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Inside "The Insider"

Plus: Angry Readers Respond to FIGHT CLUB!

An Aisle Seat Entry

By Any Dursin

After what was a fairly dull Autumn, and despite tepid box-office results this past weekend, we're already entering into what can be termed the "Holiday Season" of movie releases, with THE INSIDER opening last week (review follows below) and THE MESSENGER out this Friday. I've heard a few good things about Luc Besson's latest, although Milla Jovovich's performance reportedly isn't one of them (no big surprise there). Still, it may be interesting to see how this Joan of Arc tale plays with U.S. audiences, particularly as we see a handful of genre films released between November 19th and Thanksgiving (SLEEPY HOLLOW, END OF DAYS, the new Bond, and TOY STORY 2 among them).

It will also be a time for a lot of us soundtrack nuts to head down to the record store on Tuesday, what with ANGELA'S ASHES and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH soundtracks hitting stores this week (let's just hope the narration doesn't wreck John Williams's latest and that David Arnold's score is livelier than Garbage's theme song).

Next week we'll be back with a whole DVD Round-Up (including all the Fox WWII DVDs, Sharpline Arts's neat BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, Universal's THE WOLFMAN, and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), and don't forget to send in your comments to me at dursina@att.net in the meantime. Cheers everyone!

New In Theaters

THE INSIDER (****): After having watched the trailers, I felt that the primary issue concerning Michael Mann's latest film -- which, among other topics, focuses on tobacco reform, 60 Minutes, whistle-blowing, media coverage, and the justice system -- seemed to be simple: how was Mann going to sustain, over the duration of some 150 minutes, a powerful drama about a subject matter that's not exactly the most impassioned topic on the minds of the casual viewer? Thanks to potent storytelling, smart dialogue, and bravura performances all around, THE INSIDER answers that question by being nothing less than a riveting examination of not just corporate pressures but also the channels in which journalists and high- powered, corporately-owned media seek to cover stories.

Just like in real life, there are no easy answers, and THE INSIDER refuses to cave into a traditional, Hollywood-ized story about righteous journalists exposing an evil corporation. Save that for next year's Rob Reiner film; THE INSIDER, thanks to Mann's direction and an incisive, cutting script (by Mann and Eric Roth), feels like a real, human drama with a handful of people placed in often overwhelming circumstances.

Al Pacino plays "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman, who sees in former scientist Dr.Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) a man fired from his job for knowing too much about the inside of the tobacco industry. Despite having signed a confidentiality agreement with his former employers, Wigand knows the truth about the workings of his former company (specifically that they doctored up nicotine in order to further hook consumers on the product), and risks everything -- from his career to his relationship with his wife -- in order to get the story on the record.

So far, so good, but the corporate dealings that lead Wigand to be ostracized also lead Pacino to question the motivations of his own employers (CBS), and the inside agenda that his peers have when the network's blockbuster sale to Westinghouse is placed on the line if Wigand's interview is aired.

Not content to categorize individuals as stereotypes, Mann's achievement in THE INSIDER is tantamount to his last film, the dynamic thriller HEAT: despite a lengthy running time, the filmmaker centers the story on a handful of characters and develops rich, complex relationships between them. Pacino nicely downplays Bergman (making it one of his most effective performances in recent years), while Crowe, under Greg Cannom's make-up, is sensational as Wigand and Christopher Plummer makes for a somewhat sympathetic Mike Wallace, who makes the wrong call when the truth is on the line.

Their performances (in addition to an excellent supporting cast of Diane Verona, Gina Gershon, and Bruce McGill) compliment a movie rich in issues that encourages debate. Mann and Roth's script smartly raise a discussion about truth and justice to be certain, but after the first hour, the tobacco aspect quickly becomes secondary to a dissection of journalism and the manipulation of the media (both to the public and from outside organizations), how sources can be used and misused, and how the decision-making of a handful of individuals can change a multi-billion dollar industry and completely alter the face of the corporate world.

As with any Mann film, THE INSIDER moves swiftly, drawing you into its world with a crisp, realistic atmosphere and dialogue that feels real, not the kind that's programmed by a screenwriter to sell a trailer. The scope cinematography is well-utilized and Mann's use of music -- through an evocative score by Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke that sustains edgy emotion without calling attention to itself -- is likewise effective.

A few viewers and critics have claimed that the movie lacks an impassioned fire, but this seems to stem from the fact that THE INSIDER doesn't play by the usual melodramatic structure of Hollywood "issue films." It's too smart, and too real, to use stereotypes and rush to easy answers, and indeed Mann doesn't find a quick solution to the problems his film uncovers in both corporate justice and the role of the media. What he does find is that human beings, when placed in high-pressure situations such as the true-life story he recounts (with some fictionalization) in this film, can be influenced by any number of outside factors and have to make hard choices in the world.

The world isn't entirely black and white, but what's clear about THE INSIDER is that it's easily one of the best movies of 1999, with a handful of memorable performances and compelling filmmaking making what could have been a generic movie-of-the-week into a superb drama that ranks with the best work that Pacino and Mann have done to date. (R, 157 mins., *** score on Columbia/Sony with additional music by Graeme Revell)


Aisle Seat Mail Bag: FIGHT CLUB fans fight back! (MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT!!)

If there ever was a "love it or hate it" movie in 1999, FIGHT CLUB seems to be it. I received a couple of emails from dissatisfied Aisle Seat readers who warmed to David Fincher's poetic tale of disaffected yuppies acting out their frustrations in a basement with Meatloaf as a guy with breasts. Like I said, you either love this movie, and David Fincher for that matter, or you'd rather stay at home at watch Punky Brewster re-runs. There isn't much middle ground here, friends, but these readers were on the other side of the fence. Any other reactions? Comments?

>From Giles Edwards (Matmoosmom@aol.com)

    Andy ol' pal

    I think you really missed the point here. this movie is for anyone who ever felt angry - about anything - don't you get it or have you never been angry -- And quit the internal dialogue you just started that said "but I don't go out beating people to a pulp and causing acts of heinous vandalism and terrorism". Of course you don't - that's why this is a film - a fiction - not some documentary on disaffected youth - that would be a Mike Leigh picture.

    No this is about the extremes we wish we could all go to when the boss berates us for being 5 minutes late - y'see - it's an extreme wish fulfilment - uh..stop that internal dialogue again. It's also just a point of view. One probably not meant to be shared by everybody. Scratch that - probably by not a great many people at all. This is a deeply personal film - like Gummo, Happiness - like a great many other tour de forces of creative agenda that go out of their way to provoke discourse and intelegent dialogue. It's not meant to be liked. Helena Bonham Carter isn't meant to be sexy, alluring - or a fucking love interest. Nothing in this film is meant to be alluring. Thats why it ends the way it does. On a distincly chaotic and nihilistic bent. The Brad pitt character is killed - BECAUSE HIS INFLUENCE IS BAD. GEDDIT --

    And if discourse is what it wanted - that's what it got - lots of it. I say thats a job well done. It's a wake up call. It's a blistering display of technique. And it's shown America up for what it is. Sure, beating the crap out of a man is no ato success. But then neither is holding a bunch of innocent people hostage and killing them for dramatic emphasis - which is what happens in EVERY DIE HARD RIP OFF YOU EVER SAW. It's just that we are being made to look at the situation from another point of view. Is it really that scary to have to look at something and make up our own minds as to whether its a bad thing or not. Thats called life.

    You want a nanny - stay at home. As for Mr Fincher - i applaud him. I hope no one tries to rip this off - it won't work. It's a one of a kind film. That's right a FILM. Get over it, moral majority. Leave the real dialogue to us intellegent folks. We'll have much more fun without you.

>From Wwatkins@gateway.net:

    First I guess I have to say that you either love fight club or you hate it and it makes no sense to you. Fight Club isn't about violence it's about what they do with the violence. The violence isn't pointless to the characters in the story. The rest of the film is so brilliantly shot ( notice the subliminal Brad Pitts in the beginning ) and so well lit for the situations that you can't help but be pulled into their world. Yes there is violence. But Fincher did nothing to tone it down for the trailers. You knew it was going to be about fighting and blood and blowing stuff up. So for anyone who went in and left thinking " That was so violent " OF COURSE IT WAS!!!! It's called Fight Club for crying out loud! Any further step in naming it and he would've had to have called it " Bloody Fights , So Parents Don't Bring Small Children the Movie ". And watching for the second time is even better. When you find out that Brad Pitt isn't really there if you go back and watch it a second time there are clues everywhere. They're hard to see and very subtle. Like when Brad Pitt is talking everyone looks at Ed Norton. At a time when all we have is shitty remakes of films letting us know how lazy - ass people are running Hollywood it's an inspiration to see Fincher sticking to being the "Brass - balled" Terry Gilliam of the nineties. Thank you Fight Club!

NEXT WEEK: DVD Round-Up while I study for the G.R.E. exam (and attempt to understand all the Math I didn't know in high school eight years ago!). Send all comments here at dursina@att.net and we'll check you then!


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