Insomnia File #39: Disclosure (dir by Barry Levinson)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

On Tuesday, if you were having trouble getting to sleep around one in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 1994 film, Disclosure.

The majority of Disclosure takes place at DigiCorp, which is some sort of technology company that Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) founded because, as the movie explains it, he only has $100 million dollars but still dreams of being a billionaire someday.  With a huge merger approaching, Garvin announces that he will be promoting Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore) to run the new CD-ROM division.  This shocks a lot of people, as everyone was expecting the promotion to go to Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas).  However, Garvin explains that, ever since his daughter died, he’s wanted to promote a woman.

(Presumably, if a male relative had died, Tom would have gotten the promotion.  I have to admit that I kept waiting for the film to get back to the subject of Garvin’s dead daughter but, apparently, that was just an odd throw-away line.)

Tom and Meredith have a history.  They were once lovers, though Tom is now happily married to Susan (Caroline Goodall) and has a family.  Meredith takes one look at a picture of Susan and says that Tom must miss being able to take his lover from behind whenever he felt like it.  Tom says, “Mrs. Robinson,  you’re trying to seduce me.”  No, actually, he says, “No, no, no, no, no, no…..”  It all ends with Tom fleeing Meredith’s office while Meredith, in her bra, chases after him, shouting threats all the way.  The only witness to this is a cleaning lady who sadly shakes her head before returning to her dusting.

Tom is so traumatized by the experience that he has a bizarre nightmare in which Donald Sutherland says that he likes his suit and then attempts to lick his face.  Tom’s trauma continues when he goes to work the next day and discovers that Meredith has accused him of sexual harassment!  Tom responds by suing the company and it’s time for an epic courtroom battle, one that will deal with one of the most important issues of our time….

….except that never happens.  Here’s what is weird.  For all the talk about abuse of power and all the scenes of a remorseful Tom apologizing to both his wife and his secretary for his past behavior, the whole sexual harassment plot turns out to be a red herring.

Instead, the film turns into this weird techno thriller, one that involves Tom trying to figure out how to make a better CD-ROM.  That may have been a big deal back in 1994 but today, you watch the film and you think, “Who cares?”  (Even better is a scene where Garvin brags about how his company is on the cutting edge of fax technology.)  Once Tom realizes that Meredith only accused him of sexual harassment to keep him from building the perfect CD-ROM, we get a scene of him using a virtual reality headset to search through the companies files.  At one point, he spots a bot with Demi Moore’s face destroying files and he shouts out, “She’s in the system!”  It’s just strange.

The film’s plot is often incoherent but the cast keeps things amusing.  Michael Douglas spends the first half of the movie looking either annoyed or terrified.  Things pick up for him in the 2nd half of the movie.  Whenever he gets good news from his lawyer, he jumps up in the air and goes, “Yessssssss!” and it’s so dorky that it’s kind of endearing.  Meanwhile, Demi Moore doesn’t even try to make Meredith into a credible character, which is actually just the right approach to take to this material.  There’s no room for subtlety in a film as melodramatic as this.  Finally, Donald Sutherland is his usual avuncular self, smirking at all the right moments and suggesting that he finds the movie to be just as amusing as we do.  For all of its plot holes and problematic subtext, Disclosure is an entertainingly stupid film.  A lot of the credit for the entertaining part has to go to the cast.

As I said, Disclosure is just strange..  As with most films from the 90s, its sexual politics are all over the place.  On the one hand, Tom learns that even inadvertent sexism can make the women who wok with him feel unsafe.  On the other hand, the only woman with any hint of a personality is portrayed as being pure evil.  In no way, shape, or form is this a movie to be taken seriously.  Instead, this is just a weird film that cries out, “1994!”

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed

Film Review: Paterno (dir by Barry Levinson)


There’s a great scene that occurs about an hour into HBO’s latest original film, Paterno.

