What Lisa Watched Last Night #111: Beautiful & Twisted (dir by Christopher Zalla)


On Saturday night, I watched the latest Lifetime original movie, Beautiful & Twisted!

Why Was I Watching It?

Ever since I first saw the commercial during Whitney, I have been looking forward to seeing Beautiful & Twisted.  Not only was it true crime (which is one of my favorite Lifetime movie genres) but it also featured Rob Lowe.  Rob has appeared in a few Lifetime films and they always seem to bring out his best.

What Was It About?

The film is narrated by Ben Novack (Rob Lowe), who starts things off by telling us that he’s dead.  We see how Ben, the eccentric son of a millionaire hotelier, first met and subsequently married a stripper named Narcy (Paz Vega).  Ben likes collecting Batman memorabilia.  Narcy likes money.  They both like kinky sex.

However, Ben is often unfaithful to Narcy and finds himself on the receiving end of her often violent tempter.  When Narcy finds out that Ben is planning on leaving his fortune to his mother (Candice Bergen), Narcy has her murdered.  And when she worries that Ben might like her daughter (played by Seychelle Gabriel) more than her, Narcy has Ben brutally murdered.  Not only does she get her brother to beat him to death but she also demands that his eyes be gouged out of his head.

AGCK!

Amazingly enough, this is all based on a true story.

What Worked?

This is one of the best Lifetime films that I’ve seen in a while!  It was stylish, it was melodramatic, it was occasionally funny, and it was over-the-top in the best way possible.  The settings were opulent, the clothes were to die for, and the pace was relentless.  Even the music was great!  Seriously, if you’re going to make a movie about kinky sex and murder among the wealthy, you should at least have fun with it.  And, despite all of the grisly murders, Beautiful & Twisted was definitely fun.

Rob Lowe was sympathetically weird as Ben while, in the role of Narcy, Paz Vega gave a performance worthy of an old school femme fatale.

All in all, Beautiful & Twisted is exactly the type of movie that we Lifetime viewers have been hoping for.

What Did Not Work?

It all worked.  This one of the best Lifetime movies ever!

“Oh my God!  Just like me” Moments

Well, I have to admit that I’ve never had anyone killed and I doubt that I ever will.  I’m just not the murderous type, regardless of what you may have heard.  However, much like Narcy, I’m not above using my cleavage to get what I want.

Lessons Learned

If there’s any lesson to be learned from watching any of these Lifetime true crime films, it’s that you shouldn’t murder anyone because, regardless of how cute or clever you may be, you will eventually end up getting caught.  And then someone will make a movie about you and you’ll end up with a bunch of snarky people on twitter talking about how crazy you are.  It’s better to just get a divorce.

beautiful-and-twisted-lifetime-tv-review

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Lisa’s Way, Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For January!


James Franco OMG

Obviously, it’s way too early to start speculating about who and what will receive Oscar nominations in 2016.  I mean, that would be crazy, right?

So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  Just like last year, I’m going take a monthly wild guess and try to predict what might be nominated.  Next year, around this time, we’ll look at the predictions below and probably laugh.

Since the year just started, these predictions should be taken with more than a few grains of salt.  Needless to say, these predictions are heavily orientated towards what played at Sundance this week and also towards films that were directed by the usual suspects.  For instance, I know next to nothing about St. James Place but it stars Tom Hanks and it was directed by Steven Spielberg and, when you’re guessing this early in the year, that’s enough to earn it a listing.

 (And before you laugh too much at how influenced this list was by Sundance, consider that the campaigns for both Boyhood and Whiplash started at Sundance.)

Of course, for all I know, the release of some of these films might be delayed, much as how Foxcatcher was moved from 2013 t0 2014.

With all that in mind, here are my way, way, way too early Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

Brooklyn

Concussion

The End of the Tour

Grandma

The Hateful Eight

In the Heart of the Sea

The Martian

The Revenant

St. James Place

The Walk

Best Actor

Matt Damon in The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

James Franco in I Am Michael

Tom Hanks in St. James Place

Jason Segel in The End of The Tour

Best Actress

Juliette Binoche in Clouds of Sils Maria

Blythe Danner in I’ll See You In My Dreams

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks in Concussion

Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

Jesse Eisenberg in The End of the Tour

Sam Elliott in Grandma

Tom Hardy in The Revenant

Best Supporting Actress

Julia Garner in Grandma

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Kristin Scott Thomas in Suite Francaise

Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

Meryl Streep in Suffragette 

Best Director

John Crowley for Brooklyn

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for The Revanant

Quentin Tarantino for The Hateful Eight

Robert Zemeckis for The Walk

The Walk

First Impressions: Dying Light (Techland / Warner Bros.)


