Monday, April 8, 2013

Reversal of Fortune

Year 5, Day 98 - 4/8/13 - Movie #1,400

BEFORE: There's no point in going to sleep tonight, we're leaving for the airport at 5 am, and there's really only one way for me to be awake at 5 am.  So I'm all packed, ready to stay up all night and leave first thing.  Another film tonight about a rich husband (maybe) killing his wife - you see the connection, right?  And Frank Langella from "All Good Things" was also in the 1997 version of "Lolita" with Jeremy Irons (last heard in "The Lion King").

THE PLOT:  Wealthy Sunny von Bülow lies brain-dead, husband Claus guilty of attempted murder; but he says he's innocent and hires Alan Dershowitz for his appeal.

AFTER:  I felt this one really let me down - I saved it for #1400 because it seemed like an important film, it got a good score on IMDB, won the Best Actor Oscar and it's listed as one of the "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die" (I've now seen 306 of them).  But it was just plain boring - mostly it's Alan Dershowitz and his law students, debating the finer points of the appeals process of the Rhode Island courts.  Yawn.

The problem is, I think, it's based on a book by Dershowitz, and he was Claus Von Bulow's lawyer for his appeal - the attempt to get his two murder convictions overturned.  So, that's the only part of the process that Dershowitz saw - where the much, much more interesting part would have been the murder trials themselves, or the actions leading up to the attempted murder charge. 

Oh, we see the nights in question - otherwise they'd have hired Glenn Close to just lie comatose in a bed, and then they really wouldn't be getting their money's worth.  The problem is, we see them too many times, and from too many different points of view, and every time another little tidbit of information is revealed, we get to see them yet AGAIN.  Another problem - it's all hearsay.  At the end of the film, are we any closer to parsing what really happened between Claus and Sunny?

By the film's own admission, even if Claus Von Bulow HAD injected Sunny with insulin, so what?  She was on so many other medications, some prescribed and some not, who could even foresee how her body would react?  This is a woman who overdosed on aspirin, a quantity that could really only be self-ingested.

I'll admit that I thought that Claus injecting Sunny with insulin was the most logical cause of her coma, but it's not really that cut and dry, is it?  If he did that, why would he leave the needle behind?  There were plenty of other shady characters who could be held accountable, but you can't hang a criminal trial on convenience, or identifying the most likely party - that's not how our legal system works.

And why make the omniscient comatose patient the narrator of the film, if she's not willing to add any coherent insight?  Without that, it just seems like an odd choice.

Anyway, I'm stepping away from the project for the next week and a half - maybe when I come back I'll have a renewed interest in murder cases.  God knows after 11 days with me on a boat, my wife may want to suffocate me with a pillow.  So if I don't make it back, you're all my witnesses.

Also starring Glenn Close (last heard in "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil"), Ron Silver (last seen in "Semi-Tough"), Annabella Sciorra (last seen in "Internal Affairs"), Uta Hagen, Fisher Stevens, Christine Baranski (last seen in "Legal Eagles"), Felicity Huffman, Julie Hagerty.

RATING: 3 out of 10 appellate judges

Sunday, April 7, 2013

All Good Things

Year 5, Day 97 - 4/7/13 - Movie #1,399

BEFORE: I'm taking two weeks off for vacation, and I started it by going to a beer festival yesterday afternoon, but it was one for a good cause - so I was happy to do my part for charity.  But then I came home and slept for a few hours, so my sleeping schedule is even weirder than usual.  Maybe I can turn this to my advantage, since we're leaving Monday morning for a real trip, so I can pack all day today while clearing out my DVRs (so they won't fill up while I'm gone) and then stay up late watching one more film, and leave early Monday for the airport.

Linking from "Guilty As Sin", Rebecca De Mornay was also in "And God Created Woman" with Frank Langella (last seen in "Unknown"), who appears in today's film.  There's a connection I never thought I'd need to make.

THE PLOT:  Mr. David Marks was suspected but never tried for killing his wife Katie who disappeared in 1982, but the truth is eventually revealed.

AFTER: A good number of films this week have been based on real murder cases - which I didn't realize at first, but it's a solid enough connection to make.  "Compulsion" was based on the Leopold & Loeb case, "In Cold Blood" obviously written by Capote about a real Kansas killing, and "Double Indemnity" was based on a real insurance scam/murder scheme in 1927 in Queens, NY.

This film also is based on real events, though the names have been changed - Robert Durst was the son of a NYC real estate mogul, and his wife disappeared in 1982.  Her case was still unsolved when Durst's best friend, who may have had knowledge about his wife's disappearance was found murdered, and Durst was questioned.  He moved to Texas and began dressing as a woman, and he was arrested when his neighbor turned up dead - Durst was acquitted, claiming self-defense.

The film attempts to make some sense out of the few facts known, and changing the names allows them to speculate about the central character's sanity and motivations.  Was he just a control freak, or mentally unstable?  Was his desire not to have children a factor in his wife's fate, or did he just see her distancing herself from him?  How much was his mother's death a factor in his personality?

Lots of "why", very little "how" - that's OK, I'm down with that.  A mystery is a mystery.  And I credit the filmmakers for using Marks' testimony on the stand as a single efficient framing device, and not jumping back and forth in time with the flashbacks.  There's been entirely too much of that.

The title is a reference to the name of the health food store that the central couple owned, but could also be taken as an ironic commentary on their marriage - as in, all "good" things must come to an end.  There's a lot that's intentionally ambiguous here, but perhaps with good reason.   Even the first half of this film could have been any regular relationship drama, albeit one about people with issues, until you start to realize that those issues could be masking something more sinister.

Also starring Ryan Gosling (last seen in "The Ides of March"), Kirsten Dunst (last seen in "Little Women"), Lily Rabe, Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "50/50"), John Cullum, Nick Offerman (last seen in "21 Jump Street") and Kristen Wiig (last seen in "Bridesmaids"). 

RATING: 5 out of 10 blonde wigs