Tag Archives: Gregg Henry

Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014, Nick Gomez)

A horrific crime. An infamous suspect. An unrelenting prospector and his search for the truth. Or not. I mean, technically most of the above statements could be used to describe Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, but none of them accurately captures the ninety-one minute TV movie.

There is some time spent on the crime. But Stephen Kay’s insipid teleplay already assumes Lizzie Borden’s guilt. It’s not about how or why Borden (Christina Ricci in a vacant performance) might have done the deed, but it’s also not much about how Ricci “got away with it.” There’s a trial sequence. It’s the worst part of the movie, which is saying a lot. Maybe because you finally get to see unrelenting prospector Gregg Henry come up against Kay’s bad writing. The writing lays waste to Henry, who ought to have some phenomenal part and instead doesn’t. According to the film, he doesn’t have much interest in truth. He’s justice-minded, sure, but without any convincing reasons for his passion. Once it’s clear Henry’s not getting any more character or any better scenes, he fades into the background.

Or it’s Steve Cosens’s lousy interior photography at the trial. Henry fades into that drab. But he could’ve had a good part. If the writing were better, if the direction weren’t weak. Director Gomez actually shows some interest at the beginning, when they’re recounting the murders. It’s not effect interest–the way he’ll frame a static shot to bring out the period details–but it’s an interest. It’s better than when he flubs a jump scare. Once he flubs the jump scare, it’s even more all over for Lizzie Borden. There’s just nothing to take seriously about it.

Ricci doesn’t have a character to play. Kay and Gomez have so little interest in Borden as a protagonist, they’re unwilling to commit to any characterization. At least Clea DuVall, as Ricci’s sister, gets to have emotional breakdowns. Ricci isn’t even allowed affect. No personality, no affect. Gomez’s direction is really bad. It’s goofy TV movie stuff a lot of the time, but it’s a goofy TV movie script so what else is he going to do with it, but Gomez doesn’t even help the actors. It’s so bad.

Also contributing to the endless depths of bad is the soundtrack. Lizzie Borden, set in 1892 New Jersey, has a hip, modern, country-twinged white man blues rock soundtrack. No women, however. The trappings of Ricci’s nineteenth century female are best exemplified through crappy songs. That anachronism is the only one in the movie. Unless you count Kay’s unbelievable court proceedings as anachronistic.

The guys have better parts. Shawn Doyle and Billy Campbell get through Lizzie Borden unscathed. They don’t try to hard, they phone it in, but they phone it in professionally. The parts are also better because they’re infinitely thin. Campbell’s the family lawyer who’s now defending Ricci. You’d think he might have some reaction to it. But no.

Oh. Right. The trial. The trial is terrible. The writing’s terrible, the direction is terrible. Gomez can’t get any intensity out of the proceedings, partially because Kay’s a bad writer, but also because there’s nothing to be intense about. The case hasn’t been made interesting. The characters haven’t been made interesting. It’s just awful stuff.

Stephen McHattie is the father. Historically, he seems like he was a bastard. Kay and Gomez make McHattie a bit of a grumbler, but he’s no bastard. Ricci might be a succubus though. It’s discomforting to what degree Gomez and Kay refuse to empathize with or even consider Ricci’s reality.

There are some terrible small supporting performances but it’s hard to blame the cast. It’s all Gomez and Kay.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nick Gomez; written by Stephen Kay; director of photography, Steve Cosens; edited by Henk Van Eeghen; music by Tree Adams; production designer, James McAteer; produced by Michael Mahoney; aired by Lifetime.

Starring Christina Ricci (Lizzie Borden), Clea DuVall (Emma Borden), Gregg Henry (Hosea Knowlton), Stephen McHattie (Andrew Borden), Shawn Doyle (Marshall Hilliard), Sara Botsford (Abby Morse Borden), Hannah Emily Anderson (Bridget Sullivan), Andrea Runge (Alice Russell), and Billy Campbell (Andrew Jennings).


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Bates Motel (1987, Richard Rothstein)

Bates Motel is one of those “has to be seen to be believed (but isn’t worth spending any time on)” movies. It’s even better because it’s a late eighties TV movie slash pilot with a lot of contemporary television personalities guest starring, “Love Boat”-style. But it’s also a sequel to Psycho.

It’s also a complete mess of all those elements.

First, there’s lead Bud Cort. Having grown-up in the eighties and nineties, I eventually heard of Bates Motel, but I thought it was about Cort being this creepy motel manager and Jason Bateman being his assistant, possible victim, young adult lead. Like a mystery show.

Nope.

Bates Motel is about how Robert Picardo, in a high contrast, black and white flashback, gives just institutionalized Norman Bates a friend. It’s ludicrous, but writer Richard Rothstein really runs with it. And since he also directed the Motel, he’s always very nostalgic for Norman. Cort carries an urn with his ashes around the entire movie.

It’s nuts. Only it’s saccharine. Because Bates Motel, which actually does a Scooby-Doo reveal at the end, isn’t about being scary. It’s about being life affirming. Rothstein writes it for the commercial breaks; the break provides some transition, whether in the present action or just in Cort all of a sudden becoming the protagonist instead of a possible psychopath. Then Lori Petty shows up and everything goes crazy in a different direction.

Both Cort and Petty are bad, but Petty’s doing a schtick. She’s trying to sell herself (or the network is trying to sell her) and she doesn’t do a bad job of being calculated and commercial. As far as her terribly-written part? Well, no, she doesn’t do much with it. She’s unlikable, but better than Cort. And still bad.

Even Moses Gunn is bad, but in his case it’s because Rothstein can’t stage a scene. Bill Butler’s photography is actually pretty good too. Bates Motel isn’t cheap (I had always assumed it was cheap, it isn’t); it has good production values. It just has a crap script, crap direction and crap acting.

Except from Khrystyne Haje. Against all odds, she’s good. Jason Bateman, who has no scenes with Cort, is terrible. As the primary “Love Boat” guest star, the one in need of life affirming, Kerrie Keane is bad. You want to like her, but you can’t. I guess she does earn some pity, but it’s for being in the movie.

The super sweet music from J. Peter Robinson just makes it even more of an awkward, unpleasant misfire. However, it’s hard not to watch the first act, as Motel desperately tries to engage a vague franchise awareness with its viewer, and see it as a proto-franchise reboot.

Bates Motel is, just as I always thought, a piece of crap. The only surprise–besides Haje being good and Petty being worse than expected–has to be Cort. I expected to have sympathy for him being wasted in this crappy TV movie knock-off Psycho, but I didn’t. His performance is so distant, so cocky-eyed, it’s like I’d never seen him before and had no attachment (big problem for a TV pilot, incidentally). Rothstein can’t do anything right, not even cast Harold as a socially isolated, middle-aged man intrigued with death.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Rothstein; teleplay by Rothstein, suggested by a novel by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Dann Cahn; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by George Linder and Ken Topolsky; aired by NBC.

Starring Bud Cort (Alex West), Lori Petty (Willie), Kerrie Keane (Barbara Peters), Gregg Henry (Tom Fuller), Robert Picardo (Dr. Goodman), Moses Gunn (Henry Watson), Jason Bateman (Tony Scotti), Khrystyne Haje (Sally), Lee de Broux (Sheriff) and Kurt Paul (Norman Bates).


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