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George Clooney’s important new film that’s as much about 2005 as 1954 features a veritable Who’s Who on both sides of the cast list. There’s David Strathairn as legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow, Clooney himself as producer Fred Friendly, Frank Langella as CBS head William Paley and Senator Joseph McCarthy as… George W. Bush? Karl Rove? Bill O’Reilly? One thing’s for sure: Clooney makes it abundantly clear that McCarthy is not simply playing McCarthy. Good Night, And Good Luck, which marks Clooney’s second stint as director, looks at an inspiring moment in U.S. history, when Murrow, more or less backed by an uneasy CBS, did the unthinkable by standing up to Joe McCarthy, the junior Senator from Wisconsin who destroyed lives by denouncing everyone who didn’t subscribe to his petty politics (liberals, the ACLU, Hollywood) as card-carrying Commie Pinkos. It wasn’t long afterward that the Army-McCarthy hearings, featuring Judge Joseph Welch’s famous smackdown of the Senator ("Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"), effectively ended McCarthy’s reign of terror and, eventually, this shameful period in American history. Filming in crisp black and white, Clooney keeps all the action close to the vest: Rarely does the movie stray from the confines of the CBS studios. The movie’s stroke of genius, however, is in its masterful integration of actual newsreel footage into the fictionalized framework. No actor was hired to play Joe McCarthy because none was needed: The Senator is entirely represented through archival footage seen on TV screens. Apparently, Clooney felt that no performer could have captured this odious individual, and he may have been right: Watching this oily politician rant and rave from the blocky dimensions of a TV monitor is in itself enough to strike fear into the hearts of upstanding American viewers.



North Country is loosely based on a true story, and it’d be interesting if transcripts from the actual trials surrounding this tale were made available at the film’s screenings. That way, we could see for ourselves if the courtroom shenanigans were really as difficult to swallow as the ones that conclude this film. Inspired by this nation’s first successful sexual harassment lawsuit, the movie stars Charlize Theron as a single mom who returns to her Minnesota hometown and lands a job in the local mines. One of only a handful of women who work there, she has to contend with the incessant torment perpetrated by the yahoos who work alongside her, good ol’ boys who don’t believe that girls have any business laboring in the mines. Tired of their lewd taunts and cruel pranks, she decides to take the company to court, a decision that alienates her from practically everyone, including the women who abhor their own treatment but refuse to cause waves. North Country is directed by New Zealand’s Niki Caro, and it’s surprising to see the talent behind the lyrical Whale Rider at the helm of a movie so rigidly straightforward in its telling. Her primary asset is Charlize Theron, who again demonstrates (as if there was any doubt after Monster) that she’s a master thespian residing within a model’s body. Such luminaries as Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek and Woody Harrelson flesh out the supporting cast, but this is Theron’s show all the way.


Armed with the cinematic excesses that made his last picture, Man On Fire, near-unwatchable, director Tony Scott this time tackles the based-on-fact saga of Domino Harvey. By all appearances, Domino led a fascinating life: The daughter of English actor Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate), this tomboy quickly gave up the lifestyle of the rich and famous to forge her own path as a bounty hunter. Armed with a script inexplicably penned by Richard Kelly (the writer-director of the excellent cult flick Donnie Darko), Scott chooses to ignore many of the smaller details of Domino’s hard-scrabble existence to fashion an oft-times impenetrable action flick about a trio of bounty hunters involved in a scam. As the title character, Keira Knightley is required only to snarl on cue, while Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez are equally lifeless as her fellow bounty hunters.


Taking a well-worn formula and adding some flavor through the rich characterizations of its leading players, Dreamer centers on the circumstances that transpire when horse trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) and his young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) elect to nurse an injured race horse named Sonador (Spanish for Dreamer) back to health. Planning to use the mare for breeding purposes until learning she’s infertile, the financially strapped Ben, with constant prodding by his daughter as well as his own crusty dad (Kris Kristofferson), decides to take a chance on prepping her for competition contention. Many child stars are either sloppily sentimental or coldly calculating, and while Fanning has occasionally veered toward the latter, she delivers her warmest and most natural performance in this picture.


