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The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson (2020)

As soon as I read about the director of The Haunting of Sharon Tate’s follow-up movie, I knew it was destined for a spot on my worst of 2020 list. This filmmaker wasn’t exactly presenting nuanced and sympathetic portraits of famous dead celebrities, and instead was exploiting their fame and their famous demises for cheap genre thrills. The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson was always destined to be a bad movie with these people involved with these intentions. This sleazy thriller is rife with bad decisions, bad faith, and victim blaming to its very nasty core.

Nicole Brown (Mena Suvari) is trying to start her life over after divorcing her famous husband, O.J. Simpson (Gene Freeman). She meets a painter named Glen (Nick Stahl) and invites him to paint her home, to make it more her new sanctuary. Except Glen is a disturbed drifter who will eventually be known as the Casanova Killer who had murdered many blonde women. From there, Glen stalks Nicole and terrorizes her to her very end. Sigh.

The very nature of its premise alleviates the guilt from Nicole’s abusive, controlling husband. Oh sure, the movie still says O.J. is dangerous and jealous and protected by his personal relationships with many of the local law enforcement, but this is mitigated by the very act of using O.J.’s own half-baked alibi assertion from the infamous cash-grab hypothetical literary tome, “If I Did It.” In this highly disingenuous “hypothetical,” O.J. says he might have met a friend named “Charlie” and it was “Charlie” who did the killing and O.J. says he was simply blacking out that night as an unexpected accomplice. First off, the very nature of this book is disgusting, but the fact that this movie uses it as a foundation to posit an alternative theory that lessens O.J.’s blood-stained culpability is like re-telling the Ted Bundy’s account where a frisky and mischievous friend was really the one consuming people. What exactly is the purpose of presenting this alternative theory, which is predicated on the flimsiest of even a whisper of evidence; Glen Rogers’ brother says that mentally disturbed Glen once told him he killed Nicole Brown. That’s it. Add Glen talking to a voice in his head, a dark impulse he calls “Charlie,” and that’s the only connective tissue the movie provides for this new theory.

The entire inclusion of this “Could it be someone else?” theory is for crass sensationalism. Because if the filmmakers were trying to do anything beyond gaining craven attention, they would present a more compelling relationship between Nicole and Glen. The portrayal makes Nicole look like the biggest moron and the movie seems to flirt with the insidious idea that she might have invited her murder onto herself. First, she meets Glen in her neighbor’s driveway, having never seen him before, and invites him into her home and offers him a job, and all of this is miraculously before she even knows the man’s last name, an address, or references. He makes a shifty statement about past work experience being “here and there” and she hires him. The next time we see them together they’re already sleeping together. It feels like I was watching character assassinating propaganda, especially recalling O.J.’s crazed accusations of Nicole sleeping with every many she could find because, to him, she must be a whore. In one of the more wince-inducing moments, Nicole admits to her therapists that she misses the sex with her abusive ex-husband. Any feminism points the filmmakers thought they were providing by showcasing Nicole’s terror and resolve in starting a life away from O.J. just get sabotaged again and again by moments like this. Because Nicole isn’t a person to these filmmakers, she’s a marketable victim who was too stupid to understand how dangerous multiple men were.

There’s also a problem structurally with The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson because she discovers Glen’s unhinged side very quickly. There’s no prolonged buildup of piecing things together. There is half a movie left, which means the filmmakers have an awful lot of time to kill before the actual killings. There’s a drawn-out sequence where Nicole is shopping with the Kardashians (you better believe there are Kardashian kid cameos!) at a nearly empty mall and she sees Glen stalking her. The sequence just keeps going on and on until she’s now stalking him. It’s a sequence that fulfills little we didn’t already know about Glen as a dangerous man. This is further emphasized in unnecessary ways by showing him picking up a doomed woman at a dive bar (literally called “Sinners and Saints” – sigh) and suffocating her, setting her car on fire, and presumably leaving behind plenty of physical evidence like fingerprints. It’s a gratuitous sequence where we get to watch another woman get murdered before our special murder victim gets her showcase. There’s even a shockingly superfluous nightmare sequence that literally rips off the imagery from A Nightmare on Elm Street where Nicole is battling some invisible poltergeist that drags her up a wall and onto the ceiling. It’s filling time, which the movies does even after it finally meets its titular action. There’s a whole two minutes or so of watching a dog walker creep upon the Brentwood crime scene as if we already didn’t know what happened, so where is the suspense? Then the movie fills time even more blatantly by relying on a clip package of real-life TV news from the murders, the Bronco chase, the trial, O.J.’s acquittal, and then portions of his interview for “If I Did It.” It’s literally a clip show to get across that all-important 80-minute feature-length threshold. Watching this abysmal movie, it’s clear that the filmmakers had no real intention of presenting a story and were just presenting the most baseless historical “what if.”

