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Amazingly this is an excellent movie. It is amazing because in this day and age when Hollywood has opted to play up sensationalist glitz at the expense of substance, this movie does just the opposite. It tells a story. It does so in a straightforward manner, with no gratuitous scenes of violence or seedy sex. The story depicts a team of reporters who do a job, and do it right. They have some leads, develop their sources, collect the evidence, put it all together and publish a story. What they did took a lot of courage. Michael Keaton gives a strong performance as the leader of the team of reporters. However, it is Mark Ruffalo who emerges as the star of this movie. His performance dominates the movie. The subject of the story is controversial and sensitive. It deals with a religious institution that allows itself to become a cover for sexual perverts and then tries to cover up the mess, in the process deceiving the public. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this movie is based on a true story. That's why this movie must be watched.
A high school failure and a desperate prostitute fall in love. Some story. Nothing contrived here. The movie includes an all-star cast that turn in powerful performances. Carolyn Jones's performance is outstanding, absolutely deserving of official recognition. Her performance dominates the movie. Walter Matthau is impressive as a racketeer and thug who will stop at nothing to get his way. Elvis Presley gives a strong performance as the young man who has to make difficult choices. He also sings several songs, all of which are excellent. In fact, the movie is worth watching for the musical soundtrack alone. But what makes this movie great is the story. It starts off slow but then the dramatic tension builds. The movie is surprisingly dramatic, engaging and entertaining. Filmed in black and white, that adds a film noir element to the movie which further intensifies the story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Verify, verify, verify, except if you're a reporter in a Hollywood movie or a political operative masquerading as a reporter. A reporter deliberately goes out of her way to use an entire television news broadcast network as a cover to fabricate a news story meant to smear the President of the United States. She does this to promote a political agenda. The fabrication is so obvious, so grotesque and so transparent that it gives one cause to actually feel sympathy for her intended target. That alone, however, does not make this film a bad movie. The problem is that movie then tries to depict the reporter as a martyr for freedom of speech. At that point the story loses any semblance of coherence, and humor. It takes a steep nose dive to cinematic oblivion. The principal character of this movie, Mary Mapes, is so bad, reckless and shrill that she is reduced to being a caricature for the type who makes lots of noise to cover up their incompetence. Using, or rather abusing, her position as a lead reporter for a major television network, Mapes reveals herself for what she really is: a political operative masquerading as a reporter, and in the process nearly brings down an entire news organization. If this movie was meant to be a comedy or a spoof on network news, it might have generated some laughs as the front office big shots frantically scramble to limit the damage caused by a hysterical woman reporter who's a cross between Lucy Ricardo and Maude Findlay. Indeed, Lucille Ball or Beatrice Arthur would have been hilarious in this movie. Instead, the story plods along to its inevitably dismal conclusion with all who have anything to do with Mapes being ruined. This movie is an updated version of All the President's Men, except in reverse. This time, it's the reporters who are the bad guys. The story is negative, the acting stagy, interpersonal conflicts contrived, all of it depicting journalism at its most sordid. The only solid performance is that by Robert Redford playing a whimsical and hapless Dan Rather who knows that he's being taken for a ride by Mapes but can do nothing except report the junk that Mapes is feeding him because that's his job. Put it on the teleprompter and he'll read it. Discretion is not part of his program. After all, he's the anchorman and it's a story. If the story happens to be fabricated, then that's just a minor glitch.
A man has an idea: everyone on the planet can have his or her own personal computer or PC. The PC would be totally interactive and could be taken anywhere; it would be ascetically attractive and be both a toy and and decorative object. Yes, a great idea. In this movie, this man's idea gets buried inside a mountain of techno-babble and interminable griping that obscures the story to the point that it loses its cohesiveness. The story starts in the middle of something and ends in the middle of something. The man withe the idea is, of course, Steve Jobs. He is portrayed by Michael Fassbender whose physical similarity to Jobs is uncanny. His performance is powerful and dominates the movie. Unfortunately the same adjective, powerful, cannot be applied to the movie itself. More apt would be the adjectives choppy and confusing. If one is not already familiar with the story of Steve Jobs, this movie will make no sense. Just a story of two guys at odds with each other over whose should get credit for a computer. That does raise an interesting question: who's more important - the creator of a product or the person who sells it? This leads to another question: Who cares? In this movie Steve Jobs is depicted as supercilious, pushy, arrogant, argumentative and self-centered. Not exactly the most attractive qualities to show on the screen. Who wants to watch a movie about a grouchy guy? To balance this, the movie includes a stock character, the faithful assistant, played by Kate Winslet as Ms Hoffman. But even she has her run-ins with the moody Jobs. He gets along with no one. This raises yet another question: if Jobs is so prissy and nasty, then how is it that he managed to be such a huge success in an industry that required the ability to mobilize highly educated and intellectually gifted people and gain their cooperation? Jobs must have been doing something right.
