Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

It was in April 1986, when Geraldo Rivera was able to successfully sell his “Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” to the masses as legitimate news, when the final nail was pounded into the coffin of television journalism. Today, there are a few brave souls like Mike Wallace who attempt to maintain the highest ethics, but for the most part the talking heads on the idiot box are more concerned with ego and image, a gaggle of chucklenuts who have so blurred the line between news and entertainment, the word infotainment needed to be created. We now live in a world where Will Ferrell is gladly given time on the once-proud Today Show to read the news as his fictional Ron Burgundy in order to promote his movie, full hours of “news magazines” like 20/20 are happily handed over to an A-list star to promote his or her latest screen effort or album, and former sports stars are more likely to have their own news channel show than a reporter who has spent twenty years in the field busting their hump to get ahead. Where is Greenwald’s disgust about these types of attack on journalismr

The director’s concern, at least this time around, is on one man, Rupert Murdoch, and the media empire he has created. Worldwide, Murdoch and his company, News Corp, own 175 newspapers, 100 cable channels, 40 book imprints, 40 television stations, 9 satellite TV networks and one movie studio. On a daily basis, his various enterprises can reach over two hundred and eighty million people in the United States. Those kinds of numbers should scare and outrage you, making you want to call up your FCC representatives and question why they allowed one man to have so much control over the news that is reported, if only FCC Chairman Michael Powell (whose father just happens to be our nation’s Secretary of State) wasn’t trying to rewrite the rules to give people like Murdoch the ability to buy even more television stations.

While “Outfoxed” does present a fairly strong case against Murdoch and the Fox News Channel, so much information is presented so quickly and without much time to let it sink in, that some viewers are likely to feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of facts, figures and testimonials. Originally released on DVD before its release into theatres, home video is the best format for this documentary, as it gives people a chance to pause for a moment and think about what’s just been presented, to reflect on the testimony of former Fox employees and stalwarts of journalistic integrity like Walter Cronkite.

Despite its shortcomings, “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism” is required viewing not only for media watchdogs and future journalists, but those who are concerned with how news is disseminated.

Rating: B
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Little Black Book

Stacy (Brittany Murphy) is having a perfect relationship with hunky Derek (Ron Livingston, “Office Space”), but when she decides to peek through his personal belongings while he’s out, she uncovers a trail of ex-girlfriends (including Rashida Jones, Josie Maran, and a pleasant Julianne Nicholson) whom he has never mentioned before. With the help of co-workers (Holly Hunter, and an intensely obnoxious David Sussman) at her trashy daytime talk show job, Stacy attempts to uncover Derek’s past life, unknowingly ripping open old wounds and threatening her relationship in the process.

With “Little Black Book,” Hollywood tries to place the zany Brittany Murphy into a role that would’ve gone to somebody like Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts in a past life. It doesn’t make any sense, like starting professional football season coverage in August, or when somebody refers to Vin Diesel as “an actor.” The borderline psychotic screen persona of Murphy just doesn’t belong in a vapid, cliched romantic comedy like “Book.” This material will never suit her.

It doesn’t help that when Murphy chooses to be in a romantic comedy of this nature, it must be this poor of a production. “Book” is a terrible film, though not in a vengeful way. The pieces are there to fool the audience into thinking they’re getting their money’s worth, but squint, and the picture is disorganized, ruthlessly unfunny, and poorly cast. Standard gripes, I know, but this is a standard misfire, made a little more painful by the clearly evident studio tinkering and/or last minute editing that reduces some of the storylines into pulp. It’s bad enough to view a film that’s not working, but to be baffled by it too is really an insult.