Joe Paterno (Al Pacino), the legendary and aging Penn State football coach, has been accused of knowing and failing to report that one of his former assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky (Jim Johnson), was a pedophile.  With Paterno and his family plotting out strategy behind closed doors, a group of Penn State students gather outside of the Paterno home.  Instead of being angry that children were molested at their college, they’ve come to show their support for Paterno.

“JOE PATERNO!” they chant.

Scott Paterno (Greg Grunberg) hears the chants.  Scott is a lawyer and appears to be the only member of the Paterno family to truly understand the seriousness of the accusations.  Scott steps outside.

“JOE PATERNO!” the crowd continues to chant.

Scott thanks them for their support but then says that they also need to show the same support to all of Sandusky’s victims…

“JOE PATERNO!” the chant continues.

Struggling to be heard, Scott again asks them to remember that the children molested by Sandusky are the ones who need the most support…

Suddenly, the chant changes.  “SCOTT PATERNO!” the crowd starts to chant.  It’s not because they’ve heard anything that Scott’s said.  Instead, it’s because Scott’s a Paterno and, in the eyes of the crowd, that makes him royalty.  As the crowd continues to chant his name, Scott gives up and reenters the house.

Paterno could have used more scenes like that, scenes that explicitly showed the danger of blind hero worship as opposed to just telling us about it.  For the most part, Paterno feels like a well-written Wikipedia article.  You can’t deny the skill with which the film was made but, at the same time, it’s difficult not to get frustrated by Paterno‘s refusal to really dig too far underneath the surface of the story.

Some of the problem is with the film’s structure.  The film primarily takes place over the final six days of Paterno’s career.  Paterno spends the majority of the film locked away in his house, passive aggressively avoiding the question of what he knew and when he knew it.  His wife (Kathy Baker) and his other son, buffoonish Jay (Larry Mitchell), make excuses for him while Scott tries to get everyone to understand that the accusations aren’t just going to go away.  This is the part of the Paterno story that, in most films, would be summed up by an end credits title card.

As a result, Paterno never really deals with why Joe Paterno not only didn’t report Sandusky but also apparently protected him and that, to be honest, is the most important and troubling part of the story.  Since Sandusky is only briefly seen, we never get any insight into his relationship with Paterno and we never understand why Paterno would go to bat for an assistant who he, at one point, refers to as being “a pain in the ass.”  Was Paterno truly clueless about what was happening or did he just think he could sweep it under the rug and nobody would say anything because he was Joe Paterno?  Were Paterno’s actions the result of willful blindness or hubris?  It’s not so much a problem that the film leaves certain questions unanswered as much as it’s a problem that the film itself doesn’t seem to be all that concerned with the answers.

When the film isn’t concentrating on the Paternos, it’s concentrating on the reporter, Sara Ganim (Riley Keough), who originally broke the story.  However, these scenes are never quite as compelling as the film seems to think they are.  Riley Keough, who was so great in American Honey, seems miscast here.  For the most part. Sara seems to be there so that she can witness the Penn State students rioting and chanting, “Fuck the Media” after Paterno loses his job.

The best thing that Paterno has going for it is the lead performance of Al Pacino.  Pacino plays Paterno as a man who is very comfortable with the routine that he’s built up for himself.  His life revolves around Penn State, his team, and finally his own legend.  When the Sandusky story first breaks, Paterno can’t understand why he even has to be concerned about it.  He’s got a game against Nebraska coming up!  Awkward even around his adoring family, Paterno only seems to be truly comfortable when he’s coaching.  Pacino plays Paterno as a fragile and sickly man, a once ferocious lion brought down by a combination of cancer and scandal.  When we first see him, Paterno is coaching his team to a record-setting victory and he seems like a larger-than-life figure.  By the end of the movie, Paterno seems much smaller, a confused man who still can’t seem to bring himself to deal with why everyone is getting so upset.  It’s a great performance in an uneven film.

