Tag Archives: journalists

State of Play (2003)

 “Hands up who’s ever not screwed a source?”

If you like BBC dramas, then at almost 6 hours of viewing time, State of Play  is an intense, satisfying series that you can sink your teeth into.

state-of-play1The story centers on two deaths: the shooting of a black youth in London, and the apparent suicide of Sonia Baker (Shauna Macdonald). While these deaths at first seem to be fairly open and shut cases, there are some things that don’t add up. The shooting of the black youth is quickly forgotten by the police department and chalked up to yet another insignificant drug-related killing, but the death of Sonia Baker, the personal assistant of politician Stephen Collins (David Morrissey) continues to make front page news.

Collins is an up-and-coming politician who’s being groomed for bigger and better things, and on top of that he also heads an important energy committee. When Sonia Payne dies, the story emerges that she and Collins were engaged in an affair. A full-blown scandal threatens to explode, and while Collins’s private life blows up, the newspapers have a field day with juicy headlines. Collins’s former campaign manager, newspaper reporter Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) becomes embroiled in the news story, and is convinced that the deaths of Sonia and the shooting victim are inexplicably linked. While he investigates the connection between these two deaths, he soon finds that he has divided loyalties between his career, his friendship with Collins, and his relationship with Collins’s wife, Anne (Polly Walker)

State of Play has a fantastic supporting cast with Bill Nighy playing the role of Cal’s suave editor, Cameron Foster. Cal convinces Cameron that there’s a big story involving government corruption lurking under the surface of Collins’s affair, and Cameron puts together an investigative team–including the tenacious Della Smith (Kelly Macdonald) and Cameron’s prodigal son, Dan Foster (James McAvoy).

State of Play shows just how television drama should be done. There’s little emphasis on action (the shootings, for example), and instead the emphasis is squarely on the drama. Since this miniseries isn’t restricted to the sort of time frame of a film, the script thoroughly explores the characters, their relationships, loyalties and moral choices. The interpersonal relationships add to the drama as the reporters ferret out the story from Sonia Baker’s friend, the unsavoury Dominic Foy (Marc Warren). This intense, well-acted and plausible drama keeps the viewer guessing until the very end. From director David Yates.

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Filed under British, British television

Circle of Deceit (1981)

  “Never stand still in Beirut.”

German journalist Georg Laschen (Bruno Ganz) leaves behind his troubled marriage for Beirut, Lebanon to cover the outbreak of civil war in 1975. He arrives in a hotel full of other foreign journalists who’ve become used to the odd mortar hitting the building. The hotel is located in “No Man’s Land”–a zone in between Christian and Muslim fighting factions. Laschen is calmly told that most of the fighting takes place at night, but that during the days, it’s fairly quiet. Shortly after Laschen’s arrival, the country explodes into civil war.

circleAs the danger intensifies, Laschen and his photographer, Hoffman (Jerzy Skolimowski) take to the streets and pass through the zones of various fighting factions. At each checkpoint, chaos reigns–people are summarily rounded up and executed, and the bodies of the victims burned to hide the carnage. Laschen and Hoffman pass unscathed through scenes of death and destruction, while those a few feet away are coldly murdered. Both men feel the elation of a facade of invulnerability, and they begin to take more risks. The film assumes a surreal element as fighters on all sides vacillate between wanting photos taken of their deeds and not wanting any evidence left behind. As insanity reigns in Beirut, entrepreneurs sell weapons to the highest bidders and rival papers bid on grisly photos.

Meanwhile, war is good business for the journalists fortunate enough to be on the spot. A party atmosphere reigns at the hotel, and as Hoffman notes to Laschen “we both feed our families from this kind of event.” Laschen begins his assignment with the agenda of recording whatever he sees, but he finds it increasingly difficult to remain emotionally apart from the atrocities taking place around him. He seeks out Ariana (Hanna Schygulla) a fellow German who has chosen to remain in Beirut

Directed by Volker Schlondorff, Circle of Deceit captures the beginning of an important piece of history–the Lebanese Civil War–while exploring the inhumanity of war–and those who provide coverage for the rest of the world. The voyeuristic element of the journalist’s job becomes a moral question for Laschen as he witnesses the carnage of Beirut. Circle of Deceit is in German, French and English with English subtitles.

