Category Archives: Aaron Sorkin

Being the Ricardos-2021

Being the Ricardos-2021

Director Aaron Sorkin

Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem

Scott’s Review #1,426

Reviewed May 7, 2024

Grade: B+

Aaron Sorkin who has written or directed such efforts as A Few Good Men (1992), Moneyball (2011), and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is typically associated with mainstream films.

While quality projects, he will never be accused of being a dangerous or auteur director. Since he is in the director’s chair for Being the Ricardos (2021) I knew going in that the film would be more or less a safe venture.

Ironically, the film that tells the story of famous comedian Lucille Ball played by Nicole Kidman, and her husband Desi played by Javier Bardem is not a comedy. It’s a drama mixed with a biography for those audiences unfamiliar with the duo explaining who they are.

For those of us at least mildly familiar with the iconic black and white show ‘I Love Lucy’ that pivoted television shows into the spotlight in the 1950s, Being the Ricardos serves as a slice of nostalgia.

The film depicts many aspects of the relationship of the pair and the challenges that went into producing the hit television show every week. But it also delves heavily into their rocky marriage, political smears, and cultural taboos that the show helped break.

Whoever thought that a pregnant character or a Cuban leading man would have stirred so much controversy?

But in the 1950s things were different and anyone even open to the idea of Communism faced career ruination.

Sorkin successfully treats the viewers to lengthy debates in the writers’ room, contentious star feuds, and the creative process in general.

More subtly, we see how a powerful woman in show business was the exception, not the rule, and how norms were very different for women.

The events of the film mostly surround one critical production week of their groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy.”

J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda play loveable Fred and Ethel, Lucy and Desi’s comical next-door neighbors in the sitcom. In real life, the actors despised each other frequently hurling insults at each other.

Comedy legend Linda Lavin makes a surprising appearance as Madelyn Pugh. The then-older television writer provides interviews along with other writers and producers to explain the earlier events.

Kidman is center stage as the icon. A brilliant actor in any role she is cast she does effectively depict the breathy voice and the mannerisms of Lucille Ball but she doesn’t look like her. Originally, Cate Blanchett was attached to the role and I’m very curious how she would have played her.

The obvious choice might have been television’s Debra Messing, brilliant on Will & Grace even portraying Lucy in one fantasy episode. My hunch is that Messing was too great a risk of lowering the film to sitcom standards and she isn’t a ‘movie star’ either.

And again, Being the Ricardos isn’t a comedy.

So, Kidman delivers the goods with some reservations mostly revealing what a strong woman Ball was and how she created many of the hilarious skits she is known for while not making the character seem like an idiot.

Bardem is also good in the role of Desi. He mixes conservative machismo with a thirst to be daring and challenge the mold. His womanizing would ruin their marriage but he was a savvy businessman and the film shows this.

An entertaining biopic that probably will be forgotten over time Being the Ricardos (2021) nonetheless shines a spotlight on the early days of television as a new medium and the hurdles its stars had to face in the woeful days of early apple pie and white picket fences that defined America.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Javier Bardem, Best Actress-Nicole Kidman, Best Supporting Actor-J.K. Simmons

A Few Good Men-1992

A Few Good Men-1992

Director Rob Reiner

Starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore

Scott’s Review #1,012

Reviewed April 15, 2020

Grade: B+

A Few Good Men (1992) is a film firmly ensconced in the mainstream Hollywood courtroom drama genre.

If all the necessary elements had not been well-weaved the results might have been trite or even cringe-worthy. Nonetheless, with big stars and excellent acting, director Rob Reiner (yes, “Meathead” from All in the Family), lucks out with a predictable screenplay that compels and is made better by the sum of its parts.

The film will never bore and is a standard edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

The drama was rewarded with several year-end niceties including nominations for the upper-crust Academy Awards. Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and surprisingly the lofty Best Picture statuette.

With no shame for the embarrassment of riches, deserved or undeserved is the real question, the film walked away empty-handed on Oscar night.