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: The Natural, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, 42


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Two months ago, Lisa reviewed The Pride of the Yankees.  Two days ago, Gary reviewed Take Me Out To The Ballgame.  Erin just explained to me why the Orioles are going to lose this season and the Rangers are going to win.  Opening Day is almost here.

These 4 shots from 4 films are dedicated to baseball lovers everywhere.

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Natural (1984, directed by Barry Levinson)

The Natural (1984, directed by Barry Levinson)

Field of Dreams (1989, directed by Phil Alden Robinson)

Field of Dreams (1989, directed by Phil Alden Robinson)

Eight Men Out (1989, directed by John Sayles)

Eight Men Out (1989, directed by John Sayles)

42 (2013, directed by Brian Hegeland)

42 (2013, directed by Brian Hegeland)

4 Shots From 4 Films: The Natural, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams


Today we celebrate the 4th of July, the United States’ Independence Day, and I mean the one from British rule and not from invading aliens.

This day has always been about the balance of one’s level of patriotism (or lackof), gathering with friends and family for barbecues and fireworks. I would also like to add that the 4th of July has also meant watching or listening to one’s favorite baseball team. Baseball, for me at least, will always remain America’s national past time.

So, here are four films that one should check out this day, or any day to understand why baseball remains such a major part for some people’s lives.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

The Natural (dir. Barry Levinson)

The Natural (dir. Barry Levinson)

Eight Men Out (dir. by John Sayles)

Eight Men Out (dir. by John Sayles)

Bull Durham (dir. by Ron Shelton)

Bull Durham (dir. by Ron Shelton)

Field of Dreams (dir. by Phil Alden Robinson)

Field of Dreams (dir. by Phil Alden Robinson)

Embracing the Melodrama #40: Bugsy (dir by Barry Levinson)


Bugsy5lrg

Let’s continue to embrace the melodrama with the 1991 best picture nominee Bugsy.

Gangster Benjamin Siegel (Warren Beatty) may be known as Bugsy but nobody dares call him that to his face.  Siegel may be best known for his quick temper and his willingness to murder anyone who gets in his way, but Ben insists that he’s not as crazy as everyone considers him to be.  Instead, Ben knows that he’s a very special person, a visionary businessman whose business just happens to be organized crime.  Along with his childhood friends Lucky Luciano (Bill Graham) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), Siegel is one of the founders of the modern American crime syndicate.  Unlike his more practical-minded partners, Siegel revels in being a public figure.  Bugsy examines how Siegel became a celebrity gangster and how that celebrity eventually led to his downfall.

As the film opens, Luciano and Lansky send Siegel out to Los Angeles, specifically to look after their west coast business operations.  Before Siegel leaves, he is specifically told to keep a low profile.  So, of course, as soon as Siegel arrives in Los Angeles, he starts hanging out with actor George Raft (Joe Mantegna) and having a very public affair with actress Virginia Hill (Annette Bening).  Siegel quickly falls in love with the glamour and glitz of Hollywood and starts to think of himself as being a movie star.  When he’s not working with violent gangster Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) to control the Los Angeles underworld, Siegel is attending film premieres and even shooting a Hollywood screen test.  Back in New York, Luciano and Lansky can only watch as their childhood friend goes out of his way to defy their instructions and become the most famous gangster in America.

Eventually, Siegel goes on a gambling trip to Nevada and comes up with an idea that is destined to change America forever.  With funding from Lansky and Luciano, Siegel begins construction on the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  However, Siegel’s plans are so extravagant and, in many ways, impractical that the budget soon soars out of control.  Not helping matters is the fact that Virginia is embezzling money from the casino’s budget.  Even after Siegel finds out, he can’t bring himself to be angry at her.  He understand that he and Virginia are essentially cut from the same cloth.

