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Everybody Wants to be Us

Graduate Student at Loyola University Chicago. Check out the blog for what I'm currently obsessed with in film and culture. Michael Fassbender, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Christian Bale, Jesse Eisenberg, David Lynch, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and Daniel Radcliffe are regulars here.

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Day 3- ALL GOOD THINGS

Seeing ALL GOOD THINGS almost led to some major embarrassment.  I have been to the Music Box Theater a few times, always seeing a film in theater 1- the main theater.  There was always the mysterious theater 2 though.   So, ticket in hand I went in search of theater 2, followed the light, and accidentally tugged at the door of the projection booth.   When I did find theater 2, it reminded me of the perfect basement home theater.  The screen was about as big as the movies I projected on my living room wall with about 25 seats. 

How quaint!  That’s were the sentimentality ends because ALL GOOD THINGS is a dark film of people pushed into doing terrible things that overpower their ability to see themselves clearly.  Mostly this applies to David Marks played by Ryan Gosling.  David seems determined to be a hippie health food storeowner and husband.  He’s reeled back to New York to work for the Marks Organization, which owns most of Times Square.  Not the posh shops, restaurants, and theaters of today, but the cruddy hotels, peep shows, and houses of ill repute of MIDNIGHT COWBOY. 

We see David’s descent from decency through his relationship with his wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst).  Her radiance gives David life and confidence, but her spirit fades as David’s unhappiness increases and is eventually stomped and beaten out of her by him.  After fighting, escalating violence, and Katie’s attempts to escape the marriage; Katie disappears.  The film does not reveal what happened to Katie because of the true crime story the film is based on.  David is actually Robert Durst, New York real estate heir who’s wife Kathie disappeared.  Gosling recites actual testimony from a separate (connected perhaps in the film’s eyes) murder of Durst/Marks’ neighbor 20 years after his wife vanished.  The film hints here and there as to who might have done what, but leaves it up to the audience to puzzle.  The most important member of its audience, Durst, has said the film made him cry.  


This film works because of Kirsten Dunst.  She is bright, lovely, hopeful, and over her head in this marriage.  Her horror as David turns monstrous was real for me.  There’s a particularly difficult act Katie is forced to take and Dunst plays is beautifully.  Once she is removed from the film, a dark cloud settled over the film and me.  Also, Frank Langella is the perfect bastard father.  After David and Katie’s wedding, we see the couple and their parents getting the check for the celebratory lunch.  Mr. Marks growls to Katie’s mom, “It’s $37 each.”  I mean the man owns half of New York and won’t pick up a simple lunch bill.  The shock and disgust on Katie’s and her mom’s face registers because money to them comes second to family and decency.  His evils comes out of the belief that everyone must pay their own way and earn the right to be happy, I suppose that is how he sees his own success.  Langella delivers a real villain, while Gosling is a cipher for one.  He talks of the terrors from his childhood and pressures of his family, but never really shows himself.  Next to Dunst and Langella, Gosling glowers in the shadows usually in ugly sweaters.  We see the damage, but not really the man. 

ALL GOOD THINGS is available on iTunes.

Side Note- I loved the costumes and makeup.  Gosling is convincingly aged, but the period make up on the female players was beautiful.

It would have been awesome to see the projection room!

Day 4- Top 15 of 2010

1.          Toy Story 3- Funny, poignant, action packed, and well constructed.  Toy Story 3 surprised me in how much I would admire it’s boldness for injecting such dark themes and it’s heart through Woody’s story.  Woody is torn between his loyalty to Andy, his relationships with the other toys, and his purpose as a toy: to be played with by children who will always grow up and eventually cast him aside.

2.         The Social Network-Sorkin’s script is brilliant.  If you don’t love the crackle and pop of the scene with Larry Summers, you’re crazy.  Arnie Hammer, Andrew Garflield, and Justin Timberlake are fantastic.  Jesse Eisenberg lays the smack down as Mark Zuckerberg.  He plays the most fascinating unlikable person.  Is he obsessed with finals clubs?  I doubt it.  He’s obsessed with making the spark in his head the reality of the world.  And he succeeded.

3.           Shutter Island- The twist and emotional punch of this film made it endure on my list.  Leonardo DiCaprio deserves an Oscar nomination for this over Inception- though he’s good in both.  DiCaprio and Natalie Portman both tackle characters who can’t be trusted but tug on our sympathies long enough to keep us on their side for their final fall.

