Quiz Show

The year is 1957, Sputnik has just launched, Eisenhower has died and Nixon is president. The quiz-based game show Twenty One, hosted by the reptilian Jack Barry (a tremendously smarmy Christopher McDonald) has swept the nation and every week John Turtorro’s nerdy know-it-all Herb Stemple defeats his new opponent. The only problem is, Stemple’s ‘freak with a sponge memory’ appearance, all bad teeth, terrible glasses and ill-fitting suit, isn’t playing well with the shows bosses and sponsors, who’d much rather Ralph Fiennes clean cut intellectual Charles van Doren takes his place. Showing an obvious disdain for quiz shows, Robert Redord’s assured directorial style, flitting between the stories of Stemple, van Doren and Rob Morrow’s personal investigator Richard Goodwin keeps the largely talky sections enjoyable and entertaining, whilst still grounding them into the seriousness of the issues at hand. This, with a great cast that also includes Hank Azaria, David Paymer, Martin Scorsese (!) and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from the likes of Calista Flockhart, William Fichtner and the West Wing’s Timothy Busfield, makes a film far superior to the programmes it holds a mirror up to.

Choose film 8/10
Advertisements

Heat

Most crime films tend to pick a side early on, focusing on a ‘means to an end’ band of criminals thieving because they have to, or a team of patriotic, all-American supercops able to match their never-ending machine gun clips with a limitless supply of one liners, but Michael Mann’s Heat, a remake of his own 1989 made for TV movie L.A. Takedown, takes a different path, giving Robert De Niro’s gang of seasoned thieved and Al Pacino’s police squad equal screen time, equal motivation and similar levels of compassion, so you get to decide who you want to win. Though the two main characters; De Niro’s master thief Neil McCauley and Pacino’s dogged detective Vincent Hanna are sworn enemies, they are still two sides of the same coin, separated by their own opinions of the law, but brought together by a deep mutual respect. Neither one is the villain of the film, there are more than enough scumbags among the supporting player to take that role, yet neither is necessarily the hero, although in the end it’s Pacino who grabs the most heroic moments.
Surrounded by an incredible ensemble cast (deep breath: Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, Dennis Haysbert, Natalie Portman, Xander Berkeley, Hank Azaria, Jon Voight, Jeremy Piven, Mykelti Williamson, William Fichtner, Tom Noonan, Ted Levine, Ashley Judd), some perfectly choreographed set pieces (the opening truck heist and mid film bank robbery/street shootout) and ability to show the effect their chosen lifestyles has had on these characters and their personal lives, or lack thereof, this is a tremendous film, even if it does give in to the occasional cliché, but these can be forgiven for the fact that they use weapons that actually, from time to time, need reloading.
Choose film 9/10