Playing Catch-Up: Autumn in New York, Griffin & Phoenix, Harry & Son, The Life of David Gale


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past few weeks!

  • Autumn in New York
  • Released: 2000
  • Directed by Joan Chen
  • Starring Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch, Vera Farmiga, Sherry Stringfield, Jill Hennessy, J.K. Simmons, Sam Trammell, Mary Beth Hurt

Richard Gere is Will, a fabulously wealthy New Yorker, who has had many girlfriends but who has never been able to find the one.  He owns a restaurant and appears on the cover of New York Magazine.  He loves food because, according to him, “Food is the only beautiful thing that truly nourishes.”

Winona Ryder is Charlotte, a hat designer who is always happy and cheerful and full of life.  She’s the type who dresses up like Emily Dickinson for Christmas and recites poetry to children, though you get the feeling that, if they ever somehow met in real life, Emily would probably get annoyed with Charlotte fairly quickly.  Actually, Charlotte might soon get to meet  Emily because she has one of those rare diseases that kills you in a year while still allowing you to look healthy and beautiful.

One night, Will and Charlotte meet and, together, they solve crimes!

No, actually, they fall in love.  This is one of those films where a young woman teaches an old man how to live again but then promptly dies so it’s not like he actually has to make a huge commitment or anything.  The film does, at least, acknowledge that Will is a lot older than Charlotte but it still doesn’t make it any less weird that Charlotte would want to spend her last year on Earth dealing with a self-centered, emotionally remote man who is old enough to be her father.  (To be honest, when it was revealed that Charlotte was the daughter of a woman who Will had previously dated, I was briefly worried that Autumn in New York was going to take an even stranger turn….)

On the positive side, the films features some pretty shots of New York and there is actually a pretty nice subplot, in which Will tries to connect with the daughter (Vera Farmiga) that he never knew he had.  Maybe if Farmiga and Ryder had switched roles, Autumn in New York would have worked out better.

  • Griffin & Phoenix
  • Released: 2006
  • Directed by Ed Stone
  • Starring Dermot Mulroney, Amanda Peet, Blair Brown, and Sarah Paulson

His name is Henry Griffin (Dermot Mulroney).

Her name is Sarah Phoenix (Amanda Peet).

Because they both have highly symbolic last names, we know that they’re meant to be together.

They both have cancer.  They’ve both been given a year to live.  Of course, they don’t realize that when they first meet and fall in love.  In fact, when Phoenix comes across several books that Griffin has purchased about dealing with being terminally ill, she assumes that Griffin bought them to try to fool her into falling in love with him.  Once they realize that they only have a year to be together, Griffin and Phoenix set out to make every moment count…

It’s a sweet-natured and unabashedly sentimental movie but, unfortunately, Dermot Mulroney and Amanda Peet have little romantic chemistry and the film is never quite as successful at inspiring tears as it should be.  When Mulroney finally allows himself to get mad and deals with his anger by vandalizing a bunch of cars, it’s not a cathartic moment.  Instead, you just find yourself wondering how Mulroney could so easily get away with destroying a stranger’s windshield in broad daylight.

  • Harry & Son
  • Released: 1986
  • Directed by Paul Newman
  • Starring Paul Newman, Robby Benson, Ellen Barkin, Wilford Brimley, Judith Ivey, Ossie Davis, Morgan Freeman, Katherine Borowitz, Maury Chaykin, Joanne Woodward

Morgan Freeman makes an early film appearance in Harry & Son, though his role is a tiny one.  He plays a factory foreman named Siemanowski who, in quick order, gets angry with and then fires a new employee named Howard Keach (Robby Benson).  Howard is the son in Harry & Son and he’s such an annoying character that you’re happy when Freeman shows up and starts yelling at the little twit.  As I said, Freeman’s role is a small one.  Freeman’s only on screen for a few minutes.  But, in that time, he calls Howard an idiot and it’s hard not to feel that he has a point.

Of course, the problem is that we’re not supposed to view Howard as being an idiot.  Instead, we’re supposed to be on Howard’s side.  Howard has ambitions to be the next Ernest Hemingway.  However, his blue-collar father, Harry (Paul Newman, who also directed), demands that Howard get a job.  Maybe, like us, he realizes how silly Howard looks whenever he gets hunched over his typewriter.  (Robby Benson tries to pull off these “deep thought” facial expressions that simply have to be seen to be believed.)  There’s actually two problems with Howard.  First off, we never believe that he could possibly come up with anything worth reading.  Secondly, it’s impossible to believe that Paul Newman could ever be the father of such an annoying little creep.

