REVIEW: HARD EVIDENCE (1994)

Justice in a Small Town (1994)

CAST

Kate Jackson (CHarlie’s ANgels)
John Shea (Mutant X)
Terry O’Quinn (Lost)
Beth Broderick (Sabrina: TTW)
Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap)
Marc Macaulay (Swamp Thing: The Series)

168687-42394-clp-950In an un-named town in Georgia, Sandra (Kate Jackson) works as a secretary for the Wiley Lumber Company, where inappropriate behavior and corruption are blatant. Although the company’s association with the Department of Labor’s Commissioner Sam Caldwell (Dean Stockwell) is less clear, it is obvious to Sandra, who decides to blow the whistle on what she sees as fraud, with the help of her romantic interest and co-worker Tommy Marchant (John Shea). The teleplay by Richard Rashke has some half-amusing southern wit. “He needs a new car the way Georgia needs another peanut farm”. “You left a trail so wide a blind coon dog could follow it”. “He’s inside the coop. He knows where the eggs are”. “They’re like mean old tics. One smell of blood and they borough right on in”. And “Georgia’s half swamp. Sources have been known to disappear”. However all the “You’ll”‘s and “Sugar”‘s grow tiresome, and we even have the cliched exchange “Why should we trust you? You don’t have much of a choice”. A break-in without gloves being worn is just a stupid lack of attention, and the hostility of Sandra’s neglected son Shane is only addressed when he comes to admire his mother for the crusade, which seems ludicrous. Another co-worker of Sandra, Beth (Jennifer Guthrie) is forced to prostitute, and an expectation is created that Sandra will also be asked, but this is not met, and Beth practically disappears.hqdefault
Rashke presents Sandra as a divorced mother of two, who also arranges flowers in her spare time, but she doesn’t actually do anything until she wears a wire for the FBI late in proceedings. This scene finally provides Jackson with something to play, and she even gets a flattering close-up, but otherwise she is only marginally less stoic than Shea. Wearing her hair in bangs and a perm, she falls back on big-eye acting. Together Shea and Jackson do not make a very sizzling team, perhaps influenced by their facial similarities. As one of the Company managers, Beth Broderick has little to do except act blowsy, though she does supply some lesbian subtext, and a barely competent Gustave Johnson as the FBI agent steals scenes easily from Jackson and Shea. Director Jan Egleson uses a tilted camera, a flashlight shone into the camera, hand-held, and black & white freezes when photograph’s are taken, but the twangy guitar in the music score of composer David McHugh’s is over-used. It’s also hard to accept a tale about the abuse of women told by a director who introduces an actress by her legs, humiliates another in a rape scene, and drools over bikini-clad babes.

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REVIEW: THE FINAL DAYS

The Final Days (1989)

CAST

Lane Smith (Lois & Clark)
Richard Kiley (Patch Adams)
David Ogden Stiers (Two Guys and a Girl)
Ed Flanders (The Exorcist III)
Theodore Bikel (My Fair Lady)
Graham Beckel (L.A. Confidential)
Gregg Henry (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Amanda Wyss (Highlander: The Series)
Gary Sinise (Of Mice and Men)

