Just a short note today to remind you movie mavens that if you haven't seen this remarkable film yet, you need to reserve a copy asap. I must say I wasn't sure what to expect but if this is not the most beautifully crafted movie performance I've ever seen in my life, then I don't know what great acting is.
Daniel Day-Lewis manages an amazingly convincing (and rather awe-inspiring) combination of craft, talent and natural ease of movement and expression to bring Abraham Lincoln to vivid life. This is Lincoln as he must have been. There is NOTHING remotely false about Day-Lewis's performance - no tricks, no gimmicks - it all springs from the creative genius of this most gifted of actors.
Lincoln is shown not as the God some would make of him, but as an approachable human being with flaws which were overridden by his own canny (political and otherwise) genius and basic goodness of character.
I always wonder how actors who are so deep into a role are able to shake free when filming ends. But I am aware that most are able to do this in ways that remain a mystery to me. Obviously, they must.
Note: Sally Fields is remarkable as Mary Lincoln, a woman driven to the brink of sanity by demons within and without. I don't understand why Fields draws a smirk from so many, she is one of our best actors and thank goodness that Stephen Spielberg realizes it. She more than keeps up with Day-Lewis in their scenes together. In a part that might have easily slipped into caricature, she seethes with an inchoate discontent yet manages, still, to win my sympathy. (The poor woman did have a lot to put up with.)
The rest of this very well cast movie is excellent, especially Tommy Lee Jones (despite an ungainly wig) as Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania one of the most influential and most rabid anti-slavery members of congress. Lee Pace is also a stand-out as a pro-slavery congressman with a sharp gift for words.
This is the first Ellery Queen book, first published in 1929. I probably read it when I was a kid (I used to read all this stuff way back then though most of it has been erased from memory) and while I know that Ellery Queen can be an acquired taste, I thoroughly enjoyed THE ROMAN HAT MYSTERY, anachronisms and all.
Oh, it is a very dated piece of work, in fact, just the hat thing alone could not happen today. But perhaps there might be another article of clothing which could be substituted in its place so that the crime itself - complete with obscure poison - could work in some fashion or other.
At any rate, keeping that in mind, the story is still clever and the setting a lot of fun. The plot is filled with colorful New York characters of the sort you might find in a screwball mystery of the thirties. Unfortunately, the story is also complete with racial stereotypes which are pretty cringe-worthy. But I shrug my shoulders and skip along always reminding myself that it's 1929 and most people weren't as enlightened then as they are today...ahem.
Murder most foul occurs in the orchestra seating section at the Roman Theater while onstage the aptly named production of GUN PLAY is in full swing. (Next to a small English village setting, I love a theater murder.) Monte Field, a well known and rather scurvy legal shyster has been found dead in his seat. It doesn't take much strenuous investigating to find out that Field was a blackmailer as well as a crooked lawyer.
When Inspector Queen is called in - he takes all the high profile cases - he and his son Ellery have trouble at first making heads or tails of the one main clue: Monte Field's top hat is missing. After a substantial search, it has apparently disappeared. In those days men ALWAYS wore top hats with their evening clothes - so this is, indeed, a strange occurrence.
Part of the reason I enjoyed the story so much, by the way, is this insistence on clothing etiquette and the whole idea that people used to dress to the teeth to attend the theater.
I like the warm camaraderie between the elderly Queen and his persnickety son. Though I must admit that a little bit of Ellery goes a very long way. (One thing I do love is that he wears prince nez instead of regular eyeglasses.)
Both men live in a large apartment house with one devoted servant - an energetic boy named Djuna. Djuna is apparently of some minority persuasion though his ethnicity is not made clear. I assumed he was someone the Queens picked up on a case along the way. (I guess in those days it was possible to do that sort of thing.) A few unflattering comments (and comparisons) are made about this quirky member of the Queen household though everyone apparently likes the boy (but who the heck is he?) and I suppose admire the Queens for taking him in. It's all rather obscure.
In today's world, the whole living situation of these three would seem a bit strange, but those were different times. The fact that the boy curls up in a corner like a pet doesn't seem off-putting to the Queens - in fact, everyone rather chuckles at Djuna's eccentricities.
