Category Archives: Journalism

Under Fire (1983)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 67.1
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 128 mins
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Stars: Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris

Slightly above average war-drama from Roger Spottiswoode and starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy as war correspondents who rush from one third world country to another in order to get the scoop on the latest skirmish between despot and the poor. Landing in Nicaragua in time to document the final days of the Somozoa regime, the three find themselves caught up in a love triangle, bombings, and the political machinations of spies and government officials alike. Not quite as subjective and daring a film as Missing or as cavalier a film as Salvador, Under Fire falls in between as a safer and more mainstream examination of the South American political climate of the 70’s/80’s. That said, it’s an interesting story with solid performances and some decent action thrown in to boot.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013-2015
Picture5

All the King’s Men (1949) 3.72/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 84.5
Genre: Drama
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Robert Rossen
Stars: Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru

John Ireland takes a rare centre billing as the passionate young reporter who is determined to make it without the help of his step-father’s wealth. When he learns of a local hick come political candidate standing up to the power brokers of a small town, the journalist and that politician’s paths become one, not to mention, a cautionary tale of the temptations of power. A more gritty and serious take on the subject matter of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the King’s Men is a pull no punches look at the yearning for power and the Shakespearian demise inherent in its pursuit. Broderick Crawford is the headstrong politician Willie Stark with the baseball bat ambition and total absence of scruples and he dominates the film. Ireland is unsurprisingly weak in the lead and is probably the primary reason why this movie’s popularity failed to display the longevity of other classics. But outside of the acting and Robert Rossen’s (adapted from Penn Miller’s novel) cynical screenplay which simply exudes unapologetic exploitation, it’s Rossen’s cultured touch behind the camera that marks this movie above most. Allowing context to breathe and grow, his film is defined by the power of setting-influenced perspective. This is best seen in the contrast between Ireland’s childhood home, Burden’s Landing, an island of wealth and security aloof from the sharp consequential world of politics which its most wealthy inhabitants still manage to determine. Rossen strikes a fine tuned balance between the otherworldly qualities of Burden’s Landing and the cut throat political scene. The former hazy with childlike mythos and naive optimism, the latter strewn with the grit and deceit of the great noirs. With an island named “Burden’s Landing”, it will come as no surprise that metaphor plays a sometimes heavy handed role in exacting the movie’s themes but it seems to curiously resonate with the naivety of the place rendering their harshness more forgivable. On the dramatic front, Rossen’s film is flush with political intrigue and offers a an up close and personal examination of the mechanism of US politics that probably hasn’t changed much since the era of its making.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015
Actor Profiles & Reviews

Ace in the Hole (1951) 4.86/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 85.2
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 111 mins
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur

Billy Wilder shows that film-noir can be done just as well outside the traditional confines of murky streets and shadowy cities by giving us a dry and dusty noir that has all the punch of the more famed classics. Kirk Douglas is the professionally exiled newspaper man who takes up with a small town paper hoping for a big story that’ll propel him back into favour with the big city papers. And when a cave-in traps an average schmuck who had been looting a local Indian burial chamber, he seizes his chance with both hands. There’s just one problem: the schmuck may be rescued too soon for the story to get enough traction. Using all his wiles to co-opt the sheriff and rescuers, the driven reporter orchestrates a slower rescue while, outside the cave, the public interest reaches fever pitch.

Ace in the Hole makes for a rather picturesque film even if you don’t immediately notice it. The sun bleached New Mexican landscape contrasted with the dust and darkness of the cave harnesses the mood of Wilder’s perceptive screenplay to create a rather impressive canvas for his critique of media sensationalism. Chomping down on some outright seminal dialogue, Douglas is arguably in the form of his career and his boisterous presence is the centre of the film. As the money craving wife of the trapped man, Jan Sterling is a streak of caustic self-regard, an underrated triumph in the femme fatale stakes. But Ace in the Hole remains a vehicle for Douglas and his director. The latter peppers more languid moments of contemplation with a litany of amusing carnival type set pieces involving grandiose crane shots and wide contrasts. All framed around Douglas’ arch manipulator buzzing about somewhere within. And on top of all this, they go and give us one of the great noir endings too.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015
nightcrawler-main

