Movie Project #2: Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/History
Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, Ray Wise
Running Time: 93 minutes

Good Night, and Good Luck takes us back to darker times in the United States, specifically the 1950s when the fear of Communism was running wild. The notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy only added to the hysteria by claiming that large numbers of Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. Government. This led to anyone with any connection to Communism, no matter how minute (or even non-existant), getting shunned by those in charge. Who knows what would have happened if CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow didn’t call him out on his bullshit?

George Clooney’s second directorial effort tells the story of this very public feud between Murrow (David Strathairn) and McCarthy. Murrow first targets the senator’s unlawful attack against Milo Radulovich, a Michigan man who was forced to resign from the US Air Force merely because his father subscribed to a Serbian newspaper. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as the trial of Annie Lee Moss, an alleged spy inside the Pentagon, makes the news. Soon McCarthy is attacking Murrow directly, making false accusations about the newscaster being a past member of a communist organization.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

To Murrow’s credit, he is able to remain calm and level-headed even as he is knee-deep in McCarthy’s pile of lies. He is especially impressive in how he is able to convince his superiors — those who risk damaging certain professional relationships — to stick with him as he fights back against the delusional anti-Communism parade. His rational and sensible demeanor is expertly portrayed by David Strathairn, who got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance.

While much of the focus is on Murrow and McCarthy (the latter of whom is only seen in archival footage), there are two other subplots involving those within CBS. Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson play a married couple who are forced to keep their relationship secret due to laws within the company. Also, Ray Wise plays Don Hollenbeck, the host of the CBS News show that follows Murrow, as he struggles to deal with an often slanderous press. The latter storyline fits in perfectly with the overarching theme of the film, but the RDJ/Clarkson subplot received perhaps a bit too much attention. The film is relatively short — just 93 minutes — and it almost feels like their story arc was included to pad things out a bit. The rest of the newsroom is fleshed out with small, but crucial performances from the likes of Clooney himself, Frank Langella and Jeff Daniels.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

The film is authentic in its approach, with gorgeous black-and-white cinematography interspersed with actual news footage from the era. This provides an almost documentary-like feel to the proceedings, adding even more to the immersion into that era. You can almost smell the smoke-tinged air as everyone puffs away at their Kent-branded cigarettes. For the realism alone, the film succeeds.

It’s said that history repeats itself. Perhaps in 40-50 years, we’ll get another film of a similar nature, this time documenting the frenzy caused by the National Security Agency’s breach of privacy that is happening today. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need an Edward R. Murrow.

8/10

Movie Project #2: Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/History
Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, Ray Wise
Running Time: 93 minutes

Good Night, and Good Luck takes us back to darker times in the United States, specifically the 1950s when the fear of Communism was running wild. The notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy only added to the hysteria by claiming that large numbers of Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. Government. This led to anyone with any connection to Communism, no matter how minute (or even non-existant), getting shunned by those in charge. Who knows what would have happened if CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow didn’t call him out on his bullshit?

George Clooney’s second directorial effort tells the story of this very public feud between Murrow (David Strathairn) and McCarthy. Murrow first targets the senator’s unlawful attack against Milo Radulovich, a Michigan man who was forced to resign from the US Air Force merely because his father subscribed to a Serbian newspaper. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as the trial of Annie Lee Moss, an alleged spy inside the Pentagon, makes the news. Soon McCarthy is attacking Murrow directly, making false accusations about the newscaster being a past member of a communist organization.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

To Murrow’s credit, he is able to remain calm and level-headed even as he is knee-deep in McCarthy’s pile of lies. He is especially impressive in how he is able to convince his superiors — those who risk damaging certain professional relationships — to stick with him as he fights back against the delusional anti-Communism parade. His rational and sensible demeanor is expertly portrayed by David Strathairn, who got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance.

While much of the focus is on Murrow and McCarthy (the latter of whom is only seen in archival footage), there are two other subplots involving those within CBS. Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson play a married couple who are forced to keep their relationship secret due to laws within the company. Also, Ray Wise plays Don Hollenbeck, the host of the CBS News show that follows Murrow, as he struggles to deal with an often slanderous press. The latter storyline fits in perfectly with the overarching theme of the film, but the RDJ/Clarkson subplot received perhaps a bit too much attention. The film is relatively short — just 93 minutes — and it almost feels like their story arc was included to pad things out a bit. The rest of the newsroom is fleshed out with small, but crucial performances from the likes of Clooney himself, Frank Langella and Jeff Daniels.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

The film is authentic in its approach, with gorgeous black-and-white cinematography interspersed with actual news footage from the era. This provides an almost documentary-like feel to the proceedings, adding even more to the immersion into that era. You can almost smell the smoke-tinged air as everyone puffs away at their Kent-branded cigarettes. For the realism alone, the film succeeds.