4.        Tiny Furniture- Little indie film about a grad returning home from college to her New York artsy family.  All too real is her confusion about what to do next and who to be after college.  Great film if you can catch it.

5.          A Prophet- A brutal film dealing with a young Muslin man sent to prison for petty crime.  He’s made into a hired killer by the Corsican mob and rises to be his own kingpin.

6.         The King’s Speech- Loved Colin Firth’s turn as King George VI.  I love films about royalty, but this one brings it down to our level.

7.          Black Swan- An intense look at the artist’s struggle to bring art to life.  Portman’s preparation and performance puts you into her fever dream.  The camera and sound design make you feel the threat of those nail clippers and pointe turns.

8.           The Kids Are Alright- Annette Bening should win the Oscar for her role as a woman trying to hold on to her family while proving she has the right to have it in the first place.  It’s bright, funny, and puts you on every one’s side at one point or another.

9.          Winters Bone- Makes an interesting companion with The Kids are Alright for strong female family heads.  Jennifer Lawrence has the world on her shoulders and invests you in her search for her meth-cooking father.  She deserves an Oscar nod.  As does John Hawks as her uncle Teardrop.

10.      Inception- Did the top stop spinning?  Inception is perfect match between story and medium.  The collective gasp after the fade to black at the end of Inception was my favorite time at the movies.   Nolan creates a world around something so familiar, adds his rules, and creates wonderful characters to play in it.

11.       Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Best adaptation from book to screen yet.  Yates and Kloves know these characters and this world so well they can reward the fans with vibrant scenes from the book and heartfelt additions that feel like JK Rowling’s handiwork.

12.      Norman- A movie you should see, but probably won’t anytime soon.  Dan Byrd stars as Norman who tells everyone he’s dying of cancer to deal with his father’s accelerating stomach cancer.  It’s funny and lovely.  Great music by Andrew Bird.

13.        Rabbit Hole-Director John Cameron Mitchell brings out the heart and humor in this story of a couple trying to keep going after the death of their son.  Kidman nails the role.

14.        127 Hours- Some scenes are difficult to watch, but on the whole this is an uplifting film about survival and realizing what’s important- relationships and never giving up.  Franco is amazing.

15.        True Grit- One of the year’s funniest films.  Great dialogue and lead performances.  Haillee Steinfeld should get an Oscar nod.

Day 5- CACHE

Just when I got acquainted with the trick of unreliable narrators- BLACK SWAN, SHUTTER ISLAND, and INCEPTION were all great examples this year- I watched Michael Haneke’s CACHE (2005) and get my first experience of the unreliable camera.  The film starts on a regular Paris intersection.  We see houses, cars passing by, and people walking and biking past.  Then the screen rewinds itself.  Georges and Anne are off screen watching a video tape of their house sent anonymously.  Their wondering, as we are, who sent it and why.   Throughout the film, the couple receives tapes, many of their house, wrapped in ghoulish childish drawings.  No note, no explanation.  While the tapes continue to show up at their house, the one causing the terror is actually Georges.  The person making the tapes is akin to a filmmaker motivated by truth extracting a story for public good.

I found Haneke’s motivations for the story more fascinating than the story itself.  Basically, Georges suspects Majid, the son of employees of his family’s estate, of sending the tapes.  When they were both children, Majid lost his parents in the Algerian Massacre in 1961.  Having no family, Majid is adopted by Georges’ parents.  Georges lies about Majid’s actions and is sent away.  Georges wants to believe Majid wants revenge. However, when we see this man it’s clear he has borne his misfortunes with dignity and even though he has reasons to retaliate, he would never be able to exact the same amount of damage on Georges. 

Majid and Georges’ story is wrapped in the larger story of Algeria and France.  I do not know anything about the 1961 massacre or the history of tensions in France, but Haneke is not out to inform me.  He brings collective responsibility, which can get muddled, down to personal responsibility.  Racism, hatred, violence are realized in both the drowning and beating peaceful demonstrators and the lies of a child to ruin another child’s life.  The closer I get to Haneke’s thesis, the more sinister the world and myself in it becomes.  I do not particularly enjoy Michael Haneke’s world, especially the one in FUNNY GAMES (beware of boys in tennis whites!), but I know it is real. 