Nightcrawler (2014) 4.57/5 (1)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 85.7
Genre: Thriller, Satire
Duration: 117 mins
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Movies that tread new ground are a rare breed these days but Dan Gilroy’s grimy psychological thriller gets neck deep in a premise, plot, and movie perspective that’s unlike anything we’ve really seen before. Jake Gyllenhaal headlines as Louis Bloom, a degenerate dork looking for a vocation in which he can shine not to mention make a quick buck. Happening by a late night accident, he rapidly immerses himself in the world of sensational nighttime news and places himself at its forefront by videotaping crimes, accidents, and anything that bleeds and delivering them to Rene Russo’s desperate news director fresh off the blood-soaked pavement.

Nightcrawler introduces us to one unsavoury character after another but each are rooted in a desperate need that makes their wretched deeds all too relatable. Gilroy lures us through this looking glass of fast food media and successfully captures the upside down personal morality of all involved. Everything seems a little too incredible but at no point do we disengage. In fact, we want more, even as, no especially as, the credits begin to roll.

A skeletal Gyllenhaal is electric in a performance that reflects the movie’s creepy themes of the ‘real unreal’ on a singularly focused level. We begin by dismissing the likelihood that anyone could be so deranged only to recoil later on at the frightening sincerity in his bulging eyes and the sound of his voice as he recites his night-school rhetoric for business success. Gilroy was certainly taking a risk building the movie around the one truly irredeemable character but the entire film gravitates around Gyllenhaal’s magnetism and though we loathe him, we definitely enjoy doing so. Russo is wonderfully complicated as the TV exec who crawls onto his web, soliciting everything from the audience’s pity to their curiosity. The always great Bill Paxton pops up in a compelling cameo as a fellow nightcrawler who crosses paths with the manic Bloom and Riz Ahmed rounds off the cast with a sympathetic turn as the latter’s weary assistant.

Gilroy’s script is gleefully twisted in its originality while behind the camera he, cinematographer Robert Elswit, and indeed composer James Newton Howard give the nighttime streets of LA a character and personality of the kind we experienced in Michael Mann’s Heat. And whether they act as a still background to the patient madness of Bloom waiting for his scanner to announce his next shot or the frenetic blur of the subsequent high speed pursuit, they bring a critical balance of grit and gloss to the proceedings. It all adds up to a triumphant movie experience that should easily stand the test of time not only as a satirical social commentary but as a pulse thumping crime thriller to boot.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015

Network (1976) 4.33/5 (3)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 87.8
Genre: Drama, Satire
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall

Surely one of the most complete and effective satires, Network is a delicious take on the business of television programming, human relationships, and how both feed and feed off the impartial narratives that so many shows are built around. Peter Finch stars as the disturbed news anchor who upon hearing that he’s been fired launches an attack on his network live on air. So good are the ratings that the executives (an emotionally vacant yet ruthless Faye Dunaway and an equally ambitious Robert Duvall) order head of the news division William Holden to build a show around his deteriorating friend’s rantings. The script is pure gold with some of cinema’s most subtly cutting and scathing commentary threaded throughout. The characters are all in different ways reflections of the greed and selfishness of the modern world and are as good as the actors inhabiting them. The film is genuinely hilarious with Finch’s outbursts being the highlights. Lumet’s delicate touch is all over this and it is he who allows Paddy Chayefsky’s searing script to come to life in as stimulating a fashion as it does. Watch out for Ned Beatty’s thunderous cameo which ultimately more than anything else sets the tone for this cinematic monument.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015

The Insider (1999) 4.86/5 (3)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 84.1
Genre: Drama
Duration: 157 mins
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer

Corporate whistle-blower dramas are generally done quite well in Hollywood but this powerful adaptation of the Vanity Fair article is top of the heap. Russell Crowe is excellent as the former tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand who breaks his confidentiality agreement by doing an interview with 60 minutes. Al Pacino is just as good as the news show’s producer Lowell Bergman who initially recruits Wigand but inevitably becomes his devoted protector. Mann’s dialogue has always had the ability to strip away any superfluous emotion from his central characters to reveal their underlying obsession (usually with their profession). Though the characters in The Insider are just as driven, Mann’s screenplay and particularly his ability as a director to catch the actors’ more idiosyncratic glances or twitches (as if by accident) gives the characters in this film a real depth of emotion that combined with the superb acting (from all parties) imbues the proceedings with a pervasive sense of authenticity. What more could you want from a true story?

