Cliffhanger (1993, directed by Renny Harlin)


Sylvester Stallone is Gabe, a mountain climber who also works as a rescue ranger.  Michael Rooker is Hal, Gabe’s colleague and former best friend.  Hal blames Gabe for the death of his girlfriend, Sarah.  Gabe also blames himself and is planning on getting out of the rescue game.  But before Gabe can quit, he’s got one last mission to perform.  Qualen (John Lithgow) is a psychotic former spy who has masterminded a multi-million dollar robbery.  A plane crash leads to the loot getting scattered in the mountains.  Qualen takes Hal and Gabe prisoner and tries to force them to help him track down the money.

Cliffhanger was made during one of the slower periods of Stallone’s career.  He had temporarily retired the roles of both Rocky Balboa and John Rambo and, as an action star, he was being overshadowed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Stallone had tried to reinvent himself as a comedic actor, with the result being Stop!  Or My Mom Will Shoot!  The former Oscar nominee was now only winning Razzies and he was running the risk of becoming better known for his messy divorce from Brigitte Nielsen than for his recent films.  Things weren’t looking good for Stallone but, fortunately, the box office success of Cliffhanger revived his career.

Seen today, Cliffhanger holds up well as an undemanding but enjoyable action film.  It’s a very much a film of its time, complete with John Lithgow hamming it up as a British villain and Northern Exposure’s Janine Turner playing Stallone’s loyal, helicopter-owning girlfriend.  Stallone’s best films are the ones where he is willing to surrender his ego and he does that in Cliffhanger.  It may be a Stallone film but the best lines go to Michael Rooker and the true stars of the film are the mountains and the scenes of Stallone and Rooker trying to climb them.  With Cliffhanger, Stallone was smart enough to stay out of the way and just trust that the image of him dangling above the Rockies would bring in the audience.  It was a smart decision.  Though Cliffhanger is often overshadowed by Stallone’s other 1993 hit, Demolition Man, it’s still an entertaining film in its own right.

Cliffhanger was directed by Renny Harlin, the Finnish action specialist whose promising career would subsequently take a hit and never really recover from directing Cutthroat Island.  Mountain climbing and Renny Harlin just seem to go together and Cliffhanger is one of his better films.  Here’s hope that, just as Stallone has done many times in the past, Renny Harlin will eventually his comeback as a director.

TV Review: Dexter: New Blood 1.7 “Skin of Her Teeth” (dir by Sanford Bookslaver)


Occasionally, while watching an episode of the original run of Dexter, I would sometimes wonder, “What if Dexter didn’t kill this latest serial killer?  What if he actually did step back and just let the police do their job?”

Well, the latest episode of Dexter: New Blood answered my question for me.  Even after he had all of the evidence that he needed to believe that Kurt was not only the sniper but that he was also responsible for the decades-old murder of Iris, Dexter still tried to play by the rules.  He extracted a tooth from Iris’s mouth and, seeing that she had bitten her attacker, he gave it to Angela so that she could run a DNA test.  He also told Angela about the murder cabin to which Kurt had previously tried to lure Molly.  For once, Dexter stepped to the side and tried to let the system do its job.

Why did Dexter do this, despite Ghost Deb literally ordering him to kill Kurt?  Dexter’s pursuit of Kurt has been complicated by Kurt’s pursuit of Harrison.  With Harrison obviously growing more and more unstable, Dexter didn’t want to have to keep another secret from his son.  He didn’t want Harrison to make a martyr out of Kurt.  Dexter wanted to make sure that his son would eventually look up to the right serial killer.  Good for Dexter!

