Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
Grade: D+ | 1st Viewing
The only thing at all interesting about Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson is not something for which the movie itself can take any credit. That is, a movie about the infidelity of a man in power is particularly interesting in a year when one of the nation’s most powerful men has left office amidst a sex scandal. There is very little that connects 32nd U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s various extra-marital pursuits to former CIA director General David Petraeus’s affair with his biographer, but at least the surface-level investigation into why men in power cheat gives us something to think about in this sloppily assembled feature.
The biggest problem with Hyde Park on Hudson is the script, which begins to develop various secondary characters and then drops them like a second mistress. At first it seems like the story belongs to Laura Linney’s Daisy, but she completely disappears about halfway through the film. Murray at least appears to be having fun with his gaudy FDR impersonation, but every other character in the film is paper thin with performances to match, including Linney who overacts like I have never seen from her before. Most annoying is how often she says the film’s title in voiceover, providing a painful reminder that we could be doing something better with our time.
Chasing Ice (2012)
Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing
Climate change is one of the most terrifying issues facing our world today and the new documentary Chasing Ice has 10 minutes of footage that show the real danger our planet is in. Unfortunately that footage is saved for the very end of the film’s 80 minute runtime and the footage that leads up to it is much less interesting. Chasing Ice is like a 70-minute making-of featurette for a 10-minute movie.
The film ends with nature photographer James Balog’s years long time lapse photography of melting glaciers in Greenland, North America, Antarctica, and other locations. It is stunning and terrifying footage with enormous implications for the future of our world. Before that, however, we spend 70-minutes learning how James and his team got their footage with lots of scenes of them replacing batteries in cameras and scoping out land. Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski probably purposely obscured any images of glaciers melting early on to build anticipation for the money shot at the end. Instead it made me want to find a remote and fast forward. Don’t get me wrong, what James Balog is doing is remarkably important, but a few more statistics, maybe some animated charts, and perhaps some interviews with scientists might have made the learning process a lot more fun.
The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing
If you’re looking for the perfect portrait of American excess, look no further than the insightful and often hilarious documentary The Queen of Versailles, about a Time Share magnate and his trophy wife attempting to build the largest private home in the U.S. David Siegel made his fortune convincing people to buy vacation packages they don’t need and his family lives his life by the same philosophy. When the economy starts to become unfavorable, they risk losing their fortune and they are forced to downsize; blaming everyone but themselves in their descent from mega rich to just plain wealthy.
In their attempts to cut back on spending, David’s wife Jacqueline shops at Wal-Mart where she fills 3 carts with multiple copies of the same board games. They cut down the number of nannies and housekeepers, which turns their home into a pile of filth, with dog droppings all over the floor and dead pets in cages. It’s hard not to experience some Schadenfreude when things go badly for the family, but director Lauren Greenfield does a good job of making the Siegel’s real human beings, which brings just the tiniest bit of sympathy. The Queen of Versailles is a nice antidote to the onslaught of wealth worship that pollutes the television airwaves.
The Invisible War (2012)
Grade: B | 1st Viewing
Kirby Dick’s investigation into the epidemic of rape in the U.S. military is often quite hard to watch, despite the fact that most of the visuals consist only of face to face interviews with rape survivors. Dick shows a few women sharing their stories, then a few more, then a few more, and soon it becomes apparent that there are dozens of women that were interviewed for this documentary and they only represent a small fraction of the population of women who have suffered rape while serving their country. The statistic we see is that 20% of women have reported being raped in the military and the Department of Defense estimates that 80% of incidents go unreported. The most startling revelation in the documentary is that most offenders remain at their posts and almost none of them are ever prosecuted.
The Invisible War is as straightforward as documentaries get with its point made early on and simply punctuated with each additional anecdote. There may be a few too many interviews with victims and it eventually becomes difficult to sort out which woman belongs to which incident. This may have been cleared up by delivering one story at a time instead of cutting away from each victim to create a story montage. However, the effects are still felt as each woman relates how their wide-eyed idealism was stripped away along with their innocence, and the military still refuses to give them justice. Any parent who has a child, male or female, considering military service will undoubtedly think twice after seeing this documentary.
Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing
I just finished watching all 23 James Bond films in preparation for a ranking list that I will be assembling in the next day or two. While this marathon ran the gamut from fun to tedious, it was incredibly helpful in preparing me for Sam Mendes’ latest installment to the series. Skyfall is a throwback to the original days of 007 with references galore to Sean Connery’s tenure as Bond, for better and for worse. There is a touch of misogyny (Bond has to take over for the bad woman driver), a few tasteless jokes (“a waste of good scotch”), and Bond is once again revealed to be invincible (after being shot in the chest and falling hundreds of feet, he’s back up in no time). The film ends with the cinematic universe of Bond set up exactly as it was at the beginning of Dr. No, the franchise’s first installment.
Skyfall succeeds, however, in the same way the best Bond movies do: by providing escapist fun with just the right amount of psychoanalysis. Daniel Craig continues to give us the background of how Bond becomes Bond with insightful glimpses into his childhood and love life. However, the movie never overthinks things with emphasis on the delightful, and magnificently shot (thank you, Roger Deakins) action set pieces. Javier Bardem gives us one of the best villains in Bond history who poses a legitimate threat because he is capable of overcoming Bond both physically and intellectually. Skyfall is not the best Bond movie, but it offers a great argument for the series to continue for many years to come.
Hear Phil Kollar and my detailed thoughts on Skyfall on episode 57 of the Film Misery Podcast.