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)

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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?

Top 10 inspiring Biopics to see this holiday season… or any time of the year

Christmas is always a special time for me. It’s not just another holiday, as there is someone’s birth I am celebrating for His gift to humanity. So as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, it’d be most appropriate to focus on the theme of inspiration. The word itself came from the Latin word inspīrāre which means ‘to breathe upon or breathe life into.

inspire (ɪnˈspaɪə)
— vb
to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate

Certain films have a power to inspire us, especially those that are based on a real person. Of course Hollywood often takes creative license with the films, but so long as the essence of the story is there, it can still very much inspire us. Note that I’m limiting the list to films from 1980s and up just to help narrow things down.

So without further ado, here are 10 biopics I have seen so far that I find the most inspiring (in alphabetical order):

Amazing Grace (2006)

The idealist William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic slave trade.

I saw this a while ago and I wish more people had seen this. This movie’s release coincided with the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first anti-slave trade bill, ending 400 years of slave trading. The main protagonist, William Wilberforce is a faithful British member of Parliament. Ioan Gruffud is excellent in the title role, conveying the emotional and physical struggles battling illness and one setback after another in the two decades he fought to end slave trading in England.

AmazingGrace

Along the way, he’s encouraged by his mentor John Newton (portrayed marvelously by Albert Finney), the author of the beloved hymn of the movie’s title, a repentant former slave trader. He’s also helped by his allies, PM William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), a scholarly former slave Olaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour), as well as his loving and influential wife, Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). Though it’s heavy on the history and political aspect, but the redemptive values aren’t lost in the process. It’s one of those rare Hollywood films with a deep passion for goodness and virtue that’s entertaining as well as inspiring. The performances of mostly-British talents, which also includes Ciaran Hinds and Rufus Sewell, are top notch, but ultimately it’s the profound message and inspiring story that makes this a winning feature.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

It’s one of those sports biopics that is so much more than the sports itself. Both Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell are both gifted Olympic-worthy sprinters, but what set them apart is the motivation behind each athlete. Abrahams has something to prove to himself and those around him, and Liddell runs for the glory of God. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

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The rivalry between the two isn’t so much about who’s better or more righteous, as both stood for what they believed in. Each of them is motivated by their own personal values and convictions, nary of any political agenda nor hostility, that alone is inspiring. The physical and spiritual conflicts presented here made for a rich human drama with plenty of teachable moments. For one, there is a good message about one’s preoccupation of winning at any cost that ultimately lead to empty victories. Hugh Hudson‘s brilliant direction, David Watkin‘s exquisite cinematography and Vangelis’ powerful score made this film a classic, one that can be passed down from one generation to the next as it’s the kind of timeless stories people of all ages can appreciate.

Conviction (2010)

A working mother puts herself through law school in an effort to represent her brother, who has been wrongfully convicted of murder and has exhausted his chances to appeal his conviction through public defenders.

Just like Amazing Grace, this is another overlooked small-budget-with-big-story that I highly recommend. Featuring two excellent performances by Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell as Betty Anne and Kenny Waters, I was inspired by Betty Anne’s undeniable love and loyalty for her brother, which leads to her unrelenting quest to get upturn his conviction, even getting a law degree whilst struggling to support her own family.

Conviction

It’s quite heart-wrenching to see the struggles Betty Anne had to go through, helped only by her sympathetic lawyer friend Abra (Minnie Driver). Coping with one setback after another, yet she kept on hoping and trying even when Kenny himself seemed to have given up. It’s a compelling drama about the power of love that triumphs even in the most difficult circumstances.

Finding Neverland (2004)

The story of J.M. Barrie’s friendship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan.

It’s one of those heart-warming stories of unlikely friendships that is beautifully presented on screen. Johnny Depp at his most charming yet understated role and Kate Winslet is lovely as always as the frail Sylvia, but it’s Freddie Highmore who’s quite the scene-stealer.