This movie is long, stagy, pretentious and boring. The acting is hammy, and the characters are drab and inspire little interest. The tension should have been gripping. Instead it is absent. The ending of movie is already known and is anti-climatic. The movie seems to suggest that Abel was not treated fairly and downplays the seriousness of his crimes and the sinister nature of his work. The treatment of Francis Gary Powers is completely superficial, which makes the story even weaker. For an audience not familiar with the history surrounding Abel and Powers, this movie will not make any sense at all. This movie contains no heroes, heroines, no damsels in distress, none of the stock characters and situations usually employed to give a story some substance. Instead, the movie just plods along to its foregone conclusion. Why would any movie maker find such bland characters worthy of a movie? The real story is how the Soviets managed to shoot down an American spy plane flying at 70,000 feet. How the Soviets were able to detect and target a U2 flying at that altitude is not explained, nor is the huge political fallout caused by the Powers debacle even mentioned. Indeed, the names of Eisenhower and Khrushchev are absent, yet in the actual event they were the key players, and by leaving them out, there's no story.
The movie contains huge doses of violence, profanity, tobacco and alcohol use. That's already a bad sign that there's something wrong with the story. Here's the problem: the audience is expected to accept the concept of gangster as hero (played by Benicio del Toro). If you are okay with that premise, then the story makes sense (vendatta - bad guy becoming good guy to go after other bad guys who did him wrong, for whatever reason). If not, then be prepared lots of gratuitous violence and mayhem, as the FBI is co-opted to cover for flagrant and wholesale violations of international law. There is one scene in the movie depicting a fire fight that alone would have sparked a war, or at least a call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council. In fact, including such a scene would have improved this movie immensely. The thing is, unless the movie is meant to be a morality tale, there has to be a clear delineation between the good guys and bad guys. That this movie lacks, thus making the story pointless. This movie depicts US paramilitary forces conducting military operations in a foreign country to deal with a criminal problem. True, the story is fiction. The problem is that as the line between who is good and who is bad gets blurred, the story get muddled. After a while, it is difficult to tell the difference between the good guys and bad guys. Granted that the drug cartel guys are bad guys. But when compared to the brazen tactics being used by the other side, it raises doubts as to who is posing more of a threat to the public safety - the the gangsters or the guys with the badges. What good are having bad guys if the good guys are no good too? Without revealing details of story, suffice it to say that if the shenanigans depicted in this movie occurred for real, the US government would have a lot of explaining to do
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie opens with a group of persons in space suits collecting rocks in desert-like terrain that purportedly is Mars. Apparently this is a scientific mission. Then a hurricane like wind storm blows and the mission has to be aborted, quickly. One of the crew is struck with flying debris and is left behind. He is presumed (erroneously and without confirmation) to have died. The crew member's death is reported to NASA, which is in charge of the mission. NASA accepts the report as final and announces that the crew member had died. The crew member is given an elaborate funeral. Then, by sheer accident, a NASA technician monitoring a satellite orbiting Mars discovers that the crew member is alive and is actually moving about on the surface. What is NASA supposed to do? Attempt a recovery which could put the rest of crew at risk? A NASA mission has left one of their own on Mars to die. He was abandoned. The moral, legal and political implications are obvious. This build up offers almost unlimited dramatic potential. At this point the movie tanks, badly. Instead of tapping into the dramatic potential to further increase the tension, the movie becomes formalistic, predictable and boring. The abandoned crew man remains affable, still a team player. That he was left behind by his comrades as dead generates at most slight annoyance. Instead of being overwhelmed with despair and engulfed by terror, which would have been exceedingly dramatic, he is listening to disco music, and, even more amazingly, growing food under conditions that defy all known science. Much of this is amusing, but only because it is so unrealistic and contrived as to generate unintended laughter. On earth the NASA administrator, played by Jeff Daniels who gives the only solid performance in the movie (which is why the movie is rated a 2 instead of "awful"), does not want to order a rescue mission. Thus he becomes the "heavy" or the "bad guy" when actually the real "bad guy" is the commander of the mission who stupidly, and without any corroborating evidence, presumes that her crew member was killed and instead of telling the truth, that the crew member was missing, then compounds the lie and the political fallout by passing it on to her superiors who later are forced to eat their words when the truth finally emerges. Such a scenario, if depicted with sufficient dramatic power, would have been a pivotal point in the story. Instead, the commander's poor judgment is never fully explained, her irresponsibility and lack of common sense glossed over. True, the commander is shown having pangs of guilt, but she remains quiet until such time that she is informed of her error, which by that point is anticlimactic. Then the rest of the movie is about her wanting to go back to Mars to save her crew man, the same man she abandoned. Ridiculous. She goofed, big time, and nobody demands that she account for her decision, not the one to leave a crew member behind, but to officially report him as dead. From that point on, the story devolves into just another formalistic potboiler with lots of overblown special effects that do nothing to make up for the huge holes in the plot, the inane dialogue, the wholesale jettisoning of scientific plausibility (Growing potatoes on Mars? Hurricane force winds on a planet with an atmosphere that is practically a vacuum? Terrain that looks surprisingly like Monument Valley? De-compressing an entire space craft without it completely crumbling? The crewman not bleeding to death after being impaled in the abdomen by a long sharp piece of metal?) or the spotty acting. As for the last item, sometimes a great actor can take mediocre material and raise it to a higher artistic level. Suffice it to say, in this movie that does not happen. Damon cannot save this movie nor does he seem to make an effort to try. No great dramatic scenes. No sense of crisis. No recriminations. No nothing.
