February 6, 2009

I've been resolutely avoiding "Frost/Nixon."

For reasons I state here:



But The Bit Maelstrom makes exactly the argument needed to change my mind:
I've heard some criticisms of Frank Langella's Nixon, but I think those views come from people who remember the guy....

Problem is, he doesn't come across as evil at all. In fact, there are so many points in the movie where he's validated--as a powerhouse diplomat, as a strong leader, even his defense of Vietnam is better than his enemies' attack--that when the moment finally comes where he admits to abuse of power, it seems sort of trivial. Downright petty even. And his own confession of guilt and clear feelings of disappointment and shame, well, 30 years out, I began to feel like we weren't really worthy of him--and that I wouldn't mind having him in charge today.

TIP: If you want to demonize someone, you probably shouldn't put a great stage actor up there to play him. And it's possible, I suppose, they weren't trying to.

In any event, the whole movie ends up having an almost Amadeus-like surreality to it. Like we're watching a clash of Titans. Or a titan being brought down by ankle-biters....

Much more at the link. Read it!

32 comments:

Darcy said...

Oh! Blake is a fantastic movie reviewer. I'm going to have to see it now.

And I should say that I saw Slumdog Millionaire because of Althouse's review, too. Really enjoyed that movie.

This is where I'm going to get the hook for going on too long, but I very much enjoyed the Hmong actors in Gran Torino. My one quibble with a lot of thoughts expressed here on it. I thought they were precious.

Host with the Most said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Host with the Most said...

As to the movie not demonizing Nixon, here's all you need to know:

Hugh Hewitt, who ghost wrote Nixon's first after-Presidency book and was the first Director of the Nixon Library and Birthplace in California, loved the movie. Hugh knew Nixon at that time as well as anyone.

Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon's Director, was on Hugh's radio show last week discussing the movie and how he didn't seek to demonize Nixon at all.

Ron said...

Nixon would show all these fleabags in DC the door...evil, yes, but still more of a mensch than anybody these days...

HelenParr said...

Perhaps Blake could offer his opinion on "The Incredibles."

kynefski said...

Not so much for Watergate, which strikes me as a relatively trivial offense on the scale of Presidential crimes.

I hear that assessment frequently, and I'm always perplexed by it. I guess you have to have a particular political perspective to nod your head.

Kirk Parker said...

"that when the moment finally comes where he admits to abuse of power, it seems sort of trivial. Downright petty even."

That's almost right--I wouldn't call the Watergate affair, or the subsequent coverup, trivial from a legal point, but it was certainly about the most unnecessary thing the Nixon administration ever engaged it.

Brad V said...

Don't see it. While the ambiguity of the Nixon character is interesting for a while, the subject really isn't sufficient to support an entire movie.

Trooper York said...

Blake has one of the best blogs for reviewing movies that you can find. His take is far superior to that of many of these high priced critics who are jaded assholes.

Plus he always has a story where he met the stars of the movie in his travels in Hollywood at the gym or the sandwich shop or the urinal.

Check out his blog everyday, I know I do.

Trooper York said...

Of course as good as it is, it doesn't have cake.

Just sayn'

Jacob said...

The problem with the movie isn't that it demonizes Nixon (it doesn't); the problem is that it is a lie.

See the movie's set up like a documentary: Historical footage of Nixon, people being interviewed talking about what they did during the interviews etc. etc.

But it is grossly historically innaccurate. Not historically innaccurate in a "oh they didn't have that style of clothing until 1980" way. False themes are inserted (the interview as a boxing match where Frost had to 'beat' Nixon, in reality they were business partners with Nixon getting a % of the gross), interviews are twisted around (the climax admission did not have the significance in reality) and an entire pivotal scene where spoilers a drunk Nixon confesses via phone to an unsuspecting Frost is simply invented.

It was a film I enjoyed a lot less in retrospect.

blake said...

Perhaps Blake could offer his opinion on "The Incredibles."

Elasti--er, I mean, Helen: I'm a huge Brad Bird fan. I mean, he was a big part of "The Simpsons" during the early years, went on to do one "The Critic" (which I was one of six fans of), then three marvelous and totally different movies: The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. I'm looking forward to 1906.

I had only one nit to pick with The Incredibles which had to do with the line "When everyone is super, no one is." Nitpick aside, it manages to contrast super-heroism and everyday heroism in a way that uses humor without ever being campy.

I've been thinking of doing a Pixar retrospective as well, because I think Wall-E is a bit over-praised, so I'll do a full review of The Incredibles then.

blake said...

Jacob--

The Incredibles starts out with a documentary feel, too.

Yes, it's fiction. But if you wanted a documentary you could, you know, just watch the interviews. The beauty of it is that they "lied" in the service of good fiction, not to a political end. We've had years of bad Iraq/Bush-based movies where the lies where the big reveal is "Oh, look how evil those guys are". Yawn.