When cocky and handsome military lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and his co-counsel, Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), are assigned to a murder case, their investigation uncovers a hazing ritual that could implicate high-ranking officials.

U.S. Marines Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Private First Class Louden Downey (James Marshall) are facing a general court-martial, accused of murdering fellow Marine William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Kaffee and Galloway are to determine if higher-ranking officers orchestrated and forced the lower-ranking men to carry out a “code red” order: a violent extrajudicial punishment, and their form of justice, to kill the young victim, thus silencing him forever.

The questionable part of the plot is whether Base Camp Commander Jessup (Jack Nicholson) administered the order or instead ordered Santiago’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), to merely “train” Santiago to become a better Marine.

This is where the courtroom drama takes center stage with gusto.

As good as Moore, Sutherland, and Marshall are in offering compelling roles, the film belongs to Cruise and Nicholson, the veterans of the group. The best scenes come at the end of the film as Cruise and Nicholson spar in the courtroom with bombast and trickery.

Nicholson as Jessup is brooding and traditional, a lifelong military man channeling honor and dedication at any cost. Cruise as Kaffee has something to prove and wants to win at any cost. So, they tangle in a fierce machismo way.

When he catches Jessup in a lie, just like a spider captures a fly, the scenes crackle and spark with grit and energy.

The unforgettable line, “You can’t handle the truth!” is uttered by Nicholson.

A Few Good Men will both satisfy and dissatisfy those with a connection or a penchant for the military. On the one hand, the military is celebrated during the film as the need for efficiency in the world and the decorated appeal are to be admired.

But the film also stands up and questions the hypocrisy of one of the oldest establishments and its male domination and bullying methods not so different from a classic college fraternity.

The courtroom trial of a patriotic group is serious business.

While not a revolutionary film, sticking to a tried and true courtroom drama script seen in television drama series since the beginning of time, A Few Good Men (1992) provides a hefty two-hour and twenty minutes worth of pure entertainment.

Powerful acting across the board makes the film a superior experience and a thought-provoking message of whether blindly following orders without thought is still a relevant approach, not just in the military, but anywhere.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Jack Nicholson, Best Sound, Best Film Editing

Malice-1993

Malice-1993

Director Harold Becker

Starring Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman

Scott’s Review #765

Reviewed May 29, 2018

Grade: B+

Malice (1993) is only one of a slew of husband and wife-themed thrillers to emerge from the early 1990’s- Unlawful Entry (1992), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and Deceived (1991) are other similar films that made lots of money during this time.

This genre of slick filmmaking was popular as the new decade emerged and more complex story-telling graced the screens.

The myriad of twists and turns are both a positive and a negative to this film.  Keeping the audience guessing and on pins and needles is a key success, eliciting a fun sort of tone, as well as the tremendous star power of the casting (George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft are big-time heavies).

Then again a few of the plot points become red herrings and thereby meaningless and the overall plots, and endless subplots, become way too complex than they need to be.

In a plot that is dizzying to explain, Associate Dean Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) and his wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman) are embarking on a life together in Massachusetts as they purchase a grand Victorian house and plan to begin a family.

As a serial killer stalks the campus where Andy works and implausibly results in him being the prime suspect, Tracy experiences health turmoil and is operated on by cocky yet brilliant Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin).

When dire events occur the plot escalates and the motivations of the main characters are questioned as truths and deceptions unravel.

When I first saw Malice in 1993 (in fact I saw it twice the same year), I adored the multitude of plot points and devices. The film had the same effect as a speeding roller coaster ride- with endless twists and story revelations.

And to be fair the film holds up pretty well, never seeming dated or of its time like many mainstream films. The two startling reveals- Tracy and Jed being in cahoots and the mysterious eye witness living next door being blind, are clever bits of writing that immerse the audience on many levels.

The acting is top-notch- Kidman plays good and evil oh so well and Bancroft’s cameo as Tracy’s mother is Oscar-worthy. The chemistry between Pullman, Kidman, and Baldwin, and Pullman’s “nice guy” to Baldwin’s “jerk” work quite well as the overlapping relationships play out.

