Frost/Nixon – Ron Howard (2008)

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http://www2.orlandoweekly.com/film/review.asp?rid=14032

For those born after the incident, director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan’s dramatization of the 1977 interview series between British TV presenter David Frost and then-former President Nixon offers a comfortably Sorkin-esque glimpse behind the scenes of Frost’s landmark grilling of Nixon over Watergate, the coverup and the aftermath that dominated an era of national politics.

Frost (Michael Sheen) is an ambitious TV man whose once-bright star is fading after his American talk show is canceled. He is stuck in entertainment’s second tier, longing for another taste of fame, American-style, and sees the resignation and subsequent pardon of Nixon (Frank Langella) as a way back into his table at Sardi’s. Laying out the hefty sum of $600K to secure the interview with the tough-as-nails Nixon – at the time living in pitiful seclusion and writing his memoirs – Frost and his team of researchers quibble over their goals and are wholly unprepared for the cagey Nixon on the big day; Nixon talks circles around the process, deflecting from the real issues with glancing blows of sentimental minutiae.

If Ali-Frazier was the fight of the century, Frost-Nixon was to be the sit-down of a lifetime: a no-holds-barred tête-à-tête meant to be, whether for redemption or conviction, the real final words of the chapter. Ali lost – he was unprepared for the Champ’s left hook – but Frost comes out the prettier one in this battle. Sheen plays Frost with a dopey smirk that’s off-putting enough to Nixon to lead him right into the eventual sucker punch.

The knockout blow isn’t the star of this picture, however. Nixon is, and what Langella lacks in physical likeness he more than makes up for with the depth of the Nixon spirit, which, 30 years later, comes off like a mean, ugly dog, as repugnant as it is empathetic.

Nixon moved on (and became richer), but the fact that the interview changed nothing – not the Cold War and certainly not corrupt politicians or a tougher press corps – is not the point. The timing ofFrost/Nixon’s release, in these lame-duck last moments of the George W. Bush presidency, won’t be lost on most viewers, and Howard utilizes the Nixon-Bush connection of corruption to create the kind of after-the-fact liberal catharsis that Oliver Stone’s Bush biopic sorely missed. As Nixon tacitly confesses, his admission of guilt in the film is more heavily defined than in the original interviews, but it’s a cherry that sits nicely on top of an “Obama won” sundae. What it does is give us some hope, slim as it might be, that there is a new Frost out there waiting patiently for his chance at flustering Bush into a “whoops, sorry” moment, even a tacit one.

Ms. Couric, line one.

Quick Hits on Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen (2011)

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-I was admittedly extremely nervous about the casting when the list was first released. It was all over the place, and I’ve always struggled with Own Wilson in roles outside of Wes Anderson films, where he, more often than not, has co-written the script with Wes. Even when he hasn’t, Anderson seems to have Wilson’s unique voice emblazoned in his head and always writes fitting roles for his old college buddy. But nerves aside*, I had been excited for this film since I heard the basic time-travelling premise. Not only did Allen deliver on my excitement, he far exceeded it, giving us his best film since 1999’s  Sweet and Lowdown, which is certainly in my top five Woody Allen films.

-The more I think about the film’s thesis (that everyone is actually born in the right decade, whether they want to admit it or not), the more I agree with it. Much like Gil, I’ve always wished I was born in a different time, though what for him was Paris in the 20s, is for me Hollywood in the late 30s/early 40s. But there are problems inherent in that, just like there are problems inherent with the Parisian 20s for Gil. What about the depression? What about the war? What about having to wait 20, 30, 40 years to see my favorite films again? What if I ran into John Ford or Charlie Chaplin? I’ve met some people I idolize in modern times, and Don Mattingly and Jimmy Smits were really the only ones that weren’t in some way a let down. John Ford would certainly be a let down — he was a notorious asshole. I wouldn’t want that to ruin The Informant or How Green Was My Valley for me, which it likely would. But that’s just rambling. What about the lack of air conditioning? What about no Woody Allen?

-All that said, Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Ernest Hemingway absolutely steals the movie. If you’re familiar with Hemingway that is. He talks in long, rambling, Hemingwayesque passages and constantly looks for someone to box with. It’s delicious, but I was the only one in the theater laughing at some of it.

*Woody Allen films tend to make me nervous because I hold him in such high reverence that I don’t want him to fail — I never want to see him make anything as bad as Curse of the Jade Scorpion or Anything Else again — which is probably too slanted a view to go into a film with, but that’s just how my brain has processed it. It doesn’t affect my view of his films really, except that many I’m a little more disappointed when expectations are not met, as they weren’t really met with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger or Whatever Works.