Monday, December 08, 2008

NIXON/FROST

Still time to check out the Daffy Definitions Kontest. Click here.
NIXON/FROST is the movie based on the stage play based on the television show. It features a brilliant script by Peter Morgan (who also wrote THE QUEEN – he’s your go-to-guy for names-in-the-news biopics), and was slickly directed by Ron Howard.

People who saw the play said it was even better but they could just be showing off because they saw the play. The movie was damn good and moved along at a brisk pace. I was curious to see just what perspective the movie added to the subject matter ‘cause face it, if it’s just two talking heads on camera you can go to YouTube and see the original. What Morgan and Opie did was very smart. They showed you another side of Nixon. (And he had many faces to choose from.) Who knew that he was really savvy and intelligent in addition to being corrupt, paranoid, cheap, and in most ways despicable?

I’m sure the filmmakers’ big question was whether the audience would remotely give a shit whether British gabmeister, David Frost pulled this off? I must say I didn’t care like I did in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE when I wanted to jump through the screen and help the hero myself, but I did find myself vested in Frost’s predicament. And he had some tougher challenges than Jamal in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Sure Jamal had to flee the evil orphanage that wanted to blind him but he never had to pitch a show to ABC.

The thing that shines more than anything else in this movie is the acting. Michael Sheen has made a nice career for himself playing famous English characters in Peter Morgan plays. First he was Tony Blair in THE QUEEN and now David Frost. I look forward to his portrayal someday of boxer Lennox Lewis. In the interest of accuracy Sheen could have played Frost taller but I’m just quibbling.

And Frank Langella as Tricky Dick was nothing short of extraordinary. He took a two-dimensional caricature in real life and made him three-dimensional on the flat screen. He captured Nixon’s goofy physical mannerisms, the voice inflections, and facial expressions. Watching Nixon walk -- all hunched over with his arms at his sides – he always reminded me of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character. That’s the way Yogi Bear and Boo Boo used to walk. Much of the film is in close up and the subtlety and nuance that Langella displayed was remarkable.

Just how crucial was Langella’s contribution. Picture the same movie with Dan Ackyrod playing Nixon.

I had only one problem with this movie. If it had been released ten years ago it would have had a thousand times the impact it does today. What seemed so shocking, so unthinkable back then – a United States president lying to the American people and covering up a botched break-in – is nothing in comparison to what Bush, Cheney, Rove, & Co. have done. Nixon shoplifted a Snickers bar compared to these Visigoths. And at least Nixon was tortured by his actions for the rest of his life. When George Bush has his comparable interview in a few years with Tyra Banks I’m sure there will be no such remorse. He may have destroyed the country and the world but at least he spared Vegas.

27 comments:

D. McEwan said...

So compared to Bush, FROST NIXON is a feel-good movie.

HOWEVER, "Watching Nixon walk -- all hunched over with his arms at his sides – he always reminded me of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character. That’s the way Yogi Bear and Boo Boo used to walk."

Daws Butler, and thus by extension, Yogi Bear, was a dear friend of mine, and I will not sit still for Yogi being maligned this way. Even if the "Smoking Gun" tape recorded Nixon and Haldeman plotting to slip Pic-a-nic Baskets past Ranger Jaworski.

And could Langella have played Nixon shorter, because Langella is about 7 feet tall.

Langella has now played Nixon and Dracula. All that's left is the world's tallest Hitler.

Monsterbeard said...

Visigoths? Polishing off the $10 words, eh? Leave it to a writer to remind you of your vocabulary limitations.

I look forward to seeing it.

Tanya said...

This has been one of the few movies I've really wanted to see, so I'm glad it's been getting good reviews.

Speaking of Bush, I read a quote from him yesterday saying that he's left the Middle East "freer and more hopeful". I've been watching seasons of West Wing recently and forgot just how much focus is on speech writing and just how much thought goes into every word. When Bush leaves office, some sixth grader is going to out of a job.

Anonymous said...