45737_still_2_80434-e1289836210266Thirteen years before it was filmed as a TV-movie, “The Final Days” was the title of a bestselling book, whose 1976 publication “just happened” to coincide with the cinematic release of “All the President’s Men” (based on an earlier book by the same authors). The Final Days book was noted for its complete reliance on anonymous sources, and for its witheringly negative portrait of Nixon and his personality, even including humiliating details about the Nixons’ marriage. Shortly after it was published, Pat Nixon determined to read the book (against her husband’s advice), and suffered a stroke within a day or two after she started on it. She was in hospital for about a month. All in all, TFD was probably the most sadistic literary attack ever leveled on a living ex-President up to that time.drive_1997_featured_imageWith all that background, it seems very unlikely to me that Nixon, personally, sat through the TV-movie version of “The Final Days” when it came out in 1989. My guess is that he had one or more staff aides watch it; possibly Tricia/Julie and/or their husbands, but that he himself couldn’t bear the thought of it. But who knows for sure. Nixon’s office put out a press release at the time, saying that sponsor AT&T should change its slogan to “Reach Out and Smear Someone”, which (IMO) was rather clever.KHMDdriveThe movie itself was highly praised by William F. Buckley, Jr., who specifically singled out the performance of Lane Smith as impeccable. Despite misgivings about the source-material, I watched it (I think it was broadcast on ABC, if I remember correctly) and was mesmerized. The whole show was simply brilliant from start to finish. Smith’s performance as Nixon is, indeed, flawless, and the overall atmosphere of the last 15 months of the Nixon White House was nicely judged, in my view. “The Final Days” is absolutely one of the small handful of TV- movies with an abundance of dramatic power and credibility, and with the ability to withstand repeated viewings. The Watergate Affair, of course, is simply too complex of a story to be dealt with adequately in this format, so people who do not already know the ins-and-outs of that scandal should know that this is not the place to learn about it, except in very basic outline. But if the movie paints Watergate with (necessarily) broad strokes, at least those strokes were true, in my recollection.marcandkadeemA couple of minor details that seemed off-key: The Washington Post newspaper was renamed as the “Washington Herald” or something like that. I’d like to know why that change was made. Also, I have no complaint with David Ogden Stiers as a performer. But there’s just nothing about the man — in appearance or personality — that resembles Alexander Haig. A curious casting decision.

 

REVIEW: HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

CAST

Bill Murray (Lost In Translation)
Laura Linney (Sully)
Samuel West (Van Helsing)
Olvia Coleman (Hot Fuzz)
Elizabeth Marvel (A Most Violent Year)
Olivia Williams (An Education)
Elizabeth Wilson (Catch-22)
Andrew Havill (Dad’s Army)
Martin McDougall (Green Zone)

Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)In spring 1939, Sara Delano, the mother of Franklin D. Roosevelt, asks his sixth cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley to visit the ill President of the United States at their country estate in Hyde Park, New York. Although Daisy and Roosevelt had not seen each other for years, the distant relatives form a romantic relationship, and Roosevelt often asks Daisy to visit Hyde Park when he stays with his mother. Daisy becomes one of the several women close to Roosevelt, including Sara; Missy LeHand, the president’s secretary; and Eleanor, the president’s wife. Despite his power, the president is often unable to control the other women; the quiet, shy Daisy is his confidante, and he tells her that Top Cottage will be their shared refuge after his presidency.In June 1939, King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, visit the United States, during which they stay with the Roosevelts at Hyde Park. The British hope that the visit will improve the chances of American support during the future war with Germany. George—who is king because his brother Edward VIII abdicated—is nervous, because of the importance of the visit, because he stutters, and because of having to eat a hot dog for the first time at a picnic in his honor. Roosevelt reassures George by citing his own inability to walk, and observes that others do not see their handicaps because “it’s not what they want to see”. The president tells the king that he hopes to overcome Americans’ reluctance to help Britain.Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)The night the king and queen arrive, Daisy discovers LeHand is having an affair with Roosevelt. LeHand tells a shocked Daisy that their respective relationships with the president are not his only ones, mentioning Dorothy Schiff and Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, and that Daisy must accept sharing Roosevelt with other women. At the picnic the next day the king successfully eats a hot dog for a photo op, and Daisy, in a voiceover, states that the visit helped the two countries form a Special Relationship. Daisy rejects Roosevelt’s requests to see her until he calls on her in person; they reconcile, and Daisy accepts her role as one of the president’s mistresses. As years pass, Daisy watches Roosevelt become frail as a wartime leader; nonetheless everyone, she says, “still [looked] to him, still seeing whatever it was they wanted to see”.Bill Murray and Laura Linney in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)Hyde Park on Hudson had its moments. I liked seeing King George VI eat hotdogs, the Queen smoke cigarettes, and FDR go swimming in a turn of the century bathing suit. However this film could have been so much better. It felt like Nelson forgot about his own plot. The gaps he left were huge and left me wondering why there were so many lose ends. The script needs to be beefed up and full cooked. There’s still pink in this meat.

