Archive for Aaron Sorkin

The Private War of Representative Wilson

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2017 by dcairns

Both Frank Tashlin and Mike Nichols ended their careers with films about, one might say, private wars, but there the resemblance more or less ends. Though, if Bob Hope in THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL and Tom Hanks in CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR were to trade places, I don’t know how much difference it would make.

The Nichols film makes for an interesting capper. Scripted by Aaron Sorkin, who always does these things, it hashes up an unruly true story into a palatable dramatic shape. The REAL story buried inside the true one is that Wilson’s covert funding of Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invaders eventually led to the Taliban, and a US invasion which we’re still dealing with today. The film does its best to acknowledge that without admitting any culpability on the part of its protagonist, which is an impossible balancing act. And when the movie denounces the immorality of funding the mujahideen just enough to make the USSR waste resources fighting them, without giving them enough support to win, it has to kind of ignore the fact that this policy gave us Glasnost, whereas Charlie Wilson’s policy gave us… some very bad things indeed.

What else is bad? Oh yes, the warnography, which consists of strange montages of expensive battle reenactment and cheap stock footage, scored by Thomas Newton Howard with militaristic romanticism. Most of this is just montage stuff, presumably thrown in to stop this just being talk, but the talk is what’s good about it. One little scene showing Russian pilots discussing their sleazy love lives while strafing women and kids, before being heroically taken out of the skies by Wilson’s freshly-supplied rocket launchers would be enough to make you sick were it not immediately followed by a tight closeup of Amy Adams’ tightly-skirted ass, which makes things even worse, but somehow I can’t bring myself to blow chunks while looking at Amy Adams’ ass. But it’s probably an all-time career low in taste for Sorkin and Nichols.

   

When the film is dealing with dialogue, it’s on EXTREMELY sure footing, though. Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman are terrific in slightly different modes, and we get great scenes with them and Om Puri and then Ken Stott. Ken Stott as an Israeli? Is it the thing about Scotsmen and Jews both being mean? Whatever, when a terrific Brit character actor turns up completely by surprise, we rejoice.

As this is a political drama, this is fairly male-dominated. Among the females being dominated are Adams, gazing worshipfully at Hanks, and Emily Blunt. Julia Roberts is sexualized, but in charge. Her extraordinary makeup impressed Fiona, if it’s not historically correct for the true-life character, then it’s an inspired invention.

“She’s doing her eyelashes like Audrey Hepburn! And those weird-painted on shadows around her eyelids…” It’s the Caligari approach to cosmetics.

Nichols sure sense of casting and timing is undiminished in all the scenes of scheming and arguing. His compositional sense is less pleasing since he stopped working with Harold Michelson on storyboards, and his sense of structure is diminished without Sam O’Steen as editor — though I’m not sure whether executive interference had something to do with the dumb action scenes and the choppy transitions in the last third. But what you get in this film is just-passable coverage assembled with incredible zip into scenes which showcase terrific actors speaking terrific words. And that’s somewhat rare today, as it was ten years ago when this thing came out and I apparently didn’t bother to see it.

What are friends for?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2010 by dcairns

I really, really liked THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but I don’t know how much I have to say about it. Well, here goes.

First thing to strike is the rapid pace of dialogue, which is refreshing — I’ve been wallowing in pre-codes so it was nice to not feel I was being spoken to like a three-year-old. Also, the digital photography of Jeff Cronenweth is really beautiful, and particularly when doing what digital does best — showing night scenes without enhanced lighting.

(Is this going to be a checklist?)

Yay, John Getz! Stathis Borans himself (centre frame). In a cast as predominantly youthful as this, it’s good to have at least one face that isn’t inhumanly smooth, and craggy old Borans is a welcome sight. I don’t know why this guy didn’t make it bigger, he was good in THE FLY and BLOOD SIMPLE and then in THE FLY II, of all things, he was outstanding. And then he dropped off my radar completely. Here he’s that rarity, a sympathetic lawyer.

Whatever anybody says, I liked all the characters — there was something appealing about everybody, maybe because they were all so flawed and didn’t know it. Like Clouzot, I tend to find monstrously flawed characters more appealing than plain nice ones. And there aren’t many filmmakers around today who do nice well. Anyway, ZOMBIELAND’s Jesse Eisenberg and DR PARNASSUS’s Andrew Garfield are great, as is the satanic Justin Timberlake, the nastiest character, but one I still liked because he’s fun.

My viewing chums, Fiona and Marvelous Mary did regret the somewhat marginal roles played by the film’s female characters, but admitted that in a story of killer nerds, this was perhaps inevitable. Rooney Mara is very good in her pivotal role as the muse of Facebook, and I expect to see more of her, but it is a shamelessly boysie yarn.

Armie Hammer, a name which amuses me, plays twins, and Fiona immediately sussed that Fincher was more the kind of guy to use fancy digital footwork to achieve the effect than to indulge in a nationwide talent search for identical twins who can act and row boats. It turns out the technique used was precisely that which Olivia DeHavilland incorrectly believed was used to twin her in THE DARK MIRROR: Hammer played the scene with another, similarly-built actor Josh Spence, and then his head, sporting a different hairstyle, was filmed and inserted atop Spence’s body. At last, the technology exists to make DeHavilland’s mad dream a reality — somebody please call her up and tell her!

Fincher’s style is mostly crisp, fast-cut but with occasional longer and more fluid shots to break the pace — and then there’s a wildly indulgent trip to the Henley Regatta, where he breaks out a whole bunch of preposterous high-tech tricks. And the scene comes at the perfect point to offer relief from the rapidfire patter and jargon of the surrounding action.

I’m coining, and copyrighting, a neologism for filmmakers who want to be the new Kubrick — “kubris”. Fincher is definitely kubristic, with a mania for detail which advertises itself in every frame, but taken on his own merits he’s still an impressive package, with the special effects wizardry, loving detail-work, and enthusiasm for performance. Also, I think I’ve figured out that I’m going to instinctively know which Fincher films to go see — I had bad feelings about ALIEN 3, PANIC ROOM and BENJAMIN BORING BASTARD, and I was right, at least as far as whether I would enjoy them or not. Although it’s really only the last one that I regret shelling out shekels on.

For some reason, knowing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin largely by reputation (The West Wing etc), I hadn’t expected to be impressed by his work, but this witty take on “What shall it profit a man…” is superbly constructed and disposes of the acreage of exposition lightly and clearly. And I’m very curious how they cleared it with the legal department: a scurrilous tale from very recent history, dealing with a bunch of millionaires and billionaires who have already proved themselves litigious…

In spite of the technological subject and execution, I’d sell this film as a tragedy told in a very funny style, a pleasing combo with the added advantage of being really, really ridiculously good-looking. Dave Kehr finds the ending devastating, which just shows that one man’s devastating is another’s cute & well-rounded. But whatever your reaction, I think you’ll probably be glad you saw this one.