At any rate, back to the story: It is obvious that for mysterious reasons of his own, the killer must have either hidden the missing hat or walked out with it late into the night. Obviously, the hat must hold a clue to the identity of the murderer. The cause of death too is rather mysterious - poison. But not just any old poison, something I've never heard of (and why would I?) distilled from gasoline. This was in the days of wood alcohol causing many accidental poisonings, but Monte Field's killer was a bit more creative and daring.
MYSTERY OF THE ROMAN HAT is a strict whodunit with 'fair play' clues posted along the way and a goodly cast of characters - several connected with Monty Field's lucrative blackmailing past time just happen to be in the theater on the night concerned. So lots of suspects, lots of clues. This was in the day when women got hysterical and often collapsed at the drop of a hat so there's some of that as well.
But the so-called 'fair play' sprinkling of clues isn't as fair as the authors imply in the end. Near that end, we even get a pause which asks us if we have figured out who the killer is yet.
And it turns out that Inspector Queen and Ellery figured out early on who the killer must be but kept that info to themselves because there was no proof. Uhuh.
Well, guess what, I figured it out on my own though I didn't pick the actual killer's name - I just knew where he must have come from and where the hat must be. But not because of any 'fair play' clues supplied by the authors. I just used my own common sense. Though there is a lot of obfuscation as there must be in mysteries of this sort, the whereabouts of the killer seems rather obvious. But okay, only after you read about halfway through.
In the end, the motive is a doozy - but probably one that wouldn't necessitate murder today. Although one never knows. Upper crust is till upper crust, I suppose.
Ellery Queen, by the way, was the pseudonym of two prolific cousins (from Brooklyn, no less) named Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee.
Also, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog this weekto see what other overlooked or forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today. Patti Abbot will be back at her hosting duties next week.
Dave, a film directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Gary Ross, is a lovely political fairy tale that works primarily because of Kevin Kline. He plays Dave Kovic, likable doppelganger to an unlikable President (also played by Kline). Despite a few glaring inconsistencies this is still one of my favorite political movies even if much of it is implausible.
Dave Kovic runs a temp job agency in Washington D.C. (not very well one is given to think - he gets too emotionally involved with his hard-luck clients) and on the side, play-acts the President - whom he is the spitting image of - in local commercials. His apartment in D.C. is much too nice for a guy who seems to be just getting along in life trying to make others happy, but maybe he inherited the place. You know how Hollywood is about movie apartments.
At any rate, Dave's commercial activity has come to the attention of the President's aides and one night Dave comes home from work to find two secret service men sitting in his living room - one of them a very imposing Ving Rhames.
To Dave's surprise they want him to impersonate the Prez - just to wave at a crowd and be seen getting into a limo - while the actual Prez is off on some important government business (actually, dallying with his mistress - aka Laura Linney as Randi, a Presidential staffer).
It's all harmless and fun and something that doesn't strain Dave's ability. He is happy to help out.
But when, that same night, the Prez suffers a debilitating stroke in the arms of said mistress, his evil Chief of Staff - a psychopath by the name of Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) and his co-hort Kevin Dunn (the very affable Alan Reed) pressure Dave into playing the President until Mitchell recovers and can resume his duties. What they don't tell Dave is that Mitchell is probably not going to recover - he is being held in medical sequestration in the upper reaches of the White House.
Frank Langella and Kevin Dunn
This part of the plan doesn't make much sense really - it all has to do with Alexander's hatred of the Vice President (Ben Kingsley) and his crazed unwillingness to hand over the reins of government. But as I mentioned in the beginning, this is really a fairy tale, so we shrug our shoulders and move on.
When Dave rightly asks, "What about the Vice President?"
Alexander replies that "...the Vice President is mentally unbalanced."
So for the sake of the country, Dave has to step in - at least for now. It is his patriotic duty.
There follows a very funny if very unbelievable crash-course in 'how to be the President'.
