Review: The Hunt for Red October (dir. by John McTiernan)


The Hunt for Red October

Fresh off the success of his two previous films, The Predator and Die Hard, John McTiernan was now tasked with adapting one of the 1980’s most popular novels with Tom Clancy’s debut techno-thriller, The Hunt for Red October.

By 1990, the year the film was released, Gorbachev had thawed the Cold War that existed between East and West. The Berlin Wall was months away from being torn down and glasnost became the word of the day for most people who knew nothing but the spectre of nuclear annihilation hanging over their heads since before born.

It was during the final years of the Cold War that an insurance salesman with a penchant for military and spy thrillers tried his hand in writing one. this first attempt became a worldwide sensation and was quickly put up in a bidding war by all the major studios. It would be Paramount Pictures who would win to adapt The Hunt for Red October for the big-screen and John McTiernan would be hired to steer the film.

While Sean Connery would ultimately be cast in the main role of Soviet submarine Marko Ramius, he wasn’t the first choice. German actor Klaus Maria Brandauer was originally cast but ended up leaving production a coupe weeks into production due to prior commitments. So, in comes Connery and the rest, as they would say, is history.

The thing about film adaptations of popular novels has been how much of the novel could the filmmakers, especially the screenwriter, be able to fit into a film that would run around 2 hours or so. Some cutting of scenes that fans loves would have to be done and depending on the scenes in the novel, a backlash could begin against the film even before filming was completed.

Fortunately, this was Hollywood in the late 1980’s and there was no such thing as the internet as we know of it today. There were no blogs dedicated to reporting on every minute detail of a film production. No amateur film newshound bringing up unsubstantiated rumors of the going’s on during a film’s production. This was still a Hollywood who controlled how news of their activities were going to be reported and what they decided to tell and show reporters.

This would be a boon for McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October since the film had some major help from not just the U.S. Navy, but from the Department of Defense in trying to make sure the film was as realistic as possible in portraying the life of American submariners, Naval personnel and how the intelligence community in the West operated. Again, this was also with the film portraying all these groups in a much more positive light in return for their assistance.

In today’s world, such a compromise from the filmmakers to gain the help from the military-intelligence apparatus would be akin to some as perpetuating warmongering and glorifying the military. I could see blogs shouting for boycotts if such a thing happened nowadays.

But returning to the film The Hunt for Red October, for a straight-by-the-numbers thriller it still brings a certain surprise and inventiveness in the action-thriller genre that other filmmakers decades later would try to emulate (Crimson Tide and the many Jack Ryan-based films). Despite a Russian accent that really was cringe-worthy even when first heard, Sean Connery made for a charismatic and sympathetic Marko Ramius whose reasoning for defecting with the titular submarine Red October went beyond just the politics of the era.

Backing him up was a strong ensemble cast with a very young Alec Baldwin in the role of Jack Ryan, James Earl Jones as his boss CIA director Adm. James Greer and Sam Neill and Scott Glenn as Cmdr. Borodin and Capt. Mancuso. The film goes in heavily into Clancy’s love for technobabble and military jargon, yet the actors involved seemed very game and convincing in acting out the dialogue that would sound ridiculous is just read without context and understanding.

While the film does sacrifice some of the more political maneuverings in the book, which meant less scenes with Richard Jordan as National Security Advisor Dr. Pelt, it does streamline the film to be more action-oriented. It was a shame they went that way in which parts of the novel to cut out since Jordan’s performance as Dr. Pelt was one of the highlights of the film, despite his limited screentime.

In terms of action, The Hunt for Red October proved once again that McTiernan knew how to handle both tension and action in equal measure. He makes the cat-and-mouse battle between the Soviet and American subs seem as thrilling as any fast-paced dogfight scenes that thrilled filmgoers when Top Gun premiered on the bigscreen.

Even the film’s orchestral score from the late and great composer Basil Poledouris would lend the film a certain level of martial prowess that Poledouris’ compositions were known for. Even after many viewings it’s still difficult not to hum the film’s Soviet national hymn-inspired theme.

