Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Raging Bull (dir by Martin Scorsese)


This is not my favorite Martin Scorsese film.

I feel like I have to make that clear from the start because, for many people, this is their favorite Scorsese film.  Though it may have gotten mixed reviews when it was first released, it is now regularly described as being the high point of Scorsese’s fabled collaboration with Robert De Niro.  This was also the first film that Scorsese made with not only Joe Pesci but at also Frank Vincent as well.  (In fact, the whole scene in Goodfellas where Pesci and De Niro nearly stomp Vincent to death is a bit of an homage to a scene in Raging Bull.  Of course, Vincent got his revenge on Pesci in Casino.)  This film earned Martin Scorsese his first Oscar nomination for best director and it’s regularly cited as being one of the greatest film ever made.

Even more importantly, 1980’s Raging Bull has been described — by none other than the director himself — as the film that saved Martin Scorsese’s life.  Like a lot of his contemporaries, Scorsese got hooked on cocaine during the 70s.  He even nearly died of an overdose.  De Niro, who has been on Scorsese to direct Raging Bull for years, visited him in the hospital, brought him the script, told him to clean up his act, and make the film.  When Scorsese started to work on the film, he assumed it would be his last.  Whether Scorsese thought he would be dead or if he just thought he’d retire, I’m not sure.  Still, if Raging Bull had not rejuvenated Scorsese’s love of cinema, he wouldn’t have subsequently directed some of the greatest films ever made.  So, regardless of anything else, we have to be thankful that De Niro kept pushing Scorsese to direct Raging Bull.

The film itself is a biopic of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a brutal boxer who destroys opponents in the ring while destroying everyone who loves him outside of the ring.  He’s the type of guy who takes joy in destroying one opponent’s face just because his wife, Vicki (Cathy Moriarty), said that the guy was handsome.  When he’s forced to take a dive in order to win a title shot, he sobs in the locker room and it’s as close to being sympathetic as Jake gets.  The rest of the movie, he spends his time terrorizing his wife and taking out his frustrations on his loyal brother, Joey (Joe Pesci).

Most boxing films tend to present boxers as being lovable lugs, guys who might not be too smart but who have found the one thing that they’re good at.  (Think of the pre-Creed Rocky films.)  In Raging Bull, there’s nothing lovable about Jake.  He’s an animal, an angry man who fights because that’ the only way that he knows how to relate to the world.  He’s the type of guy who spends all of his time looking for an excuse to get mad and throw a punch.  The most dangerous thing you can do is make a joke in the presence of Jake LaMotta because, as portrayed in this film, he’s such an idiot that his reaction will always be to see it as a provocation.  From beginning to end, he’s a loathsome figure but the young De Niro was such a charismatic actor that you keep watching because — much like Vicki — you keep hoping that you’ll see some glimmer of humanity and some chance of redemption.

Reportedly, Scorsese and De Niro feel that the end of Raging Bull does provide Jake with some redemption.  Having lost everyone that ever loved him, an overweight Jake runs a sleazy nightclub and makes a fool of himself reciting dramatic monologues.  The production actually shut down so that De Niro could overeat and gain all the extra weight and it is shocking to see him go from being a handsome, athletic man to a fat slob whose shirt can’t even cover his belly.  No longer a boxer, Jake is now a faded D-list celebrity.  Now that he can’t fight and he can’t make money for the mob and the gamblers, no one cares about him.  That’s unfortunate for Jake but I have to say that I’ve never seen much redemption in Jake’s fate.  If anything, I was just happy that Vicki finally got away from him.

Raging Bull is a film that’s easier to admire than to actually like.  It’s impossible not to appreciate the black-and-white cinematography or the performances of De Niro, Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty.  As directed by Scorsese, the boxing scenes are horrifying brutal, to the extent that you find yourself wondering how anyone could enjoy the sport.  (When a spray of Jake’s blood hits the people in the first row, you can’t help but think that they’re all getting what they deserved.)  That said, the film’s never been a favorite of mine because, as well done as it is, Jake LaMotta never seems like he’s worth spending two hours with.

