A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 602 – Capote

I’ll come out and admit, this is a late review. By a lot of time. I’m writing this in the fall of 2012, not quite a year since watching this movie for the first time. That’s going to be true of a lot of movies from here on, since I ran out of steam for writing a review every day and haven’t quite worked back up to it yet. For movies that I’ve seen a bunch of times, or things that I hated or things that really worked their ways into my head, well, that won’t matter much. For other movies, things have faded and I can remember bits and pieces, but not fully formed thoughts. I really should have taken notes for some things. Live and learn.

Fortunately, this movie stuck with me. It’s a fictionalized account of a real series of events, which, when you think about it, is a bit of a meta-textual situation, what with the story being about the writing of a novel about a true set of events. This isn’t a movie with pleasant subject matter and it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s sad and unsettling and slightly disturbing but for some reason it didn’t affect me as viscerally as some other sad movies I’ve watched. I suspect it’s because there’s an aspect of removal here. The main character is unsettled, yes, but he’s also attempting to work with it and through it and use it for his own writing. He’s not an intrinsically unhappy person. He’s simply in a disturbing situation that he is also fascinated by.

The movie follows writer Truman Capote as he is introduced to and drawn in by the murders that eventually formed the basis for his book, In Cold Blood. It’s billed as a biographical movie, and that’s true to an extent, but it’s not telling Capote’s entire life story and it’s not telling much that doesn’t directly relate to the writing of his book. It’s a focused biographical movie, showing the effect the writing of the story and researching of the story has on Capote himself. And that effect is fascinating.

Really, this movie should be double-billed with Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, which, coincidentally, I rewatched the other night. Both movies contain threads of fiction and fact and both stories are addressing the nature of involvement between events and the media reporting them. Here, Capote finds himself having to balance between his role as a writer, recording and reporting the details of the murders and the events and people involved, and his role as a confidant of one of the murderers, Perry Smith. Much of the detail he’s able to get and therefore write about comes from the fact that Smith ends up trusting him enough to speak to him. Becoming close to Smith allows Capote a more in-depth look at what he’s writing about, but it also places him in a position where he comes to care about what happens to Smith. At the same time, he doesn’t want to influence events because that would compromise his neutrality as a reporter. That conflict is the heart of the movie and it’s one that isn’t ever fully resolved. The movie ends on a note questioning that very theme.

It’s a quiet movie, and a somewhat sad one. Part of the sadness comes from the crime that started it all. It’s a terrible crime, or set of crimes, really. These aren’t sad-but-fictional murders. These people were real and these people were killed.

I wish I could think of more to say about this movie. I suspect it’s my own damn fault for not writing this review closer to watching the movie itself, but short of watching it again (which I just plain don’t have time to do right now), I’m not sure how better to get things moving. I also wish I had read Capote’s In Cold Blood prior to watching the movie about its’ writing.

I will say that I thought the acting was superb. Of course Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing in the title role, but his is not the only fantastic performance. It’s just that he fills the movie in so many ways. After all, it’s a movie about Truman Capote and it’s a movie about his writing and his process and his difficulties and him as a person in this particular situation. So of course Hoffman is all over this movie. And if his performance had been at all lacking, the movie would have suffered for it. Thankfully, that’s not the case. But the movie would also have suffered had the supporting cast, like Catherine Keener as Harper Lee and Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith not been so good.

I often find myself conflicted when it comes to movies presenting a fictionalized account of true events. Not conflicted about liking them – I do tend to enjoy historical pieces – but about how to view them. Obviously this is not a movie in which every word, every emotion, every glance, every moment is true to life. It isn’t a documentary. It was made with intent and bias and is the product of interpretation and fictionalization. Such pieces, be they books or movies, need to be viewed as fiction with a heavy dollop of reality as the base. Which is really quite relevant to this particular piece, given that its subject matter has to do with a nonfiction novel. I mentioned above that this movie should be double-billed with Medium Cool and I stand by that. Both movies are dealing not only with the topics of involvement and detachment in media, sensationalism and truth, but are doing so in a medium which forces questions about fact versus fiction, which is fascinating, to say the least.

October 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Perfect Storm

August 10, 2011

The Perfect Storm

I had no intention of buying this movie. I had no particular interest in watching it. When we were shopping for shark movies, however, it was part of an inexpensive two pack with Deep Blue Sea that we bought at the FYE at our local mall before they went out of business. So it ended up in the collection and so we’re bound to watch it.

