Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Washington Post columnist and Morning Joe regular David Ignatius also finds time to write novels, including Body of Lies which was made into a film directed by Ridley Scott that starred Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. His latest, The Quantum Spy, focuses on the race between the U.S. and China to develop a quantum computer, one capable of breaking codes millions of times faster than conventional computers. Ignatius has done his homework, yet makes the details about quantum computing understandable. In reality, while some progress has been made towards developing this super smart computer, the research is still in its infancy. Much is at stake. The country that manages to develop the first quantum computer will have an edge and it’s a battle that the CIA does not want to lose. That often means using methods that are unethical and at times illegal.
John Vandel, the CIA agent leading the operation, lacks a moral compass, whether dealing with the Chinese, the American scientists, or his own agents. He stays focused on the end game. Nothing else matters, even a bond that was forged on the battlefield. In 2005, Vandel was at the CIA station in Baghdad when the Green Zone sustained a rocket attack. Lieutenant Harris Chang, a patriot from Flagstaff, Arizona, ended up saving Vandel’s life. Seeing something in Chang, Vandel recruits him for the CIA and, for a while, the two enjoy a close working relationship. Yet that bond begins to fray when Vandel suspects, despite Chang’s protestations, that the young man has been seduced by the Chinese. Chang discovers, much to his dismay, that he may be an American, but to many he will first be Chinese and, therefore, suspected of betraying his country. Needless to say, the racist attitude on the part of Vandel and others in the CIA do not speak well of the agency Ignatius presents.
Meanwhile, there’s a mole in the CIA, someone feeding information to the Chinese. Chang is enlisted to tease out the mole, an operation that will test his loyalties, to both his heritage and his country.
Ignatius, who knows how to craft a page turner, has spent many years covering the CIA and other agencies. When does fiction cross over to real life? Perhaps more often than we know.
With the upcoming released biopic, The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep already garnering Oscar buzz, it seems like a good time to consider other times movies have brought the news industry into the spotlight. At a time when the future of newspapers and journalism seems so uncertain the following films are especially relevant.
All The President’s Men (1976) This classic political thriller tells the now legendary story of how Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) investigation and reporting of an a minor break-in at the Watergate led to a tangled web that brought down the Nixon presidency. (It also ensured that all future scandals would have the title ‘gate’ attached to their name.) Directed by Alan Pakula (Klute, The Parallax View) and with a screenplay by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) it was an instant commercial and critical success. It would garner eight Academy Award nominations and four awards including Best Screenplay for Goldman and Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards. It currently holds a fresh rating of 93% on the Tomatometer.
Fletch (1985) Los Angeles Times reporter and master of disguise Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase in what he would call his favorite roll) is posing as a junkie while researching an expose on drug trafficking. A millionaire approaches him and claiming to be terminally ill hires Fletch to kill him. When further investigation reveals the millionaire to be in perfect health, Fletch realizes he’s on to a potentially much bigger story. To get at it, will take all his considerable wits. The movie was a critical and commercial hit spawning a sequel and has gone on to garner a cult following as well.
The Paper(1994) Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) directed this American comedy-drama taking place over 24 hectic hours in the life of Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) Metro editor for the New York Sun, a fictional tabloid. The Sun is experiencing cash flow problems and is making drastic cuts. Meanwhile Henry’s wife, Martha (Marisa Tomei), is expecting their first child and aggravated with his workaholism. She wants him to take a job at the New York Sentinel (a thinly disguised version of the New York Times). Meanwhile a sensational double homicide of two white businessman and subsequent arrest of two African American teenagers has Harry’s news sense tingling. The all star cast also includes Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards (again!). It currently holds an 88% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes with critics praising the film for capturing the frenetic high energy environment of actual newsrooms.