In fact, that fictitious phone call is a big tip-off. It's preposterous and practically Shakesperean.

blake said...

kynefsky,

I hear that assessment frequently, and I'm always perplexed by it. I guess you have to have a particular political perspective to nod your head.

I think it's a historical perspective: The 1960 election with Kennedy was presumed to be fixed, with Illinois being rigged to go to the Dems and California (!) being rigged to go to Nixon.

And that was just the start of the '60s. Assassinations, a war, rigged political conventions, etc., etc., etc.

Bugging your opponent's office when he doesn't stand a chance of beating you? Stupid, illegal, immoral, but relatively trivial.

blake said...

Now, off to order some bacon.

Cedarford said...

In school, reading of Watergate, certain details crept out that disturbed me and led me to question the whole "Nixon evil, journalists and lawyers saved the country!!" narrative then taught.

One was that the consensus of leaders in the ME, Europe, and Asia thought that Americans had gone nuts forcing him from office after what they all considered a petty affair.
Sorta like Ike being ridden out of town on a rail tarred and feathered for some minor transgression and scandal in his Administration.

The 2nd was the "coup d'etat" was by journalists, newpaper and electronic media owners, and an intelligensia that had been at war with him over "smearing the reputations" of so many with the "red menace charge" - ever since the late 40s and triumphantly said they finally bagged the guy a quarter century later. Bagged Nixon and McCarthy, but magically had given passes to Roy Cohn and Bobby Kennedy. Then about the same time, it was disclosed everyone Nixon had gone after were close to communists or actual Soviet agents, like Hiss and the rest of the ring of Stalin's goons and betrayers that Whitaker Chambers and NIxon had uncovered.
So Nixon seemed to be anthema to the Left about something he was right about and they were wrong...

And the pity is this guy was the social moderate and the visionary, the one who thought a peaceful world was more important than warfare between ideologies out to "liberate" the other side. Who a year in office had already set in motion an end to the Draft and who had reduced US casualties in Vietnam down geometrically to almost negligible by the end of 1972, and freed the POWs. Who gave the world the 1st move on NPTs that have so far largely set nations on a course that stopped chemical and biological WMD development, stockpiles, use.

And his own confession of guilt and clear feelings of disappointment and shame, well, 30 years out, I began to feel like we weren't really worthy of him--and that I wouldn't mind having him in charge today.

I've heard that from a lot of people...including some surprising ones. A Hillary supporter not happy with Obama or a flailing McCain. A liberal. Who said he remembered only one recent President that he thought had the brains and visionary ideas that might be able to do something about the growing problems....Nixon. Someone like Nixon...(Without knowing it, the liberal had gotten older, had kids, and had almost come full circle to become more like his Nixon-voting parents..)

rcocean said...

I didn't like it - turned if off after 30 minutes. Why watch it, when the real Frost-Nixon interviews are so much more interesting?

So, I just went back and listened to the real interviews. The real Nixon is so more interesting than a fake one, no matter how well acted.

And Blake is an excellent reviewer.

HelenParr said...

Blake: Did you know that the inside joke on 'The Incredibles' is that the boy who grows up to be Syndrome was modeled after Brad Bird. He didn't realize it until it was too late to fix or too expensive and so it stands...the joke the artists played on the director.

Oh! Gotta' Dash.

Revenant said...

The thing that truly made the Nixon Presidency atrocious is the thing hardly anyone ever mentions: his push to shift the country to a command economy, with wages and prices set by the federal government.

Revenant said...

Bugging your opponent's office when he doesn't stand a chance of beating you? Stupid, illegal, immoral, but relatively trivial.

Watergate was a bit like the Titanic incident.

In retrospect, the behavior of the crew of the Titanic -- zooming through ice fields like that -- seems horribly irresponsible. But they simply didn't realize the danger they were in. Ship masses and speeds had increased drastically over a relatively short period of time, and the means of spotting and avoiding icebergs hadn't kept pace. But people didn't realize they hadn't kept pace -- they thought they could still turn in time. Oops.

Nixon's mistake was similar. Presidents had been spying on their opponents since who knows when. Johnson did it to Nixon. FDR did it to his political opponents. Hell, Adams probably did it to Jefferson. The mistake Nixon made was in not realizing how the political environment had changed.

Mark said...

"I began to feel like we weren't really worthy of him--and that I wouldn't mind having him in charge today."

Well, I'm afraid Obama has in common with Nixon one set of attributes, and it isn't the good set.

blake said...

Blake: Did you know that the inside joke on 'The Incredibles' is that the boy who grows up to be Syndrome was modeled after Brad Bird.

Ha! No, but I see the resemblance!

