Thursday Movie Picks #62: Journalist/Reporters for Print/TV

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Movies featuring journalists/reporters for print/TV

I LOVE this month’s theme as I actually wanted to be a journalist growing up. I was thisclose to enrolling in Journalism major in college before I switched to Advertising. I like a lot of film that involve journalism, especially investigative journalism that continues to be an intriguing subject today. In fact one of the films I’m anticipating later this year that screened at TIFF is SPOTLIGHT, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child molestation scandal within the local Catholic Archdiocese. These three films also involve scandalous events that’s notable in their time.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

All The President’s Men (1976)

AllPresidentsMen

Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

This was one of my Blindspot picks of last year and I’m glad I finally saw it. It’s as much a detective tale as it is about journalism. I like how the story stays focused on the investigative aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Robert Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life. The two leads Redford and Dustin Hoffman are in top form here, but it also feature fantastic supporting performances from Hal Holbrook who played Woodward’s extremely secretive source, “Deep Throat.”

The Insider (1999)

TheInsider

A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco

This film (as well as HEAT) is why I will always admire Michael Mann. I was disappointed by Blackhat but I think he’s still a phenomenal filmmaker that can infuse such a compelling drama to an otherwise ho-hum story. Russell Crowe gave one of his best performances in his illustrious career, which I think deserved a Best Actor Oscar more than his role in Gladiator. I dedicated this post to highlight some of the scenes I love from this film. The relationship between Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), the whistle blower of the mammoth tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s and Lowell Bergman, a senior producer on 60 Minutes (Al Pacino) is compelling to watch. It’s amazing how even just two people talking on the phone can be so riveting, but that’s the genius of Mann’s style. Lots of great supporting cast here too, most notably Christopher Plummer as the legendary CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, Bruce McGill as trial lawyer Ron Motley, and Michael Gambon as the top tobacco company exec.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

VeronicaGuerin

Based on a true story, this is about the Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, a reporter for The Sunday Independent, who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons and drug lords in 1996.

One of my all time favorite Cate Blanchett performances, where she totally disappeared into   her role. Cate not only portrays the feisty reporter, she embodies the journalist’s incredible valor in investigating Dublin’s drug trafficking. You immediately believe her as the character and the Aussie thespian even nailed Guerin’s Irish accent convincingly. I know some of you might be put off by Joel Shumacher as director, but it’s a good film, so give it a shot if you haven’t already. It’s one of the great examples of the danger of investigative journalism and how some of them are truly unsung heroes for their bravery to expose things that are harmful to society.

 

BONUS PICK

Philomena (2013)

Philomena

A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

I already had the three above locked down but I still want to include this film as I haven’t reviewed it yet. I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and she’s simply phenomenal as Philomena (hey that rhymes :D) Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the script) played the disgraced former journalist Martin Sixsmith who ended up coming alongside Philomena Lee in her journey to find her long lost son. A lot of his acting consist of bewildered reaction to Philomena, especially the part where she basically divulges the entire plot of a trashy book she’s reading that he couldn’t possibly be more disinterested in. It’s a bittersweet story that made me laugh and cry. Dame Judi is mesmerizing here and she’s as effortlessly adept in comedy as she is in dramatic roles. I find the story to be poignant, thought-provoking, and profoundly moving.

……


What do you think of my picks? Which movies involving journalism/reporting are your favorites?

March 2014 Blind Spot: All The President’s Men (1976)

AllThePresidentsMenBnr

This month’s Blind Spot is a ‘hit two birds with one stone’ type of a thing in that it’s part of the conspiracy movies I’ve been bingeing on in anticipation of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s something I’ve been wanting to see for ages, glad I finally got around to it.

I wasn’t even born yet when the scandal happened in 1972, starting with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in D.C. I’ve seen Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on TV over the years and I think I may have known they’re the journalists who first uncovered the scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation, but I never realized just how they got there.

It’s a testament to Alan J. Pakula‘s shrewd direction and Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman‘s excellent performances that this film remains as gripping as ever, even watched for the first time 38 years after its release. It’s the quintessential political conspiracy drama that earns its ‘true classic’ label, it currently sits at #77 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list. I actually watched this film just a day after Pakula’s other conspiracy movie made just two years earlier, The Parallax View, but I enjoyed this one a whole lot more. Obviously I already know that Woodward and Bernstein survived the whole ordeal, but that fact in no way lessens the suspense of the film. It’s perhaps the best film about investigative journalism, and no doubt it’s the film shown in every journalism class in America. Believe it or not, I actually wanted to be a journalist when I first came to the States, so I might’ve seen some clips of this in my Broadcast Journalism class in college.