Dying_Light_coverThe short of it:

Dying Light is an impressive Co-Op game that allows you and 3 other friends to take down Zombies in a spectacular fashion, while clambering up and over obstacles. Working together, it’s a lot of fun. You may find the game’s mechanics are a little too familiar, played a million times before in different renditions. If you can get by that, it’s a great experience. Even better, if you love those mechanics, it’s like Oreo’s and Ice Cream. The lighting effects – particularly the day and night cycles – may have you pausing your game to take in the sights, while of course keeping one eye on your watch or the horizon. Those expecting something entirely new may be a little disappointed, because the final product isn’t quite the same as what was first advertised. It’s very close, though.

The long of it:

“Okay, where to next?”, my Xbox Live friend, “Souless” asks me. We’re standing on the top of a large radio tower. With every passing second, the world around is growing darker. This is the city of Harran, devastated by a zombie infection. It’s also Techland and Warner Bros. new game, Dying Light.

“Well, we have that last area to check out to the North…”, I say, glancing over at the horizon. The sun is gone, the only lights around us coming from the city. A message appears, alerting us that Night is Coming, and strange screeching sounds can be heard in the distance.

“Or we can just go home.” I say. “Drop this stuff off.”

Suddenly, there’s a rumble sound, causing our controllers to shake.

“Airdrop!” Souless calls out. “Where?”

I catch sight of the plane as it banks and a box falls from it’s rear. The plane goes along its merry way and the box lands not too far from a zipline connected to our tower. A light blue flare shoots up into the sky from it’s location, and I mark a waypoint on our map that we both can see.

“Not too far from us, on my side. Waypoint set, let’s go!” I say, and ride the zipline down. Souless arrives near me a few seconds later, and we start running towards the package. On our radar, two blips appear near the drop site, complete with vision cones, pointed in the opposite direction of where we’re coming from.

“I’ve got two Night Hunters. One to our left, and another at our 2’o clock.” I say, our characters climbing up and over sheds, houses and finally arriving at the site. Before us are two large orange crates, illuminated in a blue light.

“Sweet! We got here first.” I say, opening one chest. Souless opens the other. If you take too much time getting to these drops, chances are you’ll have to fight others for their contents or come up empty-handed when you reach the packages. We’ve got medical supplies to fight the infection. The folks at our home base will pay us well to bring this back.

“Got a survival kit and some meds. I’m heading out.” Souless says, coming over to me and checking my crate. In Co-Op, Dying Light lets up to 4 players jump into the game. Whenever any chest is opened, it’s contents are available to everyone – meaning that I snatch some Coffee, I’m not taking it from any one player. They’ll all have their Coffee or item available in the box as well. I move to Souless’ crate and pick up some more goodies. I do notice his blip on the map move away from mine, and one of the vision cones turn toward me. A sharp scream cuts through the night.

“They’re on me, go, go, go!!” I say and I’m off. While running at full speed, I tap the “Y” button to look behind me, and there’s this weird muscle-bound creature sprinting on my tail, its appearance similar to Guillermo Del Toro’s vampires in Blade II and The Strain. A quick flash from my UV light disturbs the creature, giving me a few seconds to duck down an alley and break the line the sight. Thankfully, we’ve set up this online session so that we don’t have Zombie Invasions. With that feature enabled, other players can actually jump into Co-Op games as Night Hunters, chasing the rest of the crew with better mobility. We’re hustling up and over walls and eventually make it back home to the safety of our home base and it’s UV spotlights.

We decide to call it a night.

If you merged together the movement style of EA’s Mirror’s Edge, the Zombie Onslaught of Techland’s Dead Island, added the Outpost game mechanic of Ubisoft’s Farcry 3 & 4 and the randomization of weapons from Gearbox’s Borderlands series, you’d probably end up with Dying Light. All of it feels very familiar once you start playing it (though this isn’t entirely a bad thing).  I’ll admit that at the first gameplay session, I was worried by the control system, especially having come from years of Mirror Edge. Additionally, the game picked up some controversy by not lifting the embargo for reviews until the last-minute, even though both companies stated that they’d avoid doing so. I’ve adjusted to it, and I’m really enjoying the game so far.

