Cinemax Friday: City Limits (1984, directed by Aaron Lipstadt)


Fifteen years into the future, a plague has wiped out almost everyone legally old enough to drink and it has instead left behind a post-apocalyptic hellscape dominated by teenagers.  Tired of living in the boring desert, Lee (John Stockwell) hops on his motorcycle, puts on a skull mask, and drives to a nearby city.  He hopes to join the Clippers, one of the two gangs that is fighting for control of the city.  However, the Clippers aren’t as easy to join as Lee thought they would be.  As well, an evil corporation (led by Robby Benson of all people) is manipulating the two gangs as a part of a plan to take over the city and also the world.

City Limits is one of those films that would probably be totally forgotten if it hadn’t been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It’s a good episode but, unfortunately, it’s also led to City Limits getting a reputation for worse than it actually is.

City Limits is a dumb, low-budget movie that was made to capitalize on the success of films like Mad Max.  The plot is impossible to follow, too many scenes are shot in the middle of the night, and Robby Benson is somehow even less intimidating as the villain as you would expect him to be.  (All of Benson’s scenes take place in the same bare office and feature him sitting at a desk.  It probably took a day at most for Benson to do all of his scenes.)  Even with all that in mind, though, City Limits is a fun movie, especially if you can turn off your mind, just relax, and not worry about trying to make it all make sense.  John Stockwell is a likably goofy hero and, Benson aside, the film has got a surprisingly good supporting cast, including Rae Dawn Chong, Kim Cattrall, Tony Plana, Darrell Larson, and even Kane Hodder in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him type of role.  James Earl Jones wears a big fur coat and blows people up.  He also narrates the film, which automatically elevates everything that happens.  Some of the action scenes are exciting.  Fans of people shouting insults while riding motorcycles will find a lot to enjoy in City Limits.  And, finally, there are a few genuinely funny moments.  I loved that the gangs borrowed all of their plans for old comic books.

City Limits is stupid but entertaining, whether you’re watching it on your own or with Joel and the Bots.

 

Porky’s (1981, directed by Bob Clark)


Porky’s.

On the one hand, it’s a crude, juvenile, and raunchy sex comedy where a bunch of teenagers in 1960s Florida think that it’s a hoot and not at all problematic to spy on the girls shower and to hire a black man to scare all of their (white) friends.

On the other hand, it’s a heartfelt plea for tolerance where Tim (Cyril O’Reilly) finally stands up to his abusive father (Wayne Maunder) and makes friends with Brian Schwartz (Scott Colomby), who is apparently the only Jewish person living in Angel Beach, Florida.

What’s strange about Porky’s is that everyone knows it for being the template for almost every bad high school film that followed, with tons of nudity, jokes about sex, and characters with names like Pee Wee, Miss Honeywell, Cherry Forever, and Porky.  But, when you sit down and watch the movie, you discover that, for all the raunchiness, it actually devotes even more time to Brian Schwartz dealing with the local bigots than it does to any of the things that it’s known for.  Everyone remembers the shower scene but it’s obvious the film’s heart is with Brian and his attempts to make the world a better place.  Porky’s is a sex comedy with a conscience.

Porky’s is an episodic film about a group of teenage boys trying to get laid and also trying to get revenge on the owner of the local brothel.  There’s a lot of characters but I’d dare anyone to tell me the difference between Billy, Tommy, and Mickey.  I went through the entire movie thinking that Billy was Mickey until I turned on the subtitles and discovered who was who.  Porky’s has a reputation for being a terrible movie but it’s actually a pretty accurate depiction of the way that most men like to imagine how their high school years went.  It captures the atmosphere of good-spirited teenage hijinks if not the reality.

