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

The World’s Ending Again! Here’s The Trailer For Into The Forest!


It’s interesting how many post-apocalyptic films have been released over the past few years.  People really do seem to be convinced that the world is on the verge of ending and who knows?  Maybe it is!

Oh well.  It has to end sometime, right?

Anyway, here’s the trailer for Into The Forest.  Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood play sisters who live in a house that’s on the edge of the forest.  When the world ends, they go into the forest and make a deal with Meryl Streep and … oh wait, that’s Into The Woods.

Okay, so there’s no Meryl Streep and that might actually be a good thing.  Both Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are excellent actresses and they deserve a chance to shine.  Fortunately, Into The Forest is also a Canadian film and our longtime readers know how much I love the nation that gave us Degrassi.

So, prepare for the world to end with Into The Forest!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #114: The Wrestler (dir by Darren Aronofsky)


The_Wrestler_poster

I’m always a little surprised by how much I like the 2008 film The Wrestler.

Actually, to be honest, I’m more than a little surprised.  I’m a lot surprise.  First off, The Wrestler takes place in the world of professional wrestling and that’s a world that I not only know nothing about but which I also have very little interest.  (My cousin Gustavo — Hi, Gus! — loved the Rock.  That’s about the extent of my knowledge.)  Add to that, The Wrestler doesn’t take place in the world of televised pro wrestling.  (I may know nothing about wrestling but I do know a lot about television.)  Instead, this is a world of backroom matches, broken dreams, and fading lives.

Secondly, The Wrestler features, as its hero, a man in his 50s who is still a total and complete fuckup.  The character of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (played, in an Oscar-nominated performance, by Mickey Rourke) is perhaps epitomized by the fact that, after going out of his way to try to reconnect with his daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), and setting up a dinner date so that they can finally talk and get to know each other, Randy ends up getting consumed with self-pity, getting drunk, getting high, getting laid, and ultimately standing up his daughter.  And whenever I see that part of the movie, I hate Randy just as much as Stephanie does because I know exactly how she feels.  Stephanie can’t forgive Randy and neither can I.

And yet, oddly enough, I still care what happens to Randy.  Randy is a former wrestling superstar, a guy who was big in the 1980s but now lives in a haze of obscurity and self-pity.  He now wrestles on the weekend, works a demeaning job at a super market deli, and occasionally plays an old video game which features him as a character.  His only real friend (and source of strength) is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who knows what its like to get older in a profession dominated by the young.

Randy does have one final chance at a comeback, when he agrees to an exhibition fight against his former nemesis, a  “villainous” wrestler known at The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller).  (It’s interesting to note that, outside of the ring, “bad guy” Ayatollah seems to be everything that “good guy” Randy is not, i.e., responsible, stable, and content with his life.)

However, there’s one problem.  Randy has a heart condition and he has been told that continuing to wrestle could kill him.  Will Randy give up the only thing that he’s ever been good at or will Randy potentially sacrifice his life to have one last chance to hear the cheers of the crowd?

Randy Robinson is another one of director Darren Aronofsky’s obsessive protagonists, a character who is so obsessed with something that he’s sacrificed everything else to pursue it.  Fortunately, Aronofsky is a master of making these type of characters sympathetic.  Over the course of the film, Randy fucks up so much that you really are tempted to just give up on him but Aronofsky directs the film with such compassion and Rourke gives such a vulnerable and emotionally raw performance that you find yourself giving Randy another chance despite your better instincts.  The film’s melancholy ending is effective because you know that it really is the only way that Randy’s story can end.

I’m always surprised to like The Wrestler.

But I do.

6 More Film Reviews From 2014: At Middleton, Barefoot, Divergent, Gimme Shelter, The Other Woman, and more!


Let’s continue to get caught up with 6 more reviews of 6 more films that I saw in 2014!

At Middleton (dir by Adam Rodgers)

“Charming, but slight.”  I’ve always liked that term and I think it’s the perfect description for At Middleton, a dramedy that came out in January and did not really get that much attention.  Vera Farmiga is a businesswoman who is touring colleges with her daughter (Taissa Farmiga, who is actually Vera’s younger sister).  Andy Garcia is a surgeon who is doing the same thing with his son.  All four of them end up touring Middleton College at the same time.  While their respective children tour the school, Vera and Andy end up walking around the campus and talking.  And that’s pretty much the entire film!

