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Art Haarper is retired and enjoys using his senior citizen discount at the local multiplex. Retired persons who are watching their 401K statements shrink each month may want to read his reviews before wasting their pension money on Hollywood trash.

Good Night, and Good Luck

This is a well-made, fictionalized, semi-documentary retelling of the clash between Senator Joe McCarthy and the Edward R. Murrow/Fred Friendly-led CBS news department in the 1950s. Senator McCarthy was leading an anti-communist campaign based largely on wild charges and innuendo, smearing many prominent and ordinary Americans. Unfortunately, there was just enough truth behind the commie infiltration idea (i.e., Alger Hiss, The Rosenbergs, etc.} to give credence to his charges in many people's minds. Many intellectuals and prominent people had belonged to the party or one of its front groups for various periods of time, during the 1930s and '40s. The Murrow broadcast was one of the first major dissents to McCarthy's anti-red demagogy and helped set in motion events which led to his eventual downfall via the Army/McCarthy hearings and Senate censure.

The CBS staffers are convincingly played by a talented acting ensemble and it is easy to believe they are real people, not actors. David Strathairn plays Murrow with great authority and authenticity, at least as far as the public persona is concerned. Senator McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and other hearing participants play themselves via old newsreel and TV footage, The film provides a look at a great, perhaps the greatest, radio/TV newsman in his prime and his TV newsroom, including the ever-present aura of cigarette smoke (a Murrow trademark) and the relative paucity of female participants. In a concluding address to his colleagues, Murrow seems to foretell the decline of TV news to today's 24 / 7 mess of bias, talking (often shouting) heads, and endless emphasis on trivia and non-sense.

I thought the film was excellent, but its appeal is mainly public culture, historical event/news oriented. If you are interested in that sort of thing, I highly recommend it. It is a good look at a moment in time when one could still be "liberal" and wholeheartedly support the U.S. government versus its foreign and domestic enemies; when all but a very few members of both political parties were unabashedly patriotic, before the cancer of Vietnam entered our "body politic".

The Constant Gardener

All aspects of this film - acting, direction, storytelling, cinematography - have received rave reviews in the local paper. I pretty much agree. However, I did find, what I considered to be, the excessive usage of flashbacks and flash-forwards confusing and distracting. The leads - Ralph Fiennes as a middle level functionary assigned to HRH's embassy in Kenya and Rachel Weisz as his too-involved-in-local-causes wife, both deliver outstanding performances. The rest of the cast also does an excellent job. The direction and filming is especially effective in illustrating the conditions of everyday life in present-day Africa from the lowest to the highest levels - the haves and have-nots.

The story is based on a novel by John Le Carre and reminds one of his previous Spy ...... from the Cold genre. Since the Evil Empire (USSR) has collapsed, its villainous function is replaced by an Evil Multi-National Pharmaceutical Cartel. The plot involves non-consensual, fatally-flawed drug tests carried out at clinics for the poor. Rather than suffer the expense and resulting delays and loss of competitive advantage, the cartel buries the dead and hushes up the problem with the connivance of the local and higher Kenyan authorities and certain British diplomats. Ms. Weisz's unwise attempt to document and expose this nefarious scheme through channels reaches the wrong (right) person's desk and results in her murder. Mr. Fiennes' character undertakes the task of avenging his wife by proving and documenting her allegations. The resulting events are suspenseful and lead to an outcome reminiscent of some of Le Carre's earlier novels.

The title apparently refers to the fact that Mr. Fiennes' diplomat would rather putter in his garden and lead a normal life, until overtaken by events. This is an interesting and well-made film. It is entertaining while providing insight into Africa, its people, and its problems.


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