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Woodward & Bernstein: In the movie & in a real life photo

I was completely engrossed in the story, but not only in terms of the scandal itself, but in the realistic depiction of how the journalists work on their story, as a lot of the film take place within The Washington Post. There’s a scene where the veteran Bernstein started making revisions of Woodward’s drafts without first consulting him. “I don’t mind that you did it,” Woodward said, “I just mind how you did it.” Clearly they didn’t get off on the right foot, but they soon bonded over their tenacity to get to the bottom of this story. There’s a nice rapport between the two actors that worked well here. Clearly the two reporters are such workaholics and became so consumed with the story. I’d think that real journalists have a bit of that obsessive streak in them when they’re following the trail of a story, especially something as important as this one. Little did they know where the story would lead, as the trail just kept getting higher up the chain of the Republican Party and eventually all the way to the White House!

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All the dialog between Woodward & Bernstein and the editors, played by Jack Warden and Jason Robards are quite fascinating, as it shows how risky it was to break a story like this. Amongst the supporting cast, Robards was particularly memorable as Benjamin Bradlee, the then executive editor at the Post. He’s very convincing as a seasoned journalist and has the gravitas required for the role. The scenes in a parking garage where Woodward held his secret meet-up with Deep Throat (a pseudonym the journalists give to the secret informant) is rife with tension, handled brilliantly in an eerie, atmospheric way. Hal Holbrook is perfectly effective in his brief appearance, adding so much to his character and making it practically iconic. “Follow the money,” he says, in one of the most memorable quotes in William Goldman‘s Oscar-winning screenplay.



The scenes where Bernstein coerced his sources to talk are particularly intriguing, especially the one with the book keeper of Committee to Re-elect the President (with an appropriate acronym of CREEP). Jane Alexander was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and I agree that’s quite a fantastic performance. She only had about 8-minute screen time in the entire film, about the same number of minutes Dame Judi Dench appeared in her Oscar-nominated turn in Shakespeare in Love. Truly, there’s really not a boring moment here even during the most seemingly mundane stuff like typing or people talking on the phone. There’s a six-minute continuous tracking shot of Redford being on the phone, according to IMDb trivia, DP Gordon Willis did that in one take!

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I’m surprised Willis was not nominated for an Oscar for his work here, though later on he received an Honorary Academy Award in 2010. I love how he used a variety of creative shots, such as the one where the two reporters were doing meticulous research at the Library of Congress. The camera shot them from above, starting with a close up of their hands sifting through a mountain of library slips and it slowly pulls away, accompanied by the sound of rustling paper and very subtle background music. No words are spoken but it’s a powerful scene. I found this wonderful Mise-en-scène article on this exact scene where the author astutely observed that … “The scene symbolically represents the story of the film, that of two men against an entire administration. It expresses the immensity of the task that lay ahead for the reporters, not just in searching through library cards, but in revealing the truth behind the misdeeds of the administration.”


I love the attention to details of this film, the clothes, the sets, and all the details within The Post headquarter. Apparently the design department of the film even made a replica of the out of date phone books to make it even more authentic! I’m sure there are countless details that I failed to catch. This is definitely the kind of film that warrants subsequent viewings in order to get the details I’ve missed on initial viewing.

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I’ll end this review with one last observation. I like how the story stays focused on the journalism aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life.

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of All The President’s Men? I’d love to hear what you think!

Question of the Week: Which conspiracy movies would you recommend?

My hubby and I opted for home cinema this weekend. Specifically we’re catching up on 70s conspiracy thrillers in anticipation for The Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Huh? Well, if you’ve been reading articles about the sequel to the First Avenger, you might’ve read that the filmmakers have said that The Winter Soldier is essentially a conspiracy thriller. I’ve read here and other sites that directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo were influenced by the likes of Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View (check out our contributor’s Jack Deth’s in-depth review here) and Marathon Man. This article suggested 5 things to watch before watching The Winter Soldier and The Parallax View (1974) made an appearance again, as well as All The President’s Men (1976).

