Frost/Nixon, seen Sunday afternoon January 2, 2009 at the AMC Uptown (single screen), Washington DC, 3 sllithy toads
Fifteen years ago for the holiday season a fine movie called A Perfect World, starring Kevin Costner and directed by Clint Eastwood came upon this world. It followed Unforgiven. The critical reception was at the time rather unforgiving. I haven't seen it in a long long time. Here in NYC, Film Forum has done its umpteenth Sturges revival since I moved to NYC so we can all see Morgan Creek once more, yet nobody wants to show us A Perfect World. Well, why not try and find that on video instead of seeing Eastwood's somewhat overrated Gran Turino.
Gran Turino isn't bad. 2.5 toads is a mild recommendation, and I enjoyed seeing it, and I didn't fall asleep even though I was seeing it at the end of a long day when I'd walked around ten miles and schlepped to many bookstores, but it's not as good as all the fuss makes it out to be. Eastwood is a 70-something guy living in Detroit, wife's just passed away, doesn't get along well with the kids or the grandkids or the in-laws. Particularly hates all the Hmong (ethnic Asian group) that have moved into the nabe. But he slowly finds himself warming to the boy who lives next door, who might be too smart for his own good in a culture where he's told by the girl who lives next door that the girls go to school and the boys to jail as a result of local gang activity. When Eastwood tries to save the boys from the gangs, their interest slowly escalates, so what s Clint going to do about this?
Of course the 70-something Clint can't really do some of the things that he became famous for half his lifetime ago in the Dirty Harry movies, so these questions have resonance with Eastwood starring which they might not have with someone else in the role. In that way, this is a good match of the material (a screenplay by Nick Schenk from a story by Dave Johannson). Most of the pleasure in the movie comes from watching the Eastwood making the kinds of ethnic references that we aren't supposed to make any more, so are we enjoying this movie or are we enjoying the fact that we can watch Eastwood use that language in a movie and get away with it?
I'm not willing to give the movie extra credit for being a little bit naughty and risque with the ethnic language. I'm not willing to overlook some of the weaknesses of the underlying material. In particular, could we not have had a minute or two of screen time to tell us why the gang had particular interest in this particular kid? The remark about how all the guys go to jail implies that maybe the gang tries to recruit all the boys, but then adding two lines to say that's specifically the case here wouldn't hurt. Were there no choices in action that could have kept the situation from escalating? This isn't explored at all. There's a subplot about the local priest trying to get Eastwood to confession at the request of his late wife, and one of the things Eastwood will admit to is not having done right by his relationship with his own children, but that doesn't make it any easier to buy what the ending says about his ability to find a do-over via the boy next door.
Maybe I'm going half a toad too low in rebellion against all of the reviews that are praising so lavishly, but ultimately I think this will be seen as a decent coda to Eastwood's career but not very much more than that.
This was my first time seeing a movie at the Regal Gallery Place, which is a nice 14-screen stadium seating multiplex in downtown DC. Auditoriums #1-7 are smaller, as few as 105 seats and going up to maybe 150. Auditorim #14 was around 230 seats, and quite nice. The screen was a little large for the space, so the sweet spot for viewing would really be only the last 2 or 3 rows, and the 100 seats in front of the aisle are very close to the screen, but it's nice. This was one of the smaller screens in #s 8-14, a few of which have 300 seats and some of the others 250.
I went to see Frost/Nixon largely because it was playing at the Uptown, a large and wonderful big curved single screen movie theatre in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of DC. I love to see movies there for the experience of it, and like any of these single screen theatres, or like each visit to a B. Dalton, you wonder if it might be your last.
Frost/Nixon is like Doubt based on a recently successful Broadway play, this one revolving around the David Frost interviews with Richard Nixon in the 1970s. I saw the play and fell asleep for most of it. The movie is I think better because it's able to take advantage a little bit more of the ability to leave the confines of the stage behind and go out into the world. Footage of the LA beach, or of Frost's Australian TV shows, or of calling from a pay phone at an airport. It retains the leads from the Broadway play, the fantastic Frank Langella and the equally good Michael Sheen (very good as Tony Blair in The Queen, now putting his gloss on another Brit in David Frost). It still can't escape the essential boredom when it gets around to recreating the David Frost interviews on the stage or screen. It's TV without the TV, so even though I fell asleep less during the play, only once in the middle toward the start of the interview recreations, I must say it was an unusually deep sleep for me during a movie. When I was awoken by the phone ringing for one of the most famous parts of the play, an imagined late night call from Nixon to Frost, I was startled and thought I was in my hotel room and needed to find the phone on the table next to the bed. Usually I doze off much more lightly during a film. One review I read said this was a better adaptation of a lesser play, and I think I'd agree. I'm giving this the same toad ranking as I did Doubt. I'm not sure I should, I'm tempted to give this the same 2.5 toads as Gran Turino, but...
In any event, it's in Panavision widescreen, and it was unfolding over the entire bigged curved screen at the Uptown, and I was reveling in the majesty of the moving picture. If you are in DC, and if there's a movie you vaguely even maybe half want just a little bit to see at the Uptown, go and experience this theatre while you can. It's right atop the Cleveland Park station on the Red Line, close to the national zoo, nice eating in the neighborhood. I love after a movie to walk down Connecticut Ave. to Dupont Circle, past the zoo and over the bridge over Rock Creek which is just a magnificent place to stand and admire the view and think upon the world. If you're young and energetic, start out at Dupont Circle and walk 2 miles uptown and uphill to the uptown, but there's something to be said for doing it in reverse so you've got that downhill thing going. I love the Uptown!