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Filed under German, Hanna Schygulla, Political/social films, Volker Schlondorff

Tinta Roja (2000)

 “Like prostitution, journalism is learned on the streets.”

tinta-rojaThe Peruvian film, Tinta Roja follows the trials and tribulations of a journalism student, Alfonso (Giovanni Ciccia), when he is assigned as an intern to a tacky tabloid called Le Clamor. While Alfonso wants to cover shows, instead that assignment falls to his attractive competitor, Nadia (Lucia Jimenez), and Alfonso finds himself unwillingly assigned to cover police stories. The newspaper editor’s philosophy is that the stories should entertain–rather than teach–the reader, and so in order to succeed, Alfonso quickly learns to toss aside all sense of journalistic ethics and chase the latest police event, and this includes suicides, car accidents, rapes, etc.

Alfonso becomes the fourth man on the police story team. Van Gogh (Carlos Gassols) is the driver who continually quotes famous sayings in an attempt to bring a sense of philosophy to the random world of crime. Escalona (Fele Martinez) is the predatory photographer, but it’s the wily Faundez (Gianfranco Brero)–a man who has no sense of shame when it comes to getting a headline–who heads the team. Faundez’s motto is to get to the scene, take the grisliest photos possible, and then round up the nearest relative of the victim and exploit them while they’re emotionally vulnerable. While Alfonso is at first horrified by this sort of behaviour, he’s soon under the influence of his new mentor, Faundez, and he quickly finds himself chasing and embellishing the tawdriest stories with gusto.

Tinta Roja is a very lively, colourful film, with plenty of dark humour, and its strong characters practically leap off the screen. After a very entertaining beginning, the film sags a little in the middle, but manages to recoup by the conclusion. Tinta Roja is based on the novel by Alberto Fuguet, and is directed by Francisco J. Lombardi. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Peruvian

The Invisible Killer (1939)

 “You reformers are all cut out of the same pattern.”

The Invisible Killer is a forgettable little crime drama that centres around a string of mysterious deaths and a gambling syndicate. Newspaperwoman Sue Walker (Grace Bradley) who’s also engaged to Police Lt. Jerry Brown (Roland Drew) is determined to get to the bottom of the deaths and the gangland war over gambling turf, and she’ll use whatever means necessary to crack the story. This involves eavesdropping on her fiance’s investigations and phone calls, and beating him to the scene of a crime. When a member of the gang agrees to tell everything he knows, it seems as though the case may blow wide open. But just as he’s about to start talking, he mysteriously dies in the home of the District Attorney….

The film, directed by Sam Newfield, tries to capitalize on Sue and Lt. Brown’s relationship–obviously trying to forge some on-screen chemistry, but it just doesn’t happen. Instead Lt. Brown frequently lectures his fiancee, and whines about the willfulness of women to his sidekick. Sue, for her part, tries to play the pert, intrepid newspaperwoman, saluting her fiance, etc., and the relationship seems rather silly. The unstoppable female reporter is a stock character for crime drama, and apart from the fact that Sue’s character is annoying, this film has nothing new to add to the role. The plot is overly complicated for this hour-long drama, and that leaves no room for character development. But the biggest problem here is that the film doesn’t seem to take itself seriously, and the heavy ladles of poor comic relief don’t help. Even the actors seem to just go through the motions to get to the end of it … finally. My Alpha DVD print is poor. The film skips in several spots and words are lost, and the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.

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Filed under Crime

The Lover (1991)

“With you, everything forbidden is irresistible.”

The film The Lover (AKA Milena) is a depiction of the turbulent life of Czech journalist Milena Jesenska. The daughter of a prominent doctor, Milena (Valerie Kaprisky) was outspoken, resilient, and headstrong. When the film begins, it’s the 1920s, and Milena is a young girl who lives under her father’s controlling thumb. Dr. Jesenska (Stacy Keach) is a respected surgeon and a professor at Prague University. Milena is his only child, and he’s decided that he wants her to follow in his footsteps and enter the medical profession too. But Milena has ambitions of her own–she wants to write, and she’s drawn to the artistic crowd in Prague.

The film follows Milena’s life–her marriage to the Jewish music critic Ernst Pollak (Peter Gallagher), her meeting and subsequent troubled relationship with Franz Kafka (Philip Anglim), and her career as a journalist and translator. Milena eventually meets and marries the communist architect, Jaromir (Nick Mancuso) and begins writing for various communist papers. Milena’s political articles drew attention from the Gestapo, and her efforts to save Jews through underground resistance groups led to her deportation to Ravensbruck.

