Tag Archives: journalism

Shock Corridor – Review

26 May

It’s always a joy to talk about one of the greatest film makers to grace American cinema, and this time it’s Samuel Fuller. With films like The Big Red OneWhite Dog, and of course Shock Corridor under his belt, it’s easy to see why. I can almost compare him to Sam Peckinpah in some ways. He’s a master of his craft, but his eccentricities and often taboo subject matter in his films didn’t quite make him popular in Hollywood. Shock Corridor is one of those examples of such odd film making filled with subject matter that certainly shouldn’t have flied in the early 1960s. Nowadays, however, it’s regarded as something of a small classic.

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Johnny Barret (Peter Breck) is a journalist who’s bent on winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize. He will literally do anything to win it, so when he learns of an unsolved murder in a mental hospital, he jumps at the opportunity. Using his girlfriend, Cathy (Constance Towers), to pose as his sister, he gets admitted to the hospital after supposed charges of attempted incest and abuse. Now fully undercover for his newspaper, Johnny begins to interview the three crazed witnesses of the murder and slowly begins piecing it together. All the while, however, Johnny is getting more and more into his role and slowly begins welcoming all of the insanity.

Shock Corridor was unleashed onto the public in 1963, making it one of the more provocative films I’ve seen of that era. This was a time where the Cold War and Communism was a big fear and the Summer of Love was still some years away. This wasn’t exactly a time of free artistic expression, and Samuel Fuller couldn’t care less. I really wish I was around to see what people’s reactions would have been to this movie when it was released over 50 years ago. There were a few moments where things like incest and prostitution were being discussed in such detail that I would wonder, “Could he really get away with that?”

 

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Shock Corridor is basically Fuller turning a mirror around on society and its beliefs through the use of patients in a mental institution. Think about that for a second. It’s probably not the most flattering someone could do. There are themes in this movie that deal with communism, atomic powerhouses, and racism which are all very important topics that Fuller handles in this most abrasive of ways. What really sticks out is the commentary on racism and how he pretty much makes racists and extremists look like complete wackos, even when he is speaking through the mouth of a black man who believes he is a white supremacist.

The main character of this movie is journalist who is striving to win the Pulitzer Prize through any way possible. There’s really no other film maker with enough credentials to write a journalist character than Fuller, considering he worked in journalism for pretty much his whole life up until he started making movie. You can see he has a lot to say through the way Barret behaves and conducts his interviews. While his subjects pretty much pour out their souls to him during their moments of clear thinking, all Barret cares about is solving the murder. What he doesn’t realize is the people in the hospital provide him with more than enough information for a Pulitzer Prize. I’m not sure exactly what he’s implying, but it’s certainly something about journalistic integrity.

Shock Corridor is another one of those movies that reminds me why I love them in the first place, and who better to remind me than Fuller, the man who inspired people like Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese. This is definitely a bizarre movie that defies all logic at time, but it’s one that has a lot to say about the time that it was made. This is a film that’s way ahead of its time, but that makes it all the more memorable, and more than worth the watches it may take to completely dissect it.

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Philomena – Review

20 Feb

I didn’t know too much about Philomena before going into it. I read a bare bones summary before watching it, but based on the poster, I was assuming that this was going to be some quirky indie movie with a touch of drama. I was not excited to see this. Then the movie started, and I realized that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Philomena is a dramatic powerhouse of a movie that completely took me by surprise and has not left my thoughts since I finished watching it.

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British journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is now unemployed after losing his job as a Labour government adviser. Finding himself with nothing to work on, he starts planning on writing a book about Russian history. That is until he meets a woman named Philomena (Judi Dench). Philomena lost her son when the convent she was put in gives the baby away without her knowledge, and for 50 years she has not stopped thinking about him and where he is. Sixsmith decides to use this story for a human interest story and helps Philomena with her search. It eventually brings them both to America where the mystery of her son’s life is revealed to be both tragic and wonderful.

If you just look at the poster above the summary, you may get a general sense of how this movie is. Well, that sense would be completely wrong, because just by looking at this poster I thought it was going to be a cute little piece of quirk. But, no. Philomena has this rare ability to rip out your soul and step on it, even though you may still be laughing at something that happened not five minutes before. While I was watching this movie, I kept saying “This is amazing. This movie is really amazing.”