One of the interesting things about Porky’s is that Bob Clark went from directing this to directing A Christmas Story.  The innocence of A Christmas Story might seem like it has nothing in common with raunchiness of Porky’s but, actually, they’re both nostalgic films that are set in an idealized past.  (If you still think A Christmas Story has nothing in common with Porky’s, just remember that Ralphie didn’t actually say “fudge.”)  Of course, A Christmas Story struggled at the box office and only became a hit when it was released on video while Porky’s is still the most successful Canadian film to ever be released in the U.S.  Sex sells.  As cool as it was to see Brian Schwartz stand up for himself, I doubt the people who made Porky’s a monster hit were buying their tickets because they had heard the film struck a blow against anti-Semitism.  They were going because they knew there was a shower scene.

Porky’s deserves its reputation for being a not-so great movie but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t laugh more than once while watching it.  (Of course, I still didn’t laugh as much as the characters in the films laughed.  I’ve never seen a cast that was as apparently amused with themselves as the cast of Porky’s.)  There’s a lot of bad moments but it’s hard not to crack a smile when Miss Honeywell demonstrates why she’s known as Lassie or when one of the coaches suggests that wanted posters can be hung around the school to help catch the shower voyeur.  Plus, everyone learns an important lesson about tolerance and how to destroy a brothel.  As bad as it is, it’s hard to really dislike Porky’s.

Lisa Reviews The Premiere Episode Of Filthy Rich


I have to admit that I have a sneaky admiration for network television.

I mean, on the one hand, the networks are dying.  After decades of dominating America’s free time, network television was pushed aside first by cable and now by streaming services.  It’s been a long time since anyone looked to the big four networks in search of ground-breaking entertainment.  (Don’t even get me started on the CW.)  In many ways, the networks feel like relics of a bygone era.  Why structure your life around staying at home on a certain night so that you can catch whatever’s on NBC, ABC, CBS, or Fox when you can just DVR it or watch it online at your own convenience?

And yet, the networks carry on.  In the middle of the Streaming Revolution, the networks continue to insist that they’re at the forefront of American culture.  “Look,” they say, “We have football!  We have the awards shows!  We have game shows hosted by formerly funny comedians!  We have the smarmiest late night talk shows host around!  We have the nightly news!”  There’s something oddly touching about the refusal of the networks to admit that they’re no longer particularly relevant.  They’re like Charles Foster Kane, isolated away in Xanadu and insisting that he’s still as powerful and important as he’s always been.

I guess that’s why I’m always fascinated by the start of a new television season.  That never-say-die spirit just appeals to me and I always imagine a bunch of network executives saying, at the start of each season, “This time, we’re going to show Netflix and HBO how it’s done!”  With the Emmys now over and done with, the 2020-2021 network television season has begun.  For me, It’s always interesting to see which shows become a surprise hit and which shows end up getting cancelled after just three weeks.  Oddly enough, the previous television season brought us no real hits and only a few dramatic cancellations.  That’s the first time I can remember anything like that happening.  It was strange.

This new season is also going to be strange because, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, production on a lot of shows were halted.  Of the few new dramas and sitcoms that are scheduled for this season, the majority of them are starting in October.  Even once the season does get started in earnest, most nights are going to be dominated by celebrity-themed games shows and reality competition programming.  That said, I remain an optimist.  Surely, there will be at least one good new drama or sitcom on network television this season, right?

Well, it probably won’t be Filthy Rich.

Filthy Rich, which premiered on Fox on Monday night, is the latest primetime soap opera.  It’s a show about a wealthy Southern family that owns a Christian television network.  When the patriarch of the family is killed in a plane crash, it leads to all of his bastard children coming out of the woodwork so that they can get their inheritance and blah blah blah.  It’s meant to be campy and over-the-top and satirical but, judging from the pilot, it just tries too hard.  Kim Cattrall plays the scheming matriarch and her erratic southern accent serves to remind that us that Kim Cattrall doesn’t exactly have the greatest range as an actress.  Meanwhile, none of the children are really that interesting and even the big, ornately decorated mansion seems rather dull.  It’s all a bit too calculated to be genuinely subversive.

