DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Nick of Time, Nixon, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The Plot to Kill Nixon, Death of a President, Vantage Point, 06/05, Cool!, Interview (Buscemi), Submission, Fitna, Have a Good Weekend In Spite of Everything, The Prisoner, xXx: State of the Union; The King Assassination

 

Title:  Nick of Time

Release Date:  1995

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 88 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Paramount 

Director; Writer: John Badham, wr. Patrick Sheane Duncan

Producer: 

Cast:   Johnny Depp, Courtney Chase, Christopher Walken. Roma Maffia, Marsha Mason

Technical: Flat 1.85 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  “national security”

 

Nick of Time starts out in the credits in film noir fashion with images of clocks. What seems like an exercise in screenwriting technique, in real time, almost Dogme, has a real moral message. Johnny Depp, looking quite a bit younger than now, plays a geeky accountant, traveling to Union Station in LA with his daughter Lynn (Courtney Chase). After a mishap that may be intentional, he is stopped by a couple (Christopher Walken and Roma Maffia) pretending to be police, who grab the daughter. He must assassinate the governor of California (Marsha Mason) in the Los Angeles Bonaventure (Westin) hotel in 90 minutes, when she gives a speech, or his daughter will be murdered with a 357 magnum. The moral layers are there. Must he commit a crime to protect his family? No, he quickly looks for escape points, the taxi driver and “wing tip” shoeshine man, and eventually gets into the governor’s quarter to warn her. So he becomes a geek hero. The script does exploit the situational complications that would prevent him from being believed, no matter how "good" he is as a person (which he is, quite so). Still, why was he a personal mark for terrorists? Because he was a geek who had a family? The brutality of the closing scene with the daughter is quite terrorizing, as is the broken leg of the shoeshine man.  

 

Sales culture figures in as a pivotal motivational concept in The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004, ThinkFilm, dir. Niels Mueller, with cowriter Kevin Kennedy, R; Leonardo di Caprio is an executive producer), which on the surface sounds like a movie about a failed 9-11 style hijacking. That happens, at the end, as Sam Bicke (in real life he was Sam Byck) crashes through new security gates at Baltimore’s then-called Friendship Airport. (I traveled a lot for work that year). We first see Bicke (Sean Penn) in the airport parking lot, adjusting his revolver to a brace taped onto his conveniently middle-aged bald leg. It is February 22, 1974, and the outdoor scenery mistakenly shows foliage. Nevermind, because from then on this simple film is technically flawless, even if it has that raw low-budget look and sound, a certain graininess. Now Bicke is a furniture salesman, and is being pressured by his fat, decadent middle-class boss Jack Jones (Jack Thompson) into all the Dale Carnegies stuff.  Here it is Always Believe. Belief (not faith) was a God-given gift. Bicke has been descending into self-loathing as he can only sell by lying to customers, or at least cheesily manipulating them, pretending to be the man that he is not, hiding behind manner. He feels like a parasite, yet sees himself as a grain of sand—any little guy, by principles of asymmetry, can change the world. In a backdrop of quotes of Nixon television cameos, he begins to see Nixon as a symbol of his oppression. After all, Nixon (despite subjective psychological femininity) had sold his way into the White House twice with lies about getting out of Vietnam (though in 1973 Nixon had made progress). Bicke is separated from his wife Marie (Naomi Watts). When Bicke gets caught flirting with a female customer and mentioning his “ex-wife”, Jack tells Bicke that he only hires married men (sounds like My Little Margie—not many reputable companies would say bald-faced that today). Bicke pressures Marie into a dinner to prove that he is married. (Sounds like a Shakespeare plot trick here.) Marie rewards him with a divorce decree. In the mean time, Bicke has been trying to get a Small Business Administration loan for an absurd tire road-van business (with blacl partner Bonny Simmons (Don Cheadle), and has cheated his brother to get the first inventory. Bicke listens to Nixon brag that he is not a crook, and Bicke pontificates on honesty, then steals himself. The movie here exploits that dreaded feeling of opening a mailbox to find bad news. Bicke’s life spirals towards homelessness as he builds his clumsy terrorist plot. Just as Bicke arrives at the airport, he mails his journal to admired conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein. The film plays several Beethoven works (including the Emporer Concerto slow movement) in the background, but in the theater the print I saw presented the sound track as smallish, minimalist, almost sounding like an old movie.

 

On January 27, 2005 the History Channel presents its own The Plot to Kill Nixon. This film shows that Byck (portrayed here as overweight) was a manic-depressive, who took lithium as medication and was sometimes hospitalized. His troubles holding jobs stretched over many years. The last part of the film goes into great detail about the attempted hijacking, and shows simulations of what a 9/11-type explosion at the White House would have looked like, although it maintains that the White House is built solidly enough to withstand the impact of a DC-9. Byck is visited several times by Secret Service agents (once after a verbal threat is overheard in a Philadelphia bar), who never have a legal ground to hold him.