While The Hunt for Red October was one of the last films of the Cold War-era that still showed the tug-of-war between the East and West, it was a fitting end to a part of Hollywood’s cinematic history that portrayed Communism, especially that of the Soviet Union, as the big go-to Enemy that made action movies of the 80’s so popular with the Reaganite crowd.

The success of this film would begin a cottage industry of sequels featuring the character of Jack Ryan who would be portrayed in subsequent films by none other than Everyman himself Harrison Ford then in a miscasting in a later sequel by Ben Affleck.

The Emmys Suck and Here’s A List of the Major Nominees!


Earlier today, I posted my emmy picks.

Well, here’s what was actually nominated.  As you look over this list, you’ll see that — while Twin Peaks did receive 9 nominations — it was shunned in the major categories.  Kyle MacLachlan was nominated for Best Actor.  Twin Peaks was not nominated for Best Limited Series.

Oh!  But hey — Alec Baldwin got another nomination for doing his part to reelect Donald Trump.

The Emmys suck.

COMEDY

BEST COMEDY SERIES
“Atlanta”
“Barry”
“Black-ish”
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
“GLOW”
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
“Silicon Valley”
“The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Anthony Anderson (“black-ish”
Ted Danson (“The Good Place”
Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Donald Glover (“Atlanta”)
Bill Hader (“Barry”)
William H. Macy (“Shameless”)

BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”)
Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Allison Janney (“Mom)
Issa Rae (“Insecure”)
Tracee Ellis Ross (“black-ish”)
Lily Tomlin (“Grace & Frankie”)

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Louie Anderson (“Baskets”)
Alec Baldwin (“Saturday Night Live”)
Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)
Tony Shalhoub (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”)
Henry Winkler (“Barry”)

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Zazie Beetz (“Atlanta”)
Alex Borstein (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”)
Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”)
Leslie Jones (“Saturday Night Live”)
Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”)
Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”)
Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”)

BEST COMEDY GUEST ACTOR
Sterling K. Brown (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”)
Bryan Cranston (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”)
Donald Glover (“Saturday Night Live”)
Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Live”)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”)
Katt Williams (“Atlanta”)

BEST COMEDY GUEST ACTRESS
Tina Fey (“Saturday Night Live”)
Tiffany Haddish (“Saturday Night Live”)
Jane Lynch (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Maya Rudolph (“The Good Place”)
Molly Shannon (“Will & Grace”)
Wanda Sykes (“Black-ish”)

DRAMA

BEST DRAMA SERIES
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
“Game of Thrones”
“This Is Us”
“The Crown”
“The Americans”
“Stranger Things”
“Westworld”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
Jason Bateman (“Ozark”)
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”)
Ed Harris (“Westworld”)
Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”)
Milo Ventimiglia (“This Is Us”)
Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”)

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Claire Foy (“The Crown”)
Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”)
Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”)
Keri Russell (“The Americans”)
Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld”)

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (“Game of Thrones”)
Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”)
Joseph Fiennes (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
David Harbour (“Stranger Things”)
Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”)
Matt Smith (“The Crown”)

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Alexis Bledel (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”)
Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”)
Thandie Newton (“Westworld”)
Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)

BEST DRAMA GUEST ACTOR
F. Murray Abraham (“Homeland”)
Cameron Britton (“Mindhunter”)
Matthew Goode (“The Crown”)
Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”)
Gerald McRaney (“This Is Us”)
Jimmi Simpson (“Westworld”)

BEST DRAMA GUEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis (“Scandal”)
Kelly Jenrette (The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Cherry Jones (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Diana Rigg (“Game of Thrones”)
Cicely Tyson (“How to Get Away With Murder”)
Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)

MOVIE/MINI

BEST LIMITED SERIES
“The Alienist”
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
“Genius: Picasso”
“Godless”
“Patrick Melrose”

BEST TV MOVIE
“Fahrenheit 451” (HBO)
“Flint” (Lifetime)
“Paterno” (HBO)
“The Tale” (HBO)
“Black Mirror: USS Callister” (Netflix)