With its portrait of scheming rich people and Christian hypocrites, Filthy Rich feels like the edgiest show of 1999.  Unfortunately, it’s airing in 2020 and, at this point, we’ve all seen enough Ryan Murphy productions to be able to guess every single thing happens in the pilot for Filthy Rich.  (Admittedly, Filthy Rich is not actually a Ryan Murphy production.  Instead, it was developed by the director of The Help, Tate Taylor.)  There’s not a single surprise to be found.  The show seems to think that it’s blowing our minds but, at this point, it takes more than a supporting character smoking weed to be shocking.  What would have made Filthy Rich better?  It probably would have helped if it had aired on HBO or maybe even FX.  Instead, it’s a primetime network show that tries hard to convince us that it’s edgy when it’s actually totally mundane.

Anyway, it’s hard to imagine Filthy Rich surviving against Dancing With The Stars and The Voice so hopefully, everyone involved will move on to better things.

Above Suspicion (1995, directed by Steven Schachter)


Dempsey Cain (Christopher Reeve) is a former test pilot turned homicide detective who ends up getting shot because of the incompetence of another cop, a patrolman named Nick Cain (Edward Kerr).  Nick also happens to be Dempsey’s younger brother.  While Dempsey’s in the hospital, Nick has an affair with Dempsey’s wife, Gail (Kim Cattrall).  When a now-paralyzed Dempsey returns home, he deals with his depression by drinking and contemplating suicide.  He tells Gail and Nick that he no longer wants to live but that his life insurance policy doesn’t cover suicide.  He comes up with a plan for his wife and brother to stage a break-in and murder him.  Because Gail and Nick are secretly lovers and want Dempsey out of the way, they agree.  However, it turns out that Dempsey isn’t as naive as they assumed and he still has a few tricks of his own.  It looks like the perfect murder but Detective Alan Reinhardt (Joe Mantegna) is determined to solve the case.

Produced for HBO, Above Suspicion is a clever and twisty film noir that, unfortunately, never escapes the shadow of Reeve’s real-life tragedy.  Just a week after the film first aired on HBO, Christopher Reeve was suffered the spinal chord injury that left him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  Knowing that Reeve would spend the final nine years of his life paralyzed from the neck down can make it difficult to watch Above Suspicion, which is unfortunate because this film features what might be Reeve’s best performance.

As an actor, Christopher Reeve was always typecast as Superman and he definitely missed out on some roles as a mistake.  Above Suspicion makes clever use of Reeve’s good guy image but casting him as someone who everyone thinks is a hero but who actually has a very dark side to his personality.  Everyone in the film thinks of Dempsey as being Superman but he instead reveals himself to be Lex Luthor.  It was definitely a chance of pace role for Reeve and he really seems to enjoy playing a scheming villain for once.  Watching the film today, it is obvious that he had enough talent that, if not for his injury, he probably would have eventually made an Alan Alda-style comeback that would have seen him settling into the role of being a much-in-demand character actor.

Interestingly, the clever script was written by William H. Macy, shortly before he found fame as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo.  The film is a clever homage to films like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Ring Twice and Christopher Reeve and Joe Mantegna are both fun to watch as they play their cat-and-mouse game.  Despite the real-life tragedy that it unintentionally invokes, Above Suspicion is a clever and twisty thriller featuring a cast of talented actors at their best.

 

 

Police Academy (1984, directed by Hugh Wilson)


God help us, it has come to this.  After a month and a half being locked down, Lisa and I watched the first two Police Academy movies last night.

The first Police Academy takes place in an unnamed city that appears to be in California.  Due to a shortage of officers, the mayor has announced that the police academy will now accept anyone who wants to apply, regardless of their physical or mental condition.  Naturally, this leads to a collection of misfits applying.  Martinet Lt. Harris (G.W. Bailey) is determined to force all of them to drop out of the academy and he has a point because I wouldn’t trust Michael Winslow’s human sound effects guy to investigate any crimes that were committed in my neighborhood.  What’s he going to do?  Make silly noises while I’m trying to figure out who stole my car?