The Parallax View (1974) 4.43/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 79.5
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 102 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Warren Beatty, Paula Prentiss, William Daniels

Alan J. Pakula’s film is the perfect case of form following function. A series of seemingly unrelated deaths gives a lone journalist (Warren Beatty) reason to believe he has uncovered the existence of a shadowy organisation of specialist contract killers. An American film about political assassinations set in the paranoid years of the early 70′s was always going to be dark and uncomfortable but Pakula takes it to the extreme here but not in any overtly obvious way. Ending many scenes with either an abrupt sense of closure or an ambiguous one, Beatty’s character drifts through the film as though he was never in command of his own destiny. There are lighter moments but they come off as slightly forced and out of pace with the rest of the film such as the bar-fight or the slightly ludicrous car chase. However, any such weaknesses are offset by some terrific sequences such as the famous Parallax assessment scene or that marvelous opening to the film. Michael Small’s music is timeless and was a definite influence on his later even more emphatic Marathon Man score. Overall, The Parallax View is one of the best representatives of a vintage of film-making that has never been matched in terms of the unsettled sense of being it instills in us.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014
Pelican-Brief

The Pelican Brief (1993) 3.09/5 (3)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 66.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 141 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard

Alan J. Pakula’s adaptation of John Grisham’s novel is a somewhat ponderous tale of political intrigue concerning the assassination of two Supreme Court judges and the law student and journalist who uncover the plot. Julia Roberts plays the determined law student and Denzel Washington the hot shot journalist who compile and investigate the dangerously accurate theory of why the judges were killed while dodging bullets, car bombs, and anything else the assassins who are pursuing them can come up with.

The plot to the film has a classical edge to it in that it’s simple in essence but revolves around a number of parties. It unfolds in a way that adds colour to the story and keeps the audience guessing which is exactly what you want from a thriller. Pakula’s direction of the tenser moments is fine if a little underwhelming but his ability to build tension through pacing and framing works its usual magic in the earlier sequences. A scene introducing Stanley Tucci’s hit-man recalls some of the cloak and dagger intrigue of All the Presidents’ Men and the patient buildup of the assassinations echoes similar sequences in The Parallax View.

Moreover, what some might consider a weakness – the lack of a romantic relationship between the two central characters – is actually one of the movie’s strengths, adding, as it does, more interest and unspoken depth to their interchanges. A central platonic dynamic wasn’t decided upon for that reason, however, but  rather because Hollywood still had (had?) a problem with interracial romances back in the 90’s. Thankfully, that’s all changed…!

The problem with the movie emerges as it progresses. Roberts’ star was at its zenith around the time that this film was made and it leads to a peculiar problem. The movie seems to be caught between being a substantial thriller where plot comes first and a vehicle for its headline act. Thus, when the story needs to be pushed forward it often stands still for an unnecessarily long emotional scene in which Julia shows off her acting chops. This places a drag on the film’s momentum and affects the relevance of other characters, many of whom, are relegated to obscure cameos. Sam Shepard is more than capable in one of the more extended roles (Roberts’ law professor and secret lover) as is John Lithgow (Washington’s editor) but Tony Goldwyn (the president’s nefarious chief counsel) and particularly William Atherton (the Head of CIA) are wasted.

Though neither as popular nor respected as Roberts was at time time, Washington was himself arguably climbing rapidly towards the peak of his powers in the early-mid 90’s. Yet, he almost gets lost here. Not for a lack of talent of course but because the story seems to realign itself with Robert’s character at times when his character should be coming to the fore. Roberts, for her part, was never a bad actress and she had and continues to have huge presence. She’s quite good in the role of the frightened yet wilful young go-getter but her character’s whispering grief at key moments in the film can be a little irritating – like listening to someone in need of a good cough!