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTOR
Antonio Banderas (“Genius: Picasso”)
Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)
Benedict Cumberbatch (“Patrick Melrose”)
Jeff Daniels (“The Looming Tower”)
John Legend (“Jesus Christ Superstar”)
Jesse Plemons (“USS Callister”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTRESS
Laura Dern (“The Tale”)
Jessica Biel (“The Sinner”)
Michelle Dockery (“Godless”)
Edie Falco (“The Menendez Murders”)
Regina King (“Seven Seconds”)
Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story: Cult”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jeff Daniels (“Godless”)
Brandon Victor Dixon (“Jesus Christ Superstar”)
John Leguizamo (“Waco”)
Ricky Martin (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)
Edgar Ramirez (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)
Michael Stuhlbarg (“The Looming Tower”)
Finn Wittrock (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sara Bareilles (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert”)
Penelope Cruz (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)
Judith Light (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)
Adina Porter (“American Horror Story: Cult”)
Merritt Wever (“Godless”)
Letitia Wright (“Black Museum” (Black Mirror)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Working Girl (dir by Mike Nichols)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1988 best picture nominee, Working Girl!)

Welcome to the 80s!

Yes, Working Girl is definitely a film of its time.  It’s a film that’s obsessed with big things: big dreams, big offices, big money, and big hair.  It’s a movie where the heroes talk about hostile takeovers and where everyone’s dream is to eventually to be an executive on Wall Street.  You know all of those people who claim that The Big Short is the greatest movie ever made?  I can guarantee that the majority of them would totally hate every character in Working Girl.  Working Girl is such a film of the past that it even features Alec Baldwin doing something other than bellowing at people.  In fact, Baldwin’s actually sexy in Working Girl.  It was strange to see him in this film and realize that he was the same actor who currently spends all of his time picking fights on twitter and defending James Toback.

Of course, Alec Baldwin has a relatively small role in Working Girl.  He plays Mick Dugan, the type of blue-collar guy who gives his girlfriend lingerie for her birthday (“I just wish you would get me something that I could wear outside,” she says as she tries it on) and who then proceeds to cheat on her while she’s off at work.  From the minute we first meet Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), we know that she deserves better than Mick.

Tess is a professional administrative assistant.  She’s just turned 30 but she’s not ready to give up her dreams and settle for a life of fighting off coke-snorting executives and coming home to some guy like Mick.  (Speaking of early performances from infamous actors, one of the coke-snorting executives is played by Kevin Spacey.)  Tess has got a bachelor’s degree in Business.  As she puts it, she has a “mind for business and a bod for sin.”

She’s also got a new boss, an up-and-coming executive named Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  It turns out that Katherine is 29 years old.  (“I’ve never worked for someone younger than me before,” Tess says as Katherine gives her a condescending smile.)  Katharine encourages Tess to think of her as being a mentor.  If Tess has any ideas for investments, she should feel free to bring them to Katharine.  Of course, when Tess does so, Katharine claims that her bosses shot the idea down.  It’s only after Katharine breaks her leg in a skiing accident and is laid up in Europe that Tess discovers that Katharine has actually been stealing her ideas and not giving her any credit for them.

What is Tess to do?  Well, she does what any of us would do.  She passes herself off as an executive and presents her idea to Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) herself.  Jack is impressed with the idea but he’s even more impressed with Tess.  Of course, complicating things is that Jack was once in a relationship with Katharine and Katharine still thinks that she’s going to eventually marry Jack.  And, of course, there’s the fact that Tess is lying about actually being an executive…

Working Girl is a frequently amusing film, elevated by performances of Melanie Griffith and, in the role of Tess’s best friend, Joan Cusack.  Add to that, Harrison Ford is remarkable non-grouchy as Jack Trainer and Sigourney Weaver appears to be having the time of her life playing a villain.  Even as I laughed at some of the lines, here was a part of me that wished that the film had a bit more bite.  At times, Working Girl tries too hard to have it both ways, both satirizing and celebrating Wall Street culture.  In the end, the film works best as a piece of wish-fulfillment.  It’s a film that says that not only can you win success and Harrison Ford but you can get your bitchy boss fired too.