Small yet meaningful roles by Bebe Neuwirth, Peter Gallagher, and Gwyneth Paltrow add layers to the wonderful casting.

And who can forget the often parodied scene where arrogant Dr. Jed launches into a monologue where he claims to be infallible and that he is God? This scene received tons of publicity and is arguably the defining moment of the film.

However, Malice’s strengths also sometimes become its weaknesses. As events go along the plot becomes too confusing. The school serial killer plot soon becomes a red herring as we realize it has little to do with the central plot- the Tracy/Jed alliance- except only to raise parenting questions.

Therefore the big reveal of who the killer becomes for naught. It’s the creepy janitor named Earl(Tobin Bell) hardly a surprise.

Furthermore, after the film ends and the viewer plays events back to make them add up, he or she will likely give up in frustration.

Malice is an above-average entry in a popular genre- who doesn’t like a good, solid thriller? With a talented cast and enough good medical thrills to balance with a college campus whodunit, there is plenty to please everyone who views this film.

Yes, some of the writing is preposterous and tough to believe, but Malice (1993) is a movie meant to escape with, sit back, and enjoy.

The Social Network-2010

The Social Network-2010

Director David Fincher

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer

Scott’s Review #753

Reviewed May 3, 2018

Grade: A

When released in 2010 The Social Network was a timely and brazen look into the world of social media and the powers and dangers it encompassed.

Any film of this nature that chooses to incorporate either a current event or a current fad runs the risk of either being forgotten soon after or becoming irrelevant as the years go by.

So far, almost a decade later, The Social Network is even more of an interesting film in the age of embattled political turmoil involving the social media world- with Twitter and Facebook constantly in the headlines.

Director David Fincher (Zodiac-2007, Fight Club-1999) creates a stylistic piece masked behind the biography of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (still relevant in 2018) and tells of his rise to fame from a Harvard student to an internet genius.

Throughout all of his meteoric success, the driven young man let his relationships suffer as feuds and backstabbings encircled his life resulting in bitter legal entanglements.

The film is flawless in every way- the screenplay, the score, the acting, the cinematography, and especially the editing all lend themselves to a memorable experience.

We first meet Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as a teenager, recently dumped and bitter, he posts a scathing editorial on his blog and somehow hacks into the college site to allow the student body to read.

Along with his friends Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss  (both played by Armie Hammer), they came up with the initial concept of Facebook.

This leads to others becoming involved in the project including Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) as events spiral out of control due to deceit, jealousy, and conflicting accounts.

Fincher’s style is riveting and fast-paced with snappy edits and lightning-fast scenes giving the film a crisp and sharp look. The story is told via the Harvard events interspersed with the numerous courtroom scenes as each of the principal characters is represented by legal counsel adding drama.

The point of the film is cynical and despite being a biography of Zuckerberg’s rise to fame, the overall theme is the effects that social media has had on the entire world- in this way, the film elicits a message without being preachy.

Trent Reznor, from the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, creates an amazing musical score that adds a modern touch with both techno and electronic elements.

This is not so overdone as to take away from the main theme of the film nor is it too distracting, but rather provides a moody yet intensive element that is highly effective to the overall film.

What riveting acting The Social Network provides!

Young upstart Eisenberg is perfectly cast as Zuckenberg and the similarities between the two are uncanny. With his quick wit and neurotic mannerisms, intelligent yet insensitive to others, Eisenberg not only looks the part he seems to embody the character and deservedly received an Oscar nomination for the role.

Garfield and Timberlake are nearly as compelling in supporting yet important roles. Finally, Hammer portrays indistinguishable twins with a smug, cutting edge perfect for the way the parts are written.

The Social Network (2010) is a tremendous film with modern technologies and a brilliant screenplay. Beyond the spectacular writing, the film contains other top-notch qualities that make for a memorable experience.

The film holds up exceptionally well with current relevance and features a stellar cast of young actors (Eisenberg, Garfield, Hammer, and Timberlake) who all went on to become heavy hitters in the world of cinema years later.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-David Fincher, Best Actor-Jesse Eisenberg, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won)