The leader of the recruits is Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg).  Mahoney is being forced to attend the academy because otherwise, he’ll have to go to jail for disturbing the peace.  Police Academy is a film that asks you to believe that a character played by Steve Guttenberg has not only frequently been in trouble with the law but would also make a good cop. Guttenberg doesn’t really do a bad job as Mahoney.  He’s a likable actor, even if his filmography has more duds than hits.  But he’s still miscast in a role that demands someone like Bill Murray, who could be both tough and funny.

The other recruits include Bubba Smith as Hightower and David Graf as the insane gun nut, Tackleberry.  Kim Cattrall is the rich girl who wants to be a cop and who falls in love with Mahoney.  George Gaynes is Commandant Lassard, who is out-of-it but not as out-of-it as he would be in the sequels.

You have to wonder how many parents, in the late 80s and early 90s, allowed their children to rent the R-rated Police Academy from the local video store without realizing the the first Police Academy is considerably more raunchy than the later sequels.  How did mom and dad react when they walked into the room and discovered their children watching Georgina Spelvin giving George Gaynes a blow job from underneath a podium?  Or how about the scene where recruit George Martin (Andrew Rubin) is spied having a threesome in the girl’s dorm?  The first Police Academy film is definitely made from the same mold as Animal House, Caddyshack, and Stripes.  It’s just not as funny as any of those films.

However, it is funnier than every Police Academy film that followed it.  There’s enough solid laughs to make the first Police Academy fun in a stupid way.  For instance, just about every scene involving accident-prone Cadet Fackler (Bruce Mahler) was funny.  Bubba Smith gets a lot of laughs just by being Bubba Smith in a stupid movie.  It’s also hard not to love it when Cadet Hooks (Marion Ramsey) yelled, “Don’t move, Dirtbag!”  Hell, I even laughed at the sound effects guy once or twice.

All of the Police Academy films are now on Netflix.  Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment.

Film Review: Unforgettable (dir by John Dahl)


You have to give the makers of the 1996 film, Unforgettable, some credit.  It takes a certain amount of courage to give your movie a title like Unforgettable.  You’re practically asking some snarky critic to comment on the fact that she can’t remember your movie.

Well, I’ll resist the temptation because I can remember enough about this movie to review it.  I saw it a few days ago on This TV and, at first, I was excited because it was a Ray Liotta movie.  Ray Liotta is an entertaining and likable actor who, nowadays, only seems to get cast in small, tough guy roles.  Nowadays, a typical Liotta role seems to be something like the character he played in Killing Me Softly.  He showed up.  He was tough.  He got killed for no good reason.  So, whenever you come across a film in which Liotta gets to do something more than just get shot, you kind of have an obligation to watch.

In Unforgettable, Liotta plays Dr. David Krane, who is haunted by the unsolved murder of his wife.  Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately), Dr. Martha Briggs (Linda Fiorentino) has developed a formula that can be used to transfer memories from one person to another.  All you have to do is extract some spinal fluid!  Or something like that.  It doesn’t make any sense to me and I have to admit that I kinda suspect that the science might not actually check out.

Anyway, Dr. Krane is all like, “I want to inject myself with my dead wife’s spinal fluid so I can experience her final moments!”

And Dr. Briggs is all like, “But this could kill you because there’s all these vaguely defined side effects!”

But Dr. Krane does it anyway and he discovers that his wife was murdered by a lowlife criminal named Eddie Dutton (Kim Coates)!  So, Dr. Krane chases Eddie all ocer the city and it’s interesting to see that a doctor can apparently keep up with a career criminal.  I mean, you would think that Eddie’s experience with being chased and Krane’s inexperience with chasing would give Eddie an advantage.  Anyway, regardless, it doesn’t matter because Eddie is eventually gunned down by the police and Dr. Krane is fired from his job.

