Sunday, April 19, 2009

"State of Play" / "The Spirit"

State of Play - Directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Helen Mirren - Rated PG-13

State of Play, based on the BBC series of the same name, is a complicated movie. There are multiple storylines to talk about, so I'll try to stick to the main two: a lead researcher for a congressional sub-committee threatening a major private military contractor is killed, bringing forth the information that the Congressman who appointed her (Affleck), was having an affair with her. This leads to questions about who might have killed her, was it suicide?, how connected is this military contractor corproration?, and (the second plotline) where do newspapers fit into all of this in the internet age? That second plotline brings in Cal (Crowe, still in his "look how unkempt I am" phase), Della (McAdams), and their mouthy British editor (Mirren). Cal is an old college buddy of the Congressman, so he has a personal interest in the story, or police case, depending on your perspective. To complicate matters further, he has to work with the young Della, the newspaper's blogger.

When Crowe and McAdams are sharing the screen early on (they work great together, by the way), there is usually a tension in the air as the old dinosaur Cal, still using a 13 year old computer and sticking to the old reporting style of getting away from the computer and hitting the streets, clashes with Della, the neat and tidy young reporter who is able to submit new material every hour from her safe computer. There is only slight tension, though, as the movie wisely decides to make their arguments short and relatively tame. The whole issue of whether or not newspapers are still relevant is interesting and it works as a subplot. But the real meat of the story is Congressman Stephen Collins and his battle to take down Pointcorp (the privatized military contractor) and Cal's quest to find the killer and figure out who's really pulling all the strings, all while trying to be a reporter and a friend at the same time (hint: this leads to scenes of Crowe and Affleck yelling at each other).

Does any of that above make sense? I could go on and make it worse, but if any of the synopsis above sounds interesting to you, then this is definitely worth checking out. There's a bit of style in the camera movement that makes things a bit more hectic (in a good way) and Affleck (who gets a bad rap these days) holds up well against Crowe. This movie isn't a masterpiece or anything, but it's one of those good, complicated investigative reporting movies that has a timely question concerning how news is spread today. And most importantly, it's fun to watch. There's some comedic relief here and there (Jason Bateman shines in his brief role) and the story seems realistic, but still stretches reality enough to make it much more interesting than any true story. So that's it for State of Play, but I do have one more paragraph in me concerning the newspaper vs. internet debate.

For the record, even though I write my reviews on a blog, I think that newsprint is still extremely important. A newspaper offers legitimacy to a story and when I do write an occasional review for the Perry County News I feel a bit more professional than I do when I upload a new post here. The words are usually the same, and if anything, my reviews on the internet are of higher quality (I add pictures!), but the paper is something I can pick up and feel. I think along the same lines when I read the newspaper every day. The important news is printed and you know it's from a reliable source if it's in the paper. If you read an article on some random website, how can you be sure if any of it's true? You could always check the newspaper and see if it's in there.

*Note: I'm going to start doing one review a week over a movie that I think is unfairly trashed, or is simply unpopular. This week, that movie is The Spirit, which came out on DVD last week. I'm still trying to think of what to call these reviews, so if you have any ideas, leave a comment. For now, I'm going to call these my "Forgotten and Crappy Classic" reviews. Stupid title? I think so, but here goes anyway.

The Spirit - Directed by Frank Miller, starring Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, and Scarlett Johanssen - Rated PG-13

My first crappy classic (it's not old enough to be forgotten yet) is an adaptation about the old comic strip series by Will Eisner from the '40's and '50's. It's about the crime fighter The Spirit (Macht) and his battle with the Octopus (Jackson, hamming it up and loving every minute of it). Along the way he tries to be a ladies man with almost every woman he comes across. This sounds cheesy, I know, and you know it's kind of stupid if you've seen the previews featuring such lines as, "I'm gonna kill you all kinds of dead." (Which I think is hilarious, by the way.) But this is supposed to be cheesy. Remember the source material, this is what that old comic was like. Sure, some of the violence is amped up and Jackson's character goes off the reservation (even though you only ever see Octopus' hands in the comic) but it's all in good, cheesy fun. This may look like Sin City (Frank Miller did direct this) but the story is a bit more light-hearted.

The Sin City reference is a little unfair because this movie does have it's own style, but it is very much like the style of Sin City. That doesn't mean it's a complete copy, though. The visuals are great all around and even a few of the critics who hated the movie admitted that it was interesting to look at at least. I'm just asking for people to give this movie a chance. Just realize that this movie is supposed to be funny. Miller wasn't going for grittiness in this, he was going for a visually impressive and, most importantly, fun movie. Accept that and you may end up liking this.

A warning, though. I can understand why people would hate this so I'll list a few of the dumber things in the movie. Jackson's henchmen are all clones and all appear to be nearly brain dead. They say stupid things throughout the film and are extremely goofy. I thought they were hilarious, but I can see where some people might find them just plain stupid and unfunny. Jackson himself might turn people away, too. He is overacting more than ever here and if he gets on your nerves in his more eccentric roles, then you might want to avoid this. He also talks about how much he hates eggs on his face, or likes eggs, or made no sense to me and I still can't figure out what that reference is about (I will check out the commentary on the DVD, that might clear it up). If the so-called negatives sound like something you might enjoy (as I do), then at least rent this movie. If anything above raises a flag, though, you should skip it.

Oh, and fans of The Wonder Years should at least check it out because the dad from that show (Dan Lauria) is hilarious as the commissioner. It also helps (for the male viewers, anyway) that every woman in this movie is ridiculously beautiful. The dad from The Wonder Years and beautiful women? What more did anyone want from this movie? Seriously, though, worth a watch for most people, I imagine and it is certainly nowhere close to being the worst movie ever, as some critics and message board trolls have been saying.

Next week - Definitely another crappy classic, and probably something on DVD, I'd say there is no way whatsoever that I'll be going to the theater until Wolverine comes out on May 1st.


  1. George and I turned The Spirit off. We did not like it at all.

  2. I think that's going to be the common reaction for most people. Not sure why I like it so much, I guess it was just my kind of goofy.