Unfortunately, it turns out that the system doesn’t work.  It didn’t work in Miami and apparently, it doesn’t work in upstate New York either.  Yes, Kurt is arrested and he’s taken off to jail.  But, after he concocts a story framing his abusive father and after the DNA on Iris’s tooth turns out to be just a 67% match, Kurt is set free.  However, while he is in jail, he’s visited by Dexter.  The two of them, obviously no longer pretending to be friends, find themselves discussing whether or not titanium can melt.  Earlier in the episode, a slovenly truck driver gave Harrison an envelope for Dexter.  Inside the envelope was a titanium screw, one that Dexter soon learns came from Matt’s body.  In short, Dexter knows that Kurt is a murderer and Kurt knows the same about Dexter.  However, others may soon be finding out as well.  With Kurt out of jail, Molly and Angela talked and realized that there were holes not only in Kurt’s story but Dexter’s as well.

Meanwhile, Harrison finally revealed the truth to Dexter.  As Harrison explained it, he has always had nightmares but now he realizes that the nightmares were actually memories of Rita’s murder.  (John Lithgow makes a cameo appearance as the Trinity Killer and is quite chilling, despite only being onscreen for a minute or two.)  Harrison announced that he was leaving town.  Just as Dexter tried to follow his son, he was attacked by the same trucker who gave Harrison the screw.  And then …. the episode ended!

This was a seriously good episode, probably the best of the season so far.  The episode opened on a properly macabre touch (with Dexter and Angela investigating Iris’s mummified corpse) and it ended on a moment of genuine suspense.  In between, Michael C. Hall and Clancy Brown both did compelling work as two guys who have a secret that only they can truly understand.  The scene were Dexter and Kurt faced off in the jail was wonderfully acted and directed.  As played by Clancy Brown, Kurt is the first Dexter villain to truly feel like a worthy adversary since the Trinity Killer.  Indeed, it seems somewhat appropriate that the same episode that featured a flashback to Kurt’s first kill also featured a flashback to Trinity’s final murder.

So, what can we expect to happen next week?  Dexter getting attacked by that truck driver would seem to suggest that Kurt has more allies that Dexter imagined.  What if Kurt is not working alone?  What if his truck stop is actually some sort of serial killer hang-out?  It’s possible and it would certainly explain why Kurt was so eager to have Harrison working there.  It would seem that Kurt might want to hunt Dexter next.

But here’s the thing — there are three episodes left.  Seeing as how Kurt and Dexter know the truth about each other, you have to wonder what they’re going to be spend the next three hours doing until their final confrontation.  Next week’s episode is called Unfair Game.  Could that be a reference to The Most Dangerous Game, the short story that Kurt seems to be trying to recreate with each of his murders?  The final two episodes are entitled: “Family Business” and “Sins of the Father,” which would seem to indicate that Harrison is going to play a key role in whatever happens.  Personally, I’m still expecting Edward Olsen to be revealed as Kurt’s partner.  Olsen hasn’t been in the last few episodes but he was prominently featured at the start of the season so it just seems like there has to be more to him beyond just being a wealthy land developer.

We’ll see what happens!

Horror Film Review: Twilight Zone: The Movie (dir by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller)


1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie is meant to be a tribute to the classic original anthology series.  It features four “episodes” and two wrap-around segments, with Burgess Meredith providing opening and closing narration.  Each segment is directed by a different director, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Unfortunately, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a bit of a mess.  One of the episodes is brilliant.  Another one is good up until the final few minutes.  Another one is forgettable.  And then finally, one of them is next too impossible to objectively watch because of a real-life tragedy.

With a film that varies as wildly in tone and quality as Twilight Zone: The Movie, the only way to really review it is to take a segment at a time:

Something Scary (dir by John Landis)

Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd drive through the desert and discuss the old Twilight Zone TV series.  Brooks claims that the show was scary.  Aykoyd asks if Brooks wants to see something really scary.  This is short but fun.  It’s tone doesn’t really go along with the rest of the movie but …. oh well.  It made me jump.

Time Out (dir by John Landis)

Vic Morrow plays a racist named Bill Connor who, upon leaving his local bar, finds himself transported to Nazi-occupied France, the deep South, and eventually Vietnam.

How you react to this story will probably depend on how much you know about its backstory.  If you don’t know anything about the filming of this sequence, you’ll probably just think it’s a bit heavy-handed and, at times, unintentionally offensive.  Twilight Zone often explored themes of prejudice but Time Out just seems to be using racism as a gimmick.

