Category Archives: HBO Films

Game Change-2012

Game Change-2012

Director-Jay Roach

Starring-Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris

Scott’s Review #1,094

Reviewed December 23, 2020

Grade: B

Sarah Palin is an idiot. John McCain is not. We didn’t know that in 2008-we do now. Somehow their different worlds collided as partners in crime for the 2008 United States Presidential election, she the vice-presidential nominee to his presidential. McCain’s people wanted a fresh face, someone with charisma, who could help defeat the surging U.S. Senator from Illinois, named Barack Obama.

Game Change (2012), an HBO film, chronicles how an unknown female governor from Alaska was chosen as McCain’s running mate without proper vetting, leading to one of the biggest political fiascos of the twenty-first century.

The production is a well-acted, well-paced affair that makes even the most liberal viewer (me!) sympathize, ever so slightly, with Palin, who was thrust into the spotlight at lightning speed. Julianne Moore takes center stage, giving the political figure empathy and some heart. Supporting turns by Woody Harrelson as the campaign’s senior strategist, Steve Schmidt, and Ed Harris as John McCain provide levity.

The acting is the best part of the film. Otherwise, the film might have been best served as a documentary (more about that below). As believable as Moore, Harrelson, and Harris are, they feel like performances rather than authenticity. They try to give their best interpretations of the players instead of immersing themselves into their bodies. Maybe that’s the point of the film?

I love how the film opens. In 2010, after the debacle has ended, Steve Schmidt sits uncomfortably before Anderson Cooper from CNN. He asks Schmidt if Palin was chosen as the VP candidate because she would make the best vice president or because she could win the election? The question is quite poignant and the basis for the entire film.

Another excellent sequence is set during the Republican National Convention. Palin’s speech is well received, bombastic even, and energetic, catapulting her as the potential saving grace of the party. Sadly, for her, the campaign becomes concerned that she is ignorant about many political issues and grossly unprepared. These scenes are the weakest- the audience laughably realizes she believes Korea is one country, and many other gaffs follow. But, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, this is common knowledge.

Game Change makes a mistake by editing too many snippets of real-life interviews and other news media moments. This detracts from the dramatization that is the intention and makes me wonder why a solid documentary wasn’t made instead.

Jay Roach, who directs Game Change, revels in close-ups, especially of Palin, perhaps as a nod to her being thrust onto every television station in the United States. Danny Strong screen writes the project. The duo sets up the predictable situations nicely. Palin’s disagreements with McCain, the woman clearly not his choice. For reference, he wanted Joe Lieberman, a moderate from Connecticut who was considered “boring”.

Let’s give the most credit to Moore. The actress doesn’t exactly embody Palin. She is more like a dressed-up impersonator, hardly Charlize Theron flawlessly playing Aileen Wuornos. But what she does do is successfully make the audience care about her and feel sorry for her. Palin had no idea what she was in store for, nor knew what she signed up for. Moore portrays the emotions well.

Moore carries the film. Palin became a source of venom and mockery after her embarrassing interview with Katie Couric in which she was unable to name any magazines. She quickly became the whipping girl rather than the ‘it” girl.

The message is competent without feeling preachy or overpowering, but there is something a bit dull about Game Change. Schmidt and Nicole Wallace chose Palin, making the enormous mistake of knowing very little about the woman.

Game Change (2012) is recommended for those who want to be entertained or who desire a history lesson without seeing the real people. I still think a documentary would have worked better.

Behind The Candelabra-2013

Behind the Candelabra-2013

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring-Michael Douglas, Matt Damon

Scott’s Review #411

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Reviewed June 18, 2016

Grade: A

I thoroughly enjoyed this HBO film based on the life of Liberace, whom I was too young to know much about before viewing this movie. The excesses of his lavish lifestyle are explored completely.

The standouts are Michael Douglas and Matt Damon who are both exceptional in their portrayals of Liberace and his young lover. Both were unrecognizable at times and completely embodied their characters. I can’t attest to the absolute truth to the story, but the HBO film does a nice job of mixing joy, passion, heartbreak, sadness, and competition throughout.

The story undoubtedly bears a likeness to many Hollywood troubled relationships past and present.

The Normal Heart-2014

The Normal Heart-2014

Director-Ryan Murphy

Starring-Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer

Scott’s Review #198

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Reviewed December 1, 2014

Grade: B+

The Normal Heart is a 2014 HBO television movie based on the true story of Ned Weeks, an openly gay AIDS activist/writer, played by Mark Ruffalo. The film is set during the period when the epidemic first surfaced, from 1981-1984, and the challenges and frustrations faced, mostly within the gay community, to bring exposure and assistance to the disease. Weeks was famous for establishing a group of passionate members who banded together to attempt to hurdle these struggles. The film was produced by Brad Pitt- wonderful to know as films with this content (AIDS) are often tough to produce- nice that Pitt’s wealth and influenced was used effectively. Certainly a vastly different time in the country to be gay, the government did very little to assist with financing funding for treatment or researching a cure for it, which is the main point of the story.

The talented cast makes this film what it is. Matt Bomer plays Ned’s closeted gay lover, Felix Turner, one of the many casualties of the deadly disease. Bomer lost 40 pounds in preparation for the role. Julia Roberts plays polio stricken doctor, Emma Brookner, who was instrumental in helping the sick when few others within the medical community wanted to. Other actors providing support are Alfred Molina, who plays Ned’s supportive, and powerful, attorney and brother, and Joe Mantello, who has a terrific meltdown scene as his anger and anguish over the disease not being taken seriously by the government finally bubble to the surface. Finally, Mark Ruffalo plays Ned competently, but why the slight feminization of the character? The real Ned Weeks was masculine. A needless stereotype the film (or Ruffalo) chose to pursue.

The film shows the discrimination faced by the AIDS victims- from an airline pilot refusing to fly a plane carrying a sick patient, to an electrician refusing to enter a sick patient’s hospital room to fix a television set- sad when one realizes how ridiculous these unfounded fears proved to be. According to the film’s statistics, and a major point of the film, is how the United States Government, specifically President Reagan, did very little in the way of funding or even wanting to discuss the issue for years following the initial outbreak, resulting in thousands of lost lives. And why exactly is Reagan considered a great President? It makes one ponder. It was only due to beloved Hollywood star Rock Hudson acquiring and dying from the disease and Elizabeth Taylor using her star power to get people involved that finally led to the topic being discussed and action taken on a federal level.

My one slight criticism of the film is that it looks and feels like a television movie similar in texture to Behind the Candelabra, another HBO film. The colors are bright and vivid and it looks television-like and could have used darker lighting and perhaps a gloomier more dower feel, especially given the subject matter involved in the story. Otherwise, thumbs up and respect for bringing this story to millions of viewers and hopefully educating the many who were not there at the time.