Christina Ricci

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).


The Hard Way (1991, John Badham)

From the opening titles, it’s clear The Hard Way is going to have a lot of technical personality. The opening is set to the sounds of a street festival, the New York streets wet with rain and the neon lights vibrant.

Director Badham’s composition is excellent, Frank Morriss and Tony Lombardo’s editing is tight and the photography (either from Donald McAlpine or Robert Primes–it’s impossible to know who, Badham replaced Primes mid-shoot) is outstanding.

Only, it’s Taxi Driver. They’re ripping off Taxi Driver. It’s sort of appropriate, I guess, since the film goes on to rip off Dirty Harry for its villain.

But the film’s hook is Michael J. Fox, as an obnoxious movie star, tagging along with James Woods’s hard-boiled detective. Both Fox and Woods are perfect for the roles, able to transition when the film requires their characters to develop. Their chemistry is outstanding, which gets the film in trouble when it keeps them apart.

The filmmakers foolishly try to make the storyline plausible, inserting some pointless subplots. The most superfluous is the one with Fox bonding with Woods’s erstwhile girlfriend (an amiable, if underused, Annabella Sciorra). They pad a lot… and then feel the need to give the movie around four false endings.

But it’s pleasant and endearing throughout. The great supporting cast–Luis Guzmán and Delroy Lindo in particular–help. Stephen Lang chews the scenery as the villain; he’s never scary (or realistic) but always amusing.

And Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is swell.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Lem Dobbs, based on a story by Dobbs and Michael Kozoll; directors of photography, Donald McAlpine and Robert Primes; edited by Tony Lombardo and Frank Morriss; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Rob Cohen and William Sackheim; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Nick Lang), James Woods (Detective Lt. John Moss), Stephen Lang (The Party Crasher), Annabella Sciorra (Susan), Christina Ricci (Bonnie), John Capodice (Detective Grainy), Luis Guzmán (Detective Benny Pooley), LL Cool J (Detective Billy), Mary Mara (Detective China), Delroy Lindo (Captain Brix), Conrad Roberts (Witherspoon) and Penny Marshall (Angie).


Sleepy Hollow (1999, Tim Burton)

For the majority of the running time, at least Sleepy Hollow isn’t boring. Burton gets in an event every ten minutes, which keeps it moving. It often gets really stupid and watching Johnny Depp’s histrionics get tiresome after the first five minutes, but at least it moves. Until the finale, which drags incredibly. Since the film is constructed as a mystery, once the villain’s identity is revealed, it becomes a lot less interesting. Burton could have done something better, but not much in Sleepy Hollow suggests he cares enough to bother.

Besides the supporting cast and the production design—and Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography, which is lovely—there’s nothing special about the film. For a lot of it, Depp is running around with costars Christina Ricci and Marc Pickering, looking like their babysitter. Ricci’s playing the love interest though, which would come off as odd if Depp was for one moment trying to create a believable character. Watching him primp around—his facial expressions could power a small town alone—is mind-numbing.

But the supporting cast features some excellent performances—Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid and Richard Griffiths are all wonderful. Michael Gambon doesn’t do well though, neither does Jeffrey Jones. Miranda Richardson has some good moments and some awful ones.

The script’s stupid, but it’s unclear if any of the problems are Burton’s fault. His sensibilities—besides the production itself—are reined in. He even rips off a moment from Total Recall.

It’s a lame, worthless movie… but not intolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, based on a screen story by Kevin Yagher and Walker and a story by Washington Irving; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Chris Lebenzon and Joel Negron; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Scott Rudin and Adam Schroeder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane), Christina Ricci (Katrina Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel), Michael Gambon (Baltus Van Tassel), Casper Van Dien (Brom Van Brunt), Jeffrey Jones (Reverend Steenwyck), Richard Griffiths (Magistrate Philipse), Ian McDiarmid (Doctor Lancaster), Michael Gough (Notary Hardenbrook), Marc Pickering (Young Masbath), Lisa Marie (Lady Crane), Steven Waddington (Killian), Claire Skinner (Beth Killian), Christopher Lee (Burgomaster), Alun Armstrong (High Constable) and Christopher Walken (Hessian Horseman).


Small Soldiers (1998, Joe Dante)

I remember liking Small Soldiers the first time I saw it. I was wrong.

This time watching it, all I could think about was how Dante and DreamWorks studio chief Steven Spielberg ignored they had a terrible script.

Of course, Dante still does a good job. He has a fantastic Bride of Frankenstein homage, which brings up the target audience–along with the action figures being effectively voiced by the Spinal Tap and Dirty Dozen casts.

The casting has some problems. Kevin Dunn plays Gregory Smith’s father (prepping for Transformers in the distant future no doubt) and he’s really bad. Dunn’s usually good, but his character is just too terribly written for him to work with it. All of the characters are terribly written–except maybe David Cross and Jay Mohr’s characters, who are disposable and funny.

Smith is supposed to be playing a problem teenager–it’s never explained why, but presumably has something to with Dunn’s bad parenting. Smith and Kirsten Dunst are supposed to be fifteen–too young to drive–and they show the real problem. Small Soldiers is a kid’s movie made by people who don’t know how to dumb it down enough.

Dunst’s actually okay. Denis Leary does his schtick. Phil Hartmann’s great. Wendy Schaal is wasted. Dick Miller’s got a good part. Ann Magnuson has some excellent scenes.

It works best as a showcase for outstanding practical and CG effects. Thinking about the movie just hurts one’s head, especially when they get into the science.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Marshall Harvey and Michael Thau; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Michael Finnell and Colin Wilson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Gregory Smith (Alan Abernathy), Kirsten Dunst (Christy Fimple), Phil Hartman (Phil Fimple), Kevin Dunn (Stuart Abernathy), Ann Magnuson (Irene Abernathy), Wendy Schaal (Marion Fimple), David Cross (Irwin Wayfair), Jay Mohr (Larry Benson), Dick Miller (Joe) and Denis Leary (Gil Mars).

Starring Frank Langella (Archer), Tommy Lee Jones (Chip Hazard), Ernest Borgnine (Kip Killagin), Jim Brown (Butch Meathook), Bruce Dern (Link Static), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Gwendy Doll), Christopher Guest (Slamfist / Scratch-It), George Kennedy (Brick Bazooka), Michael McKean (Insaniac / Freakenstein), Christina Ricci (Gwendy Doll), Harry Shearer (Punch-It) and Clint Walker (Nick Nitro).


Speed Racer (2008, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

I may be a little naive, but I think one of the aspects of adapting materials between mediums is to encourage (or at least tacitly imply) someone to look at the original material. I find it particularly odd in the case of Speed Racer. Being somewhat aware of the cartoon but never having seen it, I’ve now formed the opinion–just based on the film–it’s for six year olds and anyone older than six years of age watching the cartoon is a little slow. The Wachowskis’ adaptation suggests there isn’t a single intelligent thing in the source, something their insanely bad, outrageously expensive adaptation gleefully amplifies.

The film is aimed at an audience of adults–it’s not aimed at NASCAR fans, simply because it gives the appearance of being high brow (but couldn’t be further from)–but adults who think the things they liked at age six are good. Not realizing a six year old might not make the best cinematic or literary recommendations.

Still, the film is so unbearably bad–the green screen shooting (there are very few real sets) looks terrible–I find it hard to believe the film has supporters, but I know it does… I’ve read positive reviews. Though such reviewers must be driving to work in a gift from Warner Bros….

I do have one positive observation to make about the film. The casting of John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. While their performances are awful, their makeup is very successful.

Otherwise, it’s indescribably bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski; screenplay by the Wachowskis, based on a manga and an anime by Yoshida Tatsuo; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Zach Staenberg and Roger Barton; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by the Wachowskis, Joel Silver and Grant Hill; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer), Christina Ricci (Trixie), John Goodman (Pops Racer), Susan Sarandon (Mom Racer), Paulie Litt (Spritle), Roger Allam (Royalton), Rain (Taejo Togokhan) and Matthew Fox (Racer X).


Buffalo ’66 (1998, Vincent Gallo)

Near as I can recall, outside film noir, there isn’t a film like Buffalo ’66. The protagonist, played by writer/director/composer Gallo, isn’t just unlikable, he’s comically unlikable. I can very easily see the film remade with Will Ferrell in the lead. It’s like a Will Ferrell comedic tragedy, only it’s not so tragic.

I don’t really know how to talk about the film, since it’s almost more a gesture than a narrative (Gallo’s insistence on making his character such a ogre isn’t actually the problem, it’s more how he’s not willing to give anyone else a real character), so I guess I’ll just ramble.

As a director, Gallo’s got multiple personality disorder. Besides being high contrast, the film rarely looks uniform. Instead, he goes for what’s most effective scene-to-scene without taking previous scenes into account. For example, he’s got a car conversation with the actors looking into the camera, Demme-style. He doesn’t return to it. Then there’s the overly distinctive dinner scene (an intended, recognized homage). It’s actually not disjointing, just because Gallo and Christina Ricci are basically in every scene.

Buffalo ’66 is from the era when Christina Ricci was going to be a great actress. She’s fantastic in it, overcoming her thinly written character (Gallo apparently couldn’t come up with a conceivable reason she’d like him in the film). It’s terrible she hasn’t been able to fulfill her nineties promise.

It almost goes bad at the end, but doesn’t. It’s a great save.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent Gallo; screenplay by Gallo and Alison Bagnall, based on a story by Gallo; director of photography, Lance Acord; edited by Curtiss Clayton; music by Gallo; produced by Chris Hanley; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Vincent Gallo (Billy Brown), Christina Ricci (Layla), Ben Gazzara (Jimmy Brown), Mickey Rourke (The Bookie), Rosanna Arquette (Wendy Balsam), Jan-Michael Vincent (Sonny), Anjelica Huston (Jan Brown) and Kevin Corrigan (Rocky the Goon).


The Ice Storm (1997, Ang Lee)

When I was a wee lad, I loved Ang Lee. I loved him only for The Ice Storm, never having seen Sense and Sensibility or his Chinese language films. I avoided Ride With the Devil after the reviews (both professional and from peers) and Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon was a truly sleep-inducing experience. I gave up my Lee love after that one, though, and when I came across The Ice Storm on Netflix, I realized I’d forgotten it. I hadn’t forgotten the book, of course, since I started reading Rick Moody about the same time I stopped seeing Ang Lee films. After reading the book, I recognized the differences, but now, watching the movie again, I can’t specifically remember them. The novel is a novel and the film is a film. The Ice Storm is the best example of a great book being adapted into a great film that I can think of….

Maybe what Lee needs is a subject as confining as The Ice Storm. Most of the shots are inside and his work there is amazing. I can’t remember a film where the focus effected me as much as this one. The story moves between 8 characters and–sometimes, not always–Lee uses the focus to signify which character’s POV we’re in. There’s a lot of juxtaposing and rhyming, but the film maintains a lyric sense about it. The music is used in an interesting way, because sometimes it does something, other times it does something similar, but entirely different. Half of the film takes place during the titular ice storm, but the film manages not to de-emphasize the first hour. The pacing makes the second hour feel like a (somewhat longer) third act, which it isn’t.

All of the acting is good, with Jamey Sheridan probably turning in the most unexpectedly excellent performance. Elijah Wood is really good too. But, it’s just such a dreary film, it’s hard enough to experience without talking about. The film–with its sudden exterior shots, just as encroaching and constrictive as its interior ones–is probably drearier than the novel even. There’s maybe five of these exterior shots–wooded path, daytime, but they resonate so strongly. They do work that the written medium cannot do, which is a hell of compliment.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ang Lee; screenplay by James Schamus, based on the novel by Rick Moody; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Ted Hope, Schamus and Lee; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Ben Hood), Joan Allen (Elena Hood), Sigourney Weaver (Janey Carver), Henry Czerny (George Clair), Tobey Maguire (Paul Hood), Christina Ricci (Wendy Hood), Elijah Wood (Mikey Carver), Adam Hann-Byrd (Sandy Carver), David Krumholtz (Francis Davenport), Jamey Sheridan (Jim Carver) and Katie Holmes (Libbets Casey).


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