Directed by Vera Belmont, the film does a good job of creating Milena’s character, and within a few scenes it’s clear to the viewer that she’s a woman who will not bend to expediency. Milena’s story plays against the backdrop of ever-increasing persecution of the Jews, and this is handled very well. However, large portions of the film play more like a cheesy epic soap than anything else. Some of the acting is spotty, and parts of the film are ponderous. While some characters have extremely thick accents (Milena, for example) American actors play the roles of Ernst and Dr. Jesenska. This creates unevenness in the film. Milena Jesenska’s story is composed of grand elements, but unfortunately, it doesn’t get the treatment it deserves here.

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Filed under France

The Prisoner or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2006)

“You’re only as good as your intelligence is.”

The Prisoner or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair concerns Iraqi journalist Yunis Abbas who is arrested, along with his brothers, by American forces in Baghdad in 2003. Abbas was accused of conspiring to kill Tony Blair. After his arrest, he was carted off to Abu Ghraib where he remained for 9 months. Those at the scene filmed the arrest, and the arrest was so cheesy, I thought it had to be some sort of reenactment. No, these were real scenes, and it’s not something that makes you feel proud. As the film continues it’s impossible to connect what happens to Abbas to high-sounding words such as “freedom” and “democracy.”

Once in Abu Ghraib, Abbas, who’d already been tortured under Sadaam Hussein’s regime, finds himself the object of interrogation yet again, and even after it’s quickly established that Abbas has “no intelligence value,” he isn’t released. Instead he’s placed in Camp Ganci along with all the other low-profile prisoners. The conditions at the camp are appalling. Since the camp is vulnerable to attack, many prisoners are killed by insurgent attacks, and even more prisoners are killed while rioting against the deplorable conditions.

By presenting the case of one man, the film personalizes the travesty of Abu Ghraib. Abbas was innocent of the charges brought against him, but instead of being granted his “freedom” he was stripped of all rights to any sort of hearing. I don’t know how anyone recovers from this sort of experience, and the only thing that tempers Abbas’s ordeal is the humanity of some of the individuals he met at Camp Ganci. Abbas remembers some of the American soldiers he met who treated him with kindness, and an interview with Benjamin Thompson, who served in the army at Camp Ganci is included in the film.

The film raises so many questions not only about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but also about the continued occupation of a country where American and British forces are not welcome. The experiences of one very mild-mannered, eloquent, intelligent man echo long after the film concludes, and by putting a human face behind the headlines, the film succeeds with its low-key approach. I heard on the radio that an insurgent attack of U.S. run Camp Bucca killed six detainees, and left fifty wounded (June 2007). This is exactly the sort of thing Abbas describes. Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, Abbas’s monologue is punctuated with cartoon drawings. At first, I found this a little annoying, but after a while, it seemed to fit with Abbas’s surreal, Kafkaesque experience.

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Filed under Documentary

Lonelyhearts (1958)

“My wife likes lonely young men.”

The film Lonelyhearts stars Montgomery Clift as Adam White, a young man who tries desperately to get a job working for the Chronicle newspaper. He befriends Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy), the lonely wife of the newspaper editor in a bar, and since he doesn’t get anywhere with the paper through the normal channels, Adam hangs around the bar with Florence waiting for the opportunity to make his case for employment with her husband.

Adam and Shrike (Robert Ryan) finally meet, and Adam is given a job. Unfortunately, it’s not the job he’s imagined, and he’s assigned the new Miss Lonelyhearts column giving lonely readers advice. Adam’s girlfriend, Justy (Dolores Hart) tries to remain optimistic and insists that the column is just the beginning of something better, but Adam has a difficult time with his new job. Many of the letters are depressing and hopeless, but other reporters in the office find great hilarity in the painful letters received by the paper.

It soon becomes apparent that Shrike’s relationship with Adam is a complicated one. The cynical Shrike, who mouths only bitter statements about the human race, considers Adam a “fraud.” Shrike’s marriage is poisoned by adultery, and Shrike’s bitterness now encompasses all humankind. In many ways, Adam serves as Shrike’s alter ego, and Shrike waits for the destruction of Adam’s idealism as if he has a personal stake in Adam’s loss of faith in human nature. Shrike sees Adam as a “scribbling punk trying to play the part of goody-two-shoes” and while he goads Adam at every opportunity, these cynical diatribes seem strangely self-destructive. And ultimately the key to Shrike’s redemption is inexorably entwined with Adam’s idealism.

Adam is quiet, retiring and damaged–all of these elements create a character that is not easy to play, and as a result Clift looks shell-shocked for most of the film. The film is based on the novel Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West, and a great deal of the novel’s bite has been removed in this script. As a result, the film is simultaneously more palatable–and much less interesting.

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