Tag: Sydney Pollack

Staff Pick: “Michael Clayton” (2007)

George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton 2007

“Michael Clayton” is a slow burn, with an ending that delivers quite a punch. It’s the type of film that many love but doesn’t fit neatly into the modern economics of Hollywood. Studios rarely make dramas like this for broad theatrical release anymore.

George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a middle-aged lawyer who works for a large law firm as its fixer. He cleans up messes for clients who get into trouble – stuff like accidents, domestic issues, etc. He’s also having his own problems as he tries to dig out of debt from a restaurant venture gone bad due to his alcoholic brother.

Clayton gets pulled into a crisis when the firm’s top litigator Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), threatens to blow up the firm’s largest case by exposing how the client chemical company (fictional U-North) knew its product was killing people. Arthur is a brilliant but troubled lawyer with mental health issues, He strips naked during a deposition while declaring his love for the lead plaintiff, a young, pretty woman from a farm in the Midwest.

The cast in this legal thriller is excellent. Clooney delivers one of his best performances as Michael, playing it straight and leaving aside the playful attitude we see in so many of his popular performances. He’s right out of central casting as the middle aged, big firm lawyer who is doing his best to remain calm as he deals with Arthur and his own issues.

Wilkinson, on the other hand, is brilliant as the manic Arthur who feels liberated by his decision to finally come clean about his client’s misconduct after grinding on the class-action lawsuit for years. He gives us some of the most memorable scenes of the film.

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RIP Susannah York

Susannah YorkThe English actress Susannah York has left us too soon at age 72, another loss to cancer. She never stopped working but her best known film roles were probably 1966’s “A Man for All Seasons,” an Oscar-nominated turn in Sydney Pollack’s pitch-black 1968 drama, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” and a film I have no clue why I’ve never seen, Robert Aldrich’s 1969 “The Killing of Sister George.” That production was dogged by controversy around the depiction of lesbian sex, a huge taboo just a few years after the abolition of the movie production code.

She was also an anti-nuclear activist back when the topic was truly a matter of planetary life and death and vastly more controversial than it is now.  Notably, she championed jailed Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, whose opposition to nuclear proliferation caused him to expose his nation’s nuclear weapons program. Also, for you geeks out there, she played Superman’s mom in the 1970s films and wrote a pair of fantasy novels as well.

I strongly suggest you read the entire fascinating and informative summary of the ‘net reaction to York’s passing at MUBI.

I stumbled over this film festival tribute online. It’s a little heavy on the music, but it gives us some sense of the woman — who I gather was a real trooper in every sense of the word — and of her work.

Multiplex Mayhem: The Pre-Coital Edition

With the passing of Sydney Pollack and Harvey Korman, it’s been a sad few days in movie land, but the weekend comes whether we live or die….

*This time, expect an unusually severe case of gender apartheid as the biggest new release to compete with all the action fare on tap is the much ballyhoed festival of contemporary femininity, “Sex and the City” — the further adventures of a bunch of characters I don’t know much of anything about, apparently because I’m an ungay guy and, yes, we critics and movie writers are now expected to divulge our our sexual orientations before discussing certain movies. (I’m actually sort of renowned in some circles for liking a great many things that some would consider girly, particularly musicals…but whatever entertainment-preference testosterone I have in my system seemed to go into overdrive the minute I caught even one second of this particular series, forcing me to change channels — and, yes, I like “Entourage” a great deal. I guess biology really is destiny when it comes to HBO comedies.)

In any event, the reviews are mixed, including that of our own Jason Zingale, who was man enough to admit to respecting the television series and critic enough to say the movie had some story problems. And both Jason and Roger Ebert, who was man enough to admit that this movie was not made for him, were charmed by “Sex” newcomer Jennifer Hudson, who really does seem to be one the positive by-product that I’ve noticed so far from this whole “American Idol” business. Female critics seem to skew a bit more positive, but as the WaPo’s Ann Hornaday honestly opines:

…the question isn’t whether it’s good. The question is whether it delivers the goods — the goods being shoes, romance, ribald humor, shoes, sex, shoes, pithy observations about single life in New York and more shoes.

And the general consensus is that the raunchy rom-com+ will provide roughly $30 million worth of goods from the domestic box office from those rarest of creatures at the American multiplex — post-college-age women. At least that’s what the usual experts say, noting that it’s already done well abroad.

Overall, “Sex” should put in a very respectable second place after the “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” juggernaut, which is expected to pull in a solid $50 million. I see no reason to disagree.

There’s another movie that perhaps skews to a younger female demographic, and that is “The Strangers,” a chiller about a couple being menaced at home starring beautiful Liv Tyler and himboish Scott Speedman. This one seems to deliver a certain amount of chills, even if many critics turn up their noses, while others, like Bullz-Eye’s Dave Medsker, see both good and bad. Regardless, it’s nice to hear this one isn’t another (physical) torture fest. Considering the scary commercials and the sex appeal to their respective audiences of the two stars, I’d expect this relatively low budget film to have much better prospects for a decent and long life than its characters might. Still, it will likely be bested by the waning, but still mass audience friendly, powers of “Prince Caspian.”

Meanwhile in Indiewood
….There are a number of new films coming out in limited release this week, but it’s late, I’ve been fighting some kind of mini-micro-bug all week, and some lovely baked chicken is waiting for me downstairs. I will, however, mention two that should be interest to our audience.

First, there is the amazingly well reviewed (100% Fresh, RT-meter) documentary, “Bigger, Faster, Stronger*” about the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in athletics. Considering the doc’s newsworthy subject matter and the fact that it’s about sports, and not politics or war, it sounds to me to have the makings of yet another break-out nonfiction hit.

Also getting mostly good reviews (though some are simply a bit appalled) is “Stuck” in which more than two decades after his gruesome horror-comedy, “Re-Animator,” director Stuart Gordon goes to a horrendous real life incident for some extra-extra-extra black grisly humor and chills. This time with Stephen Rea as a hapless man who finds himself in self-involved Mena Suvari’s windshield. As someone who had to knock back a few drinks to finally see Gordon’s signature horrorfest not long ago, but had a good time with it once I did, I’m not sure if I want to see this one or not. I am fairly sure it’s not dull.

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