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Steve Coogan and Judi Dench are part of what really makes this movie work. Their chemistry together is pretty dead on, and I feel that has a lot to do with Coogan’s natural way of acting and Judi Dench’s ability to transform herself completely into the character of Philomena. This being a sort of road trip movie, it’s pretty crucial that the characters are believable, but also show a little bit of tension. Normally, in an odd couple movie like this, one character is totally kooky and the other is the straight and narrow one. In Philomena, they never abuse this cliche, even though it is there. No cliches are ever actually abused, even when it comes to Coogan’s character as a journalist, who would seem to only really want to be involved for his own benefit. I never got the feeling that Sixsmith was trying to use this story primarily for his own gain.

Screenwriters Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan have crafted an excellent screenplay full of witty dialogue and humanity, while Stephen Frears directs it all with ease. While Coogan and Pope did write an excellent screenplay, you can’t forget that this is based off a true story. It’s startling to think that what happens here is even allowed to happen and it really makes you think what goes on behind the closed doors of some organizations amongst other major themes. This movie has a lot to say, and some of it is anything but positive, but Philomena is not a movie that tries to jam an opinion down your throat. It treats the viewers as intelligent human beings who are quite capable of deciding what they think for themselves.

Philomena was the most surprising movie of the year for me. I really had no interest in seeing it, and that just goes to show how wrong my movie radar can be. This is a funny, sad, and strangely hopeful movie based off an incredible true story that will shake you to your very core. It’s an interesting combination of characters and beliefs, and if you have an humanity in you at all you will be moved by this incredible piece of storytelling.

5 Days of War – Review

14 Aug

I enjoy seeing movies that have conflicts or worldly events as their story lines because chances are that I remember them actually happening. In 5 Days of War, the worldly event that happens is the short war between Russia and Georgia, a conflict that wasn’t really covered in full because of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I still remember seeing some coverage, but not following the stories too well to know what was going on. After 5 Days of War, I still can’t say that I’m 100% about the incident because this is nothing more than lame propaganda.

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After being ambushed in Iraq and losing his friend, Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) isn’t anxious to get back in the field. His job is dangerous, being a war reporter, but necessary to get the truth out in times of global crisis. After being talked into a trip to Georiga by his friend the Dutchman (Val Kilmer), Anders and his cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle) head over just in time to see the start of the violence between Russia and Georgia. While they are there, they witness and record a war atrocity and make it their mission to get it on the air despite being ignored by major news networks, all while protecting Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a Georgian woman who lost most of her family in the conflict.

The director of this film is Renny Harlin, who is most known for directing Die Hard 2Cliffhanger, and Deep Blue Sea. Now look at these movies, and think about the severity of the Russian-Georgian conflict. Taking a guy who directs mainly goofy action films and putting him in the directors chair for a film that is supposed to show a real life war with serious themes is not the best idea. It feels like part of the movie is there, but there are so many action clichés that pop up, it pulls you right out of the movie. These clichés also can be attributed to the awful screenplay.

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The screenplay. Oh, the screenplay. It may be more of an atrocity than what is depicted in the film. Ok, definitely not, but good lord. When I say it treats it’s audience like they’re a bunch of thirteen year olds who’ll believe anything they hear about anything, I’m being dead serious. First of all, haven’t the screenwriters, Mikko Alanne and David Battle, heard that when it comes to writing, less is more? There is so much expository dialogue and over decried scenarios that the dialogue feels more like a lecture than natural. Also, the clichés, which I have mentioned are terrible and would NEVER happen in a situation like this. Finally, the film makes the Georgians out to be peaceful angels who are being slaughtered by the evil Russian titans, thirsty for blood and power. Atrocities were done on both sides during the different conflicts between Georgia and Russia over the years. The Georgian propaganda is overwhelming and stupid.

Not all of this movie is bad, however. I will admit that there are some intense scenes that are pretty memorable. These are the times where the movie that this was supposed to be stands out. These intense scenes were accomplished well thanks to the cinematographer, Checco Varese, who was a news cameraman who recorded global conflict for many different news networks. As a guy who has been there and done that, the look of this movie is great and is really the only good thing about this movie

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5 Days of War is a stupid film that takes itself way too seriously, and ends up falling flat on its face. The propaganda is heavy handed and full of it, the characters are nothing special, and the story is clichéd and predictable. I can’t even say to check it out for the cool cinematography. It just isn’t worth it. There are better movies with this theme out there. Skip this movie altogether. It’s two hours of, for lack of a better word, bullshit.