If you do know the story of what happened while this segment was being filmed, it’s difficult to watch.  Actor Vic Morrow was killed during filming.  His death was the result of a preventable accident that occurred during a scene that was to involve Morrow saving two Vietnamese children from a helicopter attack.  The helicopter crashed, killing not only Morrow but the children as well.  It was later determined that not only were safety protocols ignored but that Landis had hired the children illegally and was paying them under the table so that he could get around the regulations governing how many hours child actors could work.  It’s a tragic story and one that will not leave you as a fan of John Landis’s, regardless of how much you like An American Werewolf in London and Animal House.

Nothing about the segment feels as if it was worth anyone dying for and, to be honest, I’m kind of amazed that it was even included in the finished film.

Kick The Can (dir by Steven Spielberg)

An old man named Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) shows up at Sunnyvale Retirement Home and encourages the residents to play a game of kick the can.  Everyone except for Mr. Conroy (Bill Quinn) eventually agrees to take part and, just as in the episode of the Twilight Zone that this segment is based on, everyone becomes young.

However, while the television show ended with the newly young residents all running off and leaving behind the one person who refused to play the game, the movie ends with everyone, with the exception of one man who apparently became a teenager istead of a kid, deciding that they would rather be old and just think young.  That really doesn’t make any damn sense but okay.

This segment is unabashedly sentimental and clearly calculated to brings tears to the eyes to the viewers.  The problem is that it’s so calculated that you end up resenting both Mr. Bloom and all the old people.  One gets the feeling that this segment is more about how we wish old people than how they actually are.  It’s very earnest and very Spielbergian but it doesn’t feel much like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

It’s A Good Life (dir by Joe Dante)

A teacher (Kathleen Quinlan) meets a young boy (Jeremy Licht) who has tremendous and frightening powers.

This is a remake of the classic Twilight Zone episode, It’s A Good Life, with the difference being that young Anthony is not holding an entire town hostage but instead just his family.  This segment was directed by Joe Dante, who turns the segment into a cartoon, both figuratively and, at one point, literally.  That’s not necessarily a complaint.  It’s certainly improvement over Spielberg’s sentimental approach to the material.  Dante also finds roles for genre vets like Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert, and Dick Miller and he provides some memorably over-the-top visuals.

The main problem with this segment is the ending, in which Anthony suddenly reveals that he’s not really that bad and just wants to be treated normally, which doesn’t make much sense.  I mean, if you want to be treated normally, maybe don’t zap your sister in a cartoon.  The teacher agrees to teach Anthony how to be a normal boy and again, what the Hell?  The original It’s A Good Life worked because, like any child, Anthony had no conception of how adults felt about him.  In the movie version, he’s suddenly wracked with guilt and it’s far less effective.  It feels like a cop out.

Still, up until that ending, It’s A Good Life worked well as a satire of the perfect American family.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (dir by George Miller)

In this remake of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, John Lithgow steps into the role that was originally played by William Shatner.  He plays a man who, while attempting to conquer his fear of flying, sees a gremlin on the wing of his airplane.  Unfortunately, he can’t get anyone else on the plane to believe him.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is the best of the four main segments.  It’s also the one that sticks closest to its source material.  Director George Miller (yes, of Mad Max fame) doesn’t try to improve on the material because he seems to understand that it works perfectly the way it is.  John Lithgow is also perfectly cast in the lead role, perfectly capturing his increasing desperation.  The one change that Miller does make is that, as opposed in the TV show, the gremlin actually seems to be taunting John Lithgow at time and it works wonderfully.  Not only is Lithgow trying to save the plane, he’s also trying to defeat a bully.

Something Scarier (dir by John Landis)

Dan Aykroyd’s back as an ambulance driver, still asking his passenger if he wants to see something really scary.  It’s an okay ending but it does kind of lessen the impact of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

 

Film Review: The Day After (dir by Nicholas Meyer)


“This is Lawrence. This is Lawrence, Kansas. Is anybody there? Anybody at all?”