Despite being a rather slight (if likable) film, Working Girl was nominated for Best Picture of 1988.  However, it lost to Rain Man.

Playing Catch Up With The Films of 2017: The Boss Baby (dir by Tim McGrath)


I have to admit that The Boss Baby is an animated film that I have mixed feelings about.

Actually, that shouldn’t be surprising.  The Boss Baby is the epitome of the type of film that is disliked by critics but loved by audiences.  It got fairly dismissive reviews but it also made a ton of money and apparently, there’s a sequel in the works.

It’s a product of Dreamworks Animation, which has always basically been Pixar without the edge.  If Pixar films often seem to be about the animators working out their own personal issues through their work, the films from Dreamworks are often distinguished by just how little is actually going on beneath the surface.  If Pixar specializes in crowd pleasers that challenge you to think, Dreamworks specializes in crowd pleasers that invite you to sit back and relax.

(Of course, that’s a generalization.  Dreamworks is responsible for the Shrek films, the majority of which I absolutely love.  At the same time, as much as I love Pixar, I would warn against giving too much thought to anything in the first two Cars films.)

Anyway, The Boss Baby is the story of Ted, a little baby who wears a suit and tie and who sounds just like Alec Baldwin.  Strangely, only his older brother , Tim (Max Bakshi), appears to see anything strange about any of this.  Everyone just dismisses Tim’s concern as a product of Tim being jealous of his baby brother and, to a certain extent, they have a point.  The older children are always jealous of their younger siblings.  (Fortunately, I was the youngest of four so I never had to be jealous of anyone.)  Still, it turns out that Tim is correct about something being strange about Ted, who has actually been sent into the world on a secret mission.  Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi) is the CEO of Puppy Corp. and he’s conspiring to make puppies cuter than babies.  The Boss Baby has to stop him and he only has a few days to do so before he forgets how to speak and turns into an ordinary baby.

It’s a surprisingly busy plot and a lot of it feels as if it was ripped off from the Toy Story films.  Instead of talking toys, we’ve got a talking baby.  Just as Toy Story 3 featured a lengthy chase scene and a bitter villain, The Boss Baby features a lengthy chase scene and a bitter villain.  Much as how every Toy Story movie ended with a rumination on what it means to get older and grow up, The Boss Baby ends with a rumination on what it means to get older and grow up.  Many times, The Boss Baby feels like a compilation of scenes and characters lifted from other animated films.

At the same time, the idea of a baby wearing a suit and talking like a New York tough guy is undeniably cute.  I’m not the world’s biggest Alec Baldwin fan but, in this case, it’s perfect casting.  As the film itself makes clear, babies are cute.  This is especially true when they’re animated and you’re not the one who has to change their diapers or clean up after them.

There’s a thin line between keeping an audience happy and pandering and, often, The Boss Baby steps over that line.  It’s a very derivative film, one that never reaches either the comedic or the emotional highs of a good Pixar film.  However, the baby is cute and sometimes, that’s enough.

 

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Paris Can Wait (dir by Eleanor Coppola)


Anne (Diane Lane) is the wife of Michael (Alec Baldwin).  Michael is an internationally renowned film producer.  As is established early on, their marriage is not perfect.  Michael is consumed with work and, at one point, Anne spots him deep in conversation with a young actress.  Anne’s reaction tells us all we need to know about Michael’s history as a husband.  While Michael obsesses on making the latest deal, Anne takes pictures of inanimate objects.  None of the pictures are particularly good but everyone in the movie raves about them.  I imagine that has something to do with the fact that Anne is based on Eleanor Coppola, who wrote and directed Paris Can Wait.

When the film opens, Anne and Michael are at Cannes.  Michael has spent the entire festival making deals but he’s promised Anne a Paris vacation afterward.  However, the day that they’re vacation is supposed to begin, Michael gets a call!  He’s needed in Budapest!  And Anne can’t fly because she has an ear infection…

No worries!  Their friend Jacques (Arnaud Viard) is willing to drive Anne to Paris and keep her company while she waits for Michael to return.  And so, while Michael flies off to Budapest, Anne and Jacques head off for Paris.  However, Anne soon finds herself questioning Jacques’s intentions.  Is he being flirtatious or is he just French?  When he stops off at every restaurant along the way and uses Anne’s credit card to pay the exorbitant bills, is he taking advantage of her or is he just being French?  When Anne isn’t doubting Jacques’s intentions, she’s questioning her marriage.  Is Michael really in Budapest to work on a movie or is he having an affair?

