Remembering the life and career of Jeff Michael Vice
By Kurt Geltz
Film critic and freelance writer Jeff Michael Vice has died. It’s a huge loss for us at Cinephiled as he was an integral part of the team and recently had taken the role of lead reviewer for the website. Jeff was a talented writer, a brilliant humorist and a great friend.
I met Jeff about 25 years ago in Provo, Utah. I had moved there from Pennsylvania to go to school and found work at a comic book shop. Jeff had recently graduated from Utah State University in Logan and returned home to take a job as a general assignment reporter for the Deseret News covering Utah County. He also picked up a part-time job at the now-departed Reptile Records. Jeff loved music, and because of that and our mutual love of comics, it was only a matter of time before the two of us would meet in a town that size.
Whether it was debating who was a better Spider-Man artist (John Romita Sr. or Steve Ditko) or which Replacements album was better (“Let it Be” or “Pleased to Meet Me”), Jeff and I immediately bonded. Through Jeff I met some truly amazing people, including local radio icon Kerry Jackson, “Wildcard” Shannon Barnson and artistic madman Leigh George Kade. Those three, along with Jeff, would go on to form the popular Geekshow Podcast. I also became very close with Jeff’s twin brother Scott during those long-ago years. We had constant fun, whether it was checking out bands like an up-n-coming White Zombie, indie darlings Skankin’ Pickle and classic rockers Cheap Trick or simply hanging out for some late-night video gaming. Those were the years of little responsibility and way too much time on our hands — and they were a blast.
Despite that, Jeff worked hard at his job, and the years of writing and reporting eventually paid off as he went from general assignment reporter to music reviewer to film critic. Eventually, Jeff succeeded Chris Hicks to be THE film critic for the Deseret News in the late ‘90s. Jeff was extremely proud of the achievement because he had done what any journalist had to do in those days; he’d paid his dues and learned his craft so that he could succeed in a tough professional field. While Jeff worked hard and took what he wrote very seriously, it was never at the expense of family and friends.
Jeff was a film fan and loved all kinds of genres. He introduced me to then-unknown director John Woo by showing me “The Killer.” Jeff organized a bunch of us to go see “Army of Darkness” at a local Cineplex together — because that was the way to see a Bruce Campbell movie. I also recall him trying to hunt down Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors Trilogy” simply because he had read that it was an important film series to experience. I remember once asking him if he ever aspired to write for esteemed publications like Rolling Stone or Film Comment. His response: “Now, why on earth would I ever want to do that?” Jeff loved being a local news reporter and film reviewer. He felt it was important for communities to have their own unique voices. And among the film critics in Salt Lake City and Utah, Jeff Vice was truly unique, but his voice would soon travel beyond what locals call “The Zion Curtain.”
For many years, Jeff had been an active participant on local radio station KXRK’s popular morning show “Radio From Hell,” providing film reviews and other geeky discussions. In 2008, “Radio From Hell” host Kerry Jackson decided to take these pop culture segments one-step further and into the realm of podcasting. He invited Jeff to join a crew of like-minded friends to nerd out on all things geeky. The popularity of the podcast would lead Jeff to lend his voice to other institutions, including the popular Mediocre Show based out of Philadelphia. They enjoyed his wit so much they asked him to provide movie reviews and entertainment insights on their program as well. He also began writing comic book reviews for Big Shiny Robot!, which he enjoyed in part because it also allowed him to talk about his other love, comics, and it provided him with the opportunity to interview comic icons like the late Joe Simon. He would also go on to launch the Internet film review show The Big Movie Mouth-Off with film critic Jimmy Martin, which was also seen via Comcast’s in-demand service in Salt Lake City.
One of Jeff’s greatest strengths in life was as a mentor. He was always happy to help someone out and was the go-to-guy for new film critics. When I began my career in the late ‘90s, I turned to Jeff for help getting on the studio lists and meeting the right people. He was generous and would sit down with me to impart his wisdom and share his writing process. He helped me skip some rookie mistakes. With his passing, I’ve come to find out that I wasn’t the only one to benefit. Other film critics, such as Eric D. Snider and Jimmy Martin, also came up under Jeff’s tutelage.
Due to a bad economy and the changing face of technology, Jeff was dealt a cruel blow in 2010 when the Deseret News laid off 43% of its staff. I had been working as a contract producer overseeing MSN’s geek site Parallel Universe at the time. When I heard Jeff had been let go, I went to my boss and told him that he would be an excellent writer to add to our already impressive freelance writing pool. I was prepared to fight hard for this friend of mine, but he was happy to welcome Jeff to the team. This was a delight for me — I try to help out friends whenever I can — and I was thrilled to work with one of my best friends.
During my time with Parallel Universe, Jeff would contribute geeky fare along the lines of Horror Remakes that Don’t Suck or Best Movies that Take Place on Mars. Jeff and I had long planned to do a special feature that would pit Marvel’s superhero movies against rival publisher DC Comics. The idea would have Marvel fanboy Jeff up against our Parallel Universe co-conspirator Don Kaye, who is an ardent Batman and Superman fan, in a knock-down, drag-out debate over which superhero movies were better. Sadly, we were never able to make that feature a reality even though every new superhero movie would invariably lead to some back and forth about how now may be the time. I’m sure Don would agree with me today when I say how much I wish we could have pulled that one off. Jeff would eventually outlast me at MSN. My contract position ended up being eliminated due to budget cuts in 2012.
When Jeff and many others were unceremoniously dumped by MSN due to further budget cuts a year later, former MSN Movies producer Noah Walden had the bright idea to launch Cinephiled and invited that amazing pool of writing talent to come and join him there. Jeff was more than happy to follow them, as he had always been proud to be a part of group of talented writers like James Rocchi, Glenn Kenny, Danny Miller, Sean Axmaker, Bryan Reesman and others. Some of those writers have moved on, but that just paved the way for Jeff to write more, and he was more than happy to do it. He had another outlet from which to share his love of cinema with an audience.
Jeff was an active part of the Utah Film Critics Association and enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow critics in that “pretty, great state.” He also wrote and co-hosted a popular weekly pub quiz in Salt Lake City. The pub quiz was an extension of his other professional pursuits but it allowed him to make more friends, and he became a huge presence in the nightlife scene there as well. (Yes, there is a nightlife scene in Salt Lake City.) After two decades in the field, Jeff had acquired a large following of fans and friends in the region.
Sadly, Jeff suffered from asthma, and a massive attack which resulted in heart failure would bring an end to a brilliant career. In recent days I noticed on Facebook and Twitter that my friend had entered into a relationship with Erica Shaw, who I don’t know, but judging how enthusiastic he talked about her … I couldn’t help but feel that he may have found someone special who was a lot like him. For many of us who knew the Vice family through the years, this is the second time we’ve had to mourn a Vice loss as Jeff’s twin brother Scott passed away in 2002. Jeff Michael Vice is survived by his mother, Zelda, his brother, Bill Wren, and an extended family. Friends of Jeff are raising funds to help his family with funeral costs, donations can be made through PayPal, the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As my friend Leigh pointed out on Facebook after his passing, the miracle of Jeff will live on as he was an organ donor and we can only hope that the parts of him that will go on to help others in need will also allow Jeff’s memory to burn that much brighter.
Kurt Geltz is freelance writer who lives in Seattle. You can follow him on Twitter @KurtGeltz