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 #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

Movie Project #22 and #23: Zodiac [2007] and Unforgiven [1992]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Zodiac [2007]
Zodiac [2007, Fincher]
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo

Zodiac is one of the only David Fincher films that I hadn’t seen, and I was particularly intrigued by its strong cast and dark subject matter. The movie revolves around the infamous Zodiac killer that terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. While the cast is extensive, the story focuses mainly on those working to find the killer and reveal his identity. Three men in particular become obsessed with the story: Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a newspaper crime reporter who is trying to decrypt the letters that the killer is sending the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper’s political cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall), has better luck at this and becomes outright consumed with determining the Zodiac’s identity. Finally, there is Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who is officially assigned to the case. All three men reach incredible lows as the case gets the best of them. This is a story of obsession more than anything.

Zodiac is a rather exhausting film, clocking in at a whopping 157 minutes. There is certainly a lot of story to tell, and the character development is a major plus, but I still feel a good twenty minutes or so could have been removed. This issue aside, the film does a stunning job transporting viewers into the 1970s. Everything from the vintage clothing to the old muscle cars to Mark Ruffalo’s epic sideburns help encapsulate the era. Fincher’s directing, as expected, is wonderful, and the cast delivers strong performances overall. There’s a lot to like about Zodiac, but it didn’t blow me away like other Fincher films. 7.5/10

Unforgiven [1992, Eastwood]
Unforgiven [1992, Eastwood]
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

When it comes to Clint Eastwood, I still have a lot of catching up to do. I have missed out on a lot of his most well-regarded films over the years, and Unforgiven was perhaps my most glaring omission. This 1992 Best Picture winner really impressed me, and it is easily in the top three or five Western films I have ever seen. Eastwood stars as Will Munny, a reformed outlaw (and recent widow) who is persuaded to take on one last job to make money to support his two young children. He recruits his old partner-in-crime, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), to help him out, and they form a reluctant trio with a tough-talking youngster (Jaimz Woolvett). Their journey brings them to the hard-living town of Big Whiskey, where a group of prostitutes have pooled together a reward for whoever kills the two men that sliced up the face of one of their workers. The town is run with an iron fist by Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a mean son-of-a-bitch who has banned all weapons from those passing by.

Unforgiven is dark and violent, but it tells one hell of a story. The movie has a bit of a slow burn (which I loved, though it may grow tedious for others) before exploding into chaos and mayhem during the last twenty minutes. The drastic change near the end was so explosive that I still can’t stop thinking about it. Many of the characters seem like decent folk at first, but their evil ways start to seep through over time, clearly showing that no one ever really changes. The progression of Little Bill stands out most, as he seems to have decent motives for his town (no weapons, no crime), but his violent behavior makes him absolutely frightening. Eastwood, Hackman, and Freeman are all amazing here, and I also really enjoyed Richard Harris’s character of English Bob, a sniveling coward of a man. The cast, the set pieces, the story of revenge and change… I loved so much about Unforgiven. A great film, and one of my favorites so far in this project. 9/10

Movie Review: Due Date [2010]

Due Date [2010]

Due Date [2010]
Director: Todd Phillips
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

Due Date is a haphazard road comedy starring two unlikeable characters, a film that could have been far greater than its outcome. Robert Downey Jr. is Peter Highman, a high strung businessman who is trying to make it from Atlanta to Los Angeles in order to be there for the birth of his first child. At the Atlanta airport, he runs into Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an annoying aspiring actor who inadvertantly causes a scene and causes both men to be put on the no-fly list. The moment that allows this to happen is not as funny as you would expect. With his bags (and wallet) still on the plane, Peter has no way to rent a car and drive to LA so he begrudgingly rides along with Ethan. Yes, this is a road trip movie.

I had fairly high expectations for this film, especially considering director Todd Phillips had a major comedy hit immediately before this in the form of The Hangover. I like Downey and Galifianakis, and the trailer made this look pretty funny. While Due Date has a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, it tends to rely too heavily on its weak script and trying-too-hard-to-be-funny scenes. It doesn’t help that both of the main characters are just so unlikeable. Zach G. is a very funny guy, but he isn’t given anything to work with here. His character, Ethan, is an annoying little twat who has nary a likeable trait. Downey’s character isn’t much better due to his holier-than-thou asshole tendencies, although he does provide the “best” moment in the movie when he knocks out a child.

Due Date [2010]

A big problem is that the obligatory “gross out” scenes are stupid and unnecessary. Who thought including a random segment with a masturbating dog would be funny? Apparently the dog learned this from Ethan, who has to masturbate at night in order for him to be able to fall asleep. WTF? I don’t get how someone thought this was a good idea.

What helps keep the movie watchable is its assortment of random cameos. RZA, Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis and Jamie Foxx all have bit roles in the movie, and they do their best to keep things fresh at crucial times in the movie.

It’s unfortunate that such a talented cast was given a poor script to work with. This is a fairly simple concept — two guys with opposite personalities taking a cross country road trip — and it is a premise that could easily provide hilarious obstacles along the way. Yet it is hard to get behind the unlikeable main characters that Due Date throws at us. Still, this isn’t a terrible movie, or even a bad one. It’s just that it could have been so much more.

6/10