgar bullying power that Cheney wielded. It was no accident that Stephen Bannon famously and semi-humorously put Dick Cheney in his own hall of heroes, behind only Darth Vader and Satan, citing Cheney’s peerless talent at “disrupting” established orders... And if you’re a Never Trumper, just recall that a key reason Trump and Ted Cruz were the last Republicans standing in 2016 was because Cheneyism had so discredited the old “conservative” establishment... Sorry, I’m just not there for conservative writers infantilizing Cheney and going all triggered snowflake at what big meanies the Hollywood libr’als are being to him. Christian Bale said it himself: “[Cheney’s] a big boy…he says himself he has no remorse, no regrets, he’d do everything again in a minute.” Exactly.