Hmmm … well, that was quick.  I guess the movie’s over…

No, not quite!  It turns out that someone hired Eddie to kill Dr. Krane’s wife!  And it turns out that person was a cop!  But which cop!?  Well, there’s only two cops in the film who actually have any lines so it has to be one of them.  And one of the cops is so unlikable that it’s obvious from the start that he’s a red herring.  So, I guess that means the actual murderer is the one that you’ll suspect from the first moment he shows up.

(For the record, the two cops are played by Christopher McDonald and Peter Coyote.  I won’t reveal which one is unlikable and which one is a murderer but seriously, you’ve already guessed, haven’t you?)

Anyway, it’s all pretty stupid and a waste of everyone involved.  Ray Liotta is likable and sympathetic but the film gets bogged down with trying to convince us that crimes can be solved through spinal fluid.  It’s a dumb premise that the movie takes way too seriously and it never quite works.

Still, I hope that someone will give Ray Liotta another good role at some point in the future.  He deserves better than supporting roles and Chantix commercials.

Film Review: Ice Princess (dir by Tim Fywell)


In the 2005 Disney film, Ice Princess, Michelle Trachtenberg plays Casey Carlyle.

Casey is a brilliant high school student with a potentially wonderful future.  At least that’s what her mother, Joan (Joan Cusack), has decided.  As far as Joan is concerned, Casey’s destiny is to go to Harvard, become an award-winning physicist, and serve as an inspiration for young women everywhere.  When Joan looks out of her kitchen window and sees that Casey is skating on a nearby frozen pond, she doesn’t praise her daughter’s athleticism.  Instead, Joan taps on the window and holds up a text book.  It’s time to study!

If Casey’s going to go to Harvard, she’s going to need to win a scholarship.  And Harvard doesn’t just give out scholarships to anyone!  I mean, I sent them a note asking for money a few years ago and I still haven’t heard back from them.  So, Casey decides to prove that she’s Harvard-worthy by filming a bunch of ice skaters and showing how she can use physics to make their routines even more impressive.  Or something like that…

(Look, I’ll just be honest.  Science was always my worst subject in school.  Quite frankly, I don’t have the attention span necessary for it and I kind of like the idea of not knowing how the universe works.  I love the mystery of it all.  I realize that Neil deGrasse Tyson would probably be disappointed in me but, honestly, I know more about movies than he ever will.  So, I figure it all evens out.)

For her experiment, Casey tries to watch and film some other skaters, just to discover that the parents of ice skaters are insane.  Not only are they convinced that Casey is some sort of spy who has been sent by a rival skater but they also put their children under a tremendous amount of pressure.  They expect their kids to be champions and, even more importantly, to land the type of endorsement deals that go with being champions.  Casey, on the other hand, just wants to skate.

When Tina Harwood (Kim Cattrall), a former Olympic skater, agrees to teach Casey how to skate, she is shocked to discover that Casey is a natural on the ice.  Casey not only befriends Tina’s daughter, Gen (Hayden Panettiere), but she is also soon competing in regional competitions.  However, Casey’s mother still doesn’t know what Casey is actually doing and Tina soon becomes paranoid that Casey will outshine Gen.

So, what happens?

Does Joan discover that Casey is more into skating than science?

Does Casey win her scholarship to Harvard or does she give it up so she can pursue her dreams?

Does Tina try to sabotage Casey?

Does Gen encourage Casey to follow her dreams?

And, most importantly, does Casey win the heart of the guy driving the Zamboni?

You probably already know the answer to all these questions.  I mean, this is a Disney movie.  It was rated G and, after a somewhat unsuccessful run at the box office, it found a second life on the Family Channel.  Ice Princess is not exactly a revolutionary film.  It doesn’t set out to rewrite the rules of sports film genre.  Instead, it’s content to be a likable crowd-pleaser.  Michelle Trachtenberg and Hayden Panettiere were both perfectly cast as the unlikely friends and their relationships with their respective mothers feel authentic and true.  More importantly, the film features enough real-life ice skaters to lend verisimilitude to the competition scenes.

