Fair Game – A Movie Review

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Dec 142010

As a covert officer in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, Valerie Plame leads an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Valerie’s husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, is drawn into the investigation to substantiate an alleged sale of enriched uranium from Niger. But when the administration ignores his findings and uses the issue to support the call to war, Joe writes a New York Times editorial outlining his conclusions and ignites a firestorm of controversy.

Genres: Drama, Thriller, Adaptation, Biopic and Politics; Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.; Release Date: November 5th, 2010 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language.

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Noah Emmerich, Liraz Charchi, Nicholas Sadler

Directed by: Doug Liman

We saw this in the theater the first weekend it was out. There was a decent crowd, but the theater was not packed.

The movie follows the story based on testimony and other public information.. On the other “side,” we have a list of claims that even at the time were discredited and are still discredited, but there is no “version” of how and why this country went to war with Iraq. The film leaves no argument because there is no other side. And to date, we still do not have a reason as to why the administration chose to stand before the world and make claims they knew to be discredited.

The events leading up to the declaration of war take up about half the film’s running time. In the first half, we see what Valerie Plame does at the CIA. It’s surprisingly detailed and candid and came across as authentic.  It shows how operatives are often recruited to work with inteligence services. While these various operatives are fiction, we assume they are close to the truth. And the outcome for them when the Bush Administration’s cover is blown makes one very ashamed of our leaders.

The second half of the film omits the sensational allegations concerning journalists Judith Miller and Robert Novak since neither of the principles in the film ever had contact with them. Valarie Plame and Joe Wilson were only their victims. And as the heads begin to roll the relationship of the Wilson’s takes center stage. While that’s interesting, it’s not what concerns us the most in this story. Joe Wilson, played by Sean Penn, is more gentle than the person we saw on media outlets. While Penn conveys the idealism of Wilson.

Naomi Watts, as always, gives a terrific portrayal of a woman who lives two lives. The Valerie Plame we saw at the Senate Hearings is in Watt’s performance, but we also see the strength, intelligence and commitment she makes to a job that requires her to play many sides of the same fence. For instance, there’s a domestic scene where Wilson complains about the danger of his wife’s job and he never knows where she’s going or if he’ll ever see her again. Plame patiently listens and then says, “I’m going to Cleveland.”  It’s a rich and likely accurate illustration of what it must be like to be married to someone who works for the CIA.

As he always does, Penn just stepped right into the persona of Joe Wilson. I don’t know how he does it, but he looked a lot like Wison, and just seemed to have the mannerisms I remember from Wilson’s various TV appearances down pat. The guy is just an amazing actor all around.

In the end, we leave the theater hearing only one side of the argument, and that’s because the Bush Administration has never been called to account for why they insisted on the war with Iraq. We do see why they needed to destroy the lives of these two people, and in doing so harmed much more than a married couple in Washington, DC. This is well acted, tightly written and directed with straight-forward finesse making it one of the finest films of the year.

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Dec 272008

His life changed history. His courage changed lives. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. Milk charts the last eight years of Harvey Milk’s life. While living in New York City, he turns 40. Looking for more purpose, Milk and his lover Scott Smith relocate to San Francisco, where they found a small business, Castro Camera, in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. With his beloved Castro neighborhood and beautiful city empowering him, Milk surprises Scott and himself by becoming an outspoken agent for change. With vitalizing support from Scott and from new friends like young activist Cleve Jones, Milk plunges headfirst into the choppy waters of politics. Bolstering his public profile with humor, Milk’s actions speak even louder than his gift-of-gab words. When Milk is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, he tries to coordinate his efforts with those of another newly elected supervisor, Dan White. But as White and Milk’s political agendas increasingly diverge, their personal destinies tragically converge. Milk’s platform was and is one of hope–a hero’s legacy that resonates in the here and now.

Genres: Drama, Biopic and Politics/Religion; Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.; Release Date: November 26th, 2008 (limited), December 5th (expands)

Starring: Sean Penn, Allison Pill, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco

Directed by: Gus Van Sant

We had kept watching the movie theaters for this movie to show up. We finally went to see it last week, but had to drive nearly to Clearwater for a theater showing the movie. I don’t know why it wasn’t being shown at Veterans 24 or Westshore, but it wasn’t. There was a good crowd for the showing, and I was impressed that there were many straight couples there, including some older folks.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was a GREAT movie. Now I admit you probably need to take my review with a grain of salt. Let’s be clear, I’m gay and liberal, and Harvey Milk’s politics is a nice fit for me, so I enjoyed the movie from that perspective.

But much more than that, it was a great story that was well made and well acted. All the actors did a great job, but Sean Penn (someone I’ve grown to respect a lot) just did an outstanding job. He looked and sounded so much like Milk it was uncanny. I just can’t imagine anyone else playing the roll, and this was definitely an Oscar-worthy performance. But Penn was beautifully and expertly supported by the other actors as well.

Van Sant did an outstanding job pulling together the film. He had a lot of material to cover, and it did it well. He capture the feel of the time and place perfectly, and his use of actual news footage was blended perfectly, and didn’t feel at all out of place. Again, it was an Oscar-worthy story told by an Oscar-worthy director.