Obviously, a lot of people disagree with me on that.  Raging Bull received 8 Oscar nominations.  Robert De Niro won Best Actor.  Raging Bull, itself, lost Best Picture to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Transformers: The Last Knight (dir by Michael Bay)


So, I’m just going to be honest here.

I did watch Transformers: The Last Knight.  I didn’t see it at the theaters, of course.  To date, I’ve only seen one Transformers movie on the big screen.  It was the fourth one and not only did I get motion sick but when I left the theater, I discovered that I was having trouble hearing.  Even though I watched Transformers: The Last Knight on a small screen, I still made sure to take some Dramamine beforehand.  That may have been a mistake because this movie somehow drags things out for 2 hours and 30 minutes.  That’s a lot of time to spend trying to stay awake while watching something that doesn’t even try to make sense.

So, yes, I did watch Transformers: The Last Knight but I’m not really sure what I watched.  I know that there was a lot of camera movement.  There was a lot of stuff blowing up.  Robots would fly into space.  Robots would return to Earth.  Robots turned into cars.  All of the robots spoke in these gravelly voices and half the time, I couldn’t really understand what they were saying.  Mark Wahlberg was around and he spent the entire movie with this kind of confused look on his face.  His Boston accent really came out whenever he had to deliver his dialogue.  One thing I’ve noticed about Wahlberg is that the less he cares about a movie, the more likely he is to go full Boston.  To be honest, if I just closed my eyes and listened to Wahlberg’s accent and tuned out all of the explosions and robot talk, I probably would have thought I was watching Manchester By The Sea.

Anthony Hopkins was also in the movie, playing a character who might as well have just been named “Esteemed British Person.”  It’s always fun to see Hopkins in a bad movie, just because he knows that his deserved reputation for being a great actor isn’t going to suffer no matter how much crap he appears in.  He always goes through these movies with a slightly bemused smirk on his face.  It’s almost as if he’s looking out at the audience and saying, “Laugh all you want.  I’ll still kick anyone’s ass when it comes to Shakespeare…”  Anyway, Hopkins is mostly around so that he can reveal that the Transformers have been on Earth since time began.  Why, they even saved King Arthur!

The plot has to do with a powerful staff that can be used to bring life back to the Transformers’s home planet.  The problem is that using the staff will also destroy all life on Earth or something like that.  So, of course, the good Transformers are trying to save Earth and the bad Transformers are like, “Fuck Earth, let’s blow stuff up.”  Or something like that.  The main good Transformer — Optimus Prime, I guess — gets brainwashed into becoming an evil Transformer.  Of course, since Anthony Hopkins is in the movie, the majority of the film takes place in England and that can only mean a trip to Stonehenge!

And…

Look, I’ve exhausted myself.  I’m not going to say that Transformers: The Last Knight is a terrible movie because, obviously, someone out there loves this stuff.  I mean, they’ve made five of these movies so someone has to be looking forward to them.  They’re not for me, though.

Some day, I hope Micheal Bay directs a Fifty Shades of Grey movie.  I look forward to watching Christian and Ana discuss consent while the world explodes behind them.

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

A Movie A Day #198: Men of Respect (1990, directed by William Reilly)


That Bill Shakespeare really gets around.

Men of Respect comes to us disguised as a gangster movie but it is actually a modern-day version of MacBeth.  Mike Battaglia (John Turturro) is one of Charlie D’Amico’s (Rod Steiger) top lieutenants but he is upset because D’Amico has announced that his successor will be Bankie Como (Dennis Farina).  When Mike stumbles across a fortune teller, he is told that not only will he soon be in charge of the D’Amico crime family but that he will hold the position until the stars fall from the sky and that he will never be harmed by a “man of woman born.”  At the instigation of his ambitious wife, Ruthie Battaglia (played by Turturro’s real-life wife, Katherine Borowitz), Mike murders Charlie, Bankie, and everyone else who is standing in his way.  Even as D’Amico’s son (Stanley Tucci) starts to recruit soldiers for an all out war, Mike remains confident.  Even when one of this soldiers sees a fireworks show and says, “Jeez, it looks like stars from falling from the sky,” Mike remains cocky.  When his wife starts to complain that she can not get the blood stains (“the spot”) out of the linen, Mike is not concerned.  Why not?  “All these guys were born of a woman,” Mike says, “they can’t do shit to me.”

