Recently Rated Movies #8: Lucking Out at Good Night, and Good Luck

This Monday past, as we approached the doors of the Century 25 in Orange, intent to make our way through said doors to finally check out Good Night, and Good Luck, Jen and I were stopped by a clipboard-bearing fellow of relatively youngish bearing. Having become accustomed to such people in Alaska standing outside theatres bearing queries as to our general standing on the pet political issue of the moment (such as aerial wolf shaving), I was more than prepared to hear the lad out. As I prepared my soapbox for a good stepping up, I was stunningly surprised when he asked us a most mind-boggling question: "Would you like to attend a test screening of a new motion picture tomorrow night?"

Ye cats! I had totally forgotten that I was now living in Southern California, and that such things, I had been told, were a regular part of life down here. Nearly everyone I know that has spent even a minute portion of time in this area seems to have a story involving an invitation to a test screening. People will offhandedly tell me "Oh yeah, I was in town for twelve minutes and someone approached us about going to see a free screening of some film. We were leaving the next day, so we couldn't go" or "Yeah, someone asked us as we were leaving the abortion clinic if we wanted to see a test screening. We weren't doing anything, so we went" or "I was having a gruntie one afternoon and someone slid the bottom half of a clipboard underneath the bathroom door and asked me about seeing some film." Apparently, these people are everywhere down here.

Edward R. Murrow
Well, I'm not one to miss out on the free advance goodies, so, of course, the moment that the question was out of his mouth, I was delivering my joyous response in the affirmative. The only possible way that I could have answered "yes" faster were if I were offered the position of Charlize Theron's personal Thighmaster.

I will not report on nor rate the film in question, outside of saying that it was a positive experience and momentarily overrode my qualms about test screenings in general. I have artistic issues with their use by studios, but Jen waylaid those issues by convincing me that it was a chance to use my powers for good, and that I could help the artistic process along the way. Perhaps in the future (closer to or on the film's release) I will discuss the matter. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on this subject...

The jury, however, is in on Good Night, and Good Luck, and in my best Gene Shalit style (I promise to never do this again!), I am declaring it GUILTY... guilty of being one of the best films that I have seen this year! I will be sorely disappointed if David Strathairn is not just handed an Oscar for his performance as Edward R. Murrow. Everyone has "ringer" films, films that you know are coming out that are "ringers" for your affection; films that are so locked into you as its target audience, due to personal interests, political leanings, etc., that you are almost definitely presold on the idea of the film before you have seen more than just the trailer. Personally, there are three films this year that fulfill such a role: Serenity, King Kong and Good Night, and Good Luck. Of course, "ringer" films can go horribly awry (witness "Phantom Menace," for instance), but I have been fortunate with the two released thus far.

It is a definite pleasure seeing this story retold for Generation I. The parallels to today's media and political climate are devastatingly clear ("the more things change, the more they stay the same" has never been more true), and you get a savage buzz watching these people fly by the seat of their pants prepping their campaign against the insane Sen. McCarthy. (Yes, I said insane. I would add evil, too, but I'm in a time crunch. So, I'll leave things polite.) Having been obsessed with Murrow briefly as a young adult, I poured through numerous recordings and biographies on him before moving on to my next obsession (which I believe was, briefly, Lord Dunsany). I highly recommend Murrow: His Life and Times by A.M. Sperber, and I am quite angry at myself for selling off my hardback copy of the book right before I left Alaska. (I am especially angry because I knew this movie was coming out and would most assuredly want to read it again either before or after I saw the film. Oh well...guess I'm buying the paperback...)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was not a "ringer" film, except in the idea that the ticket was "presold" (which, I assume, is all that really matters to the studio). I know full well that I will see each of the films in this series, so they might as well take vouchers from all of the devoted fans of the books, too, and tabulate future box office earnings right now. I'm glad that they are intent on seeing the series through with the same actors, and I will check out each film, even though I am always hesitant in the area of sequels. The Potter series has been that rare series where the films, have grown stronger with each succeeding volume (much like the books), mainly due to the series growing up (sometimes in a very severe way) along with the characters. 

This film is quite enjoyable, though a notch slightly below the third film, and this is mainly due to what I view as some awkward editing (mainly in transitional scenes) that would jar me just enough to take me out of the fantasy of the film. That said, the dragon sequence was very well-turned; the underwater sequences were a murky and creepy wonder, and I really liked the look that they designed for Voldemort. When Ron cries out "Bloody Hell!" when the hottie French chicks enter the hall, I was staggered briefly for two reasons: I had forgotten the slightly more adult tone of the fourth book, and because I pay no attention whatsoever to the rating of a film, I had no idea the film was PG-13. I figure by the time the seventh film rolls out, there will be an NC-17, because I hear Rowling is planning to have Hermione's pumpkin juiced at an All-Slytherin graduation party gangbang. Good luck with the MPAA with that, J.K.