It’s said that history repeats itself. Perhaps in 40-50 years, we’ll get another film of a similar nature, this time documenting the frenzy caused by the National Security Agency’s breach of privacy that is happening today. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need an Edward R. Murrow.

8/10

Movie Project #38: Lady Vengeance [2005]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Lady Vengeance [2005]

Lady Vengeance [2005]
Director: Park Chan-wook
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi and Shi-hoo Kim
Runtime: 112 minutes

Revenge is a tried-and-true plot device in film, but rarely is this concept taken to the depths provided in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. After two punishing yet brilliant films in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, Park closed out the trilogy with arguably his most stylish film yet: Lady Vengeance.

Lee Young Ae stars as Lee Geum-ja, a reformed female prisoner who was convicted for a crime she did not actually commit: the murder of a young boy. After years of good behavior and a total change in her spirituality, she is released earlier than expected. While others pester her as soon as he gets out, Geum-ja has just one thing on her mind: revenge.

Lady Vengeance [2005]

Her target is Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik, a.k.a Oh Dae-su from Oldboy), the actual murderer of the young child. On her quest for vengeance, Geum-ja also reunites with her teenage daughter, Jenny (Yea-young Kwon), who was threatened by Baek during the initial killing. The transition from prison to the real world is jarring, but Geum-ja is on a mission and there’s no way anything is going to stop her in her mind.

Lady Vengeance moves at a more methodical pace than its predecessors in the trilogy, and it takes some time to pick up on just what is happening. The first act of the film flips back and forth between the present and Geum-ja’s days in prison, and it becomes a tad confusing at times. However, the second act represents a major tonal shift, and the big revenge payoff is dramatic, bloody and unforgettable.

Lady Vengeance [2005]

As the most stylish film of the three, Lady Vengeance impresses visually. There are some truly stunning shots, many of which make fantastic use of color. Perhaps this is why the film takes its time in telling the story — so we can enjoy its sheer beauty.

It’s difficult to fully satisfy when forced to live up to the legacy provided by the amazing first two films of the trilogy, and perhaps Lady Vengeance suffers from these comparisons. I quite enjoyed the film overall, but it is clearly the weakest of the three. Regardless, it can be stated that Park Chan-wook knows how to go out with style, as the closing shot is one I will not be forgetting.

7.5/10

Movie Project #25: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]
Director: Shane Black
Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan
Runtime: 103 minutes

Look up idiot in the dictionary. You know what you’ll find?
A picture of me?
No! The definition of the word “idiot”! Which you fucking are!

Now where in the hell did this movie come from? It’s rare that a film can combine dark comedy, action and mystery so effortlessly in one package. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has all of this, with a satirical spin on Film Noir to boot.

The always charismatic Robert Downey Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart, a common thief who acts as the meta narrator for our story. After a botched robbery attempt, Lockhart cleverly evades police by running into an ongoing audition for a detective movie. The part, conveniently enough, is eerily similar to the exact situation Lockhart is going through at that moment. He nails the gig, eludes the cops and gets a part in the movie. Now THAT’S how you run from the law.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

To train for his role, Lockhart is teamed up with private investigator Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), commonly known as “Gay Perry”. While working on a case, the duo unwittingly stumble upon a vast conspiracy involving kidnapping and murder, and they soon become swept into a web of crime. Also caught in the heat of things is Lockhart’s high school sweetheart, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan), who he happens to run into at a Hollywood party.

