No. 203 | December 30, 2010
Our theme this week
Recent movies based on stories of real people
I had included a quote from All the President’s Men when I previewed Fair Game in October, and now having seen the latter I’d say it’s as close to the 1976 Best Picture nominee as we’re likely to get these days. It doesn’t measure up entirely, but that may be more a reflection of different times and different outcomes to the stories than a problem with the filmmaking.
Both films are about wrongdoing in the White House, and both follow a couple of characters as they try to shed light on the truth. In the earlier film, the crime is a petty burglary at the Watergate complex, and Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation of the burglary and its coverup lead to the resignation of a disgraced president. The new film is about lies that the Bush Administration told to lead our country into war against Iraq, and the efforts of two whistleblowers, CIA agent Valerie Plame (dead ringer Naomi Watts, in a first-rate performance) and her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson (a fine Sean Penn), to expose the truth. In the end, neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney, who is the kingpin in this telling, is brought to justice. Scooter Libby, advisor to the vice president, is convicted in the scandal, but Bush soon commutes the sentence. Plame, meanwhile, loses her career as a CIA officer when her cover is blown by the White House as retribution for an op-ed that her husband wrote questioning the administration.
The story of All the President’s Men may have shaken people’s faith in our government, but at least the system worked. No feel-good equivalent is to be found in Fair Game‘s storyline. The film does try to leave us with a more positive message, but it’s only partly successful at dispelling the troubling sense we have watching a gross injustice go unpunished.
The Wilsons are not disloyal to the country. Rather, they are portrayed as true patriots. Yet the film is more than just about politics and justice. It’s a personal drama, and we get a look at the pressures that nearly tear apart the Wilson family. In this respect, Fair Game has a level of involvement not found in the earlier picture, in which Woodward and Bernstein have no life outside of their jobs.
Fair Game is recent history, a history still being written, and people with political agendas are actively working to skew reaction to the film. For more, this article by David Corn is worth a read.
No. 182 | October 18, 2010
If you’re a regular reader of MAD About Movies (and why wouldn’t you be?), you may have noticed that all of the movies featured on the front page up to now have one thing in common—each is a movie that has already been released. I find it much easier to write about movies that I’ve actually seen.
This week, however, something completely different. Each day will feature a movie I haven’t yet seen—and very likely, neither have you. All are movies that are not yet out, at least not here in the U.S., but are due to be released between now and the end of the year.
Recent weeks here have featured stars and movies from the not-so-recent past, so I’m rather interested in looking ahead for a change. The good news about doing this now is that end-of-year movies are typically among the year’s best. I won’t be surprised if a few of this week’s films make top ten lists and get recognition at awards time. (You may note that Jackass 3D has already opened, so it does not qualify).
Since I’ve yet to see the films, I’ll have less to say than usual (which is not only convenient but necessary, since I have some other pressing commitments). Also, despite the title above, don’t expect any predictions about who’ll take home statuettes on Oscar night. Yes, there are sites that will do that for you, but making predictions, or even caring who wins, before seeing the films seems to miss the point entirely of what movies are all about in the first place.
Without further ado, let’s get to it: a few of the movies I look forward to seeing later this year.
Our theme this week
Movies that open later in 2010
The Valerie Plame story: U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson authored a controversial 2003 op-ed questioning evidence that the Bush administration had used to justify the invasion of Iraq; the White House retaliated by leaking his wife Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA agent to a friendly source in the media. It was a case of dirty tricks in high places, based on Plame’s memoir of the same name.
Reasons to see it
The Plame affair is one of the most important stories of the past decade, a window into the corrupt powers that led our nation into war under false pretenses and worked to destroy anyone who dared to get in their way. In this case, the media didn’t bring down the presidency when wrongdoing was discovered, but did the administration’s dirty work when needed. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) has shown he knows how to make a good thriller (though slick effects aren’t needed here as much as telling the story straight). Naomi Watts is almost always worth watching. Sean Penn costars.
Release date (U.S.)
November 5 (limited)