It also helps matters (at least at first) that the President and First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Sigourney Weaver) rarely speak. They have totally separate quarters in the White House and in truth, Ellen hates Bill's guts - she knows him for the philanderer he is.
Everything goes along fairly well and it becomes apparent to one and all (the Washington press corps, the television pundits - all played by real-life reporters and commentators from the early 90's) that 'the President' has a new lease on life. He is not only more out-going than Bill Mitchell, but infinitely more likable.
There are some touching moments showing 'the President' winning the hearts of the people without really trying. Dave is just a naturally sweet, empathetic sort of guy - very different from the real Bill Mitchell who is not only a phony and a double-dealing jerk, but a crook as well.
Dave seems instantly smitten by the First Lady and who can blame him? It is Sigourney Weaver, after all. Ellen herself begins having second thoughts about her hubby. He seems so different. The two grow closer but not before a very funny shower scene and a couple of other awkward encounters.
What happens next I won't reveal except to say that Charles Grodin in his usual winning way steals the scenes he's in.
He plays Dave's accountant buddy Murray Blum, whom Dave calls in to help balance a tricky budget bill, much to the consternation of Bob Alexander and the President's staff. (Frank Langella is quite funny as the stiffly walking psycho with beady evil eyes and delusions of grandeur.)
As Dave begins to feel (and exert) his power, rightly realizing that he doesn't have to tow Alexander's line, he makes a powerful enemy out of the chief of staff - especially when Dave has the temerity to fire him. (A very satisfying scene.)
What happens next I won't reveal, except to say that it all works out for the best even if the actual ending makes little sense - politically speaking.
There are several things in this movie that should have worked better: Charles Grodin could have had more to do. He is SO wonderful. Ben Kingsley too just basically stands around. Ving Rhames could have handled more as well, though he has a really nice scene with Dave in an ambulance near the end.
Also, can it be true that there is a secret underground entrance to the White House? An entrance that leads to a small park - complete with bubbling fountain - across the way? If so, it's a secret no longer.
This review is my entry in Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films hosted by Todd Mason at his blog,Sweet Freedom Don't forget to check in and see what other films, television or audio/visual material other bloggers are talking about today.
Apparently I am not needed to report tomorrow morning for jury duty. Darn. I had a 'Twelve Angry Men' (nowadays I suppose it would be Twelve Angry Men and Women which doesn't have the same 'oomph') melodrama all worked out - all for naught. It would have been my first time serving too.
We're in the midst of a snowstorm at the moment, but the jury notice online says that our service is complete. Whatever that means. I didn't even get to put my hand on a bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth...wait, that's for someone testifying - right?
Oh well, it wasn't all for nothing - I did go to the library today and returned home with fourteen books. Before the snow started.
Not feeling all that great so I think I will take a few days off blogging anyway.
Don't know why but I've been thinking a lot about this lately - pondering before I go to sleep.
Maybe fate has a desert island in store for me? Of course it doesn't have to be a desert island at all, it could be:
What 10 Books Would I Take With Me If I Were Going to Another Planet Never to Return?
Or - What 10 Books Would I Want With Me If I Were the Last Person Left in the World and all the Bookstores and Libraries Had Disappeared?
Or - What 10 Books Would I Take With Me If Forced to Attend A Perpetual Convention of Phrenology Enthusiasts and I Myself Were Decidedly Not A Phrenology Enthusiast?
Or - What 10 Books Would I Take With Me If I Were Going to Spend Eternity in An Empty Diner?
Or - What 10 Books Would I Take With Me If Chosen to Be the Princess in the Perpetual Tower Surrounded by A Moat Filled with Ravenous Alligators?
Well, you get the idea.
Much as I would like to think that I'd take Shakespeare and be done with it. The truth is I wouldn't.
Shakespeare (a book containing all of his plays) would be my 11th choice if allowed.
Shakespeare's plays give my intellect a work-out, but they don't bring me joy. (Except for maybe Henry V's St. Crispin's Day speech.) I know, I know, I'm a philistine. So be it.
I'd want books with me that bring me some sort of joy (and a little warmth) as well as fire the brain's synapses.
