A Movie A Day #15: Special Bulletin (1983, directed by Ed Zwick)


“We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a special report…”

Led by veteran anchor John Woodley, the RBS news team is providing continuing coverage of a developing crisis in Charleston, South Carolina, where terrorists are holding several members of the coast guard, a local new reporter, and his cameraman hostage on a small tugboat.  These are not typical terrorists, though.  Two of them are nuclear scientists.  One of them is a social worker.  Another one is a nationally-renowned poet.  The final terrorist is a former banker robber who was just recently released from prison.  This unlikely group has only two demands: that the U.S. government hand over every single nuclear trigger device at the U.S. Naval Base and that RBS give them a live television feed so that they can explain their actions to the nation.  If either of those demands are not met, a nuclear bomb will be detonated and will destroy Charleston.

This made-for-TV movie was shot on video tape, to specifically make it look like an actual news broadcast.  Though much of the movie seems dated when compared to today’s slick, 24-hour media circus, Special Bulletin was convincing enough that, when it was originally broadcast in 1983, it caused a mini-panic among viewers who missed the opening disclaimer:


Because the movie deals with the threat of nuclear terrorism instead of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war, it still feels relevant in a way that many of the atomic disaster films of the 1980s do not.  Beyond making an anti-nuclear statement, Special Bulletin is also a critical look at how the news media sensationalizes every crisis, with the RBS news team going from smug complacency to outright horror as the situation continues to deteriorate.  David Clennon and David Rasche are memorable as the two most outspoken of the terrorists and Ed Flanders is perfectly cast as a veteran news anchor struggling to maintain control in the middle of an uncontrollable situation.  Special Bulletin won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Special and can be currently be found on YouTube.

Keep an eye out for Michael Madsen, who shows up 57 minutes in and gets the movie’s best line: “That guy’s a total psycho ward.”


Embracing the Melodrama Part II #89: Legends of the Fall (dir by Ed Zwick)

LegendsoffallposterWhen I first started to watch the 1994 film Legends of the Fall on Encore, I was a little bit concerned when I discovered that it was directed by Ed Zwick.  After all, Zwick also directed Love and Other Drugs, which is one of the worst and most insulting films of all time.  In fact, I nearly stopped watching when I saw Zwick’s name.  But, largely because I want to finish up this series of melodramatic film reviews at some point in the near future, I decided to go ahead and watch the film.

And it turned out that Legends of the Fall is not a bad film.  I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had seen it in a movie theater as opposed to on television but, considering that it was directed by Ed Zwick, Legends of the Fall is definitely watchable.  If nothing else, it’s better than Love and Other Drugs.

Legends of the Fall tells the story of the Ludlows, a family that lives on a Montana ranch at the start of the 2oth Century.  Starting with the final days of the Indian wars and proceeding through World War I and prohibition, Legends of the Fall covers a lot of historical events but does so in a very Hollywood way, which is to say that all of the main characters dress like they’re from the past but they all have very modern social attitudes.  In this case, Col. William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) may be a wealthy white military veteran but he’s also totally pro-Native American.  And, of course, all the local Native Americans love him, despite the fact that he’s a representative of the institutions that have destroyed their way of life.

Anyway, Col. Ludlow has three sons.  The oldest, Alfred (Aidan Quinn), is serious and responsible. The youngest, Samuel (Henry Thomas), is naive and idealistic.  And the middle child is Tristan (Brad Pitt), who is wild and rebellious and looks like Brad Pitt.  You have to wonder how the same gene pool could produce both Aidan Quinn and Brad Pitt.

As the film begins, Samuel has returned from studying at Harvard.  With him is his fiancée, Susannah (Julia Ormond, who has really pretty hair in this movie).  Though she loves Samuel, Susannah finds herself attracted to Tristan, largely because Tristan looks like Brad Pitt.  Tristan is also attracted to Susannah but he would never betray his younger brother.  In fact, when Samuel announces that he’s enlisted in the Canadian army so that he can fight in World War I, Tristan and Alfred soon do the exact same thing.

War is Hell, which is something that Samuel discovers when he’s gunned down by a bunch of German soldiers.  Tristan responds by cutting Samuel’s heart out of his body and sending it back to Montana.  He then proceeds to go a little crazy and when we next see Tristan, he’s uniform is decorated with the scalps of dead Germans.

Meanwhile, Alfred has been wounded in battle and is sent back to Montana.  Eventually, he ends up married to Susannah.  And then Tristan comes back home and…

Well, a lot of stuff happens after Tristan returns.  In fact, you could even argue that too much happens.  Zwick obviously set out to try to make Legends of the Fall into an old school Hollywood epic but far too often, it seems like he’s mostly just copying scenes from other films.  There’s a hollowness at the center of Legends of the Fall and the end result is a film that’s visually gorgeous and thematically shallow.

And yet, you should never underestimate the importance of looking good.  Legends of the Fall is a beautiful film to look at and so is Brad Pitt.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that Brad gives a particularly good performance here because, to be honest, Tristan is such an idealized character that I doubt anyone could really make him believable.  But the Brad Pitt of 1994 looked so good and had such a strong screen presence that it didn’t matter that he wasn’t as good an actor as the Brad Pitt of 2015.  Legends of The Fall is one of those movies that can get by on pure charisma and fortunately, Brad Pitt is enough of a movie star to make the film work.

