Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Good Night, Squid & Good Luck, Whale

Can you figure out which 2 films I saw this weekend? Okay, I'm not at all that clever. But at least it wasn't "In Her Shoes" and "The Squid & The Whale" or I'd have had to resort to "Squid In Her Shoes."

In addition to being my weekend choices, the two movies have an actor in common, Jeff Daniels, who plays the father in "The Squid and the Whale" and one of the reporters in "Good Night & Good Luck." I didn't even make the connection at first, because he has a heavy beard and long hair in "S&W" and I somehow got him confused with Jeff Bridges. I even thought, hey, this is a similar role to the one he played in "The Door in the Floor."

"S&W" was a great movie to watch in my neighborhood theater in Brooklyn on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It was set in Park Slope, another brownstone neighborhood, so there was much for the audience to relate to - for example, the running motif about Jeff Daniels's character looking for a parking spot. The movie kept reminding me of other films - "You & Me & Everyone We Know" (because of the joint custody arrangement and the ages of the boys and the somewhat twisted sexual antics of the kids), "Wonder Boys" (older bearded professor and young nubile student lodger*), and "The Door in the Floor" (pompous writer father who is played by actor named Jeff who used to be - well, less dumpy.) But I enjoyed it despite those distractions. The young actor playing the high school aged son (who is the 22 year old brother of that annoying Hallie Eisenberg) was really good, as was Owen Kline as the younger brother. I can't help wondering, though, what it's like for a 12 year old actor to play a scene where he has to (spoiler alert!) masturbate. I know that Owen Kline, son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, isn't unfamiliar with the concept of acting vs. real life, but even the most sophisticated kid has to feel a bit weird at pretending to - well, not to completely spoil it for you, but it's not exactly the way most pre-teen boys do that kind of thing. (At least I hope.) But it's an interesting and entertaining coming of age story (literally) and worthwhile viewing.

"Good Night & Good Luck" is a beautiful film - black and white, shot in a dreamy (and appropriately smoky) style that matches up nicely with the fuzzy quality of the real footage inserted throughout. I admit I really didn't like "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," George Clooney's directorial debut. The plot was ludicrous, the acting vague and confusing, and I didn't like some of the visual choices. There were some interesting camera angles that caused me to stop and say, "That's an interesting camera angle," which completely took me out of the film. It felt like being artsy for the sake of being artsy. In contrast, "GN & GL" has some artistic shots, but they don't overwhelm the film, they complement it.

The acting was really good, too - esp. David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow. Well, mostly David Strathiarn. It really is his movie; everyone else is just a supporting player, even George Clooney, who has a sizable role but it's never really clear what kind of influence his producer character had over Murrow. He comes across as insubstantial; Bill Paley, chairman of CBS, actually discounts his character in one scene. So it's not that Clooney isn't performing up to par - it's just not about anyone but Murrow. And McCarthy, of course. Somewhere I read that there has been criticism that the actor playing Joe McCarthy was over the top - of course, there is no actor playing McCarthy, as he only appears in actual footage.

I wasn't as thrilled with the film as others were. It's a good, well-made movie, but I didn't really feel connected to it. I don't think there's much dramatic tension - we know what happens to McCarthy. I don't think there's much investment in any of the characters - the film starts when Murrow has pretty much made up his mind to run a story that is anti-McCarthy, so we don't really get to see him prior to the decision to understand his motivation. Nor do we really see him change much over the course of the film. Most of it is Strathairn playing Murrow against the news reel footage of the real McCarthy. Interesting? Yes. Entertaining? Not so much.

There seemed to be an attempt to add some human element by having a subplot about the secret marriage between the reporters played by Robert Downey Jr. And Patricia Clarkson. But I didn't think it belonged to the rest of the film - it had little emotional connection or connection of any kind, other than they all worked together at the time this took place. I know that the characters were based on a real-life couple who served as consultants on the film, but other than giving them a place in the movie, I can't see any reason for them to be there. In all of the Murrow scenes, the couple is just background - sometimes there are knowing glances but we don't get the sense that their secret relationship impacts their reporting very much, nor that their reporting impacts Murrow's very much.

Good news - my neighborhood theater showed a trailer for "Capote" which means it's coming there. That's a film I can't wait to see!

*wow, I'd forgotten that it was Katie Holmes in the "Wonder Boys" movie. But that was before she was a tabloid freakazoid, while she was still a young and interesting actress.


Blogger jane said...

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a movie buff. But reading your commentaries on them is so interesting You pick up things that I'd never get in a million years. How many movies would you say you watch (at the theatre) a year?

4:39 PM  
Blogger medusa said...

I probably go to 3-5 movies a month... usually once a weekend but sometimes twice. So I guess that's about 50 a year. I have all my ticket stubs saved, too!

One year I xeroxed all of that year's stubs as part of my Oscar Party invitation...

11:26 AM  

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