Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: The Verdict (dir by Sidney Lumet)


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Speaking of the good, old-fashioned star power of Paul Newman, The Hustler and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were not the only films to receive an oscar nomination as the result of his charisma.  There’s also The Verdict, a 1982 best picture nominee that would probably be forgotten if not for Paul Newman’s performance.  However, since Paul Newman did play the lead role in The Verdict and he did give an amazing lead performance, The Verdict was nominated for best picture and, 33 years later, it ended up on TCM where I just watched it.

That’s the power of good acting.

Paul Newman plays Frank Galvin, a Boston-based attorney.  At one time, Frank was a lawyer at an elite firm.  But he has since fallen on hard times.  Now, he’s the type of attorney who crashes funerals and hands out his card.  He spends his spare time at his favorite bar, playing pinball and telling long jokes while stumbling about in a drunken haze.  In many ways, Frank represents everything that people hate about personal injury attorneys but, since he’s played by Paul Newman, you know that he’s going to turn out to be a good guy.

Frank only has one friend left in the world, his former mentor Mickey (Jack Warden).  Looking to help Frank out, Mickey sends Frank a medical malpractice suit.  A woman at a Catholic Hospital was given an anesthetic during child birth that has led to her now being brain dead.  Both the woman’s family and the Archdiocese are looking for a settlement.  The family needs the money to pay for her medical care.  The Archdiocese just wants the case to go away.  All Frank has to do is accept whatever settlement deal is offered…

However, something has changed for Frank.  He’s visited the comatose woman and, looking at her trapped in a vegetative state, he’s decided that the hospital needs to be held responsible for its mistake.  He rejects the settlement and takes the case to court, looking for both justice for the victim and redemption for himself.

That’s easier said than done, of course.  The Archdiocese has hired Ed Concannon (James Mason, perfectly cast), one of the best and most powerful attorneys in Boston.  Ed has a huge legal team working on the case.  Frank has Mickey.  As well, the Judge (Milo O’Shea) makes little effort to hide his contempt for Frank.

Probably the only bright spot in Frank’s life is that he’s met a woman.  Laura (Charlotte Rampling) meets him in a bar and soon, they’re lovers and Frank is confiding in her about the case.  What he doesn’t suspect is that Laura herself is a spy, hired by Concannon.

It looks like all is lost but then Frank discovers that there is one nurse (Lindsay Crouse) who might be willing to tell the truth about what happened at the hospital…

In many ways, The Verdict is a predictable film.  From the minute we first meet him, we know that Frank is going to be redeemed.  From the minutes that we hear about the case, we know who we’re supposed to root for and who we’re supposed to hiss.  Just about every courtroom cliché is present, right down to a surprise witness or two…

But no matter!  The Verdict may be predictable but it works.  As he proved with 12 Angry Men, Director Sidney Lumet knew how to make legal deliberations compelling and the entire film is full of small but memorable details that elevate it above its simplistic storyline.  As a director, Lumet gets good performances from his cast and, as a result, this is a film where the hero is flawed and the antagonists aren’t necessarily evil.  Even the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston (who, in most films, would have been a cardboard villain) is given a scene where he’s allowed to show some humanity.

And, of course, Paul Newman is great in the role of Frank.  When we first meet Frank, he looks and sounds terrible.  Indeed, it’s strange to see Paul Newman playing a character who is essentially such a loser.  (Even Eddie Felson in The Hustler had an appealing swagger about him.)  It’s during the scenes where Frank considers the woman in a coma that Newman starts to reveal that there’s more to Frank than what’s on the rough surface.  By the end of the film, Frank may be a hero but Newman doesn’t play him as such.  He’s still has that alcoholic rasp in his voice and his eyes still betray hints of insecurity and a fear that, at any minute, he’s going to screw up and mess everything up.  It’s a great performance, one for which Newman received a nomination for best actor.

Speaking of star power, Bruce Willis also shows up in The Verdict.  He’s an extra who appears as an observer in the courtroom.  He’s sitting a few rows behind Paul Newman.  (He’s also sitting beside Tobin Bell, the Jigsaw Killer from the Saw films).  It’s probably easiest to spot Willis towards the end of the film, when the verdict is read.  Bruce breaks out into a huge grin and almost looks like he’s about to start clapping.  Bruce only gets about 10 second of screen time but he acts the Hell out of them!

Thanks to Paul Newman, The Verdict is a memorable and entertaining film.  Be sure to watch it the next time it shows up on TCM.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (dir by George Roy Hill)


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Should I start this post by ticking everyone off or should I start out by reviewing the 1969 best picture nominee Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid?

Let’s do the review first.  I recently watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when it aired as a part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.  This was actually my third time to see the film on TCM.  And, as I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the third time, I was shocked to discover how much I had forgotten about the film.