The dialogue in this movie can be wretchedly obvious and trolling for forced profundity with heavily applied and snide dramatic irony. This occurred in the director’s previous film, using the audience’s knowledge of Sharon Tate’s eventual slaying to force a sense of literal and figurative premonition to use as dread. This was at its worse with her awful visions but it also translated to her many heavy-handed pontifications on whether she was fated. With this new film, Nicole is basically looking dead-eyed into the audience after every one of these lines. That includes an admission, “I worry he’s going to murder me and get away with it,” and that’s only five minutes into the movie. I would estimate twenty percent of Nicole’s dialogue in the movie is her contemplations that O.J. will be the literal death of her, like chiding a dismissive L.A.P.D. officer for eventual guilt about not intervening when he had an opportunity. These moments are meant to make Nicole Brown seem more tragic but why does she need any benefit of extra tragedy for empathy?

Look at this wig!

I chiefly pity Suvari (American Beauty). She likely thought she was doing the real Nicole Brown a service by portraying a woman who was trying to work up her courage to push back against her abuser. She probably thought these moments were humanizing Nicole, presenting a more recognizable face beyond the splashy tabloid headlines (see, she has difficulty working a home alarm system too!). I need to believe that Suvari felt she was doing some service because her name is listed as an executive producer, and I would hate to think she was onboard with the more wrongheaded and sleazy aspects of the film becoming a misguided reality. Suvari seems adrift for most of the movie, perhaps the weight of all that dramatic irony crushing her down. However, she doesn’t seem as adrift as Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) as a boozed-up cartoon of Nicole’s friend, Faye Resnick. She snorts cocaine. She tries to seduce Nicole at one point, referring to past trysts (more propaganda?). She has a remarkable helmet of a giant blonde wig that looks like it’s crushing her tiny neck. It’s a performance that seems too off-kilter that it almost reminded me of some of the acting I’ve witnessed in The Room. Then there’s Stahl (Sin City) who just acts like a sketchy guy from his first moment onscreen. It makes it hard to believe that Nicole would, after her interactions with O.J., so obliviously accept this new man into her home and into her bed. Then there’s Agnes Bruckner (Love and Chocolate) as a jaw-clenching Kris Kardashian, a character who probably should have just been removed entirely.

The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson might not be as offensively bad as The Haunting of Sharon Tate, but even that declaration is not exculpatory. This is still a terribly written, terribly directed, and terribly made movie based on a terrible premise. Even if the filmmakers wanted to tell a compelling alternate theory to the much-publicized Trial of the Century, it sure doesn’t look like they had any interest other than grabbing their own attention-seeking headlines. There is no thought put into any part of this movie outside of its outrageous premise. At least we’re spared having to relive Nicole’s bloody death through several gross fake-out premonitions like Sharon Tate. The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson wants to position its lead heroine as a tragic figure, but she was already a tragic figure, and it definitely doesn’t earn the artistic right to play Nicole’s real-life 911 calls where she frantically begs for help from her enraged husband. You don’t get to present a feature film that says O.J. didn’t do it and then play her real 911 calls of abuse from O.J. It’s a stark reminder of the resolute bad faith of the people involved in this lousy production. Beware famous dead celebrities, because even the grave can’t protect you from director Daniel Farrand’s gross revisionism for profit.