For hardened fans of intrigue and shadowy plot, The Pelican Brief will fall far short of those classics that gave its sub-genre and the film’s director its standing. Nonetheless, it remains a worthy stab at a Grisham legal thriller and there’s enough there to satisfy anyone looking for a couple of hours of engaging conspiracy drama.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) 4.86/5 (1)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 85.3
Genre: Western
Duration: 123 mins
Director: John Ford
Stars: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin

John Ford didn’t do one dimensional westerns and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is certainly no exception. James Stewart plays a senator who returns to the town where he made his reputation by killing a local villain years earlier. The film then jumps back to that time as he beings to recount the tale of how he made his name and of his complicated relationship with the one man who the outlaws were afraid of (John Wayne of course!).

The early scenes are beautifully crafted and set up the sentiments of the back-story in a touching and patient manner. There’s a wonderful sense of familiarity as we’re brought back to the time when the now booming town of Shinbone was ruled by gun law. Stewart is terrific in the lead and Lee Marvin made a mean outlaw but John Wayne is the most memorable as the fearless gunfighter forced to make a sacrifice.

As most of the action takes place in the town, we don’t have the wide sweeping shots that defined Stagecoach and The Searchers. However, this is still a great looking film as Ford gives Shinbone a character of its own through his trademark staging and use of light. All told, this is a more pensive and slow burning Western than we typically see but no less rewarding.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014

Best Seller (1987) 2.86/5 (1)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 67.3
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 110  mins
Director: John Flynn’
Stars: James Woods, Brian Dennehy, Victoria Tennant

John Flynn’s thriller about a psychopathic hit-man (played with typical gusto by James Woods) who asks a cop turned writer (the always excellent Brian Dennehy) to write a book exposing his life and the gangster he worked for would be little more than an above average 80′s thriller if it wasn’t for the terrific performances of the two leads and the steady, assured pacing of one of that era’s most underrated directors. On top of that, Flynn’s soft pallets and Jay Ferguson’s interesting score (reminiscent of Tangerine Dream at their height) give Best Seller a quintessential 80′s vibe which adds a nostalgic quality to the movie for those who grew up in that decade.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014

Elmer Gantry (1960) 4.14/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 78.5
Genre: Drama
Duration: 146  mins
Director: Richard Brooks
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy

“Tell me. How is it so many people can only find hate in the bible?” Richard Brooks’ highly complex tale of the emergence of revivalism during the prohibition era bible belt is a stunningly mature and impartial examination of manipulation, faith, truth, and redemption. Burt Lancaster is magnetic as the eponymous silver tongued charlatan who finds he has a knack for rousing people into religious fervour through guilt and moralistic soundbite. Jean Simmons matches him as the self-proclaimed “Sister Sharon”, leader of a travelling roadshow who preaches damnation and forgiveness through the embracing of Jesus and her message.

Brooks’ adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel is superb and whether it be the top of the voice preaching, the more veiled rhetoric, or the quiet and more honest interactions of the principals, it captures the power of that discourse with amazing precision. Through his direction, he brings an easy flow to the movie and he adapts the tone seamlessly as the film repeatedly transitions between big prayer meetings and the smaller more intimate one-on-ones. However, it’s the clarity of focus and motivation which defines the movie so well and it’s astonishing to note how relevant Elmer Gantry is to modern day as it was to the 1960’s when it was made and the 1920’s when it was set. It takes no sides and in doing so, through all the smoke and mirrors, it zeros in on the essential point like few other investigations into the subject have.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014

Missing (1982) 4.14/5 (5)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 76.9
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Duration: 122  mins
Director: Costa-Gavras
Stars: Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron

Costa-Gavras’ gem of a film chronicles the true story of a political writer (played by John Shea) based in Chile during the revolutionary turmoil of the 1970′s who disappears after he is taken away by the military. The story follows the attempts of his wife (the wonderful Sissy Spacek) and his father (a sterling turn by Jack Lemmon) to find out where he is and what happened to him. Shea is fine if a little wooden but he is only really a support player as this movie is all about Lemmon and Spacek’s considerable performances and on-screen dynamic. Costa-Gavras structures the film superbly and bookends the film in a profoundly clever manner. All in all, Missing is a glowing testament to the quiet power of cinema and not to be missed if you like slow-burning political thrillers.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014