I know that Bird and Lasseter disagreed about Elastigirl's companion, and that Lasseter let him go ahead until Bird finally had to admit he was right. It told me all I needed to know about Pixar's success.

blake said...

The thing that truly made the Nixon Presidency atrocious is the thing hardly anyone ever mentions: his push to shift the country to a command economy, with wages and prices set by the federal government.

Well, as I said, he was a conservative when conservative meant "for massively expanding governmental powers, but okay with Jesus and anti-hippie." The EPA, price-controls, kind of like W, only without W's remarkable honesty.

I wouldn't want Nixon running things; I want the guy Langella was playing.

(I offered up Morgan Freeman as an alternative to Obama but couldn't get any momentum on that.)

HelenParr said...

Who is my-uh-Elastigirl's companion??

Are you talking my wonderful Mr. Incredible??

Zach said...

I liked it a lot. The comparision to Lear went through my mind as well. I'm not entirely sure that Nixon coming across so sympathetically was a goal of the movie, but Langella really found the operatic side of Nixon. He plays him as smart, charismatic, a little ruthless with a big inferiority complex.

The late night phone call with the rambling Nixon was obviously an invented scene, but I think it was necessary to establish Nixon's emotional motivations for his behavior. That's the only scene where we see things from Nixon's perspective -- that his enemies were snobs from the eastern establishment who had been fighting him, fairly and unfairly, for years. It doesn't diminish Watergate, but it helps to clarify why Nixon the man would want to do the things that got him in trouble.

blake said...

Helen,

Bird's original concept for Elastigirl had her with a sidekick. A gizmo guy who maintained her airplane and other toys.

Lasster told Bird it was too much, but Bird disagreed, and Lasseter--clever fellow--let him do what he wanted. So there was backstory, and the scene where Elastigirl, Violet and Dash are in the airplane and it gets shot down, the sidekick was originally flying the plane.

Bird realized at that point that Lasseter was right and took out all the references. The only thing that remains is Elastigirl looking downward as the plane sinks. It's an odd moment if you don't know that she was originally processing the death of her friend.

HelenParr said...

Blake:
It's been awhile since I watched it, but I took that downward look to be a moment of resolve, revealed to Violet and Dash with the fireside chat that 'these people are truly evil and they will kill you and they don't care that you're children'...which also felt like a strong-on-defense-post-9/11 position.

Elastigirl having a companion would've made the dynamic with Mr. Incredible uncomfortable unless Gizmo Guy was gay. Now Mr. I. and Lucius works, however. Like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in that endless series of cop films.

blake said...

Elastigirl gets the plane from Snug (Snog?), so all that's left of him is a voice and a picture of the two of them together that he looks at.

I can't disagree with your interpretation except to say that the movie is really, really tight, and the camera moves to a top-down position that focuses on the falling fuselage and doesn't show Elastigirl's face at all.

I thought it was odd in the theater, and then later learned about from the commentary.

blake said...

As for the dynamic between Elastigirl and her sidekick, one of the most interesting things about Incredibles as "kids" movie was its attention to one of the scariest thing kids face: Fear that their parents will break up.

HelenParr said...

Blake: Ya' think Althouse will ever get over her Pixar hate long enough to see this film? Still waiting for you to 'do me a solid' and write the review to entice her.

For my money, the love story between Mr and Mrs I was so awesome. Indestructible man can't bear to lose his wife. So touching.

blake said...

Well, Althouse is capricious and whimsical, and not afraid of her own inherent contradictions. Today's hate of CGI could lead into tomorrow's Pixar fanaticism without changing a general hate of CGI. (Frankly, though, I'm not sure that Pixar would be to her tastes.)

One of the ways Pixar stands out from Disney is that not every story is a "be yourself in spite of your family or community" deal. There's a strong obligation-to-your-community vibe--or in this case, your family.

And you're spot on about The Incredibles in terms of the husband-and-wife dynamic. How to be a "superhero" and save the world while still being a good parent or husband. It's one of the most abused superhero tropes (the loved one becomes the target of villainy) but this is one movie that shows what it would really take to give that meaning.

HelenParr said...

If Althouse likes and appreciates beauty, then she should enjoy Pixar. But we say 'Pixar' like it's one thing and it's not. Every movie is a new theme, location, story, style, CGI challenge to overcome. I really enjoy 'Finding Nemo' and the beautiful ocean-world they create. I didn't care much for Incredibles on the first viewing because it had a 60s jazzy feel to it and it took me time to get that vibe. I didn't like Monsters, Inc. or Cars as much as Incredibles, Nemo and Ratatouille. And I think she mentioned not liking the images on the huge theatre screen. Perhaps the home TV would be a better size.

Even liking some of the Pixar films less than others, I can still say I like them all and have enjoyed them more and more on repeated viewings.