FindingNeverland

I was really won over by how life-transforming this friendship was for everyone involved, especially between Mr. Barrie and Sylvia’s youngest son Peter. All the performances are lovely, including supporting turns from Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. This film celebrates the gift of imagination and creativity and its emotional healing power.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.

One of the hardest films to sit through yet has the best lesson to take away from. Paul was an ordinary man who’d never make himself out to be a hero. Yet the indescribable atrocities around him compelled him not to simply stand in the sidelines. This film shows the worst of humanity, how the world failed the people of Rwanda, but out of all that wickedness and evil, there is always a glimmer of light peeking through. It reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” and that’s exactly what Paul did, which proves that even one person could change the world.

HotelRwanda

Don Cheadle delivered a remarkably powerful and moving performance and Sophie Okonedo is quite remarkable as Paul’s wife. In a brief role, Joaquin Phoenix as a photojournalist delivered a line that is perhaps the most convicting of all, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say Oh, my God, that’s horrible. And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.” We definitely are guilty of that, whether we want to admit it or not. Paul Rusesabagina shows us what it means to actually care and not simply shrug things of and say that it’s other people’s problems.

The Insider (1999)

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

Sometimes an ordinary person can be a hero when it’s willing to risk it all for the good of the public. Jeffrey Wigand is a research chemist who makes a good living working for a tobacco company, but yet he risks losing it all, even his own family, when he became a whistle blower exposing the fatal danger of smoking.

TheInsider

It’s a gripping story that’s full of suspense without a single shootout or car chases. The real beauty is in the script and performances, esp. by Russell Crowe as Wigand and Al Pacino as investigative journalist Lowell Bergman. At the core of the story is a riveting David vs. Goliath story that carries the themes about honesty, loyalty, integrity, as well as what it means to selflessly put others first.

The Intouchables (2011)

After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.

Phillipe and Idris couldn’t be more different from each other in terms of background and social status. Yet the two strike an unlikely friendship that spark a journey to self-healing when they least expect it. What I love most about this film is the honest dialog between the two characters and how Idris never see the paraplegic Phillipe as a ‘lesser’ person because of his condition.

Intouchables

It’s a sincere and incredibly poignant depiction of human relationship that celebrates the human spirit. Though their circumstances perhaps don’t change much in the end, their friendship certainly is life-affirming.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

With the South African leader being laid to rest earlier this month, this film’s timing is unbelievably timely. Yet I believe the story of personal courage and benevolence shall stand the test of time. This is not the first film about Mandela I saw, nor would it be the last, but his life story never fails to move and inspire me.

MandelaLongWalkToFreedom

This film shows the personal toll it took on Mandela for the sake of equality and human rights. “It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” he declared, and as the film title says, it sure was a long and difficult walk, having to endure 27 years behind bars in Robben Island. He lost his freedom but also his family, not being able to see his wife and kids which ultimately cost his marriage to Winnie. So many things about Mandela are inspiring, but perhaps most of all, is his ability to forgive those who put him in jail. It’s the ultimate manifestation of love,  the love for his people and his nation, that enables him to put aside his own pride and personal vendetta. Now that folks, makes Mandela better than any Hollywood superhero.

Schindler’s List (1993)

In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

The contrast of how the Nazis value human life and how Schindler sees it towards the end of the film is tremendously striking. “I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…” Schindler weeps in one of the many, many heart-wrenching scenes of the film. He comes to value how precious each human life is, and that monetary success no longer means anything to him when there are human sufferings all around him.

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Few films strikes deep to the core of your soul like this one, and John Williams’ exquisite score has a transcendental quality that haunts you for a long time. The quintessential ‘inspiring movie,’ Schindler’s List is considered a masterpiece for a reason. Perhaps the best and most personal work by Steven Spielberg, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t think he could do the story justice.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

The story of Irish journalist who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons in 1996 and later gunned down by assassins hired by the same criminal drug lords she exposed.

One of the first Cate Blanchett films I saw and I was so deeply moved by it. The Australian actress is absolutely convincing with her Irish accent and truly disappeared into the role of the Irish journalist.