The reason that I never bothered to watch this movie was that I knew how it was going to end. I suppose just about everybody who watched this knew how it was going to turn out, since it was a highly publicised true story about a swordfishing boat that was lost with all hands during a colossal storm off the New England coast. So why, I wondered to myself, would I allow myself to watch a movie that spends most of its time humanising these man, letting us become invested in them, their lives and their troubles, when I know from the start that they’re going to all die before the movie’s over?

I suppose that this could have been presented as a kind of disaster movie. I do enjoy watching those. Things like Earthquake or Twister which have forces of nature violently destroying stuff. I enjoy that kind of movie, even if I know that nobody’s going to make it out alive. But this movie isn’t that. Oh, sure, it has the wrath of Mother Nature as a series of events converge to drive “the perfect storm” against the Gloucester coast, but it’s presented much more as a human story about a small group of characters and the people waiting at home for them.

The first two thirds of the movie is entirely concerned with showing us these hearty fishermen and the way that their demanding work has made it hard for them to live normal lives. There’s George Clooney as Captain Billy Tyne, the skipper of the doomed Andrea Gail. He’s upset because he hasn’t been able to find the fish lately as well as he used to be, and is driven to go further out to sea than perhaps is wise with an approaching storm in an attempt to redeem his good name. There’s the young rookie Bobby Shatford played by Mark Wahlberg, who has fishing in his blood, but who has a young girlfriend waiting at home that he would be willing to leave the sea for, if only he could make enough on this one last run to help her live as he thinks she deserves. There’s Dale Murphy (the distinctive John C Reilly) whose wife has left him and who wants only to be able to spend time with his son. There’s Bugsy, the mechanic, and Alfred, the ethnic one, and Sully who only comes along because Captain Billy needs another hand, and who has some kind of bad blood with Dale.

We meet them and their families and learn all about their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Then we get a whole lot of manly male bonding stuff as they battle the elements and the capricious nature of their prey on the ocean. I’ve seen enough Deadliest Catch to be pretty familiar with the ebb and flow of this battle, with the fish biting some times and long periods of disappointment as well. (Indeed as I watched this I very much wanted to put the Deadliest Catch game into my X-Box and play it for a while. It’s now so much a game actually as a very complicated crab fishing simulator.) Then of course there’s the storm itself.

Naturally, since nobody on the Andrea Gale actually survived to tell the tale, virtually everything that happens in this movie is pure fiction. The character names are actual people,and it’s likely that much of what we see about their relationships is drawn from fact, but everything that happens on their final voyage is pure speculation. Dale being pulled overboard by a hook through his hand. The ice machine crapping out. The big action set-piece where one of the anchors they’re using to keep the ship stable as they battle giant waves comes loose and starts smashing up the boat. All of that is just there for dramatic effect. he only thing that is actually known is that the boat went out too far and didn’t make it back.

I have no doubt that all the disasters depicted are actual real things that happen on swordfishing boats. I’ll admit that although I’ve watched most of the first three seasons of Deadliest Catch I’ve never watched Swords, which is the same show but with boats like the Andrea Gale hunting swordfish off the New England coast. Still, there’s the feel of truth to much of this – but that didn’t really draw me into the movie. Instead it made me want to watch Swords so I could see actual people dealing with these actual problems. I think I would have enjoyed that more than the Hollywood version.

Another problem this movie has is that it tries to introduce a whole host of other characters that are not really related to the Andrea Gale. I can understand putting the television meteorologist in who has to do all the exposition about how so many factors are coming together to result in this disastrous storm. But then there’s a family that sails into the hurricane and has to be rescued by a coast guard helicopter (the same chopper that goes down later trying to reach the Andrea Gale.) They distract from the main story of the film and feel like padding, which is too bad because I love seeing Karen Allen getting work. An awful lot of time is spent following the crew of the coast guard cutter and helicopter that also feels like a distraction. There’s even a lengthy refueling scene which will remind any MST3K fan of Starfighters and it’s interminable refueling montages.

I spent a whole lot of this movie wishing I was watching something else. I suppose that’s the main problem I have with it. It made me want to watch Swords or Deadliest Catch. It made me want to see other “nature attacks” style disaster movies. All the wonderful and recognisable actors in the cast made me want to stop this and watch other movies we own starring those same people that I enjoyed more. I’ll admit to a tear or two at the end when the movie gets super manipulative and tries its damnedest make you break down sobbing, but I mostly resented the movie for its manipulative ways by then. About the only good thing I can say about the film is that it has some pretty good special effects (although some of the digital waves are not completely convincing) and that I was quite relieved that George Clooney didn’t attempt to do an authentic Gloucester accent, which would have been painful. I would have spent the whole movie thinking “These people want to see a lobster.”