However, back in New York, Luciano grows more and more frustrated with Siegel’s wasteful ways and Lansky comes to realize that he can only protect his friend for so long…

Bugsy is a big, extravagant movie that tries to be a few too many things at once.  Over the course of two and a half hours, it attempts to be a love story, a biopic, a classic gangster film, an allegory for the American dream, a history lesson, a period piece, and finally, a metaphor for the act of filmmaking itself.  (When Siegel complains that Luciano and Lansky don’t understand why the Flamingo has to be huge, it’s hard not to feel that he’s meant to be a stand in for every director who has ever had his budget cut by a meddling studio executive.)  When a film tries to be so many different things all at once, you can’t be surprised when the end result is a little uneven.  Bugsy starts out slowly but gradually picks up speed and the final part of the movie is everything that one could hope for from an epic gangster film.

The film works best as a character study of a man who, in the best American tradition, attempts to reinvent himself by moving out west.  Back in New York, Ben is known as a cold-blooded and dangerous killer.  However, once he arrives in Los Angeles, Ben attempts to recreate himself as a celebrity and then as a visionary.  For him, the Flamingo is about more than money.  The Flamingo is about being remembered for something other than his nickname.  The Flamingo is his way to escape from his past.  However, as Bugsy makes clear, the past can be ignored but it never goes away.

bugsy-1991-09-g

44 Days of Paranoia #13: Quiz Show (dir by Robert Redford)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, I want to take a look at a film that I recently caught on cable — 1994’s Quiz Show.

Directed by Robert Redford and based on a true story, Quiz Show was nominated for the Academy Award for best picture but lost to Forrest Gump.  Among those of us who obsess over Oscar history, Quiz Show is often overshadowed by not only Forrest Gump but two of the other nominees as well, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption.  When compared to Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show certainly feels old-fashioned.  At the same time, it’s not quite as much of a sentimental crowd-pleaser as Gump or Shawshank.  Perhaps for those reasons, Quiz Show never gets quite as much attention as some other films that have been nominated for best picture.  However, taking all of that into consideration, Quiz Show is still one of the best films of the 90s.

Quiz Show takes us back to the 1950s.  The most popular show on television is 21, a game show in which two contestants answer questions, win money, and try to be the first to score 21 points.  The American public believes that all of the questions asked on 21 are locked away in a bank vault until it’s time for the show.  What they don’t know is that the show’s producers have instead been rigging the show, giving the answers to contestants who they feel will be good for ratings.

When Quiz Show begins, nerdy Herbie Stempel (John Turturro) has been the champion for several weeks.  However, both the show’s producers and sponsors feel that the untelegenic Herbie has peaked.  Hence, the handsome and charismatic Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) is brought on the show and Herbie is ordered to lose to him.  Reluctantly, Herbie does so.

john_turturro_quiz_show

Charles is initially reluctant to cheat but, as he continues to win, he finds himself becoming addicted to the fame.  Charles is the son of the prominent academic Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) and his success on television finally gives him a chance to escape from his father’s shadow.  Indeed, the film’s subtle and nuanced portrait of Charles and Mark’s loving but competetive relationship is one of the film’s greatest strengths.

ralph_fiennes_quiz_show

Herbie, however, is bitter over having to lose and has subsequently gambled away all of his winnings.  When 21′s producer (David Paymer) refuses to help Herbie get on another TV show, Herbie reacts by going to the New York County district attorney and publicly charging 21 as being fixed.  Though the grand jury dismisses Herbie as being obviously mentally unbalanced, his charges come to the attention of a congressional investigator, Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow).

rob_morrow_quiz_show1

Goodwin launches his own investigation into 21 and discovers that the show is fixed.  (As the ambitious Goodwin puts it, he wants to “put television on trial.”)  Along the way, he also meets and befriends Charles Van Doren and finds himself torn between his desire to expose the show and to protect Charles from the bad publicity.  Again, the film is to be applauded for the subtle way that it uses Goodwin’s investigation of both Charles and Herbie as a way to explore issues of both class resentment and class envy.  Goodwin may have come from the same ethnic background of Herbie but it quickly becomes obvious that Goodwin has more sympathy for the genteel (and very WASPy) world that produced Charles Van Doren.  When Goodwin tries to justify protecting Charles, his wife (played by Mira Sorvino) responds by calling him “the Uncle Tom of the Jews” and it’s hard not to feel that she has a point.