So, without further ado: (That's probably from Shakespeare since he seemed to have written just about everything and in choosing other reading material I know I'll still be getting a bit of the Bard.)
My Ten Books For A Desert Island:
(At least as of today.)
1) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen 2) THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald 3) WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams 4) THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE by Laurie R. King 5) PERSUASION by Jane Austen 6) JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte 7) DRACULA by Bram Stoker 8) CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters 9) COTILLION by Georgette Heyer 10) FRIDAY'S CHILD by Georgette Heyer What Ten Books Would You Want With You under the same circumstances?
This Flash Fiction Challenge was instigated by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Armed with trepidation, I hereby volunteer my entry. I did go a few words over the 1,000 mark. I always do. You know how wordy I can be. It's just part of my nature.
Please check out the links on Patti's blog. There will be a large assortment of stories popping up today from the many fearless contributors who took up Patti's challenge. It was a lot of fun and I'm really hoping that this year will bring more Flash Fiction writing challenges.
The Man in the White Van
A white van pulled into the lot across the street and
parked in the spot opposite the view from my window. A tall man with a pony tail, sunglasses and a
scarred face jumped out. He slid open a side door and reached inside the van, muscled arms covered in tattoos - the reason for his sleeveless t-shirt.
I’m not a fan of tattoos.
The guy flipped open a cooler and took out his lunch which
he ate sitting in a beach chair, his back on the ocean view.
Why bother parking there, I wondered - just to ignore the scenery?
But maybe he’s seen it so many times before that the sight has been rendered meaningless. I pondered that for a few moments, watching the guy
drink from a container. He must be a native, I thought. After awhile I suppose they don’t notice the view anymore, it becomes part of the every day.
I wonder too if he knows I’m watching him. (I suppose I’m tired
of looking at the ocean myself.) What bright red hair he has. I've always thought the color strange.
He glanced up. Maybe he caught the sun reflecting off my binoculars.
I should be more cautious.
Hey guy, how else could I look into your van and see all the stuff
you’ve got tucked away? The clothing and surfboard I can understand. Even the motorbike. But what
about the fencing equipment? Isn’t that a little effete for someone who looks
like you? And how many boxes of old books do you have in there? I don’t
understand the taxidermy birds either. You’re not the type, my friend.
But the kicker is that Louis XIV gold leafed table. (I happen to know about furniture since once upon a time my
family had an antique gallery in the center of La Jolla.)
Now that I look closer, the table looks very like the one I have in the San Francisco house. And
didn’t my nephew just take up fencing -
I couldn’t help giggling - in his latest attempt to impress me with his
And those birds might have come straight from my library.
Initially I’d thought this guy was just another homeless bum
- what with the clothing in the van and all. But now I’m not so sure. If this was a bum it was a pretty
The guy just didn’t look purposeless. Though what I meant by that I couldn’t say. I don't look like what I am either. (Much to my sister's eternal surprise, I might add.)
I sat back a bit. It was curious that the van was filled with so many familiar objects. A sudden thought: Had the house been robbed? If so, why would
a robber take a bunch of stuffed birds? Hard to cash in on them you’d think.
And why would he show up here in Southern
California with the goods still in his van?
Unless my nephew sent him. Not that I would, for a moment, have
thought him capable of such elaborate machinations. But it is true that the
most complete lackluster dullard may be capable of the occasional surprise.
A sudden sneer on his face, the guy stood up, collapsed the beach chair and tossed it into the van. I was sure the sneer was intended for me. He then pulled one of those metal expanding ladders from the
van and grasping the ladder easily under one arm, crossed the street. Was he planning on
scaling the wall around the grounds? In the middle of the day?
Yes, so it would seem.
This character meant to climb up the side of the building and into my
room. I was sure of it.
Security hasn’t been the same since the notion of austerity took hold with the board of directors.
I began to sweat. Was there any point in pressing the alarm buzzer?
Then I heard the metallic clank of the ladder as it was shoved
against masonry three stories down.
Of course I should have expected this. Retribution.
I looked out the window and
saw the top of that red head. When he glanced up and smiled, I screamed. Couldn't help myself.