Screenwriters Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell have a plan for “Book,” which means to challenge audience expectations by having the central character be the bad guy, unable to get away with her crimes. A nice touch, but director Nick Hurran covers the action with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, relying heavily on the script’s cutesy touches to keep the audience on his side, such as Stacy’s dependence on the music of Carly Simon to get her through life’s rough patches. Eventually, the strange nature of the film and complicated plot catches up to Hurran, which results in a third act that introduces a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan wince, and unjustified drama that beats an already dead horse. It also plays out on the set of a Jenny Jones-like daytime talk show, which is about four years behind the curve of relevance.

Brittany Murphy tries to do what she does best, act nuts, but she’s lost in Hurran’s feeble directing decision to have the actress keep making the same bug-eyed, slack-jawed look as a sign of the character’s bewilderment. Veteran Hunter fares no better, sweating bullets to keep her side of the acting net alive, but unable to come up with anything in the story that could pass for entertaining to assist her performance. Model Josie Maran (“Van Helsing”) is the biggest offender in the cast, uncomfortably trying to be funny with a fake European accent, but utterly lacking in timing. And poor Ron Livingston. Third billed, but with only 10 minutes of actual screentime in the whole movie. This bright comic actor deserves much better than this garbage.

Rating: D
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Collateral

Which is not to say Mann’s lead is not a valuable member of the team. A perennially underrated actor, Cruise is far too often seen by audiences and some critics as a personality more than a true thespian, one who sometimes makes less than effective choices as an actor, as he tries too hard to grasp for an Oscar, and thus immortality, with over-serious fare such as “Eyes Wide Shut” and “The Last Samurai.” But if one were to look back, they would be reminded of the raw talent which stole “Taps” out from under George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn. Or remember a young actor on the rise going a full fifteen rounds with Paul Newman on “The Color of Money.” You’d see a growing artist pushing himself in “Rain Man” and “Born on the Fourth of July.” And if you were to look at the complete picture, you’d see, for every “Top Gun” or “Days of Thunder” or “Mission: Impossible” piece of hokum, there is a “Jerry Maguire” or “A Few Good Men” or his mesmerizing role in the otherwise lamentable “Magnolia” to act as counterbalance. This is an artist who knows the right tone for each of his characters, targeting their objectives like a laser sight. Which is an apt description of Vincent, the hired gun at the heart of this story, always in control of the situation as best he can be, no matter which obstacles are thrown in his direction, looking for nothing more than to complete his objectives and get out of town.

At its heart, “Collateral” is about chance and choice, and like Newton’s Third Law, the reaction to each chance encounter and hasty decision. When cabbie Max (Jamie Foxx) picks up the beautiful young fare Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) and gives him very specific directions to where she is going, Max chooses to offer her a free ride to her destination if his short cut does not get her their quicker. After their arrival, and impressed with the hack and his perceptions during their ride, Annie returns back to the cab after exiting, choosing to give Max her card in the hopes he will call. That extra moment with Annie, which could have otherwise led to his picking up another fare and driving away, instead leads Vincent to his cab and their soon to be intertwined destinies, an unlikely team who become partially dependent on each other for their own survival.

One of Mann’s strongest gifts as a filmmaker is his ability to cast even the most minor of roles impeccably. While actors like Javier Bardem, Peter Berg, Irma P. Hall, Debbie Mazar, Mark Ruffalo and Jason Stratham might only appear in a scene or two, each actor understands there are no unimportant roles in a Michael Mann movie, and all sine during their brief moments in the spotlight, none more so than Bruce McGill, the imposing character actor making his third consecutive appearance in a Mann movie, proving once again he is the best of his kind. Strangely, this is the first movie this reviewer can recall seeing Jamie Foxx in, knowing his work only from sporadic viewings of his eponymous 1990s sitcom and appearances on “In Living Color.” If his work in this film is an indication of what Foxx is capable of as an actor, he clearly has a long future ahead of him stealing roles from Denzel Washington. We, the audience, can feel from the opening moments his quiet sadness for life, and able to quickly understand and accept his decisions, even when he is fully aware at the moment he might not be making the wisest choices.