Day 7-Country Strong’s Love Quadrangle

January is a wasteland for cinephiles looking for new and exciting releases.  If you are lucky, there are still prestige pictures you can catch up with like BLUE VALTENTINE or ANOTHER YEAR.  But the next few weeks have little to offer. That is why I had my worries going to a free screening for COUNTRY STRONG Wednesday night.  However, even COUNTRY STRONG has something to offer us: The Love Quadrangle.  The love triangle persists throughout all types of cinema and can be seen in films such as NEVER LET ME GO, BROADCAST NEWS, and even TWILIGHT.  Yet, the love quadrangle is a new strain of drama.  Basically, Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is sprung from rehab by her husband James (Tim McGraw) to go out on tour.  Kelly wants Beau (Garrett Hedlund), her “sponsor” at rehab who happens to be a musician.  But James wants rising star and beauty queen Chiles (Leighton Meister) to open for Kelly. 

Chiles and  Beau join the tour and the magic happens.  Kelly and Beau take their affair started in rehab on the road, but as Beau and Chiles sing and write songs together, he starts moving in her direction.   Chiles wants a career and flirts with James, which angers Beau and Kelly.  James wants Kelly to be the woman he fell in love with again, but her drinking and Beau get in the way.  Even though Kelly is cheating, when she’s down, drunk, or getting on stage; she calls for James.  There you have it: the love quadrangle. 

Day 9- THE KING’S SPEECH

I did a fist pump when I saw the trailer for THE KING’S SPEECH.  Nothing beats a triumphant period drama staring Colin Firth in my book. I loved the film for all those reasons, but an unexpected one rose to the top.  The film focuses on the work some of us must do to be the people we are meant to be.  Firth as Bertie is disastrously matched with his station in life.  As prince and third in line to the throne, his stammer keeps him from holding any kind of role in public life.  Firth and director Tom Hooper put you in Firth’s head and make you feel the violence and fear of his stutter.   In the first scene, I admired how Hooper kept ratcheting up the pressure on Firth.  First his speech is introduced after reporting the successful wireless broadcasts of his father the king and his brother.  Meaning speaking on the wireless is now a part of royal life.  Next, we see all the nations connected by the radio network.  Third, we feel the threat of the live audience as they turn toward Bertie as he approaches the microphone.  Firth clinches the scene as he tries to speak, fighting himself to get out the words.  At this point, I felt completely helpless for Bertie and wanted to escape the microphone as much as he did.  Firth’s ability to enlist your empathy makes his performance the most exciting thing in this film.

 


Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and Guy Pierce give excellent performances as well.  Rush excels in bringing humility to an eccentric quick witted Lionel Logue.  Throughout the film, Logue is disrespected for being common, Australian, and unqualified.  Logue, who responds to most slights with humor or sarcasm, takes these harsh insults with integrity and defends his record and abilities.  Logue, like Bertie, must work harder to be accepted in the world he’s chosen.  Carter succeeds in playing completely against type as Bertie’s wife Queen Elizabeth.  She brings the perfect blend of warmth as a support to Bertie and snobbishness in a great scene with Wallis Simpson, Edward’s paramour.  She’s stately and lovely.  Pierce as David/Edward VIII is a great foil for Firth.  Pierce places his private life over his public one and seems to only want the pleasures of royal life.  His abdication, as dreaded as it is for our hero, is a relief because of Pierce’s flighty attitude.

 

THE KING’S SPEECH sticks with me because of its emphasis on work, friendship, and purpose.  In the day to day I really need the strength to be good to the people that need me and the duties I have been entrusted with.  Bertie’s struggle reminds me of one of my favorite poems, “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.

 

Ambition here is not the quest for glory, it is the desire to do your individual duty.  I loved the film for depicting the work it took for Bertie to triumph over his past and handicap to deliver a speech that would prove to everyone and himself that he was truly a king.

Day 10: A Woman’s Work- MADE IN DAGENHAM

MADE IN DAGENHAM combines my two great interests: historical heroines and labor struggles.  I went in thinking this would be NORMA RAE across the pond, but this story delivers a bigger pay off by showing how people become transformed by entering public life and how deliberate and sustained action can achieve wider social change.  Sally Field inspires in how she depicts the former, but DAGENHAM does more to explore the latter and spreads the victory around.  It may be a truer picture of community and labor organizing than my beloved RAE.

Sally Hawkins stars as Rita O’Grady who starts the film as everyone’s favorite co-worker.  She’s bright, supportive, and hard working.  She gets tapped to be an extra body at a meeting with union heads strategizing the dispute brought by female employees to receive the skilled worker’s rate- equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.  Rita is told to not say anything in the meeting by the union boss, but as the women’s’ complaint is pushed aside she butts in, identifies the injustice, and declares the women will go on strike. 