The door to my room was unlocked and thrown open, the doctor and nurse rushed in.
“He’s back!” I
shouted in a rush of breath.
“Look out the window.
He’s climbing up the side of the building. Right now.”
“No, no, Mr. Blair. Calm yourself.”
"He’s going to kill
“Your nephew is dead – remember? He perished with his mother in the fire, five years ago. You…uh, were there."
“No, you moron, I don’t mean my nephew. I mean the man he’s
hired to kill me. The man with the red hair."
“Your nephew had red hair, Mr. Blair. It was one of the
things you said at trial that you most hated about him. Remember?”
“Of course I remember.” Actually I didn’t.
“Then you know that there’s no one really coming to kill you.”
“Look for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“Nurse,” said the doctor, “take a look for Mr. Blair’s sake."
The beefy guy rolled his eyes but walked over to the window
and glanced out. “Nobody out there, Doc.”
“What about the white van?” I asked, hysteria taking grip.
The nurse shrugged. “No white van anywhere that I can see.”
“Now, Mr. Blair,” said the doctor in an unctuous tone.
“It’s time for your medication. Please relax. All will be well. Nurse, hold him down." He flashed the hypodermic.
A white van pulled into the rear parking lot of the Sunset
Little Theater. Prop manager Joe Nolan climbed down from the driver's seat and tried the theater's back door - it was unlocked. That meant rehearsals had started.
He began unloading the van. Though he wasn’t supposed
to do the heavy lifting, he didn’t mind lending a hand when it was needed. Little
theater was like that – everyone pitched in. It was a good gig.
He burped. Lunch hadn't settled well. That was the last time he'd park by the loony-bin. Bad mojo coming off that place. He'd swear he heard somebody screaming.
This should have been a hilarious film - think of its stars. Think of its insane premise. Think of its director: Carl Reiner.
Unfortunately Reiner has never really been able to channel his comedic genius into his directing efforts. He is such a funny man, but the films he's directed over the years have come off mostly as duds. Hard to figure out.
But ultimately the script of ALL OF ME does nobody any favors. It lets everyone down and we get maybe a half hour or so worth watching at the end and a cute dog who basically has no role. But let's not discount doggy cuteness - it's better than nothing.
So why am I writing about this rightly forgotten movie?
Well, perversely, I saw it again recently having remembered some scenes with affection. (I did specify perversity.) I guess this is one of Netflix's (and youtube's) prime directives - to make it easier to keep in touch with our movie pasts, the good, the bad and the ugly.
First I'll tell you what didn't work for me in the movie:
1) Victoria Tennant. Victoria Tennant. Victoria Tennant. I think she was Steve Martin's girlfriend (she married him in '86) at the time but that shouldn't mean she needed to be forced on us - she wasn't MY girlfriend. Victoria Tennant was a rather stiff-necked screen presence and had zip, zero flare for comedy and zero charm. It's a thankless part anyway, badly conceived, badly written. Plus she sports a horrible hair-do.
2) Steve Martin's forced attempts at comedy in another thankless part badly conceived, badly written. He should have aced this role and instead - except for the last half hour or so (which I'll get to shortly) he seems to working under some sort of personal duress other than what's occurring in the script. Steve Martin (whom I used to adore before I saw him in 'It's Complicated' - but that's a story for another day) is the sort of actor/comedian who must NEVER be role pressured - does anyone know what I mean? His 'shtick' must SEEM TO BE NATURALLY OCCURRING otherwise he risks seeming self-conscious and posturing - the kiss of death for a comedy performance.
3) The waste of the wonderful character actor Richard Libertini in a thankless role as some sort of incoherent swami with obscure mumbo-jumbo power over life and death having to do with that bowl.
4) The waste of Selma Diamond in a small part as Martin's secretary. She might have stolen the movie, instead she's given nothing to do and not much to say. Remember her New York gravelly voice?? Her smart mouth antics on the television show, Night Court? Not in evidence here. But she passed away in the following year so maybe the non-part had something to do with her health? Still, it was nice to see her once again.