What transpires is an expertly written mystery that is both hysterical and suspenseful. The movie moves at a brisk pace, one that is occasionally hard to keep up with but always entertaining. The laughs are dark and crude, without resorting to slapstick or lazy humor. The story doesn’t take long to spiral out of control and it stretches the boundaries of believability (okay, it is hardly believable at all), but that doesn’t matter. This is a self-aware movie that revels in its irreverence.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

And who better to play the lead narrator/thief/pseudo-actor than Robert Downey Jr.? The man’s comedic timing and delivery is impeccable, and he plays the lead with just the right amount of cynicism. His chemistry with the surprisingly buoyant Val Kilmer is off the charts. In fact, there are moments where Kilmer steals the scene. His “Gay Perry” delivers some brilliant wisecracks, a perfect complement to Downey’s zaniness. Bonus points go out to Michelle Monaghan who is as stunning as I have seen her, and boy does she know it in this film.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of the last decade’s more underrated films. Somehow this slipped under my radar (and many others, apparently) and I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this gem. Sure, the plot can be hard to keep up with, but damn if this isn’t an fun and wild ride. I am very glad to have included this in my project.

8/10

Video Game Review: Lumines [PSP, 2005]

Lumines [PSP, 2005]

Lumines
System: PSP (later on mobile, PC, XBLA, PSN, PS2, iOS)
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: March 22, 2005

Here I am, seven years late to this party. Seven years where I did not have Lumines in my life. Seven years where I had one less addiction than I do now.

Every major handheld system seems to have a wildly popular puzzle game tied to its release, starting all the way back with the original GameBoy and its top seller, Tetris. In 2005, the PSP’s claim to fame was Lumines, a psychedelic title influenced mostly by Tetris and Columns.

Lumines is a falling block game that uses 4×4 pieces of two different colors. The goal is to line up these blocks so 4×4 squares of the same color are pieced together and removed from the board. If a block is placed on an uneven structure, half will remain on top while the other half falls to the remaining pieces below. This adds an additional element of strategy to what is an otherwise very simple game.

Lumines [PSP, 2005]

What sets Lumines apart from the rest is its heavy emphasis on light and sound. An integral part of the gameplay is the use of a “timer” — a line that moves across the screen at intervals based on the beat of the music. This timer wipes out the same-colored blocks and removes them from the screen. The kicker here is that you must wait until the timer clears them before you can put new blocks in their place. This gets increasingly more difficult as the timer slows down and passes by less frequently. On the flip side, this can also be used to create massive bonuses by linking several squares together, if done correctly.

After passing through four levels (reached by hitting a certain amount of points), the music and the entire “skin” of the game will change. This means that the colors of the blocks, the background, and the tempo of the timer will all change at the same time, all while you are in the middle of playing. The transitions can sometimes be jarring, but they are a lot of fun and help keep the game fresh.

Music is a major part of the game, which is to be expected since this comes from Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mastermind of the cult hit Rez. While psychedelic colors flash on screen, various blends of electronica play through the speakers, creating a thoroughly engrossing audio/visual experience. Plugging in a set of headphones really takes the game to another level — seriously, it makes everything even better.

Lumines [PSP, 2005]

While falling block puzzle games aren’t anything new, Lumines adds a fresh coat of hallucinogenic paint to a classic concept. This is one of those games that must be played to truly appreciate it, and it’s also one that is easy to learn yet difficult to master. It’s not perfect — I wish there were a way to start the challenge mode with random song selections instead of the same one every time, for example — but complaints are minor overall. The bottom line is that Lumines is addictive as all hell, and that’s all you can ask from a puzzle game. With several game modes and the ability to play multiplayer, there is a staggering amount of replay value. This title will not be leaving my PSP anytime soon, and I can’t wait to try out its sequels.

If, somehow, you are like me and slept on Lumines all these years, do yourself a favor and try it out. This is a bargain bin title now, and there really is no reason to skip out on it.

8.5/10

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]
Directors: Bart Stephens
Genre: Documentary/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

Today is one of the best days of the year for sports fans: Opening Day of baseball. In light of the new season, I perused Netflix’s Instant Watch for some baseball movies and found this little known documentary: A Player To Be Named Later. This 2005 film chronicles the 2001 season of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians. The movie revolves around five players:

Brad Tyler, a 32-year-old veteran who never got the call up to the majors. Near the end of his career he bounced around professional baseball, including a stint in Mexico.

Micah Franklin, another veteran hitter who played for a bunch of different teams over his career yet only had one brief stint in the big leagues (1997).

Kyle Peterson, a former first round draft pick who has struggled with serious injuries throughout his career.

Allen “Meat” Levrault, a pitcher who spent the majority of his 2001 season in Milwaukee with less than impressive results (6-10, 6.06 ERA). He played in 2003 for Florida, and then struggled in the minors for the rest of his career.

