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Frost/Nixon

tn_frostnixonFROST/NIXON also came out on DVD yesterday, so I figured I would dig out my unfinished review from when I saw it on the big screen and polish that up.

FROST/NIXON is the most highly anticipated battle since the first ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. But I gotta be honest, I only went to see it because it was the last “best picture” nominee I hadn’t seen. I mean it looked pretty interesting, but I’m not the biggest Ron Howard fan, so I probaly wouldn’t have bothered otherwise. The good news is I didn’t hate it like I did THE READER.

Frank Langella (MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE) plays Richard Nixon, who was apparently some sort of president. Michael Sheen (UNDERWORLD, UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, THE QUEEN) plays David Frost, who I guess interviewed Nixon one time. This is the story of them negotiating and then filming an interview over a couple days and a couple other conversations they had in between and afterward and what not. Explosive!

mp_frostnixonI don’t want to be too harsh. I don’t think this movie or Ron Howard are terrible. But I think this is another case of deciding to nominate the movie based on what it’s about and who made it and not based on having actually watched and been moved by the movie after it existed. Howard is completely competent, I just don’t detect any of the ol’ vision in the poor guy. He never showed any interest in politics before, and I don’t think anybody (including him) ever wondered what his feelings were on Watergate or the media or presidential privilege. And it’s a good thing because he doesn’t really have much to say about it, I think he just thinks these are two interesting characters. Which is true I guess.

But it’s hard to go in just wanting to see interesting characters when in these times there’s such an undeniable relevance to the subject. We have another scumbag ex-president who we never really got closure with, although it was awesome when that guy threw a shoe at him. It’s still up in the air whether or not the Justice Department under Obama will pursue prosecution of the many criminal activities that took place in government over the last 8 years, but we know Bush will get away clean. Most people seem to think “ah, let’s move on, I’m sick of hearing about that shit anyway.” Understandable, except maybe if a precedent had been set by having Nixon actually held accountable, or nailed by a hip British guy in an interview, maybe it would work as a deterrent for later scumbag presidents. I don’t know. The movie seems to indicate that, but I guess it didn’t work.

The best thing about the movie is Frank Langella, who not surprisingly does a great job of playing Nixon. He already starred in the play, so he had practice, but I’m sure he could’ve done it anyway. While he’s seen as the enemy, his off camera meetings with Frost make him out to be a nice and likable guy. Based on what I’ve read about Nixon’s complete awkwardness with regular people I’m not sure this is very accurate, but I like it anyway because it makes the story more compelling than if he was just a bad guy. You kind of feel sorry for the bastard. He should’ve brought more humanity like this to his character “Skeletor” in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, maybe that type of vulnerability and unexpected warmth is what was missing in that one.

The worst thing about the movie as far as I’m concerned – but this is a pet peeve of mine so maybe it’s just me – is the fake documentary interviews. There are certainly worse examples of this (like Jim Van Bebber’s MANSON FAMILY, which has probaly never been mentioned in anyone else’s review of FROST/NIXON) but I cannot understand for the life of me why anybody thinks it is a good idea to make a fake documentary about an actual historical event. A fake documentary about Spinal Tap or Cloverfield I get, a fake documentary where actors do interviews pretending to be actual people who might as well have done the interviews instead is the work of crazy people. Why would you do this? If documentary interviews would be more interesting than making a movie where a story unfolds, then why aren’t you doing a documentary? Make up your mind. Fake documentary is not the correct answer. You have been disqualified.

Seriously, isn’t there something wrong with this movie if the main point it makes about the media does not come through until Sam Rockwell looks into the camera and explains what it is? He tells Ron Howard that it didn’t matter what Nixon did or didn’t say in the interview because the close up of his tired face said it all. But the fact that he’s explaining this means that the close up did not say it all in the movie. He talks about “the reductive power of television” and I know it was intentionally making a comment about the movie itself, since it has a shot of an actor playing young Nixon biographer Diane Sawyer as he says something about a short TV clip representing an entire career. But I think this is pointing out the movie’s weakness. The movie is telling us that people won’t remember the real story, they’ll remember images from the “reduced” version. In the case of the story of the movie it’s a TV interview of the real guy, but in the case of the movie it’s actors playing a fictionalized version of that interview. A reduction of a reduction.

The story of a guy setting up a big interview and struggling with it is interesting, but since they base it all around this idea that he has to get a confession out of Nixon it kind of ruins the whole thing when you find out that he actually didn’t get one. If they had to make up the part of the story they thought was interesting, then that means the story actually was not interesting.

You know going in that this is the kind of movie that has text at the end to explain to you what happened to all of the characters. But I don’t know if I was prepared for it to think I needed to be told what happened to Richard Nixon. I thought that was pretty widely available information that wouldn’t necessarily have to be included. Oh well, good to be thorough I suppose.

