Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Rat By Any Other Name.

82. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
100 Films of the 2000s

Martin Scorsese's return to the volatile world of crime fiction is perhaps one of the best remakes available. Adapted from the Hong Kong police drama Infernal Affairs (2002) Scorsese's movie lifts the conflict from Hong Kong and places it in Boston. Two stories surrounding separate police officers run parallel, one an undercover cop, Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrating the Boston mafia and the other, Collin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon who acts as mole for the mob, as a man inside the police department.

Scorsese's crime movies have always done a fine job with walking between the conflicting morality of a life in crime opposed to its allure and benefits and The Departed is no different. Sullivan's ambitions take control over his character. With political aspirations he feels little remorse hurdling over the justice system for personal gain. Sullivan and Costigan's stories run as juxtaposed tragedies showing the cost and loss of both sides of crime. Like stated at the beginning of the film, one of it's strongest themes is that of survival, but the priced payed for that survival and ability to thrive in such an environment is one's own honor and loyalty, that or their life.

The film also boasts a terrific cast of household names with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen joining Damon and DiCaprio. Also, the rest of the players from Ray Winston, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, to Anthony Anderson are all in great form as well. It's superb cast elevates the drama and urgency of a picture that already has career topping turns from Damon and DiCaprio. Also accentuating the drama is Martin Scorsese's well known skill for constructing a great accompanying soundtrack. The director really knows his music and The Departed's soundtrack is more proof to that claim, adding excitement and improving emotion when the need arrises. This isn't a movie to be dismissed purely because it's another American remake, though it's understandable if that's an early thought considering what's been done to many foreign movies, especially in the last ten years. Nor would I suggest missing out on Infernal Affairs either (it does star one of my favorite actors, Tony Leung), both Infernal Affairs and The Departed are great pictures well worth seeing on their own.

10 Films of 2006:

7. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
8. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
(Tom Tykwer)
9. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)

10. The Host (
Joon-Ho Bong)

Eye of the Beholder.

83. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)
100 Films of the 2000s

From workaholic director Steven Soderbergh comes one of the best sleeper hits of 2009. Based on actual events propelled by one Mark Whitacre, The Informant! is a satirical comedy starring Matt Damon as the infamous Whitacre and proves to be one of the cleverer comedies of the year. Whitacre, working for a large food processing company turns government whistle blower after apparent threats from an outside source as well as attempting to pull the lid off of a huge price fixing operation. However, the further we're pulled into Whitacre's head the more tangled the story becomes when things aren't necessarily what we've been led to believe.

The movie is often times very funny, Matt Damon stars as Whitacre and gives one of his best character performances to date. At times bumbling and flabbergasted he dives head first into the world of undercover FBI operations and the results are quite rewarding. Some of the best comedic moments involve some of Whitacre's almost childlike interactions with the FBI and their operation. It's an interesting comedy to say the least, first off because it's humor is not only propelled by character rather than concept gags but secondly because it's based on true events and actual people. It's true that the real world really can be stranger than fiction.

The movie is smart enough before it even leaps into it's major turning point where we start to see what is actually going on within the story making it far more complex a comedy than expected. It is also revealed that Whitacre suffers from bipolar disorder which goes to explain much of his actions throughout the film, not the bumbling amateur FBI stuff but what's later revealed to be his coaxing with certain facts and falsehoods. We also begin to understand the nature of the monologues we're given by Damon's narration, which are often times very funny. They're another way in which the movie pulls us even further into Whitacre's own head, not to emerge until the end of the picture, and it's an intriguing and often times hilarious excursion.

10 Films of 2009:

8. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh)
9. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (Werner Herzog)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Only Thing to Fear.

84. Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)
100 Films of the 2000s

In 2005 George Clooney directed his second feature film, the black and white Good Night, and Good Luck. The film chronicles the on-air battle between seasoned television host and journalist Edward R. Murrow and senator Joseph McCarthy over McCarthy's anti-communist hearings and investigations in the 1950s. Murrow's program strikes a blow to McCarthy's interrogations though it soon ends following the clash between the media man and the senator from Wisconsin. More importantly however, after that moment the state of television journalism and politics was changed forever.

Though the film documents McCarthy's hearings on alleged communists and communist sympathizers it doesn't merely offer a simple condemnation of McCarthy's witch hunts. It's primary intent is to address the use of our news media and primarily television journalism as an outlet for delivering information rather than just entertainment, to use television to address important issues rather than just run cigarette ads and comedic talk shows. Clooney bookends his film with a speech from Murrow on the state of television journalism and it's uses and above all it's importance. George Clooney stated that the project began interesting him because he felt it was time "to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate" (Brooks, Brian. indieWIRE, "Clooney Speaks Out About Journalism and Filmmaking As NYFF Opens." Retrieved: April 24, 2007) and also majored in journalism in school. Not only does Clooney's film succeed in displaying the importance of integrity and responsibility in television journalism it also captures the look and feel of the time quite well with music and sets that represent the 1950s authentically.

What interests me even more about the film is what the state of televised journalism has become today as well as the conflict between opinion journalism and unbiased reporting. Though Murraw's actions blur the line between the two we can see the nobility in his actions. He and his crew saw what they viewed as injustice and took action. However, today not only has the line between opinion journalism and unbiased reporting become almost nonexistent, conflicting news outlets push political agendas almost shamelessly or attempt to create divide among political views for sake of ratings and it seems that Murrow's push for integrity in journalism and its use to inform has been misshapen and discarded. They took what was useful for personal gain and abandoned what was important in principle.

10 Films of 2005:

10. Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney)