Christine (2016): Art Imitating Death (Review)

Rebecca Hall as Christine Chubbick

By the time one finishes watching the 2016 biopic of Christine Chubbuck there is an almost irresistible urge to take a long hot shower. This attempt to wash off the depression that settles on the viewer like a black stain would be followed up by watching something lighter, like The Wrestler.

For those not in the know, Chubbuck was a local news reporter on a Sarasota television news station who, after suffering a period of severe depression, wrote a script allowing herself the chance to commit suicide live on the Florida news show.

The obvious question here is why tell Christine’s story now, a full 42 years after the fact?  Clearly a number of people feel the need to present their version of the truth behind the act as there are two films out that deal with the subject.

Christine was written by Craig Shilowich (His first time up as writer), directed by Antonio Campos and stars Rebecca Hall in the title role. Ultimately the film attempts to show what led up to Chubbuck killing herself on live television. 

This biopic takes known facts and embellishes upon them.  It seems to change details to fit the writer and director’s take on the personality of the woman. Michael C. Hall plays George the local anchor that Christine hoped to have a relationship with and Tracy Letts plays Michael, the manager of the station who is most often at odds with his community segment reporter. 

A lot of time is spent showing how obsessive Christine was about details and her awkwardness with some coworkers. She is even shown having issues with her mother and housemate Peg (played by J. Smith-Cameron).

On top of her inability to communicate properly with her peers, according to the film, Chubbuck learns she has an ovarian cyst. This news adds to her deepening depression as it means she cannot have children after the operation.

Christine also shows that the reporter had no real sense of humor and was, despite working in front of the camera, a social inept who was almost painfully shut up inside her isolation from others.

Hall plays Chubbuck as someone who agonizes over her appearance and the smallest  details of her work.  Unconfident and seemingly unable to latch on to the station’s manager idea to make the news more “juicy” Christine is constantly out of step with the news team.

Yet, at the same time, the film shows that the reporter was technically astute, except on the newer machinery, and was able to help her co-workers make their own broadcasts smoother.

The movie also shows Christine unable to romantically connect with anyone. Her “crush” on George (Hall) is smashed down after their one date, a meal, ends with the anchor taking her to a Transitional Analysis meeting.

(T.A. started in the 1970’s and preached the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” philosophy and explained how people fell into categories like Parent, Child and so on.)

After their one dinner date, Christine also learns that George will be leaving to anchor at the newly acquired Baltimore station.  Throughout the film, Chubbuck is shown to be overly concerned with her onscreen gestures and news stories.

At 119 minutes, nearly two hours, the film runs long and spends too much time delivering whatever its message seems to be. Anyone who knows the Christine Chubbuck story already knows the ending as will anyone reading the press release of the film.

Certainly Hall does a splendid job portraying Shilowich’s version of Christine Chubbuck. Hall and Letts both deliver strong performances of embellished versions of the real players who worked and interacted with Chubbuck.

By the end of the film, however, we are left shaking our head and asking just why this was all necessary.  This voyeuristic experience of watching  a sad woman taking her own life just before her 30th birthday feels wrong and more than a little sordid.

There is not attempt to delve into why Chubbuck was so ill equipped to deal with her life in front of and off the camera. Indeed, there are not any clips available to see how the real Christine fronted her stories or reported her segments.

As the film portrays her, it is surprising that the woman had a job as a television reporter at all.

Certainly the event itself, Christine’s death on-air, was huge back in 1974. The act was covered so extensively that it is wrongly credited with influencing Paddy Chayefsky who wrote the Oscar winning film Network. In the film, Peter Finch plays a character who  plans to kill himself live on air.

However,  in Dave Itzkoff’s  “Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies” published by Henry Holt and Company in 2014, it is pointed out that Chayefsky started writing the script before the incident of Chubbuck’s televised death. It is, apparently, “just an eerie coincidence.”

Stripping away the poetic license taken with the subject matter, Christine is, in essence, art imitating death. A long depressing look at an unhappy young woman who could not live up to her own expectations.

The film is a solid 3 star film which, if viewed, should be followed by a light comedy to take the bitter taste out of the viewer’s mouth. The award winning film is rated R, presumably for the its bloody conclusion.

The Gift (2015): Unsatisfying Karma (Review)

Jason Bateman in The Gift

Aussie performer Joel Edgerton  wrote and directed this mystery/thriller and considering that this is his first feature length film behind the lens, and it front of it, The Gift does very well indeed. It is, unfortunately, a karmic film that ends on a rather unsatisfactory note. When all is said and done, we the audience really want something more. An end that befits this bullying and manipulative douche on two legs.

There is a twist in this tale about bullying and the film’s overall message is that a leopard cannot and will not change its spots.  Starring Jason Bateman, Brit actress Rebecca Hall, Edgerton and Fargo star Allison Tolman The Gift entertains but loses steam midway through once we figure out what is really going on. 

Simon and Robyn are a young and successful couple who have put recent tragedy behind them and moved to Los Angeles. Simon (Bateman)  has a new job and Robyn (Hall) works from home.

The couple buy a lovely clifftop house and as they buy furniture and essentials for their new palace, they bump into Gordon (Edgerton). “Gordo” remembers Simon from high school and he offers up his phone number. Simon is uncomfortable as he cannot really remember the other man, he says.

Gordon begins insinuating himself into Rebecca and Simon’s life, giving them  gifts and stopping by to visit with Rebecca. Things soon begin to go sour and Simon, despite coming across as a nice guy, reveals a side that is a tad unpleasant.

A lot of mystery and suspense is built up by the audience, as well as Simon and Rebecca, wondering just what Gordo is up to.  Other questions arise as it appears that Simon knows a lot more about Gordon than he admits.

