Hyde Park on Hudson

Few actors can out-jaunty Bill Murray.

Few actors can out-jaunty Bill Murray.

(2012) Historical Drama (Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Samuel West, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Eleanor Bron, Olivia Williams, Martin McDougall, Andrew Havill, Nancy Baldwin, Samantha Dakin, Jonathan Brewer, Kumiko Konishi. Directed by Roger Michell

Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg’s long-gestating project, Lincoln finally came to fruition. It was a superb film that really humanized the iconic President and made him, if anything, even more worthy of admiration. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is another President who is much loved (well in Liberal circles anyway) and a similar treatment of him would surely have been welcome.

It is 1939 and the world is on the brink of war. King George VI (West), the recently crowned and woefully unprepared monarch of England (after the abdication of his brother) is coming to the United States – the first reigning King of England to ever do so – not just to make political hay in his own country but also for a desperately important task; to gauge whether the Americans would assist them when war inevitably broke out (as it would do a scant three months after their visit).

Springwood, the President’s estate in Hyde Park, New York in the Hudson Valley is in an uproar. To be hosting the King and Queen (Colman) of England is important enough but the whole affair has turned into a battle of wills between the President’s mother (Wilson) and wife Eleanor (Williams). Mommy, ever mindful of FDR’s political image, wants nothing done to tarnish his image as a world leader while Eleanor seems hell-bent on tweaking the monarchs somewhat.

Franklin (Murray) needs some respite from the bickering and stress. After a number of relatives are called without success, a distant cousin named Daisy (Linney) at last answers the call and is driven to Springwood to help “take the President’s mind off of things.” It’s awkward at first; while related, they barely know each other and Daisy isn’t really sure what she’s doing there. Franklin pulls out his stamps. They seem to hit it off however once that initial discomfort wears off. Soon they are going for rides in the countryside in a specially fitted car that the President, stricken by polio and nearly unable to use his legs, can drive only with his hands. Soon those drives are leading to stops and at those stops there is some intimacy.

Meanwhile the war continues with FDR’s secretary Missy LaHand (Marvel) trying to mediate but there are absolutes going on – Eleanor wants the Royals to attend a picnic in which hot dogs are served which is mortifying enough but that she wants to serve cocktails ­– that’s more than the teetotaling mother of the President can bear. Daisy tries to hover near the edges so that none can figure out the nature of the relationship she’s building with Franklin, but even she doesn’t quite understand what’s really going on.

The relationship between Daisy and FDR would remain a secret until shortly after she died just shy of her 100th birthday. Some letters and diaries were found in which she discussed her intimacies with the former President. I’m not sure how much the writers relied on those writings for the story – whether they were faithful to Daisy’s words or if they used them as a rough outline – but it could have been a nice jumping off point.

My problem with it is that Daisy really isn’t all that interesting a character. She’s a middle aged woman (she was 48 when these events took place) who hasn’t had a lot of experience with men and develops almost a high school crush on FDR. She is in her own way as lonely as the man at the top, her life mainly revolving around her aunt (Bron) whom she acts as a caretaker to.

She seems like a nice enough albeit naive woman but I’m not sure that she’s got the personality to base an entire movie around – and that isn’t a knock against Linney. She fares much better than Murray however, who doesn’t resemble FDR in the slightest and whose attempt to mimic the distinctive style of speech and accent of the President is simply ghastly. A very big issue – and this isn’t Murray’s fault in the slightest – is that we never get much of a three dimensional portrait of FDR. We see him as a letch and as somewhat disingenuous but we never get a hint of the political savvy or of his inner strength in pulling the country out of a depression and overcoming polio. Instead he sems mostly to hold to the parody image of Bill Clinton as an insatiable womanizer.

The surrounding cast is pretty good, particularly West and Colman as the somewhat befuddled royals who are on the one hand afraid and self-conscious but on the other hand not really sure what to do. We met West’s Bertie in The King’s Speech played with a little more charisma by Colin Firth but West carries the weak chin and frustration of a lifelong stutterer very well. Colman gets the haughty attitude of a Royal who is quite unsure if she’s being made sport of.

Williams also captures the forthright shoot-from-the-hip attitude I always imagined Eleanor Roosevelt to have, although like Murray her accent is distracting. The movie has a bit of a sense of whimsy in the humor (the looks on the faces of the Royals as King George VI is served a hot dog is priceless) but where it lacks is in heart. I was left unmoved for the most part and would have wished that the legacy of President Roosevelt didn’t get trashed by making him out to be the sort of man who thought first with his genitals. I believe him to be a much more complex character than that and that’s precisely what we didn’t get and despite delivering a beautifully shot, meticulously detailed film, we don’t get a movie that is anything more than an ABC Family movie for the middle aged.

REASONS TO GO: Captures some of the cult of personality around FDR and of the era he lived in. Reduces a crucial point in history into a soap opera.

REASONS TO STAY: We really don’t get a sense of FDR the man other than as a complete jerkwad and Murray seems content to caricature him rather than explore him.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of sexuality and some fairly adult situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Daisy’s real name was Margaret Suckley and she was one of four women at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia when Roosevelt passed away.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100. The reviews are trending towards the negative.


UPSTATE NEW YORK LOVERS: I’m not 100% sure if they filmed the exteriors in the Hudson Valley near where these events actually took place but it does look as if they did and those exteriors are just breathtaking.


NEXT: Jack Reacher


New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2012

This Is 40


(Universal) Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow. Directed by Judd Apatow

In a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow revisits the lives of big sister Debbie and her husband Pete as Debbie gets set to hit the big four-oh. They realize that they are in danger of letting life pass them by and try to figure out the important things before they are too old to appreciate them.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material)

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

(Paramount) Erica Linz, Dallas Barnett, Lutz Halbhubner, John Clarke. A young woman finds that a strange and exciting circus is actually a portal to amazing worlds. Featuring the acrobats of various Cirque du Soleil shows from across the country, the film was directed by Andrew Adamson of the Narnia series and produced by James Cameron, who is testing out new 3D technology for his upcoming Avatar sequels.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for dramatic images and some sensuality)

Dabangg 2

(Arbaaz Khan) Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Malaika Arora. A police officer battles a corrupt politician while attempting to romance his wife, shore up his ties with his brother and father who are still mourning the murder of his mother in the first film and occasionally break into song without warning.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Guilt Trip

(Paramount) Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Kathy Najimy, Adam Scott. An inventor, about to embark on a road trip to sell the most important product of his life, becomes concerned with his mom’s chronic loneliness and impulsively invites her along. A road trip with Mom…what could go wrong?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some risque material)

Hyde Park on Hudson

(Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Eleanor Bron. In 1939 the King and Queen of England became the first reigning monarchs of that country to visit the United States. Their mission was to plead for American assistance in the coming war, a war that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t eager to join. Visiting at Roosevelt’s upstate New York retreat Hyde Park, the fate of the world hung in the balance and the whole thing was witnessed by Roosevelt’s cousin Daisy.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for brief sexuality)

Jack Reacher

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall. A former military cop now wandering the country without possessions or roots, content to explore with complete freedom. He will have to put his skills of his former profession back to work when a former Army sniper is accused of a heinous crime that Reacher doesn’t think he committed, plunging him into a maelstrom of secrets that men would kill to keep that way. From the bestselling book series by Lee Child.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some drug material)

Monsters, Inc. 3D

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn. The mouse mavens pull out yet another Pixar classic to be dusted off and given the 3D conversion treatment. Very nice. Unnecessary.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Four-Warned: December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.


1. ANY DAY NOW (1.1)
2. DEADFALL (1.3)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

DECEMBER 2, 2012

THE BIG FIX (Green Planet) Genre: Documentary. The aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil spill is looked at with frightening implications. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Possibly as alarming a documentary as you’re likely to see this year.

