The Unnominated: Johnny Got His Gun (dir by Dalton Trumbo)


Though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences claim that the Oscars honor the best of the year, we all know that there are always worthy films and performances that end up getting overlooked.  Sometimes, it’s because the competition too fierce.  Sometimes, it’s because the film itself was too controversial.  Often, it’s just a case of a film’s quality not being fully recognized until years after its initial released.  This series of reviews takes a look at the films and performances that should have been nominated but were, for whatever reason, overlooked.  These are the Unnominated.

The 1971 anti-war film, Johnny Got His Gun, tells the story of Joe Bonham (played by Timothy Bottoms).  When America enters World War I, Joe enlists in the Army.  He leaves behind his small-town life.  He leaves behind his patriotic father (Jason Robards) and his loving girlfriend (Kathy Fields).  As he leaves, everyone tells him that he is doing the right thing to protect democracy.  Joe’s a hero!

Joe expects war to be a glorious affair, one that will make a true man out of him.  Instead, he’s hit by an artillery shell while huddled in a muddy trench.  Though he survives the explosion, he loses his arms and his legs.  He loses his face.  He’s taken to a field hospital, where the doctors say that, though he’s alive, he’s incapable of feeling or thinking.  He’s left alone in a room and is occasionally checked on by a sympathetic nurse (Diane Varsi).

The doctors are wrong.  Joe can think.  Even if he can’t see where he is now, he can still remember the life that he once had and the events that led him to the hospital.  The film switches back and forth, from the black-and-white imagery of the hospital to the vivid color of Joe’s memories and fantasies.  In his mind, Joe remembers his father, who encouraged him to go to war and perhaps was not the all-knowing figure that Joe originally assumed him to be.  (The film makes good use of Jason Robards’s natural gravitas.  Like Joe, the viewer initially assumes that Robards is correct about everything.) Joe also imagines several conversations with Jesus (a stoned-looking Donald Sutherland), who turns out to be surprisingly mellow and not always particularly helpful.  Jesus suggest that Joe may just be naturally unlucky and he also suggests that Joe perhaps keep his distance from him because, sometimes, bad luck can rub off.  Joe, meanwhile, wonders if he could be used as a traveling exhibit to portray the futility of war.  When Joe finally realizes that a nurse has been checking on him, he tries to figure out a way to send a message to both her and the military that is keeping him alive in his captive state.  S.O.S. …. help me….

Johnny Got His Gun is based on a novel by Dalton Trumbo.  The novel was first published in 1939, at a time when the debate over whether the the U.S. should get involved in another war in Europe was running high.  At the time, Trumbo was a Stalinist who opposed getting involved because Germany and Russia had signed a non-aggression pact.  After the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, Trumbo and his publishers suspended reprinting of the book until the war was over with.  Needless to say, this was all brought up in the 50s, when Trumbo was one of the more prominent writers to be blacklisted during the Red Scare.  On the one hand, Dalton Trumbo does sound like he was more than a bit of a useful idiot for the Stalinists.  On the other hand, if you’re going to suspend the printing of your anti-war polemic, it should definitely be because you want to help defeat the Nazis.  In the end, what really matters is that Johnny Got His Gun is an undeniably well-written and effective book, one that works because it eschews the vapid sloganeering that one finds in so many works of left-wing literature and instead focuses on the emotions and thoughts of one human being.

The book was later rediscovered by the anti-war protestors of the 60s, which led to Dalton Trumbo directing a film adaptation.  The film is a bit uneven.  Dalton Trumbo was 65 years old when he directed the film and there are a few moments, especially in the scenes with Sutherland as Jesus, where he seems like he’s trying a bit too hard to duplicate the younger directors who were a part of the anti-war moment.  However, the scenes in the military hospital are undeniably moving.  The hospital scenes are shot in a noirish black-and-white and they effectively capture the stark horror of Joe’s situation.  Left alone in his dark and shadowy room, Joe becomes the perfect symbol for all the war-related horrors that people choose to ignore.  He becomes the embodiment of what war does to those who are scarred, both physically and mentally, by it.  The scenes where Diane Varsi realizes that Joe is aware of what’s happened to him and that he can still feel are powerful and emotional.  In fact, they work so well that it’s hard not to wish that the film could have done away with the fantasies and the flashbacks, despite the fact that Timothy Bottoms gives an appealing performance as the young and idealistic Joe.

Johnny Got His Gun didn’t receive any Oscar nominations.  Should it have?  The 1971 Best Picture line-up was a strong one, with the exception of Nicholas and AlexandraJohnny Got His Gun was definitely superior to Nicholas and Alexandra.  However, Dirty Harry is definitely superior to Johnny Got His Gun.  (For that matter, Two-Lane Blacktop also came out in 1971 as well.)  But, even if Johnny Got His Gun didn’t deserve to be one of the five Best Picture nominees, it did deserve some consideration for its cinematography and Diane Varsi’s performance.  If the flashbacks and the fantasies were handled a bit more effectively, I would suggest that Jason Robards and Timothy Bottoms were worthy of consideration as well.

In conclusion, I should that 1971 was a good year for Timothy Bottoms.  Not only did he star in this film but he was also the star of The Last Picture Show.