Harry, of course, has problems of his own.  He’s just lost his construction job.  He’s having to deal with the fact that he’s getting older.  Fortunately, his son introduces him to a nymphomaniac (Judith Ivey).  Eventually, it all ends with moments of triumph and tragedy, as these things often do.

As always, Newman is believable as a blue-collar guy who believes in hard work and cold beer.  The film actually gets off to a good start, with Newman using a wrecking ball to take down an old building.  But then Robby Benson shows up, hunched over that typewriter, and the film just becomes unbearable.  At least Morgan Freeman’s around to yell at the annoying little jerk.

  • The Life of David Gale
  • Released: 2003
  • Directed by Alan Parker
  • Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Rhona Mitra, Leon Rippy, Matt Craven, Jim Beaver, Melissa McCarthy

For the record, while I won’t shed any tears whenever Dzhokahr Tsarnaev is finally executed, I’m against the death penalty.  I think that once we accept the idea that the state has the right to execute people, it becomes a lot easier to accept the idea that the state has the right to do a lot of other things.  Plus, there’s always the danger of innocent people being sent to die.  The Life of David Gale also claims to be against the death penalty but it’s so obnoxious and self-righteous that I doubt it changed anyone’s mind.

David Gale (Kevin Spacey) used to the head of the philosophy department at the University of Texas.  He used to be a nationally renowned activist against the death penalty.  But then he was arrested for and convicted of the murder of another activist, Constance Harraway (Laura Linney) and now David Gale is sitting on death row himself.  With his execution approaching, journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is convinced that Gale was framed and she finds herself racing against time to prevent Texas from executing an innocent man…

There’s a lot of things wrong with The Life of David Gale.  First off, it was made during the Bush administration, so the whole film is basically just a hate letter to the state of Texas.  Never have I heard so many inauthentic accents in one film.  Secondly, only in a truly bad movie, can someone have a name like Bitsey Bloom.  Third, the whole film ends with this big twist that makes absolutely no sense and which nearly inspired me to throw a shoe at the TV.

Of course, the main problem with the film is that we’re asked to sympathize with a character played by Kevin Spacey.  Even before Kevin Spacey was revealed to be a sleazy perv, he was never a particularly sympathetic or really even that versatile of an actor.  (Both American Beauty and House of Cards tried to disguise this fact by surrounding him with cartoonish caricatures.)  Spacey’s so snarky and condescending as Gale that, even if he is innocent of murder, it’s hard not to feel that maybe David Gale should be executed for crimes against likability.

A Movie A Day #88: Where The Day Takes You (1992, directed by Marc Rocco)


This month, since the site is currently reviewing every episode of Twin Peaks, each entry in Move A Day is going to have a Twin Peaks connection.  Where The Day Takes You is a movie that has not just one but two connections to Twin Peaks.

Where The Day Takes You is an episodic film about young runaways living on the streets of Los Angeles.  Led by 22 year-old King (Dermot Mulroney), who ran away from home when he was 16, the runaways form a surrogate family.  While being constantly harassed by both the police and well-meaning social workers, some of the runaways get addicted to drugs while others turn to prostitution in order to survive.  Some find love.  Some find death.  They all go where the day takes you.  (Not sure if that was the movie’s tag line but it should have been.)

Where The Day Takes You is a gritty and often tough film, though it’s effectiveness is undercut by a predictable ending and the presence of too many familiar faces in the cast.  The runaways are made up of a who’s who of prominent young actors from the 1990s.  Balthazar Getty plays King’s second-in-command.  Sean Astin plays an obviously doomed drug addict.  Alyssa Milano and David Arquette play prostitutes.  Ricki Lake and James Le Gros play comedic relief.  Will Smith, in his film debut, plays a wheelchair-bound runaway.  Christian Slater and Laura San Giacomo show up as social workers while the police are represented by Rachel Ticotin and Adam Baldwin.  Everyone gives a good performance but the film would have worked better with unknown actors or even real runaways.  No matter how good a performance Sean Astin gives as a heroin addict, he is always going to be Sean Astin and it is always going to be difficult to look at him without saying, “I might not be able to carry the ring but I can carry you!”