August 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Finding Neverland

May 19, 2011

Finding Neverland

I love a movie about the power of imagination. Which is very much what this movie is. In the spirit of Shakespeare in Love this is a fictionalization of the creation of a well known popular work. In this case it is a slightly more modern tale from the turn of the 19th century with the subject being the writing of Peter Pan.

Who better to play the author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, than that eternal man-child himself Johnny Depp? It seems to be the role he was born to play. Barrie is portrayed as a man who takes great delight in childhood games and wild adventures of the imagination. When his latest play is a colossal flop and critical failure he finds solace in the companionship of a group of young brothers who have not lost the ability to dream. He spends more and more time with the Llewelyn Davies boys and their mother and finds in playing with them the inspiration for his next play – a mad fantasy about a boy who doesn’t ever want to grow up.

Much of the charm in this movie comes from the deft direction of Marc Forster. He wonderfully blends the world of imagination and play with the real world and shows us how these fantasies have a reality of their own. I would say that it has a very Gilliamesque feel to it, and that’s high praise coming from me. For the most part the magic in the film comes from simple tricks like inter-cutting between two viewpoints of the same dialog, or flying out parts of the set to show us the land of fantasy behind and around the mundane world. At one point in the fantasy world there are some gorgeous waves done in a sort of cut-out style which I assume to be the only CGI effects in the film. There are also a couple wonderfully creative camera tricks (like the kite POV shot) and one particular sweeping, soaring, absolutely impossible camera move that flies around the theater during the opening night of the play Peter Pan which completely blew my mind.

I was also mightily impressed by the very, very young Freddie Highmore who here plays the second youngest of the brothers, the practical Peter. It’s a great character – acting as a sort of foil to Barrie’s man who wants to play like a boy there’s Peter as the boy who doesn’t want to believe in childish things. It’s a demanding role, and many of the movie’s most emotional moments hinge on him, and Freddie is more than able to give it the power it deserves.

I do not, as a rule, spend time with children. Maybe it’s that I have too many bad memories of how awkward and painful it was to be one. Maybe it’s that I don’t like being cast in the role of an adult. As such it is difficult for me to sympathise with a character who chooses to spend most of his time playing with this brood. On the other hand, I do have wonderful memories of playing with my friend Randy in Narnia and Middle Earth and Xanth (all of which were somehow encompassed by a small stretch of fence and a rope swing in his back yard.) So I know what it is to see entire other worlds in this one.

I knew going into it that this movie would make me cry, and I was right. But it’s okay because there’s a hopefulness to the film. There’s a (very heavily beaten home) message to the movie about the wonder of dreams and the power they have to bring us hope in times of trouble. No matter how blatant the point may be I still find it to be a valid one. Me, I always wanted to escape to the 100 Acre Wood as a child and not to Neverland, but the gist is the same. This world we live in is only one aspect of our lives, and the worlds we imagine and play in are no less valid. I firmly believe that.

Now back to my video games.

May 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 201 – Ed Wood

Ed Wood – September 17th, 2010

Being an MST3K fan, I have seen quite a few Ed Wood movies, and not the ones that spring to mind when you hear his name. I’m talking about the ones that aren’t even campy enough to laugh at without professionals making fun of them for you. To be honest, we don’t even put in the two MST3K episodes with the “cautionary tale” type movies very often. They’re really pretty boring. Give me monster movies and cardboard gravestones any day. And that’s why movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space are the ones people associate with Ed Wood. That’s why people know his name now. That’s why this movie was made.

It is ostensibly a biopic of a period of Ed Wood’s life. Between his initial meeting with Bela Lugosi and the opening of Plan 9, to be specific. Wood, struggling to bring the stories he wants to tell to an audience (any audience) meets Lugosi by chance one afternoon. That chance meeting leads to Wood finding ways to work Lugosi into whatever projects he can. Wood makes Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 in the course of the movie and the challenges he faced to make them are really a lot of the story of the movie. The trouble was, Wood wasn’t really a great writer, director or actor. That’s a high hurdle to jump.

