Review: New film “Lizzie Borden” offers ham-handed exploitation tactics

“Lizzie” updates the legend of Lizzie Borden for the #metoo movement, offering a worst of many worlds: hysterical yet fatally self-conscious camp.

On Aug. 4, 1892, Borden allegedly butchered her father, Andrew, and her stepmother, Abby, with a hatchet in the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Lizzie was acquitted, probably due to her wealth and social station, but became a notorious figure and a kind of pop cultural boogeyman.

Borden’s possible motivations for committing such brutal, seemingly passionate acts have been widely contemplated. In his novel “Lizzie,” mystery writer Ed McBain suggested that Borden had been having an affair with the family’s maid, Bridget Sullivan. It has also been speculated that Borden may have killed Andrew, a successful entrepreneur, over issues of inheritance. In their own “Lizzie,” director Craig William Macneil and screenwriter Bryce Kass ham-handedly fuse these theories.

As the film goes to great pains to tell us, this Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny) is an eccentric who’s relentlessly suppressed by Andrew (Jamey Sheridan), a stern hypocrite who rapes Bridget (Kristen Stewart), relying on the latter’s desperation as an Irish immigrant of low social standing. Abby (Fiona Shaw) is moderately more sympathetic, but is seen by Lizzie, and the film, as a nuisance and a disgrace to her gender.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film’s speculations about the Borden killings, but the narrative from Macneil and Kass is simplistic and repetitive. Many details that would lead one to suspect an affair between Lizzie and Bridget, such as the odd discrepancies between their testimonies about the events have been omitted. It’s also inconceivable to the filmmakers that Andrew and Abby may be anything other than sexist monsters overdue for slaughter.

“Lizzie” is built on two gimmicks that are traditional to exploitation films with considerably less Sundance pedigree: the slow-build tease as to how true-life murders will unfold onscreen, and the erotic appeal of watching hip icons couple. These simpler pleasures compete with the film’s neurotic desperation for topicality.

If Andrew and Abby are defined as monsters, Lizzie and Bridget are viewed only through a scrim of oppression. We’re given no clue as what their personalities might be like, other than a reference to Lizzie’s love of birds, which is necessary to the plot. Watching “Lizzie,” one unexpectedly longs for “A Quiet Passion,” Terence Davies’ superb biopic of the poet Emily Dickinson, who was lonely and eccentric and somewhat self-imprisoned, but who was also warm, creative and fiercely unpredictable. Sevigny and Stewart are great actors, but here they appear to be as shackled by their environment as the characters they’re playing.

In “Lizzie,” as in his prior film, “The Boy,” Macneil mistakes moody dawdling for maturity. The sound mix likens the Borden home to a haunted house, with plenty of foreboding creaking and rattling, which is about all there is to distract the audience from the film’s litany of pat stereotypes. This narrative might’ve worked if it had been played as a hothouse drama of thwarted passion in the key of Tennessee Williams’s work, but Macneil stretches scenes that are about little to nothing into insufferable monotony, with arty pauses meant to inflate the wisp of a script. We twiddle our thumbs waiting for Chloë to hook up with Kristen.

Tellingly, “Lizzie” comes to life when Macneil gets to the project’s modus operandi. Tired of her drudging existence under Andrew’s thumb, aware of his abuse of Bridget, outraged over his killing of her birds, and, yes, probably concerned about her inheritance – though this last item isn’t convenient to the film’s vision of Lizzie as a proto-suffragist superhero – Lizzie strips to the nude and murders Abby, which accounts for the lack of blood stains on the crime scene while crucially titillating audiences. In fairness, Sevigny’s nudity has a thematic purpose, as Lizzie is stripping herself of her shackles so as to lash out at the patriarchal, yada, yada, yada.

Late in the film, Macneil springs one unsettling scene. In this version of events, Bridget planned to kill Andrew after Lizzie killed Abby, but collapses in panicked shock, leaving Lizzie to complete the job. Stewart’s playing of this scene is unforgettable, so crushingly vulnerable it lends the entire sequence an aura of authentic violation. For one moment, the film’s lecturing is interrupted by unbridled emotion, which taps into the visceral horror of a household eating itself alive.