The movie’s first Twin Peaks connection is that Lara Flynn Boyle, who played innocent Donna Hayward on Twin Peaks, plays innocent runaway Heather in Where The Day Takes You.  The role is cliché but Boyle shows the same charm that she showed while playing Donna.

The movie’s second Twin Peaks connection is more unexpected.  Kyle MacLachlan is effectively cast against type as Ted, the drug dealer who keeps most of the runaways hooked on heroin and who is perfectly willing to leave an overdosed junkie in a garbage bin.  Ted is about as far from Dale Cooper as you can get.

A Movie A Day #83: Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs (1986, directed by Burr Smidt)


Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs is a typical anti-drug video from the 1980s.  The story is familiar after school special material.  Kim (Megan Follows) and Rick (Rick Segall) are upper middle class kids who live in the suburbs.  Rick is a track star.  Kim is at the top of her class.  That all changes when they start hanging out with the local drug dealer (Dermot Mulroney), who gets Rick hooked on marijuana and Kim hooked on cocaine.  Kim gets an F on her report card.  Rick can no longer jump the hurdles.  Eventually, their parents stop drinking and taking valium long enough to force them into rehab.  The message is that tough love is the only solution.

The only thing that makes Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs noteworthy is the strange and unexpected presence of Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson, playing themselves and commenting on the action.  The first scene in the video is Burt and Judd driving their pickup truck through the suburbs, talking about how nice it is.  “Lot of nice restaurants,” Burt says.  “Are you going to buy me lunch?” Judd asks.  “Lot of nice restaurants,” Burt replies.  “This town is the American Dream,” Judd says.  “Or the American nightmare,” Burt adds.  When Kim and Rick are getting high in Dermot Mulroney’s chartreuse microbus, Burt and Judd sit on a picket fence and shoot the crap.  Burt can’t understand why teens would use drugs and Judd reminds him that it has been a while since he was a teenager. Rumor has it that both Burt and Judd appeared in this video to fulfill court-ordered community service.

Everything works out in the end.  If you have any doubt, just look at Burt giving us a thumbs up before the final credits roll.

Insomnia File #21: Truth (dir by James Vanderbilt)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you found yourself awake at three in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2015 film, Truth.

I can’t say for sure whether or not Truth would have put you to sleep.  It kept me awake, largely because I was in a state of shock that any movie could be as bad as what I was watching.  Without running the risk of hyperbole, I can say that Truth is one of the worst fucking movies that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  It’s not just that the film is poorly scripted, inconsistently acted, and directed in the most heavy-handed way possible.  No, the problems with Truth went far beyond mere execution.  Truth is a film with an agenda, one that I kind of agree with, but it’s such a total misfire that it ends up doing more damage to its cause than good.  Truth is meant to be a defense of the much maligned mainstream media but it’s so poorly put together that it’s easy to imagine it being one of Donald Trump’s guilty pleasures.  Remember how all of us musical theater nerds used to hatewatch Smash?  I imagine that the White House staff does the same thing with Truth.

Truth is ostensibly based on a true story.  In 2004, veteran anchorman Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford) reported a story that then-President George W. Bush got preferential treatment while he was serving in the Air National Guard.  This story was considered to be especially big because 1) the Iraq War was deeply unpopular, 2) Bush was in a tight race for reelection, 3) his opponent, John F. Kerry, didn’t have much to offer beyond having served in Vietnam, and 4) questions were being raised about what Kerry actually did in Vietnam.

One of the most important pieces of evidence in Rather’s story were four memos that had been provided by a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Air National Guard, a veteran Bush-hater named Bill Burkett (played, in the film, by Stacy Keach).  Shortly after the story aired, conservative bloggers claimed that the memos were obvious forgeries.  After spending weeks defending the story and haughtily dismissing anyone who didn’t collect an eight-figure paycheck from CBS, Rather admitted on air that the authenticity of the memos could not be verified.  In the wake of the scandal, Rather’s longtime producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), was fired.  Rather retired a year earlier than expected and went on to become one of those reliably dull commentators who occasionally emerges to complain about how the world hasn’t been the same since Adlai Stevenson died.  Mapes later wrote a book, which argued that 1) the memos were authentic and 2) it didn’t actually matter whether they were authentic, even though they like so totally were.