The words of Joe Huxley (John Lithgow) hang over the ending of The Day After, a 1983 film that imagines what the aftermath of a nuclear war would be like not on the East or the West Coasts but instead in the rural heartland of America.  Huxley is a professor at the University of Kansas and, as he explains early on in the film, Kansas would be an automatic target in any nuclear war because it houses a number of missile silos.  When he explains that, it’s in an almost joking tone, largely because the missiles haven’t been launched yet.  Instead, the only thing we’ve heard are a few barely noticed news stories about growing tensions between America and Russia.  About halfway through The Day After, the bombs go off and there are suddenly no more jokes to be made.

When the bombs drop over Kansas, we watch as cities and field and people burst into flames.  In a matter of minutes, several thousands are killed.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I was probably more upset by the image of a horse being vaporized than I was by the death of poor Bruce Gallatin (Jeff East), the college student who was planning on marrying Denise Dahlberg (Lori Lethin).  I guess it’s because horses — really, all animals — have nothing to do with the conflicts between nations.  Humans are the ones who take the time to build bigger and better weapons and The Day After is one of the few films about war that’s willing to acknowledge that, when humans fight, it’s not just humans that die.

The bombing sequence is lengthy and I have to admit that I was a bit distracted by the fact that I recognized some of the footage from other movies.  A scene of panicked people running through a building was taken from Two-Minute Warning.  A scene of a building exploding and a construction worker being consumed by flames was lifted from Meteor.  As well, there’s some stock footage which should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a documentary about the early days of the Cold War.  Still, despite that, it’s an effective sequence simply because it’s so relentless.  Some of the film’s most likable characters are vaporized before our eyes.  Steve Guttenberg, of all people, is seen ducking into a store.

Guttenberg plays Stephen Klein, a pre-med student who manages to survive the initial attack and takes shelter with the Dahlberg family at their ranch.  At first, it’s a bit distracting to see Steve Guttenberg in a very serious and very grim film about the nuclear apocalypse but he does a good job.  The sight of him losing both his teeth and his hair carries a punch precisely because he is reliably goofy Steve Guttenberg.

If the film has a star, it’s probably Jason Robards, the doctor who witnesses the initial blast from the safety of his car and then treats the dying in Lawrence, Kansas.  He does so, despite the fact that he doesn’t know if his wife, son, and daughter are even still alive.  He continues to do so until he also falls ill with radiation poisoning.  Knowing that he’s dying, he heads home just to discover that there is no home to return to.

Home is reccuring theme throughout The Day After.  Everyone wants to return to their home but everyone’s home has been wiped out.  “This is my home,” Jim Dahlberg (John Cullum) tries to explain before he’s attacked by a group of feral nomads.  Home no longer exists and trying to pretend like life can go back to the way it once was is an often fatal mistake.

Real happy film, right?  Yeah, this isn’t exactly a film that you watch for fun.  I have to admit that I made a joke about how I wouldn’t want to die while wearing the unfortunate blue jumpsuit that Jason Robards’s daughter chooses to wear on the day of the nuclear attack and I felt guilty immediately.  (Well, not that guilty.  Seriously, it was a terrible fashion choice.)  The Day After is a film that gives audiences zero hope by design.  It was made at a time when it was generally assumed that nuclear was inevitable and it was designed to scare the Hell out of everyone watching.  And while I can’t attest to how audience may have reacted in 1983, I can say that, in 2020, it’s still a powerful and disturbing film.

“Is anybody there? Anybody at all?” Joe Huxley asks and by the end of the film, the answer doesn’t matter.  The damage has already been done.

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004, directed by Stephen Hopkins)


Peter Sellers was a brilliant actor and comedian while also being a childish and selfish human being who, because he was always performing, never really developed a personality of his own.

