(Netflix Streaming, December 2015) There’s some logic in seeing David Mamet tackling a wilderness-survival story. Given Mamet’s career-long obsessions with masculinity and how men deal with each other, it’s ready to see the attraction in pitting a few men against nature in far-away Alaska, especially when two of the men are competing for the same woman. Still, there’s a bit of a gulf between concept and execution, and if The Edge does well most of the time (especially in presenting a terrifying bear attack), there are a few issues with the result that keep it from being as good as it could be. While Anthony Hopkins is interesting as a billionaire-bookworm-turning-super-survivalist (including a few choice macho one-liners), the very nature of his character seems a bit too close to wish-fulfillment. (For that matter, the bear seems a bit too wilfully evil as well.) Alec Balwdwin’s up to his usual borderline-slimy level, though. Still, the scenery isn’t bad, and there are enough little twists and turns here and there to keep things interesting. The Edge has stood up the test of time decently as well.
(On Cable TV, September 2013) Given how little TV-as-TV I watch, I never expected to mark an entire Emmy category as “complete”, but in-between HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, Parade’s End, The Girl and now Phil Spector, I’m all caught-up with the 2013 “Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie” category even before it’s awarded. There’s certainly no finer reason to watch Phil Spector than to see good acting from Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, facing each other down as, respectively, a powerful music industry executive accused of murder and one of his defense lawyer. It’s based the true story of Spector’s first trial (although not really, as the opening disclaimer sort-of-clarifies), but it’s perhaps best appreciated as a standalone court drama, featuring a pair of highly unusual characters. Al Pacino is his usual intense self as Spector; he even gets a change to indulge in his signature rants late in the film. Meanwhile, Mirren is in a class of her own as a hypochondriac but steel-nerved lawyer with an uncanny ability to defend her client no matter the circumstances. (Phil Spector’s look at a high-priced defense, with war room and expert-driven strategies, is worth a look by itself.) The film may indulge in showing the most eccentric aspect of Spector’s personality, but it’s also somewhat sympathetic to him, creating reasonable doubt that he may not have actually committed the murder for which he was accused. Phil Spector remains a made-for-TV movie, but with David Mamet writing and directing for HBO, it features high-quality dialogue and decent production values: if nothing else, it’s a good way to enjoy good actors playing interesting people. Al Pacino as Phil Spector? That’s always worth watching.