He didn't spare Vegas. We have lay offs, frozen 401K, hiring freezes, the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. But thanks for thinking of us. /Sarah

Annie said...

Rick Perlstein's Nixonland is a must read accompanying text. He puts Nixon's tortured and torturous thought processes into play behind all of the maneuvering and machinating.

I really miss Yogi Bear, and it's a creepy nightmare vision now that I'm carrying around and can't get out of my head, thanks to your description.

A la Brian Williams' nasal whine, "Thanks for that, Ken."

rob! said...

i haven't seen F/N yet, but i want to, but don't you think maybe the story gains MORE relevance after what we've been through?

maybe i'm projecting, but could it be the movie (and, earlier, the play) is showing us that even a President eventually has to fess up for his crimes?

i'm not saying i expect a similar thing to happen with Bush, but i can dream...

SharoneRosen said...

F/N shows what truly good writing, acting and film making can do; tell a story you already know and make it compelling! It is a great film.

Bush... who ever thought ANYONE would make Nixon look good by comparison???

qrter said...

I think the timing is exactly right, as it shows the comparisons and how much nastier someone like G.W. actually is (granted - if you hadn't noticed, but apparently a lot of the American people hadn't noticed yet in 2004 either, so..).

Norm said...

A friend of mine took me to a screening this past weekend (at the Writer's Guild showings, no less). The two hours went by pretty quickly thanks to the brilliant acting and the fact that the film had "forward momentum."

I don't remember much of the original interviews, although I'm puzzled: why they were so successful? From watching the film it appears the first three are a bomb because Frost just let Nixon ramble on. Only when they get to the last one and Nixon "confesses" do you get a sense of victory.

I wouldn't pay $12 for this (or even $6 with my group activity tickets) but definitely RENT IT if you don't see it in the theatre.

Nat G said...

I haven't seen this film, and I'm not surprised that Langella does a first-rate job in it.
But I have to say that in terms of casting brilliance, the portrayal of Nixon that I'd have to point to is Dan Hedaya (Nick Tortelli for you Cheers fans) in the title role in Dick. And that's not e=mc2 type of brilliance, that's eraser-on-the-end-of-a-pencil brilliance, something that seems so bloody obvious once someone does it. How did we all watch Dan in his unshaven mumbly-joe performances for years and not automatically want to make a Nixon film just for him?

AlaskaRay said...

>>They showed you another side of Nixon. (And he had many faces to choose from.) Who knew that he was really savvy and intelligent in addition to being corrupt, paranoid, cheap, and in most ways despicable?<<

And who'd have thought we would EVER have a president who would make us yearn for the good old days of Tricky Dick. I wonder how long we'll have to wait for the movie Bush/Stewart.

Kirk Jusko said...

Nixon was the original Comeback Kid. 20 years after he resigned in disgrace, such was his stature as an elder statesman, that a Democratic President, the very party he saw as the "enemy", said the eulogy at his funeral.

That Nixon ever made it to the White House in the first place was a sign of his brillance.

Langella once played Dracula. Maybe Bush will be portrayed by Tom Cruise

Anonymous said...

I look forward to seeing it. But the commercial showing "Nixon" erupting in anger seemed like he was chewing the scenery a bit. Maybe out of context, I'm not being fair to Langella's performance.

Anonymous said...

I saw Ron Howard on Rachel Maddow last night. The guy looks 50 but sounds 15

D. McEwan said...

"AlaskaRay said...
And who'd have thought we would EVER have a president who would make us yearn for the good old days of Tricky Dick."


While it is certainly true that Bush accomlpished the impossible, and managed to be an even worse president than Nixon (Was THAT what "Mission Accmplished" meant?), her certainly doesn't make me "Yearn for the good old days of Tricky Dick." Nothing could make me wish to return to that nightmare.

When Nixon was running for Governor of California in 1962, I shook hands with him. I have an excuse. I was 12 and didn't know any better. At least by ten eyars later, when I voted in my first presidential election, my hand had ehaled sufficiently for me to use it to vote aGAINST Nixon, unlike RonHoward, who has virtually admitted he made DEFROST NIXON to atone for voting for him in '72. ("Why Opie, Why'd ya do it?")

Kirk Jusko said...

Defrost Nixon? Is that a Freudian typo?

D. McEwan said...

Man, I gotta proof read my comments. Sorry for typing the way Bush talks.

Word verification is PHSTIVE:

A party in the 1960s where everyone took "acid".

D. McEwan said...

No, that was an intentional joke - and my nightmare.

D. McEwan said...

I meant "Defrost/Nixon" was intentional.

I'll stop posting now, as I'm clearly unable to put anything up that doesn't need revision at the moment.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Reading this, I got to wondering when we last had a really good president. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, LBJ... Not exactly a stellar lineup.

Word Verification: porys. The people who don't have much money.

Artie Fufkin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
estiv said...

How did we all watch Dan in his unshaven mumbly-joe performances for years and not automatically want to make a Nixon film just for him?

Actually, Nat G, Dan Hedaya's performance in Blood Simple in 1982 (the first Coen Bros movie) was pretty clearly based on Nixon. Which was kind of weird, considering that he was playing a small-town Texas businessman trying to get his wife murdered. Hmm, maybe not so weird a choice after all.

A. Buck Short said...

I'm starting to feel like a low-rent Zelig or Gump, but in a conversation with a couple of the old Kennedy hands, one of whom was his friend and WH aide Dave Powers, there was general agreement that Nixon was one of the “smartest” people they had ever encountered. To me it was like Helen Gahagan Douglas professing that he was one of the “nicest” people she ever met.

(Powers was the director of the Kennedy Library for something like 30 years, and I think he caught something. In the beginning he talked about as much like a normal guy as someone from Boston possibly could. As the years wore on, his Kennedy accent got thicker and thicker, as if he were afflicted with Vaught Meader Syndrome: ("So I shed to Rojshh, I shed, I think Jack can beat Nixon and Cabot Lahdge by at least the mahgin we took Cabot Lahdge in ’52. And rojssh remembahed exactly what that wahs.”)

Incidentally, I was finally able to rent and enjoy a copy of Volunteers. Great to dust off and fire up the old VCR again. We had been using it as a planter. I hope it's not too off-Nixon to remember Kennedy’s 1962 Yale commencement address that opened the picture, and how conservative the student body still was -- in part because merit admissions hadn’t fully evolved and everybody had only dipped a toe into what would become the 60s.

I think half the speech was explaining to the graduates how government wasn’t as “big” as they thought, and the Democrats were so fiscally and monetarily responsible.

It was fun to watch how well the Coke scene played out. Tom Hanks’ accent was pretty much a good Plimpton/Grant, but I’m still trying to figure who Rita Wilson’s more subtle New York lilt reminded me of. I think it’s any number of actresses in pictures of the 30s and 40s. Am I missing the obvious, was it somebody specific you guys had in mind?

P.S. WV for this one is cupess. I'm going with any Russ Myer ingenue.

A. Buck Short said...

Oh, and I've now taken a vow to only collect movies in which Chic Hearn doesn't play an announcer.

Nat G said...

My fault, estiv; both times I tried to watch Blood Simple, I fell asleep.

My password word: Maliad. An all-duck adaptation of The Iliad.

Anonymous said...

Those are some pretty tough comments you have for Colin Powell.


JPM

TCinLA said...

And of course, yesterday Bush gave Charles "chuck" Colson - the man who wrote up Nixon's "Enemies List," hired "The Plumbers" for the Watergate break-in, planned to firebomb the Brookings Institution, and promised he would walk over his grandmother to see Nixon re-elected - the Presidential Citizen's Medal, second to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given to that citizen whose "life exemplifies service to his fellow citizens and society."

After throwing up when I read this, I decided I'm going to have to drive back down to Yorba Linda to the Nixon Library and piss on Nixon's grave (again).