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Well, so we ended up watching both of those movies. All The President’s Men is on my Blind Spot list anyway, so it’s like catching two birds with one stone. I’ll have my review of that in the last Tuesday of this month. Both of these are directed by Alan J. Pakula within two years of each other. While both are excellent & thought-provoking conspiracy thrillers, I enjoyed All The President’s Men more as the pacing is a bit better. I’m just not as impressed with Warren Beaty (and his distractingly big hair) than w/ Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman, but both films are certainly worth seeing.

Now, I’ve always been a big fan of conspiracy thriller movies. On the top of my head, apart from the ones I’ve mentioned above, these are some of the best ones I’ve seen so far: The Conversation, State of Play (the 2009 movie), The Insider, The International, Michael Clayton, The Constant Gardener, No Way Out. I got some nice recommendations from this blog, and that’s just from the 70s!

Surely there are a bazillion out there I’ve missed out on, so in the spirit of recommendations between us movie fans, I ask you this:

What conspiracy movies have you seen that you’d highly recommend?

Musings on actors-turned-directors… who are your favorites?

Seems like every other week there’s news that another actor is trying their hand at directing. Just this past month alone, I read that James Franco is supposedly directing a Lindsay Lohan biopic (??) and Philip Seymour Hoffman seems ready to be back in the director’s chair (after Jack Goes Boating) with a Depression-era ghost story Ezekiel Moss. Dustin Hoffman—unrelated to Philip by the way, in case you’re wondering—just completed his first film Quartet, as I talked about in the TCFF lineup post.

This trend is hardly new though, after all as far back as Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier, many thespians have done work behind the camera, and some have become quite successful at it. I haven’t done my top ten list yet, I might do another collaborative effort with my pal Ted at some point, but I think Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Woody Allen and Ben Affleck would probably make my list. Affleck seems to flourish under his own direction, as he seems better in front of the camera when he’s also behind the camera, case in point: The Town and the upcoming ARGO which is getting rave reviews. In the case of Allen though, I much prefer that he stays behind the camera as I don’t like his neurotic style as an actor.

Why Do So Many Actors Want to Become Directors?

Do they just like the idea of being a multi-hyphenated artist?? I’m sure there’s a certain degree of pride that comes with being a double or triple threat (if they also write their own script) in the industry. But I’d think that for most, it’s about extending one’s creativity in the film-making business. Generally speaking, directors usually have the most creative control in making a film, though of course the studio often has a lot of input that often change the direction of the final piece. Some top actors might have a close connection with the director they’re working with, offering a lot of creative input to the film, but perhaps for some, that’s not enough.

Not every actor-turned-director is created equal obviously, but I’d think that seasoned actors have the filming experience behind them to help get a compelling performance out of fellow actors. They know what it’s like being in front of the lens, what the actors might be feeling, the challenges of getting a certain emotion across, etc. better than those who have never acted before. Perhaps it’s the ’empathy’ factor is what makes them become successful directors, and some actor have become more well-known as directors than actors (Allen, Howard, Reiner), though people like Eastwood have the talents to juggle both worlds equally.

Well, now I’d like to turn things over to you and ask you to vote your favorite actors-turned-directors. Cast your vote below!


Remember, you can pick up to three. Feel free to share your top five or top 10 in the comments, and tell me which movie(s) of theirs are your favorites.

DVD Picks: Love Stories for Grown-Ups: Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day & Last Chance Harvey

With all the Gen Y and teenybopper flicks out there, how about a couple of poignant love stories for grown-ups?

Both of these films deal with middle-aged people finding love, even though story-wise they can’t be more different.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (2008)

pettigrewI’ve been wanting to see this for quite some time, particularly after Lee Pace blew me away with his performance in The Fall, which leads me to IMDB him (yes, that’s a word as much as google has become one) and see what else this bloke has done.

Miss Pettigrew… tells the story of a penniless London governess in desperate need of a job who ends up in the house of a glamorous American actress, Delysia Lafosse. It’s a rather fluffy fairytale story but a delightful and entertaining one nonetheless, largely because of Frances McDormand and Amy Adams‘ performance as the title role and miss Lafosse, respectively. It’s an example of how a fairly simplistic story can be so much more with perfect casting, down to the supporting casts that include two of my favorite British character actors Mark Strong and Ciaran Hinds (best known as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome).

