Movie Project #10: Out of Sight [1998]

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.

Out of Sight [1998]

Out of Sight [1998]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Romance
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 123 minutes

Out of Sight has a little bit of something for everyone: comedy, romance, crime, random outbursts of violence… The film is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, and it is backed by an absolute star-studded cast. It also happens to be one of my early favorites in this year’s movie project.

George Clooney stars as the charismatic bank robber, Jack Foley. After escaping from prison, Foley immediately (and unexpectedly) stumbles upon U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), waiting outside for an unrelated reason. This mix-up leads to both Foley and Sisco getting thrown into the trunk of a getaway car driven by Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames). Right away, despite being on different sides of the law, there’s an instant spark between them. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Their trunk encounter is brief, but it sets the stage for a pleasurable game of cat-and-mouse for both sides. Sisco is able to escape when she persuades an accomplice of Foley and Bragg, a perpetual stoner named Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), to leave them stranded. Foley then goes on the run, with Sisco always remaining not too far behind.

Out of Sight [1998]

Foley’s end goal is to score one last big heist and then retire to a tropical island somewhere (where have I heard that before?). His target is a financial criminal (Albert Brooks) who, while in prison, had foolishly mentioned how he had millions of dollars in uncut diamonds back at his home in Detroit. Foley and Bragg make the long trek up to snowy Michigan to scope out the situation and see if they can pull this off once and for all.

Of course, everything doesn’t go as planned. Glenn’s big mouth leads to even more people wanting to get in on the action, including an explosively violent ex-boxer named Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle). Soon this seemingly simple burglary turns into a far more complex operation than initially anticipated.

Out of Sight [1998]

The plot is labyrinth-like with its nonlinear narrative, and director Steven Soderbergh expertly weaves his way through the many layers that are always in motion. There is never a dull moment, especially when Clooney is given time to show off his trademark charisma. According to Clooney, this is the kind of role he had always dreamed of: a bad guy who you couldn’t help but root for in the end. He makes his mark in the very first scene, as he pulls off the most nonchalant bank robbery I have ever seen. It can be argued that this performance is what made Clooney a bona fide movie star. Much of the film relies on his chemistry with Jennifer Lopez, and it really is something to behold. This is one of Lopez’s finest performances, as she is effortlessly equal parts sexy and badass.

Although the focus is on the two leads, every character has their chance to shine. I was most impressed with Don Cheadle, whose character grows to become more and more frightening as the film progresses. His two partners in crime, played by Isaiah Washington and Keith Loneker, are memorable themselves. The latter is involved in one of the most unexpected and absurd on-screen deaths I have ever seen.

Out of Sight had me cracking up often, and that was something I did not expect. The humor is very dark (case in point: the aforementioned unforeseen death), but the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads provides a bit of a balance by being fairly light. In the end, this is still a love story more than anything else, but its unconventional format and impeccable performances make the film stand out from the rest.

9/10

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 #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 Review: Gravity [2013]

Gravity [2013]

Gravity [2013]
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Running Time: 91 minutes

It’s easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort is truly a technical marvel, and it is one of the most visually stunning films to come out in years. This is the type of feature that begs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible — IMAX 3D, preferably — and it’s the rare release that is garnering nearly unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike. Taken on these merits alone, Gravity is worth the trip to the theater. However, it is lacking in a few crucial areas, and these issues keep it from reaching the “instant classic” status that many are quick to label it as.

In theory, the idea behind the film is simple. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a rookie on her first space mission, and veteran astronaut Ray Kowalski (George Clooney), on his last mission before retirement, are performing a routine spacewalk before disaster strikes. A Russian missile strike has caused a massive chain reaction, sending seemingly endless amounts of space debris heading directly toward them. Their shuttle is destroyed, and soon the two protagonists become split apart.

At this point, our attention is focused primarily on Ryan and her will to survive. She is given a slight bit of back story involving a tragedy that occurred back home, and this is used as an attempt to get us to connect with her. In reality, this little nugget of information feels contrived. Ryan’s story is something that has been done to death in cinema — can this emotionally broken character overcome the overwhelming odds to stay alive? — and the overall writing leaves a lot to be desired. There is also quite a bit of on-the-nose symbolism regarding the rebirth of human life, some of which feels out of place.

Gravity [2013]

Yet it is a testament to Ms. Sandra Bullock that we are in fact still able to resonate even slightly with her character. The decision to cast Bullock and Clooney — both of whom are comfortable and longtime fan favorites — was a stroke of genius. Going into the film, we already have some sort of connection to the characters simply because of who plays them. Bullock delivers what may be her finest performance yet, and she will certainly get some love during awards season. Clooney is basically playing George Clooney here, but it works for this role. His casual demeanor is the perfect complement for Bullock’s nervousness, and he makes the best of his limited screen time. I truly believe that much of the love for this film comes down to these two actors; if Robert Downey Jr. and Angelina Jolie, both of whom were originally attached to the project, had remained in the film, it could have been an unmitigated disaster.