In the game, you play Kyle Crane, voiced by Roger Craig Smith (Resident Evil’s Chris Redfield and Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Auditore), an agent dropped into the city of Harran to locate a missing official, requiring him to go undercover. The moment he parachutes into the city, he’s attacked both by an enemy raiders and is bit by a Zombie. Though infected, he and others have been able to keep the change at bay by the use of a medicine called Antizen. The Antizen is delivered to the town daily via airdrops. During the day, it’s a safe as an episode of the Walking Dead. You travel from place to place, scavenging parts from places and money from Zombies. When the sun sets, the Night Hunters rise. You’re given fair warning of the sunset by way of a Purge-like announcement. The game’s menu also comes with a clock to let you keep track (though this is only revealed after the tutorial missions).  suppose they’ve studied Parkour as well, because when they chase you, it takes every skill you know to evade them and break the line of sight. It’s not as terrifying as I thought it would be, but you’ll die a lot if you’re not careful. The fear in Dying Light’s Nighttime sequences isn’t whether a Night Hunter will find you, but getting swarmed by them. Once one pursues you, they all pursue you. If you’re not ready for the night, you can sleep it off at any safe zone and handle your tasks in the daytime. The game does reward you for nighttime runs by automatically doubling the amount of experience you gain for your Agility and Power, letting you easily level up if you’ve the courage to do so.

The default controls in Dying Light are surprisingly simple. The right bumper is your best friend, allowing you to jump and vault. Where Mirror’s Edge had you flipping between your left and right fingers like a pinball machine, the single jump button of Dying Light lets you move with ease. As long as you hold the jump button and are looking at where you want to go, you’re guaranteed to grab a ledge. This is particularly important when descending ledges. What should be a drop and grab becomes a free fall if you don’t hold that button. More advanced moves, like sliding, tackling, drop kicking need to be unlocked as you gain experience. This was the element that bothered me in my first levels of the game. Part of me was under the impression that I’d be fully mobile, wall running doing all those crazy parkour moves right from the start.

The attack button is right below that, allowing you to swing  such as pipes, sticks and knives with ease. The weapons you pick up do get damaged over time, so you’ll need to repair them (usually while running). Swinging on Zombies takes its toll on your player, and you only have so much stamina to work with before rushing back into the fray. Weapons can also be upgraded with electrical or fire damage, which the game seems to borrow from Borderlands. Eventually, you move up to guns, but I can’t say how well that factors into a game like where some of your enemies are rushing at you as the same speed you move.

Once the sun sets, the Night Hunters come out, and they're hungry.

Once the sun sets, the Night Hunters come out, and they’re hungry.

The skill tree system is wonderful. You’re given 3 types of skill trees – Survival (points awarded for crafting items and helping others), Agility (points awarded for climbing, vaulting and using other abilities), and Power ( points awarded through creatively kicking some zombie butt). These are really fun, and I can’t wait to unlock some of these features. For example, the Survival tree has the camouflage ability that allows one to rub dead guts all over themselves and walk among the infected without drawing attention, though attacking will kill the cloak. Other abilities include being able to slide and break an un-expecting zombie’s leg, or rig a car to explode a bunch of Zeds in one shot while you stand on a rooftop and laugh.

From a graphics standpoint, Dying Light is sweet. Harran (or what I’ve seen of it anyway), is more or less a  favela (think of that first chase in The Incredible Hulk or Fast Five). I get the notion that the map may expand. I hope it does, because it’s rather small right now. Still, the city’s transition from Night to Day, along with the weather effects just add to the atmosphere of a place gone sour. Blood sprays are the norm, rendered at near 1080p on the Xbox One and at 1080p on the PS4. I’ve yet to run into any slowdown issues with all of the running that’s being done. Another standout is the loading time. Coming off Mirror’s Edge, which gave you these incredible load times while you stood in an elevator, Dying Light’s transitions between stages are a jaw dropping delight. Then again, I’ve only moved up to Next Gen recently, and that sense of power’s new to me. Others may disagree.

Dying Light will have you facing against hordes of zombies, but so far, I haven't seen any that are this big.

Dying Light will have you facing against hordes of zombies, but so far, I haven’t seen any that are this big.

