Film Brief: Norman

My initial reaction to Richard Gere’s personal odyssey Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer was a mild thumbs-down due to a number of story weaknesses.  I wasn’t buying the premise.  But following Gere’s Norman around did get under my skin, just enough for a 6/10.

SPOILER ALERT!!  Spoiler follows!  To elaborate, the premise that Norman is, as we find out definitively late in the film, homeless, I just didn’t buy.  A much better movie would have shown, assuming this was some sort of recently-incurred station in life, how it happened.  But even if it had, how would he be homeless at the outset and still years later?  Homeless, yet buying a $1,200 pair of shoes.  I think not.

Comparison Notes: Dark Water (attorney)

Film Brief: Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-text-blockHidden Figures is quite formulaic, but nonetheless entertaining, and, as it depicts real lives and history, somewhat edifying.  My own experience causes me to question the accuracy of events within the NASA centers.  The math and operations often seemed more Hollywood than scientific.  A scant few viewers will notice this glitch.

To put it another way, the Rotten Tomatoes (yes, still useful) summary:

In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked — and crucial — contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.

The timing on this movie is good too, given the politics of the clown administration.  7/10

Film Brief: Best of Enemies

Best of Enemies - poster

Best of Enemies is a good documentary, but not a great one.  Based on the production values alone, I might render a thumbs-down, but the content lifts it, and, by the end of the film, we realize it was all something of a sad affair, as both men pass on in bitterness.  I’m not sure exactly how to have made the film better, but showing more of Buckley and Vidal duking it out might be a good start.  Still though, if you like the trailer, you’ll find this worthwhile — and good for a few hearty laughs.  7/10

Comparison Note: Frost/Nixon

Sony Cancels Christmas Opening of The Interview… and then there was Cuba

The Interview poster - AP Photo

AP Photo via NY Times. Click for full size.

From the Times:

To depict the killing of a sitting world leader, comically or otherwise, is virtually without precedent in major studio movies, film historians say.

One may argue that this is the greatest attack against the U.S. since 9/11, and a huge victory for North Korea and Kim Jong-un, or whoever is responsible.

And it’s a sad day for America.  It’s a sad day for the movie business and for freedom of speech, and a sad day for liberty around the globe.  The Interview looks to be juvenile and perhaps not very good, but it’s a terrible precedent to cower and relent in the face of this type of attack.The Interview - Terror Threat text block

Or look at the glass half full.  As Craig Ferguson said many times, “It’s a great day for America, everybody!”  Kudos to the Obama administration and Raúl Castro for finally normalizing U.S. – Cuban relations.  It’s about time.  Talk about a time warp.

You Do Not Know The Unknown Known

Unknown Known - poster large

I became interested in The Unknown Known when Stephen Colbert interviewed its maker, master documentarian Errol Morris.  The movie presents former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a self-styled master of subterfuge and someone who believes he is impervious to being made a fool.  The surprising part is that for the most part, he is not made a fool.  Of course he says some ridiculous things, explaining for instance about “known knowns” and “unknown unknowns”.  He also contradicts himself a few times, but he is also shown to be an intelligent and articulate man, though misguided and pedantic.

Unknown Known - text blockThe Unknown Known is, more than anything else, a rather straightforward biography of the former Secretary.  As such, we do learn a lot about him — I certainly did not know that before serving with Bush II, he was in the Nixon administration and was Secretary of Defense during the Ford presidency.  He was also considered a running mate for Ronald Reagan — and that close to possibly succeeding Reagan as President.

History — and today’s news — teach us what a complete disaster the Iraq war was, and Rumsfeld’s involvement in it demonstrates what terrible judgement he had.  But that was par for the course in the W administration, and the blame for Iraq rests squarely on Bush himself.

As for the movie, if you have an interest in Rumsfeld, you will find this movie edifying and entertaining.  It has good production values and features a good score by veteran composer Danny Elfman.  And as a nice bonus, it’s dedicated to Roger Ebert.  But the movie fails to provide that great revelatory moment or the type of groundbreaking conclusion that is the mark of better documentaries.  And if you’re looking for a gleeful romp of ridiculousness at the expense of Rumsfeld, you won’t find it here — there’s more nuance than that.  Unfortunately, it’s also a bit of a re-tread for those who followed the progress of the war and politics in general.  Still though, worthwhile and funny at times.  6/10

Errol Morris - Unknown Known Clip

Click for Colbert Clip

New Errol Morris Film

Errol Morris, whose name is synonymous with the latter-day documentary, was on Colbert last night promoting his latest film The Unknown Known, about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — whose name is synonymous with the worst presidential administration of all time.  The Colbert-Morris interview is oddly humorous, and the film looks promising.  The first documentary I remember seeing — the one that showed me what documentaries could do — was Morris’ 1988 classic The Thin Blue Line.  Ever since then, true crime stories have fascinated me.

Errol Morris - Unknown Known Clip

Click for Clip

Film Brief: Mitt

Mitt movie posterIf you’re a political junkie like I am — at least when it comes to presidential races — then you should enjoy Mitt, a Netflix exclusive.  I didn’t learn much more than I already knew about Mitt Romney, except he seems like a little nicer guy than you might imagine, someone who’s not above chasing down a little debris blowing in the breeze.  He also has a large, attractive and supportive family, who also all seem like nice people.

The political junkie in me wanted to see a little more politics, and the cinephile in me wanted a little more of a storyline — more surprises.  Nonetheless, with its candid behind-the-scenes look at a presidential campaign, Mitt is an entertaining film.  Make sure you watch the trailer first.  7/10