Page One: Inside the New York Times

Page One Inside the New York Times

Andrew Rossi’s Page One: Inside the New York Times is not a searing look at the ins and outs of reporting for a major publication such as the New York Times but rather a look at the decaying print media landscape and the way that it has and will continue to change.  The very fact that I am writing this blog post now is a vivid reminder of the things that have changed.  Rather than reading Manhola Dargis’ insightful critiques, you have chosen to read a stranger’s ramblings on the things he loves most: movies.  The Internet has created a world in which the news and insightful writing has become free and open to anyone who knows how to type in Google.

Page One takes us into the offices of the “Paper of Record” to show how that change has affected the day-to-day business of the paper and the way they report the news.  This is mainly through the eyes of the people who work the Media desk, those on the front lines of the changing media landscape and who have their fingers on the pulse of social media and what the Times needs to do to keep up with the times.  The star and main attraction of the film is undoubtedly David Carr, a former drug addict who has come to be known as one of the paper’s great defenders to those in the new media.  A fiery personality who tends to say what he has on his mind, he’s the kind of personality that makes documentaries like this really come alive.

What could become a staid retelling of facts rather becomes an insightful look not just at how the media landscape is changing and the fascinating people who are leading the paper into the future.  Rossi’s film takes place during a certain time and place in which the traditional media’s place is being questioned harshly.  Julian Assange’s Wikileaks is making big headlines and the confusion on what that makes Assange, reporter or activist, and what the Times’ role is in releasing the information, is it just arbiter or are they reporting the news as they’ve always done.  New terms and traditions must now be applied that never had to be used before and Rossi’s documentary juggles that aspect quite nicely.

Rossi is given great access but one only gets the sense we are only getting a small portion of the story.  It seems as the changing landscape becomes clear, Rossi decides to focus his attention on the Media desk with much of the rest of the paper’s actions becoming back-grounded.  What could have been an interesting look at how a major paper is run and the inner workings of all of that, the documentary becomes a polemic against the tide of new media.  What the documentary says at the end is not so much the right vs. wrong of print media vs. new media but rather that the New York Times must change or face complete destruction.

Of course, according to the interviews therein, the loss of the New York Times would be too great a loss to bear.  Whether I agree with that sentiment is hard to say but I will say that Rossi’s film makes that point with great effort and Carr is certainly the greatest advocate for that stance.  While I would say the subject matter of this documentary is vital in the sense of what needs to happen for print and traditional media to remain as vibrant as it once was, Rossi’s film fails to deliver on a more rounded aspect of what the paper is today.  The film gives a great sense of what the paper was and its tradition of great reporting and the current worries of a great institution, the film whitewashes the paper’s major flaws and controversies, bringing them up but never quite giving a critical look.  Rossi’s film is too loving and embracing of the old media giant to be very critical and can only concentrate on ways to save the giant rather than giving an insightful, critical look at the ways that the New York Times, and other major papers like it, may have give rise to their own downfalls.  As a loving tribute to the paper and an interesting look at how the changing media landscape is affecting the largest paper in the nation, Rossi has created something truly special.  However, as far as actual insight and deconstruction of the paper itself, that will have to be left to other writers/filmmakers.


Marvel Movie Mayhem

The Avengers

I suppose the hype has finally gotten to me.  All week I’ve been devouring the cinematic lead up to this weekend’s The Avengers, a culmination of Marvel Studios long journey in creating a cohesive comic book universe in the movies.  That’s right, a week straight of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.  One would think this has made me a raving mad loon in anticipation of this weekend’s mammoth blockbuster.  That, unfortunately, was not the case.  While for the most part fun and care-free, the general emptiness and sloppiness of most of these movies pretty much brought me down to earth and has stemmed my overwhelming anticipation of Joss Whedon’s turn at the superhero table.  Not to say I’m not still looking forward to it but I am more realistic about how things are going to go down this weekend. Continue reading

The Last Metro

The Last Metro

Francois Truffaut’s The Last Metro is a movie about our passions, for the people around us, the communities we build together, and the projects/desires that drive us.  Truffaut takes an almost broad capturing of the French theater scene in 1940’s Paris during the German occupation, using the historical setting for when a mechanical oppressor begins to infect and discourage the artistic passions that drive people.