Another feature I like is the “New Game” system. If you’ve played through part the game with a friend, but don’t wan’t to break that connection where you both left off, you can choose to make a brand new game that starts you at the end of the tutorial and lets you keep your skills progression. So, if your player is a level 9 in everything (the top is 25 in everything) in your original game, you can keep that. Your weapons, however, don’t come with you.

In terms of problems, the only thing I can tell with Dying Light is the connection for playing a Co-op game, and how it doesn’t exactly feel extremely innovative. In trying to join games, I’ve had a number of connection issues, even when both Xbox Live and Techland’s servers are running. Invites sent to me, or mine sent to others fail when the invited party try to join. The only way we’ve been able to successfully connect is by using the join feature within Live itself, and once it holds, it ties together very fast. Each player is given their own color mark so that they can be tracked on the map. Players can also separate and check whatever part of the map they choose. If they stumble upon a story marker, they won’t be able to play it until everyone joins them – easily done with the Quick Travel feature. Additionally, the tutorial for the game is long. You’re shown how to move, and are given some missions to how you the move from day to night. It’s like having to deal with that first mission in GTA Online when the game’s servers were first glitched.

If you’ve watched the early Alpha Footage, you kind of get the feeling that a bit of it was left out of the main game. This is normal though. Games change drastically between the Alpha and final versions. I’ve fought tons of zombies, but the game has yet to reach Dead Rising levels. Maybe this is because of the processing power, or because I’m still early on. I can’t say it’s bad, but I would like a moment where I look down off a roof and go…”Nope. Not landing in the middle of that.” There always seems to be good exit around.

So there you have it. Dying Light. If you like Freerunning, it’s worth a try. If you love zombies, take a look. If you love both, it might be just what you’re looking for. Just be sure to keep your eye on the clock.

Shattered Politics #56: The American President (dir by Rob Reiner)


The_American_President_(movie_poster)

Way back in October, around the same time that I first decided that I would do a series of reviews of political films and that I would call it Lisa Gets Preachy (subsequently changed to Shattered Politics), I noticed that the 1995 film The American President was scheduled to be shown on TVLand.

“Hey,” I said, “I’ve definitely got to watch and review that!”

So, I set the DVR and I recorded The American President.

And then, I just left it there.

You have to understand that it’s rare that I ever leave anything unwatched on my DVR.  Usually, within an hour of recording a program, I’ll be watching it.  I have even been known to go so far as to make out very long lists of everything that I have on the DVR, just so I can make check them off after I’ve watched.  As a general rule, I am way too obsessive compulsive to just leave anything sitting around.

But, for whatever reason, I could never work up any enthusiasm for the prospect of actually watching The American President.  I knew that, eventually, I would have to watch it so that I could review it.  Unlike those folks criticizing American Sniper on the basis of the film’s trailer, I never criticize or praise a film unless I’ve actually watched it.  But  I just couldn’t get excited about The American President.

Can you guess why?  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s two words.  The first starts with A.  The second starts with S.

If you guessed Aaron Sorkin, then you are correct!  Yes, I do know that Sorkin has a lot of admirers.  And, even more importantly, I know that it’s dangerous to cross some of those admirers.  (I can still remember Ryan Adams and Sasha Stone insanely blocking anyone who dared to criticize the underwritten female characters in Sorkin’s script for The Social Network.)

But what can I say?  As a writer, Aaron Sorkin bothers me.  And since Sorkin is such an overpraised and powerful voice, he’s that rare scriptwriter who can actually claim auteur status.  The Social Network, for instance, was not a David Fincher film.  It was an Aaron Sorkin film, through and through.

And, after having to deal with three seasons of the Newroom and countless Aaron Sorkin-penned op-eds about why nobody should be allowed to criticize Aaron Sorkin, I’ve reached the point where dealing with all of Aaron Sorkin’s signature quirks is a bit like listening to the drill while strapped into a dentist’s chair.  I am weary of pompous and egotistical male heroes who answer every question with a sermon.  I am tired to endless scenes of male bonding.  I have had enough with the quippy, quickly-delivered dialogue, all recited as characters walk down an endless hallways.  I have no more sympathy for Sorkin’s nostalgic idealism or his condescending, rich, white dude version of liberalism.