With all the current talk about fake news and whether both the media and Hollywood exist in a bubble, Truth is a film that should be especially relevant but, as previously stated, it’s so clumsy and heavy-handed that it actually does more harm than good.  About halfway through the film, there’s a hilarious scene in which literally the entire country is shown watching 60 Minutes with awe-struck expression on their face.  Children are watching.  Customers in a bar are watching.  The cooking staff in the kitchen pauses in their work to watch the report.  Heroic music rises on the soundtrack.  This scene, with all of its self-important grandeur, pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with Truth.  It’s one thing to argue that the news media does, should, and must play an important role in American life.  It’s another thing to make your argument by constructing a fantasy world where the entire country plots their lives around watching 60 Minutes.  But that’s the way Vanderbilt directs the entire film.  He’s so high on the fumes of his good intentions that he doesn’t realize his film basically comes across like a parody of those intentions.

Especially in the second half of the film, there’s a lot of speeches about why journalism is important.  And those speeches may actually make a great point but the problem is that none of them convince us that Mary Mapes and Dan Rather didn’t get fooled by some painfully obvious forgeries.  In its laudable effort to defend journalism, Truth makes the mistake of excusing shoddy journalism. When, towards the end of the film, Mapes exclaims that the memos were only a minor part of the overall story and not necessary to prove that Bush got preferential treatment, you want someone to ask her, “If you could prove the story without them, then why did you include these unverifiable documents in the first place, especially considering that they were received from a questionable source?”  But nobody does because none of the film’s saintly characters have been written or portrayed with the nuance necessary to be able to survive a question like that.   Truth‘s problem is that it wants to have it both ways.  “It doesn’t matter that this story was based on obviously fake documents,” Truth says, “And, because Mary Mapes and Dan Rather were sent by God to tell the truth, the obviously fake documents were completely real.”

And then there’s the film’s performers.  Stacy Keach is great as Burkitt and his eccentric performance suggests the film that Truth could have been if it wasn’t so concerned with trying to portray its lead characters as saints.  But then there’s Robert Redford, whose portrayal of Dan Rather has all the nuance and personality of a wax figure.  (Redford wears suspenders.  That’s the extent of his performance.)  As Mary Mapes, Cate Blanchett is totally wasted.  She doesn’t really have a character to play, beyond her male director’s conception of what a professional woman is supposed to be like.  (She also has a traumatic back story of abuse, which the film trots out in such a klutzy manner that it’s actually incredibly insulting to real-life abuse victims.)  Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Elisabeth Moss all show up as members of Mapes’s team.  Quaid is playing a military man so he gets to salute in slow motion.  Grace is playing a hipster with a beard so he gets this embarrassing scene where he rants about how he’s being targeted not because of sloppy reporting but because of a corporate conspiracy.  (This was obviously meant to be a huge applause moment but, like a lot of the movie, it doesn’t explain how the progressive cause is helped by shoddy journalism.)  Moss doesn’t get to do anything, other than sit in the background.  To waste a cast of this quality is a crime.

So why did this mostly terrible film get respectful reviews?  Why did Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells insist that Truth was destined to be an Oscar contender?  Call it confirmation bias.  Truth plays to mainstream liberals (which includes the majority of film reviewers) in much the same way that God’s Not Dead 2 plays to Christians.  But just because you agree with a film’s ideology, that doesn’t make it an example of good filmmaking.  While artistic films are often political, it’s rare that political films are ever art.  If every anti-Bush film was an artistic masterpiece, we would be living in a cinematic golden age.

Here’s the thing.  We live in a time when the media is under attack and being used a convenient scapegoat for every bad thing in America. Donald Trump largely won in 2016 by portraying the media as being biased and that’s a charge that will undoubtedly be repeated many times over the next four years.  A heavy-handed mess like Truth doesn’t help anything.

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Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #18: Careful What You Wish For (dir by


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Considering that she only has a day left, probably not.  But keep checking the site to find out!)

careful-what-you-wish-for-official-poster

I recorded Careful What You Wish For off of Starz on November 4th.  It’s one of two films in which Nick Jonas appeared in 2016.  (The other film was the underrated Goat, which I really should get around to reviewing some day.  Maybe if I ever finish cleaning out this damn DVR, I’ll finally get a chance to get caught up on reviewing all of the other movies that I’ve seen this year.)

