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Clooney's Good Night is brilliant

By Lady Liberty
web posted October 31, 2005

The Weather Man

** 1/2 out of ****

The Weather ManThere were a number of movies available to me this weekend, several of which I wanted to see. With the time to see only one, however, I had to make a choice. My criteria were twofold: Which of the new releases was getting the best reviews (or at least not the worst)? And, being both tired and not feeling particularly well, which was the shortest? The Weather Man filled the bill on both counts, and so I elected to buy my tickets accordingly. Whether or not the criteria was actually more sensible than it sounds here or I got lucky, the fact remains: The Weather Man is a pretty good movie.

David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is an up and coming weather man in Chicago. He enjoys his work, taking particular pride in his "green screen" abilities. He's good enough that a major New York morning show has extended him an invitation to audition. But even that success isn't, in David's eyes, even close to measuring up to those of his father. Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine) — David has shortened his name for TV — is an author with numerous prizes to his credit, including a Pulitzer. David is constantly trying to measure up; the elder Spritzel is consistently oblivious and critical.

Whether David will admit his professional successes to himself or not, there's one thing everyone can agree on: His personal life is in a shambles. He's divorced from a woman he still loves (Noreen, played by Hope Davis); his 15 year-old son may or may not be a juvenile delinquent (Mike, played by Nicholas Hoult); his 12 year-old daughter is sullen and overweight (Shelly, played by Gemmenne de la Pena); and the chubby and obsequious Russ (Michael Rispoll) is dating his ex-wife and horning in on his family.

David does all he can to get closer to both his father and his son. He conscientiously tries to bring Shelly out of her shell. He even wants to attempt a reconciliation with his wife. But when Mike's rehab counselor, Don (Gil Bellows) starts cozying up to David's son, and at the same time the elder Spritzel experiences a health crisis, David doesn't know what to do next. Predictably, whatever he does doesn't work out quite the way he hopes.

Nicolas Cage has long been one of my favorite actors. He tends to choose quirky roles, and they're perfect for him. David Spritz is no exception. Hope Davis and Michael Rispoll are fine in limited roles; Gil Bellows is more than a little surprising as a counselor who may or may not have a dark side. Michael Caine, of course, is spot on as a distant father who isn't really cold; he just isn't quite sure how to get along with a son who's so dramatically different from him and his own lifestyle and desires. The children, too, acquit themselves well, most notable Gemmenne de la Pena who's both heart-wrenching and funny to watch.

The Weather Man is, surprisingly, directed by Gore Verbinski (best known for the mega-hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl). That may, in fact, be the only misstep in the film. Verbinski does a perfectly fine job, but it's impossible not to wonder if perhaps a more artistic director could have wrung more out of the film than a man best known for his action direction. Meanwhile, I can't imagine even a bad director being able to completely ruin a movie that has such a stellar script as does The Weather Man.

Those of you who read these reviews regularly know that I'm a big Charlie Kaufman fan (he wrote Adaptation and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among other things). And until I saw the closing credits, I actually thought that The Weather Man might be an understated Kaufman effort. It isn't. The writer is Steven Conrad who, with this film, has set himself a very high bar indeed.

The Weather Man is filled with dark humor and wrenching drama; it's riddled with the quirks and foibles that every man (and woman) has, but that few exhibit to any but their closest friends and family. To write such a script is nothing short of terrific; to get someone like Nicolas Cage to headline the resulting film is singularly appropriate. The movie is dry, to be sure, and deceptively matter-of-fact. It's not going to be everybody's cup of tea. But for those who like this sort of thing, The Weather Man is a real jewel in a fall movie schedule filled almost entirely with Oscar™ hopefuls and mass-appeal action films.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Weather Man is rated R for "strong language and sexual content." Frankly, I think that there are some things here that younger teens could benefit from seeing, not the least of which are the attempts of two fathers to better know and relate to their children. If you've got teens who appreciate dry humor and melodramatic situations, The Weather Man isn't a bad suggestion for the whole family. I'd suggest this movie for those of about age 14 and up. Meanwhile, for the true movie aficionado, there's much to recommend The Weather Man, not least of which is that wholly wonderful script!

Good Night, and Good Luck

*** 1/2 out of ****

Good Night, and Good LuckJust because I'm on vacation doesn't mean I'm going to miss seeing a movie! While I was in Washington DC last week, I took the opportunity of being in a much larger city to see something that probably won't show up in my own relatively small town theatres. That, and the fact that my friend wanted to see Good Night, and Good Luck, is how I ended up buying a ticket to the award-winning film. After having seen it, I truly can't imagine a more appropriate story for either the time or the place.

Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) revolutionized both radio and television in his day. He was an electronic journalism pioneer, and a strong advocate of free speech. Murrow, who revamped his "Hear it Now" radio show into TV's "See it Now" in the 1950's, was a regular presence in most American households at the time. His partner and producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney), was in on virtually all that Murrow determined to do including the greatest risk of his career: taking on Senator Joseph McCarthy.

McCarthy, as most of us know, was the power behind the Senate's unAmerican activities hearings. In short, McCarthy had a jones for Communism so strong and paranoid that he saw Communists everywhere. Fear on the part of many, and a desire to share in the power for some others, resulted in damaging testimony and ruined lives and careers throughout Hollywood, politics, and the media. Murrow saw it happening, and determined to take it on; the head of the CBS networks, William Paley (Frank Langella) and of its news division, Sigfried Mickelson (Jeff Daniels) discouraged Murrow, but — to their credit — didn't stop him.

Shirley Wershba (Patricia Clarkson) did research and reported stories from the print media or from political news releases to the writers and reporters; her secret husband, Joe Wershba (Robert Downey, Jr.) was also an integral member of the production crew. As the "See It Now" crew worked to put together more shows on the subject, news anchor and reporter Dan Hollenbeck (Ray Wise) found himself attacked by McCarthy's accusations. Though Murrow and his crew are sympathetic to say the least, nothing will stop them from making public the paranoia and the unreasonableness behind McCarthy's efforts.

Good Night, and Good Luck is a wonderfully done story about a time in history that many of us don't even learn about any more (I certainly wasn't taught anything about it in school!). The acting is superlative on all counts, but is truly breathtaking on the part of David Strathairn. Though confident as the onscreen and off screen Murrow, little tics, twitches, and the look in his eyes let you know just how frightened he is of the possible repercussions of what he's doing. Wise's Hollenbeck is first angry, then afraid, and finally desperate; his portrayal conveys all of those things brilliantly. Although those two performances are worthy of singling out, the bottom line is that there's not a mediocre or even an adequate performance in the bunch. They're all just terrific.

George Clooney directed and co-wrote Good Night, and Good Luck, and did a brilliant job at both. The single criticism I'd have (and it echoes precisely the comments of the friend with whom I saw the film) is this: it's never truly conveyed just how terrified people were — and with what good reason — of the McCarthy Communist juggernaut. Although bad things happen in the film, many are so peripheral that we don't get the real feeling of the horror those days were for some people; we also don't get a real sense of the bravery involved in those who took the project on since the fear isn't adequately conveyed from most.

But that's really a small criticism, especially since it's the very under-statedness of the film that offers the most impact. That it's filmed in black and white and with flawless costuming and sets makes Good Night, and Good Luck almost more a documentary than a storytelling, and it's that much the better for it. The icing on the cake is the insertion of various "musical breaks" courtesy of jazz singer Dianne Reeves. They're mood-setting, entirely appropriate for the moment, and just plain amazing editing devices (kudos again to Clooney). Good Night, and Good Luck is a true story that everyone should know; but it's also a truly wonderful movie.

POLITICAL NOTES: In one of his on-air speeches, Murrow intones: "We must not confuse dissent with loyalty," and "We will not be driven by fear." He notes that we're not descended from fearful men, and that they in their time had the courage to speak the unpopular. Murrow, of course, was certainly heroic in the 1950's when he chose to fight McCarthy's hold on America. But it was chilling in many ways to see the film in a day and age where we're told that merely speaking against the war in Iraq is unAmerican, and that being critical of the war effort or the government is tantamount to terrorism. Lives and careers are at risk now, too, and we can only hope that the Fourth Estate will do its job as Murrow and other luminaries of the past envisioned and ensured for themselves in their day.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Good Night, and Good Luck is rated PG because "some material may be unsuitable for children." In truth, I don't believe that any of the movie is suitable for children. That's not because of language, violence, or the like, but rather because of the nature of the story itself. Only adults will be able to grasp all of the implications of the plot; only adults will be able to appreciate what happens during the movie. I suspect that even the most mature child won't get much out of the movie, and will probably be bored out of his skull. You, on the other hand, won't be if you're there to see history, superlative movie-making, or both.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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