Good Night, and Good Luck. – Review

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3Star

by Ken B.

Good Night, and Good Luck. celebrates the power of journalism and then subtly brutally chastises contemporary journalists for an aversion to giving facts and telling the truth. The film details Edward R. Murrow (DAVID STRATHAIRN)’s mission with his colleagues at CBS News’ See It Now to expose the practices and absurdities used by Senator Joseph McCarthy during his self-aggregated Red Scare in the 1950s, at the ever-bearing risk of being the politician’s next target. Archival footage of Senate hearings are shown – “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”.

Strathairn embodies Murrow, the collected anchor, with the titular phrase “Good night, and good luck” rolling off his tongue in a disarmingly natural way. While there are plenty of scenes featuring the man in regular settings, the most memorable and praise-worthy are both the on-air sequences and the recreation of his 1958 address to the Radio-Television News Directors’ Association (RTNDA), which bookends the picture. McCarthy is simply shown via existing footage. This is fitting, since there are few actors that could believably portray the insane passion and manic attitude the man displayed throughout these infamous years of his life and career.

Atmosphere is key here. The black-and-white cinematography led by Robert Elswit is wise and at times striking – early on, the first we see of Murrow is at the start of the film, about to give his speech to the RTNDA. He is shown in silhouette and profile at the wings of the stage. White cigarette smoke flies out of his nose and mouth, dissolving over the light of the ballroom beside him. In terms of music, there is no score in the traditional sense of the word, but every half hour or so, a jazz song performed by Dianne Reaves will break through the developments of the preceding.

The script by director George Clooney (who has a supporting part as See It Now producer Fred Friendly) and producer Grant Heslov is clear and deliberate, never reaching for extra tension or fiction, but displaying the facts as they occurred, and in terms of mood, that is more than enough. However, in spite of its greatness, the screenplay is also Good Night, and Good Luck.’s major weakness. The movie, clocking in at 93 minutes, is too short. Yes, too short. The story of Murrow and McCarthy during this era is a deep and fascinating one, but at times the film feels like it’s barely scratching the surface, and instead simply running for a plain summary.

With the likes of Strathairn, Clooney, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, and Frank Langella, everyone in the main cast stands out with something to offer, no matter what the part. Their characters are parts of a goal – to expose McCarthy as terrorizing, lying, and paranoia-inducing. When the sequence comes where a handful of McCarthy’s statements are carefully debunked on an episode See It Now, we await each moment, and what will follow. Good Night, and Good Luck. is a great movie in that respect, yet disappointing in its habit of running by too quickly, and not giving us more time to linger in its style, execution, and substance.

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Coach Carter – Review

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25Star

by Ken B.

Coach Carter would have been a significantly better movie if it was a lot shorter. That may be the primary concern, shortly followed by it coming off as “just another sports biopic”. It’s about Ken Carter, who became the basketball coach at his old high school, Richmond High. It’s one of the worst places to send your kid – at one point, the principal of the school (DENISE DOWE) mentions that the school scored a “1” on a performance report scored out of 10 and on average, only half of their students are graduated. The neighborhood is awful – students are 80% more likely to be arrested than attend college.

On his first day, Carter hands out a contract: his team will sit in the front row of all their classes, achieve and maintain a 2.3 GPA (The equivalent of a C+ or the high seventies, and 0.3 points higher than the state mandate for extracurricular activities) or suffer the consequences. He sees a team that doesn’t do their schoolwork and generally disrespectful towards authority figures. The issues in their personal lives are depicted throughout the film and are quite sudden, including Kenyon (ROB BROWN) consulting with his girlfriend Kyra (ASHANTI) on how to deal with her pregnancy.

The initial results are immediate – the team begins to win more games through Carter’s no-nonsense regime. But soon, Carter discovers that there are several students failing to meet the grade requirements. In a heavily controversial decision, he benches the whole team and locks up the gym until their studies improve.

It’s all rather interesting on paper, particularly because it is based on real events that occurred in Richmond, CA in 1999. Carter is portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, who brings his usual fiery passion into his role, bringing life into otherwise generic speeches with the typical dramatic music swelling in the background. Jackson also does well in more personal scenes, including the ones where Carter interacts with his son Damien (ROBERT RI’CHARD), who wants to transfer from a private school to Richmond High in order to play for his father.

The main problem with Coach Carter is its slow pacing. Clocking in at 136 minutes, I have a hunch that you could spend at least 20 of those minutes out of the room and not miss any major plot points. There was simply too much padding for its own good. The script, written by Mark Schwahn and John Gatins contains too little originality within the genre. If you really like sports biopics, you’ll like this one, because it’s like nearly every other one ever made.

The technical execution of this ordinary script is hit and miss. The scenes shot during games are very well done. It’s vivid and sharp. But the musical score, when not backing a big speech, is barely noticeable, and the cinematography is flat, rudimentary, and lifeless.

Coach Carter is a movie that will do well in touching some people and boring others, but I don’t think anyone will see it as a complete failure. There are too many commendable aspects of the film to dismiss completely. It’s just that its flaws are too large to go unnoticed. A good movie can use its positive values to distract the viewer from its flaws, but Coach Carter is just too run-of-the-mill to stand out as anything special.

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Sahara – Review

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Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn are still in shock over the fact that “Sahara” lost money at the box office.

1-5Star

by Ken B.

You know how sometimes you’re at a party, and someone corners you and forces you to a listen to an annoying inconsequential story that you have no investment or interest in? Sahara is the movie version of that kind of thing. While it can’t be denied that this movie has its fair share of well-shot action scenes, it’s disconnected, boring at times, and features not very interesting people you’re supposed to like. For 124 minutes, we as the viewer are subjected to mostly pointless dialogue scenes, occasionally broken by the fascinating shootout, chase, or explosion.

The movie starts with Eva Rojas (PENELOPE CRUZ), a doctor for the World Heath Organization, who is in Africa investigating a spreading disease. Don’t worry, if you don’t like this plot, it’s forgotten quickly, because when an attempt is made on her life, she’s saved by adventurer Dirk Pitt (MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY). (Also, if you choose to watch this, you’ll notice that abandoning plotlines and plot points is a recurring event). Dirk Pitt works for NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency), with his comic relief friend, Al. This is a comic relief friend, so he’s played by none other than Steve Zahn. Dirk is on a mission to find a Confederate coin that was lost on the ship known as the Texas at the end of the Civil War. He recruits Eva on the mission.

The main thing missing from Sahara is joy. There’s a kind of fun that everyone wants from a popcorn blockbuster, and I’m sad to report that just can’t be found here. Another negative driving into this one is the absolutely senseless plot. I’m not talking about a fun senseless, like Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996), I’m talking about an unfinished senseless, like the screenplay, adapted from a 1992 novel, really hadn’t worked everything out itself. And while it has recognizable names, like Cruz, McConaughey, Zahn, and Rainn Wilson (also, the head of NUSA is played by William H. Macy), these parts could have been played by near anyone, as they don’t really call for much talent aside from yelling a few one-liners and reacting to surprise attacks. Visually, Sahara carries its best material. Everything contains a fair amount of detail and fascination. If this had been two hours of nonstop overhead shots, car chases, and stuff blowing up, this would have been a marginally more enjoyable experience, but Sahara really only has these things spread disappointingly apart.

When it comes to movies, it hurts me the most when something has good potential, but it doesn’t pay off. I could have easily seen Sahara as an exciting adventure movie about the search for a century-old coin, but the truth is so far from this wish that I find it slightly distressing to think about. This movie is equal parts pitiful and disappointing. I’ve sometimes wondered if these two feelings go hand in hand.

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