Watching this tonight, I felt genuine regret that I haven’t seen Glen or Glenda. Not because I’m sure it’s a fine piece of cinema, but because I have seen the other two movies featured and it’s fantastic to see what this movie does with them. Watching the filming of the octopus scene in Bride of the Monster is fantastic, and knowing that scene? It’s even better. It really does look like that! It really is that obvious! Seeing one of the cops in Plan 9 scratching his head with his gun? Yeah, that’s a common affectation for the character in the real movie. My favorite bit is the scene between the female lead and the file clerk in Bride of the Monster. Watching the movie itself, that scene is so stilted and the two actresses are so odd together. Putting it into the context of Wood’s girlfriend getting shunted to the file clerk role when Wood thought the actress who played the lead could give him some funding? It’s just great to see these moments played out. And everyone involved really nails the scenes from the movies.

I remain thoroughly impressed with every performance in this movie. Johnny Depp played Wood like a puppy who thinks that back yard desperately needed a hole dug in it and aren’t you glad he dug it for you? And you look at it and go “Holy crap, that is one horrible hole in the middle of my yard.” And you look at the puppy and go “… awwwwwwwwww.” That is Johnny Depp as Wood. Making his movies and loving every moment of them and utterly convinced the world will love them too! And as played here, you feel for the guy. His vision surpassed his skill by far. There are also some great performances by Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lisa Marie and Jeffrey Jones (and Juliette Landau, playing her role as Loretta much like Loretta plays the role of Janet, which is awesome). I love all of them. But the best of them all is Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi.

Up until his death and the filming of Plan 9 From Outer Space, the movie is more about the end of Bela Lugosi’s life than about Ed Wood. At least it is to me. Martin Landau’s performance as Lugosi is absolutely heartbreaking and his performance elevates so much of the story for me. I don’t presume to know the true nature of Wood’s and Lugosi’s friendship. I’d like to believe it was genuine in real life. But whatever the truth is, in the movie it is a friendship. Sure, Wood won’t pass up an opportunity to use Lugosi in a film, but Lugosi wants to work with him. As far as the movie’s concerned, Ed Wood cared about Lugosi as a person, as one of his idols. As a friend. And every moment between them is magic. I’m not ashamed to admit that Landau’s performance makes me tear up whenever I watch this movie. He won an Oscar for it and it’s well deserved, because he was amazing. Landau as Lugosi is vulnerable and feisty at the same time. He can hold his own on set, but he needs help at home. The scenes where he calls Wood late at night and the one where he checks into the hospital are truly emotional, which is fascinating in a movie so rooted in Wood’s own style.

The whole movie is done in black and white, which I think was a fantastic choice. It sets the mood and time period and style so perfectly. Never once did I question the setting of the movie. It all feels so perfect. So spot on. The music, done by Howard Shore, adds a lot to it all and Tim Burton really nailed the ambiance, even if it is all much smoother than Wood’s own style. But delving too deeply into Wood’s style would just have ended up looking cheap, and that’s not the point. The point was to capture the essence of it all in an upscale way. Depp’s enthusiasm as Wood, Landau’s amazing performance as Lugosi, a cast and crew who were obviously dedicated to recreating some iconic movie camp, it all comes together to create something funny and sad and cheesy. Perfect for Ed Wood.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ed Wood

September 17, 2010

Ed Wood

What self respecting fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 doesn’t love Ed Wood. Not this movie (though they’d probably love that too) but Ed Wood the infamous writer and director of some of the worst movies ever made. Sure there’s plenty of worse directors out there, and there are movies far worse than Bride of the Monster and Plan 9, but there’s a special charm to this schlock. And it’s a delight to see the reverence with which Tim Burton treats the source material of his somewhat farcical biopic.

Tim Burton here presents the adventures of a young Ed Wood as he makes three of his first movies and starts out his illustrious career. (For the sake of brevity it skips over Jail Bait and Night of the Ghouls in a rush to get to his grand opus – Plan 9. Which we very briefly reviewed way back near the start of our whole movie project.) The whole movie is a big sloppy transvestite kiss to all the misfits, weirdos and strange people that gather in Hollywood. In the movie (and I suspect in real life) they gather around Eddie because he’s got such passion and charm. Throughout the film he’s constantly discovering new friends in strange places. It starts with him running into Bela Lugosi and striking up what starts out as hero worship but quickly develops into a wonderful friendship. The Amazing Criswell, the most successful part of Ed’s entourage in the movie, seems to instantly understand the bizarre world that Ed inhabits. There’s Tor Johnson the Swedish wrestler who would go on to star in a real contender for worst movie ever made in The Beast of Yucca Flats. There’s Ed’s friend Bunny Breckinridge, an old queen who is by Ed’s side from the very beginning. When the whole crew is together it’s like a celebration of everything that is off-kilter in Hollywood, with the manic and enthusiastic Edward D Wood Jr. at the lead.