 

Nixon (1995, Hollywood, dir. Oliver Stone, 192 min) is a famous biography of the troubled President, with a lot of details about Watergate leading up to the 1974 resignation. There are lots of scenes where Nixon, in a self-indulgent manner, speculates on the power of “the president” as it the presidency were an abstraction separate from his own personhood. Anthony Hopkins is riveting as Tricky Dick.

 

Death of a President (2006, New Market/FilmFour, dir. Gabriel Range, 93 min, R) invited controversy as AOL actually put out a poll asking if seeing this film would be treasonous. About 50% of people to polled said it was, and many theater chains would not carry this. I saw it at Landmark E Street in Washington DC. It is a fictitious docudrama, some years in the future, of an assassination in Chicago by a sniper in 2007, in an atmosphere of violent street protests recalling “Medium Cool.” The FBI quickly zeroes in on a Muslim man, and with questionable ballistics and circumstantial evidence surrounding the Muslim’s trip to Afghanistan and forced Al Qaeda training, gets a death penalty conviction seven months later. Then, the father of two Iraq veterans, one of them dead in combat, commits suicide, and the other son finds leaked information about the president’s route, raising the likelihood that the father committed the act. Nevertheless, the government will not rescind the conviction of the Muslim man, while the Patriot Act III has been strengthened. This is a well made film, spectacular to live through, even though entirely fictitious. It certainly gives the government and Secret Service more “imagination” to work through in strengthening the president’s security for future appearances, especially in keeping itineraries absolutely secret.

 

Vantage Point (2008, Columbia, dir. Pete Travis, wr. Barry Levy, 90 min, PG-13, Mexico). It's not clear whether the importance of this film is its political content -- it's far fetched -- or the storytelling technique, which is quite intriguing. The setup is that President Ashton (William Hurt) has negotiated an end to the war on terror, and is going to a southern Spanish city to sign the agreement at high noon (which would be 6 AM in Washington). The whole film takes place in the town square and in the streets and superhighways around it. It looks big (2.35:1) even if the setting is actually constricted. (The film was actually shot in Mexico City). Apparently the president is shot, and a few minutes later there is a tremendous explosion that destroys the town square. We also learn that the US has intercepted a plot in Morocco to bring a dirty bomb to the U.S. and detonate it. The NSA has verified that the terror plot is real. The concept of the story almost defeats itself, as an event like this could never be set up anyway.

 

Of course, what everyone talks about is the Rashomon-style story-telling. The events are played back at least seven times from the viewpoint of various characters involved in the incidents. One character leads to the next, and with each replaying we learn more. Now, what's interesting is this is how we solve real-life mysteries, is to go back and imagine what other people out of sight from you must have done. I have a situation like this right now (leave that for the blogs). Some of the players are media reporter Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), who (imitating Ripley) tells a subordinate to leaver her opinions for people "paid to have opinions"; Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist who shoots the incident on his camcorder, and of course the fibbies (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) seize. At first we think that the assassin is a Spanish native played by a handsome Edgar Ramirez, who has a girl friend and family honor to keep, and who displays his athletic running skills. But with each rendering the threads of plot unwind, and we also have the dramatic issue of deciding what is imagined and what is real. Since most people know the story probably, we learn around episode 5 that the president has a double to take the hit, but that won't necessarily save him. But the concept makes the whole setup seem more improbable. The film is more style than anything else, nonstop action and stories within a story. Me music score by Atli Orvarsson, with its quadruple-meter dance rhythms, is quite effective and, for a change, the closing credits are accompanied by a concert orchestral dance suite worthy of concert performance.    

 

06/05 (“May 6th”, 2004, Koch Lorber/Column, dir. Theo Van Gogh, book “The Sixth of May” by Thomas Ross, 122 min, R) is a fictionalized reconstruction of the assassination of “gay right” Dutch political candidate Pi, Fortuyn (Wilhelmus Simon Petrus Fortuyn) on May 6, 2002. This is the last major film by the controversial Dutch filmmaker (the great nephew of painter Vincent Van Gogh) before he was assassinated after making his short film “Submission” in November 2004.

 

The film supposes that an appealing and charismatic young male tabloid photographer Jim de Booy (Thijs Romer) took photos of the assassination and then tried to do a scoop investigation himself of the incident, by involving himself with various women connected to perpetrators of the assassination. De Booy does see the security service at the assassination site and feels drawn into the intrigue. He is presented as being 32 but as already having a teenage daughter of his own. Fortuyn, a so-called “homocon” had been outspoken against Muslim immigration, and is shown in a number of clips of his speeches. De Booy goes through a series of encounters with various characters (such as Hamid, the Turk (Fouad Morigh), and the camera sometimes lingers that character’s hairy body in bedroom scenes. De Booy is shown as lanky, energetic, and restless, in constant motion, trying to prove himself a Renaissance man. The story, with the flashbacks, seems a bit arbitrary and doesn’t seem to have much forward movement. Some of the scenes of Holland (such as the beach at the end, or the yellow trains) are effective. But having been to Amsterdam several times myself, and knowing the scenery from Schipol to the Central Station pretty well, I wanted to see more of the city in the film (even the new ING headquarters would make a great shot just for film scenery). I think he could have done something even with the “coffee houses” and gay bars, to provide a more colorful backdrop for what seems to be an auteurish film. The film has the odd remark, that the Netherlands is the only civilized country where “being next to the boys is more important than money.”  Most of the film is in Dutch, with English subtitles, but sometimes government officials talk in English, with Dutch subtitles. Dutch is supposedly the closest language to English (it looks a lot like German).

 

The 06/05 DVD above comes with an extended short (52 min) titled “Have a Good Weekend In Spite of Everything” to analyze the assassination of Theo Van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri on a bike path on Nov. 2, 2004. The film starts with a cheerio music video, before getting serious (in Dutch, with English subtitles). There were enormous bureaucratic complications after the killing, but they don’t compare with the failure of Dutch police (AVID) to protect him before, when they knew there were serious threats from Hofstad. The theory that Mohammed B was supposed to be a police informant is advanced, but if so the police were duped. Van Gogh had always been controversial because of his views inimical to religion, and he had been denied participation in a debate the previous spring. The showing of the film “Submission” (some excerpts are shown in this short) had heightened concern. It seems bizarre to some of us that some groups are so sensitive to “blood libel” or defamation or humiliation as a group, because their structured experience (religious) is all they have to make their lives work. An individualist might assume that such a hypersensitivity to “blasphemy” or the free speech of others is an admission of personal failure. But many people would rather not contemplate such a notion. Van Gogh, in the video clips on the DVD, “admits” that at 47 most of his life is over. He does seem to be talking himself into an existential trap. 

 

Cool! (2004, Picture This! /  Column, dir, Theo van Gogh, 97 min, R, Netherlands) is a loose docudrama about four (and eventually more) reckless Dutch youths in a reformatory, after they go big time with bank robberies when attracted by a predatory gangster (Katja Schuurman) and then get caught. The film is a bit schizophrenic, but it does show how quickly kids become complacent about democratic values, as in the scene where one of the rappers praises Hitler.  One of the cynical lines in the film is "Think of yourself and f__k the rest!"  Some of the kids do not work out well and meet a tragic end. The music score mixes hip-hop and Wagner with an odd effect.  This eclectic little film was not nearly as interesting as the May 6 film. 

 

Submission (2004, VPRO TV in the Netherlands, 10:50)  The film is also marked as “Part 1”. Does that mean that Theo Van Gogh never was able to finish successive parts? After a quiet introduction with geometric shapes, a woman describes her experience, of being subject to an arranged marriage for the pleasure of the husband’s family, and of abuse by the husband’s brother. Most of the visual imagery consists of the woman talking through her veil.  Abused women are shown with Koran passages on their skin. There is a brief response on YouTube from ABC where the concept of “uncovered meat” inviting rape is discussed.

 

On Feb.4, 2007 The New York Times, in “Ideas & Trends,” p. Wk3, has a Q&A column for Ayaan Hirsi Ali (conducted by Laura Goodstein), the Somali immigrant to the Netherlands who collaborated with Van Gogh on the film. She had won a seat in the Dutch parliament a decade after escaping from an arranged marriage. When Van Gogh was murdered on 11/2/2004, a letter threatening her was left on his chest. He upcoming autobiography, to be published Feb. 6, 2007 by The Free Press in English, is called Infidel.

 

To put Theo’s short film in perspective, consider the objective research of the treatment of women by Islam. Women fared better in Muslim society right after the time of Mohammed than they did as Islam spread into more centralized civilizations. Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, and Marc J. Gilbert, history professors, argue in their 2003 text World Civilizations: The Global Experience that practices that treated women as chattel and required the burqa or veil started outside of Arabia (actually Syria).

 

“Whatever the explanation, until the present era the higher degrees of centralization and social stratification, both characteristic features of civilized societies, have always favored men in the allotment of power and career opportunities.” P. 132, sidebar on “Civilization and Gender.” 

 

The short does not seem to be on DVD yet, but I will let readers know when and if it can be seen (legally), either on DVD or in a theatrical package. Presumably VPRO in Amsterdam would have to sell or license rights to DVD or theatrical distributors. The same goes if someone else films the other intended subsequent parts.   

 

The latest seems to be that it moved on YouTube. The best way to find it is to search on Google for Submission, YouTube, Van Gogh. A direct link may not work.  There is also a critical analysis (6 min) from Pfanderfilms.com which discusses why "Submission" has been removed a few times from Youtube, some verses from the Sura about the subordination of the value of women that some Muslims may not want viewers to hear. (He compares them to Ephesians 5). 

 

 

There is another film about the murder of a filmmaker (in the "Dowlow" subcutlure), "Soy-n-Sugar: Drama to Reality" (2007, based on an earlier 2002 clip, 56 min), directed by Kimberly Johnson. It was shown at the Goethe Institut Oct 13, 2007 at the Reel Affirmations 17 film festival, as part of a documentary program called "Urban Renewal". I have not been able to see it. Here is a review Oct. 12, 2007 in The Washington Blade. Here is the link to the RA description here.

 

Fitna (2008, dir. Scarlet Pimpernel, wr. with Geert Wilders, 16:48) is a controversial film on "liveleak.com" about the violence associated with radical Islam, tracing the violence back to specific verses of the Koran. Van Gogh is mentioned.  Networksolutions "pre-censored" the official site and pulled it out of fear of unrest. The blogger discussion is here.

 

Interview (2007, Sony Pictures Classics / Cinemavault, dir. Steve Buscemi, 83 min, R, Netherlands) is a remake of an obscure film of the same name by Theo Van Gogh from 2003 (not on DVD yet, from Shooting Star). Buscemi is the reporter Pierre Peders, and Sienna Miller is Katya, the actress. The "interview" gets some false starts, with an abortive meeting in a restaurant where the maitre almost chases them out for cell phone use. When Pierre gets his head whacked while in a cab, Katya invites him to her Soho loft, and the encounter builds up, using lots of embedded material on her iMac laptop, blackberry, videos, and a cable TV broadcast of a political scandal. He peruses her "diary" and finds an entry that seems troubling, and they wind up in a contest of tell-all. The question is, when is something found on a computer real and when is it just a thought experiment or script (I've encountered that issue), and when is a "confession" real. That kind of thing gets people into trouble. Not to be confused with a 1999 film by the same name from Australia.

 

The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2007, Netflix, dir. Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, 72 min, PG-13, digital video, website; also, imdb entry for this title) Yunis Khatayer Abbas was a journalist in Iraq during the days of Saddam Hussein, and was arrested in 1998 after action by one of Saddam’s sons, tortured and imprisoned. Then in the fall of 2003 US forces would arrest him and accuse him of being involved in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of Britain. Most of the film consists of interviews of Abbas (pretty much in the style of the film “Blind Spot”) with many cute drawings, one for each “chapter” where the chapters seem to correspond to those of a DVD. Abbas would be taken to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. The utter squalor of the prison is shown in many stills and brief crude video clips. Tony Blair is overheard talking on the script only once. Military intelligence NCO’s and offiers are sometimes interviewed (including one “skinhead” who is shown cigarette smoking – depressing – at his tent laptop while being interviewed). One officer offers the interesting comment that Iraqi homes are often rowhouses that are connected with common basements, that would present a serious home security issue by American residential standards. 

 

xXx: State of the Union (2005, Columbia, dir. Lee Tamahori, characters by Rich Wilkes, 101 min) is actually a sequel to xXx. Darius Stone (Ice Cube) is recruited from prison by Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) from the sleuthy xXx program as they go to Washington to break up a plot to overthrow the government during the State of the Union speech which, shall we say, gets prematurely ended. There are some unprecedented special effects, including the idea of an invasion from the ground by blowing holes into an underground bunker (an NSA compound in VA -- there actually is a Mt. Weather in real life), and then a "bullet train" sequence at the end, going over viaducts that don't exist (I don't think the actual train exists, either, although there is a small subway for Congress).  FX TV had a DVD show on the movie showing all the green screen extras from the DVD.

 

Eyewitness to Murder: The King Assassination (2008, CNN, narr. Soledad O'Brien), part of the CNN "Black in America" series, is a detailed documentary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.  Blogger entry.  A second component of the Black in America series is "The Black Woman & Family." Blogger.

 

 

Related reviews:. Diamond Men, 100 Mile Rule, etc;   The Men Who Killed Kennedy Blood Diamond  Shooter  The Interview (Australia)  Rashomon   Z

 

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