Legends of the Fall is not a great film but it’s still not a bad way to waste 120 minutes.  (Of course, the film itself lasts 133 minutes but still…)

Film Review: Love and Other Drugs (dir. by Ed Zwick)

There is exactly one genuinely effective and emotionally (and intellectually) honest scene in the new film Love and Other Drugs.  It’s a scene that features people who actually have Parkinson’s talking about living life with this disease.  As they speak, they are watched by Anne Hathaway who is playing a character who has Stage 1 Parkinson’s.  Their words brought tears to my eyes but, at the same time, it also reminded me that, unlike them, Hathaway (who smiles throughout the entire scene like a Miss America runner-up) was merely playing someone with Parkinson’s.  It was hard not to think about the fact that while the people speaking are still dealing with the disease today, Hathaway is off shooting her next film.

That’s the type of film that Love and Other Drugs is.  It’s the type of film where the slightest amount of reality only serves to remind the viewer of how fake the rest of the movie is.

The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who I will always love because he will always be Donnie Darko.  That’s why it pains me to say that Gyllenhaal’s over-the-top performance in this film is just a little bit awful.  He’s playing a compulsive womanizer who becomes a salesman for Pfizer in the 1990s.  The first fourth of the film is pretty much made up of him fucking every girl he meets and then abandoning her afterward.  However, the film suggests we shouldn’t hold this against him since apparently, every woman in America is presented as being a giggling, simple-minded whore.  Except, of course, for Anne Hathaway who is presented as being a depressed, angry, and sick.  Gyllenhaal falls in love with her and the subtext here, I guess, is that Gyllenhaal is redeemed because he’s willing to love a girl with a terrible disease.  So, in a way, Anne Hathaway’s character having a terrible disease is the best thing that could have ever happened to our protagonist.

At the same time this is going on, Gyllenhaal is trying to sell a new drug called Viagra which, once again, gives director Ed Zwick an excuse to show a bunch of frumpy women going nuts over a drug for men who can’ t get it up.  Interestingly enough, we don’t see any of the men with limp dicks obsessively taking the pills until all the blood stops flowing to their brains.  Gyllenhaal does have a scene where he can’t get it up but Hathaway (who doesn’t even get upset — now, that is confidence!) still manages to get him off after listening to him talk about how difficult it is to be a rich, white boy.  Later on, Gyllenhaal is tricked into taking Viagra (by a woman, naturally) and he ends up having to go to the ER with an erection that everyone tells us is very impressive.  They have to tell us because we don’t actually get to see it or any other cocks in this film though Anne Hathaway’s boobs are listed in the end credits.

Love and Other Drugs is one of those films that it so overwhelmingly bad that I’m sure it’ll have some passionate defenders who will probably bitch and moan about this review.  So, allow me to say a few things to them now so I won’t have to waste my time replying — when a movie introduces a bunch of senior citizens getting on a bus to go to Canada to get affordable medication just so that Jake Gyllenhaal can later chase the bus down in his Porsche and shout about how much he loves Anne Hathaway, the movie has got some issues.  When a movie features Anne Hathaway responding to getting a breast exam from a fake doctor by then agreeing to fuck the fake doctor, the movie has obviously been made by men who have never given one thought to the reality of breast cancer.  When a movie insists that Hathaway’s promiscuity is due to her being emotionally damaged but Gyllenhaal’s identical behavior is presented as being cute and funny then that essentially makes this movie a sexist fantasy.

As I said earlier, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a performance here that is just bad.  He’s miscast here.  The off-centered vibe that made him the perfect Donnie Darko doesn’t work here and he reacts by smiling during the comedic scenes and screwing up his face all weird-like during the dramatic ones. 

Anne Hathaway — who was so brilliant playing me in Rachel Getting Married — actually gives a pretty good performance but she’s constantly betrayed by the movie’s script and direction.  I was first diagnosed as being bipolar nine years ago and I can say that Hathaway perfectly captures both the shame and the defiance that comes from having a socially unacceptable disease.

The rest of the cast is made up of character actors playing thinly-drawn stereotypes.  Hank Azaria, however, has a few good scenes as a hedonistic doctor but then you have to deal with Gabriel Macht who plays a rival salesman who just happens to be Hathaway’s ex and a psycho.  Why do filmmakers never realize that giving their fantasy figures psychotic ex-boyfriends does nothing more than trivialize the entire plot?  For the entire film, I sat there and wondered, “But why would anyone go out with someone that evil in the first place?  Other than the fact that it’s convenient for the plot?”

I saw this movie with my very good friend Jeff and my sister Erin.  Since Erin is a pharmaceutical sales rep, I asked her how accurate this film was.  Erin smiled and replied, “Well, there is a company called Pfizer.”  I also asked Jeff if this movie was a realistic portrayal of how men see the world.  He declined to answer. 

Love and Other Drugs attempts, all at the same time, to be a romantic drama, an over-the-top comedy, a recreation of history, a political/social satire, and a well-intentioned piece of social advocacy.  Taken individually, each of those genres is difficult to pull off successfully.  Toss them all together and it’s nearly impossible.  Yes, it could be done but not by director Ed Zwick.