What really sells the movie is the collection of astonishingly talented people Burton has collected to portray this parade of freaks. Bill Murray seems to be really enjoying camping it up as Bunny. Johnny Depp is so wonderfully charming as Ed himself that you want to drop everything and be a part of his world. He’s got charisma, determination, and an almost complete inability to see what kind of movies he’s making. Of course the Oscar winning performance Martin Landau as Bela is a wonder to behold. Bela in this movie is a washed up has-been and morphine addict with no career and no friends. Since so much of the story is played for laughs it’s all the more impressive that Landau and Burton are able to insert such a tortured and tragic figure into the film.

At times I feel like Burton is cheating a little bit. So much of the humor in this movie comes from re-enacting scenes from Wood’s movies. The toppling gravestones, Tor’s complete inability to read his lines, the hilarious sets, the sad inanimate rubber octopus… these all can be seen in the original movies, and I found them funny there too. The alien’s line in Plan 9 “Your stupid minds! Stupid, stupid!” got a great laugh when we saw the Rifftrax live version of th movie in the theater. Burton even uses Criswell’s prologue to Plan 9 as the prologue to this movie. (Albeit edited down so it doesn’t include the “the future is where you and I will spend the rest of our lives in the future” bit which is heard later in the movie.) I guess it shows a kind of dedication to shoot duplicates of all these moments, providing a slightly different perspective, since in this movie we’re presented with background and motivation for this silliness. I would love to see side-by-side comparisons of the Ed Wood versions of these scenes and the Tim Burton versions.

I suspect that the real Ed Wood was not so naive about what kind of films he was making. He probably knew that his movies were not quite up to the caliber of those produced by other Hollywood directors and producers. But that never stopped him from making them. Did he have the passion and dedication shown here in this movie? I don’t know, and really I don’t care. It makes for a wonderful escapist movie. You see this and think to yourself, however wrong you may be, “hey, I could make better movies than this.” I’m almost tempted to challenge myself. In this movie Ed Wood writes the screenplay for Glen or Glenda in three days. If I had three days off in which to write a screenplay, just what would I come up with? I dare not try. My own efforts would only come off as amateurish and disappointing. I have no hope of reaching the lofty heights of camp awful that Ed was able to attain.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Julie & Julia

July 27, 2010

Julie & Julia

Amanda and I had intended to watch this movie together with her mother. Last Christmas we bought her a copy of the movie on DVD, and so did Amanda’s father. It’s just so clearly the perfect movie to watch with one’s mother-in-law. Especially with my mother-in-law; a woman who instilled in my wife a love both of public television and of fine cooking. Sadly, I’m not watching this with them. Amanda is away for the night, watching Julie & Julia with her mother, and I am watching the movie alone.

I’m finding it a slightly meta experience to blog about watching a movie that is in part about a blogger. Not that I really think of myself as a “blogger” but there’s no denying that for the past three months my wife and I have been posting a movie review every day. It’s not who we are, but it’s something we enjoy doing. Early on in the movie they briefly show a “days left” counter on Julie’s blog and I instantly thought to myself “Hey! I have one of those!”

I love the fairy tales of Nora Ephron. Even when they are based on true stories (well in this case on two true stories according to the subtitle at the start of the film) they have an otherworldly charm. I am definitely not the target audience but I enjoy them nonetheless. Nora has a knack for creating these very human characters on the screen that people can’t help but love. (I look forward to our “baseball week” when we’ll be reviewing A League of Their Own.) I did, however, find her storytelling a little heavy handed tonight.

In the modern-day segments of the movie Nora uses song lyrics in a couple places to reinforce the emotional impact she’s trying to make, and on some occasions it threw me right out of the movie. Particularly when Julie and her husband are going through a rough patch and the scene is accompanied by the song Stop the Train with the lyrics “don’t throw this away.” I expect to be emotionally manipulated by a Nora Ephron movie (like watching a Stephen Spielberg movie.) I just don’t expect it to be so blatant.