State of Play (2009) This taut political thriller was an adaption of a six-part BBC series by the same name. Russell Crowe turns in a pitch perfect performance as investigative reporter Cal McAffrey who probes the suspicious death of Congressman Stephen Collins’ (Ben Affleck) mistress. Matters are further complicated by the fact that McAffrey and Collins were once old friends and that Cal had an affair with Stephen’s wife Anne (Robin Wright). Cal convinces his wary, long suffering editor Cameron (the always fabulous Helen Mirren) to let him dig deeper into the matter with the help of young reporter and blogger Della (Rachel McAdams at her most charming). Needless to say twists and turns abound in an intricate plot of layered conspiracy. State of Play garnered generally favorable reviews and Crowe won the Best Actor award from the Australia Film Institute.
Spotlight (2015) This searing biographical crime drama follows how The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team uncovered a pattern of widespread systemic sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, that kicked off an international scandal. Starring Michael Keaton (again!), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams (again!), Stanley Tucci, and Liev Schreiber it’s an instant masterpiece demonstrating how a culture of complicity and silence enabled generations of abuse. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. (Read our earlier review.)
Thursday, May 25th is National Wine Day! Celebrated every year it’s an excuse (like you really needed one), to have a glass or two of your favorite vintage. It also seems like an appropriate time to consider wine on cinema.
An Autumn Tale(1998) This French film is directed by Erich Rohmer (My Night at Maud’s, Triple Agent) and is the fourth of Tales of Four Seasons cinema quartet. Magali (Beatrice Romand) is a forty-something widowed winemaker. Magali loves her work but has been lonely since her husband’s death and so her two best friends secretly scheme to find a husband for her. It won the Golden Osella Prize for Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival as was selected as the Best Foreign Language Film by the National Society of Film Critics.
Mondovino(2004) Written and directed by Jonathon Nossiter (a former sommelier from New York’s Balthazar), this documentary examines the impact of globalization on the world’s different wine regions. In competition are the ambitions of giant multinational wine producers like Robert Mondavi with the interests of single estate wineries who pride themselves on wines with individual character. Nossiter also explores the impact of critics like Robert Parker on determining an international ‘style’ of wine. Along the way Nossiter visits wineries in France, Italy, California, and Brazil. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival as well as a Cesar Award and holds a 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Sideways(2004) Alexander Payne (Election, Nebraska,) directed and co-wrote this adaption of the Rex Pickett’s novel by the same name. Depressed teacher and would be writer Miles Raymond (the one and only Paul Giamatti) and his best friend, Hollywood Has Been Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church in the role that launched his career comeback) take a week-long trip to Santa Barbara’s wine country to celebrate Jack’s upcoming wedding. Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) and Virginia Madsen (Ghosts of Mississippi, The Prairie Home Companion) make memorable appearances as well. It was a runaway critical and commercial success, grossing over a $100 million on a $16 million dollar budget. Sideways won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for four other awards including Best Picture.
Bottle Shock (2008) This comedic drama directed by Randall Miller is based on the notorious 1976 wine competition termed the Judgment of Paris when California wine defeated French wine in a blind taste test. These results sent shock waves through the industry, putting Californian wine on the map and signaling the downfall of French domination of the wine industry with new contenders coming from all corners of the world. Bill Pullman and Chris Pine play a father-son team of winemakers but the MVP of the team is the late great Alan Rickman as British wine snob Steven Spurrier.
Red Obsession (2013) This Australian documentary was narrated by Russell Crowe and co-directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross. It takes viewers on a journey from China to Bordeaux as it examines the trends of the global wine industry interviewing winemakers, wine critics, and wine lovers. It won the AACTA awards for Best Documentary and Best Direction in a Documentary and currently holds a 100% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.
With Oliver Stone’s Snowden in theaters (read our review), now seems like a good time to remember some other cinematic entries about other people who chose to blow the whistle on their employers-no matter the cost.
Serpico (1973) Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) and starring Al Pacino in the title role, it tells the true story of how NYPD officer Frank Serpico went undercover to expose corruption in the police force. It covers twelve years; 1960-1972. It was successful commercially and artistically receiving Academy Awards for Best Actor for Pacino and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also routinely comes up on lists of the best crime movies AND best movies of the 20th century period, as well as being considered a high mark to Lumet and Pacino’s careers.