One of the good things about being rich is that you occasionally get to make a movie about how difficult it is to be rich.  That certainly seems to be the case with Paris Can Wait, which was written and directed by Eleanor Coppola, the wife of Francis Ford Coppola and the mother of Sofia and Roman Coppola.  Paris Can Wait is said to be autobiographical, which would seem to suggest that Eleanor and Francis aren’t particularly interesting human beings.

There are some positive elements to the film, of course. Diane Lane gives about as good a performance as one can when you’re playing an idealized version of a film’s director.  Also, Alec Baldwin manages to make it through the entire movie without bellowing.  In fact, Baldwin’s barely in the movie and that’s not a bad thing.  The French countryside looks beautiful but, quite frankly, it’s impossible for the French countryside not to look beautiful.  On the negative side, it just doesn’t add up to much.  You never really care whether or not Michael and Anne stay together.  You’re just thankful that you’ll never get stuck beside them on an airplane.

I think the main problem is that, as a director, Eleanor Coppola doesn’t really seem to know what she’s trying to say with her film.  For instance, I could imagine Sofia Coppola taking the exact same material and creating a movie that would be achingly poignant and full of ennui.  But, with Eleanor, it’s just another travelogue to nowhere.

Here’s What Won At The Emmys Last Night!


Last night, Lisa Marie did not watch the Emmys because she says that, “I’m just not feeling TV this year.”  If Twin Peaks had been eligible to be nominated, I bet it would have been a different story!

Instead, she asked me to watch the ceremony and let everyone know what I thought.  It needed less politics and more cats.

Here’s the list of winners:

COMEDY

BEST COMEDY SERIES
“Atlanta”
“Black-ish”
“Masters of None”
“Modern Family”
“Silicon Valley”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — “Veep”

BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Zach Galifianaks, “Baskets”
X — Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Vanessa Bayer, “Saturday Night Live”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Kathryn Hahn, “Transparent”
Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”
Judith Light, “Transparent”
X — Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Louie Anderson, “Baskets”
X — Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Matt Walsh, “Veep”

BEST COMEDY DIRECTING
X — “Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Intellectual Property”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Server Error”)
“Veep” (“Justice”)
“Veep” (“Blurb”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)

BEST COMEDY WRITING
“Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Atlanta” (“Streets on Lock”)
X — “Master of None” (“Thanksgiving”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Success Failure”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)
“Veep” (“Georgia”)

DRAMA

BEST DRAMA SERIES
“Better Call Saul”
“The Crown”
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“House of Cards”
“Stranger Things”
“This is Us”
“Westworld”

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
X — Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
X — Sterling K. Brown, “This is Us”
Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Milo Ventimiglia, “This is Us”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
X — Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Chrissy Metz, “This is Us”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
Ron Cephas Jones, “This is Us”
Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”
X — John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

BEST DRAMA DIRECTING
“Better Call Saul” (“Witness”)
“The Crown” (“Hyde Park Corner”)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (“The Bridge”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Homeland” (“America First”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

BEST DRAMA WRITING
“The Americans” (“The Soviet Division”)
“Better Call Saul” (“Chicanery”)
“The Crown” (“Assassins”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES

BEST LIMITED SERIES
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo”
“Feud: Bette and Joan”
“Genius”
“The Night Of”

BEST TV MOVIE
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Christmas of Many Colors”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
“The Wizard of Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTRESS
Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
X — Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Susan Sarandon, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTOR
X — Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies”
Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Judy Davis, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
Jackie Hoffman, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Regina King, “American Crime”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies”
Shailene Woodley, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bill Camp, “The Night Of”
Alfred Molina, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies”
David Thewlis, “Fargo”
Stanley Tucci, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI DIRECTING
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Genius” (“Einstein: Chapter One”)
“The Night Of” (“The Art of War”)
“The Night Of” (“The Beach”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI WRITING
“Big Little Lies”
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“Pilot”)
“The Night Of” (“Call of the Wild”)