On an related point, I’d like to note how I found Milk to fit in today with the recent passage of all the anti-gay initiatives. There are many things that have made it difficult to organize a sustained and effective opposition to these initiatives, but I think one of those is the lack of a central unifying figure. There are many people activists today (paid and volunteer) that do a wonderful job for gay rights. This is not meant to take anything away from their efforts, but I can’t name a single activist today that has the national profile of Harvey Milk. Barney Frank probably comes closest in terms of visibility, but he’s just not the electrifying force that was Harvey Milk. Our movement would be better off if someone like Milk emerged today.

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What Just Happened – A Movie Review

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Nov 102008

What Just Happened Movie PosterTwo nail-biting, back-stabbing, roller-coaster weeks in the world of a middle-aged Hollywood producer as he tries to juggle an actual life with an outrageous series of crises in his day job. Ben is besieged by people who want him all to be sorts of things — a money maker, an ego buster, a bad news breaker, an artistic champion, a loyal husband, an all-knowing father, not to mention sexy, youthful and tuned-in — everything except for the one thing he and all the preposterously behaved people he’s surrounded by really are: bumbling human beings just trying to survive by any means necessary.

Genres: Comedy and Adaptation; Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.; Release Date: October 17th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for language, some violent images, sexual content and some drug material.

Starring: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Lay and I went to see this movie Saturday night. The reviews are definitely not outstanding, but it was hardly a terrible movie. It certainly moved slowly in places, and a few parts were over-played. De Niro did a great job as the lead character. They did use a technique of doing fast forwards in the film. I think I know why the did it, but it really didn’t add anything, as was overdone to the point of becoming a little annoying. All-in-all though, I’d say the film is worth watching, but probably not until its out on DVD.

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All the King's Men

 Culture, Movies, Politics, Southern  Comments Off on All the King's Men
Jan 222007

All The Kings MenBased on the Robert Penn Warren novel. The life of populist Southerner Willie Stark, a political creature loosely based on Governor Huey Long of Louisiana.

Directed by
Steven Zaillian


Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Jackie Earle Haley, Kathy Baker, Talia Balsam, Travis Champagne, Frederic Forrest, Paul Desmond, Kevin Dunn, Thomas McCarthy

We watched this movie on DVD last weekend.

AS is not uncommon the critics slammed this movie and I enjoyed it.

I love movies that transport me to an exotic place and a distant time. “All the King’s Men” lushly recreates mid-century Louisiana. There’s a lot of money up on the screen, beautifully lit and photographed: vintage, boat-like automobiles, forties and fifties fashions and fabrics, Spanish moss, ante-bellum mansions, a bronze bas relief map of Louisiana, set in a floor, that is put to amazing use.

I’m a political junkie, so I went to see this movie in spite of the bad reviews. It didn’t let me down. It’s a political soap opera from the first frame to the last. Deals cut in smoke filled rooms, double crosses, fiery speeches to enthralled crowds.

Sean Penn’s performance has been panned – too much arm waving. I loved the arm waving. Penn’s arm waving doesn’t come across as forced or inorganic. This is a man who can barely contain himself — he’s a human tornado. The historical figure with whom Penn’s character, Willy Stark, is associated, Huey Long, was a powerhouse builder of bridges, hospitals, and roads. Penn conveys that kinetic energy and passion.

Thank God someone was willing to write a script in which people take some risks with language, communicate complex ideas, employ figures of speech! I loved the flowery language. This is the South, after all, from several decades ago, and, yeah, those folks did love their language skills.

Another reviewer denounced the film’s score as bombastic. It is bombastic, wonderfully so. It suits the subject matter perfectly. This isn’t a movie about a shrinking violet who sits at home and writes poetry; it’s a movie about a sweaty man who takes power and makes his mark.

Okay, so why didn’t I give the movie ten stars? Sean Penn’s character is fully realized, but the other characters are not. “All the King’s Men” is a big, fat soap opera. There’s a lot of sex, threats, lust, longing, suicide, and betrayal to fit into two hours. The film should have been longer so that characters other than Willy could have been fleshed out.

Patricia Clarkson is a case in point. Her character sets some key events in motion, but she’s barely there — either the character or the actress.

Anthony Hopkins comes across as just that — Anthony Hopkins — not the character he is playing. While everyone else does their best to produce a Southern accent, Hopkins insists on speaking with a British accent, and this sticks out like a sore thumb.

Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo are meant to be, like Blanche Dubois, representatives of degenerate Southern aristocracy, but they both seem entirely too robust to be degenerating. Jude Law is better in a similar role as a member of the fading aristocratic class. Law always seems to do well in roles where he is punished by, rather than enjoys, his beauty. Just so here. Too bad that, in key scenes, Hopkins doesn’t create any chemistry with him.

The lack of development of secondary characters — and everyone, compared to Willie Stark, is secondary here — made the film oddly emotionally unmoving to me. Again, there are scenes that contain the kind of elements that might have packed an emotional wallop that left me dry eyed.

Willy Stark’s rise to power is built on the poverty of the citizens of Louisiana. The movie didn’t convey that poverty to me. According to one website devoted to Huey Long, Lousiana had three hundred miles of paved road, two bridges, and high illiteracy rates when Long took office. If true, those stats are startling.

Finally, something else was missing, for me. Whenever one observes a charismatic politician, there is always the question: Does he really care about the people? Or is he just addicted to the adulation? I never had that question about Sean Penn’s Willy Stark, as I do about, say, Bill Clinton. Willy Stark, here, is imperfect, but sincere. He wants to help his people.

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