The Insider (1999) Directed by Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral) and based on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” 60 Minutes did a segment on Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe in one of his best performances) a whistleblower in the tobacco industry. His efforts to come forward were championed by CBS producer Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino) despite efforts by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company to silence and discredit Wigand. It wasn’t a big hit commercially but highly lauded by critics and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009) Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith directed this documentary following Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, which detailed the military’s secret history in Vietnam. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. It won prizes at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Boulder International Film Festival, the Sidney Film Festival, as well as snagging a Peabody Award.
The Whistleblower (2010) Directed by Larysa Kondracki (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul) and starring Rachel Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovac an American police officer recruited by the United Nations to be a peacekeeper for DynCorp International in post-war Bosnia in 1999. Bolkovac discovered a sex trafficking ring that catered to and was facilitated by DynCorp employees while UN peacekeeping forces looked the other way. Bolkovac went public. It was nominated for three Genie Awards and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at both the Whistler Film Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival. Warning – because of the subject matter, this one is extremely violent, graphic, and incredibly dark.
War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State (2013) Directed by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Foundation it clocks it at just 66 minutes. War on Whistleblowers highlights several cases where government employees and contractors took cases of fraud and abuse to the media. All of them were penalized for it professionally and personally. It has a fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes with Variety magazine calling it “a sobering picture of a national security state.”
In further proof that Hollywood is out of fresh ideas for anything that doesn’t star someone wearing a cape, they’ve decided to do a completely unnecessary remake of the Charlton Heston classic Ben-Hur, coming out on August, 19. But to be fair to the movie executives, there is something especially appealing about films set in the days of Ancient Rome. Consider the following.
Julius Caesar (1953) This film adaption of the Shakespearean play was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz of All About Eve. Louis Calhern (The Asphalt Jungle, The Prisoner of Zenda) played the title role, while James Mason (The Boys From Brazil, Murder by Decree) played Brutus and won Best Actor Award from The National Board of Review which also awarded Julius Caesar Best Film. Marlon Brando as Marc Antony was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the BAFTA as did John Gielgud for his turn as Cassius.
Spartacus (1960) Directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Howard Fast, it tells the true story of a gladiator who began a slave uprising against the Roman Empire. Starring Kirk Douglas (in arguably his most iconic role) as the titular lead opposite Laurence Olivier as Roman general Crassus the film won four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor for Peter Ustinov for his turn as slave trader Batiatus. Furthermore, its screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted at the time, and President Kennedy himself crossed picket lines to view the film! It became Universal Studios highest grossing picture to date, and “I Am Spartacus,” is part of the zeitgeist.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum(1966) This hysterical musical comedy farce based on the Broadway smash of the same name, was directed by Richard Lester (Help! The Three Musketeers) and had the legendary Zero Mostel (The Producers) reprising his stage role as Pseudolus as well as Jack Gilford (Cocoon) as Hysterium. Joining them were Lester favorites Roy Kinnear, Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern, and lastly Buster Keaton in what was his last motion picture performance. It won the Oscar for Best Musical Score; no surprise since the music and lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim.
Monty Python’s Life Of Brien (1979) Following Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the irreverent British comedy group wowed the world once more with this religious satire about how Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) a member of the People’s Front of Judea (one of a large number of divided Jewish independence groups who spend more time fighting each other than the Romans) around during the time of Christ gets mistaken for the actual Messiah. The film provoked gut belly laughter AND accusations of blasphemy from numerous religious groups. Ireland and Norway both banned its screening altogether. Despite (or rather because of) the controversy it became the fourth highest box office hit in Great Britain and the top grosser of any British film in the U.S. that year.
Gladiator(2000) This box office smash directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down) about how General Meridius (Russell Crowe) is sold into slavery, betrayed by the evil Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), sold into slavery. Meridius then rises through the ranks of the Gladiator arena scheming to avenge his murdered family. The film won Best Picture, Best Actor, as well as three others Oscars AND helped revitalize the historical epic movie genre.