Turning MacBeth (or any of Shakespeare’s tragedies) into a Mafia film is not a bad idea but Men of Respect‘s attempt to translate Shakespeare’s language to 20th century gangster talk leads to some memorably awkward line readings from an otherwise talented cast.  By the time Matt Duffy (Peter Boyle) announced, in his Noo Yawk accent, that he was delivered via caesarean section, I could not stop laughing.  Even the scenes of gangland mayhem feel like second-rate Scorsese.  The idea behind the film is intriguing and there are a lot of recognizable faces in the cast but Men of Respect gets bogged down as both a Shakespearean adaptation and a gangster film.

The SAG Nominations are here and … Hello there, Captain Fantastic!


captain-fantasticEarlier the year, I choose not to see Captain Fantastic.  Every bit of advertising that I saw for it led me to believe that Captain Fantastic was basically just Wes Anderson-lite and, as we all know, only Wes Anderson can successfully duplicate Wes Anderson.

Well, I think I may have made a mistake because Viggo Mortensen is definitely in the hunt for best actor.  Though most of the precursor awards (so far) have gone to Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea, Mortensen still seems like a likely nominee.

Just consider this: he got a SAG nomination!  And so did Captain Fantastic, itself!  It was nominated for best ensemble, which is the SAG equivalent of best picture…

Actually, maybe you shouldn’t spend too much time fixating on that.  People like me always talk about how the SAG awards are an obvious precursor for the Oscars.  Our logic is that the Actor’s Branch is the largest voting bloc in the Academy and the members of the Actor’s Branch are among those who also vote for the SAG awards.

Of course, we always forget that the majority of SAG members are themselves not a part of the Academy.  So, while enough members of SAG may have liked Captain Fantastic for it to get an unexpected ensemble nomination, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those voters are also members of the Academy.

I mean, let’s consider what happened last year.  Beasts of No Nation picked up an ensemble nomination.   So did Straight Outta Compton.  So did Trumbo.  None of those films proved to be an Oscar powerhouse.  In fact, Beasts of No Nation received a grand total of zero Oscar nominations.

So, let’s put it like this — it’s a good sign for a film or a performer to get a SAG nomination.  But there’s still no guarantee that it will translate into Oscar recognition. Captain Fantastic may have been nominated and La La Land was snubbed (for ensemble).  But I imagine that the reverse will happen when the Oscar noms are announced in January.

With all that in mind, here are the SAG nominations!

FILM

Best Film Ensemble
“Captain Fantastic”
“Fences”
“Hidden Figures”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Best Actress
Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Stunt Ensemble
“Captain America: Civil War”
“Doctor Strange”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Jason Bourne”
“Nocturnal Animals”

TV

Best Comedy Ensemble
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Black-ish”
“Modern Family”
“Orange is the New Black”
“Veep”

Best Comedy Actor
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Titus Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

Best Comedy Actress
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Jane Fonda, “Grace & Frankie”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace & Frankie”

Best Drama Ensemble
“The Crown”
“Downton Abbey”
“Game of Thrones”
“Stranger Things”
“Westworld”

Best Drama Actor
Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

Best Drama Actress
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

Best Movie/Miniseries Actor
Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Sterling K. Brown, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Bryan Cranston, “All The Way”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”
Courtney B Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”

Best Movie/Miniseries Actress
Bryce Dallas Howard, “Black Mirror”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
Audra McDonald, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”
Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Kerry Washington, “Confirmation”

Best Stunt Ensemble
“Game of Thrones”
“Daredevil”
“Luke Cage”
“The Walking Dead”
“Westworld”

Quick Review: Exodus: Gods & Kings (dir. by Ridley Scott)


Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-Bale-and-EdgertonOkay, let’s face it.

After Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments”, it’s pretty hard to come up with another story about Moses that comes as close to it. I’ll admit I have a personal love for 1998’s The Prince of Egypt.  Ridley Scott makes a great attempt in his new film “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, but it comes off feeling like the result of having one person relay a story to you through 3 other individuals. By the time the story reaches you, it’s no longer the same tale.

This is a hard review to write with regards to avoid spilling details.

Exodus follows the story of brothers Moses (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Trilogy) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton – The Thing, The Great Gatsby), sons to the great Pharaoh of Egypt (John Turturro). Both brothers are seasoned warriors, but with the passing of Pharaoh, a truth is brought to light that forces Moses into exile. During his time away, he finds God and makes it his mission to free his people. Ramses refuses to listen to reason, and some drastic measures are taken to help convince him.

That sounds great on the surface, but it’s the execution that’s flawed. And this is Ridley Scott of all people. I loved Kingdom of Heaven and moderately enjoyed Robin Hood, but I just didn’t completely feel like I was invested in this film.

Biblical tales are tricky. Stick too close to the source material and you can have a heavy-handed story that says what it should, but could bore some audiences. Take too many liberties, and you can have audiences excited, but leave some upset or shocked at what’s presented (like with Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ). Here, the liberties are taken to a place where most of the movie doesn’t even require Moses to be in it. The argument could be made that the other films did this too – that the acts occurred with Moses as a harbinger of what was to come. Exodus makes it more of a difference of opinion on how to handle Ramses. Moses elects for a more battle hardened strategy – let the people fight for themselves. This left me wondering where they found the time and freedom away from the Egyptian Soldiers to learn what they did.

On the flip side of the coin, God decides to handle it Their own way. This leaves our Moses in a position where he’s at odds with the Almighty, a sharp contrast to the Moses that followed the Word to the letter. To an audience that can’t help but make comparisons, it’s way off, though it’s supported by the theme that one shouldn’t say things just to placate others and that they should follow what they believe. What came before basically said..”Okay, I don’t know what your plan is, but you’ve shown me your wonders, I believe in you and you’ll guide me right.” Exodus says..”Okay, you’ve got a plan I’m not too cool with, so…uh…just give me a chance to save / warn the people before your wrath comes down.”

There were four writers on board for Exodus. Both Adam Cooper and Bill Collage worked together on Brett Ratner’s “Tower Heist” and Jeffrey Caine is known for “The Constant Gardner” and “Goldeneye”. Steven Zallian (Moneyball, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, American Gangster) was the fourth. I’m thinking with all those fingers in the pie, the movie was bound to go in a different direction. Again, it’s not terrible, just different.

The casting for Exodus is okay. The strongest performances go to both Bale and Edgerton, and I’ll state here that I had more fun watching Edgerton on screen than I did with Bale. I haven’t seen him play the villain like this since The Guardians of Ga’Hoole and he does a decent job here. Bale does well, but it’s like watching Batman again. Not saying he’s typecast because of it, but seeing Christian Bale yell is almost expected in a movie these days. Reunited with her Aliens director, Sigourney Weaver has about 10 to 15 minutes total of screen time in the film, and Ben Kingsley might have the same amount. Aaron Paul spends most of his time making that stare he does when he see something incredible. There’s not a lot for any of these actors to chew on, but they try their best with it.  Both Indira Varma (Game of Thrones) and Ewan Bremer (Jack the Giant Slayer, Trainspotting) are on hand as Ramses’ advisors. They don’t really count too much in all this.

Visually, the effects for the Plagues are very good. I honestly think those segments were the best in the entire film. The rest, I’m not so sure. The Red Sea sequence, when it happens, it done in such a way that the mysticism is just about sucked out of it. I’m sitting there hoping for a big reveal and found myself asking if that was it. Perhaps it was the angle where I was sitting or the theatre I saw it in, but it wasn’t as clear as it could be. It seemed like I was watching a 3D version of the film (I went for the regular one). The fight sequences were also done very well, many of which were similar to Ridley’s Robin Hood or Gladiator. Also note that at 154 minutes, it’s a long film. I pulled my iPod Nano out of my pocket twice to check the time.