Mann more often than not enjoys taking his own sweet time in telling his stories (his previous three films have an average running time of two hours and forty three minutes), and while he does take pleasure in spending much time on seemingly innocent moments, “Collateral” clocks in at a tight two hours, with every line and every shot full of meaning to the entire picture. Like a strange hallucination, thanks to its hypnotic mix of traditional film and digital video cinematography, “Collateral” often feels both familiar and fresh at the same time. But there is no mistaking that the film is one of the best of the year, and one that will likely become one of those watershed works that cinemaphiles and generations of filmmakers study for many years to come, to pinpoint why it works so exceedingly well.

Rating: A+
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Collateral (BrianOrndorf)

Working the traffic-free downtown Los Angeles streets at night with his taxi, Max (Jamie Foxx) is a quiet, knowledgeable man who dreams of opening his own limousine service, but is stuck in his dead end job. A mysterious fare comes into his cab offering $600 if Max can take him to five locations and back to the airport in just one night. Max agrees, but soon realizes that the passenger, known as Vincent (Tom Cruise), is a contract killer, pulling Max into his world of systematic murdering for a single night, leaving him a frightened cabbie with no escape.

It seems Quentin Tarantino and Michael Mann are the only two directors working today trying to keep the noir vibe alive on the streets and in the alleyways of Los Angeles. Especially Mann, who has bragging rights to this honor; personally creating what many claim is the best L.A. crime story ever told with his sprawling 1995 opus, “Heat.” After excursions to true life tales of whistle-blowing (“The Insider”) and sports legends (“Ali,” a rare misfire), Mann pulls up his collar and stumbles back into the city of neon, crime, and indifference to create his best film in over a decade.

“Collateral” is Mann’s first foray into conventional, mainstream filmmaking in some time. At first glance, the union of familiar material (well written by Stuart Beattie) and a director known for his painstaking, exclusive process and careful photography is an unsettling one. But Mann rises to the challenge of those expectations and starts off by rinsing the photography of “Collateral” with a nice blend of celluloid and HD digital video, which the filmmaker got a taste of in “Ali.” The textures of the formats are meant to bring out the multicolored darkness of the city, where crime crawls around unnoticed, and dreams can be attended to in private. The easy use of the camera also penetrates the taxi, capturing that uneasy atmosphere where we find Max and Vincent bonding over threats, murder, and mutual criticism of lifestyles.

Opening with B&W studio logos, Mann states immediately that the film will be a shadowy neo-noir fiesta, and the promise is kept. Of course, Mann does get a slight case of “Robert Rodriguez-itis,” when the fluidity of his camera placements interferes with the necessity of the moment, but that can be forgiven. Where other crime films use L.A. as a meaningless backdrop and an easy location, Mann utilizes the hellhole of a city as a third main character, reviving Los Angeles as a viper’s nest of menace after years of sterilization in awful cinema.

Mann also has the sense to let Tom Cruise take his role and run to the hills with it. Particularly after playing such a noble hero in last holiday’s “Last Samurai,” Cruise gets a extraordinary chance to flex his criminal muscles, turning in a riveting performance as the brutal, efficient killer Vincent. Making no apologies, Vincent is trouble to the very end, and Cruise stays true to the character, never winking or forcing a change of disposition on the role. The audience even gets a rare chance to see the 42 year-old Cruise with wrinkles on his face and hands, which is shock if you consider the level of vanity his last roles have required. Cruise is a marvel here, and who knew that playing such a malicious hooligan would be his true callingr

Jamie Foxx is the other revelation in “Collateral.” A decent actor, Foxx has been easy prey for terrible urban comedies that always seem to lure him in (“Booty Call,” “Breakin’ All the Rules”).”Collateral” is a much needed acting detour for Foxx, who had already established a brighter future with Mann as a supporting performer in “Ali.” Foxx’s Max in a modest cab driver with a big dream, forced to confront panic and a gun pointed to his head. Foxx rarely goofs around, and delivers a full-bodied acting turn in the film, skillfully balancing between Max’s reluctance to help Vincent, and his eventual desire to outwit him. A great performance from this wildly uneven actor.