 

REVIEW: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

 

CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange)
Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant)
Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther)
Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Sarah Paulson (The Runner)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
Adepero Oduye (Geostorm)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven)
Scoot McNairy (Argo)
Taran Killam (Epic Movie)
Chris Chalk (Gotham)
Paul Giamatti (The Hangover – Part 2)
Michael K. Williams (Gone Baby Gone)
Bryan Batt (Scream: The Series)
Quvenzhané Wallis  (Annie)
Marc Macaulay  (The Punisher)
J.D. Evermore  (Django Unchained)

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Adepero Oduye in 12 Years a Slave (2013)In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free African-American man working as a violinist, living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two white men, Brown and Hamilton, offer him short-term employment as a musician if he will travel with them to Washington, D.C. However, once they arrive they drug Northup and deliver him to a slave pen run by a man named Burch. Northup proclaims that he is a free man, only to be savagely beaten with, at first, a wooden paddle, then, a leather belt. Northup is later shipped to New Orleans along with other captive African Americans. He is told by the others that if he wants to survive in the South, he must adapt to being a slave and not tell anyone he is a free man. A slave trader named Freeman gives Northup the identity of “Platt”, a runaway slave from Georgia, and sells him to plantation owner William Ford. Tension grows between Northup and a plantation overseer which ends with Northup savagely beating and whipping the overseer. To save Northup’s life, Ford sells him to another slave owner named Edwin Epps. In the process, Northup attempts to explain that he is actually a free man, but Ford tells him he is too afraid and that he cannot help him now.Paul Dano and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (2013)At the plantation, Northup meets Patsey, a favored slave who can pick over 500 pounds of cotton a day, twice the usual quota, whom Epps regularly rapes and abuses. Some time later, cotton worms destroy Epps’s cotton. Unable to work his fields, Epps leases his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, Judge Turner, who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor’s wedding anniversary celebration and to keep his earnings. Northup is also raped by a female slave in the middle of the night. When Northup returns to Epps, he uses the money to pay a white field hand and former overseer, Armsby, to mail a letter to his friends in New York. Armsby agrees and accepts Northup’s saved money, but immediately betrays him to Epps. In the middle of the night, a drunken Epps wakes Northup and questions him menacingly about the letter. Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that Armsby is lying and Epps relents. Solomon then emotionally burns the letter he intended to give to Armsby.Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave (2013)Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Samuel Bass. Bass is unsettled by the brutal way that Epps treats his slaves and expresses his opposition to American slavery, earning Epps’s enmity. Northup overhears the conversation and decides to reveal his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass agrees to send it. One day, the local sheriff arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm that his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s companion as Mr. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace, though an enraged Epps furiously protests the circumstances and tries to prevent Northup from leaving. Northup gives an emotional farewell to Patsey and rides off to his freedom. Patsey faints as Northup leaves.After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family, leaving behind the other slaves. As he walks into his home, he sees his wife with their son and daughter (fully grown) and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Northup apologizes for his long absence while his family comforts him. The film’s epilogue displays a series of graphics recounting Northup’s unsuccessful suits against Brown, Hamilton, and Burch, along with the 1853 publication of Northup’s slave narrative memoir, Twelve Years a Slave. The memoir describes his role in the abolitionist movement and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial. Patsey and Northup never met again.To watch 12 Years a Slave is to be confronted with the grim reality of slavery in a way that’s never been done before. To say this is the best film ever made about slavery feels trivial, as slavery is a subject in film that has been shown with naive romanticism from films like Gone With the Wind or silly exploitation from something like Django Unchained. Both of which serve to make the topic digestible. To watch 12 Years a Slave is to experience a level of despair and misery that can become overwhelming. It’s a film of such ugliness, such blunt emotional trauma, that it may haunt you for hours if not days after seeing it. So why should you watch a film that could leave you reeling and devastated? Because, it’s also one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.

REVIEW: EMPIRE STATE (2013)

CAST

Dwayne Johnson (Baywwatch)
Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games)
Emma Roberts (Scream Queens)
Michael Angarano (Sky High)
Paul Ben-Victor (The Wire)
Jerry Ferrara (power)
Nikki Reed (Sleepy Hollow)
Michael Rispoli (Summer of Sam)