As for the kid factor, I would say that teens and older can see this. There’s quite a bit of violence early on, along with some bloodshed, but nothing too extreme. In terms of sexual situations, there really aren’t any.

I think overall, my expectations for what this could be were larger than the final product. Had I never known of any film prior to this, Exodus would have more of an impact for me. As it stands, I’d watch it again, but probably when it hits Cable.

Trailer: Exodus: Gods and Kings (Final)


Exodus Banner

Ridley Scott has been hit-or-miss (mostly misses) of late and response to the trailers and news about Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn’t seem to be helping.

Yet, despite all the indifference to Scott’s upcoming Biblical epic (and calls of whitewashing) I am quite intrigued about this take on the Book of Exodus. Will it have the pageantry of Demille’s The Ten Commandments (both of them)? Or will it be another CGI-overload? Or will it be a piece of entertaining pulp a la Gladiator? I guess we will find out this Holiday season.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is set for a December 12, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Exodus: Gods and Kings (Official)


Exodus Banner

Ridley Scott has been instrumental in bringing back the sword-and-sandal epic when he unleashed Gladiator to audiences everywhere in the summer of 2000. Since then he has made many films which range from black comedy to historical epic right up to horror and a war film.

With Exodus: God and Kings, Scott returns to the sword-and-sandal epic but now with a heavy dose of the Biblical as he adapts the Old Testament Book of Exodus. A film working on the same scope and scale as Cecil B. Demille The Ten Commandments released in 1956, this latest adaptation of Moses, Ramses and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt looks to put the epic back in 2014.

With each passing year, more and more of Scott’s films have taken on the unavoidable sheen of the CGI as his visuals attempt to recreate time and places of Earth’s past. For some, Scott’s been more miss than hit with the last couple films yet they all remain visual feasts and Exodus: Gods and Kings looks to continue that streak. Whether the film will be good storytelling will be something that’s still to be decided.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is set for a December 12, 2014 release date.

44 Days of Paranoia #13: Quiz Show (dir by Robert Redford)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, I want to take a look at a film that I recently caught on cable — 1994’s Quiz Show.

Directed by Robert Redford and based on a true story, Quiz Show was nominated for the Academy Award for best picture but lost to Forrest Gump.  Among those of us who obsess over Oscar history, Quiz Show is often overshadowed by not only Forrest Gump but two of the other nominees as well, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption.  When compared to Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show certainly feels old-fashioned.  At the same time, it’s not quite as much of a sentimental crowd-pleaser as Gump or Shawshank.  Perhaps for those reasons, Quiz Show never gets quite as much attention as some other films that have been nominated for best picture.  However, taking all of that into consideration, Quiz Show is still one of the best films of the 90s.

Quiz Show takes us back to the 1950s.  The most popular show on television is 21, a game show in which two contestants answer questions, win money, and try to be the first to score 21 points.  The American public believes that all of the questions asked on 21 are locked away in a bank vault until it’s time for the show.  What they don’t know is that the show’s producers have instead been rigging the show, giving the answers to contestants who they feel will be good for ratings.

When Quiz Show begins, nerdy Herbie Stempel (John Turturro) has been the champion for several weeks.  However, both the show’s producers and sponsors feel that the untelegenic Herbie has peaked.  Hence, the handsome and charismatic Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) is brought on the show and Herbie is ordered to lose to him.  Reluctantly, Herbie does so.

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Charles is initially reluctant to cheat but, as he continues to win, he finds himself becoming addicted to the fame.  Charles is the son of the prominent academic Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) and his success on television finally gives him a chance to escape from his father’s shadow.  Indeed, the film’s subtle and nuanced portrait of Charles and Mark’s loving but competetive relationship is one of the film’s greatest strengths.

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Herbie, however, is bitter over having to lose and has subsequently gambled away all of his winnings.  When 21′s producer (David Paymer) refuses to help Herbie get on another TV show, Herbie reacts by going to the New York County district attorney and publicly charging 21 as being fixed.  Though the grand jury dismisses Herbie as being obviously mentally unbalanced, his charges come to the attention of a congressional investigator, Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow).

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Goodwin launches his own investigation into 21 and discovers that the show is fixed.  (As the ambitious Goodwin puts it, he wants to “put television on trial.”)  Along the way, he also meets and befriends Charles Van Doren and finds himself torn between his desire to expose the show and to protect Charles from the bad publicity.  Again, the film is to be applauded for the subtle way that it uses Goodwin’s investigation of both Charles and Herbie as a way to explore issues of both class resentment and class envy.  Goodwin may have come from the same ethnic background of Herbie but it quickly becomes obvious that Goodwin has more sympathy for the genteel (and very WASPy) world that produced Charles Van Doren.  When Goodwin tries to justify protecting Charles, his wife (played by Mira Sorvino) responds by calling him “the Uncle Tom of the Jews” and it’s hard not to feel that she has a point.

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While I greatly enjoyed Quiz Show, I do have to say that, on one major point, the film fails.  Try as he might, director Redford never convinces us that a rigged game show is really as big of a crime as he seems to be believe it to be.  Perhaps in the 1950s, people were still innocent enough to be shocked at the idea of television reality being fake but for cynical contemporary viewers, it’s hard not to feel that the “scandal” was more about Richard Goodwin’s ambition and less about any sort of ethical or legal issue.  Towards the end of the film, one character suggests that television will never be truly honest unless the government steps in to regulate it.  “What?” I yelled back at the TV.

Seriously, it seemed like a bit of an overreaction.

As I watched Quiz Show, I found it hard not to think about the reality shows that I love.  For instance, I know that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are largely staged.  I know that the previous season of Big Brother was largely set up so that Amanda could win.  (And, believe me, if Amanda hadn’t sabotaged her chances by turning out to be a mentally unstable racist bully, she would have won and she would probably would have been invited back for the next all-stars season.)  I know that shows like Storage Wars and Dance Moms are “unscripted” in name only.  I know that reality shows aren’t real but my attitude can basically be summed up in two words: “who cares?”  Perhaps I would be more outraged if I lived in the 50s which, to judge from both Quiz Show and a host of other movies, was apparently a much more innocent time.

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That said, I really enjoyed Quiz Show.  A lot of that is because I’m a history nerd and, therefore, I have a weakness for obsessively detailed period pieces.  But even beyond that, Quiz Show is a well-made, entertaining film that features three excellent lead performances and several strong supporting turns.  If you love to watch great actors playing great roles then Quiz Show is the film for you.  Rob Morrow lays his Boston accent on a bit thick but otherwise, he does a good job of suggesting both Goodwin’s ambition and the insecurities that lead him to desire Charles’s friendship even as he tries to expose him as a fraud.  John Turturro brings an odd — if manic — dignity to Herbie Stempel while Johann Carlo is well-cast as his wife.  Best of all, Ralph Fiennes makes Charles Van Doren into a sad, frustrating, and ultimately sympathetic character while Paul Scofield is the epitome of both paternal disappointment and love as his father.  The film is full of great supporting turns as well, with David Paymer and Hank Azaria perfectly cast as the show’s producers and Christopher McDonald playing the show’s host with the same smarmy charm that he brought to a similar role in the far different Requiem For A Dream.  Perhaps best of all, Martin Scorsese shows up as the owner of Geritol and gets to bark, “Queens is not New York!”

Even if Robert Redford doesn’t quite convince us that the quiz show scandal was as big a deal as he obviously believes it to be, Quiz Show is still an uncommonly intelligent film and one that deserves to rediscovered.

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Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading

Trailer: Fading Gigolo


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Directed by actor John Turturro, Fading Gigolo has recently been getting a lot of buzz.  Some people have even speculated that it might get Woody Allen an acting nomination to go along with all of the probable nominations for Blue Jasmine.  All I know is that Fading Gigolo sounds like a bit of an over descriptive title.