Right now, like all good people, I am insanely enthusiastic about the Winter Olympics.  (For the record, I’m hoping that Team Ireland and Team Italy takes everything.)  That’s one reason why I watched Ice Princess.  While no one in the movie actually goes to the Olympics, it’s still a figure skating movie and I imagine that, if there had been a sequel, Casey would have been skating at the Winter Games.

Ice Princess is an entertaining and thoroughly light-weight film.  There aren’t any surprises but you don’t really watch a movie like this to be surprised.  In an uncertain world, there’s a definite comfort to be found in movies that are content to simply be likable and entertaining.

My advice is to watch Ice Princess as a double feature with I, Tonya.

(This trailer is Italian but you’ll get the general idea…)

Back to School Part II #40: Crossroads (dir by Tamra Davis)


crossroads_poster

Last year, I started a new blog called Lisa Marie’s Song of the Day.  It’s nothing big.  It’s just a place where, on a daily basis, I share music that I happen to like.  Ever since I started the site, certain people have been giving me a hard time over the fact that they have discovered that I am a total Britney Spears fangirl.

Well, I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I love Britney Spears.  I always have.  Even when I was going through my whole “wearing black and writing dark poetry” phase, I still loved Britney.  Her songs are great to dance to and they’re even more fun to sing off-key and at the top of your lungs when you’re taking a shower or driving to or from work.  Even better is when you have a family member in the car and she has no choice but to listen as you sing Work Bitch in your thickest rural accent.

(Whenever I sing, I unleash my inner country girl.)

Of course, it’s never just been Britney’s music to which I’ve paid attention.  I was jealous of her when she dated Justin Timberlake.  I was worried for her when she married Kevin Federline.  I was scared for her when she went through her period of public instability.  When she shaved her head, lost custody of her children, and was placed under the conservatorship of her father and attorney, it angered me to watch as the media treated her pain as entertainment.  When she was diagnosed as being bipolar, I related to her because I knew exactly what she was going through.  I even still use the #FreeBritney hashtag on twitter.

So, in short, I’m definitely a fan.  But I have to admit that I prefer Later Britney, the one who uses bitch as a term of empowerment, to Early Britney, the one who used to lie about being a virgin.

The 2002 film Crossroads is definitely all about Early Britney.

Crossroads was Britney’s feature film debut and it was also pretty much her exit.  The film did well at the box office (and I’ll admit that I paid money to see it … well, actually, I got someone else to pay for me to see it but you get the point…) but the critics absolutely hated it and it still regularly appears on lists of the worst films ever made.  For the record, I do not think that Crossroads is one of the worst films ever made.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not exactly a good film but it’s definitely something of a guilty pleasure.  Whenever I watch it, I go on a nostalgia trip and that’s always a little bit fun.

In Crossroads, Britney plays Lucy.  Lucy has just graduated from high school.  Lucy is supersmart and, the film is quick to tell us, a super virgin as well.  (There’s something rather icky about how much media emphasis was put on Britney’s claimed virginity.  Especially since even her biggest fans suspected there was no way she was still a virgin if she was dating Justin Timerblake…)  Lucy was her school’s valedictorian and now her father is looking forward to Lucy going to medical school and becoming a doctor.  Lucy’s father is played by Dan Aykroyd.  Though Aykroyd is playing a Georgia auto mechanic, he makes no attempt to hide his thick Canadian accent.  Good for you, Dan!

Anyway, Lucy is preparing to do what her father wants but then she gets an opportunity to drive across the country with two childhood friends and a complete stranger.  In high school, Lucy had little to do with snobby Kit (Zoe Saldana) and pregnant Mimi (Taryn Manning) but, when they were all 10 years-old, they were all BFFs.  In fact, they were so close that they even buried a time capsule.  Digging up the capsule inspires these three frenemies to hop into a car with Ben (Anson Mount) and hit the road!