VARIETY/REALITY

BEST REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
“The Amazing Race”
“Amercan Ninja Warrior”
“Project Runway”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
“Top Chef”
X — “The Voice”

BEST VARIETY TALK SERIES
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Late Show with James Corden”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
“Real Time with Bill Maher”

BEST VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
“Billy on the Street”
“Documentary Now”
“Drunk History”
“Portlandia”
X — “Saturday Night Live”
“Tracey Ullman’s Show”

BEST VARIETY SERIES DIRECTING
“Drunk History”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
X — “Saturday Night Live”

BEST VARIETY SERIES WRITING
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert

A Movie A Day #173: Great Balls of Fire! (1989, directed by Jim McBride)


In the 1950s, Jerry Lee Lewis (Dennis Quaid) plays what his cousin, Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin), calls the devil’s music.  After signing a contract with Sam Phillips (Trey Wilson), Jerry becomes a star with his wild man persona and crazed piano playing.  When Elvis is drafted, it appears that Jerry is destined to take over as the new King of Rock and Roll.  But, then, while touring England, the press discovers that Jerry is married to his 13 year-old cousin, Myra (Winona Ryder).  When Jerry refuses to apologize for his private life, his career falls apart.

The real Jerry Lew Lewis has stated many times that he hates this musical biopic and that it has very little in common with his actual life.  Jerry has a point.  Great Balls of Fire is a highly stylized film, one that greatly sanitizes both the life of Jerry Lee Lewis and the early days of rock and roll.  In the film, there’s no struggle or even hard work on the road to becoming a star.  Jerry just drops off a recording of himself playing piano and viola! He’s a star!  Soon, teenagers are dancing around his convertible, both civil rights protestors and white Southern cops start dancing whenever they see him driving down the street, the local radio DJ waves whenever he sees them, and Jerry’s sneaking into Mississippi so that he can marry his thirteen year-old cousin.

Great Balls of Fire! takes a superficially mater of fact approach to Jerry’s marriage to Myra, neither condemning nor excusing, though it does cheat by casting the 18 year-old Winona Ryder as the 13 year-old Myra.  (If the film had cast an actress who was closer to Myra’s actual age, Great Balls of Fire! would never have been released.)  Fortunately, history helped the movie out by making Jimmy Swaggart into Jerry’s main critic.  Alec Baldwin’s performance as Jimmy Swaggart makes his interpretation of Donald Trump look subtle, nuanced, and award-worthy.

Dennis Quaid, at the height of his 80s stardom, is ideally cast as Jerry Lee Lewis, giving a good if broad performance and doing a convincing job lip-syncing to the music.  Quaid has said that he was struggling with an addiction to cocaine while filming Great Balls of Fire! and that might have made him the perfect actor to play the always conflicted and always wild Jerry Lee Lewis.  The best thing about the film is that Jerry Lee Lewis provided the music, re-recording his best known songs.  While the movie may not tell the true story of Jerry Lee Lewis, it does feature enough of his music that it is obvious why Jerry Lee Lewis nearly became the king of rock and roll.

 

Playing Catch-Up: Aloha (dir by Cameron Crowe)


Well, Christmas is over and soon 2015 will be over as well!  And our long time readers know what that means — its time for Lisa to desperately try to get caught up on reviewing all of the films that she’s seen this year!  After all, it will soon be time for me to post my “Best of” and “Worst of” lists and who knows?  Some of these films might make a list!

Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s take a quick look at Aloha!

Say what you will about Aloha as a movie, I would have loved to have been a part of the production.  Not only is the cast full of performers that I absolutely adore (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, John Krasinski, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, and Danny McBride, just to name a few) but the film itself was shot in Hawaii, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  And let’s give director Cameron Crowe some credit for capturing some truly beautiful images of Hawaii.