Nate’s Grade: D

American Reunion (2012)

What loser doesn’t attend their 13th high school reunion? Who even organizes such an untimely event? The generally unnecessary American Reunion is being dished out to the public for a number of reasons. The studio would like to revive their once lucrative sex-comedy-meets-baked-goods franchise, and most of these actors could desperately use the work. Remember when the likes of Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, and Tara Reid were above-the-title names? What I recall, now that the gang is together again, is that I found most of these characters to be dullards. They’re in their 30s, have careers and families, and stupidly comfortable lives, yet they’re up to the same old hijinks, which just seem a bit more desperate and embarrassing this time around. Seann William Scott, the franchise’s true wild card, is still amusing as ever, but I couldn’t swallow the forced nostalgia for characters that are unappealing. Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan still make a nice pair, but rehashing the old gang mitigates their screen time. Comedy-wise, the movie has a few memorable gross-out moments but nothing really hilarious. I laughed from time to time but mostly I was bored, and Klein, especially in his new post-Street Fighter ironic version of himself, is rarely boring. It’s a pleasant enough experience and I suppose fans of the original films will get a kick out of seeing who ended up where and, in particular, what he hell happened to Reid’s leathery face. Otherwise, American Reunion is a gathering that nobody called for and fails to justify all the effort. Then again, my favorite of the American Pie films is the second one, so take my words with caution.

Nate’s Grade: C

American Pie 2 (2001)

First and foremost I disliked the first American Pie movie. It just rang very transparent for me and I didn’t laugh once – a capitol crime with a comedy in my book. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another addition with the American Pie family, but ventured out with friends and found myself enjoying this second helping of raunch. And this time I genuinely laughed at several points and found it overall less insipid.

To American Pie 2‘s benefit all the characters have been introduced prior and are familiar to the audience, therefore no time is wasted on pointless set-up. The movie jumps right out to the familiar faces and decides to further the AP2 universe. Jim (Jason Biggs) and friends are returning back home after their first year of college. Jim has not had a sexual experience since his prom night with Michelle the band geek (Alyson Hannigan) and he is completely in doubt of his abilities in the bedroom. Complicating matters is the news that the Czech student of his fantasies Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is on her way back and is eagerly anticipating another tryst with Jim. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is still hung up on his ex Vicky (Tara Reid) and worrying that his friends will grow apart and college will change everything. Oz (Chris Klein) seems to be doing fine with his monogamous relationship to Heather (Mena Suvari), despite the taunting of Stifler (Sean William Scott) that he needs to spread out. Finally Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is still chasing after the only woman that ever caught his heart, Stifler’s mom.

After the boys return back to their roots the police bust a party at Stifler’s pad, and they are without a place to party for the summer. Kevin brings to their attention the idea of renting a cabin on the beach for the summer. The place serves as a spot for the boys to enjoy their sunshine-y days away from school and stay together as friends, as well as attempt to get an abundance of tail. Hi-jinks ensue.

AP2 almost seems to follow the formula of the first one to the letter. The opening scene has Jim’s dad (the always hilarious Eugene Levy) walking in on an embarrassing moment for Jim (you think he’d learn that doors have locks at this point). Jim encounters a horrific sexual accident that he must discuss with his father afterwards. Stifler gets a not-so-nice encounter with a bodily fluid in the beginning party. And it all ends with a big party to end all parties with everyone hooking up with a partner for some post-coital spooning. The script was written by the same writer of the first yet he seems to be playing connect the dots with his own formula.

What American Pie 2 does to separate itself as more enjoyable than the first is give the interesting characters the majority of the time and leave the least interesting sputtering for air. The interesting ones follow: Jim is a nice guy full of the same insecurities that plague a teenager and intimacy, and Biggs plays him as an everyman who somehow always seems to come into sadistic moments of embarrassment. With Jim’s wish to be more sexually adept he visits the infamous band camp and finds Michelle once again who agrees to coach him on techniques and pointers. Hanigan is given an incredible amount more of screen time and she’s glowing in every second of it.

Also the man-you-love-to-hate Stifler has a larger role leading his group of lakeside roommates into encounters with lesbians and other sexual calamities. Scott may be playing Stifler as a jerk but he’s entertaining and genuinely funny, and at one point you can’t help but root for the crass frat boy. Finch has learned that Stifler’s mom will be paying a visit to their cabin at the end of the summer and spends his time studying up on Tantra and Zen to fully explore his inner sexual prowess.