Don’t get me wrong.  I remembered that it was a western and that it starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford as real-life outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  I remembered that it opened and ended with sepia-toned sequences that suggested that Butch and Sundance represented the last gasp of the old west.  I remembered that Butch won a fight by kicking a man in the balls.  I also remembered that they robbed the same train twice and, the second time, they accidentally used too much dynamite.  I remembered that, for some reason, Butch spent a lot of time riding around on a bicycle.  I remembered that Butch and Sundance ended up getting chased by a mysterious posse.  I remembered that Sundance could not swim.  And I remembered that the film eventually ended on a tragic note in South America…

And I know what you’re saying.  You’re saying, “It sounds like you remembered the whole movie, Lisa!”

No, actually I did not.  The thing with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is that the scenes that work are so memorable that it’s easy to forget that there’s also a lot of scenes that aren’t as memorable.  These are the scenes where the film drags and you’re thankful that Paul Newman and Robert Redford were cast as Butch and Sundance, because their charisma helps you overlook a lot of scenes that are either too heavy-handed or which drag on for too long.  You’re especially thankful for Newman, who plays every scene with a twinkle in his wonderful blue eyes and who is such a lively presence that it makes up for the fact that Redford’s performance occasionally crosses over from being stoic to wooden.  It can be argued that there’s no logical reason for a western to feature an outlaw riding around on a bicycle while Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head plays on the soundtrack but Paul Newman’s so much fun to watch that you can forgive the film.

Newman and Redford both have so much chemistry that they’re always a joy to watch.  And really, that’s the whole appeal of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the chance to watch two iconic actors have fun playing opposite each other.  Even though Katharine Ross appears as their shared romantic interest, the film’s love story is ultimately between Butch and Sundance (and, by extension, Newman and Redford).  You can find countless reviews that will give all the credit for the film’s appeal to William Goldman’s screenplay.  (You can also find countless self-satisfied essays by William Goldman where he does the exact same thing.)  But, honestly, the film’s screenplay is nothing special.  This film works because of good, old-fashioned star power.

Now, for the part that’ll probably tick everyone off (heh heh), I think that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is actually a pretty good pick for a future remake.  All you have to do is pick the right actors for Butch and Sundance.  I’m thinking Chris Pratt as Butch and Chris Evans as Sundance…

Oh, c’mon!  It’ll be great!

Review: Sunless Sea


Sunless-SeaI acquired Sunless Sea by impulse as soon as I heard it was a “story-driven roguelike”. I had heard of it before as a “lovecraftian ship navigation simulator”. So happens it attempts to be both, and executes its proposal with laudable competence. Sunless Sea is Uncharted Waters: New Horizons for the SNES meets Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube. It is Sid Meier’s Pirates with a Doctor Who, wacky kind of horror, eldritch and horrifying in its own right. It is fantastic, and scary and fascinating.

Sunless Sea evokes the mysteriousness of the oceans during the age of discoveries and displaces it into a fantasy, steampunk, victorian London to create a setting appropriately unknown. Your home port of Fallen London (Which as it implies, is London after falling into the earth. Get with the program.) is the only mostly safe place in the underground sea referred to as the Unterzee. As soon as you set sail from Fallen London, there’s no telling what you’ll find, with bat swarms, giant crabs and rat pirates being some of the most tame enemies you’ll encounter. The Unterzee is appropriately feared by those that dwell in it, and your own terror is only one of the things you must manage, lest despair drives you into joining the ghosts in the sea. Mind you, this is not a metaphor, there are actual sea ghosts who, on occasion, wail for you to join them. Your ship’s light brings some comfort at the cost of precious fuel. You must balance the intake of fear with the diminishing fuel and food supplies. It is a game of management. as well as exploration.

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But most of all, it’s story-driven. There is no single story to speak, but all of them are superbly written. You travel from port to port, from tale to tale, every one of them as eerie as the previous and never the same as any other. The seas are ruled by the gods of Salt, of Stone and of Storm, and you seek their favour, only hoping not to displease any of them. Spider-silk and mushroom wine are common trading goods, while human souls and uncensored romantic novels are illegal commodities. Every island you visit is a story. Every game update is a new set of stories added. It is a fascinating, ever expanding world for the fantasy and horror writer and all its consumers.

If I had to describe Sunless Sea in one word, it would be “enigmatic”. More extensively I’d describe it as dashingly green and black. But it offers too much content; it’s too original to be summarized so briefly. As a roguelike, it is unconventional. As a horror story, it is promising, and as an indie game as a whole it is very successful. I can only hope the Unterzee becomes richer and richer with its programmed updates, and so should you.