1quiz3

While I greatly enjoyed Quiz Show, I do have to say that, on one major point, the film fails.  Try as he might, director Redford never convinces us that a rigged game show is really as big of a crime as he seems to be believe it to be.  Perhaps in the 1950s, people were still innocent enough to be shocked at the idea of television reality being fake but for cynical contemporary viewers, it’s hard not to feel that the “scandal” was more about Richard Goodwin’s ambition and less about any sort of ethical or legal issue.  Towards the end of the film, one character suggests that television will never be truly honest unless the government steps in to regulate it.  “What?” I yelled back at the TV.

Seriously, it seemed like a bit of an overreaction.

As I watched Quiz Show, I found it hard not to think about the reality shows that I love.  For instance, I know that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are largely staged.  I know that the previous season of Big Brother was largely set up so that Amanda could win.  (And, believe me, if Amanda hadn’t sabotaged her chances by turning out to be a mentally unstable racist bully, she would have won and she would probably would have been invited back for the next all-stars season.)  I know that shows like Storage Wars and Dance Moms are “unscripted” in name only.  I know that reality shows aren’t real but my attitude can basically be summed up in two words: “who cares?”  Perhaps I would be more outraged if I lived in the 50s which, to judge from both Quiz Show and a host of other movies, was apparently a much more innocent time.

quiz-show-morrow-scorsese

That said, I really enjoyed Quiz Show.  A lot of that is because I’m a history nerd and, therefore, I have a weakness for obsessively detailed period pieces.  But even beyond that, Quiz Show is a well-made, entertaining film that features three excellent lead performances and several strong supporting turns.  If you love to watch great actors playing great roles then Quiz Show is the film for you.  Rob Morrow lays his Boston accent on a bit thick but otherwise, he does a good job of suggesting both Goodwin’s ambition and the insecurities that lead him to desire Charles’s friendship even as he tries to expose him as a fraud.  John Turturro brings an odd — if manic — dignity to Herbie Stempel while Johann Carlo is well-cast as his wife.  Best of all, Ralph Fiennes makes Charles Van Doren into a sad, frustrating, and ultimately sympathetic character while Paul Scofield is the epitome of both paternal disappointment and love as his father.  The film is full of great supporting turns as well, with David Paymer and Hank Azaria perfectly cast as the show’s producers and Christopher McDonald playing the show’s host with the same smarmy charm that he brought to a similar role in the far different Requiem For A Dream.  Perhaps best of all, Martin Scorsese shows up as the owner of Geritol and gets to bark, “Queens is not New York!”

Even if Robert Redford doesn’t quite convince us that the quiz show scandal was as big a deal as he obviously believes it to be, Quiz Show is still an uncommonly intelligent film and one that deserves to rediscovered.

QuizShowPoster

Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading

Horror Trailer: The Bay (by Barry Levinson)


Another found footage horror flick is on it’s way to the cinemas in less than a month. This one just happens to have some heavyweight pedigree behind it. While it has producers of the Paranormal Activity series and one of this year’s surprise horror entries with Insidious it’s who ended up directing this found footage horror film that has given the film buzz since it’s premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Barry Levinson, he of Academy Award-winning fame for Best Director for Rain Man, does directing duties for The Bay and from reaction since it premiered at this year’s TIFF he has made a found footage horror film that is worth seeing. The scenes and trailers shown tells the story of an incident a couple years back in a seaside Maryland town which becomes part of a wide-ranging government cover-up. A cover-up meant to hide hundreds of deaths and the cause of it.

I’m not a huge fan of found footage films, but I do enjoy those that are well-done and brings something fresh to the table. If The Bay is even half of what the buzz and hype is saying about it then I think it’s going to be one that I plan to check out when it comes out in the next couple weeks.

The Bay is set for a November 2, 2012 release date from Lionsgate.