The third act of “Collateral” takes the action off the city streets and away from the intimate interplay between Max and Vincent, and moves it to more traditional grounds: the cat-and-mouse game. Resembling, at times, “Rear Window” and the finale of “Speed,” Mann raises the tempo and creates a final 30 minutes of action and suspense that closes “Collateral” with a curious, possibly uncharacteristic turn of events, but a satisfying conclusion regardless. It’s just hard to get around how different the last act is from the rest of the film.

Even bending the limits of the structure, Mann has a winner on his hands with “Collateral.” If anyone has lost patience with Tom Cruise or Jamie Foxx, this is the film to see.

Rating: A-
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Open Water

Daniel (Daniel Travis) and his industrious wife Susan (Blanchard Ryan) are a stressed out couple heading down to a Caribbean island for some rest and relaxation. After opting for a scuba diving excursion, a simple counting error soon strands the two alone in ocean waters, leaving them behind to fend off a series of undersea creatures and their own fatigue. When it becomes clear that no one recognizes that they’re missing, Daniel and Susan struggle to survive their own resentment towards each other and, eventually, the mounting number of sharks swimming by to get a bite.

In what is probably the biggest film to come down the path that the “Blair Witch Project” blazed back in 1999, “Open Water” is another experiment in digital video (DV) fear. Much like “Blair Witch,” “Water” doesn’t have anything in the budget department, using hostility and mounting anxiety in place of interesting scares or fundamental filmmaking skills. It’s a cheap looking, lethargic, dull piece of American independent filmmaking, and a creation that doesn’t have enough juice to scare, or enough gravitas to engage. It floats in the water aimlessly, much like the two main characters.

“Blair Witch Project” had a purpose for using a DV approach to the cinematography: it was trying to strip away fantasy and place the audience in a you-are-there scenario, thus blurring that line between drama and reality. It worked very well; people still to this day are sure that what they saw was an actual documentary. The approach that director Chris Kentis is taking with “Open Water” is that of any feature film, only using his DV creatively to create a mood of intimacy and doom when the couple first becomes stranded. The photography wears out its welcome fast, stripping away any cinematic qualities of the production (and trust me, Kentis is going for some with his lingering shots of the vacation island), and keeping the audience at arm’s length from the horror of the situation. In fact, when the photography goes underwater, the image soon becomes blocky and pixilated, as if the audience were watching a Game Boy screen. “Water” features the customary “watch out for nature’s wrath while smelling the daisies” message, but misses the most important point: lulling the audience into nature’s God-given beauty. You can’t read that on a DV image.

Taking up most of the first act to slavishly set up the circumstances in which this incident occurs, rather than truly digging into the dynamic between Susan and Daniel, Kentis finally gets to the meat of the matter in the last 30 minutes, when the couple begins to be hunted by the local sharks. Because the film had no money, the sharks attacking and the two actors are filmed separately, giving off some Ed Wood-ish fumes to the stalking sequences. Kentis expects the performances of Ryan and Travis to exclusively convey the pain and anguish of being lost in the ocean, and the two actors go a little overboard in an effort to sell the feeling. “Open Water” wants to be a type of “Scenes From a Marriage” production every time the sharks take a break, but outside of “she’s workaholic, he tolerates her,” there isn’t much for the audience to invest in emotionally.

Building an entire 80-minute film around the idea of two people floating in salt water, endlessly bickering and slowly dying as they wait out the hours is not an especially gripping enterprise. “Open Water” is the crude visualization of this idea, which might’ve been better served as a directing exercise for school rather than another overhyped Sundance Film Fest offspring that doesn’t deserve to be clogging theater space this crowded summer.

Rating: D
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