Did anyone involved in making this movie really believe that this movie is good? This movie is so shallow that it makes a puddle look like an ocean. The idea of mixing a pompously acting Robert De Niro with a hysterically acting Anne Hathaway is an example of how not generate on-screen chemistry. Not that the acting is bad. It's the story. It's one ongoing cliché. It is a combination of dull, boring, and contrived. It's Father Knows Best meets I Love Lucy, except in this case the characters take themselves seriously. This movie manages to take several important social themes and reduce them to pulp, and even worse, reduce the principal characters to clichés. A bored older retiree with nothing but time and a manic young business woman. C'mon! Not exactly the cutting edge of literary originality. And what is worse, they are not funny characters. The supporting cast is funny, but they are not the principal players. Now the story has potential. The movie actually starts strongly. The De Niro character is introduced and his issues clearly presented. Then the movie tanks, and tanks quickly. A promising start leads to a contrived story and muddled finale. This movie reaffirms the old movie maxim - never judge a movie by its coming attractions.
Why is this not a great movie? The movie plays up the wrong character. It should have played up Connolly instead of Bulger. That Connolly became corrupted is actually what this movie is about. Connolly is a detestable character. At any given moment, there are people in society committing crimes, some relatively minor and others far more serious. That's a given. Their actions have been depicted in so many movies and television shows that it is no longer novel. But an FBI agent becoming corrupted? That's a completely different, and far more dramatic, story. When that happens, the entire country is placed at risk. The FBI is supposed to be the bastion of law, the country's protector against those who pose a threat to public safety, and when that deterrent gets compromised, as happens in this movie well, the social and political implications should be the story. The movie touches on the subject but does not develop it further, instead choosing to showcase Bulger's violence, which is depicted repeatedly and graphically throughout the movie. That the FBI provides cover for an entire criminal syndicate is alluded to but remains undeveloped. Nevertheless, this movie is good. The story is intense. The acting is powerful, and the movie grabs the audience's attention. Johnny Depp does an excellent job portraying a psychopathic killer. The performances of the rest of the cast is equally excellent, especially that of Joel Edgerton as the corrupted FBI agent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bobby Fischer is depicted as being moody, pushy, nasty, obstinate, possibly mentally ill. At times he is outright detestable. The problem with the movie, therefore, is that although it seems intent on depicting Fischer as a sympathetic character, one who is being manipulated for political reasons, the exact opposite is achieved. Instead of coming off as a hapless victim, Fischer is depicted as contributing to his own victimization, thus making his character far less sympathetic. Like his handlers, Fischer himself has no use for Communists and lets his feelings be known loudly on that subject. He also has no use for his mother who to him is little more than a Bolshevik whore, hence the basis for Fischer's mouthing off about communism. Thus, he's not cut out to be a Cold Warrior. Patriotism does not figure into Fischer's actions. All he wants is to be left alone so he can prove that he is greatest chess player in the world and make a lot of money. He doesn't need or want the political notoriety which to him is nothing but a distraction. Pay him enough money and he'll play chess anywhere in the world. Of course, Fischer's wishes are ignored and soon chess when played by Bobby Fischer is transformed into a weapon, and the player into a warrior. The question is: how does Fisher handle such pressure? The answer is: not well. One wants to sympathize with him. Even the White House is urging Fisher to play. Nobody really cares about Fischer personally. He's just being used. Yet, he is depicted as being so prissy, self-centered and mean spirited that it is virtually impossible to sympathize with his him or empathize with his plight. In the movie, Fischer is as nasty as his handlers are deceptive. Nothing about him is lovable. Even as a child he is argumentative. As a young child he tells his mother's boyfriend to get out of the house and then scolds his mother for being a communist. Far from being a hapless victim or politically naive, Fischer fully understands what his handlers expect from him, which, not unreasonably, just makes him angrier and more oppositional. Soon, people are questioning Fisher's sanity. After all, how could he possibly believe that the Russians are rigging the matches and tapping his phone? (This at a time when it was standard practice for the KGB to engage in all kinds of covert espionage activities. So Fischer's concerns were not far-fetched.) Not surprisingly, he eventually chucks his career, and then becomes, not surprisingly, a fugitive from US justice over, again not surprisingly, another controversy involving Bobby Fisher and chess. For the rest of his life Fischer is forced to live the life of an expatriate even though he did nothing to warrant such harsh treatment. This effectively ended the career of a world champion chess player whose only "crime" was refusing to let himself become a pawn in the big chess game being played between the US and the USSR. But despite the shoddy way Fischer is treated, still in this movie we're glad to watch him go. It's a relief. After all, according to the movie, Bobby Fischer was nothing but an obnoxious ingrate and a chronic complainer, and who wants to deal with a chronic complainer?
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