PFF Springfest: Mike Wallace Is Here, The Tomorrow Man, Official Secrets
Mike Wallace Is Here (dir. Avi Belkin)
"Why are you such a prick?" is the first question asked in the revelatory documentary Mike Wallace Is Here. But it is a question that is asked of Mike Wallace himself. This is a documentary about one of the fathers of investigative journalism, the man who helped invent the very media landscape that we are all hopelessly engulfed in today. Blazing trails in the late 1960's as a host of 60 Minutes on CBS, Wallace interviewed just about everybody, but did so with a rigorous ethical practice. His quest for perfection and constant drive to better himself via his work nearly cost him his life.
Utilizing a now common documentary approach, Mike Wallace Is Here is made up entirely of archival footage. There are no cutaways to talking heads in 2019 looking back on the story of Wallace. Everything we could possibly know has already been captured on camera, so why make new footage? It makes for an immersive theatrical experience, as we see him interview the likes of Barbara Streisand, Donald Trump, Malcolm X, Vladimir Putin and Ruhollah Komeini. Wallace ruffled more than a few feathers and created an entire style of journalism- asking more intimate, probing questions, trying to get to the bottom of an issue or why a person is the way that they are. He also may have inadvertently helped get Egyptian President Anwar Sadat killed, and may have been partially responsible for the rise and dominance of Fox News.
The innovators always inspire positive and negative reactions that are partially out of their control- Wallace was no different. He paid an enormous personal price for his contributions. But he had conviction, and that's something that Mike Wallace Is Here points out is sorely lacking in today's media world.
Mike Wallace Is Here will be released by Magnolia Pictures sometime later this year.
The Tomorrow Man (dir. Noble Jones)
The argument and rationale of a doomsday prepper, the kind of person who spends an exorbitant amount of time and money preparing for the apocalypse, may be that "desperate times call for desperate measures." That may be true, but it is nothing that you can't make a quirky Sundance movie out of. John Lithgow and Blythe Danner star in The Tomorrow Man, a senior romance indie comedy about two people whose extreme neuroses make them perfect for each other- as well as threaten to tear them apart.
Living in the type of forgotten American town that probably voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, Lithgow plays Ed Hemsler, a grandfather who lives alone and spends his nights in front of a Fox News-like television program. He makes daily trips to the grocery store, stocking up on non-perishables for his super secret doomsday bunker. There, he meets Ronnie Meisner (Danner), a beautiful woman who first catches his eye when she pays with cash. He thinks she might be another one like him- getting ready for the end he is convinced is coming. Ronnie turns out to have similar demons, but not quite in the way that Ed thought. What follows is a formulaic but charming story of two old people with loads of baggage, falling in love and trying to make it work. But Lithgow and Danner make it special in two excellent performances.
The Tomorrow Man is the type of movie that, despite getting a theatrical release, seems tailor made to have a nice shelf life on streaming services. It has a simple and eye catching two sentence plot description. It will play perfectly with baby boomers. It is designed to offend absolutely nobody, while also reflecting on the state of modern American life. It feels almost like a movie made by an algorithm instead of a person. It is also hard to watch it and not think to yourself that this is generally where most medium sized movies are headed. The Tomorrow Man...or The Tomorrow Movie?
The Tomorrow Man is in theaters May 22nd.
Official Secrets (dir. Gavin Hood)
This is the Official story of Katharine Gun, who was charged with violating the Official Secrets act of 1989 in Great Britain, when she leaked a confidential memo in 2003. It detailed a joint English/American government venture to spy on the UN Security Council ahead of the Invasion of Iraq. They wanted to uncover Secrets from various smaller countries, so as to blackmail them into Officially voting for the war- giving them all the moral and legal cover they would need. Gun (played by Keira Knightley, fast becoming the Official British biopic actress) put her career, reputation and life on the line to try and save lives and prevent the Invasion. Unfortunately, it is no Secret that she was too little, too late.
Director Gavin Hood seems to be the Official director of decent re-enactments of the moral dilemmas of 21st century warfare, having made movies like Rendition and Eye In The Sky. This one is no different. This is a world of Secrets, where no decisions or votes seem to be Official, but rather things are done Secretively in shadowy corners of government. Gun, a spy, decided that she could not in good conscience keep the memo a Secret. So she Officially decided to leak it, despite knowing that she would be in violation of the Official Secrets Act of 1989, which prohibits a British citizen from leaking or sharing state Secrets that would harm the lives of Official British citizens. There aren't really any complicated characters in the film- everyone is either firmly a good guy or a bad guy, and the film seems to dodge all the benefits of the medium of cinema, choosing instead to make this like a magazine article on film.
Margaret Thatcher created the Official Secrets Act, and Official Secrets is deeply concerned with the ways in which modern states have created environments in which its people are expendable, but the government itself must be protected at all costs. Gun links up with a lawyer, Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes), who is very concerned about the Official Secrets Act, as are the journalists that she leaked to, played by Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, and a couple of Game Of Thrones actors, who were probably very worried that Secret spoilers might be leaking ahead of the show's premiere, which was happening while I was watching this. Nobody knows Officially yet how that show will end.
One very interesting thing about this movie is the script, which never misses an opportunity to say the phrase "Official Secrets" in referring to Gun being in violation of the Official Secrets Act of 1989. You can't help but notice just how often the phrase “Official Secrets” is spoken, which is a phrase made up of the words Official and Secrets. It almost took me out the movie and made me wonder if it was lazy screenwriting, or if there was just no way to avoid constantly repeating the phrase “Official Secrets.” The phrase itself isn't a very aesthetically pleasing one. It is pretty bland, and makes for a poor title. Then again, when it is spoken so much throughout, what else are you going to call this movie?
Official Secrets seems Officially destined to piss off viewers all over again about how we were lied into an illegal war. It is no longer a Secret that the idea of Saddam having WMD's was total bullshit. 17 years later, you can almost directly trace our world's instability back to this moment in time. It even provides Official death tolls for all Iraqi civilians, British and American soldiers who have been killed in the war, in case we forgot. It is never anything less than perfectly watchable- but it also seems likely to Officially be put out of the viewer's mind as soon as they are done watching it.
Official Secrets will be Officially released in theaters on August 23rd, unless they are Secretly planning to Officially changed the date.