Maybe it’s symptomatic of the main problem that the whole movie struggles with, which is that it’s actually two movies. There’s the story of Julie Powell writing her food blog and cooking all of Julia’s recepies, and there’s the much more griping story of Julia Child and her struggle to publish her magnum opus on French cooking for Americans. A lot of effort has been done to show parallels between the two stories, and they’re inter-cut in such a way that dialog from a scene in one time period often relates to what happens in a scene in the other time period (there’s even a sort of “joy of cooking” montage that tries to drive this idea home) but I couldn’t help feeling that the Julie Powell parts of the movie paled in comparison to the Julia Child parts.

I don’t blame Amy Adams.and her portrayal of Julie Powell. She just didn’t have enough to work with to bring her half of the movie to the level of the other half. The deck is very much stacked against her. Maryl Streep’s sections of the movie are lavish, lush period pieces with exotic locales in Paris. Julia Child as a character is so compelling and vibrant, especially as embodied by Meryl Streep – who is so magnetic and alive in her portrayal that she’s a joy to watch, that nobody could really hope to live up to that standard. Julie’s life by comparison is so mundane and drab that when her life is being portrayed on the screen I couldn’t wait for her segments to end so we could get back to Julia. Indeed I found as I was watching and writing this review I was doing most of my writing during the modern day parts of the movie and watching in rapt attention during the flashback parts.

So, yeah, it’s an uneven movie and not Nora Ephron’s best work. But the parts I liked, being pretty much any time that Meryl Streep was lighting up the screen, were wonderful to watch. I rather wish that I had been watching it with my wife and mother-in-law, because I know exactly what parts they would have been laughing the hardest at, and I would have enjoyed sharing that. And now I’m off to my drab modern-day kitchen to see if there’s anything remotely edible in it.

July 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Amadeus

May 2, 2010

Amadeus

I adore this movie. I’ve seen it more times than I can tell, and it touches me deeply every time. It’s a thing about music I think. Maybe I’ve talked about this in my reviews before. Music just has the ability to short out my brain and go directly to my heart. And of course since this is a movie about Mozart it naturally has this beautiful and unearthly music.

My problem however is that I really know nothing of Mozart. My entire knowledge of his life comes from this movie, and of course it’s all a pack of lies. It’s a fictionalization based on people who actually lived, but fiction nonetheless. Still – as a story it is so gripping and memorable. It’s the tale of Antonio Salieri, a mediocre composer who is obsessed with the music of Mozart – but who is disgusted by the man himself. Salieri knows all too well that his talent is nowhere near that of Mozart’s, and deeply resents that fact.

It’s F. Murray Abraham’s performance that really makes the movie. (Well that and the music.) He narrates beneath a ton of makeup from some point in the future when Salieri is an old man, convinced that he is directly responsible for Mozart’s death. He’s a man wracked with guilt, maddened. So the whole movie is a flashback to explain his madness. And Abraham so perfectly captures that tortured soul. His obsession is palpable.

There’s an absolutely brilliant scene right at the end of the movie where a near death Mozart is dictating his requiem mass to Salieri and he deconstructs the music into its component parts and recites it the way it already exists in his head. It’s intercut with Mozart’s wife rushing home from the spa where she has gone because she has a dark premonition. It’s an astonishing piece of film making that never ceases to amaze me. And that pretty much characterises the entire movie for me. Pure genius.

Who in the world can’t empathise with a man who is obsessed with his own mediocrity, who knows that he’ll never be as great as those who somehow tower above us with talent that cannot be explained but which dwarfs us all?

“Mediocrities everywhere. I absolve you.”

May 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 22 – Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon – March 22, 2010

Tonight’s movie is Frost/Nixon. Far more serious fare than most of what we’ve done so far. See? We do own more than comedies and scifi/fantasy action. Okay, so most of what we own is action/adventurey, but we do have some things like this. But we might not have bought this if we hadn’t seen the play on stage in Boston with my parents. We watched the play and we loved it. I did a lot of theater in high school and saw a decent amount of stage productions, so when I watch something on stage now I watch it with an eye not just to the performances but to the production as a whole. And I’ve got to say, Frost/Nixon was a fantastic production. It was so pared down, so focused, it was amazing. Yes, it placed the interviews that are the point of the movie in historical context, but the entire point of the show was to watch David Frost and Richard Nixon talking, sparring, prodding at each other. And there were a couple of fantastic performances. Stacy Keach as Nixon, specifically, made me almost feel bad for Nixon. Almost.