That’s the argument made by The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, which stars Geoffrey Rush as Sellers.  The film follows Sellers from his success with The Goon Show to his subsequent collaborations with Stanley Kubrick (Stanley Tucci) and Blake Edwards (John Lithgow).  Sellers becomes an international star but remains a deeply unhappy person, cheating on his wives, emotionally abusing his son, and being difficult on set.  The film makes the argument that that the only person that Sellers truly loved was his doting mother (played by Miriam Margoyles) and that, having been born into a show business family, performing was the only thing that he was capable of doing.  Even the few times when he’s shown to be a decent father, husband, or friend, it’s suggested that he’s just acting the role.  Rush plays Sellers as being someone who is incapable of understanding how other people think so, whenever he has to interact with them, he simply imitates what he’s seen others do.  Just look at the scene where he attempts to flirt with Sofia Loren by grinning up at her like a character in a romantic comedy.

The problem with a film like this is that, because he’s portrayed as being so selfish and immature, it’s hard to make Peter Sellers into a character that you would want to spend any time with.  The narrative goes from one Sellers tantrum to another.  Stephen Hopkins livens things up by including fantasy sequences where Sellers is taunted by some of his best-known characters, driving home the point that there wasn’t much to Sellers beyond the characters that he played and reminding us of both Sellers’s talent and Geoffrey Rush’s as well.  There are also frequent monologues from Rush, dressed up like the other characters in the movie and discussing their relationship with Peter Sellers.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Rush does a good job playing Stanley Tucci playing Stanly Kubrick but when he’s made up to look like Miriam Margoyles, the conceit gets too ridiculous to work.

The main reason to see the film is for the performances, especially Emily Watson as Sellers’s first wife and Stephen Fry as Sellers’s “spiritual advisor.”  Stanley Tucci is an inscrutably brilliant Stanley Kubrick while John Lithgow is a hyperactive and crass Blake Edwards.  Finally, Geoffrey Rush is a marvel as Peter Sellers.  Rush has a difficult job, making an extremely unlikable character compelling but he succeeds despite not always being helped by the film’s script or direction.

Like the man it portrayed, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is flawed but filled with enough talent to watchable.

 

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: All That Jazz (dir by Bob Fosse)


“Bye bye life….

Bye bye happiness….

Hello loneliness….

I think I’m going to die….”

So sings Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) at the end of the 1979 film, All That Jazz.  And he’s right!  It’s hardly a spoiler to tell you that All That Jazz ends with Joe Gideon in a body bag.  It’s not just that Gideon spends a good deal of the film flirting with the Angel of the Death (Jessica Lange).  It’s also that, by the time the film ends, we’ve spent a little over two hours watching Joe engage in non-stop self-destruction.  Joe is a director and a choreographer who is so in love with both death and show business that his greatest triumph comes from choreographing his own death.

Joe wakes up every morning, pops a handful of pills, stares at himself in the mirror and says, “It’s showtime!”  He spends his day choreographing a Broadway play.  He spends his nights editing his latest film, a biopic about Lenny Bruce called The Stand-Up.  He’s particularly obsessed with a long monologue that Lenny (played by Cliff Gorman) delivers about the inevitability of death.  When he’s not choreographing or editing, he’s smoking, drinking, and cheating on his girlfriend (Ann Reinking).  It’s obvious that he’s still in love with his ex-wife (Leland Palmer) and that she loves him too but she’s also too smart to allow herself to get fully sucked back into his self-destructive orbit.  He loves his daughter (Erzsébet Földi) and yet still ignores her when she begs him not to die.

Joe and the Angel of Death

When Joe has a heart attack and ends up in the hospital, he doesn’t change his behavior.  Instead, he and the Angel of Death take a look back at his youth, which was spent hanging out in strip clubs and desperately trying to become a star.  Joe Gideon, we see, has always know that he’s going to die early so he’s pushed himself to accomplish everything that he can in what little time he has.