But you know what?  Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia are both such good performers and have such a strong chemistry that it doesn’t matter that not much happens.  Or, at the very least, it doesn’t matter was much as you might think it would.

Hence, charming but slight.

Barefoot (dir by Andrew Fleming)

Well, fuck it.

Sorry, I know that’s not the best way to start a review but Barefoot really bothered me.  In Barefoot, Scott Speedman plays a guy who invites Evan Rachel Wood to his brother’s wedding.  The twist is that Wood has spent most of her life in a mental institution.  Originally, Speedman only invites her so that he can trick his father (Treat Williams) into believing that Speedman has finally become a responsible adult.  But, of course, he ends up falling in love with her and Wood’s simple, mentally unbalanced charm brings delight to everyone who meets her.  I wanted to like this film because I love both Scott Speedman and Evan Rachel Wood but, ultimately, it’s all rather condescending and insulting.  Yes, the film may be saying, mental illness is difficult but at least it helped Scott Speedman find love…

On the plus side, the always great J.K. Simmons shows up, playing a psychiatrist.  At no point does he say, “Not my tempo” but he was probably thinking it.

Divergent (dir by Neil Burger)

There’s a lot of good things that can be said about Divergent.  Shailene Woodley is a likable heroine.  The film’s depiction of a dystopian future is well-done. Kate Winslet has fun playing a villain.  Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort are well-cast.  But, ultimately, Divergent suffers from the same problem as The Maze Runner and countless other YA adaptations.  The film never escapes from the shadow of the far superior Hunger Games franchise.  Perhaps, if Divergent had been released first, we’d be referring to the Hunger Games as being a Divergent rip-off.

However, I kind of doubt it.  The Hunger Games works on so many levels.  Divergent is an entertaining adventure film that features a good performance from Shailene Woodley but it’s never anything more than that.  Considering that director Neil Burger previously gave us Interview with the Assassin and Limitless, it’s hard not to be disappointed that there’s not more to Divergent.

Gimme Shelter (dir by Ron Krauss)

Gimme Shelter, which is apparently based on a true story, is about a teenage girl named Apple (Vanessa Hudgens) who flees her abusive, drug addicted mother (Rosario Dawson).  She eventually tracks down her wealthy father (Brendan Fraser), who at first takes Apple in.  However, when he discovers that she’s pregnant, he demands that she get an abortion.  When Apple refuses, he kicks her out of the house.  Apple eventually meets a kindly priest (James Earl Jones) and moves into a shelter that’s run by the tough Kathy (Ann Dowd).

Gimme Shelter came out in January and it was briefly controversial because a lot of critics felt that, by celebrating Apple’s decision not to abort her baby, the movie was pushing an overly pro-life message.  Interestingly enough, a lot of those outraged critics were men and, as I read their angry reviews, it was hard not to feel that they were more concerned with showing off their political bona fides than with reviewing the actual film.  Yes, the film does celebrate Apple’s decision to keep her baby but the film also emphasizes that it was Apple’s decision to make, just as surely as it would have been her decision to make if she had chosen to have an abortion.

To be honest, the worst thing about Gimme Shelter is that it doesn’t take advantage of the fact that it shares its name with a great song by the Rolling Stones.  Otherwise, it’s a well-done (if rather uneven) look at life on the margins.  Yes, the script and the direction are heavy-handed but the film is redeemed by a strong performance from Vanessa Hudgens, who deserves to be known for more than just being “that girl from High School Musical.”

Heaven is For Real (dir by Randall Wallace)

You can tell that Heaven is For Real is supposed to be based on a true story by the fact that the main character is named Todd Burpo.  Todd Burpo is one of those names that’s just so ripe for ridicule that you know he has to be a real person.

Anyway, Heaven Is For Real is based on a book of the same name.  Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is the pastor of a small church in Nebraska.  After Todd’s son, Colton, has a near death experience, he claims to have visited Heaven where he not only met a sister who died before he was born but also had a conversation with Jesus.  As Colton’s story starts to get national attention, Todd struggles to determine whether Colton actually went to Heaven or if he was just having a hallucination.

You can probably guess which side the movie comes down on.