It’s fitting that fellow blogger M. Carter calls McDormand an actress that’s ‘perfect for every part.’ At first I wasn’t sure what to make of her in this, but she carries her role with aplom and a touch of whimsy, even her British accent is pretty darn good. As Lafosse’s social secretary, Guinevere Pettigrew is suddenly catapulted into London’s glitzy world. The movie shows a nice contrast between her straight-laced character and the unscrupulous Lafosse who pretty much sleeps her way to the top.

The actress lives in a fancy apartment belonging to Nick (Mark Strong), a wealthy nightclub owner, but at the same time she’s fooling around with the young son of a producer of a musical she wishes to star in. That’s not all, her third boyfriend, nightclub pianist Michael (Lee Pace) is also thrown into the mix, which forces the disconcerted Guinevere to be little creative (ok, tricky) in making sure her boss’ dalliance doesn’t cost her the musical role nor the fancy apartment. The overwhelming sequence of events happen within 24-hours (it’s like a whimsical retro episode of 24 without Jack Bauer). In that short period of time, Miss Pettigrew herself ends up finding romance in an unlikely circumstance. Her suitor Joe Bloomfield (Ciaran Hinds) is a lingerie designer from a humble beginning, whose conversation with Guinevere is one of the heartfelt and less frivolous moments of the movie.

Amy Adams is just as bubbly (if not more) here as she was in Enchanted, yet she has that rare gift that makes any character she plays so darn lovable despite her vice. She also looks as if she belongs in pre-WW II era, those teeny-tiny waisted skirts and dresses fit her perfectly. The costume design and cinematography are exquisite, see some of the images from the movie in this interior designer’s blog.

The fairy tale ending is to be expected, wrapped with a pretty red bow even an air raid warning in the brink of war can’t dampen its buoyant spirit. But hey, some movies are made for pure escapism, and on that note, this movie delivers and then some.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Last Chance Harvey (2008)

HarveyI saw this on the plane back from Bali. Although dealing a similar theme of ‘you’re never too old to find love,’ this one is no fairy tale. In fact, what’s great about Last Chance Harvey is its realness and honest-to-goodness quandary most of us can relate. Boasting two top-notch performers who are on top of their game, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson make a delightful and endearing couple.

Set in London, Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a divorced and workaholic jingle-writer on the verge of losing his job. He is in London to attend his estranged daughter’s wedding, only to realize how distant he is from his own family that she decides to ask her stepfather to give her away instead. Heartbroken, Harvey attends the wedding anyway, only to be interrupted by an emergency work call during the ceremony, but he ends up missing his flight and gets fired.

What a double whammy for Harvey, and it all happens within a day! But you never know when life can take an unexpected turn, that’s one of the lessons this movie tells me. It’s when he’s sulking away at an airport bar that he bumps into Kate, who’s dealing with her own bad day the best way she knows how, with a glass of wine and a book. Emma is a wonderful actress whose acting style is so natural it’s as if she’s not acting at all. Her witty, comical yet poignant banter with Dustin is what makes this movie great. No need for fancy camera work, great costumes or any CGI of any kind in this movie, as watching these two act against each other is the best ‘special effect’ there is.

Well, if there is another fantastic element that nearly stole my attention away from these two, it would be the gorgeous London scenery. I’d rent this one again just to ‘take a tour’ around the beautiful city. The location is a perfect backdrop for the love journey they share, as their chance meeting leads to lunch, a walk around the city, even going back to Harvey’s daughter’s reception together. Despite her hapless love life—illustrated brilliantly at her blind date with a younger man that leaves her out of her element—Kate is still optimistic about life, which unwittingly helps Harvey gets his ‘spark’ back as well. Just like any real-life romances, things aren’t always smooth sailing. We often run into disappointment and heartbreak, whether the circumstance is intentional or planned.Yet everyone deserves a second chance, or third or fourth, and that’s what this movie is all about.

This is a slow-paced romantic film and the storyline isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but great performances and well-written dialogue keeps it fresh and far from boring. In fact, it’s a real gem of a flick that shines brilliantly amongst all the big budget & trivial selections lining up your movie rental walls.

4 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen either one of these? If so, what did you think?