A law student and a journalist investigate political assassinations.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Knowing very little about the Pelican Brief before pressing play, beyond its early-90’s setting, its casting of a peak-of-their-powers Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, and its adaptation from a John Grisham novel, I hardly expected a 70’s style conspiratorial saga in the vein of All the President’s Men or The Conversation. A Time to Kill and The Client are both pulpy stories on a local scale, but The Pelican Brief revolves around the highest levels of American power. This is one of those cases where the source material and the writer/director are in perfect synch, with Grisham’s high-minded David and Goliath stories matching up with Alan Pakula’s established credentials as a master of these kinds of films. Having directed All the President’s Men, Pakula knows how to make goons shadowy and dialogue-heavy scenes propulsive, as surely as Grisham knows how to make lawyers heroic.
Something has held true throughout the first two films of our Denzel Washington trilogy, and it’s held true for Denzel’s career at large: he’s always the best thing in his films. That’s not a hard task when he’s opposite Mark Walhberg or a bored Chris Pratt, but it’s the case too when he’s working with Tom Hanks or Viola Davis or Russell Crowe. The man has presence, and no matter how bad the film is (Magnificent Seven, cough, cough), he’s going to steal his scenes. The tragedy is that he takes part in films where he’s the eye in a swirling storm of half-baked characters and subpar writing, as is the case with Mo’ Better Blues. Denzel’s Bleek is untouchable, but we’re on a sliding scale of Spike Lee movies at the MMC. Chi-raq flirted with greatness, School Daze had enough going for it to make it recommendable, and now, even Denzel’s iron-willed lead performance can’t rescue Mo’ Better Blues from mediocrity.
Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech holds a major piece of real estate in Mike Mills' semi-autobiographical film 20th Century Women. Derided at the time but seen as somewhat prescient decades later, Carter diagnosed the country's problems in a perilous economic time and recommended a series of solutions at the macro and micro level. He refused to coddle the country, saying that we all had a part to play in bringing things to their current state but that we also had the power, individually and communally, to improve things. One year later, Carter would be replaced by Ronald Reagan, a man who told the country flattering lies about itself and created a culture that would only exacerbate the problems Carter talked about, pulling the country further into selfishness and consumerism. In 20th Century Women, Reagan's so-called 'Morning in America' has not yet dawned, and the characters are all in various states of malaise. Like Carter, they prefer honesty and hard truths to hand-waving and pleasant lies. 20th Century Women isn't going for the big moment or the grand turning point, but does the hard work of small steps. It prefers low-key tragedies to grand victories, and defines aging as the world getting regretfully smaller but richer and deeper at the same time.
A few rounds ago, my pick was the horrendous Escape From Tomorrow, a low-budget movie that was filmed using guerilla-style tactics at the Walt Disney World theme park; I was intrigued by this because the movie poster had a blood covered Mickey Mouse hand on the front. I decided to select another Disney-related film, Walt Before Mickey—a bio-drama about the struggles of Walt Disney before his creation of the Mouse. After viewing this film, I checked out the film’s Wikipedia page, where I noticed the word “guerilla” in its “Production” section. It reads “… Director Khoa Le talked about the challenges of the project, having been hired at the last minute to direct and having little familiarity with Disney himself. He mentioned, 'I came from a short film background, indie stuff, so I knew how to work efficiently. … For most scenes the actors got only two takes. I had to go back to my grassroots of guerrilla filmmaking.’” After this statement, the quality of the film makes more sense to me. However, the problems with this movie begin before you even consider the film’s production. Can I just mention how horrible the script was?
Everyone likes looking at a picture of themselves. It starts when we’re young, right? In the 80’s and 90’s, Polaroids were like magic and you couldn’t wave them fast enough to see how good the picture was. I remember being enthralled with the wizardry of watching myself on the TV as my uncle was filming us at Christmas in the 80’s. Today, people actually die trying to get pictures of themselves. Toddlers demand to see instant results of the picture or video on your phone. There’s just something inherently satisfying about seeing ourselves. Maybe it’s an ego thing or maybe it’s just curiosity, but it’s always a powerful draw.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.