In many ways “The Gift” feels an awful lot like the anatomy of a bully.  For anyone ever bullied in school, the film’s message that bullies never change, may be a bit daunting. There, however,  is a small silver lining to this metaphorical cloud.  While they may not change bullies do not, apparently, get any smarter either.

At first the mystery is engaging but as Rebecca begins to do a little digging,  things begin to slow down . It is here that the film begins to reach that unsatisfactory stage. The final act leaves one man “broken” and another satisfied with his actions. Sadly the end  feels a bit of an anti-climax.

Like horror films that hesitate to reveal what is behind that door, the ending of The Gift does something similar.  The punishment meted out is pretty devastating but ultimately one wishes for so much more. Ergo the end is an unsatisfactory bit of karmic justice that while  devastating could have been so much worse.

Bateman, Hall and Edgerton do well with their respective performances.  The director does a capable job in front of and behind the camera.  Gordo comes across as a mix of “kicked mongrel” and  obsequious  stalker.

The many gifts he bestows on the couple make us uncomfortable.  If there is any complaint about the film, it would be that the plot is spelled out too well. We learn, as Rebecca goes snooping around, that things are not what they appear at all.

These reveals, despite being spaced out, lead us to the conclusion well ahead of time. Regardless of this, The Gift is an entertaining film.

This is a solid 4 star film. It loses a full star due to its signposting being far too evident. The Gift is streaming on Hulu at the moment. Stop by and watch this one, it may be a tad unsatisfactory in the karma stakes but it is entertaining enough to pass muster overall.

Transcendence Kitchen Sink Plot (Trailer)

Transcendence Kitchen Sink Plot (Trailer)

Despite having enjoyed Transcendence it should be pointed out that in terms of plot, it seems that first time writer/actor Jack Paglen put in everything he could think of including the kitchen sink. Depending on what sort of filmfan you are, this could be a bad thing. However, it should also be pointed out that the underlying theme of the film was man allowing his hubris to make him feel like God. Of course that was not the only underlying theme. Other themes included love and sacrifice, man’s inherent distrust of anything new, the dangers of messing with real artificial intelligence (AI), and why man should not attempt to change the “real” God’s model designed in His own image.

Transcendence: the Movie Noah Could Have Been? (Trailer)

Transcendence: the Movie Noah Could Have Been? (Trailer)

On April 18 Transcendence opens nationwide and at first glance, this science fiction, drama/mystery is the movie that Noah could have been. While this may sound a bit “off-base” consider, if you will, the broad ranging scope of this Christopher Nolan produced epic.



Iron Man 3 Downey Rocks and Paltrow Pops

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I was supposed to go see Oblivion today. My daughter Meg insisted that it would be money well spent because Tom Cruise shines in the film. But when facing the fact that Iron Man 3 was showing as well, it was no contest. That and the fact that Max (Meg’s significant other) was super excited about the film weighted the balance towards Team Downey and Paltrow.

I have seen all the Iron Man films and loved each and every one. But, third time lucky on a sequel that’s actually better than its two predecessors. That’s not to denigrate what director Jon Favreau accomplished with the first two films, but Shane Black‘s production was action packed mayhem that left you gasping.

Iron Man 3 sees Pepper Potts (Paltrow) and Tony Stark (Downey)  as a pretty solid couple. We have Stark narrating a sequence of events that start back in 1999 at Bern, Switzerland. Stark is attending a New Years Eve celebration and he “blows off” scientist super-geek Alldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and this “inconsiderate” action comes back to haunt Stark later on.

*On a side note here; is there anything that Guy Pearce isn’t in? The boy from Ely, Suffolk, England seems to be in everything recently.*

Super villain Mandarin (Ben Kingsley in a role so far removed from his award-winning Ghandi it’s not even funny) is terrorising the world and worse than that, he’s controlling the television stations as well. When Mandarin harms Happy Hogan (Favreau) Tony takes it personally and not only does he taunt Mandarin on the “live” news, but tells him his address. 

Proving to be too much of a temptation, Mandarin attacks Stark’s home and blows it into the sea.

One of the best things about Iron Man 3 Ben Kingsley.
One of the best things about Iron Man 3 Ben Kingsley.

Don Cheadle is  back as Colonel James Rhodes aka War Machine aka Patriot Man. Rebecca Hall plays ex-girlfriend (one night stand) Maya Henson who, like Aldrich Killian, shows up to “haunt” Stark in the present.

This film was a real run-a-way express train of a film. It featured more action and explosions than the first two films in the series. It featured a villain that seems indestructible, as well as his minions, and had some brilliant bits of humour as well.

For the first time in ages, I actually heard an English audience laughing out loud! I was so shocked, I almost dropped my popcorn.

With a run time of 130 minutes (2 hours and 10 minutes) the film moves so quickly that it doesn’t  feel that long. Iron Man 3 has it all; pacing, action, great performances, brilliant plot and great story.

My only complaint came at the end of the film when it almost seemed like Shane Black looked at his watch and went, “Shit! Is that the time? We’d better wrap this thing up. Now!” The details of the ending will have to be “un-revealed” (no spoilers from me friends and neighbours) but suffice to say, it had a rushed feel to it.

So while I sit here drooling for the new “Avengers” releases that are upcoming, I’ll re-live the film I saw today and rate it at a 5 our of 5 stars for delivering an Iron Man that allowed Downey to rock it like never before and Paltrow to pop her part (sounds rude doesn’t it?) up into the stratosphere.

Don’t wait for the DVD or VoD, watch it now! This is a big screen experience you don’t want to miss!

Iron Man and Patriot Man.
Iron Man and Patriot Man.