Anyhow, we loved the play and when the movie came out on DVD we went ahead and bought it, thinking it would be interesting to see how the movie presented it and the differences between the stage and the screen. What I found was that while I really enjoy the movie, I liked the focus of the show on stage. The intense lighting, the spare set, the small cast, it all served to make you pay attention to very specific things. I liked that.

Now, that being said? I think the movie is excellent. The atmosphere is fantastic and the acting is superb. And the story and writing do what they do in the play: They take an event from history, one which we know the outcome of already, and present it in such a way that there is tension about how it’s going to play out. It’s a matter of record that eventually Frost managed to get something out of Nixon that no one had really managed to get. But the script displays it as so far from a sure thing and the acting backs that up. The fear being shown that Frost and his people had not just lost control of the interviews, but that they’d never had it in the first place. The desperation of Frost’s team to get Nixon, not just because they had a hell of a lot of money riding on it but because for some of them it was a long-term goal. Reston’s flat out stated as being passionate about it. Frost’s whole team does an excellent job at showing just how freaked they are and the wide variety of reasons why. Meanwhile, Langella, as Nixon, does an amazing job portraying a man who’s done horrible things and justified them in his own mind. An intelligent man who’s not about to let go of control easily.

An aside about Nixon: Up until Frost/Nixon, my best pop culture reference to Nixon was Billy West’s Nixon-head in Futurama. Which means that no matter how good Keach was on stage or Langella is on screen, I still expect Billy West’s version every so often. “I’ll sneak into people’s houses and mess up the place! A-roooo!”

Back to the movie. It’s tense. It’s very tense. There are some truly heavy moments, but then every so often a bit or two of humor. Oddly enough, it’s often Nixon saying something amusing (the “Do any fornicating?” line, for example), which I’m sure was intentional. As I said above, by the end of the play I almost felt bad for Nixon. While Langella evokes a similar emotion in the movie, for me its impact is a little lessened because I’d seen such an amazing performance on stage. The final scenes, watching Frost just sit back, knowing he’s delivered a blow Nixon wasn’t prepared for, and Nixon speaking seriously about things he’d never intended to speak about, it’s an amazing piece of film. It’s an amazing piece of film about an amazing piece of film.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s not light fare. It’s got light moments, but it’s not light. It’s fantastic. The only criticism I have is that it’s not the play.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Frost/Nixon

March 22, 2010

Frost/Nixon

This is a very interesting movie.  As my wife is probably pointing out in her review we actually saw the stage show before we saw the film.  The version we saw was a traveling company headlining Stacy Keach as Richard Nixon.  It was a powerful and moving performance.  Here we have the original stage cast: Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost reprising their roles for the big screen.  I do constantly find myself comparing Langella to Keach, since Stacy Keach was my first exposure to this version of Nixon.  I’d say Langella’s Nixon is more soulful, and Keach’s was more passionate.  The stage play was a very sparse thing.  It had barely any set, just some chairs and a deceptively simple backdrop, using lighting and slides to create an environment.  It’s a play that is simply about this confrontation between these two people from completely different worlds.  David Frost and his jet set ways and Nixon – here portrayed as a man sadly obsessed with his lost power and his shattered reputation.

In the commentary track (or perhaps it’s some of the making-of featurettes on the DVD) the writer, Peter Morgan, describes Frost/Nixon as Rocky: the political debate.  It’s all about sparring and jousting.  The Nixon character describes it as a duel.  The movie is put forth as a period piece.  Ron Howard has re-created the seventies in lush detail, but in service of this simple interview.  As the actual interview goes on the lighting on the two men in the foreground, the harsh glare of the television lights, pulls them out of the scene.  It’s more like the stage play.  Just these two men.

It’s a great story and a great movie.  Ron Howard directs with a deft and simple hand, letting the performers and the script shine.  And shine they do.  Frank Langella is all bluster and power as Nixon, Michael Sheen is wonderfully engaging as Frost, so clearly out of his element and in over his head.  And the script really is the greatest star.  Peter Morgan makes Nixon into a very human, and even humorous character.  Nixon gets all the best lines, really.. the whole movie revolves around him, and the climactic last round of his boxing match with Frost hinges on him having a believable human soul.

I’m enjoying watching this again… and hope to have a reason to watch it more in the future.

I also feel I should go buy a copy of Good Night and Good Luck as a companion piece.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment