from the headlines: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of
Eliot Struck Out
9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
by Alex Gibney
from my initial, possibly sophomoric, reaction to the title,
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Client 9: The Rise
and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. That said, the immensity of
my liking, the specific whys and wherefores, are rooted more
in my love of hard-hitting politicking as sport and not so
much because this is a stellar documentary.
Alex Gibney, who impressed mightily with his documentary Enron:
The Smartest Guys in the Room, here falls short, but not
for lack of worthy subject matter. As anybody in this state
capital knows or should know, Eliot Spitzer handily won the
governorship following a stunning term as the Sheriff of Wall
Street, (aka Attorney General). The voting masses seemed to
like his gung-ho approach to felling investment and prostitution
rings with equal aplomb, even as insiders and sage observers
wondered aloud if he was perhaps setting himself up for a
giant fall. We Americans love our John Waynes, but we hate
the holier-than-thous. After a little over a year, it was
all over, gone in an instant—or rather, in the two days it
took between the revelation that Spitzer, as “Client 9,” had
frequented an escort service, and his stone-faced resignation
from public office. Since then, with the spate of scandals
involving political officeholders, one can wonder why he didn’t
just apologize and hold on. (But then again, there is the
matter of the Mann Act.)
Using stock footage, news reports, still photos, voiceovers
and interviews with people like former Senate Majority Leader
Joe Bruno and Home Depot’s Kenneth Langone, Gibney builds
an at-times-tantalizing web of intrigue/conspiracy which suggests
that Spitzer’s downfall may well have been hastened by his
enemies. At the same time, Gibney wisely allows Spitzer himself
to answer probing questions, like “What the hell were you
thinking?” To his credit, Spitzer seems genuinely embarrassed
by his poor judgment, and acknowledges the role his own hubris
had in his downfall. He’s not casting aspersions on his foes,
at least not directly; leave that to Gibney, whose interview
with the creepy Langone in particular is startling, even Hitchcockian.
What’s even more eerie is the absence of one or two powerful
legislators who absolutely despised Spitzer.
What goes wrong, then? For one thing, Gibney hires an actress
to portray an escort called “Angelina,” supposedly the former
gov’s fave provider of the “girlfriend experience,” to read
the words she supposedly told him in private interviews. I
don’t know who this actress is, but she stinks up the joint,
and her very presence breaks up the conspiratorial pace of
the story. It’s as if Gibney realizes he needs some sex and
innuendo to keep people interested, so “Angelina” dispels
the oft-repeated story that Spitzy kept his (black) socks
Toward the end, the movie brings up the lovely and tragic
Silda Wall Spitzer. Obviously, the classy Mrs. Spitzer was
a compelling, empathetic figure to many New Yorkers, but do
we need the performance artist Karen Finley to imagine her
It seems clear that a variety of forces, including Spitzer’s
ego and his inability to brook compromise, combined to wreak
havoc on a man who may have been this state’s best choice
of leader in quite some time. The documentary is very good
at relaying the rise of power of the Wall Street firms, but
fails to include any reference to why the success of those
firms mattered so very much to our state economy, let alone
budget. The powers that be who are on display are more than
just stereotypes, and I wish that Gibney had done more to
draw viewers into the complex, even Byzantine power plays
that make state government work (in the best of times). In
the end, he doesn’t do enough to get people thinking about
who has the real power, and how they maintain and wield that
power, in favor of pat villains exploiting phallic foibles.
the Other Hand
by Danny Boyle
If you have any interest in 127 Hours at all, you probably
already have the answers to the most common questions asked
about movies, generally: “Who’s in it?” and “What’s it about?”
Furthermore, you likely know not only what it’s about, but
pretty much the whole plot. The movie stars James Franco in
a depiction—“dramatization” seems almost the wrong word for
a fictional rendition of such a harrowing true-life tale—of
a hiking accident that outdoorsman Aron Ralston survived only
by amputating his own arm, below the elbow.
The title of the movie, itself, announces director Danny Boyle’s
intention to keep his focus on the experience Ralston had
while trapped. Indeed, it’s a short 20 minutes into the film
that our reckless hero gets his hand pinned beneath a rock
and the wall of a narrow canyon. So, the backstory and character
context the viewer gets is largely in flashback and hallucination.
The question asked most frequently about 127 Hours,
specifically, is, then, “Is it gross?” So, let’s get that
out of the way: Eh, a little. But it’s nothing that’d freak
out anyone who’s ever watched a forensic drama or played a
video game. The truly squeamish can cover their eyes without
Boyle’s handling of the scene is appropriate: It’s grisly
but not gratuitous. The amputation itself is less the point
than the decision to amputate. Ralston’s fortitude, his motivation
to survive and to return to his life, is, no doubt, what attracted
those involved to make this movie. But for all the fascination
that such a high-stakes real-life situation has inherently,
something about the filmic version is flat.
Neither Boyle nor Franco is to blame, I think. Boyle’s antic
direction (split screens, fast-and slow-mo, odd angles, stunning
FX, shots from within water bottles—not to mention forearms)
gives music-video energy to a movie about a guy trapped beneath
a rock; and Franco is very good at creating a Ralston who
is in equal parts annoyingly self-pleased, ingenious, charismatic
The problem, I think, is that Ralston lived.
Dramatically speaking, of course.
The movie Ralston is, as mentioned, a bit of a rake. He’s
capable and charming and well aware of it. Straight-up
hubris. He’s due a comeuppance. Few would argue that his ordeal
is insufficient chastisement. But because we get to know Ralston
only through his own imaginings, his own confession, as it
were, of selfishness, and because we’re told that after his
escape the real Ralston returned to his adventurous ways,
we’re witness to little character growth. The great change
in Aron Ralston, after his death-defying, life-affirming,
own-arm-cutting-off cosmic rebuke for selfishness, is that
he now leaves a note.
Oh, uh . . . yay.
Well, you know, good on ya, real Aron Ralston. Seriously.
But imagine what such precautions would do to Shakespeare.
can’t cook, but she wields a mean cast-iron pan: Tangled.
by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
reportedly was so afraid that the “old-fashioned” Tangled
would not be accepted by a Pixar-lated moviegoing public that
they didn’t seem to notice that they’d made a genuine classic.
That’s OK, Mouse House: DreamWorks didn’t have any faith in
How to Train Your Dragon, either. It’s worth mentioning
last year’s DreamWorks 3D hit because, like Tangled,
it put a premium on story over gag-filled (gag-inducing?)
scenes that take you out of the fairy-tale mood.
is “Rapunzel,” renamed. No, really: The title was changed
from Rapunzel as the result of fear that boys would
stay away from yet another Disney princess movie (the way
they avoided The Princess and the Frog).
works not because it’s a fairy tale or a princess flick, or
because it balances this with enough added action to keep
the ADD boys of America from being bored, but because the
characters are fully developed. Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy
Moore), stolen from her royal parents and locked away by the
greedy Mother Gothel for the magical powers of her golden
hair, is a convincing mix of naïveté and youthful self-assurance.
And she’s an honorable person. Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna
Murphy) is evil, but a more subtle variety of evil than is
usually found in fairy tales: She’s a passive-aggressive abuser.
Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi), the handsome thief who
gets tangled up in Rapunzel’s life (and hair), is more of
a stereotype. However, he’s given more dimension than one
The other surprise Tangled has in store for audiences
is purely aesthetic. It’s CGI animation that doesn’t have
the usual “hard” look of CGI animation. The colors are warm,
and the textures varied; there’s a floating-lantern sequence
that’s truly gorgeous. The 3D version I saw made good use
of the format, with the occasional shock effect thrown in
to make the kiddies giggle.