Marco Scutaro, a Venezuelan athlete who is the only one from this group still playing today. He is the current starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

What makes this documentary so interesting is that it shows what life is like for these guys both on and off the field. None of them are guaranteed to make it to the big leagues; in fact, it is estimated that only 6% of minor leaguers actually get the callup at some point in their careers. Yet these guys still continue to pursue their dream against all odds.

Throughout the movie there are clips showing the players with their families, interviews with “super fans” of the team, and some interesting discussions with team personnel. All of these people share one common trait: the love of the game. Having said that, I’m not sure how much A Player To Be Named Later will appeal to non-baseball fans. For those who love the sport, however, this is a fascinating look into the lives of those who are so close, yet so far from the majors.

8/10

Silent Bob Speaks: The Collected Writings of Kevin Smith [2005]

Silent Bob Speaks: The Collected Writings of Kevin Smith

Silent Bob Speaks: The Collected Writings of Kevin Smith
Author: Kevin Smith
Original Release: April 2005

Kevin Smith is a fat-ass fashioner of marginally successful films who isn’t hung very well. Now before you hang me out to dry for that remark, it should be noted that those are *his exact words*, not mine. If you aren’t familiar with the popular director (Clerks, Mallrats, etc.), then you will quickly realize that much of Smith’s banter in his writings is very self-derogatory. The dude thinks very little of himself and doesn’t understand how he has a following. While these ramblings are occasionally amusing, Smith beats this to death by bashing himself over and over again.

Silent Bob Speaks is a collection of writings that Kevin Smith posted on the internet in the first half of the last decade. Self-bashing is a common thread, as mentioned earlier. There are also equal parts discussing his “heterosexual man crush” on Ben Affleck, random comic book ramblings (including his thoughts on the first Spiderman movie), and reports on his issues with morbid obesity. Since the essays were published at various times, there is a lack of cohesiveness between them. Perhaps as a result, the writings are very much hit-and-miss.

There are a handful of great chapters in here, such as Smith’s interviews with Tom Cruise and Ben Affleck (especially funny to hear Ben talk with such optimism about his upcoming roles in Daredevil, Gigli and Jersey Girl — how did that turn out again?). And of course, Smith is actually quite gifted with his humor, although sometimes his lack of confidence causes him to be crude just to try to get a laugh.

Silent Bob Speaks is a quick read, but only hardcore Smith fans will get maximum enjoyment out of this. I like the guy, even though his work has lately been spotty at best, but I just wish he would lay off the self-deprecating tangents. Look, Kevin, you are a genuinely funny guy. Stick to your guns and write with confidence — your work will be all the better for it.

6/10

God of War [Playstation 2, 2005]

God of War [PS2]

God of War
System: Playstaton 2
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: March 22, 2005

God of War is widely considered one of the best games on the now-hanging-on-a-thread Playstation 2 system. As a third-person action adventure game, God of War is certainly a strong offering. The game combines elements from all sorts of genres, including platform, puzzle and, to a lesser extent, RPGs. At its core, however, GoW is a hack ‘n slash brawler.

Users play as Kratos, a blood-thirsty Greek warrior with unbelievable strength who is on a revenge mission to kill Ares, the god of war. The story is simple, but as the game progresses it is easy to get behind the revenge plotine. The Greek mythological setting allows the game to provide some truly epic moments. Boss battles, although few and far in between, are incredibly intense, as there is nothing like taking on an opponent far bigger than Kratos. In order to slay bosses and some other tough enemies, users have to input certain buttons/joystick movements to match what is shown on screen. While some oppose these quick-time events, I found them to be satisfying since they help create a frantic atmosphere in the key moments of the game. There are dozens of memorable events in the game, and with an impressive soundtrack in the background, it truly feels as if you are partaking in something epic.

While God of War is a well-polished game (and easily one of the best-looking on the PS2), it does have a couple flaws that hold it back from being a masterpiece. As mentioned earlier, the boss battles are incredible yet there are only a few in the game. It would be nice to see more of them to break up the occasional monotony of entering a room, clearing it of enemies, and then repeating this over and over. Also, while the stationary camera angles are usually good enough, there are moments where they switch over at the most inopportune times. This doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it is frustrating. Overall, however, God of War is definitely an enjoyable experience and is one of the strongest hack ‘n slash games available on the PS2.

8/10