As a result of his drive and his refusal to love anyone but himself, Gideon is widely recognized as being an artistic genius.  However, as O’Connor Flood (Ben Vereen, essentially playing Sammy Davis, Jr.) puts it, “This cat allowed himself to be adored, but not loved. And his success in show business was matched by failure in his personal relationship bag, now – that’s where he really bombed. And he came to believe that show business, work, love, his whole life, even himself and all that jazz, was bullshit. He became numero uno game player – uh, to the point where he didn’t know where the games ended, and the reality began. Like, for this cat, the only reality – is death, man. Ladies and gentlemen, let me lay on you a so-so entertainer, not much of a humanitarian, and this cat was never nobody’s friend. In his final appearance on the great stage of life – uh, you can applaud if you want to – Mr. Joe Gideon!”

Now, of course, Connor doesn’t really say all that.  Gideon just imagines Connor saying that before the two of them launch into the film’s final musical number, Bye Bye Life.  It should be a totally depressing moment but actually, it’s exhilarating to watch.  It’s totally over-the-top, self-indulgent, and equally parts sincere and cynical.  It’s a Bob Fosse production all the way and, as a result, All that Jazz is probably about as fun as a movie about the death of a pathological narcissist can be.  This is a film that will not only leave you thinking about mortality but it will also make you dance.

All That Jazz was Bob Fosse’s next-to-last film (he followed it up with the even darker Star 80) and it’s also his most openly autobiography.  Roy Scheider may be playing Joe Gideon but he’s made-up to look exactly like Bob Fosse.  Like Joe Gideon, Bob Fosse had a heart attack while trying to direct a Broadway show and a film at the same time.  Gideon’s girlfriend is played by Fosse’s real-life girlfriend.  The character of Gideon’s ex-wife is clearly meant to be a stand-in for Gwen Verdon, Fosse’s real-life ex-wife.  When the film’s venal Broadway producers make plans to replace the incapacitated Gideon, Fosse is obviously getting back at some of the producers that he had to deal with while putting together Chicago.  It’s a confessional film, one in which Fosse admits to his faults while also reminding you of his talent.  Thank God for that talent, too.  All that Jazz is self-indulgent but you simply can’t look away.

It helps that Gideon is played by Roy Scheider.  Originally, Scheider’s Jaws co-star Richard Dreyfuss was cast in the role but he left during rehearsals.  Dreyfuss, talented actor that he was, would have been all-wrong for the role of Gideon.  One can imagine a hyperactive Dreyfuss playing Gideon but one can’t imagine actually feeling much sympathy for him.  Scheider, on the other hand, brings a world-weary self-awareness to the role.  He plays Gideon as a man who loves his talent but who hates himself.  Scheider’s Joe Gideon is under no illusions about who he is or how people feel about him.  When Fosse’s own instincts threatens to make the film unbearably pretentious, Scheider’s down-to-Earth screen presence keeps things grounded.

I love All That Jazz.  (Admittedly, a good deal of that love is probably connected to my own dance background.  I’ve known my share of aspiring Joe Gideons, even if none of them had his — or Bob Fosse’s — talent or drive.)  It’s not for everyone, of course.  Any musical that features actual footage of open heart surgery is going to have its detractors.  For the record, Stanley Kubrick called All That Jazz “the best film I think I’ve ever seen.”  It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and it was nominated for Best Picture, though it ultimately lost to the far more conventional Kramer vs. Kramer.

All that Jazz would be the last of Fosse’s film to receive a best picture nomination.  (Fosse directed five features.  3 of them were nominated for Best Picture, with the other two being Cabaret and Lenny.)  8 years after filming his cinematic doppelganger dying during heart surgery, Fosse would die of a heart attack.  Gwen Verdon was at his side.

Catching Up With The Films of 2019: Late Night (dir by Nisha Ganatra)


Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) has just gotten a new job.  A struggling comedienne who, up until now, has been forced to test out her best material on her coworkers at a chemical plant, Molly is hired to join the writing staff of late night talk show host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson).  Even though Molly knows that she was largely hired so that the show could claim to have a diverse writing staff (all of the other writers are white males), she is still thrilled to be working for Katherine.  Why wouldn’t she be?  Katherine is a notoriously difficult boss who can’t even be bothered to learn the names of most of the people working for her but Katherine is also a legend, one of the first women to ever host her own late night talk show.