Most of all, I’m sick of people making excuses for an acclaimed, award-winning, highly-paid screenwriter who is apparently incapable of writing strong female characters.  I’m tired of pretending that it doesn’t matter that Aaron Sorkin is apparently incapable of viewing female characters as being anything other than potential love interests or silly distractions who need to be told to go stand in a corner while the menfolk solve all the problems of the world.

Fortunately, as a result of The Newsroom, quite a few critics are finally starting to admit what they always knew to be the truth.  Aaron Sorkin is not the messiah.  Instead, he’s a somewhat talented writer who doesn’t understand (or, in my opinion, particularly like) women.  At his best, he’s occasionally entertaining.  At his worst, he’s pompous, didactic, and preachy.

And, of course, Aaron Sorkin is the man who wrote The American President.

So, The American President just sat there until a few days ago when I sighed to myself and said, “Okay, let’s watch this thing.”  As I watched it, I promised myself that I would try to see past the fact that it was an Aaron Sorkin-penned film and just try to judge the film on its merits.

But here’s the thing.  It’s nearly impossible to separate one’s opinion of Sorkin from The American President.  If you didn’t know that Sorkin had written The American President, you’d guess it after hearing the first few lines of dialogue.  The film, itself, was directed by Rob Reiner but it’s not as if Reiner is the most interesting of directors.  (What’s odd is that Reiner’s first films — This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Stand By Me — are all so quirky and interesting and are still so watchable decades after first being released that you have to wonder how Reiner eventually became the man who directed The Bucket List.)  In short, The American President is totally an Aaron Sorkin film.

President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is a liberal Democrat who, as he prepares to run for a second term, has a 63% approval rating.  However, when Shepherd decides to push through a gun control bill, he finds that approval rating threatened.  And then, when he listens to environmental lobbyist Sydney Wade (Annette Bening) and tries to push through legislation to reduce carbon emissions, his approval rating is again threatened.  And then, to top it all off, he starts dating Sydney.  It turns out that Sydney has protested American policy in the past.  And, since this is an Aaron Sorkin film, everyone outside of the Northeast is scandalized that President Shepherd is having premarital sex in the White House.

And, to top it all off, there’s an evil Republican named Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) who wants to be President and is willing to use the President’s relationship with Sydney to further his own evil Republican ambitions.

But, ultimately, it’s not just those evil Republicans who make it difficult for Sydney and the President to have a relationship.  It’s also the fact that the President agrees to a watered down crime bill and that he does not hold up his end of the bargain when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

“You’ve lost my vote!” Sydney tells him.

But — fear not!  There’s still time for President Shepherd to give a speech that will be so good and so brilliant that it will, within a matter of minutes, totally change every aspect of American culture and save the day.  How do we know it’s a great speech?  Because it was written by Aaron Sorkin!

Actually, I’m being too hard on the film and I’ll be the first admit that it’s because I’m personally not a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin’s.  But, to be honest, The American President is Aaron Sorkin-lite.  This film was written before the West Wing, before the Social Network, before that Studio Whatever show, and before The Newsroom.  In short, it was written before he became THE Aaron Sorkin and, as such, it’s actually a lot less preachy than some of his other work.  It’s true that, much like The Newsroom, The American President is definitely Sorkin’s fantasy of how things should work but at least you don’t have to deal with Jeff Daniels throwing stuff or Emily Mortimer not knowing how to properly forward an email.

Instead, it’s a film that will probably be enjoyed by those who share its politics.  (And, make no mistake, The American President is more interested in politics than it is in the love story between Andrew and Sydney.)  Michael Douglas does well in the role of the President.  Meanwhile, Annette Bening is so likable and natural as Sydney that it almost make up for the fact that she’s yet another Sorkin woman whose existence is largely defined by looking up to her man while inspiring him to do the right thing and forgiving him when he doesn’t.  Personally, I would have been happy if the film had ended with Sydney telling the President, “Thanks for finally doing the right thing but I have a life of my own to lead.”

But that wouldn’t be the Sorkin way.

Shattered Politics #55: The Remains of the Day (dir by James Ivory)


Remains_of_the_day

The 1993 Best Picture nominee The Remains of the Day is a love story.  Actually, it’s a series of love stories.  Every character in the film is in love with something or someone.  It’s just that, with one exception, they’re all so extremely British that it’s sometimes hard to tell.

The one exception is an American congressman named Trent Lewis (Christopher Reeve).  As the film opens in the 1950s, he’s just purchased Darlington Hall, which is one of those country manors that hold so much history and romance for those of us who regularly watch Downton Abbey.  Lewis is excited to have a British manor of his very own.  It even comes with its very own butler, a Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins).

As we see in flashback, Stevens previously worked at Darlington Hall when it was owned by Lord Darlington (James Fox).  In the 1930s, Lord Darlington may have loved Britain but he was also dangerously naive about the rise of Nazi Germany.  Actually, to say that he was naive might be letting Lord Darlington off too easily.  When we first meet Lord Darlington, he seems like a well-meaning but hopelessly out-of-touch aristocrat.  He has so little understanding of the real world that he even asks Stevens to have the sex talk with his godson (played, somewhat inevitably, by Hugh Grant), who happens to be close to 30 years old at the time and, one would presume, far beyond the age when the talk is really necessary. When we first see Lord Darlington, who is hosting a conference on how to best deal with the rise of the Nazis, arguing that Britain should ignore the rise of Hitler, it’s easy to assume that he’s just as clueless about Germany as he is about his godson.  But then, eventually, Lord Darlington orders Stevens to fire two Jewish maids and you’re forced to reconsider everything that you previously believed about him.

And then there’s Ms. Kenton (Emma Thompson), who worked as a housekeeper for Lord Darlington.  She loves the repressed Mr. Stevens but continually finds herself frustrated by Stevens’s professional detachment.  Unlike Stevens, Ms. Kenton doesn’t hold back on her opinions but, when she finally has a chance to stand up for her beliefs and defy the status quo at Darlington Hall, she backs down.

And then there’s Mr. Stevens.  Mr. Stevens may be one of the most emotionally repressed characters in the history of the movies but the entire film revolves around trying to figure out what or who Stevens loves.  It’s a little too easy to assume that he’s in love with Ms. Kenton, even though that will be the natural instinct of most viewers.  While he obviously feels affection towards her, he can never bring himself to truly express it.  (That said, getting a letter from her appears to be the only thing that can actually inspire him to leave the safety of Darlington Hall and venture into the outside world.)  While it seems, at times, that he might love Lord Darlington, Stevens himself prefers to say that he respected Lord Darlington and, after the war, Stevens seems to have no trouble staying on at Darlington Hall even after its bought by Congressman Lewis.  Much like the ghosts in The Shining, Stevens has always been the butler and always will be.

Ultimately, Mr. Stevens loves his job.  He loves being a butler. He’s a man so dedicated to his job that he even continues to work even while his father is dying in the next room.   He loves making sure that everything’s perfect at Darlington Hall and he never bothers with worrying about how imperfect the world outside Darlington Hall may be.    In that way, Stevens is a stand-in for all of the European leaders who willfully chose to ignore what was happening in Germany in the days leading up to World War II.  And, much like those European leaders, he finds himself forced to work for an American in the aftermath.

As a film, The Remains of the Day can be frustrating but in a good way.  Mr. Stevens is such a repressed and detached character that, much like Ms. Kenton, we’re always tempted to give up on him.  Fortunately, Anthony Hopkins is one of those actors who can suggest so much with just a pause in his dialogue or a quick glance to the side.  You look at his sad eyes and suddenly, you know everything that Mr. Stevens cannot bring himself to say.  Emma Thompson has a somewhat easier role because Ms. Kenton at least gets to say what she’s thinking but she still bring a lot of depth to the role and has a lot of chemistry with Hopkins.  And finally, you’ve got James Fox who is so comically befuddled that it’s all the more shocking to consider all of the pain that he — intentionally or not — is partially responsible for.

The Remains of the Day is a great film for all of us Downton Abbey-loving history nerds.

Shattered Politics #54: Dave (dir by Ivan Reitman)


Dave Poster

Way back in 1919, the terrible U.S. President and tyrannical dictator Woodrow Wilson* suffered a stroke that left him semi-paralyzed and unable to perform his duties.  By all standards, Wilson should have been removed from office, if just temporarily.  However, in those pre-Internet days, it was a lot easier to hide the truth about Wilson’s physical and mental condition.  While Wilson spent his days locked away in his bedroom, his wife Edith would forge his signature on bills.  Whenever anyone asked for the President’s opinion, Edith would give her opinion and then assure everyone that it was actually the President’s.