Ben, it turns out, has just gotten out of prison but he’s hot and he’s musically talented.  The girls are a little bit scared because they think Ben might have been in prison for murder but seriously, Ben is way too cute to be a murderer.  Plus, when he reads Lucy’s poetry, he sets it to music.

AND SERIOUSLY, HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THAT!?  I mean, c’mon — every girl who has ever written a poem has, at some point, fantasized about a boy who would put that poem to music and tell her that her words were almost as beautiful as she was.

I mean, there’s a lot of negative things that could be said about Crossroads.  I’m not a fan of the way Mimi was portrayed and, towards the end of the film, it almost feels as if the movie is suggesting that she’s being karmically punished for getting pregnant without being married.  The film’s emphasis on Lucy’s (and, by implication, Britney’s) chastity feels dangerously reactionary.  And, while Britney doesn’t really give a bad performance, she’s still not quite believable as someone who was so busy studying that she didn’t even go to one single party during high school.

But ultimately, this will always be the film where a hot guy took a girl’s poem and spontaneously set it to music.

There’s something to be said for that!

#FreeBritney

Shattered Politics #87: The Ghost Writer (dir by Roman Polanski)


GhostwriterlargeIn the 2010 film The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor plays a character known as the Ghost. We never actually learn the name of his character and that’s perhaps appropriate.  The Ghost has made his living by being anonymous.  He’s a ghost writer.  He’s the guy who is hired to help inarticulate and occasionally illiterate celebrities write best-selling biographies.

The Ghost has been given a new assignment.  He is to ghost write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).  Despite the fact that Adam is one of the most famous men in the world, the Ghost is not initially enthusiastic about working with him.

First off, there’s the fact that Adam and his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), are currently hiding out in America because America is one of the few countries that will not extradite him to be prosecuted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.  It seems that Adam (much like Tony Blair) is a controversial figure because of some of the actions he may have authorized as a part of the war on terror.  Not only does the Ghost have political objections to working with Adam but he has to leave his London home and go to Massachusetts in order to do so.

Secondly, there’s the fact that, once the Ghost arrives in America, he discovers that — for such a controversial figure — Adam is actually rather boring and seems to have very little knowledge about anything that he did while he was prime minister.  Instead, he seems to be more interested in spending time with his mistress (Kim Cattrall, giving the film’s one bad performance).  Ruth seems to be the political (and smart) one in the marriage.

And finally, there’s the fact that the Ghost is actually the second writer to have worked with Adam.  The previous writer mysteriously drowned.  While that death was ruled to be an accident, the Ghost comes to suspect that it was murder and that the motive is hidden in the first writer’s manuscript…

The Ghost Writer is a favorite of mine, a smart and witty political thriller that features great performances from Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, and Pierce Brosnan.  Brosnan especially seems to be having a lot of fun sending up his dashing, James Bond image.  Roman Polanski directs at a fast pace and maintains a perfect atmosphere of growing paranoia throughout the entire film. In the end, The Ghost Writer proudly continues the tradition of such superior paranoia films as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, and the Parallax View.

Incidentally, I have a theory that Adam Lang was also the unseen Prime Minister who was featured in Into the Loop.  Watching The Ghost Writer, it’s hard not to feel that Adam really feel apart without Malcolm around to help him out.

 

Shattered Politics #37: Rosebud (dir by Otto Preminger)


Rosebud_-_1975_-_Film_Poster

Before I review the 1975 film Rosebud, allow me to tell you about how I first discovered the existence of this particular film.

The greatest used bookstore in the world is located in Denton, Texas.  It’s called Recycled Books and it is three stories of pure literary goodness!  (Plus, there are apartments on the top floor where I attended some pretty interesting parties but that’s another story….)  When I was attending the University of North Texas, I used to stop by Recycled Books nearly every day.  One day, I happened to be searching the Film and TV section when I came across a beat-up paperback called Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture.