Her husband, her friends, and fellow co-workers challenge Rita.  Yet, she receives support from Bob Hoskins as a fellow union supporter and Rosmund Pike as the wife of a Ford executive.  As I hinted above, the strike Rita sets off at the meeting was only the beginning.  She and her fellow Dagenham workers travel to plants all across the UK getting the female workers to join the strike and bring Ford production to a complete stop.  UK Ford brings in a reprobate American union buster played by Richard Schiff (Toby from THE WEST WING!!!) to teach the Brits to play dirty.  Yet unknown to Rita and the ladies, they have friends in high places.  Miranda Richardson plays Labour MP Barbara Castle itching to make government work for the laborer.  As the only lady in the men’s club of Parliament, she brings in the Dagenham strikers for a talk, against the Prime Minister’s wishes.  Even the American union buster tries to shake her down.  Richardson’s Castle delivers as a shrewd politician and true feminist.  Rita O’Grady also shows her political range making a compromise that brings the women up in pay and paves the way to equal pay in the UK. 

I have let much of the plot out in this review because the real pleasures of the film are in the performances of Hawkins, Richardson, Hoskins, and Pike.  Even Schiff, who I did not recognize as a right wing enemy of labor, is excellent.  Also, Daniel Mays, who had a great small role in ATONEMENT, nails his role as Rita’s husband.  He and Hawkins play out the gender battle in their home as the strike intensifies and her profile rises.  When he gets fed up with her fight, Hawkins really lets him have it.  It was exciting to watch their relationship mature due to Rita’s growing public life. 

One more thing, the costumes are gorgeous.  These strikers are stylish and hip.  Who says you have to walk the picket line in a frumpy frock?  I liked spending time with these plucky ladies. 

This red dress in particular caught my eye and serves the plot well.  You will have to see the film to find out.

Day 14- THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989)

Never underestimate a great movie poster.  The poster for THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS features the three stars Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, and Michelle Pfeiffer captured having a great time in a Pfeiffer between Bridges sandwich.  I always wondered what the film was about a set to finding out this Christmas break. 

Surprise, it’s about the Fabulous Baker Boys a piano playing pair of brothers in the doldrums of their career.  Beau Bridges plays Frank, the older brother that books the gigs, pays the bills, and keeps the act going.  Jeff Bridges plays the more talented but taciturn brother.  They used to headline packed clubs and hotels.  Now they pay for lonely drunks on Tuesdays.  They need something to make their act pop.  Enter Michelle Pfeiffer as Susie Diamond, a sultry singer that brings the fabulous to the Brothers Baker. 

Day 17: Quirky Alone- ANOTHER YEAR

ANOTHER YEAR is about the biggest emotions in the most ordinary actions and routines.  Love, jealousy, loss, pity, shame, hate and loneliness all show up in a film largely made up of meals and one-to-one conversations.  The film focuses on Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) happily married couple middle-aged couple.  They enjoy gardening in their plot, having people around for dinner or tea, or simply sitting watching their vegetables grow. 

Tom and Gerri’s otherwise quiet life is punctuated and stirred by the problems and worries of their friends and family.  Mostly their friend Mary played by brilliantly Leslie Manville.  Mary represents everything Gerri and Tom are not.  She’s single, she does not cook, she drinks too much, she’s frantic and a bit spastic.  Her visits turn the film from a pleasant series of dinner parties into something truly sad and surprisingly powerful.

We meet Mary at after-work drinks with Gerri, prattling about loving her flat, independence, and collection of clothes.  Gerri nods on, friendly yet relieved this is not her life.  Mary turns up that weekend for dinner with the couple and gets completely trashed.  Inebriated and wounded, Mary reveals everything she held as special about her single life to be empty and lonely.  Mary returns for dinner weeks later and flirts with Tom and Gerri’s grown son Joe.  In her eyes, Joe returns her playful nudges, but he is only being polite.

Day 19: Book to Film- ATONEMENT

My friend always said when referring to my rabid movie habit, “But you read books too.”  Indeed, I do and I get many of my book references from the films I see.  I picked up and read ACCIDENTAL BILLIONARES after being blown away by THE SOCIAL NETWORK.  Two years ago, I tore through REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and THE READER after seeing the films.  I am currently reading NEVER LET ME GO. 

With film adaptations of books, I always try to see the movie first.  Invariably, books excel in creating full and compelling characters and building satisfying tension throughout over films.  However, films, good ones, give you much more to digest at once.  Music, dialogue, costumes, camera movement, and effects bring scenes to life in a way that I respond well to.  In my mind, I file films and books as separate text employing different methods of storytelling.  Here are my takes on a few films which are also books I have read.

ATONEMENT- Book to Film

Directed by Joe Wright, the film gracefully compliments the book’s narrative structure.  Ian McEwan loves to play with time and perception throughout the book. The opening third of the film plays and replays the same several scenes from multiple perspectives.  Wright cuts quickly from each perspective so we are forced to catch up and pay attention.  He correctly dramatizes how these ordinary misunderstandings are heightened in young Briony’s mind to drive her to make a crucial and destructive choice. 

The actors add so much personality to their lines, cluing us into their motives earlier that McEwan does, Saoirse Ronan plays a perfect Briony.  From the book, we have to believe her as an innocent child and a calculating villain.  Delivers on both accounts and commands the beginning of the film.  Keira Knightly and James McAvoy as Cecilia and Robbie play awkward lovers coming to an abrupt realization of their feelings. 

Day 20: CLIENT 9- THE RISE AND FALL ELIOT SPITZER

When Eliot Spitzer got screwed, in more ways than one, we all did.  Or so is the argument of Alex Gibney’s CLIENT 9: THE RISE AND FALL OF ELIOT SPITZER.   The subject matter has all the makings of a sleazy episode of Dateline, but manages to be compelling and thought provoking.   Gibney takes enough time to set up the three worlds involved: Wall Street, politics, and high class prostitution.  Another director, say Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, might have used the Spitzer case too broadly to comment on these pervasive industries, but Gibney keeps things tightly focused on the Spitzer case and the colorful cast of characters involved.  It manages to tell a wider story about money, sex, and politics but really excels in telling a specific tale of one man and the people he infuriated on his way to the top.  The characters surrounding Spitzer are too fun to pass up.

The film starts with Spitzer building a reputation as the Sheriff of Wall Street, making reforms and powerful enemies.   Spitzer’s style was rash, yet effective.  He policed mutual fund fraud at Bank of America, exposed the phony ballooning of profits at AIG, and went after outrageous CEO salaries.  His political persona is both populist and street alley scrappy.  With the dirtiest of players in the financial world, Spitzer surprised them with his willingness to drag them out and bloody their nose in the process.  Spitzer, whose interviews dominate the film, displays the most energy and glee remembering these take downs.  Like a boxer remembering each KO, he lays out each case, each crime, and each punch to victory. 

DAY 22: Too Big to Fail- THE COMPANY MEN

Sometimes a movie really wants you to know what it is saying. John Wells’ THE COMPANY MEN is of that ilk, but it has its charms. In the opening shots, we hear Kai Ryssdal and see other familiar talking heads reporting on the credit crash. Cut to the homes of our characters, each overflowing with expensive possessions. Read here: it was us who became too big to fail, but unlike AIG, we are not getting a bail out. Knowing Wells’ goal early on makes you avoid the “message” of each scene and focus on what I enjoyed about the film: Ben Affleck.

Affleck plays Bobby a young hot shot on the rise at a shipping manufacturer in Boston. He comes in boasting about his best golf score ever to find he has been downsized with hundreds of other employees. Affleck and Rosemarie DeWitt, as his wife, spar over dialing down their lifestyle without Bobby’s income. She makes all the reasonable suggestions, but Bobby cannot part with his Porsche or golf club membership. These things have become symbols of who he is. Slowly, Bobby sheds his fancy suits, car, and entitlement and starts to work finishing houses with his brother-in-law played by Kevin Costner (with a HORRIBLE Boston accent). A humbled Bobby has the right spirit for the new job opportunity that comes in the end of the film.

Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are serviceable in the film, but I really enjoyed Affleck. He is even better in THE TOWN, but here he tips from stubbornness to receptiveness slowly and interestingly enough. However, the movie he is in undercuts the balance he brings. Each scene expresses a big idea and underlines it. The economy we have is cruel, ageist, and cares little for friendship and history. People’s lives are disposable for a rise in the stock price. Shareholders outrank founding employees. We long for the economy we left behind; the simple one where a man builds something each day he can see and touch and gets an honest wage he can raise a family on. A handful of the characters in the film learn these lessons, but the power brokers remain ignorant and keep going. If you are still enjoying $500 lunches in $5,000 hotels you do not know it is raining on everyone else. Wells makes good points, but it will take getting our political and financial leaders to learn what Bobby does for us to have real change.

Day 25: Happy Birthday to Me

My favorite party scene in film comes from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.   Holly Golightly’s classy, raucous soiree begins with her in a toga.  Paul Varjack her new neighbor comes down, gets renamed Fred-Baby by Hollywood agent OJ Berman, and quickly becomes inducted into Holly’s house of fun.  The party fills up and there’s something to see, amuse, and relate to in every corner of Holly’s apartment.

Paul: Who are all these people?

Holly: Who knows?  The word gets out!

Starting with the almost fire in a woman’s hat put out by a drink tipped over, Blake Edwards choreographs funny, quick scenes that spark your attention.

Next, Paul dives to the ground to answer the phone which is in a suitcase.  Even the booze delivery guy joins in the fun, bringing a new case, not getting paid and staying for the party.  One of my favorite touches is the woman drinking and laughing with herself in the mirror one minute and crying a minute later. We have all been there right?

In comes Mag Wildwood, the tallest woman ever, with the “fifth richest man under 50”. Holly focuses her attention and charms on the big ticket guest, Rusty Trawler,  while Mag gets trashed.   She says memorably:

"You know what’s gonna happen to you? I am gonna march you over to the zoo and feed you to the yak.  Right after I finish this drink"

Then Audrey gives the most adorable yet callous line, “TIMBER”, as Meg goes crashing to the ground.  The police raid the party as Holly and Rusty walk out.  Holly helpfully tells the cop which apartment is responsible for the noise and makes a cool escape.  What a way to party!

Day 27: Book to Film- BODY OF LIES

Ridley Scott’s BODY OF LIES tells the story of competing schools of espionage in the “War on Terror.”  After seeing the film, I read David Ignatius’ novel and found much to consider both texts.  The book and film follow the characters Roger Ferris, Ed Hoffman, and Hani Salam- Hani and Ed standing to opposite poles of anti-terror philosophy with Ferris in the middle. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris a talented, receptive, and fierce CIA agent.  Russell Crowe is the picture of American hubris and technological prowess as Ed Hoffman.  And Mark Strong, a Brit, plays a convincing Hani Salam, a cool, calculated, brutal, and stylish director of Jordanian intelligence.

Roger meets Hani when transferred to Jordan and tries to build a relationship and alliance with Hani, the head of Jordan intelligence.  The three men try to gain access to the organization of Al-Saleem, major international terrorist responsible for bombing in Europe.  Hani and Ferris form a strained, but trusting relationship.  Ed intrudes wanting to rush Hani’s carefully laid plans as Al-Saleem escalates violence.  When Ed’s pleas and arguments fail he threatens to go over Hani and have “my president call your king” a snatch funding from Hani’s operation.  Hani deftly responds:

In matters of security, you are speaking to the King

On their own, Ed and Ferris hatch a plan to draw Al-Saleem out by propping a devout architect as a terrorist leader by manipulating his bank accounts, emails, and moving him from city to city on false meetings.  Once Al-Saleem captures Ferris’ pawn, the haughty Americans can do nothing to save him.  Ferris is outraged by Ed’s callous response and his own willingness to let an innocent man die for their war games.

Seeing these three men fight as they hatch divergent plans to close on to Al-Saleem is entertaining in the book and the film.  Hani casts an even more forbidding figure with DiCaprio cowering from him in respect and fear of his threats.  I prefer the film a bit more because of a big departure in the character of Ferris.  In the book, Ferris is becoming more and more endeared to the Middle East through meeting an American relief worker who takes him to refugee camps, speaks perfect Arabic, and has beautiful blond hair.  He also has a wife in the US, a ball-busting Justice Department Lawyer who he hates, but cannot resist.  In what world is one CIA agent torn between two hotties on two continents?  The story in the book fails to show Ferris’ increasing openness to life in the middle east by drawing idealized and slightly sexist pictures of these two women. 

Scott improves on this aspect by pairing DiCaprio’s Ferris with Aisha, played by the lovely Golshifteh Farahani, a nurse that treats him for rabies.  It is not a blatant love story tacked on to thriller plot of the film, but a slow coming together of two smart people who understand the barriers to their friendship and act respectfully toward each other. 