It’s not constantly dumb enough to make me cringe, but Howard’s not exactly subtle either. It’s a pretty obvious story. In this telling Frost was blowing the interview sessions until he got a (fictional) late night drunken phone call from Nixon that inspired him to really dig in deep like an investigative reporter. Cut to montage of going through pages and pages of transcripts, circling and underlining, listening to tapes, and then VOILA! HE DISCOVERS THE SMOKING GUN! It’s that kind of movie.

I would forgive the lazy montage if it also had a training montage and then in the last interview Frost is wearing a tank top and he’s unbelievably ripped. And maybe a headband would be good.

I wonder if the slash in the title is supposed to be like FACE/OFF? That was a pretty cool movie, huh? I’m glad Ron Howard liked FACE/OFF too. What happened to John Woo, man? If I ever interviewed Ron Howard that’s what I would ask about. I wonder if he’s seen BLACKJACK? Did you know kids today aren’t really aware of HARD BOILED? It’s a god damn shame. Man, I’m totally gonna nail Ron Howard in this interview, he’s not gonna see it coming. And finally we as a nation can get closure.

Well, I already spoilered that Frost gets his confession, so you would think he won FROST VS. NIXON. But then he goes and talks to Nixon afterwards and Nixon is really nice to him. Frost gives Nixon some Italian loafers and I think it’s supposed to be some kind of fuck you, but I didn’t really get it. Either way Nixon got a free pair of shoes out of it so I think you could definitely argue that Nixon is the winner of this one. I guess it’s kind of an ambiguous ending left to the audience’s interpretation, like the end of FREDDY VS. JASON where Jason is holding Freddy’s severed head, but then Freddy winks.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 at 1:17 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

25 Responses to “Frost/Nixon”

  1. Did you hear that? That’s the sound of hundreds of exploding heads from people who tried to imagine the awesomness of “Vern/Howard”. :D

  2. @ “would forgive the lazy montage if it also had a training montage and then in the last interview Frost is wearing a tank top and he’s unbelievably ripped”

    cool, man.

  3. I agree about the half-assed documentary stuff. Like you said, if it’s a full on mockumentary then make it like one. Having a “proper” film then intercut with the actors pretending to be the real people doing interviews was bizarre and a bit awkward. And when was that meant to have been filmed anyway? They weren’t wearing old make up, so were they all interviewed right after the events of frost/nixon? Was this actually a clue that the film itself was meant to be all the real people re-enacting the events of the interview, like some kind of crimewatch re-creation where the victim chooses to act in the video?

    And yeah Howard is a pretty boring director. He knows how to put together a film and tell a story, but there rarely anything more than mediocre.

    Though despite all that I really warmed (lol) to Frost/Nixon. The central actors and the supporting cast were all pretty awesome, and, for a Brit who only vaguely knows about Nixon, I found the film interesting and compelling. Yeah it fucks up a bit in the last third when it falls back on “cliche film plot” ideas with the sudden moment of enthusiasm and the montage of research.

    But I thought it was decent example of that type of genre film. (assuming oscar bait is a genre) I wouldn’t watch it again and it won’t end up on any “best of” list but it was decent. Probably on par with Milk, decent example of the biopic, but nothing that anyone will really remember in 10 years time.

  4. Ron Howard is like the Coldplay of movie directors. He’s merely passable for what he does, but for some reason keeps getting awards for it.

    I guess it’s better than being Michael Bay though, who I believe is the Kenny Loggins of movie directors. The Rock is his Danger Zone.

  5. Nonetheless, The Bacon was fantastic

  6. I know I’ll get a new asshole ripped for saying this, but in retrospect only Dubya can make Nixon in some ways look like a rather competent, even perhaps really good, President. I mean for one thing, Nixon took that job seriously or did at least in public. Dubya seem always to me like he was goofing off, even when he supposedly was trying to be “serious.” Shit, remember Mission Accomplished? Who the hell here listened to that or “Dead or Alive!” with a straight face?

    Nixon was a bastard, with his paranoia and delusions of rivals/enemies that either boarded on fictional, or he over-valued them. Nobody can defend Watergate.

    But otherwise, his foreign policy (if brutal and damnable with Cambodia) was at the least logical and made more gains through diplomacy than force…two attributes not many will associate with the Dubya State Department. I mean Nixon got China to say fuck it to the USSR, and opened up diplomatic relations (and economy) and allowed us early capitalist pussy in the 1980s. Likewise, with this Commie Split he got the Soviets to agree to calm the fuck down with the nukes with the ABM Treaty (same one that Dubya wiped his ass with) and other stuff.

    Also, Nixon signed the EPA into law, the last GOP President to cut the Defense budget, turned the US Military into all-volunteer…though the Benign Neglect doctrine wasn’t cool.

    Of Oliver Stone’s dramatic portraits of Nixon and Dubya, I think I know now why NIXON was much more interesting and captivating than W. For one thing, if Dubya was a spoiled rich fratboy goofball that was hard to get behind or give a shit about, you had that angle with Nixon of how he grew up from poverty, lost most of his brothers to TB, and basically fought his way through all that shit to become rather successful in politics despite not being charismatic or naturally charming, two important attributes you usually need in politics these days. Then you had the 1960 election, which JFK may or may not have outright grand theft stolen this side of Florida in 2000. Then for all his Presidential accomplishments, Nixon had to fuck all that up with Watergate.

    Point is Vern, I agree with you on FROST/NIXON. A nice movie, but shit it aint even in my Top 20 of 2008. Langella and Sheen were great, but otherwise so what? I did love that moment though when the major anti-Nixon Sam Rockwell* meets face to face with the man, and can’t help but naturally shake his hand.

    *=Four books written on how bad he was? Jeez, what couldn’t he tell or rant about in just one?

  7. Hi, everybody. I havent seen the film yet, but ive some news for Vern: John Woo has made a pair of films about an ancient battle that took place somewhere in Chine a los of time ago. The titles are red cliff and (of course) red cliff II (2).

    Youll miss the doves and guns but, hey, there are planty of swords and horses in this ones.

    By the way, the new site is cool, man.

  8. Remember when people actually cared when John Woo was making a new movie?

    I miss those days, but after WINDTALKERS, PAYCHECK, that lame MISSION IMPOSSIBLE entry of his, and…

    Well, you get the point.

  9. Ron Howard’s problem is that he doesn’t trust the audience’s intelligence. “Frost/Nixon” was well made on a technical level, had some strong performances, and was entertaining overall. But I kept getting this sense that Howard thought I was a 12-year-old or something and that he had to explain everything to me or else I wouldn’t understand it.

    I mean, I’m not a particularly intelligent or well educated guy, but I know who Richard Nixon is. I don’t need a montage at the beginning of the movie to explain Nixon and Watergate. I thought this was an R-rated movie for adults and not one of those movies your 6th grade History teacher puts on when he doesn’t feel like teaching.

    You nailed it when you bitched about the fake interviews, Vern. Any time a scene had the slightest amount of nuance or subtext, Howard cuts to a fake interview of a character explaining what that nuance or subtext was. Like he doesn’t trust us to pick up on it otherwise. It makes me feel like Howard is talking down to me.

    I can understand the desire to make the movie clear and easy to understand. In fact, I would say it’s an important skill needed in making mainstream movies, and a skill mastered by the likes of, say, Spielberg or Zemeckis. Howard just has a knack for taking it to the point of condescension. That’s why he gives us a big close-up of a newspaper headline about job loses in “Cinderella Man” even though we already know the movie is set in the depression. And why “The Da Vinci Code” turns into Ian McKellan giving a lecture for a half hour. The fake interviews in “Frost/Nixon” is just another in a long line of examples of Ron Howard not trusting the audience to follow his movie.

  10. Vern, you need to learn that just because a movie/actor is nominated for an Oscar, it doesn’t mean that much in reality. The Oscars are pretty stupid. They are about as informative/important as knowing who designed whose dress worn by an actress AT the Oscars. History seems to prove that. So don’t get caught up in the “must see it, it was nominated” thing. You will enjoy seeing movie more. FYI, dude.

  11. To be fair Dan, “The Da Vinci Code” turned into a 30 minute Ian Mckellan lecture because that’s exactly what happens in the shitty book and there was no way for anyone to adapt that into anything else more interesting. Though I suppose Ron could have chosen not to direct that crap.

  12. True that, although a better director might have figured out a more cinematic way of conveying the information instead of just having Ian McKellan give a power point presentation.

  13. Oh please guys, Opie only did DA VINCI CODE as a massive payday, not putting much fart of an effort into it, and guess what? It made a shitload of money.

    I smell the same with his sequel, ironic since its based off a book written previously before CODE and initially was a dud in book sales until it became a best-serller after that CODE book.

  14. WHen did Ron Howard start sucking? Night Shift and Splash were fun, Coocoon was a larf family movie.

    Parenthood was overwrought at times, but a quality film. But how much cooler should Ransom have been? You have *that* cast, *that* plot, and it’s *that boring?!?

    Apollo 13’s ok, but why on Earth is this man a “final cut” director? Was “A Beautiful Mind” really that good? Cinderella Man had its moments, but (coincidentally) beat you over the head with the pathos.

    Frost/Nixon would have been perfect if he had checked his ego and just replicated the play. The only reason those STUPID cutaway interviews are in there is Ronnie wanted to prove he did SOMETHING.

    Also, he could’ve made an “adapted” movie that shows the real story – as one of Nixon’s guys pointed out, Nixon was incentivized to make it compelling, as he was getting 20% of the syndication money in addition to his lump sum fee. So, the whole “i didn’t want questions about W-gate” was full of shit, and Nixon was a smart gamesman who needed fucking cash.

    Slightly more compelling??

  15. So, uh, this is it, right? The smoking gun? They have Don Jr. on record agreeing to meet in Russia specifically to get damaging information about his father’s opponent? And Manafort and Kushner with him? That’s not just smoke any more, that’s actual fire.

  16. And according to the New York Times yesterday there is an email where the guy setting up the meeting informs him that Russia is trying to get his father elected. I mean, this is pretty cut and dry and it’s only what we know so far publicly from journalists. We don’t even know what Mueller’s people have or will have, since they are considered to be early in their investigation.

    I’m afraid of what happens when Trump starts pardoning people, and how long the GOP will pretend the building is not on fire. On the second topic, though, I feel like this is going to get so blatant and so undeniable that they will have to turn against Trump to save their own asses.Trump Jr.’s *cover story* is that he was colluding with Russian spies, just wait until the full story comes out!

  17. Here’s a good article on why Bloomberg thinks the GOP is turning a blind eye to every single shady thing about the administration:

    I mean people been theorizing for a while now that once they get what they want then they might uphold the law of the land and do something.

    As mentioned previously I work with a lot of Republicans, and as such I think controversially around here I am sympathetic to why they voted the way they did, and they are already on the ‘Who cares how he got there all that matters is that he’s there now and getting pedophiles off the street!’ Also Trump’s done so much shady shit so far that no one did anything about I’m skeptical anything will continue to get done. Trump’s campaign and victory and post-election antics have taught me to that Trump/GOP plays by their own (dirty) rules and are rewarded for it/given a blind eye. Even with all this evidence mounting, people will still stand by him/them and no one will do anything about it. This is America now. We’re stuck with him/his administration for at least four years.*

    *My cynical doom and gloom is sometimes hilariously wrong so maybe I’ll help jinx it in you guy’s/our favor!

  18. “https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-07-10/trump-begins-the-rightward-shift-of-america-s-courts?cmpid=socialflow-twitter-business&utm_content=business&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social”

  19. I had someone today try and tell me “well, there’s no way to prove the President knew about it!”

    Really? He never bothered to ask why his son, one of his top advisers, and his campaign manager, were suddenly travelling to Russia in the middle of his campaign? What, he thought they were just going on vacation together? He never noticed they were gone? They outright lied to him and he never realized it and doesn’t care now? That’s the defense, we’re going with, that “maybe the President himself is not a criminal and a liar on this particular issue, he just hired multiple close family members and intimate associates who were criminals and liars and then gave them completely unsupervised leeway to do whatever they wanted and then backed them but publicly using the office of the president when they lied about it!”

    A grown adult just made that case to me with a straight face as if it was an actual defense. That may not be the description of a criminal, but it is a description of a shockingly dangerous and incompetent leader.

  20. Update from work: I just got a “So what? Everybody does it.”

  21. I can’t believe I never commented on this one. It’s like my favorite Ron Howard joint since WILLOW. I will however not comment on the current developments with the butthead administration. I refuse to give anymore of my energy to this bullshit and stopped watching the news months ago. I only knew about Jr’s Dennis The Menace mishap cause this political science major lady I’m dating told me. I’m content simply letting those muthafuckas set themselves on fire and continuing to live my life. Until the time for me to vote comes back again.

  22. This meeting wasn’t in Russia, it was in Trump Tower, while Trump was in the building possibly one floor up.

    An update on the email thing: didn’t realize Don Jr. released the email chain, proving that his friend straight up told him this was “part of Russia and it’s government’s support for Mr. Trump”!

    He is repeatedly, publicly, on the record and with documentation admitting to attempting to collude with the Russian government to influence the election, and his defense is that it turned out they didn’t have anything to incriminate Clinton with!

    Of course, the usual professional Trump cultists have declared that this proves that the news describing EXACTLY THAT is fake news and that he is totally innocent because he released the proof of his guilt. Insane. I guess the GOP will probly follow that lead and just try to confuse everybody into giving up on justice.

  23. I got one cousin who voted for Trump blowing up my phone already doing exactly what Vern said the Trump brigade would end up doing in his last post lol

    It’s like clockwork.

  24. Vern — oops, my mistake, I got the wrong impression about where the meeting occurred. Thanks for the correction.

  25. Suddenly it makes way more sense why Trump was in such a tizzy over the tower being “bugged”

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