With Elizabethtown, director Cameron Crowe seeks to honor the memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in 1989. It’s a noble endeavor but a disappointing movie, as engaging individual scenes fail to disguise either the slackness or superficiality of the piece. Orlando Bloom, nothing special but getting the job done, stars as Drew Baylor, a failed shoe designer who temporarily shelves his own demons in order to attend the funeral of his dad back in the title Kentucky town. Along the way, he meets a chatty flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who stirs him out of his stupor -- she’s the new constant in his life as he attempts to do right by his various relatives, including his grieving mother (Susan Sarandon). Crowe, a former editor at Rolling Stone, is renowned for his films’ savvy music selections, yet here he overplays his hand: The final portion is one long road trip in which Drew explores the country while his car CD blasts a multitude of diverse tunes, and the overriding feeling is that Crowe simply wanted to impress audiences with his music collection.


Ever since winning that Oscar for Scent of a Woman (still the worst con job ever to snag a Best Actor statue), Al Pacino has elected to “Hoo-ah!” his way through almost every subsequent role. Pacino’s back in full manic mode in Two for the Money, a malnourished morality tale not dissimilar in structure to the other Pacino vehicles in which he serves as a shady mentor to a hot young actor. Here, he plays Walter Abrams, the head of a sports consulting firm who finds his protege in Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey), a former college football star permanently sidelined by a leg injury. Brandon scrapes together a living at a small Las Vegas betting house. Walter learns of Brandon’s ability to correctly handicap gridiron match-ups and lures him to New York with a substantially better job offer. Under his new boss’ tutelage -- and with Walter’s sharp wife (Rene Russo) also offering expert advice -- Brandon becomes a raging success by providing gamblers with surefire tips, but personality conflicts between the two men threaten to drive both their careers into the ground.


Schmaltz-loving women will grab their tissues while Neanderthal males will roll their eyes. But In Her Shoes isn’t designed for any of these people; instead, it will attract viewers who have little use for rigid societal labels and who anticipate a well-crafted blend of comedy and pathos. The picture stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette as Maggie and Rose, two sisters who have nothing in common except their shoe size. In this case, the ties that bind have been shredded down to a mere string, one which snaps when Maggie cruelly betrays Rose in an act of astonishing thoughtlessness. Banished by her older sister, Maggie heads to Florida to meet Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine), the grandmother she only recently learned she had. It isn’t hard to guess how this will all play out, but the pleasures rest in the journey more than the destination.


Writer-director Rob McKittrick obviously views his pet project as the new Clerks, but whereas that Kevin Smith gem featured genuine wit beneath the rampant vulgarity, Waiting is merely puerile, crammed with incessant employment of the “F” word (fag, that is) and featuring more unkempt pubic hair (male and female) than any picture this side of a 50s-era stag film. Ryan Reynolds plays the veteran employee at Shenanigan’s, an eatery in the Applebee’s/Bennigan’s mold. He’s assigned to show the new kid (John Francis Daley) the ropes, and the story kicks into high gear once he explains to the rookie that every male employee must trick the other guys into looking at his exposed genitalia.



In the same manner that David Lynch deconstructed the myth of the squeaky-clean small Southern town in Blue Velvet, so does director David Cronenberg take a hatchet to the façade of bland Midwestern homeliness. The movie establishes the proper tone from the start, as two men check out of their motel in the grisliest way imaginable. From here, we jump to the home of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a hard-working café owner blessed with a devoted wife named Edie (Maria Bello) and two children. Tom’s peaceful existence disappears the night that a pair of murderous strangers bust into his diner. Tom kills the intruders, which in turn leads to his national status as a hero. This widespread exposure brings more strangers to town -- gruff mobster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his two flunkies. Viggo Mortensen, formerly a wretched actor who has matured in leaps and bounds these last few years, was a wise choice -- it’s impossible to read anything on his passive face, thus making it hard to gauge whether or not he’s telling the truth about his past.