Aisha busts Ferris for coming to his second rabies shot without his ring.  Ferris persists in perfect Arabic to ask her out.  After seeing his decency, she invites him to lunch with her sister and nephews.  He is instantly in with the precocious young boys and holds his own against her disapproving sister.  The two actors deliver the reality unease of having a relationship when they quickly remember even a handshake in public is impossible.  I liked this route because Ferris and Aisha are drawn together in friendship and the movie leaves what could or should come next for us to decide. 

The story concludes with Ferris being captured by Al-Saleem.  Ed’s technological surveillance are no match for old fashioned methods.  Weaved through the story is Ferris’ use and disgust of torture.  Captured we see Ferris brutally beaten and tortured.  Scott saves us for the impact of the scene in only hinting at previous acts.  Just at the moment Ferris and the audience see the end, Jordanian intelligence storms in, saving Ferris and capturing Al-Saleem.  Hani uses Ferris, just as he used the architect, to lure and grab Al-Saleem.  In the hospital, Ferris puts together Hani’s plan as he graciously but condescendingly teaches Ferris that the Americans have no idea what they are doing in the Middle East. Bruised and indignant, Ferris meets with Ed, spurning his cockiness and finally cutting their relationship.

Ed: What else you gonna a do, stay here?

Ferris: Maybe for a little while. Why wouldn’t I?

Ed: Why would you?

Ferris: What if I like the Middle East?

Ed: Nobody likes the Middle East, there’s nothing here to like.

Ferris: Maybe that’s the problem right there, isn’t it Ed.  Good luck on winning this war Ed, I hope everyone thinks you did it all by yourself.

Ferris walks off, buying food in an open market, probably to visit Aisha, as Ed’s surveillance cameras veer off from him to other targets. The film and the book communicate simple and unpopular truths combined with tension filled action sequences.  Both would entertain you on a flight or a Sunday afternoon.

Day 28- WINSTON CHURCHILL; WALKING WITH DESTINY

Two years ago in London, my friends and I toured the Churchill Museum.  We meandered Churchill’s war rooms, peering into strategy centers, map rooms, communication hubs, and Churchill’s bedroom all carefully restored.  We even lost our friend Matt in the Churchill wing, that combines technology with historical documents and audio records in a seamless and engaging way.  I would love to return and explore more.  Until then, I had the special privilege to screen WINSTON CHURCHILL: WALKING WITH DESTINY at the Gene Siskel Film Center.  What a way to start off the week with a rousing, detailed, and engaging look at a prodigious world figure.  Here, I will not go into Churchill’s biography or famous deeds, only to say the film was well calibrated to serve different history types of lovers and explore the legacy and personality of Churchill. 

The documentary takes a small, but weighty period of Churchill’s life - 1940-1941- and unpacks the chronological developments of his political actions, while keeping a steady pulse of the Nazi aggression, American ambivalence, and the trials and resilience of the British people.  All this revolves around Churchill, skillfully aligned political leaders to fight early and encouraged the public to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”   I appreciated the filmmakers choice to keep the heightening oppression and violence against the Jews in the near background, highlighting Churchill’s compassion for the Jewish people.  The focus on Churchill’s grandeur was balanced with his quirkiness.  On a flight back to London from meeting with President Roosevelt, Churchill asked the pilot to try his hand at flying.  Cigar perfectly propped in his mouth, Churchill flew the plane, doing turns and risky maneuvers.  He accidentally swerved into Nazi occupied French airspace, but quickly got back on course.  He said later the last time he flew a plane was during the Great War. 

Lastly, the documentary highlights the courageous spirit of the British people.  The film connects this resilience to Churchill’s great speeches and quips like this one:

  “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!”

The film also connects the stout British attitude during war to other sources.  One piece focused on the thriving arts and entertainment scene during the Blitz.  People attended concerts and dances in mass, hearing the sirens, and staying for the show.  Churchill had this same spirit, refusing to stay in the cavernous War Rooms to take his daily walks to talk and survey damage with Londoners of German bombs.  Seeing a collapsed building, Churchill joined the rescue team pulling a woman from the rubble. 

I believe Churchill fans and neophytes alike should enjoy this film.  Also, this can be a great lesson to young people looking for models of true leadership.  Beyond the great speeches and clever quips I saw a brave, smart political dealer not afraid to take chances and do the little work on the ground. 

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