PHIL SPECTOR Review

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Last night, HBO premiered their highly anticipated film, Phil Spector, chronicling the infamous music producer’s 2003 murder trial.

Academy Award winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) plays the tainted title character who seeks counsel from a sickly, hardball lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden, played by fellow Oscar winner, Helen Mirren (The Queen).

The film opens on Linda Baden being summoned into the law office of Bruce Cutler, played by Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) to take on Spector’s case. She doesn’t take keenly to the idea, writing him off as guilty from the start.

“They let OJ go, they let Michael Jackson go, they will not let him go!” she says, trying to be realistic.

However, her attitude towards her client begins to change when she visits his grand estate, guarded by a metal fence and barbed wire. Time and time again, she questions why “the minotaur lives in a cave,” and comes to conclude his innocence.

She does everything in her power to prep him for the opening statements of the trial and soon their relationship develops to a very caring, but platonic friendship.

Director and screenwriter David Mamet may or may not have meant to stir up the controversy that has accompanied this film.

HBO opened the television movie with the following message:

“This is a work of fiction. It’s not ‘based on a true story.’ It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial.”

After watching the film, it is clear that Mamet does not intend to rewrite the verdict, but he certainly does sympathize with Spector, who is able to convince the once narrow-minded Baden.

During their mock trial session before he appears before a jury, Pacino delivers a powerful monologue where he declares, “They kill men for telling the truth. This is the truth!” This causes Baden to finally reconsider her client’s guilt.
 
That being said, the film closes on Baden on the night after the trials opening, as she is terrified to know that he is an innocent man and that the odds are not in his favor.

Pacino and Mirren both give Emmy-worthy performances in this HBO television movie, which will surely be widely nominated, come September.

BATES MOTEL Premiere

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Last night, A&E premiered its highly anticipated series Bates Motel with a bang. Or should I say, with a slash.

The show is being referred to as a contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror thriller Psycho, meaning that it is set in present day, but still chronicles the early years of the infamous Norman Bates and his mother, Norma.

While the audience knows the inevitable fate of both of these characters, the storytelling of how they get there is reminiscent of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which chronicles the backstories to all our favorite fairy tale characters.

And it’s no surprise that these two shows coincide with one another. Carlton Cuse, the co-showrunner for Bates Motel worked with Once Upon a Time’s Adam Horowitz on the writing of ABC’s phenomenon Lost.

The series opens on a teenage Norman Bates, played by Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), mysteriously stumbling upon his father’s dead body. His mother Norma, played by Vera Farmiga (The Departed), decides to move the two of them to a gothic styled home with an accompanying motel in California.

Quickly, the townspeople come to understand that the Bates’ are different. Norma continuously guilts her son into spending time with her and he ultimately succumbs to her self-pity.

In the first episode, we see Norman’s first taste of blood as his mother slashes a bugler that was once the owner of the home. They stash the body in one of the not-yet-infamous motel room showers when the police come knocking. The sheriff, played by Nestor Carbornell (Lost) is suspicious of Bates’ whereas his deputy, played by Mike Vogel (Cloverfield) is keen on Norman’s young mother. After a few moments of suspense, the officers leave without finding the slain victim.

In typical Lost fashion, the episode ended with a cliff hanger of an unidentified person (guesses are that it’s a female) shackled to a chair, receiving injections to their already punctured arms.

Judging from the pilot, the show should be able to keep a consistent fan base. Both the older generation who remembers seeing Psycho in theaters, as well as the younger generation that is fascinated with horror shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead and FX’s American Horror Story will appreciate the show’s cold, detached characters.

The set eerily matches up with Hitchcock’s 1960 production, as well as the external conflict of the creation of a new highway that would isolate their newly-purchased motel. Highmore, too, looks (and acts) like a young Anthony Perkins, who played the adult Norman Bates in the 1960 film.

Over the past few months, A&E, a channel known for their reality phenomenon Duck Dynasty, has been highly promoting the series. With spots in Regal Cinema’s “First Look” features, as well as paid-for promotion tweets, they are putting out all the stops to make this a sort of cultural revamp.

The show has aired three episodes so far, each better than the last. The show really is going for a Lost meets Once Upon a Time feel with the large ensemble cast in a small town that nobody leaves. The constant twists and head-scratching cliffhangers truly make this a must watch show for the spring season.

Be sure to check into the Bates Motel, Monday nights at 10pm only on A&E.