Anyway, in Careful What You Wish For, Nick plays Doug.  Doug is kind of a dorky, creepy guy who spends the summer at his parent’s lakehouse.  His neighbors are the Harpers.  Elliott Harper is super rich banker and he’s played by Dermot Mulroney so you know he’s no good.  Lena Harper (played by Isabel Lucas) is blonde, young, and always seems to be in the process of removing her bikini top whenever Doug comes around.

Doug is soon lusting over Lena and Lena appears to feel the same way.  Soon, they’re having an affair that is probably about as torrid as anything involving Nick Jonas can be.  Lena tells Doug that Elliott abuses her.  Doug says that she needs to get away from her husband.  Lena says that Elliott would kill her if she ever tried to leave…

And then Walter Neff shows up and starts talking about insurance…

Okay, no, he doesn’t.  But he might as well because Careful What You Wish For is pretty much a by-the-numbers film noir.  It’s obvious to everyone what’s going to happen.  Or, I should say, it’s obvious to everyone but Doug.  Doug is such a goony dumbass that his whole reaction to everything that happens can be summed up as: “At least I got laid.”

Personally, I think the film made a huge mistake by not having Doug wear a purity ring that he could dramatically remove before having sex with Lena.  Seriously, this film could have used some moments of self-awareness like that.  (And I do feel a little bit guilty about making fun of Nick here because he actually gives a pretty good performance in Goat.)  But no, instead, we get a scene where a bare chested Nick eats an Oreo cookie and it’s kinda gross because he really gets into eating that cookie.  I mean, Nick really tries to show us every second of pleasure that Nick gets from that Oreo.  But the thing is, Oreo cookies are gross and overrated and to me, there’s nothing more disgusting than watching as someone dips an Oreo into milk and then gets milk all over their chin when they eat it.  UGH!

But, listen — if you’ve ever wanted to see Nick Jonas roll an Oreo cookie over his lover’s bare ass, Careful What You Wish For is definitely for you.

Film Review: Dirty Grandpa (dir by Don Mazer)


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Epix is doing a free preview this weekend so, earlier tonight, I watched Robert De Niro and Zac Efron in Dirty Grandpa.  You may remember Dirty Grandpa as being the film that came out in January and made a ton of movie despite the fact nobody will admit to having seen it.

Myself, I hope that the cast of Dirty Grandpa was paid in cocaine because then, at the very least, I could be assured that they had a better time making the movie than anyone else has had watching it.  The plot, as it is, features De Niro as a widower who is obsessed with getting laid and Efron as his straigher-than-straight grandson who takes him down to Daytona for Spring Break.  Efron is engaged to Meredith (Julianne Hough) who we’re supposed to dislike because of …. reasons, I guess.  The film certainly hates her, even though all she’s trying to do is plan a nice wedding.  De Niro would rather Efron get together with a boring political activist (Zooey Deutch).  Meanwhile, De Niro himself is obsessed with Deutch’s friend, played by Aubrey Plaza.

Anyway, this is one of those films that’s even worse than it sounds.  The pacing is so off that even the scenes that should work fall flat and visually, the film resembles a high quality YouTube video.  The majority of the humor is racist, misogynistic, and homophobic (but, of course, we’re not supposed to notice because the “good” girl is vaguely defined as being a liberal political activist).  Zac Efron, who is really only a credible actor when he’s playing dumb (read into that whatever you want), is miscast as someone who actually has something that’s going on in his life and Aubrey Plaza, one of the most unique comedic performers working today, is almost totally wasted.  Both Zooey Deutch and Julianne Hough struggle within the confines of a script that obsessively hates women.

(By the way, would you believe that the script for this movie was included on the Black List, the annual list of the “best” unproduced scripts in Hollywood?  I would.  Being included on the Black List is perhaps the most overrated honor that Hollywood can provide, seeing as how most Black List films end up sucking.)

As for Robert De Niro, his performance actually isn’t that bad.  But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s Robert freaking De Niro playing a role that could have just as easily been performed by Johnny Knoxville in old age makeup.

Anyway, I watched Dirty Grandpa because I wanted to see if it was as bad as everyone said it was and it was.

Go to Hell, Dirty Grandpa.