Tag Archives: Stephen McHattie

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).


RELATED

Advertisements

Nightshift (1985, Phillip Noyce)

The big problem with Nightshift, an episode of “The Hitchhiker,” is how William Darrid’s teleplay handles the protagonist. Margot Kidder plays a retirement home nurse who preys on her charges–little mean stuff, stealing their jewelry. The script isn’t playful with its presentation of Kidder. If Darrid had made her true nature a reveal instead of setting it up in the ground situation, for example.

It makes Kidder a weak protagonist, letting Stephen McHattie (as her scummy boyfriend) take over the episode when he’s in it. But he’s not in it very much, just a lengthy middle sequence. Then it goes back to Kidder, but she’s even more ineffectual now.

Director Noyce is trying to play with the constrained environment, but it doesn’t come off. There’s some good editing from Stan Cole.

Nightshift could have been a lot better, but Darrid didn’t give Kidder a believable enough character. It’s unfortunate.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; teleplay by William Darrid, based on a story by April Campbell Jones and Bruce Jones; “The Hitchhiker” created by Riff Markowitz, Lewis Chesler and Richard Rothstein; director of photography, Reginald H. Morris; edited by Stan Cole; music by Michel Rubini; production designer, Richard Wilcox; produced by Markowitz and Chesler; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Margot Kidder (Jane Reynolds), Stephen McHattie (Johnny), Dorothy Davies (Mrs. Cranshaw), Enid Saunders (Mrs. MacDonald), Kenneth Gordon (Mr. Loring) and Darren McGavin (The Old Man).


RELATED

A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg)

There’s something about A History of Violence from the first scene, something about the way the titles become part of the motel exterior. It’s a nice long tracking shot from Cronenberg, with a great (small part though) performance from Stephen McHattie. After the opening, Cronenberg spends a lot of time introducing Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and family. They live in a Hollywood-ized version of a small midwestern town (where everyone looks out for one another, where Bello has a son she had when she was eleven)–it’s a never never land, which is fine, because Cronenberg’s dealing with the role of violence in films here. He manages to make all the commentary on it he wants, while never once letting the characters slip from the most important position.

The film succeeds because of Mortensen and Bello. Bello’s good, but Mortensen is amazing. It’s been a while since the last time I read he was finally going to be big and Violence doesn’t show he can be a leading man… it shows he can act beautifully. The interesting thing about how Cronenberg treats Mortensen… he’s never anything but the protagonist. He never loses the viewer’s identification. Even when he’s scaring the hell out of everyone around him, he’s still the good guy. Because it’s a Hollywood movie. It’s not in the sense one could see Brad Pitt in the lead, but Cronenberg knows very well he can’t comment on Hollywood’s approach to violence without making the film Hollywood.

There is some distraction, given the high schoolers all being mid-twenties or later. I’m guessing it doesn’t have to do with Cronenberg commenting on… the Beach Party movies, but rather… well, regular Hollywood casting practices.

Cronenberg offsets the violence and the implications of it and Mortensen and Bello’s respective inner turmoil with a couple fantastic performances. First, Ed Harris. Harris plays a creepy mobster and he’s a joy to watch, but it’s not a stretch for him. Ed Harris doesn’t usually play creepy mobsters, but it’s not something one wouldn’t expect to see from him. William Hurt, on the other hand, has his flashiest role ever as a funny, posh mobster… seeing Hurt in this kind of role (and forgetting, had the film been made fifteen years earlier, he probably would have been turning down the lead) is joyous. He can do anything, but so rarely does. His scenes are just indescribably great.

Screenwriter Josh Olson, with a pointedly less than notable (to be polite) previous filmography, provides Cronenberg with the material he needs to tell a complicated story. In many ways, it’s like Frank Capra does a mob movie… with composer Howard Shore, who can alternate without any difficulty between the personal and dramatic scenes, setting a mood for the film I can’t really describe.

However, it all rests on Mortensen. And he succeeds.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Cronenberg; written by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Chris Bender and J.C. Spink; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Viggo Mortensen (Tom Stall), Maria Bello (Edie Stall), William Hurt (Richie Cusack), Ed Harris (Carl Fogarty), Ashton Holmes (Jack Stall), Heidi Hayes (Sarah Stall), Stephen McHattie (Leland Jones), Greg Bryk (Billy Orser) and Peter MacNeill (Sheriff Sam Carney).


RELATED