I wanted to really love Walk the Line, but (and I will skip the obvious Shalit-ism apparent in the title) the film turns out to be standard bio-pic fare (much like the joyously entertaining but overrated Ray) and could have almost been a TV movie-of-the-week (if such things truly existed anymore). What is great here is totally held within the performances of the leads and in the energy produced by the musical sequences (sung surprisingly well by Phoenix and Witherspoon). I just wish that someone would break the stagnant mold of the bio-pic over their knee, and give us a truly bold new vision of the biographical picture. Of course, safe is the way that the studios play with these projects, so it will never happen. (This same problem is why the Bond series is still being shot with the safety on. Give a film to Tarantino or Rodriguez and LET THEM PLAY! Let David Lynch shoot the Martha Stewart story! Let Altman remake Sybil so that all of her personalities talk over each other's lines!)

On the down side of things, I caught Catwoman on HBO on Saturday night. Now I remember why I am getting rid of HBO at the end of the month. It's not HBO's fault: they only scheduled the damnable thing. No, it's purely and simply the filmmakers' fault. Halle Berry is indeed a perfect choice to play Catwoman, just not the one portrayed in this movie. There is a section in the middle of the film, before she dons the ridiculous-looking kitty mask for the remainder of the film, where the recently revived Patience Phillips (no Selina Kyle here) foils/heists a group of jewelry store burglars. The scene is fun, has great kinetic energy, and has Berry looking and acting like the lost daughter of Eartha Kitt's Catwoman from the 60's. (She even affects an outrageous purr in her voice.) This is the way they should have gone, so it's too bad the rest of the film is so... so... so-so. It's not even camp enough to be fun in a Showgirls sort of way, just... boring. And monumentally stupid.

Sharon Stone seems to get it though. She has the perfect tone -- high camp -- throughout the film, digging her teeth into the role. And it is a shame that the rest of the crew and cast didn't just go with her on this one. As for people ragging on the plot about killer makeup products that can give you super-strength and flesh of marble, well, we are talking a genre involving radioactive spiders and babies crashing into earth from other planets. That part of the film was the most believable component. All in all, it would be a yawn-rousing time, except that a yawn might cause me to hack up a furball.

The List:

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) - 8
Svengali (1931) TCM - 6
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) - 7
Road to Bali (1952) TCM - 6
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) HBO - 6
The Naked Spur (1953) TCM - 7
Return of the Bad Men (1948) TCM- 5
Catwoman (2004) HBO - 3
The Velvet Goldmine (1998) IFC - 6
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) IFC - 8
Kiru [Kill!] (1968) IFC - 7
Dai-bosatsu toge [Sword of Doom] (1966) DVD - 8
Bollywood/Hollywood (2002) Sundance - 6
Walk the Line (2005) - 7


EggOfTheDead said…
Only a 7 for Velvet Goldmine? I'd like to hear your thoughts on that. I loved it! Granted, Haynes uses some of my favorite Brian Eno tracks, which predisposes me to be happy, regardless of what's on screen. Having three beautiful men engaged in every stage of nudity and fabulous dress also blinds me to any obvious cinematic flaws. In my heart of hearts I know I should have been born a gay male drag queen. Curse this shapely female form of mine!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is another recent favorite, particularly for its originality ... and great music and fabulous outfits. When Hedwig is introduced to the Gummi Bears of the western world and is led on "that trail of candy-colored carnage," well, Wow :-)
Rik Tod said…
Perhaps, at some point, I will elaborate on The Velvet Goldmine, but for now, rest assured that in my ratings system, a 7 rates as "very good"; for it to rate higher it would have to equal or exceed "Hedwig", which is both a better and far more enjoyable film, both musically and dramatically, though even that is only rated an 8, which is excellent. A 9 is my highest rating, and the film has to be truly classic and unique to rate that score. It's all purely subjective, and you might not agree with my rating, but to each his or her own. I'm also not rating the film based on how many naked male bodies are piled up on each other in bed together (and the last time I checked I wasn't a gay male drag queen, but I never count anything out), but I still enjoyed the film nonetheless. I did think that the last act of the film was somewhat muddled, and unless they go back and visit some post-DVD revisions on the film (which they likely never will), my rating will probably not go up in the future. But only time, and subsequent viewings, will tell.

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