This book, which was written by Theodore Gershuny, told the story of how the previously acclaimed director Otto Preminger attempted to make a film about terrorism.  Starting with the attempts of Preminger’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, to come up with a workable script and then going on to detail how Peter O’Toole came to replace Robert Mitchum as the star of the film and ending with the film’s disastrous release, Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture proved to be a fascinating read.

After finishing the book, I simply had to see Rosebud for myself.  Unfortunately, at that time, Rosebud had not yet been released on Blu-ray or DVD.  So, I actually ended up ordering an old VHS copy of it.  The tape that I got was not in the best condition but it played well enough and I can now say that, unlike the majority of people in the world, I’ve actually seen Rosebud!

Which is not to say that Rosebud is any good.  It’s not the disaster that I had been led to expect.  In fact, it probably would have been more fun if it had been a disaster, as opposed to being just a forgettable film from a director who was probably capable of better.  Preminger started his career in the 30s and was considered, at one point, to be quite innovative.  He directed Laura and Anatomy of a Murder, two great films.  Unfortunately, there’s really nothing innovative about his direction of Rosebud.  In Gershuny’s book, Preminger comes across like an intelligent and thoughtful man who was too set in his ways to realize that what was shocking in 1959 was no longer that big of a deal in 1975.  (And, needless to say, it’s even less of a big deal in 2015.)

As for what Rosebud‘s about, it’s about a man named Sloat (Richard Attenborough), a former journalist who now lives in a cave in Israel and dreams of establishing a worldwide terrorist network.  Under Sloat’s direction, terrorists storm a yacht named the Rosebud and take the girls on board hostage.  The girls are wealthy and privileged.  Their fathers are judges, senators, and businessmen.  CIA agent Larry Martin (Peter O’Toole) is tasked with tracking down and rescuing the girls.  If it sounds like an action film — well, it’s not.  This is not a prequel to Taken.  Instead, it’s a very talky film that has a few isolated good moments and performances but otherwise, is fairly forgettable.

That said, the film does have an interesting cast.  Peter O’Toole seems bored by his role (and who can blame him?) but Attenborough briefly livens things up in the role of Sloat.  As for the girls being held hostage, they’re not given much to do.  One of them is played by a young Isabelle Huppert.  Long before she would play Samantha on Sex and the City, Kim Cattrall plays a hostage here.  The English hostage is played by Lalla Ward, who is now married to Richard Dawkins.

And then there’s the girl’s parents, who are played by an odd assortment of character actors.  Raf Vallone, an Italian, plays a Greek.  (His daughter, meanwhile, is played by the French Isabelle Huppert.)  Peter Lawford, looking somewhat dazed, shows up as Lalla Ward’s father.  (One of the sadder scenes in Gershuny’s book deals with Lawford’s attempts to remember his lines.)  And than, in the role of Cattrall’s father, we have a very distinguished looking man named John Lindsay.

John Lindsay was the former mayor of New York City, a man who ran for President in 1972 and, three years later, attempted to launch a new career as an actor.  Rosebud was his both his first and final film.  (Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese attempted to convince Lindsay to play Senator Palatine in Taxi Driver but Lindsay turned the role down.)  Lindsay is not particularly memorable in Rosebud.  It’s not so much that Lindsay gives a bad performance as much as it’s just the fact that he has a very bland screen presence.  That blandness probably served him well as a politician but, as an actor — well, let’s just say that John Lindsay was apparently no Fred Thompson.

And so that’s Rosebud.  It’s a film that, much like Maidstone, you can only appreciate if you know what went on behind the scenes.  I can’t really recommend Rosebud but, if you ever come across a battered old copy of Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture in a used bookstore, be sure to buy it!

Seriously, you will not be sorry.