It is especially impressive that even with these script problems, Gravity is a compelling film. The combination of Alfonso Cuarón’s direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is a match made in heaven — just take a look at the film’s remarkable 17-minute opening shot as an example. Their work truly makes it feel as if you are floating in space, and the 3D is entirely organic. It remains to be seen how the film will hold up on DVD/Blu-ray, but as a theatrical experience, few are better.

8/10

Movie Project #35: O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

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.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Genre: Comedy/Adventure/Crime
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman and Holly Hunter
Runtime: 106 minutes

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of those films that just slipped through the cracks for me over the years. I remember the soundtrack being a hot commodity — and damn that bluegrass is infectious — but never sat down to watch the entire movie. It’s a shame that it took me twelve years to see this because this is yet another ridiculously fun effort from the Coen brothers.

Set in 1930s rural Mississippi and loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey”, the film follows the exploits of three escaped convicts who are in search of hidden treasure. The trio, comprised of de facto leader Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) and his two pals, Pete Hogwallop (Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Nelson), run into all sorts of trouble on their journey. Not only are they constantly chased by the law, they also have a habit of becoming entangled in other unexpected endeavors. They form a bluegrass group — the Soggy Bottom Boys — with a young black musician named Tommy (Chris Thomas King), and as a result somehow get caught up in a political race as well as a KKK rally. The group also comes across undesirable characters including a trio of “Sirens”, a one-eyed bible thumper (Goodman) and a bipolar bank robber named George Nelson (Michael Badalucco).

Oh yeah, and in the middle of this, Ulysses is trying to get back with his estranged wife, Penny (Holly Hunter). It’s a wild ride for sure.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

At its core, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a road movie, and we are there for the entire epic adventure. The aforementioned run-ins with other characters lead to a number of memorable scenes, many of which are so ridiculous that it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Of course, the addictive soundtrack adds even more to the overall film, and even non-bluegrass fans should enjoy the catchy tunes. Even as I sit here writing this review, I have “Man of Constant Sorrow” stuck in my head. That’s a good thing.

Clooney, Turturro and Nelson make for an entertaining trio, and they play off each other fantastically. Clooney’s natural charisma makes him the obvious choice for the leader of the group, but I was most impressed with Nelson’s humorous slack-jawed yokel of a performance. The overall cast is amazingly well-rounded, with great takes from Goodman, Hunter and my personal favorite, Stephen Root, who plays a blind radio station manager that gives the Soggy Bottom Boys their big break.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

While some may find fault in how O Brother, Where Art Thou? sometimes feels like a collection of short films thrown together as one, there’s no denying that this is uproarious fun from beginning to end. The Coen brothers have a knack for these zany comedies, and the script is full of brilliant, quick-witted dialogue. I had a great time with this film, and I get the feeling that this is one that just gets better with age.

8.5/10

Movie Review: The Ides of March [2011]

The Ides of March [2011]

The Ides of March [2011]
Director: George Clooney
Genre: Drama
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood
Runtime: 101 Minutes

I hate politics. The backstabbing, corruption, greed, the selfishness. It can be downright disgusting at times, as everyone is out for themselves, seldom caring about who they take down on their way to the top.

The Ides of March is a perfect example of this debauchery, as it follows the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful, Mike Morris (Clooney), while he battles to win his party’s nomination. At first glance, Morris appears to be an easily likable guy, one who seems different from the usual talking heads. He is backed by a campaign team that believes in him, especially Junior Campaign Manager Stephen Meyers (Gosling). Meyers is a young guy with all of the potential in the world; he has a reputation as one of the top political aides in the game, and he is a major reason that Morris has found success. Meyers has learned from the best, in the form of Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Hoffman). Zara is jaded, but has been around the block more than a few times in his long career, and he knows how to play the game.

The Ides of March [2011]

There are a few questions presented by the film. Will Morris win the Ohio Primary? Will he guarantee a state senator a Cabinet position in order to get his recommendation (even though he doesn’t agree with his views)? Will Meyers continue to support his presidential candidate, even as things take an ugly turn? Political scandals develop, characters betray others, and a whole lot of bullshit happens. It’s politics, folks, and as much as I hate it, it can still be pretty damn fascinating.

It doesn’t hurt to have an all-star cast either. Hollywood darling Ryan Gosling is particularly fantastic here, in what may be his best performance yet (yes, even better than in Drive). George Clooney, of course, just oozes suave and comes across as someone who could legimately run for president. Hoffman plays up the jaded veteran very well. Other noteworthy cast members include Evan Rachel Wood as a young intern who gets dragged in well over her head, Paul Giamatti as the rival campaign manager, and Marisa Tomei as the feisty New York Times executive who stops at nothing to get her story. Seriously, this movie has a lot of firepower, and it is all the better for it.

Whether you like politics or not, The Ides of March is still a pretty damn good movie that tells a very intriguing story. It can be hard to like the characters at times, and it might leave you pissed off at the end, but the script is tight and the cast is stellar. All the makings of a gripping melodrama.

8/10