DECEMBER 7, 2012

BAD KIDS GO TO HELL (Bad Kids Productions) Genre: Thriller. Six students in an exclusive private school are locked in Saturday detention with a killer on the loose. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Based on a comic book…so yes there is a supernatural element – and Farscape’s Ben Browder too.
CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR THE WEDDING (IFC) Genre: Dramedy. A bride-to-be on her wedding day finds herself having to choose between a new life in Argentina with her new husband or running away with an ex-lover. Release Strategy: Limited RATING: 2.9 Looks a bit like low-rent Merchant-Ivory.
DEADFALL (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. A casino robbery gone wrong leaves two siblings trying to reach the Canadian border in a blizzard, leading to a chilling confrontation at Thanksgiving. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Very tense and gripping with a terrific cast.
DELHI SAFARI (Applied Art) Genre: Animated Feature. A group of animals from an endangered forest go to Delhi to demand answers from the human government as to why they have allowed this to happen. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 A Bollywood animated feature only with kind of underwhelming animation.
THE FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS (Tribeca) Genre: Dramedy. An Irish working class family is rocked by the reappearance of their estranged father for Christmas 20 years after he walked out on them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 I’ve always like Edward Burns but this doesn’t look like one of his stronger efforts.
HAPPY NEW YEAR (Self-Released) Genre: Drama. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, wounded both physically and psychologically, find solace in a rehab center. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Not sure if this will be compelling drama or same old melodrama.
HELENO (Screen Media) Genre: Biographical Drama. Brazilian-born soccer star Heleno de Freitas becomes one of the first international sports stars but threatens his status with nightclubs, alcohol and women. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.4 One of those “superstar with an illness” films; perhaps the Brazilian Pride of the Yankees.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (Focus) Genre: True Life Drama. The visit of the reigning King and Queen of England to FDR’s upstate New York country retreat in 1939 as seen through the eyes of the President’s cousin. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Looks poignant and funny; could be a marvelous film.
IN OUR NATURE (Cinedigm) Genre: Drama. A young man takes his girlfriend up to his family’s vacation home only to have his plans interrupted by the appearance of his estranged dad and his much-younger girlfriend. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Strong cast, looks like a cut above some of these sorts of films.
LAY THE FAVORITE (Radius) Genre: Comedy. An ex-stripper and cocktail waitress falls in with a professional gambler; when she looks to have skills herself, things get complicated between her, the gambler and the gambler’s wife. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Nice cast and Stephen Frears is the director but trailer looked oddly unexciting.
PLAYING FOR KEEPS (FilmDistrict) Genre: Romantic Comedy. When a former pro soccer star takes over coaching his son’s youth team, his attempts to reconcile with his ex and his plans for a career in sportscasting are imperiled. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 Gerard Butler is one of my favorite actors these days.
QUARTET (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A benefit concert for a home for retired opera singers is disrupted by the arrival of a diva who refuses to sing for the benefit. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening in New York City January 11). RATING: 1.9 Great cast, Dustin Hoffman directing and some very funny British humor; what’s not to like?
THE RABBI’S CAT (GKIDS) Genre: Animated Feature. A rabbi and his talking cat find themselves at the crossroads of French, Arabic and Jewish cultures in Algeria in the 1930s. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles December 14). RATING: 2.5 Looks energetic and a bit saucy.
TCHOUPITOULAS (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. Three adolescent brothers journey through the intoxicating nightlife in New Orleans in a single night. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 I love New Orleans; the trailer really doesn’t reveal much about the film so it could be either really a waste of time or really capture the spirit of the Crescent City.
WAGNER & ME (First Run) Genre: Documentary. Renowned British actor Stephen Fry, a man of Jewish descent who loves the music of Richard Wagner, tries to reconcile his love for the music with the knowledge that it was appropriated by the Nazis and Adolph Hitler. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Looks like quite a journey and a fascinating one.
WAITING FOR LIGHTNING (Goldwyn) Genre: Documentary. Danny Way emerges from a broken home to become one of the most admired skateboarders in the world – and goes so far as to attempt to jump the Great Wall of China on his board.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Not. Interested.

DECEMBER 10, 2012

THE LOVING STORY (Icarus) Genre: Documentary. A look back at the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage and the couple that fought for that right. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.8 Although it’s already been shown on HBO, it’s a film that is particularly meaningful given the current state of gay marriage.

DECEMBER 12, 2012

CONSUMING SPIRITS (Self-Released) Genre: Animated Feature. When a nun is killed in a car accident, events are set into motion that will affect three people who didn’t know that the others even existed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 A variety of animation styles and a story that seems to meander; either brilliant or pretentious I can’t decide which.

DECEMBER 14, 2012

ANY DAY NOW (Music Box) Genre: Drama. In the 1970s, a gay couple attempts to adopt a child with Down’s syndrome that was abandoned by his mother, setting off a firestorm of legal proceedings and protests to try and prevent the unconventional family from staying together. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 The trailer looks incredibly moving; this could be an amazing performance from Alan Cumming.
THE GIRL (Brainstorm Media) Genre: Drama. A little girl gets separated from her illegal alien mother and is found by a Texas woman who goes on a quest to find her mom no matter where the trail might lead. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opens in limited release March 2013). RATING: 2.6 No trailer so couldn’t really get an idea how this looks; nice cast though.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (New Line) Genre: Fantasy. The first of three films made from the beloved J.R.R. Tolkein novel that precedes the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 This is going to be a blockbuster. No doubt about it.
SAVE THE DATE (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A fiercely independent girl breaks up with her boyfriend on the eve of her best friend’s marriage to the best friend of her ex, all while she’s attempting a new relationship with a rebound guy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks a bit like it might have indie hipster disease.
STAND-UP GUYS (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Action. A former mobster is released from prison after 28 years of keeping silent. He is picked up by a pair of friends for a night of remember when, not realizing one of them has been ordered to kill him. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opening wide February 1). RATING: 2.1 Pacino, Walken and Arkin – who could ask for a better cast?

DECEMBER 19, 2012

AMOUR (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. The life of a couple in their 80s is thrown upside down when health problems intrude. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.9 Not sure where this movie is headed but the last scene in the trailer is marvelous.
THE GUILT TRIP (Paramount) Genre: Comedy. An inventor headed to a crucial meeting impulsively invites his mother along when he realizes how lonely she’s going to be. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as mom and son? Hmmm…
MONSTERS, INC. 3D (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. Yet another Disney*Pixar classic gets the 3D re-release. Personally I think they should have brought it out a little closer to the release date of Monsters University but who am I to question the wisdom of the Mouse? Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.9 I just can’t get behind these cash-generating re-releases except for those who didn’t see the original in theaters and even then I’d recommend the standard version.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Columbia) Genre: True Life Drama. The manhunt for Osama bin Laden from inside the teams that located him and took him down. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (Opening wide January 11). RATING: 1.6 Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up to The Hurt Locker.

DECEMBER 21, 2012

BARBARA (Adopt) Genre: Drama. A young doctor attempting to flee East Germany is exiled to a rural hospital and turns to the head physician for solace but she begins to suspect he may be more than he seems. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Sounds interesting but the trailer is very low-key.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY 3D (Paramount) Genre: Fantasy. An incredible journey through fantastic landscapes with the acrobats of the Cirque du Soliel providing highlights along the way. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.0 Looks like it could be rather fantastic with director Andrew Adamson at the helm.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (Summit) Genre: True Life Drama. A family separated by the Boxing Day Tsunami in Thailand in 2004 desperately searches for one another in the chaotic aftermath. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.9 Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are both very likable and the trailer looks just incredible.
JACK REACHER (Paramount) Genre: Action. Ex-military cop Jack Reacher investigates a friend who’s an ex-Army sniper that is accused of murdering five people with six shots. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 I’m not sure Tom Cruise is the right guy for the role but the trailer looks pretty good.
NOT FADE AWAY (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Musical Drama. A group of friends in 1964 New Jersey, inspired by a TV appearance by the Rolling Stones, form a band. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 From David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos” and stars James Gandolfini from that show; what more could you ask?
ON THE ROAD (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama A young writer is taken on a cross-country journey by a free-spirited Western couple in an attempt to escape conformity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Based on the classic Jack Kerouac novel but the trailer didn’t connect with me.
THIS IS 40 (Universal) Genre: Comedy. As a couple approaches their 40th birthdays, they begin to re-examine their lives and their goals. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 Judd Apatow’s sorta sequel to Knocked Up.

DECEMBER 25, 2012

DJANGO UNCHAINED (Weinstein) Genre: Western. A bounty hunter and a freed slave go up against a sadistic plantation owner. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.1 The latest from Quentin Tarantino looks badass as usual.
LES MISERABLES (Universal) Genre: Musical. A relentless police officer pursues a former prisoner who broke parole in 19th century France as both men struggle through a landscape on the eve of revolution. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 Based on the beloved Broadway musical; the cast looks stellar and Anne Hathaway looks like she could get some Oscar consideration for this.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. Two grandparents with old school child raising mentalities are given their grandchildren to watch who have been raised with much more modern methods. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei make this extremely appealing.
WEST OF MEMPHIS (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. The fight to free the unjustly convicted West Memphis Three is told in documentary form. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A feature film version is in the works for this incredible story.

DECEMBER 26, 2012

TABU (Adopt) Genre: Drama. A cantankerous elderly Portuguese woman who is gravely ill sends for a former lover nobody in her present life knows about; their tale is told over 50 years through the reflections of her lover. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 In black and white, smoldering and sexy.

DECEMBER 28, 2012

ALLEGIANCE (XLrator) Genre: Action. A soldier granted a questionable transfer keeping him transfer to keep him home while his National Guard unit deploys gets embroiled in another soldier’s attempt to go AWOL. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Could be cheesy but could be gripping.
PROMISED LAND (Focus) Genre: Drama. A pair of representatives for a natural gas company try to get the drilling rights for an entire small town hit by hard economic times but run into unexpected resistance . Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opens wide January 4). RATING: 2.3 A really good cast includes Matt Damon, Hal Holbrook, John Krasinski and Frances McDormand.

Hyde Park on Hudson, Playing for Keeps, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Guilt Trip, Zero Dark Thirty, Jack Reacher, This is 40, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Parental Guidance, Promised Land