Dwayne Johnson and Liam Hemsworth in Empire State (2013)After failing to get into the local police academy, Chris Potamitis (Hemsworth), settles for a security guard job with the Empire State Armored Truck Company. Chris makes the mistake of mentioning the company’s lax security to his best friend Eddie (Angarano), and is soon unwittingly drawn into an elaborate scheme to rob the abundant piles of cash being stored there – resulting in the largest cash heist ($11 million) to that point in U.S. history. As the stakes continue to rise, Chris and Eddie must outwit James Ransone (Johnson), the veteran NYPD Detective who is hot on their trail, as well as the local crime bosses who want to know who pulled a job on their turf to make sure the perpetrators suffer the consequences.Dwayne Johnson and Lucky Johnson in Empire State (2013)Empire State is based on a true story set during the 1980’s, about a bank heist gone terribly wrong. This film is moreso predictable which is the case with films based on true events, however the story here is interesting enough to continue watching. Empire State had a limited release, which is shame since the film could have made decent profit. Althugh there was far greater potential the what came from the final product. The lead played by Liam Hemsworth is decent, but with a better lead it could have been a far greater film. Also Dwayne Johnson is criminally wasted in this movie as a detective. Whenever he appeared on screen, my interest level was raised significantly, but that was much too seldom for my liking. Dwayne has a gift when it comes to charisma, and the fact that he has such a small role here is incorrigible. He was far too good to have such a small part in this movie. Emma Roberts is barely in this movie, aside from a few pointless scenes. Overall the film could have fared better with better direction, but it was a decent watch.

 

REVIEW: SEE ARNOLD RUN

See Arnold Run (2005)

CAST

Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot)
Roland Kickinger (Terminator Salvation)
Nora Dunn (Bones)
Bob Morrisey (The Terminal)
Pat Skipper (Halloween)
David Burke (The Tick 2001)
Peter White (Dave)
Alex Hyde-White (Fantastic Four 1994)
Mariel Hemingway (Superman 4)

800full-see-arnold-run-screenshotThis biographical docu-drama alternates between two parallel threads in the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger: his formative early years as the repeat winner of the Mr. Olympia body-building championship; and his modern foray into the world of politics, hitting the campaign trail and competing in the frenzied atmosphere that accompanied California’s chaotic recall election.1938112,YLP7zQLz6ZSLuWzmze0PW+cnYRhdXbprbGh7njsvg0iMHY6n9UFdx_F1sfhwcUnP_6c6uuIOt37+Um3E6fWHFg==The actors portraying both young and current Arnold have some facial similarity to him. Roland Kickinger (“young Arnold”) also has the right body for the job, but here the similarities end: Jürgen Prochnow (“old Arnold”) is too old for this casting, has no bodily resemblance to a bodybuilder, looks too short and his acting is too gloomy. There are also other things in the movie that have very bad fit with reality. “Old Arnold” is dominated by his wife, lacks all shred of leadership (as opposed to the real charismatic Arnold). “Young Arnold” is a loner, desperately trying to succeed, while the truth was that Arnold enjoyed hilarious success even before he set foot on American soil, and was actually brought over by a strong sponsor (Weider). I wondered whether the director saw “Pumping Iron”, because he missed the real atmosphere around young Arnold, as well as some aspects of his personality. Not all is bad, but having followed Arnold since his earl days – I was disappointed. I hope a better re-make will be done some time into the future. Even a mix-up of the original Pumping Iron + actual clips from the real campaign would have made a better result.

REVIEW: STALKING LAURA

I Can Make You Love Me (1993)

CAST

Richard Thomas (IT)
Brooke Shields (Pretty Baby)
Viveka Davis (Cast Away)
William Allen Young (District 9)
Richard Yniguez (B-Girl)
Scott Bryce (Popular)

hqdefaultLaura Black has got it all. She has got her master’s in computer science and she has got that great job in Silicon Valley. Time to say ‘bye bye’ to mom and dad and to leave Virginia. Everything seems to be fine with one exception. That guy Richard Farley at her new job. If he would stop his attempts to date her. For weeks his psycho terror has been going on now. Laura decides not to let him win. She does not want to be his ‘victim’. May be an official complaint about Farley would solve her problem?ti103624_largeThis type of film could seem over-the-top, but thanks to a believable performance by Richard Thomas, and a surprisingly decent performance by Brooke Shields, the viewer is interested in the story, and not distracted by personalities. As this is based on a true story, we see Richard Thomas gradually unraveling as he stalks Laura (Shields), he seems initially harmless, then obsessed. The breaking point occurs when he is fired. He has, he says to his friends, nothing to lose, and starts asking if the office is protected with bullet-proof glass. His co-workers laugh, thinking this is a joke. An intense thriller that is worthy of  a watch.