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Non-Review Review: Elvis and Nixon

Elvis and Nixon is a larger than life account of a larger than life meeting between two unlikely legendary figures.

Much has been made of the fact that neither Kevin Spacey nor Michael Shannon bear much resemblance to Richard Milhous Nixon or Elvis Aaron Presley. In fact, the film even makes a point of mentioning it. After a weird encounter at the White House gate, one security guard concedes of Elvis, “He’s taller than I thought.” Of course he is; Michael Shannon is noticeably (about ten centimetres) taller than his character. Indeed, the lack of physical resemblance between the actors and the subjects seems to be the point.

"Yeah, I suppose he KINDA looks like he from an angle."

“Yeah, I suppose he KINDA looks like he from an angle.”

After all, many of the best cinematic Nixons look rather unlike the nation’s thirty-seventh president. Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella picked up Oscar nominations despite the fact that there was no risk of confusion. The same is true of Dan Hedaya, even if he never picked up an Oscar nomination. Both Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley exist as larger-than-life figures in the American popular consciousness more than distinct individuals; both are recognisable archetypes who seem to speak to the nation’s cultural memory more than its specific history.

Elvis and Nixon realises and embraces this. The film is gleefully and archly ahistorical, to the point that this becomes the point. It is not so much that the line between reality and fiction blurs for director Liza Johnson, it’s that the boundary never existed in the first place. There is no record of what actually happened during the thirty minute conversation, but that’s probably for the best. Nothing could be quite as fun as the mismatched odd couple comedy of Elvis and Nixon.

Photo finish...

Photo finish…

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The X-Files – Deep Throat (Review)

Deep Throat was filmed in August 1993, more than a year after the production of The Pilot in March 1993. In a way, Deep Throat feels like the first proper episode of the show’s first season, even carrying the production number 1×01. It cements a lot of the themes and ideas suggested in The Pilot, more firmly establishing arcs and characters. Indeed, The Pilot ended with a glimpse at the massive government conspiracy surrounding encounters with alien life forms, but Deep Throat serves to demonstrate just how deep that conspiracy goes.

The episode builds on countless ideas and conspiracy theories, delving into the popular suggestion that the United States military has been reverse-engineering alien technology for its own purposes. This suggests that Mulder isn’t just dealing with modern interactions between aliens and humanity, he’s digging into something that is rooted far deeper. As the eponymous informant teases him at the end of the episode, “Mr. Mulder, they’ve been here for a very long time.”

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

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Non-Review Review: Rush

In many ways, Rush quite resembles the last collaboration between director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan. Both are built around contests between two larger-than-life personalities. One is old-fashioned and conservative, averse to risk and obsessed with victory; the other is young and impetuous, arrogant and self-assured without the experience to back that up. However, while Rush lacks the screen presence of performers Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, it benefits greatly from the fact that it refuses to choose a side.

As much as Frost/Nixon might have offered a slightly more sympathetic-than-usual Nixon, it was clear that the audience was intended to root against the corrupt former president, and champion the ascension of young up-and-comer David Frost. Rush manages a more delicate balance, firmly refusing to favour one protagonist over the other. Both the reckless young go-getter and the safety-conscious number-cruncher are portrayed as sympathetic and well-developed characters.

This makes Rush that rarest of sports movies: the one where the audience is rooting for both contenders.

Not quite to Formula...

Not quite to Formula…

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Non-Review Review: The Candidate (1972)

The Candidate is that rare movie that is anchored firmly in its own time, released in June 1972, but remains relevant through until today. Writer Jeremy Larner won an Oscar for his screenplay, and his portrayal of election politics seems worryingly plausible. The Candidate is remarkably frank about its politics, but also in its depiction of the system. There’s no pussyfooting around for fear of alienating the audience with hostile political ideas, instead the film embraces its political position and runs from there. While it feels like it was written in the shadow of the then-looming 1972 Presidential election, it does seem to be quite applicable to modern politics.It remains relevant, perhaps an illustration of how little has changed.

If anything, it seems like The Candidate is relatively tame compared to current political realities.

“I came here to chew gum and get elected… and… well, I’m not out of gum.”

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Non-Review Review: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

I actually quite enjoyed Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, even if it seems to lack the same clear political bite of the novel and original film version of the tale. In many respects, Demme’s film adaptation is a triumph of atmosphere, featuring a superb cast and a perpetual sense of uncertainty. While its politics seem a bit less provocative and engaging than the source material, Demme is still a superb film maker. There’s a wonderful sense of unease and discomfort that seems to pervade every frame of the film, with the politics of the movie perhaps the only facet that is never unclear.

The naked truth…

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Non-Review Review: Sleeper

Sleeper is an enjoyable Woody Allen film, coming from relatively early in the director’s career. He had yet to direct either Annie Hall or Manhattan, arguably his two most popular works, but was coming off a string of well-regarded movies. Sleeper is an affectionate look at many of the science-fiction movies that Hollywood was producing in the late sixties and early seventies, to the point that Allen himself actually sat down with Isaac Asimov to make sure the science-fiction elements of the script were kosher. However, Sleeper is remarkably fluid, allowing room within that framework for Allen to really explore any and all ideas that might possibly have occurred to him. The result is, to borrow a quote from the poster, a highly enjoyable and almost whimsical “nostalgic look at the future.”

Robot in disguise…

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Playhouse Presents: Nixon’s The One (Review)

I can’t help but feel just a little bit disappointed by Nixon’s the One. Sky Arts have been producing a series of television plays as part of Playhouse Presents bringing together a wealth of talent including Emma Thompson, Richard E. Grant, Tom Jones, David Tennant, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen Fry and Olivia Williams among others. Nixon’s the One, the third in the series of ten plays, caught my eye because it was a re-enactment of various exerts from Nixon’s infamous White House tapes, brought to life by a talented cast. While the approach is fascinating and Harry Shearer makes a convincing Nixon beneath far too much make-up, the play is simply too short to capture any real portrait of America’s most controversial President. It drops some interesting insights, but doesn’t have enough room to expand or develop them beyond what we already knew of Nixon.

Just dossier-ing around…

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