Trump at the UN: World Leaders Laugh at His Lies

The Washington Post reports that world leaders laughed at Trump’s usual lies.

President Trump has made more than 5,000 false or misleading claims since being inaugurated. The question journalists often ask themselves is whether he even realizes it. On the rare occasion when he puts himself in a position to answer for his falsehoods, he has declined to defend them and blamed it on something he had heard. Trump’s aides have privately vented that he does not seem to be moored by real-world facts, even when they are explained to him repeatedly.

But on Tuesday, Trump got subtly called out for a whopper he often tells – and by his fellow world leaders, no less.
Appearing at the United Nations, Trump recycled a bogus claim he often makes at partisan rallies, in Fox News interviews and in formal settings: that he has accomplished more to this point in his presidency than his predecessors. The problem is this time he said it in front of an audience that might actually question it.

“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump said.

The assembled world leaders gave a bit of an audible response, and Trump was caught off-guard.

“America’s – so true,” he said with a smile.
The buzz at that point became audible laughter.
Trump chuckled and said, “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.

Then more laughter, accompanied by some applause.

The laughter was not 100 percent at Trump’s expense. Some in the audience seemed to genuinely appreciate his quip about being surprised at the response. But the whole thing clearly started with audibly expressed skepticism about one of Trump’s more hyperbolic and fabulist claims. It was, at its core, about Trump making a ridiculous claim.

Trump’s response was telling, too. Just as he seemed genuinely taken aback when NBC’s Peter Alexander called out his electoral college number-fudging last year, he did not seem to anticipate anybody questioning his claims of nearly unprecedented success as a president. It was as if he never even countenanced it.

“Later in the speech, Trump made another overzealous claim: that Germany is becoming “totally dependent” upon Russian energy – which is similar to claims he made at a NATO summit a few months back.
The German delegation’s response: more laughter.”

The story goes on to cite a tweet by Trump saying that Obama made America an international laughing stock.

Haha. Look who is the international laughing stock now. On videotape.

Taste of Time

It started with a bake sale to raise money for a new church, and has turned into a festival that attracts thousands of people over three days.

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the annual Armenian Food Festival, the longest-running event of its kind in Richmond. Held at the St. James Armenian Church at 834 Pepper Ave., the festival has expanded and evolved over the years to include music, entertainment, a gift shop and Armenian wines. The food, however, hasn’t changed much.

“They’re old family recipes that go back years and years,” says 91-year-old John Baronian, who’s been involved since the festival’s inception six decades ago. “One person’s mother may have done it differently from another, so they combined and came up with the recipes we use today.”

Items on the menu include pilaf (which Baronian recommends pairing with lupia, Armenian-style string beans), ground sirloin and lamb burgers, stuffed grape leaves and chicken and pork kebabs. Baronian’s favorite is the lahmajoon, an Armenian meat pie, and fellow organizer Leiza Bouroujian says she loves the boreg, which is phyllo dough stuffed with cheese and spinach. For dessert you’ve got paklava, a sweet layering of philo and walnuts that bears a striking resemblance to the Greek baklava, but with a lighter syrup. Other classic Armenian sweets like sugar cookies, tea cookies and holiday bread are on the menu. And to wash it all down? Beer from Kotayk Brewery and several Armenian wines, including Shushi, a dry pomegranate wine.

“We never stop cooking,” Bouroujian says. “We operate like a restaurant, so the meat, veggies pilaf, it’s all being prepared while you’re walking in.”

Bouroujian says Richmonders “seem to crave” food-centric events like this, and last year’s festival saw record numbers: about 10,000 people over the course of three days.

“We take a lot of pride in it, not only to bring Armenian cuisine but also to expose people to Armenian culture, history and music,” Bouroujian says.

The festival runs 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon – 7 p.m. Sunday.