(And really, as long as you were promoting eugenics and white supremacy, it probably was not difficult to imitate Wilson’s opinions.)

Of course, back then, people were used to the idea of never seeing their President in public.  Hence, it was very easy for Wilson to remain sequestered in the White House.  If a similar situation happened today, it’s doubtful that anyone could successfully keep the public from finding out.  When we don’t see the President every day, we wonder why.  How, in this day and age, could a Presidential incapacitation be covered up?

The 1993 film Dave offers up one possible solution.

Dave is the story of two men who happen to look exactly like Kevin Kline.  One of them is named Bill Mitchell and he’s the arrogant and corrupt President of the United States.  The other is named Dave Kovic.  He’s a nice guy who runs a temp agency and who has a nice side job going as a professional Bill Mitchell imitator.

So, when Bill has a stroke while having sex with a white house staffer (Laura Linney), it only makes sense to recruit Dave Kovic to pretend to the President.  White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (played by Frank Langella, so you know he’s evil) tells Dave that Vice President Nance (Ben Kingsley) is insane and corrupt.  Dave agrees to imitate the President.  Of course, Alexander’s main plan is to convince Nance to resign and then get Dave to appoint him as Vice President.  Once Alexander is Vice President, it will be announced that Mitchell has had another stroke and then Alexander will move into the Oval Office.

However, what Alexander did not take into account was just how much Dave would enjoy being President.  From the moment that he joyfully shouts, “God Bless, America!,” Dave’s enthusiasm starts to win the public over.  Suddenly, people are realizing that President Mitchell isn’t such a bad President after all.  Even more importantly, Dave wins over the first lady (Sigourney Weaver) who, previously, had little use for her philandering husband.  When Alexander claims that there’s no money in the budget to continue funding a program for the homeless, Dave calls in his best friend, an accountant named Murray (Charles Grodin), and has him rewrite the budget…

And you know what?

Dave is one of those films that tempts me to be all cynical and snarky but, ultimately, the film itself is so likable and earnest that I can even accept the idea that one accountant could balance the budget through common sense alone.  I’ll even accept the idea that Dave could come up with a program that would guarantee everyone employment without, at the same time, bankrupting the country.  Kevin Kline is so enthusiastic in the lead role and the film itself is so good-natured that it almost feels wrong to criticize it for being totally implausible.

Sometimes, you just have to appreciate a film for being likable.

Dave—–

* For those of you keeping count, that’s the third time in two weeks that I’ve referred to Woodrow Wilson as being  a dictator.  Before anyone points out that some historians rank Wilson as being in the top ten of President, allow me to say that I don’t care.  I DO WHAT I WANT!

Shattered Politics #53: The Godfather Part III (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


GodfatherIII2

Well, it’s come to this.

First released in 1990, The Godfather Part III was nominated for best picture (it lost to Goodfellas Dances With Wolves) but it’s got a terrible reputation.  Over the past two weeks, whenever I’ve mentioned that I was planning on reviewing The Godfather and The Godfather Part II for this series of reviews, everyone who I talked to mentioned that they loved the first two Godfather films and that they hated the third one.  Quite a few, in fact, suggested that I shouldn’t even bother reviewing the third one.  In their eyes, The Godfather Part III was like that one cousin who you know exists but, because he got caught cashing your grandma’s social security check, you never send a Christmas card.

But you know what?

It was never even an option for me to skip reviewing The Godfather, Part III.  First off, I’m a completist.  It’s long been my goal to review every single best picture nominee and, regardless of how much some people may dislike it, that’s exactly what The Godfather Part III is.

Plus, I love the Godfather movies.  I’m a fourth Italian (and, much like the Corleones, my Italian side comes from Southern Italy) and I was raised Catholic.  Let’s face it — The Godfather movies were made for me.  Even Part III.

So, with all that in mind, I recently sat down and rewatched The Godfather Part III.  And I’m not saying that it was an easy film to watch.  It’s a flawed film and those flaws are made even more obvious when you compare it to the previous two Godfathers.  It’s hard to follow up on perfection.  And I have to admit that, even though I had seen Part III before, I was still expecting it to be better than it actually was.  I had forgotten just how many slow spots there were.  I had forgotten how confusing the plot could get.  I had forgotten….