As for the film itself, it’s a bit of a self-indulgent chore to sit through.  Aloha feels like a dozen different films, all mashed together and the end result is something of a mess.  Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilchrest, a defense contractor who is haunted by a mistake that he made while in Afghanistan.  (It’s the equivalent of Jerry Maguire writing that memo and Orlando Bloom making those shoes in Elizabethtown.)  Disillusioned and cynical, Brian is now working for a billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who wants to build his own private space center in Hawaii.  Brian’s job is to get the support of the native Hawaiians.

Brian’s Air Force liaison is Alison Ng (Emma Stone) and she’s as idealistic as Brian is cynical.  Brian and Alison are soon falling love but, at the same time, Brian has also reconnected with his ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams).  Tracy is now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an Air Force captain who has difficulty expressing his feelings.  Tracy also has a 12 year-old daughter and Brian might be the father.

That may sound like enough for any movie to deal with but Aloha also wants to be a political satire as well as a relationship dramedy.  So, of course, there’s all sorts of ethical questions about the satellite that Carson wants to launch and, as a character, Carson is so incredibly inconsistent that you’re just happy that he’s being played by Bill Murray, one of the few actors who can make inconsistency charming.

Aloha is such a frustrating film, largely because of all the talent involved.  With that cast and all the beautiful scenery, it should have at least been an enjoyable lark.  Instead, it’s a huge and self-indulgent mess.

And, naturally enough, it features Alec Baldwin.  Baldwin always seems to show up in films like this and, as I watched him bellow his way through Aloha, I found myself wondering how Alec Baldwin can be so good in some films and so amazingly awful in others.  Baldwin’s a talented actor but, when a director allows him to go overboard, he can be difficult to watch.  In Aloha, Cameron Crowe lets Alec Baldwin go totally overboard.

When Aloha was first released, there was a lot of controversy over Emma Stone playing a character who supposed to be a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian.  At the time, Cameron Crowe stated that: “As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud one-quarter Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.”  That’s something that I — as a pale redhead who happens to be very proud of being a fourth Spanish — could relate to so it didn’t particularly bother me that Emma Stone was playing a character named Alison Ng.

Instead, what bothered me was that Alison Ng was never really allowed to emerge as an individual character with her own hopes, dreams, and ambitions.  Her character pretty much only existed to give Brian a reason to believe in life again.  Emma Stone’s a good actress but, as a film, Aloha lets her down.

Still, at least she got to spend sometime in Hawaii!

Film Review: Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (dir by Christopher McQuarrie)


Rebecca FergusonEarlier tonight, Jeff and I saw Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and now I’m pretty sure that I’m developing huge girl crush on actress Rebecca Ferguson.

She plays Ilsa Faust, a former operative for M.I.6. who is now somehow involved with a shadowy terrorist organization known as The Syndicate.  And while Ilsa may only be a supporting character (because, after all, this is a Mission Impossible film and therefore, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is unquestionably the star), she dominates every scene that she’s in.  Whether she’s escape the scene of an attempted assassination while wearing a dress that is simply to die for or rescuing Ethan Hunt from certain death, Ilsa Faust is a woman who kicks ass, takes no prisoners, and looks great while she’s doing it.  As much as I love Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Ilsa Faust is my new espionage role model.

The movie attempts to suggest that there’s some sexual chemistry between Ilsa and Ethan.  Oddly enough, there’s not.  Tom Cruise looks good and he gives a confident and likable performance but, as a character, Ethan comes across as being almost asexual.  He seems to be attracted to only intrigue and danger.  And yet, that lack of authentic romantic chemistry actually works to the film’s advantage.  Ilsa is never reduced to merely being a love interest.  Instead, she’s an equal to Ethan throughout the entire film.

Of course, Ilsa has secrets of her own.  Everyone in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation has a secret.  The film opens with the IMF being disbanded and its operatives being absorbed into the CIA.  When the CIA director (Alec Baldwin, in full jerk mode) orders Ethan to stop investigating the Syndicate, Ethan goes underground and continues his activities in secret.  His allies (Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, and the great Simon Pegg) can only help him in secret.  The origins of the Syndicate turn out to be the biggest secret of all.  There are so many secrets in Rogue Nation that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of them all but, again, that works to the film’s advantage.  It keeps the audience off-balance.  You never know when someone’s going to suddenly pull out a gun and start shooting or rip off a mask and reveal themselves to be someone else.