Usually, as a self-described heathen, I watch about zero faith-based movies a year.  For some reason, I ended up watching three over the course of 2014: Left Behind, Rumors of War, and this one.  Heaven is For Real is not as preachy (or terrible) as Left Behind but it’s also not as much fun as Rumors of War.  (Rumors of War, after all, featured Eric Roberts.)  Instead, Heaven Is For Real is probably as close to mainstream as a faith-based movie can get.  I doubt that the film changed anyone’s opinion regarding whether or not heaven is for real but it’s still well-done in a made-for-TV sort of way.

The Other Woman (dir by Nick Cassavetes)

According to my BFF Evelyn, we really liked The Other Woman when we saw it earlier this year.  And, despite how bored I was with the film when I recently tired to rewatch it, we probably did enjoy it that first time.  It’s a girlfriend film, the type of movie that’s enjoyable as long as you’re seeing it for the first time and you’re seeing it with your best girlfriends.  It’s a lot of fun the first time you see it but since the entire film is on the surface, there’s nothing left to discover on repeat viewings.  Instead, you just find yourself very aware of the fact that the film often substitutes easy shock for genuine comedy. (To be honest, I think that — even with the recent missteps of Labor Day and Men, Women, and Children — Jason Reitman could have done wonders with this material.  Nick Cassavetes however…)   Leslie Mann gives a good performance and the scenes where she bonds with Cameron Diaz are a lot of fun but otherwise, it’s the type of film that you enjoy when you see it and then you forget about it.

Back to School #63: Thirteen (dir by Catherine Hardwicke)


Have you ever seen a film and thought to yourself, “Oh my God, that’s my life?”

That’s the way I always feel whenever I see the 2003 film Thirteen.  Thirteen is one of my favorite movies but I always get uncomfortable whenever I watch it because a lot of the film hits really close to home for me.  Thirteen tells the story of 13 year-old Tracy (played, in an amazing performance, by Evan Rachel Wood) who, after befriending Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the script along with director Catherine Hardwicke), goes wild.  Soon, Tracy is shoplifting, self-harming, experimenting with drugs and sex, and striking out at her mother, Melanie (Oscar nominee Holly Hunter).

As played by Hunter, Melanie is probably one of the best moms to ever show up in a contemporary film.  I’m tempted to say that Hunter’s performance here is the American equivalent to Sophia Loren’s work in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women.  Melanie is not portrayed as being perfect.  Instead, she’s a recovering alcoholic who is dating a former drug addict (played by Jeremy Sisto) and she doesn’t always say the right thing and sometimes she does wish that she could just be selfish and not have to deal with her rebellious daughter.  When Evie, claiming that she’s being abused at her own home, literally moves in with Tracy, Melanie instinctively knows that Evie is a bad influence but she can’t bring herself to turn her away.  And yet, for all the mistakes that she makes, Melanie is still a good mom.  She loves her daughter and finally proves that she’s willing to sacrifice her own happiness to try to save Tracy.  Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of 2003, but it should have gone to Holly Hunter.

Thirteen was the directorial debut of one of my favorite director, Catherine Hardwicke.  Hardwicke doesn’t get the critical respect that she deserves, largely because she directed the first Twilight.  (Twilight, however, is not a badly directed film.  The trouble is with the source material, not Hardwicke’s direction.)  With Thirteen, Hardwicke approaches the film with a matter-of-fact directness that keep the movie grounded and prevents it from going over-the-top with its nonstop parade of delinquent behavior.

Thirteen

It’s a difficult film for me to watch because, when I was thirteen, I basically was Tracy.  I was angry at my Dad for leaving us and a part of me blamed my mom but an even bigger part of me blamed myself.  Like Tracy, I felt as if I had been abandoned and I felt as if control of my life was out of my hands.  I resented the life that I imagined I would never get to live and so, I went out of my way to make sure that everyone knew that I didn’t need them but they certainly needed me.  I struck out in whatever way I could and, looking back at it now, I know that, basically from the ages of 13 to 17, I caused a lot of unneccessary pain to the people who loved me.

Thirteen captures all of that perfectly and, therefore, it’s not easy for me to watch.  But, at the same time, I’m always glad after I do watch it because I know that I turned out okay and that gives me hope that, despite the film’s ambiguous ending, Tracy will turn out okay as well.

Thirteen2003Poster

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Ides of March (dir. by George Clooney)


George Clooney’s new political film The Ides of March opened last Friday and so far it appears to have mostly gotten positive reviews that are more respectful than enthusiastic.  Well, I saw The Ides of March on Tuesday evening and all I can say is “Don’t believe everything you hear.”  That should be a given but it’s always worth repeating.  The Ides of March is a slow, ponderous, and at times completely annoying movie, a minor work dealing with major themes.

The film is based on the play Farragut North and it’s about Stephen (Ryan Gosling), a political consultant who is working on the presidential campaign of Gov. Mike Morris (George Clooney).  Morris is a typical Hollywood Democratic politician in that he gives a lot of speeches attacking America’s dependence on foreign oil and he’s not ashamed to admit that he’s an atheist.  Anyway, despite the fact that Morris comes across as being smug and something of a sexist, he’s the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination but only if he can win the Ohio primary.  For all of his attempts to be as cynical as his mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman, giving a typical Philip Seymour Hoffman performance), Stephen truly believes in Mike Morris.  However, Stephen comes across some information that could potentially destroy Morris’ campaign and he soon finds himself a pawn in a game between Morris, the press (represented by Marisa Tomei, who looks terrible in this film), and the opposing campaign (managed by Paul Giamatti).

Yes, The Ides of March has a lot to say but it’s absolutely nothing you haven’t heard before and, quite frankly, it’s kind of annoying how the film seems to think that this is the first time that anyone’s ever suggested that maybe politics is a dirty business.  The film’s not a total waste because there’s way too many talented people involved here for the film not to have the occasional good moment.  Gosling and Clooney both give strong performances and play off each other well.  They have a scene where they confront each other in a deserted kitchen and for a few brief seconds, the film actually gets interesting.  Playing an emotionally unstable intern, Evan Rachel Wood shows once again that she’s one of the best actresses working today and it’s just a shame that the film treats her more like a plot device than an actual human being.  At the same time, I have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever seen Paul Giamatti actually give a performance that can only be called bad.  Seriously, how could the same actor who was so brilliant in Win Win be so terrible in this movie?

Ultimately though, the film fails because — once you get past all the glamour on-screen — what you have is a very predictable political film that, especially in these days of Tea Parties and Occupy Movements, feels rather quaint and forced.  This is yet another one of those films where, apparently, the only way that the main character can learn a lesson is for a supporting character to commit suicide.  There’s a lot of would-be cynical dialogue and Clooney manages to include references to Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report but ultimately, the whole film feels as false as the romantic short stories I used to write in the 8th grade.

The film’s name is obviously meant to carry hints of Shakespeare but perhaps a more honest title would have been Much Ado About Nothing.

Lisa Marie Conspires Against The Conspirator (dir. by Robert Redford)


Robert Redford’s new historical drama The Conspirator is the first prestige picture of 2011 and it’s also (arguably) the worst film of the year so far. 

Oh, I hear you out there: “Really?  Worse than even Season of the Witch and Your Highness?”

Yes.  Way worse.  Season of the Witch and Your Highness might have been bad films but they knew they were bad.  They never truly aspired to be anything other than bad.  The problem with The Conspirator is that it’s obviously meant to be a great and important film.  It’s meant to shape public debate.  We’re supposed to feel like better people for having sat through it and the filmmakers are supposed to be better people just for having made it.  There’s a smugness to these type of self-styled “prestige pictures” that elevates their badness beyond anything to be found in Your Highness.  Indeed, if the makers of Your Highness appeared to be getting high off of herb than the people behind The Conspirator are high off of their own good intentions and that makes them for more annoying.

The Conspirator is based on the trial of Mary Surratt, the only woman to be arrested, tried, and subsequently executed as a result of the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.  The execution of Mary Surratt was controversial because 1) she was a civilian tried by a military tribunal, 2) the evidence against her was largely circumstantial (she owned the boarding house where the conspirators — including her son John Surratt — supposedly met), and 3) she was a woman.

Now, I have to confess that I’m secretly kind of a big history nerd and — unlike most of this film’s audience — I was already familiar with the story of Mary Surratt before I sat down in the theater.  The story of the Lincoln Conspiracy and the aftermath of the assassination is a really interesting one that is full of all sorts of weird twists and turns and odd characters all conspiring together and being mysterious.  It has all the makings of a great grindhouse film. 