Okay, so now here's what did work for me:
1) Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin. I need hardly say anymore. Even if in this clunker, she shines, perfectly cast as the dying millionairess bent on cheating fate. (But ultimately, even she can't overcome the weight of a deadly script.)
2) Dana Elcar as Martin's randy lawyer boss going through a divorce. He is wonderful. (But then when was he ever not wonderful?)
3) Jason Bernard as Tyrone Wattell, Martin's saxophone playing blind friend, who when not playing infrequent club gigs (with Martin on the guitar), apparently spends his time playing on street corners picking up spare change.
4) Steve Martin in the last half or so hour of the film.
Dying millionairess Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin), a woman richer than Croesus who has been in excruciatingly frail health since she was a child (it's a miracle she's lasted this long) has decided that with all her money she ought to be able to cheat death.
She is a client at the law firm in which Roger Cobb (Steve Martin) toils lackadaisically on insignificant cases, undecided whether to devote his life completely to the law (and marry the boss's daughter) or become a jazz musician. He seems a little old for this sort of career ambivalence, but that's a minor thing. He's supposed to be quirky because he brings his dog to the office every day.
Attempting to turn over a new leaf, Roger grabs at the chance offered by his boss (Dana Elcar) to visit Edwina's vast estate and handle the updating of her will.
Once there he finds out that Edwina has hatched a plan - with the help of Swami Prahka Lasa (Richard Libertini) - to have her soul transported from her body (at the moment of death) into the body of the daughter of the old horse groomer on her estate. The daughter, Terry Hoskins, is played by Victoria Tennant. Hoskins has apparently bought into the soul-transference mumbo-jumbo and seems okay with sharing her body with Edwina's soul. It's an upgrade in pay after all since Edwina is leaving everything to her. Get it?
Roger, naturally, assumes they're all crazy or it's some sort of joke or more probably, a scam. But Edwina is deadly serious and she boots unbelieving Roger off the case, placing him in danger of being fired - she is one of his firm's major clients after all. Though Roger's boss thinks Edwina has gone crackers as well and assures Roger that his job is in no jeopardy - for now.
Okay, fast-forward to the inevitable death scene which takes place at the law office. But due to some rather absurd clumsiness on the part of those around her (it obviously needed more rehearsal), Edwina's soul misses its mark and goes crashing (literally) out the window and into Roger's body coincidentally walking by down below.
Yup, you guessed it. Lots of chances for very physical humor as Edwina controls half of Roger's body which has him lurching about attempting to regain control. This should have been right up Steve Martin's alley, but for whatever reason the whole thing seems remarkably unfunny.
Edwina is awake and aware in Roger's consciousness and they have running conversations - also remarkably unfunny. When Roger looks in a mirror he sees Edwina which somehow makes little sense, but it's an amusing movie gimmick - so that's something that works.
But let's not talk about the scene at the urinal in the men's room in which....well, figure it out. Not funny. Not vulgar. Just...not anything. (Although bathroom humor is obviously thought well of by the boys in Hollywood then and now.)
The plot moves along as Roger discovers (after several unfunny attempts at seduction) that Terry Hoskins (the would-be soul host) is really a gold-digging horse-loving predator who wants Edwina's estate and to heck with sharing her soul which she never believed in anyway.
Now we get to the last half hour or so which saves the movie for me. Terry, playing the grand dame of the manor, gives a ball at Edwina's estate at which Roger has been forbidden entrance. But in a race against time to save Edwina's soul by transporting it back to its originally intended host, Roger and his dog and his blind friend Tyrone and the swami, pretend to be part of the orchestra and sneak onto the estate. (The pooch disguised as a seeing eye dog.)
These frenetic last few scenes in the movie, if not hilariously funny, are at least, amusing.
Then comes the best part: the end credits which I could watch over and over. Edwina and Roger dancing together to 'All of Me' at their wonderfully uncoordinated goofy best.
If only the rest of the movie had been as good, we'd have had a comedy classic.
This post is naturally part of the Tuesday Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film meme hosted each week by Todd Mason at his blog, Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check in to see what other films and/or other audio/visual material, other bloggers are chatting about today.