The entire cast from the first American Pie romp does return, though not everyone has equal time. Mena Suvari (still looking so young) leaves in the beginning of the film and then comes back at the very end. The insatiably annoying Reid (who has eyes that I can’t tell where her whites end and irises begin) thankfully is only in the film for two short scenes which leads me to question was she even necessary in the first place? Natasha Lyonne is only in scenes alongside Reid, so her stint in the sequel is equally as brief. Elizabeth’s role might be central to Jim’s quest for sexual fulfillment, but she only pops up in the last eight minutes of the film – and doesn’t show her breasts this time. Now that I think about it Klein and Nicholas really weren’t in the film too much either except for standing in the background while another character talked.

The soundtrack is a collection of every pop “punk” band that’s been playing on MTV since May of that year. It’s like the producers just watched the channel for a week and would point to the ones they wanted.

The film still is a mishmash of gross out sexual humor and sentimentality, but for some reason it’s a lot easier to swallow the second time around. For all its bodily fluids and crudeness, American Pie 2 has a stickily sweet secretly conservative old-fashioned heart. Though the makers would never tell you so. In a summer almost bankrupt on entertainment value I’ll leisurely take a slice of American Pie 2.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Loser (2000)

Jason Biggs came to fame by getting sexual healing from pastry and Mena Suvari for coming up roses besides Kevin Spacey. So now the two American Pie graduates embark on college in Loser, the latest offering by classic teen comedy director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless).

Loser tells the tale of a self-describe outcast Paul (Biggs) who ventures out of a rural town to the big bad city of New York for college education. Before he leaves he confides to his family his fear that everyone will be “like on Seinfeld.” Upon Paul’s arrival he’s deemed a laughable dolt by his fratboy roomies and even forced to live in an animal shelter. Paul has a difficult time adjusting to the new world until he meets a kindred spirit in the intriguing Dora (Suvari) one day in class. Dora herself is a struggling student not fitting in easily. She even has a secret tryst with her professor played by Greg Kinnear.

All of the characters in Loser other then its leads are one-dimensional cartoons. Paul’s dorm mates start off as mean-spirited brats but then unsettlingly become attempted date rapists with plans involving roofies. Am I the only one bothered that their actions are never dealt with but glossed over? Dora’s relationship with Kinnear only cheapens the intelligence of her character. From the beginning he is a smarmy jerk (as are most in Loser) whose most romantic line consists of “Would you please sit there and just not talk.” What woman wouldn’t fall for someone like that?

Loser is no outright loser though. It does have its funny moments and starts off well enough. Paul and Dora are sweet characters that keep our interest. Kinnear plays a snide jerk well. But somewhere in the middle Loser shifts from what it could have been into what it reluctantly is.

Biggs and Suvari are the only nice people on screen, and it makes little sense that in a world of hipsters that these two would put up with all of their abuse and not see one another. It’s obvious that they should be together except to them, so it’s just a matter of time before they hug and kiss. The movie is basically a waiting game to see when Suvari is going to wise up.

Heckerling has been a strong force for many an influential teen comedy but her latest effort seems like she lost interest somewhere within. Loser had the possibility of being the Clueless for the not-so-in-crowd but instead mimics the title far more than intended.

Nate’s Grade: C

American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty balances between dark comedy and moving drama not only well but tremendously on target. It’s a slice of life showing the dark side of a faceless and cold suburban life. The deterioration of a family and the escape of one man as he realizes the trivial nature of the things that get in the way of seizing life. American Beauty is not a rose for everyone but it’s one standing out from the pack screaming to be picked.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, the husband and father of our story’s family. Life has been sucked dry from his system and he’s lost interest in everything he holds around him.

Annette Benning plays Carolyn Burnham, mother and wife. She breaths the mantra, “To be successful one must present an image of success at all times.” like she was beating a Bible until it bled. She’s a woman whom image is everything, and looking good is all that matters. She has become so detached from her family and life that she has actually lost her humanity in the hunt for success while waving her cheerful smile as a mask that eludes to the superficial inside. Carolyn is a woman who refuses to let herself fail or have weakness, and those around her to make her seem weak.