Her single-minded pursuit which endangers her life and her family can be considered reckless, but one can’t help but admire that incredible courage. On top of that, her lack of apathy towards the evil around her is to be commended, as most people would just turn the other way. Guerin’s husband pleaded for her to drop the case yet she refused to succumb to the criminals’ threats that prove to be fatal.

VeronicaGuerin

It’s painful to see that time and time again, it takes a tragedy for lawmakers and the power that be to finally wake up and fight the crime they should’ve been fighting for from the start. There are memorable supporting turns from Irish actors Ciarán Hinds, as well as then-unknown Colin Farrell in a cameo role. Director Joel Schumacher is known mostly for his bad films like Batman & Robin, yet his smaller gems like this one sadly got overlooked.


Wishing you all a blessed Christmas!

BlessedChristmas


Surely there are more inspiring biopics beyond what’s on this list. What are some of your favorites?

Scenes Spotlight: Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’

CBS’ newsman Mike Wallace passed away last Saturday at the age of 93. He’s the star of the network’s TV news magazine 60 Minutes from the time it’s launched in 1968. As someone who almost majored in journalism in college, I certainly admired someone with such panache and brilliance. Surely Mr. Wallace was a pioneer and icon of American journalism.

Hearing about his death brings back memories of one of my favorite films that happen to depict the renowned journalist, albeit in an unflattering light. Now, Mr. Wallace likely would not want to have his name be associated with this movie, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer. The film was based on the Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Marie Brenner, which focused on Jeffrey Wigand, a whistle-blower trying to expose tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s dangerous business practice. Not surprisingly, Mr. Wallace disliked his on-screen portrayal which depicts him as yielding to corporate pressure to kill Wigand’s story (per Wikipedia).

Here’s a clip of Plummer as the no-nonsense newsman reacting to having his interview edited out. Wow, that’s powerful stuff, Plummer is such an underrated actor. Glad he finally got his way-overdue Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year.


Now, how far creative license was taken by director Michael Mann is debatable, but as a dramatic thriller, this is definitely one of Michael Mann’s best work. The performances are top notch all around, Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer are superb in their roles. Crowe was barely recognizable as Wigand, with 35 extra pounds and hair bleached white, a far cry from his role in Gladiator the year after. I tell you, Crowe should’ve won an Oscar that year instead of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The supporting cast is great as well, including Michael Gambon, Bruce McGill and Philip Baker Hall.

Now, this is not a fast-paced film by any means, but boy is it ever gripping. It’s quiet but intense. Even at the slowest moment, the tension is always on as there is so much at stake and nobody has an easy decision to make. If you haven’t seen this movie, I suggest you skip the clip at the end but take a look at this trailer below and tell me this doesn’t at least intrigue you. It’s arguably one of the best journalism movies ever made, it’s a thriller with a documentary vibe of a David vs. Goliath story.


Now, those who’ve seen this will perhaps recall this awesome finale between Wallace and 60 Minutes‘ then producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino). It’s poignant, dramatic and über stylish… that is, quintessentially Mann’s. Perhaps Pacino should reunite with Mann again as he also hit a high note in their first collaboration, Heat.


The camera angles and slow-motion photography adds so much to the stern atmosphere. The music at the end is just outstanding… brilliantly captures the somber but defiant mood of that scene.


Have you seen this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie or Michael Mann.

Flixchatter Review: Public Enemies

This flix was on my must-see list of this year, and I was determined not to be affected by the mixed reviews. I mean, more often than not, the critics are wrong anyway, so I went in convinced I was going to absolutely LOVE this flix!  Alas, the flix was just ok, it didn’t impress me as much as I had hoped. As I’ve hinted in my previous post about the trailers, I enjoyed the trailer ten times better than the flix, and that is such a pity because it could have been a great one.