Previous entries in The Unnominated:

  1. Auto Focus 
  2. Star 80
  3. Monty Python and The Holy Grail

Insomnia File No. 55: FTA (dir by Francine Parker)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having some trouble getting too sleep last night, you could have taken some sleeping pills and allowed them to knock you out for a day or two.  Or you could have logged into Netflix and watched the 1972 anti-war documentary, F.T.A.

The year was 1971 and the United States was bogged down in a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam.  While protests continued in North America, the soldiers who were actually serving in Asia started to become increasingly outspoken about their own doubts about whether there was any good reason for the U.S. to be in Vietnam.  Often at the risk of being court-martialed, these soldiers started to make their voice heard through underground newspapers and by hanging out at coffeehouses that anti-war protestors had started near military bases.  “F.T.A.” became a rallying cry for these anti-war soldiers.  A play on the army’s then-slogan of “Fun, Travel, and Adventure,” F.T.A. was also said to stand for, “Fuck the Army.”

F.T.A. also stood for Free Theater Associates, an anti-war vaudeville-style troupe that spent 1971 performing at G.I. Coffeehouses.  The show was specifically set up as a parody of Bob Hope’s USO Shows.  Each performance featured music, skits, and a reading from Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun.  Headlining the FTA show were actors Donald Sutherland Jane Fonda, comedians Michael Alaimo and Paul Mooney, and musicians Swamp Dogg and Holly Near.

F.T.A. is really two documentaries in one.  One documentary features the F.T.A. performances and follows the troupe as they travel to military bases in Hawaii, The Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan.  The other documentary features interviews with the anti-war soldiers who came to see the show.  They discuss how they feel about the prospect of dying in a war that none of them support and few of them understand.  They discuss how clueless the officers are.  Black G.I.s discuss the racism within the ranks and wonder why they should die for a country that discriminates against them.

For the most part, the celebrities come across as being dilettantes.  With the exception of Swamp Dogg (who is obviously sincere in his concerns for the people that he’s performing for), the F.T.A. performers come across as being a bit too enamored with themselves and a lot of what we see of the F.T.A. Show seems to be more about impressing the activists back home than entertaining the G.I.s.  (Many of the skits reminded me of the worst of the Freedom School scenes from Billy Jack.)  However, the soldiers themselves are fascinating.  The soldiers discuss their anger, fears, and experiences with an honesty and an authenticity that is never less than compelling.  If nothing else, this documentary highlights the difference between people who are anti-war because they’ve experienced it firsthand and people who are anti-war because it’s the latest thing to be.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a history nerd.  Seen today, F.T.A. is an interesting historical document, one that’s all the more fascinating because it’s a Vietnam documentary that was filmed while the war was still being fought.  As such, there’s no hindsight or attempts to mold the material into something designed to appeal to those looking back with either nostalgia or disdain.  Instead, it’s a time capsule, one that takes you back to a tumultuous time and allows you to experience it for yourself.  On that level, it’s a history nerd’s dream.

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?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud

Lisa Reviews A Palme d’Or Winner: M*A*S*H (dir by Robert Altman)


With the Cannes Film Festival underway, I have been watching some of the past winners of the prestigious Palme d’Or.  On Thursday night, Jeff and I watched the winner of the 1970 winner of the Grand Prix (as the Palme was known at the time), Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H.

There are, of course, three versions of M*A*S*H.  All three of them deal with the same basic story of Dr. Hawkeye Pierce and his attempts to maintain his sanity while serving as a combat surgeon at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean war.  All three of them mix comedy with the tragedy of war.  However, each one of them takes their own unique approach to the material.

The one that everyone immediately thinks of is the old television series, which ran for 11 seasons and which can be found on Hulu and on several of the retro stations.  The television series starred Alan Alda as Hawkeye.  I’ve watched a handful of episodes and, while the episodes that I’ve seen were undeniably well-acted and well-written and they all had their heart in the right place, the show’s deification of Hawkeye can get to be a bit much.  Not only is Hawkeye the best surgeon at the 4077th, he’s apparently the best surgeon in all of Korea.  In fact, he may be the best surgeon on the entire planet.  Not a single thing happens in the camp unless Hawkeye is somehow involved.  When a nurse is killed by a landmine in one episode, the focus is not on the other nurses but instead on how Hawkeye feels about it.  When bombs are falling too close to the camp, the focus is again only on Hawkeye and how much he hates the war.  If you didn’t already know that he hated the war, Hawkeye will let you know.  Wish Hawkeye a good morning and he’ll yell at you about how many people are going to be wounder by the end of the day.  Even when one agrees with Hawkeye, the character’s self-righteousness can be a bit much.

Less well-known is the first version of M*A*S*H, a short and episodic novel that was published in 1968.  The novel was written by Dr. Richard Hornberger, who actually had served in Korea at a M*A*S*H unit and who reportedly based Hawkeye on himself.  The book is a rather breezy affair.  Reading it, one can definitely tell that it was inspired by someone telling Hornberger, “Your stories about Korea are so funny and interesting, you should write them down!”  The book avoids politics, reserving most of its ire for military red tape.  Hornberger was a Republican who so disliked Alan Alda’s interpretation of Hawkeye that, when he wrote a sequel to M*A*S*H, he included a scene in which Hawkeye talked about how much he enjoyed beating up hippies.

And then there’s the version that came in between the book and the television series, the 1970 film from Robert Altman.  The film retains the book’s episodic structure while also throwing in the anti-war politics that would define the television series.  (Though the film was set in the 50s, Altman purposefully made no attempt to be historically accurate because he wanted it to be clear that this film was more about Vietnam than Korea.)  From its opening, the film announces its outlook, with shots of helicopters carrying severely wounded (possibly dead) soldiers to the camp while a song called Suicide is Painless plays on the soundtrack.  The song was written by director Robert Altman’s fourteen year-old son, Mike.  Reportedly, it took Mike five minutes to come up with the lyrics.  When the instrumental version of the song was later used as the theme song for the television series, Mike Altman made over a million dollars in royalties.

The film opens with Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt) arriving at the 4077th MASH in a stolen jeep and it ends with them getting sent home in the same jeep.  Though Duke is set up to be a major character, he soon takes a backseat to another surgeon, the unfortunately nicknamed Trapper John (Elliott Gould).  Much as with the television series, the movie centers around Hawkeye and Trapper John’s antics.  When they’re not in the operating room, they’re drinking, carousing, and playing pranks that are far more mean-spirited than anything the television versions of the characters would have ever done.  (Indeed, the book and movie versions of Hawkeye probably would have hated Alan Alda’s Hawkeye.)  Unlike the television version of Hawkeye, the film’s Hawkeye is not the best surgeon in Korea.  In fact, he’s not even the best surgeon at the 4077th.  (That honor goes to Trapper.)  Instead, he’s just one of many doctors on staff.  They’re rotated in and then, at the end of their tour, they’re rotated out.  Hawkeye loses as many patients as he saves.  The film’s doctors are not miracle workers, nor are they crusaders.  Instead, they are overworked, neurotic, often exhausted, and frequently bored whenever there aren’t any wounded to deal with.  The film emphasizes that the doctors are as professional inside the Operating Room as they’re rambunctious outside of it.  Unlike the television series, Hawkeye doesn’t joke while working.  He’s usually too busy trying to stop his patients from bleeding to death to tell jokes or to complain about the war that brought them to the OR.

Indeed, the film version of M*A*S*H communicates its anti-war message not through indignant speeches but instead through bloody imagery.  The operating room scenes don’t shy away from showing the ugliness of war and they are occasionally so visceral that they almost seem to shame the audience for have laughed just a few minutes earlier.  One of the film’s more famous (and controversial) sequences features Hawkeye driving Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) to insanity by crudely taunting him about his affair with head nurse Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).  Burns attacks Hawkeye, a response that actually seems rather justified even if it is played for laughs.  A scene of Burns being driven out of the camp in straitjacket is followed by a close-up of a geyser of blood erupting from a wounded soldier’s throat.  It’s a jarring transition but one that makes a stronger anti-war statement than any self-righteous monologue would have.  While Hawkeye and Trapper are taunting Burns and Margaret, soldiers are still being sent off to die.

The humor in M*A*S*H is often brutally misogynistic.  Margaret is described as being “a damn good nurse” but is continually humiliated because she believes in maintaining military discipline.  One can disagree with her emphasis on following all of the proper regulations while also realizing the Hawkeye and Trapper’s treatment of her is unreasonably cruel.  The scene where Trapper and Hawkeye expose her while she’s taking a shower is especially difficult to watch and there’s no way to justify their actions.  It’s frat boy humor, the type of stuff that you would expect from a bunch of former college football players, which is what we’re told Hawkeye and Trapper are.  (That, of course, is another huge difference between the film and television versions of the characters.)  That said, it’s debatable whether or not were supposed to find either Hawkeye or Trapper to be heroic or even likable.  As a director, Robert Altman shied away from making films with unambiguous heroes or villains.  Just as Margaret could be a “damn good nurse” and a “regular army clown” at the same time, Hawkeye can be both a dedicated doctor and a bit of a jerk.

After 90 minutes of bloody operating room scenes and Trapper and Hawkeye making crude jokes, M*A*S*H suddenly becomes a sports film as the the 4077th plays a football game against their rivals, the 325th Evac Hospital.  The change of tone can be a bit jarring but it’s perhaps the most important sequence in the film.  For a few hours, the doctors bring “the American way of life” to Korea and the end result is a game that’s played for money and which is only won through cheating and deception.  (Future blaxploitation star Fred Williamson made his film debut as the ringer who the 4077th recruits for the game.)  For all of the broad comedy of the game, it’s followed by a shot of the doctors playing poker while a dead soldier is transported out of the camp, wrapped in a white sheet.  Football may provided a distraction.  The money may have provided an incentive.  But the war continued and people still died.

Much of M*A*S*H‘s humor has aged terribly but the performances still hold up and the anti-war message is potent today.  Though Sutherland and Gould are undeniably the stars of the film, M*A*S*H is a true ensemble film, full of the overlapping dialogue and the small character performances that Robert Altman’s films were known for.  One reason why the film works is because it is an immersive experience, the viewer truly does feel as if they’ve been dropped in the middle of an operating field hospital.  Though Hawkeye and Trapper may be at the center of the action, every character, from the camp’s colonel to the lowliest private, seems to have their own story playing out.  This a film where paying attention to the little things happening in the background is often more rewarding than paying attention to the main action.  I particularly liked the performances of David Arkin as the obsequies Staff Sergeant Vollmer and Bud Cort as Pvt. Warren Boone.  Boone, especially, seems to have an interesting story going on in the background.  The viewer just has to keep an eye out for him.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for Rene Auberjonois, who reportedly improvised one of the film’s best-known lines when, after Margaret demands to know how Hawkeye reached a position of authority in the army medical corps, he deadpanned, “He was drafted.”

One of the first major studio films to be openly critical of the military and the war in Vietnam, M*A*S*H won the Palme d’Or, defeating films like Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Strawberry Statement.  Unlike many Palme winners, it was also a box office success in the United States.  Though controversial, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  However, unlike the Cannes jury, the Academy decided to honor a different film about war, Patton.

Horror Film Review: Fallen (dir by Gregory Hobilt)


“Time is on my side….” sings an ancient Sumerian demon, who is apparently a huge fan of the Rolling Stones.

“Do you like cream?” asks a possibly crooked detective who is played by a slightly less heavy than usual James Gandolfini.

Donald Sutherland walks through a shadowy police station and flashes his big smile.

A detective played by John Goodman talks on the phone and makes cheery jokes while investigating a brutal murder.

A demon jumps from person to person, possessing everyone for a matter of seconds, just so he can freak out one specific person.

“Beware my wrath,” a white-haired businessman says to Denzel Washington.

There’s no way to deny it.  1998’s Fallen is a film that’s full of strange moments.  Some of it works and some of its doesn’t but it’s never boring.  Denzel Washington plays John Hobbes, a Philadelphia detective who has achieved a small amount of fame as the result of capturing serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas).  Reese asks to see Hobbes before he’s executed and it turns out that, for a man about to pay the ultimate price for his crimes, he’s in a surprisingly good mood.  Before he goes in the gas chamber, Reese chants something in Aramaic.

Soon, new murders are being committed in Phladelphia.  Hobbes and his partner, Jonesey (John Goodman at his most Goodmanesque), suspect that the killer is a copycat, trying to capture some of Reese’s notoriety for himself.  Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz), the daughter of a detective who committed suicide after being accused of committing a series of murders, tells Hobbes that the new killings are actually being committed by a demon named Azazel.  Azazel can jump from body to body and can compel people to do terrible things.  Gretta asks Hobbes if he belives in God.  Hobbes says it’s hard to have faith when you deal with murder every day, a somewhat clichéd line that Washington makes work through the absolute conviction of his delivery,

Denzel Washington is the key to this film’s success.  Sure, there’s a lot of murders and a lot of twists and a lot of possessions and there’s a lot of scenes that are shot from the point of view of the demon but, in the end, Fallen works because Washington is absolutely convincing as a man who is facing an evil that is beyond human understanding.  Washington gives a very naturalistic and grounded performance, one that keeps an element of reality in Fallen regardless of how messy the story may get.  When it becomes apparent that the demon is going to try to harm his brother and his nephew, Washington’s fury feels real.  When Hobbes discovers that the demon has gotten to one of them, Washington’s underplayed reaction makes the scene even more poignant and painful.  It’s hard to imagine Fallen being anywhere near as effective with an actor other than Denzel Washington in the lead role.

Fallen is a twisty movie.  The demon moves quickly and it always seems to have a backup plan.  He manipulates Hobbes into doing some things that are so terrible that you’re not sure that Hobbes is every going to recover, even if he does somehow manage to defeat Azazel.  Hobbes and Azazel are worthy adversaries and, as a result, the film gets away with a lot of stuff that wouldn’t otherwise work.  Even the use of Time Is On My Side pays off, as the one character who you don’t want to hear sing the song suddenly starts doing a Mick Jagger impersonation and you’re just like, “Oh no, what’s going to happen now?”  The film’s high point is a lengthy sequence where Hobbes stands on a busy street and watches as Azazel jumps from body to body.  Everyone who passes Hobbe gives him a death glare.  It’s a frightening moment, one in which Fallen captures the intensity of a nightmare.

I watched Fallen earlier today.  I can’t really say that I was expecting much from it but I was surprised.  It’s actually one of the better horror films that I’ve watched for the first time this month.  It’s big and strange and creepy and it’s got Denzel Washington doing what he does best.  What more could you ask for?

Here Are The 78th Annual Golden Globe Nominations!


I’m totally turned off by the self-importance of the Golden Globes and I resent every time that I have to write about them.

That said, despite the fact that no one is quite sure who actually votes for the damn things and stories of corruption in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have been rampant for years, the Golden Globes have still emerged as one of the main Oscar precursors.  So, you kind of have to pay attention to them.  Bleh.

There really aren’t any huge shocks in the list of nominees below, with the exception of maybe Jared Leto for Best Supporting Actor and James Corden’s Prom nomination.  I mean, if you’re that determined to nominate someone for The Prom, why would you go for James Corden as opposed to Meryl Streep?  That’s just odd.

Anyway, here are the nominations:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
“The Father”
“Mank”
“Nomadland”
“Promising Young Woman”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
“Hamilton”
“Music”
“Palm Springs”
“The Prom”

Best Director, Motion Picture
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
David Fincher, “Mank”
Regina King, “One Night In Miami”
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”
Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
Kate Hudson, “Music”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “French Exit”
Rosamund Pike, “I Care a Lot”
Anya Taylor-Joy, “Emma”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Olivia Colman, “The Father”
Jodie Foster, “The Mauritanian”
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
Helena Zengel, “News of the World”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Tahar Rahim, “The Mauritanian”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
James Corden, “The Prom”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”
Dev Patel, “The Personal History of David Copperfield”
Andy Samberg, “Palm Springs”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Jared Leto, “The Little Things”
Billy Murray, “On the Rocks”
Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night In Miami”

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
Jack Fincher, “Mank”
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton, “The Father”
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Alexandre Desplat, “The Midnight Sky”
Ludwig Göransson, “Tenet”
James Newton Howard, “News of the World”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Mank”
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, “Soul”

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
“Fight For You,” Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Hear My Voice,” The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“Io Sì (Seen),” The Life Ahead”
“Speak Now,” One Night In Miami”
“Tigress & Tweed,” The United States Vs. Billie Holiday”

Best Motion Picture, Animated
“The Croods: A New Age”
“Onward”
“Over the Moon”
“Soul”
“Wolfwalkers”

Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language
“Another Round”
“La Llorona”
“The Life Ahead”
“Minari”
“Two Of Us”

Best Television Series, Drama
“The Crown”
“Lovecraft Country”
“The Mandalorian”
“Ozark”
“Ratched”

Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy
“Emily in Paris”
“The Flight Attendant”
“The Great”
“Schitt’s Creek”
“Ted Lasso”

Best Limited Series, Anthology Series or a Motion Picture made for Television
“Normal People”
“The Queen’s Gambit”
“Small Axe”
“The Undoing”
“Unorthodox”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama
Olivia Colman, “The Crown”
Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”
Emma Corrin, “The Crown”
Laura Linney, “Ozark”
Sarah Paulson, “Ratched”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy
Lily Collins, “Emily In Paris”
Kaley Cuoco, “The Flight Attendant”
Elle Fanning, “The Great”
Jane Levy, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”
Catherine O’Hara, “Schitt’s Creek”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Cate Blanchett, “Mrs. America”
Daisy Edgar Jones, “Normal People”
Shira Haas, “Unorthodox”
Nicole Kidman, “The Undoing”
Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Queen’s Gambit”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Supporting Role
Gillian Anderson, “The Crown”
Helena Bonham Carter, “The Crown”
Julia Garner, “Ozark”
Annie Murphy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Cynthia Nixon, “Ratched”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama
Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Al Pacino, “Hunters”
Matthew Rhys, “Perry Mason”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy
Don Cheadle, “Black Monday”
Nicholas Hoult, “The Great”
Eugene Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Jason Sudeikis, “Ted Lasso”
Ramy Youssef, “Ramy”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Bryan Cranston, “Your Honor”
Jeff Daniels, “The Comey Rule”
Hugh Grant, “The Undoing”
Ethan Hawke, “The Good Lord Bird”
Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much is True”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Supporting Role
John Boyega, “Small Axe”
Brendan Gleeson, “The Comey Rule”
Daniel Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Jim Parsons, “Hollywood”
Donald Sutherland, “The Undoing”

Natural Enemy (1996, directed by Douglas Jackson)


This one’s pretty dumb.

William McNamara plays Jeremy, who was given up for adoption 24 years ago and has never gotten over it.  After killing his adoptive parents, his birth father, someone’s mistress, and a private investigator played by Tia Carrere, Jeremy wants to celebrate his 25th birthday by killing his birth mother, Sandy (Lesley Anne Warren).  However, Jeremy wants to draw out Sandy’s suffering so he comes up with a plot so complex that it’s hard to believe that anyone could actually pull it off.

After Jeremy finds out that Sandy’s new husband, Ted (Donald Sutherland, massively slumming), is the head of a small brokerage firm, Jeremy reads every book that he can find and somehow become an expert on the stock market.  Even though Jeremy could have a high-paying job with any firm, he wants to work for Ted’s little firm.  Ted hires Jeremy and Jeremy proceeds to worm his way into Ted and Sandy’s life.  Jeremy also frames Ted for securities fraud, which leads to Ted losing his job and being blacklisted by all of Ted’s highly ethical Wall Street colleagues.  (Yes, I managed to write that with a straight face.)  Despite the fact that Jeremy is obviously disturbed and that Ted and Sandy’s life starts to fall apart from the exact moment that Jeremy becomes a part of it, only Ted and Sandy’s son, Chris (Christian Tessier), suspects that there’s something strange about Jeremy.

This is one of those dumb revenge thrillers that is dependent upon everyone in the movie being as dumb as possible.  Even Jeremy turns out to be dumb.  After killing almost everyone that he meets, Jeremy suddenly decides to keep one person alive and, of course, that decision comes back to haunt Jeremy in the end.  Jeremy is smart enough that he can trick people into believing that he’s a brilliant stock broker but he’s dumb enough to make an obvious mistake.  Of course, everyone else is dumb enough to to not catch on to the fact that Jeremy is a sociopath so the mass dumbness evens out in the end.

Probably the most interesting thing about this movie is that, somehow, Donald Sutherland ended up starring in it.  Even great actors have to put food on the table and hopefully, Sutherland ate well as a result of starring in Natural Enemy.

Insomnia File #39: Disclosure (dir by Barry Levinson)


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!

On Tuesday, if you were having trouble getting to sleep around one in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 1994 film, Disclosure.

The majority of Disclosure takes place at DigiCorp, which is some sort of technology company that Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) founded because, as the movie explains it, he only has $100 million dollars but still dreams of being a billionaire someday.  With a huge merger approaching, Garvin announces that he will be promoting Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore) to run the new CD-ROM division.  This shocks a lot of people, as everyone was expecting the promotion to go to Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas).  However, Garvin explains that, ever since his daughter died, he’s wanted to promote a woman.

(Presumably, if a male relative had died, Tom would have gotten the promotion.  I have to admit that I kept waiting for the film to get back to the subject of Garvin’s dead daughter but, apparently, that was just an odd throw-away line.)

Tom and Meredith have a history.  They were once lovers, though Tom is now happily married to Susan (Caroline Goodall) and has a family.  Meredith takes one look at a picture of Susan and says that Tom must miss being able to take his lover from behind whenever he felt like it.  Tom says, “Mrs. Robinson,  you’re trying to seduce me.”  No, actually, he says, “No, no, no, no, no, no…..”  It all ends with Tom fleeing Meredith’s office while Meredith, in her bra, chases after him, shouting threats all the way.  The only witness to this is a cleaning lady who sadly shakes her head before returning to her dusting.

Tom is so traumatized by the experience that he has a bizarre nightmare in which Donald Sutherland says that he likes his suit and then attempts to lick his face.  Tom’s trauma continues when he goes to work the next day and discovers that Meredith has accused him of sexual harassment!  Tom responds by suing the company and it’s time for an epic courtroom battle, one that will deal with one of the most important issues of our time….

….except that never happens.  Here’s what is weird.  For all the talk about abuse of power and all the scenes of a remorseful Tom apologizing to both his wife and his secretary for his past behavior, the whole sexual harassment plot turns out to be a red herring.

Instead, the film turns into this weird techno thriller, one that involves Tom trying to figure out how to make a better CD-ROM.  That may have been a big deal back in 1994 but today, you watch the film and you think, “Who cares?”  (Even better is a scene where Garvin brags about how his company is on the cutting edge of fax technology.)  Once Tom realizes that Meredith only accused him of sexual harassment to keep him from building the perfect CD-ROM, we get a scene of him using a virtual reality headset to search through the companies files.  At one point, he spots a bot with Demi Moore’s face destroying files and he shouts out, “She’s in the system!”  It’s just strange.

The film’s plot is often incoherent but the cast keeps things amusing.  Michael Douglas spends the first half of the movie looking either annoyed or terrified.  Things pick up for him in the 2nd half of the movie.  Whenever he gets good news from his lawyer, he jumps up in the air and goes, “Yessssssss!” and it’s so dorky that it’s kind of endearing.  Meanwhile, Demi Moore doesn’t even try to make Meredith into a credible character, which is actually just the right approach to take to this material.  There’s no room for subtlety in a film as melodramatic as this.  Finally, Donald Sutherland is his usual avuncular self, smirking at all the right moments and suggesting that he finds the movie to be just as amusing as we do.  For all of its plot holes and problematic subtext, Disclosure is an entertainingly stupid film.  A lot of the credit for the entertaining part has to go to the cast.

As I said, Disclosure is just strange..  As with most films from the 90s, its sexual politics are all over the place.  On the one hand, Tom learns that even inadvertent sexism can make the women who wok with him feel unsafe.  On the other hand, the only woman with any hint of a personality is portrayed as being pure evil.  In no way, shape, or form is this a movie to be taken seriously.  Instead, this is just a weird film that cries out, “1994!”

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?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed

2018 in Review: 10 Good Things That I Saw On Television


Moving right along with my look back at 2018, here are 10 good things that I saw on television.

Please note, I did not say that these were the ten “best” things on television in 2018.  Instead, these are ten things that I enjoyed enough that, in January of 2019, they still pop to my mind whenever I ask myself, “What did I enjoy last year?”  As always, this is just my opinion and you’re free to agree or disagree.

Got it?  Okay, let’s go!

  1. Showtime reran Twin Peaks: The Return

Okay, so maybe I’m cheating a little here.  Twin Peaks: The Return originally aired in 2017.  You may remember that, for about 6 months, the Shattered Lens essentially became a Twin Peaks fan site.  Still, I can’t begin to describe how excited I was to discover that, over the course of a weekend, Showtime would be reairing the entire series.  I binged every episode and I discovered that, even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s still one of the greatest shows of all time.  Unfortunately, the Emmy voters did not agree.  Bastards.