Okay, I’m really starting to sound negative here and I don’t want to sound negative.  Because I like The Godfather, Part III.  I think it’s a good but uneven film.  Some of my favorite films are good but uneven…

But this is a Godfather film that we’re talking about here!

The Godfather Part III opens in 1979, 20+ years since the end of the second film.  Tom Hagen has died off-screen (booo!) and Michael (Al Pacino) is nearly 60 and looking forward to retirement.  He’s handed the Corleone criminal empire over to the flamboyant Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna).  Michael has finally become a legitimate businessman but he’s lost everyone that he loved.  Kay (Diane Keaton) has divorced him.  His son, Anthony (Franco D’Ambrosio), knows that Michael was responsible for killing Uncle Fredo and wants nothing to do with the family business.  Instead, Anthony wants to be an opera singer.  Meanwhile, his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) is headstrong and rebellious.  (Or, at least, she’s supposed to be.  That’s what the audience is told, anyway.  None of that really comes across on the screen.)

Now, the first two Godfather films featured their share of melodrama but neither one of them comes close to matching all of the schemes, betrayals, and plots that play out over the course of Godfather, Part III.  Let’s see if I can keep all of this straight:

As the film opens, Michael is receiving an award from the Vatican.  Kay, who is now married to a judge, shows up with Mary and Anthony.  Michael is obviously happy to see her.  Kay glares at him and says, “That ceremony was disgusting!”  (Damn, I thought, Kay’s suddenly being kind of a bitch.  Fortunately, later on in the movie, Kay’s dialogue was both better written and delivered.)

Then, Vincent (Andy Garcia) shows up!  Vincent is one of those handsome, sexy gangsters whose every action is followed by an exclamation point!  Vincent is Sonny’s illegitimate son!  He wears a cool leather jacket!  He openly flirts with his cousin Mary!  He has sex with Bridget Fonda!  He kills Joey Zasa’s thugs!  He convinces Michael to mentor him!

And, as soon as Vincent enters the film, suddenly every scene starts to end with an exclamation point!

And then, Michael goes to Sicily!  He gets swindled by the corrupt Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly)!  He gets targeted by a corrupt Italian politician!  He confesses his sins to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone)!  Lamberto later becomes Pope!

Meanwhile, Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) is conspiring to kill Michael!  Because that’s what elderly Mafia dons do!  And then Kay, Anthony, and Mary all come to Sicily!  Anthony is going to be making his opera debut!  And soon Vincent is sleeping with Mary, even though they’re first cousins!

And even more people want Michael dead and I’m not really sure why!  Everyone goes to the opera!  We sit through the entire opera!  Meanwhile, enemies of the Corleones are killed!  And some Corleones are killed!  And it all ends tragically!

Okay, I’m starting to get snarky here and it’s probably getting a little bit hard to believe that I actually do like The Godfather, Part III.  And, as much as I hate to do it, there are a few more flaws that I do need to point out.  Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors and she has really pretty hair and we both have similar noses but …. well, let’s just say that it’s probably a good thing that Sofia pursued a career as a director and not as an actress.  Reportedly, Sofia was a last minute pick for the role, cast after Winona Ryder suddenly dropped out of the production.  It’s not so much that her performance is terrible as much as it’s not up to the level of the rest of the cast.  Watching this Godfather, you’re acutely aware of how much of what you’re seeing on screen was determined by Sofia’s inexperience as an actress.

And then there’s that opera.  Now, I know that I’m supposed to love opera because I’m a girl and I’m a fourth Italian.  And I do love big emotions and big drama and all the rest.  But oh my God, the opera at the end of the movie went on and on.  There’s only so much entertainment you can get out of watching actors watch other actors.

But, at the same time, for every flaw, there’s a part of the film that does work.  First off, the film itself is gorgeous to look at, with a lot of wonderfully baroque sets and scenes taking place against the beautiful Italian landscape.  Al Pacino brings a very real gravity to the role of Michael and it’s fun to watch him trying to win back Diane Keaton.  (In those brief scenes, The Godfather Part III almost becomes a romantic comedy.)  Talia Shire is obviously having a lot of fun playing Connie as being a Lady MacBeth-type of character.  (In fact, they needed to give Connie a film of her own where she could poison anyone who get on her nerves.)  And Andy Garcia does a great job as Vincent.  You watch him and you never have any doubt that he could be Sonny’s son.

The Godfather Part III may not live up to the first two Godfather films but what film could?