The best thing about this flix is definitely Johnny Depp as the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. Michael Mann made Dillinger out to be such a hero even though he’s nothing more than a charming and crafty criminal. I don’t have a problem with that because it’s a movie, not a documentary, where creative liberty is an art form with the key purpose being to entertain. But what I do have a problem with is the fact that the flix never quite got me excited enough about the story nor the character. Even Depp with all his magnetism just couldn’t make me care about Dillinger without a strong script that fully fleshed out his character. On top of that, the pace was a so slow at times that I remember glancing at my watch wondering when it’ll be over. Not a good sign.

I learned as the movie progressed that Dillinger was not an enemy ‘of’ the public, but rather, an enemy ‘in’ public. He lived his live thinking he was invincible, having escaped from prison multiple times, and he reveled in being such an elusive delinquent who constantly one-uped the FBI. In fact, the coolest scenes were the prison escape scenes (especially in the opening of the movie) and when Dillinger stealthily sneaked into public places right under the Fed’s noses. Even as his photo was flashing on the movie theater screens and people were told to look around them as ‘the enemy might be sitting right next to them,’ he was virtually invisible. The camera would then zoomed in on his smug smirk and it was such a thrill because of the way Depp portrayed him.

Another issue I have with this flix was the love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette, played by recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. Such a beautiful couple, but despite their best efforts, they lacked a certain chemistry that’d make their emotional bond believable. I didn’t cry when Billie mourned Dillinger at the end, even as the camera focused on her tear-filled eyes. And most of my friends know I’m such a sob, I cried watching Finding Nemo for shrimp sakes, and those cute animal videos on YouTube!

Nonetheless, what’s lacking in character development, it was largely made up with style. Mann’s glossy 1930s recreation was fantastic down to the last detail: the costume design, the cars, music, etc. – they all worked well to capture the mood and sensibility of the depression era. Love the costumes of the film, all those dapper men in suits, it was like a good long retro GQ commercial!

Besides Depp, there were some notable performances: Billy Crudup was excellent as the eccentric FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; and an unknown actor Jason Clarke was quite moving as Dillinger’s buddy John ‘Red’ Hamilton. Christian Bale was okay as the ambitious but morally ambiguous agent Melvin Purvis, but compared to his other terrific roles, this one was practically forgettable. I can see now why he wasn’t in the promos for this flix. I think his next role as a crack-addict boxer opposite Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter might be something more worthy to sink his teeth into. The supporting cast was full of pretty well-known actors that was unrecognizable at first: David Wendham (Dilios in 300), Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, and jazz singer Diana Crall had a cameo as a lounge singer.

In a nutshell, this film could’ve been a classic with a stronger script. As it is now, it’s style over substance, which makes for a fairly entertaining but not memorable fare. If you’d rather see a compelling story with truly believable and affecting characters that’s also based on a true story, rent The Insider instead – my favorite Michael Mann’s flix by far!


Have you seen this film? What do you think of Public Enemies?

Conspicuous Trailer of the Week – The Informant!

For some it’s watching Sex & the City or Entourage reruns, but for moi, one of my guilty pleasures is watching trailers. My are they fun, most are certainly better than the flix themselves.

After watching the pointless and rather insipid Spread (ok so Ashton is hot, what else is new), I was ready for something with a little ‘bite.’ Heh, whaddayaknow, it’s Jason Bourne with geeky glasses + mustache! I was intrigued.

Matt Damon is the Informant!
Matt Damon is the Informant!

Thankfully I was rewarded by a very funny trailer of  Matt Damon starring as The Informant!. Shedding any resemblance to the skilled assassin of the Bourne series, Damon is quite the comedian in this Steven Soderbergh’s corporate black comedy. He plays Matt Whitacre, a bipolar vice president turned informant who submits evidence of his own company’s price fixing tactics. It’s kind of like a humorous version of  The Insider.

There’s a funny bit when Whitacre calls himself secret agent 0014, because he thinks he’s twice as smart as 007. Perhaps a deliberate tongue in cheek as Bourne was billed by critics as the smarter, more efficient James Bond.

Scott Bakula and Melanie Lynskey (who’s obviously too talented to be stuck as Charlie Sheen’s obsessive neighbor in Two and a Half Men) complete the supporting cast. Looks like a lot of fun!