Rogue Nation is an entertaining action film.  The stunts are spectacular and the set pieces are exciting and enjoyably over the top.  (There’s a scene where Ethan Hunt has to change out a security card while holding his breath underwater and I literally watched it through my fingers.)  I wouldn’t suggest trying to read too much into the film and yet, at the same time, Rogue Nation does capture the paranoid times in which we live. The film manages to both condemn the excesses of government while celebrating the toys that make those excesses possible.  The average film goer may not be able to do all of the things that Ilsa and Ethan can do but we all know what it’s like not to trust authority.

That’s what makes Solomon Lane, the main villain played by Sean Harris, such an interesting character.  I know that some reviewers have complained that Lane’s role was underwritten but I have to disagree.  Lane may not be as verbose as the typical spy movie villain but I appreciated the fact that he remained somewhat enigmatic up to the conclusion of the film.  He never made the mistake of over explaining his evil plan and accidentally giving the IMF team extra time in which to defeat him.  (Solomon Lane obviously learned his lesson from watching countless would-be world conquerors accidentally allow James Bond to get the better of them.)  Lane may be ruthless and evil but he’s also a revolutionary who is outraged by some of the same things that the rest of us are outraged by.  This brings a welcome hint of ambiguity to the film.

Though it never quite reaches the lunatic highs of either Kingsman or Furious Seven, Rogue Nation is still an enjoyable and effective action movie.  Undoubtedly, Ethan and the IMF team will return in another installment.  Here’s hoping that Ilsa Faust gets a spin-off of her very own.

 

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #100: Pearl Harbor (dir by Michael Bay)


Pearl_harbor_movie_poster

“And then all this happened…”

Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Pearl Harbor (2001)

The “this” that Evelyn Johnson is referring to is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  You know, the date will live in infamy.  The attack that caused the United States to enter World War II and, as a result, eventually led to collapse of the Axis Powers.  The attack that left over 2,000 men died and 1,178 wounded.  That attack.

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, that attack is just one of the many complications in the romance between Danny (Ben Affleck), his best friend Rafe (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale).  The other complications include Danny briefly being listed as dead, Danny being dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was (and yet, later, he’s still seen reading and writing letters with absolutely no trouble, almost as if the filmmakers forgot they had made such a big deal about him not being able to do so), and the fact that Rafe really, really likes Evelyn.  Of course, the main complication to their romance is that this is a Michael Bay film and he won’t stop moving the camera long enough for anyone to have a genuine emotion.

I imagine that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to duplicate the success of Titanic, by setting an extremely predictable love story against the backdrop of a real-life historical tragedy.  Say what you will about Titanic (and there are certain lines in that film that, when I rehear them today, make me cringe), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had genuine chemistry.  None of that chemistry is present in Pearl Harbor.  You don’t believe, for a second, that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are lifelong friends.  You don’t believe that Kate Beckinsale is torn between the two of them.  Instead, you just feel like you’re watching three actors who are struggling to give a performance when they’re being directed by a director who is more interested in blowing people up than in getting to know them.

Continuing the Titanic comparison, Pearl Harbor‘s script absolutely sucks.  Along with that line about “all this” happening, there’s also a scene where Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) reacts to his cabinet’s skepticism by rising to his feet and announcing that if he, a man famously crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair, can stand up, then America can win a war.

I’ve actually been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  I have gone to the USS Arizona Memorial.  I have stood and stared down at the remains of the ship resting below the surface of the ocean.  It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling site, one that leaves you very aware that over a thousand men lost their lives when the Arizona sank.

I have also seen the wall which lists the name of everyone who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and until you’ve actually been there and you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you really can’t understand just how overwhelming it all is.  The picture below was taken by my sister, Erin.

Pearl Harbor 2003If you want to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, going to the Arizona Memorial is a good start.  But avoid Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor at all costs.