Catherine Deneuve is heartbreaking and spectacular as Marion Steiner, an actress who takes over her husband’s theater company after her Jewish husband Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) is forced to flee the country once the Germans take over.  However, Lucas Steiner’s passion for his theater runs so deep that he never has the chance to flee but rather he is hidden in the basement underneath the theater.  Complications ensue when a busy-body theater critic threatens to take things over and Marion begins falling in love with their newest play’s womanizing lead Bernard Granger (played with effortless charm by Gerard Depardieu).

The romance between Bernard and Marion feels almost out of nowhere as the film comes down to its final act until you realize that the romance has developed right on stage without anyone’s notice, including the two players themselves.  It’s a subtle, interesting trick that Truffaut pulls off and it miraculously works as their passions for each other finally take them over.  That’s what the film is all about in the end and the film’s entire look and feel signals that fact.  From the oppressing use of reds throughout the film to the red, satin curtains of the stage to the set design of the night club and elaborate red dresses of Marion Steiner to the romantically lighted scenes of the troupe rehearsing the play, every decision Truffaut indicates an outward expression of love and fiery passion of the characters’ internal lives.

It’s a strikingly beautiful movie in that way and it’s hard not to fall in love with the film as it lovingly graces the screens with a gentle touch, showing a loving community of theater obsessives putting on the best show they know how.  Truffaut gives into a bit of cartoonish villainy with the French collaborator and drama critic, perhaps indicating a slight malice towards those in the critical profession.  He gets his own comeuppance in a cartoony epilogue scene that feels cut in from a completely different movie but the threat of the character’s presence does give the film a sense of forward momentum towards film’s end.

Truffaut has crafted a loving dedication towards the arts and those that show true passion for it.  Lucas Steiner sacrifices everything, including the love of his wife, just to be in proximity to the theater which he loves so dearly and one could imagine Truffaut feeling the same way for the cinema.  Even Bernard and Marion’s passionate romance is seen and developed through the prism of their passion for the theater.  The film is a love letter to all of those who love the beauty of artistic expression and Truffaut carries those themes in a lovingly entertaining movie and a delightful surprise from a filmmaker in the august years of his filmmaking career.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Daniel Alfredson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest shares many of the same flaws as the Millenium trilogy’s previous installment and then some, leading to a dull thud of a conclusion.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has little else on its mind except tying up loose ends and concluding a long gestating conspiracy story being spearheaded by some of the most inept shadowy government agents I have ever seen.  Whatever suspense or danger that might have pervaded previous installments is completely lacking here as Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) recovers from her injuries from the end of the first film and is on trial for her attempted murder of her father.

The plot mechanics of the film befuddle me but much of that is most likely a lacking in understand of the Swedish judicial system.  In either case, the story is dull and lacks any kind of suspense whatsoever.  In fact, taking this film and the previous one put together, one could say this would be the trial portion of a Swedish “Law and Order” remake.  After the events of the second film, Salander is recuperating while also being held under guard, charged for the attempted murder of her father who, for some reason or another (again, going to have to ask the Swedes on this one), is recuperating at the same hospital.  Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) takes it upon himself to use his magazine to publicly defend Salander and reveal all the dirty, corrupt practices of shady old white men who have kept her imprisoned and incapacitated for her entire adult life.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second installment in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, ditches Niels Arden Oplev, the director of the first installment in the Swedish series, for Daniel Alfredson and while the story is a marked improvement over the drab procedural of the original, Alfredson also trades in some cinematic import for a more TV movie feel.  While the story takes up more personal stakes and allows the viewer to enter the head space of Lisbeth Salander, the film’s central heroine, there’s also a lot more needless fat to the story and the kind of sheen that’s more evident on network television.  All of the gritty details are left to the story while the film takes a cleaner shine that betrays its gritty details.

A year has passed since the events of the first film and Lisbeth has been living abroad while Mikael Blomkvist is working with a new reporter at his Millenium Magazine hoping to expose a sex trafficking ring.  When Lisbeth returns to Stockholm and the young reporter and his girlfriend end up dead, with Lisbeth’s fingerprints on the gun, our two estranged heroes delve into the seedy underground each, separately, trying to prove the young hacker’s innocence.  As opposed to the first film which introduced her, this film reveals much of the background and history of its central character and she thusly feels more of an essential character.  In the first film, it felt like Lisbeth was little more than a sidekick character to Blomkvist within her own franchise but she takes center stage here revealing interesting details about her past and informing and playing off of events that felt like perfunctory appendages in the first film.

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On its surface John CassavetesGloria does not seem like your standard Cassavetes film.   The filmmaker known for his more realistic, hand-held style does slide into a more mainstream mode of filmmaking here but does it with such Cassavetes-style that the film becomes inarguably his.  Casting his wife Gena Rowlands in the lead role, the filmmaker takes a premise tailor-made for a warm, uplifting family picture and creates a darker portrait of childhood and family.  Rowlands stars as Gloria, a tough New York City mob moll  put in charge of a young Puerto Rican boy being hunted by gangsters.  Much of the film involves Rowland and the boy, played by John Adames, running through the boroughs of New York City taking trains, buses, and cabs all across avoiding danger and trying to find their way out.

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Friends With Kids

Friends with Kids

Jennifer Westfeldt’s directorial debut, Friends with Kids, is a lighthearted romantic comedy with an indie sensibility striving to be something just a bit more but, inevitably, falling to all of the third act clichés that plague most romantic comedies.  A film basically about the way our relationships change when kids enter the picture, the film is charming if a little guileless and confused in thematic content.  The film follows a group of friends, all in different stages in their relationships and how they morph and change once they have kids.

The core of the film follows two best friends, played by Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott, who decide to have a kid together without all of the mess associated with it like a relationship or marriage.  The rest of the ensemble is filled out with alumni from Bridesmaids – Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, and Jon Hamm – a group of friends who end up having kids and, in effect, provide the best case for how having kids effects and strains romantic relationships.  Westfeldt and Scott’s characters’ platonic relationship works out pretty well until each strike out on their own romantic relationships with Edward Burns and Megan Fox, respectively.

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Five Minutes of Heaven

Five Minutes of Heaven

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven is a hypnotic drama about the power of forgiveness and the heavy weight of our pasts using the violent era of the mid 1970s in Northern Ireland as a prism through which to explore its heady themes.  Hirschbiegel, directing from a snappy, knowing script by Guy Hibbert, expertly portrays the gut-wrenching emotions and keeps the film from being a stylistic exercise.  Rather he perfectly captures deep, penetrating moments and encapsulates an era of violence in riveting detail.

Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt play two men talked into meeting for a television program.  Neeson was a young USF member who shot Nesbitt’s brother in cold blood in front of Nesbitt as a young child.   The tension of the film rises and abates expertly throughout.  First, with its introductory scene, we witness the violent incident in a near-perfect build up.  The tension slowly rises again as the meeting between the two men inches forward with unexpected results.  Will Nesbitt kill Neeson?  Is reconciliation possible?

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Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a sometimes clever, but mostly rote, horror comedy that takes the “kids going out to the cabin in the woods and facing hillbilly homicidal maniacs” genre of horror and subverts the entire concept to sometimes funny but in the end, tiring results.  On the film’s face, it’s a one note joke stretched out to feature-length and, unfortunately, that would be correct.  While the film’s two amicable leads, Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk, give great comedic performances and have a great easygoing chemistry to their back and forth, the rest of the film hangs on a clever concept that is quickly diminished as the film goes along.

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My Life as a Dog

My Life as a Dog

Lasse Hallstrom’s sweet, unassuming My Life as a Dog puts the audience in a time and place that is so warm and inviting, you don’t want to leave it.  That is probably the greatest accomplishment of Hallstrom’s ode to childhood innocence.  Hallstrom’s breakthrough Swedish movie, which resulted in two Oscar nominations for the filmmaker (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay), perfectly encapsulates the fears, heartaches, tragedies, and triumphs of childhood.  Backed up by some amazing child performances and a cast that feels as real as the small town in any country in the world, the film has a winning charm that’s hard to ignore.

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