However, director Robert Redford is too good to make a grindhouse movie.  No, he has something important to say and, as a result, The Conspirator becomes yet another one of those tedious films where every line of dialogue and every image is supposed to make us go, “Hey, they might be talking about post-Civil War America but, by golly, this is relevent to our post-911 lives!  OH MY GOD!”  So, we get Tom Wilkinson showing up randomly to give speeches about why military tribunals are the work of the devil.  Wilkinson is playing a historical figure Reverdy Johnson but they might as well have just renamed him “Prestige Actor Cast As Mouthpiece.”  And then Kevin Kline (as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, though they should have just called him Dick Cheney) is there to go, “The whole world has changed.”  Meanwhile, the camera lingers over the conspirators being held in their dirty cells with bags over their heads (“OH MY GOD, HONEY!” we’re supposed to shout at our loved ones, “THAT’S JUST LIKE GUANTANAMO BAY!  WOW!”) and then we’re constantly reminded that Mary Surratt was a devout Catholic and that America in 1865 viewed Catholicism in much the same way that America views Islam in 2011. 

And, yeah, we get it and I’m not saying that director Redford is incorrect in his message or his beliefs.  However, a boring, heavy-handed film is just as boring and heavy-handed regardless of where its heart may lie.  The Conspirator is so busy being good for us that it forgets that it needs to entertain as well.  It preaches at us but it never bothers to engage us.

Mary Surratt is played by Robin Wright and she gives a good performance but because of the way the film is structured, Mary is never allowed to become anything more than a convenient symbol.  Instead, most of the film’s screen time is given to James McAvoy who plays the young lawyer who reluctantly defends her at trial.  Now, I love James McAvoy.  I’ve loved him ever since Atonement and that’s why it’s kinda heart breaking to see what a bad performance he gives here.  He’s good for the first ten minutes or so of the film but then he’s assigned to defend Ms. Surratt and I swear to God, he doesn’t stop yelling for the rest of the movie.  It’s not totally McAvoy’s fault.  As written, his character doesn’t really have much to do other than get mad.  As an actor, McAvoy can do anger quite well (again, check out Atonement) but here his anger just seems to spring out of nowhere.  At first, he is unconcerned about Mary Surratt and resentful that he has to defend her.  Then suddenly, he’s going all late style Al Pacino on everyone. 

Justin Long shows up as McAvoy’s best friend and seriously, if you’re making a historical drama, you don’t cast a guy who automatically makes you think, “He’s a PC and I’m a Mac.”  It’s not Long’s fault.  He’s a likable actor and he’s likable here even if his character doesn’t have any reason for being in the movie.  It’s just that typecasting is a bitch.  Alexis Bedel gets the thankless role of “rich snob who loses faith in her boyfriend” while Evan Rachel Wood, playing Mary Surratt’s daughter, is the only member of the cast who actually seems to truly connect with the material.

Regardless of the film’s historical accuracy, everything about The Conspirator feels false.   I don’t know if it was just the copy that I happened to see but the entire movie just looks like crap, a combination of soft-focus blurriness and respectfully muted colors.  This is another one of those films where the interior scenes are lit so that it appears that sunlight is just flooding in through the windows, making any white article of clothing just appear to throb with radiation.  Seriously, I had a headache after watching 30 minutes of this film.

As I said previously, there’s a great grindhouse movie waiting to be made out of this material.  For instance, did you know that Boston Corbett — the man who shot John Wilkes Booth — was also a religious fanatic who years earlier, in order to resist being tempted by a prostitute, castrated himself with scissors?  Also, did you know that Henry Rathbone — the army major who was sitting with Lincoln at the time of the assassination — was years later named Ambassador to Germany and, while in Germany, suffered a sudden nervous breakdown that led to him chopping off his wife’s head?  Also, one of the men who was arrested (though eventually released and never charged) for taking part in the conspiracy was Frances Tumblety who later moved to England where he would later become one of the many men suspected of being Jack the Ripper? 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

However, The Conspirator is too busy being important to bother with being interesting.  While a grindhouse version of the story would have been both interesting and thought-provoking, The Conspirator is just a smug film that is never manages to live up to its own rather high opinion of itself.