And the obligatory anthropomorphic menagerie? It consists
of a very imperious, very funny horse and a salamander who
doesn’t act much like a salamander. Or, as one young moviegoer
exclaimed, pointing at the personable lizard: “I want a puppy
The songs, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater,
don’t try very hard to evoke a fairy-tale world; instead,
they straddle contemporary pop and classic Broadway styles
in ways that, at some moments, strain the mood. Still, the
tunes themselves are strong enough not to be a serious distraction,
and, in at least a few instances, deepen the story: “Mother
Knows Best,” sung by Murphy, as Gothel, to Rapunzel early
on is genuinely disturbing, and the incantation Moore sings,
as Rapunzel, to put the magic hair to work does sound
It isn’t just the complete absence of not-so-sly contemporary
references and endless, semi-adult in-jokes—a practice perfected,
for good or ill, at DreamWorks Animation—that makes Tangled
different. When the drama reaches its climax, Rapunzel’s
life and freedom are truly at stake. The decisions Rapunzel
and Ryder make have dramatic weight and consequences, and
the resulting pathos is real and affecting.
This is the kind of stuff that made “classic” Disney animation
by Steve Antin
is a throwback to a completely different era in filmmaking,
spiritually nestled in that space of time after the institution
of the Production Code and before the Vietnam War made movies
about kids putting on a show something better suited to TV.
Ali (Christina Aguilera) is an Iowa waitress longing to break
into song and dance in LA. In case there’s any doubt about
her career prognosis, or in case you’ve lived under a rock
the past several years and are unaware of the former Mickey
Mouse Club star’s power and range, Aguilera belts out
a soulful number in the empty diner while the credits roll.
With pluck and determination, she finagles a waitress job
at a club called Burlesque, owned by redoubtable Tess (Cher).
It’s only a matter of time before Ali grabs the spotlight,
but it still seems to last forever, taken up by half-baked
plot threads. Nikki, a hard-drinking prima donna (Kristin
Bell), resents Ali’s burgeoning friendship with Tess. Jack
(Cam Gigandet), a cute bartender from Kentucky, offers Nikki
a place to stay while trying to jumpstart a songwriting career.
Businessman Marcus (Eric Dane) tries to interest Tess in a
deal to save her struggling club while showing Ali the glories
of living large.
Writer-director Steve Antin apparently knows or cares little
for modulation, preferring to throw all manner of plot at
us while keeping the long playlist going at full volume. Some
of the numbers are pleasing, but am I the only viewer who
noticed that as the movie wore on, the stage in Tess’s jewelbox
of a club gets bigger and bigger? Also puzzling is the question
of where Sean (Stanley Tucci), Tess’s long-suffering friend,
colleague and musical director, stores the ever-expanding
props used throughout the movie, let alone what kind of budget
he must have. Still, the movie’s strongest moments are those
in which Tess and Sean chat, conspire or argue; Cher and Tucci
are the kinds of performers who can make a discussion about
stitching versus glue-sticking compelling, even sexy.
The movie is clearly Aguliera’s, and she demonstrates accomplished
presence and surprisingly sweet appeal (think Debbie Reynolds).
Still, she’s no Cher, who is given scant little to do. One
of the movie’s crying shames is the leaden direction given
her big power ballad; elsewhere the visuals of the film are
lush and honeyed, courtesy of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli,
evoking a nostalgic Americanization of Moulin Rouge.
Incomprehensibly, Cher delivers her song practically inert,
on a darkened jumbled stage, with the camera seemingly stuck
several yards away from her. Another problem is Bell’s one-note
character. To be fair, she gives it her all, including a dynamic
lip-synch of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” but her
anger at Tess for having thrown their friendship over for
the new girl feels completely unfounded. The idea that Nikki
would even imagine a spiritual sisterhood with Tess perhaps
is meant as evidence of how far her case of wet-brain has
developed. Other than act drunk and pouty, Nikki hardly seems
a worthy contender in any battle, although her line about
Ali’s “mutant lungs” is very funny. At every turn, Burlesque
fails to take advantage of its preponderance of riches, such
as Alan Cumming gamely channeling his Cabaret role
and, it cannot be stated enough, letting Cher be Cher.