Of course, all legends have to come to an end and Katherine’s career as a late night talk show host appears to be in its final days.  Katherine’s rating have been in a steep decline for several years and her nonthreatening monologues and habit of booking guests like Doris Kearns Goodwin are not doing much to reverse the trend.  Safely hidden away in her mansion and continually worried about the health of her Parkinson’s-stricken husband, Walter (John Lithgrow), Katherine has grown out of touch.  Making matters even worse, the president of the network (played by Mindy Kaling’s Office co-star, Amy Ryan) hates Katherine and is eager to replace her with an obnoxious, Dane Cook-style comedian named Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz).

Molly’s new job is a struggle at first.  The other writers dismiss Molly as merely being a “diversity hire” while Katherine often seems to be put off by Molly’s cheerful earnestness.  Over time, Molly proves herself and soon, she’s inspiring Katherine to refuse to leave her show without a fight.  Gone are bland monologues and boring presidential historians, replaced by politically charged humor and YouTube stars.

Late Night, as you may remember, was a huge hit at Sundance back in January.  Amazon Studios paid 13 million for the distribution rights.  The film was released in June to generally positive reviews and …. well, it made very little money.  Despite an extensive advertising campaign and a deluge of think pieces that literally begged audiences to see the film, Late Night flopped at the box office and it is estimated that, taking into account the film’s ad campaign, Amazon lost about 40 million dollars on the film.

Why wasn’t Late Night a bigger success at the box office?  At the time, the popular answer was misogyny.  While one should never discount that, I think that the film’s failure had more to do with the fact that the ad campaign made Late Night look more like the latest Netflix series than an actual cinematic experience.  Like a lot of movies about TV, Late Night was a film that seemed like it could wait for television.  I mean, I am the film’s target audience and even I waited to watch the film on Prime.

As for the film itself, it’s flawed but likable.  Along with co-starring in the film, Mindy Kaling wrote the script and the dialogue is consistently witty, even if the plot occasionally struggles to keep up.  At its best, this is a fun movie to listen to.  Visually, the film’s a bit flat and there’s a big third act development that feels a bit forced but, for the most part, the film works.  Not surprisingly, Emma Thompson is perfectly cast as Katherine and she delivers her razor sharp lines with the right mix of scorn and pathos.  Mindy Kaling effortlessly holds her own opposite Thompson and even John Lithgow, who can usually be counted upon to chew every piece of scenery available to him, is effective in his small but important role.  In the end, it’s kind of a sweet film and there’s something touchingly naive about the film’s steadfast belief that a late night talk show can actually be worth all the trouble.

Late Night is available on Prime so check it out.

 

Lisa’s Early Oscar Nominations for August


It’s the time of the month again!

It’s time for me to share my early Oscar predictions!  With the Telluride and Venice Film Festivals currently underway, the Oscar picture does seem to be a little bit less murky.  But then again, we should remember that appearances can be deceiving.  Last year, at this time, most people were still expecting a First Man vs. Beale Street vs. A Star is Born Oscar race.

These predictions below take into account the reports that have been coming back from Telluride and Venice.  If you want to see how my thinking has evolved over the year, be sure to check out my predictions from January, February, March, April, May, June, and July!

And now, for what their worth, here are my predictions for August:

Best Picture

1917

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

The Farewell

Ford v Ferrari

Harriet

A Hidden Life

The Irishman

Little Women

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Waves

Best Director

Kasi Lemmons for Harriet

Terrence Malick for A HIdden Life

Sam Mendes for 1917

Trey Edward Shults for Waves

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Best Actor

Antonio Banderas in Pain & Glory

Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Best Actress

Awkwafina in The Farewell

Cynthia Erivo in Harriet

Saoirse Ronan in Little Women

Alfre Woodard in Clemency

Renee Zellweger in Judy

Best Supporting Actor

Sterling K. Brown in Waves

Willem DaFoe in The Lighthouse

Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes

John Lithgow in Bombshell

Brad Pitt in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz in Pain & Glory

Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit

Nicole Kidman in The Goldfinch

Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Zao Shuzhen in The Farewell

Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions For July


It’s that time of the month, again!