2. The Alienist 

It took me a little while to really get into The Alienist but, once I did, I found myself growing obsessed with not only the sets and the costumes but the mystery as well!  Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning all did excellent work and I can’t wait for the sequel!

3. Jesus Christ Superstar Live

I was skeptical.  I had my doubts.  I thought I’d spend the entire two and a half hours rolling my eyes.  Jesus Christ Superstar proved me wrong.

4. The Americans

One of the best shows on television went out on a high note.

5. Barry

Barry premiered on HBO and it quickly became a favorite of mine.  While I agree that Bill Hader and Henry Winkler deserve all of the attention that they’ve received, I’d also say that Stephen Root continues to prove himself to be one of our greatest character actors.

6. Big Brother

The reality show that so many love to hate finally had another good season.  Since I get paid to write about the show for another site, that made me happy.  Seriously, some of the previous seasons were painful to watch so Big Brother 20 was a huge relief.  (Plus, BB 20 inspired everyone’s favorite twitter game: “Will Julie Chen Moonves show up tonight?”)

7. Maniac

As much fun as it is to complain about Netflix, occasionally they justify the price of their existence by giving us something like Maniac.

8. You

Sometimes, I loved this show.  Sometimes, I absolutely hated it.  However, I was always intrigued and never bored.  I can’t wait to see what happens during season 2.

9. Trust

For all the attention that was given to The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Trust was the best FX true crime series of 2018.  Along with an intriguing story, it also featured great performances from Donald Sutherland, Hillary Swank, and Brendan Fraser.  (Yes, Brendan Fraser.)

10. Westworld

I know a lot of people didn’t care much for the latest season of Westworld.  I loved it and, in the end, isn’t that what really matters?

That’s it for television!  Coming up next, it’s the entry in Lisa’s look back at 2018 that we’ve all been waiting for, my picks for the best 26 films of the year!

Lisa Looks Back At 2018

  1. Ten Worst Films of 2018
  2. Best of Lifetime
  3. Best of Syfy
  4. 10 Favorite Novels
  5. 12 Favorite Non-Fiction Books
  6. 10 Favorite Songs

 

 

Horror Film Review: Buffy the Vampire (dir by Fran Rubel Kuzui)


Watching this movie was such a strange experience.

Now, of course, I say that as someone who grew up watching and loving the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Back when Buffy was on TV, I was always aware that the character had first been introduced in a movie but every thing I read about Buffy said that the movie wasn’t worth watching.  It was a part of the official Buffy mythology that Joss Whedon was so unhappy with what was done to his original script that he pretty much ignored the film when he created the show.

So, yes, the 1992 movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed how Buffy first learned that she was a slayer, how she fought a bunch of vampires in Los Angeles, and how her first watcher met his end.  But still, Joss Whedon was always quick to say that the film should not be considered canonical.  Whenever anyone on the TV show mentioned anything from Buffy’s past, they were referencing Joss Whedon’s original script as opposed to the film that was eventually adapted from that script.  (For instance, on the tv series, everyone knew that Buffy’s previous school burned down.  That was from Whedon’s script.  However, 20th Century Fox balked at making a film about a cheerleader who burns down her school so, at the end of the film version, the school is still standing and romance is in the air.)  In short, the film existed but it really didn’t matter.  In fact, to be honest, it almost felt like watching the movie would somehow be a betrayal of everything that made the televisions series special.

Myself, I didn’t bother to watch the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer until several years after the television series was canceled and, as I said at the start of the review, it was a strange experience.  The movie is full of hints of what would make the television series so memorable but none of them are really explored.  Yes, Buffy (played here by Kristy Swanson) has to balance being a teenager with being a vampire slayer but, in the film, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to do.  Buffy is just as happy to be a vampire slayer as she is to be a cheerleader.  In fact, one of the strange things about the film is just how quickly and easily Buffy accepts the idea that there are vampires feeding on her classmates and that it’s her duty to destroy them.  Buffy’s watcher is played by Donald Sutherland and the main vampire is played by Rutger Hauer, two veteran actors who could have played these roles in their sleep and who appear to do so for much of the film.  As for Buffy’s love interest, he’s a sensitive rebel named Oliver Pike (Luke Perry).  On the one hand, it’s fun to see the reversal of traditional gender roles, with Oliver frequently helpless and needing to be saved by Buffy.  On the other hand, Perry and Swanson have next to no chemistry so it’s a bit difficult to really get wrapped up in their relationship.

I know I keep coming back to this but watching the movie version of Buffy is a strange experience.  It’s not bad but it’s just not Buffy.  It’s like some sort of weird, mirror universe version of Buffy, where Buffy starts her slaying career as a senior in high school and she never really has to deal with being an outcast or anything like that.  (One gets the feeling that the movie’s Buffy wouldn’t have much to do with the Scooby Gang.  Nor would she have ever have fallen for Angel.)  Kristy Swanson gives a good performance as the film version of Buffy, though the character is not allowed to display any of the nuance or the quick wit that made the television version a role model for us all.  Again it’s not that Buffy the movie is terrible or anything like that.  It’s just not our Buffy!

Horror Film Review: Don’t Look Now (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now (1973)

I have to admit that I’m actually a bit embarrassed to say that Venice is my favorite city in Italy.

I mean, it’s such a cliché, isn’t it?  Tourists always fall in love with Venice, even though the majority of us really don’t know much about the city beyond the canals and the gondolas.  I spent a summer in Italy and Venice was definitely the city that had the most American visitors.  Sadly, the majority of them didn’t do a very good job representing the U.S. in Europe.  I’ll never forget the drunk frat boys who approached me one night, all wearing University of Texas t-shirts.  One of them asked, “Are you from Texas?”

“No,” I lied.

“You sound like you’re from Texas!” his friend said.

“No, ah’m not from Texas,” I said, “Sorry, y’all.”

I mean, that’s not something that would have happened in Florence or even Naples!  In Rome, handsome men on motor scooters gave me flowers.  In Venice, on the other hand, I had to deal with the same assholes that I dealt with back home!

That said, I still fell in love with Venice.  And yes, it did happen while riding in a gondola.  At that moment, I felt like I was living in a work of art.  I can still remember looking over the side of the gondola and watching as a small crab ran across someone’s front porch.  That’s when I realize that, by its very existence, Venice proved that anything was possible.

I’ve often heard that Venice is slowly sinking.  That Venice has a reputation as being a dying city would probably have come to a surprise to the drunk Americans who were just looking for a girl from Texas that summer.  And yet, Venice has always been associated with death.  Just consider Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the subsequent film adaptation from Luchino Visconti.  Consider the controversial Giallo in Venice.  And, of course, you can’t forget about the 1973 film, Don’t Look Now.

Oh my God, Don’t Look Now is a creepy movie.  It’s probably best known for two things: the lengthy sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland (which was apparently quite controversial back in 1973 but which seems rather tame when viewed today) and the film’s shock ending.  It’s one of the best and most disturbing endings in the history of horror and I’m not going to spoil it in this review.  The first time I saw the movie, the ending caught me totally off guard and gave me nightmares.  Admittedly, it’s not hard to give me nightmares but what’s remarkable is that, upon subsequent viewings, the ending is still just as frightening and disturbing.  In fact, knowing what’s going to happen makes the film even more chilling.

The film’s story is actually a rather simple one.  After their daughter, Christine, accidentally drowns, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) take a trip to Venice.  Though they’re in Venice so that John can restore an ancient church, both John and Laura are mostly trying to escape their grief.  Laura meets a blind woman, Heather (Hilary Mason), who claims to not only be a psychic but who also says that she can see Christine in the afterlife.  Laura believes Heather and is concerned when Heather says that Christine wants them to leave Venice.  John, on the other hand, believes that Heather is a fake.

When the Baxters get a phone call informing them that their son has taken ill, Laura flies back to the UK.  Or does she?  One day, John spots his wife riding on a boat with Heather and her sister.  Has Heather abducted or brainwashed his wife?  When John goes to the police, they are as skeptical of him as he was of Heather.  In fact, they start to suspect that John may have something to do with a recent rash of murders.

Confused, John searches Venice for his wife but, instead of finding her, he spots a figure in the distance.  It appears to be a young child, one who is wearing the same red coat that Christine was wearing when she drowned….

It’s a simple story but it’s told in a very complex fashion.  Director Nicolas Roeg is best known for his fragmented narrative style.  Roeg often mashes together scenes from the past, present, and future and leaves it up to the viewer to put it all together.  (For instance, in Don’t Look Now, scenes of John and Laura making love are intercut with scenes of them getting dressed afterward.)  Roeg’s style that can often come across as being pretentious but, in Don’t Look Now, it works perfectly.  The audience is kept off-balance and is always aware that that’s more than one possible interpretation for everything that is seen.  Is Laura in the UK or is she on a boat in Venice?  Is Heather seeing Christine or is she just trying to con a grieving mother?  Is John chasing the figure in the red coat or is she actually the one pursuing him?  Is John chasing the figure because he believes that she’s his daughter or because he wants to prove, once and for all, that Christine is gone and never coming back?  Roeg keeps you guessing.

Death seems to permeate every frame of Don’t Look Now, whether it’s Heather’s cheery descriptions of the afterlife or the sight of a bloated corpse being pulled out of the canal.  Even when John is working in the church, he still nearly slips off a scaffolding.  While John restores ancient buildings to the vibrant glories of the past, the present seems to grow more and more ominous and menacing.  John and Laura may have traveled to Venice to escape their grief but their grief follows them.  How they deal with that grief — both as a couple and as individuals — is what determines their fate.  For a film that is full of mysteries, none is as enigmatic as Julie Christie’s smile when she’s on the boat.

I’m probably making Don’t Look Now sound like an incredibly grim film and, to a certain extent, it is.  After all, early 70s cinema is not known for its happy endings.  And yet, as dark and disturbing as this film may be, it’s impossible to look away from.  Roeg does a fantastic job capturing both the beauty and the decay of Venice while Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are so sympathetic as John and Laura that you find yourself rewatching and hoping that somehow, they don’t end up making the same mistakes that they made the last time that you watched.

Don’t Look Now is an essential horror film and one that’s as timeless as the sight of a crab running across someone’s front porch.