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much as I love movies, I'm not a big fan of movie stars. There are
quite a few directors whose work I'll follow no matter what. But
it's much less common for me to go see a movie simply on the
strength of its star. There's a few, I'll admit. For instance, I've
been a Tom Hanks fan since Bosom Buddies.
This is not a joke. Ask anyone who's known me a long time. I
basically helped build the Tom Hanks bandwagon that the rest of
America eventually leapt aboard. I'm still a fan but I've been one
for so long now I see his movies out of habit as much as anything
else. I'll also go see anything with Kate Winslet, although in some
ways this is simply research because I assume I will one day be
stepfather to her children.
George Clooney is, in many ways, an odd star for me to be a fan of.
He's a paparazzi target, a frequent visitor to tabloids like Star,
and one of those celebrities who thinks he's helping by going on TV
and talking about Big Issues. I tend to hate that kind of thing. But
I don't mind it with Clooney. As a personality, he seems to have a
sense of humor about himself and that's important to me. He paid his
dues and then some before becoming a star in stuff like The
Facts of Life and Return of
the Killer Tomatoes but judging from the interviews I've
read, he doesn't try to run away from his schlock past. As an actor,
he's an almost perfect blend of old-fashioned Hollywood movie star
looks and charm with new Hollywood attitude and style. He's his own
worst critic. The worst reviews of his performance as Batman came
from Clooney himself. And as a director, he's so far delivered two
extremely good movies: Confessions of a
Dangerous Mind and Good Night,
And Good Luck.
But most importantly, since he hit the big leagues he's been smart
enough to work with some of the most talented and interesting
filmmakers around, including Joel & Ethan Coen and longtime
buddy Steven Soderbergh. Not every movie has been a home run. Ocean's
Twelve was a particular chore to sit through. But so far,
the good has outweighed the bad just enough to keep me buying
tickets. So tonight, I celebrate my man-love for George Clooney with
a look at two of his recent-to-DVD pics.
2000 (2007) - Warner Bros.
Clooney has long had a soft spot for the golden age of
television. In 1997, he convinced his bosses at ER
to shoot an episode live (in fact, they shot it twice... once
for the east coast and again for the west). A few years later,
he got more ambitious, producing and co-starring in this live
all-star remake of the 1964 semi-classic Fail-Safe.
The original is a solid, entertaining movie that never quite
achieves greatness. Its reputation has always been in the shadow
of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove,
released the same year with a very similar plot. Clooney's Fail
Safe, directed by Stephen Frears, also fails to
achieve greatness but it's still a pretty riveting piece of
The story focuses on the threat of nuclear war between the US and
the USSR when a bomber piloted by Clooney and Don Cheadle fails to
return from its fail safe point due to a technical error. While
every effort is made to retrieve them, the President (Richard
Dreyfuss) and his translator (Noah Wyle) hunker in a bunker and
attempt to placate the Russians. Meanwhile, debates rage in the war
room between a hawkish military theorist (Hank Azaria) and a
high-ranking general (Harvey Keitel).
As expected, Fail Safe is
heavy on talk and short on action. And when I watched it during its
original broadcast, I was too focused on the live aspect to
appreciate the film for what it had to offer. On DVD, Fail
Safe is a unique experience. Live television is the
closest any camera-based medium can come to capturing the
electricity of live theatre. The combination of that energy with the
technical possibilities opened up by the camera makes for something
that isn't quite a movie and isn't exactly a play. In some ways,
it's less satisfying than either one. But it's exciting to see these
actors at work in something closer to a raw form than we're used to.
If anything is a let-down here, it's the story. Clooney and company
attempt to make it relevant but in reality, it's so dated that it
automatically renders the experiment more of a curiosity than a
fully-formed drama. It would have been more interesting to see a
better, more contemporary script given this treatment.
Warner's DVD looks decent enough in non-anamorphic widescreen and
the sound is rudimentary but fine. Extras amount to a whole lot of
nothing. That's unfortunate but not unexpected considering the
relatively obscure nature of the project and the big names involved
in it. Nevertheless, Fail Safe
is a compelling, watchable movie, particularly if you're a fan of
someone in the cast. And with a cast like this, odds are pretty good
you're a fan of somebody in it.
Program Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/F
2006 (2007) - Warner Bros.
Ocean's Twelve not
withstanding, I've enjoyed George Clooney's collaborations with
Steven Soderbergh. Out of Sight
was the movie that turned me into a full-fledged fan and I still
think it's both of their best work to date. I also had a good
time at the odd-numbered Ocean
movies and even found much to admire in their version of Solaris.
So my hopes were mildly high for The
Good German, their tribute to such disparate wartime
films as Casablanca and
The Third Man. Those
hopes, sadly, were dashed upon watching the movie.
Clooney plays war correspondent Jake Geismer, in Berlin to
cover the Potsdam Conference. He's surprised to encounter an old
flame there (played by Cate Blanchett) and even more surprised
to learn that she's hooked up with the soldier assigned to drive
him around (Tobey Maguire). Before long, someone ends up killed
and Jake starts digging to find out what secrets his former
lover has been keeping from him.
a technical achievement, The Good German
is fairly breathtaking. Soderbergh insisted on shooting the film
exactly as it would have been shot in the late 40s, from the
rear-screen projection in driving sequences to the noir-inspired
shafts of light that shoot through the frame. That attention to
detail pays off and the movie looks absolutely gorgeous. The story,
unfortunately, is less compelling. Clooney, Blanchett and Maguire
are all fine but they seem to be uncertain how to approach the
material. The result is an uncomfortable mash-up of old-fashioned
and modern acting styles. Worse yet, the story is often hard to
follow. Not because it's particularly complex, simply because it's
awkwardly told. Soderbergh seems so obsessed with the fetishistic
details of the period that he drops the ball at developing the
characters into people we care about.
The period details extend to the DVD itself. The picture is
presented in full-frame, Soderbergh's preferred ratio for the film,
although it was matted into a slightly more widescreen image for
theatrical release. It looks very, very good, although if you're not
aware of what Soderbergh is going for, it would be easy to see this
as either a mistake or an odd lapse in judgment from a studio that
usually knows better. The audio has been given an all-out 5.1
treatment. It sounds just fine although it's somewhat at odds with
the 40s aesthetic of the film. Once again, we are spared the burden
of any special features. Not even a commentary, particularly unusual
considering that usually you can hardly get Soderbergh to shut up,
even on other people's DVDs.
For the Soderbergh/Clooney faithful, The
Good German is worth checking out but in the end, it
remains a failed experiment. I salute Soderbergh's continued
attempts to play with the form. I just hope that next time he finds
a story to match it.
Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/F
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