Thursday, July 30, 2009

Movie Review: "Frost/Nixon"

Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones
Directed by Ron Howard

Official Web site

Recreating a series of interviews between a disgraced ex-president and a cocky journalist in a career valley wouldn’t seem to be a recipe for creating a compelling film. But mix in a couple of tremendous performances along with deftly handled direction and an intelligent screenplay, and that recipe equates to a very satisfying finished product.

Based on the stage production of the same name (written by Peter Morgan, who also handles screenwriting chores for the film), “Frost/Nixon” is a character study of two men who have tasted success in the past and are hungry to get a taste of it again. One is Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, who is seemingly most remembered by history for the unfortunate end of his presidency, as opposed to anything he accomplished in the prior five and a half years he served in the position.

The other is David Frost, a British journalist best known for his talk shows, who has a pair of shows airing in Britain and Australia as the film opens in 1977, but laments the cancellation of his show in America in the early 1970s. He sees an interview with Nixon, who has been in practical exile since his resignation in 1974, as golden opportunity to reestablish credibility in his profession.

The film is primarily told from Frost’s perspective as he rounds up members of his research team and makes pitches to television networks and advertisers to try and get the interviews broadcast. His difficulty in raising the $600,000 that Nixon agreed to for the interviews, paying a large portion of the fee up front out of his own pocket, means that Frost, like Nixon, has a lot riding on the program’s end result. Frost faces near financial ruin, while Nixon knows he faces the risk of permanent political exile.

On numerous occasions, the two men speak of each other as if they were opponents in a boxing ring. Indeed, the interviews themselves take on the guise of a sparring match, as each side’s team of advisors act like cornermen, telling their “fighter” what to do next.

Langella, in an Oscar-nominated performance, doesn’t resemble Nixon, but does an excellent job of capturing his mannerisms and the way he carried himself. The role could have easily become cartoonish, but Langella never loses sight of the vulnerablilty and wounded pride that Nixon carried during this time period.

Both leads also performed the roles on stage and that familiarity works to the film’s benefit, as each man really seems to inhabit their parts. Likewise, having the same writer (Morgan) adapt his own work pays off here, as well.

Director Ron Howard deftly moves the story along, managing to infuse it with numerous moments of tension, while avoiding getting too bogged down in extensive screen time for the interviews themselves, which were broken up into four parts. It’s within the last part, the discussion of Watergate, where the interviews (and the movie) hit their high point, and the future fortunes of two men are irrevocably decided.

Grade: A-
(Rated R for language.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer 2009 Movie Preview (August)

While July is generally filled with potential box office smashes, the releases for August look to be a more decidedly mixed lot. There are some potential hits here, but a few could just as easily flop. The following are a few of the more notable movies coming out for the month. Release dates are subject to change.

“Julie & Julia”
Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Edmond
Directed by Nora Ephron

Streep, who has become a bit of a box office sensation in recent years (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Mamma Mia!”), headlines this story as the noted American chef Julia Child. Co-star Adams portrays a New York housewife who takes on the task of cooking all the recipies from one of her book’s over the span of one year. As noted above, Streep is on a roll with summer movies, and this one will likely continue that hot streak. (Aug. 7)
Official Web site

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”
Starring Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Channing Tatum and Dennis Quaid
Directed by Stephen Sommers

Admittedly, I loved the cartoon and action figures growing up, but even I find it hard to get excited about what is, like “Transformers,” a movie based on a toy. This one could be good, escapist fun or a bit of an embarassment. The trailer doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but the cast at least seems kind of interesting. (Aug. 7)
Official Web site

Starring the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Fans of Japanese animation have got to be excited about the prospect of Miyazaki’s latest being a darkhorse hit. The director of “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away” has got an A-list vocal cast on board for a tale about a young boy and his friendship with a goldfish princess who wishes to become human. (Aug. 14)
Official Web site

“The Time Traveler’s Wife”
Starring Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Stephen Tobolowsky
Directed by Robert Schwenke

Those who loved “The Notebook” (and you know who you are) shouldn’t go in expecting the same thing here, despite it being a romantic drama based on a bestselling book and starring McAdams. This one would seem to incorporate a bit of science fiction, as the husband (Bana) of McAdams’ character deals with the problems created by the ability to involuntarily time travel. No other romantically-themed movies seem to be in existence during this month, so this film has that genre to itself. (Aug. 14)
Official Web site

“Inglourious Basterds”
Starring Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Having made a splashy and largely positive debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the central draw for audiences will be the pairing of superstar Pitt with writer/director Tarantino. The subject matter, a group of Americans form a killing squad, targeting Nazis in German-occupied France, might be a little harder for some audiences to sit through. This could prove to be a real test of Pitt’s star power. (Aug. 21)
Official Web site

“Halloween 2”
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif
Directed by Rob Zombie

Just in time for the holiday (OK, two months early), comes a sequel to director Zombie’s version of “Halloween,” which was in itself a remake of the 1978 classic by John Carpenter. This one is a continuation of Zombie’s first film, but is not a remake of “Halloween 2,” which picked up right where the original left off. Anybody followin all of this? Despite its missed opportunity of an October release, this could do some decent late summer business. (Aug. 28)
Official Web site