Thora Birch, of Alaska and Now and Then fame, is the estranged daughter to Spacey and Bening. She feels alienated from her parents, and despises them from easily seeing through each. Thora discovers new ways to feel contempt for her parents with each day. She is a repressed child who is looking for an outlet of understanding and help. Enter pot dealing creepy new neighbor Wes Bentley. He sees true beauty where no one could, and is the escape and shoulder that young Thora has needed all her life from her monstrously neglectful parents. Wes videotapes everything in an effort to keep the memories of beauty alive to venture back and relive the moments. He shares his prized image with Thora one day, that of a plastic bag inflating and deflating with the autumn breeze as it swirls around almost balletic dancing. The image is mesmerizingly hypnotic and you understand that Wes is a character who looks beneath the surface and most likely the most noble in the entire movie.

Mena Suvari switches from sweet choirgirl from American Pie to ditzy teen vamp. She is a person who feels such insecurity for herself that the only happiness she can arrive is from being wanted by other people. She must have acceptance in some form or another, and “ordinary” to her is a worse word than “ugly.” She acts like a teen nympho but in the end reveals that she is really an innocent young girl desperately wanting to be liked and wanted.

There are other characters that round out the cast; a brief appearance with Scott Bakula who makes a quantum leap into a gay neighbor, Allison Janney as the mother to Wes and the silent hollow image of a wife she has become to socially hide her husband’s secret, Chris Cooper again as an abusive father who’s maliciously homophobic but hiding a devastating secret deep within, even Peter Gallagher with the biggest eyebrows you’ve ever seen as a suave real estate mogul that knows how to cater to Carolyn’s thematic problems.

The basis of the story hinges on Lester’s reawakening. He is a man going through the motions of life like a walking dead man. A man who tells people that even he wouldn’t remember himself. Lester is an unhappy cog until viewing his daughter’s friend Angela (Suvari) at a high school basketball game. At first glimpse she becomes the intense object of his desire and obsession, and his focus on life centers around this young gal. But with that moment Lester’s life is broken, and his eyes are opened for the first time in a very long time. He sees the trite redundancy with the day-to-day grind of ordinary suburbanite life. Lester breaks free and does what he wishes, he is a free man. Free of his job, his nagging ice queen of a wife, free of all worries and fears.

As far as Oscar races go, all others don’t even bother filling out an application for an invitation – Spacey has Best Actor locked. He might as well start clearing a space on his shelf next to the one he got for The Usual Suspects. Spacey is so wonderfully wry and self degrading that he transforms into an actually likeable almost laid back hero for the audience. They know his tragic fate and feel good when he gets the most he can with each day, and not letting himself be pushed around anymore. Benning is also delightful and wickedly hilarious in her materially overzealous soccer mom. Birch is excellent showing the pains of alienation and showing that despite what her character thinks she is really the last person on earth who needs a boob job. Director Sam Mendes’ first feature after touring the theater circuit shows his devotion to characters and actors with subdued symbolism layered between every frame of film. I say Oscars should go all around and this movie deserves a good swapping of gold statuettes.

I could go on talking about the depth and characters for hours but I’ll just stop here and say that you won’t see a more engaging, compelling, and brutally honest and sadly funny film in the entire year of 1999. One of the best films not only of this year but of the entire decade.

Nate’s Grade: A

This movie also revisited and analyzed in the article, “1999: The Greatest Year in Film? A Review Re-View.”

American Pie (1999)

 

I may be a lone voice in a sea of opposition but I’ll say that I really didn’t laugh much at this latest teen sex romp. I wanted to laugh more than I did, oh I did, but it never really transpired. The movie throws together out of place gross-out gags and false sentimentality. The entire thing was predictable and for the most part stale. I may be over-analyzing a teen sex comedy, but that’s what I had to do with the time where I wasn’t laughing. The creators of this seem to imply that gals who don’t put out aren’t worthwhile or even cool. I could never feel for any of the characters or relate because they were all so shallow. There are some humorous scenes in this flick but they are few and far between. Many of the jokes just fall flat. Overall I could say I was greatly disappointed with American Pie and hope that the most innovative joke in the next teen sex comedy isn’t played to death in commercials and turned into a tagline. Are you listening Universal marketing team?

Nate’s Grade: C

 

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