(No, not that time!)

It’s time for me to present my predictions for who and what will be nominated for the Academy Awards next January!  Now that we’re nearly done with the summer, the Oscar picture is becoming a bit more clear.  For instance, I do think that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is going to be a player, if just because it’s about actors and the Actors Branch is the biggest voting bloc in the Academy.  (How do you think Birdman and Argo managed to win?)  And the trailer for The Irishman makes it look like the type of Scorsese film that often gets nominated.

Still, it’s too early to say anything for sure.  Last year, for instance, Green Book didn’t really become a player until fairly late in the season.  In fact, at this time last year, everyone still thought A Star Is Born was going to win everything.

So, with all that in mind, here are my predictions for July.  Be sure to also check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, and June!

Best Picture

1917

The Aeronauts

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Fair and Balanced

Harriet

The Irishman

JoJo Rabbit

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Pain & Glory

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Best Director

Pedro Almodovar for Pain & Glory

Kasi Lemmons for Harriet

Sam Mendes for 1917

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Actor

Antonio Banderas in Pain & Glory

Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

John Lithgow in Fair and Balanced

Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go Bernadette?

Cynthia Erivo in Harriet

Saoirse Ronan in Little Women

Alfre Woodard in Clemency

Rene Zellweger in Judy

Best Supporting Actor

Shia LaBeouf in The Peanut Butter Falcon

Malcolm McDowell in Fair and Balanced

Brad Pitt in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes

Taika Waititi in JoJo Rabbit

Best Supporting Actress

Scarlett Johansson in JoJo Rabbit

Nicole Kidman in The Goldfinch

Janelle Monae in Harriet

Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Meryl Streep in Little Women

Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions For June


We’re at the halfway mark as far as 2019 in concerned, which means that the Oscar race is about to start getting a lot more clear.  Soon, instead of random guesses, we’ll be making educated guesses.  Then again, it is important to remember that — at this time last year — no one thought Bohemian Rhapsody would score a best picture nomination.  In fact, only a few people have ever heard about Green Book.

So, as always, take my monthly predictions with a grain of salt.  They’re based on a combination what I’m hearing (and reading) from other film people and my own instincts (for whatever their worth).  To be honest, I suppose that these predictions reflect my own prejudices as well.  I’d love to see Terrence Malick honored, for instance.  I also think that it’s a crime that Amy Adams hasn’t ever won an Oscar so I have her listed, even though I fear she might be miscast as the lead in The Woman In The Window.  At the same time, I’m bored with Meryl Streep getting nominated just for showing up so I left her out of my predictions, even though she has two high-profile films coming out later this year.

To see how my thinking has (or hasn’t) evolved, check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, and May!

And now, here are the predictions!

Best Picture

1917

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood

Cats

Fair and Balanced

Harriet

A Hidden Life

The Irishman

JoJo Rabbit

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Best Director

Kasi Lemmons for Harriet

Terrence Malick for A Hidden Life

Sam Mendes for 1917

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Actor

Antonio Banderas in Pain & Glory

Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon On A Time In Hollywood

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name

John Lithgow in Fair and Balanced

Best Actress

Amy Adams in The Woman in the Window

Cynthia Erivo in Harriet

Saoirse Ronan in Little Women

Jodie Turner-Smith in Queen & Slim

Alfre Woodard in Clemency

Best Supporting Actor

Shia LaBeouf in The Peanut Butter Falcon

Malcolm McDowell in Fair & Balanced

Ian McKellen in Cats

Sam Neill in Blackbird

Brad Pitt in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Annette Bening in The Report

Laura Dern in Little Women

Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit

Nicole Kidman in The Goldfinch

Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood