DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Shattered Glass, Never Been Kissed, The Hoax, The Aviator, Resurrecting the Champ, The Hunting Party

Title:  Shattered Glass

Release Date:  2003

Nationality and Language: USA. English

Running time: 95 min

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

Distributor and Production Company:  Lions Gate

Director; Writer: Billy Ray

Producer:

Cast:   Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard,Steve Zahn, Chloe Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey,

Technical: Panavision Widescreen, digital

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: writing

Review:

First, for the followup, to be fair. The New Republic ran its own story, “Bad Press: How Political Journalists get the story wrong: What the Media can learn from Stephen Glass” in the Nov. 10, 2003 issue (by Jonathan Chait).  And the fallen and disgraced Stephen Glass did finish law school after his demise and even had a novel The Fabulist published.

Of course, to make a movie about journalistic fraud (in the wake of episodes such as Jayson Blair at The New York Times, Mike Barnicle at the Boston Globe or Janet Cooke at The Washington Post) the writer and director would have to be letter perfect on facts and exposition. (Note, also, most of Glass’s fabrications seem to be complete fabrications, with no facts at all, completely made up, whereas Blair’s were partially fabricated upon fact.) I don’t know the film quite achieved it. In the opening, there was a grammatical gaffe in the rolling narrative (“comprise” is a transitive verb). Later, editor Chuck Lane says he does not know much about computers, and seems blind to how domains are set up on the web. Would a software company really use Hometown AOL to set up a domain? But in 1998 probably most managers did not realize that anyone could set up his own .com domain very cheaply, and it is surprising that Glass (or his brother) did not do this instead. But, that observation leads me into even more disturbing territory: if the “average person” (even manager or editor in a publishing company, no less) does not understand the culture of domain names and trademarks, then some of the trademark lawsuits going on over domain names are likely to turn out badly for the small-fry domain name holder, and there may be new litigation on the horizon over “blogging” and publicity, enough material for another movie.

 Some of Glass’s fabrications make interesting policy proposals. Maybe it should be illegal for a software company to make a deal with a hacker.

What was most interesting, though, was the exposition of the nature of political journalism as a career field. In the film, at this magazine, political writing is presented as real employment with a specific publication (even though publications like TNR sometimes do accept freelance submissions). It is still journalism (as it would be taught at the U of Missouri) and dependent on integrity and ruthless fact checking before a piece goes out. It differs from daily newspaper reporting in that there is more interpretation from the writer. But still, the writer is developing a specific subject outside of his own world, and in this kind of journalism he may pose as some kind of role to invade a specific setting, put on an act, and only then to write about it. So investigative political journalism requires great people skills as well as the ability to write well and perform the meticulous technical aspects of the job. Bill collectors and private investigators show the same savvy. (All of this was demonstrated in R. Foster Winans’s 1988 (St. Martins Press) book Trading Secrets, about insider trading on Wall Street by a Wall Street Journal reporter.) And to go out, the piece is supposed to go through numerous edits and fact checks, but sometimes the facts are just the reporter’s own notes. And that is the hole.

Of course, there are other kinds of “writing,” from selling fiction to selling commentary based on one’s own experiences. The latter is what I do, but I branch out into many areas that can be researched from the Internet, books, magazines or other accessible media sources without having to be at a specific site. But if I was twenty years old and could start over, I would consider “legitimate” journalism as a career myself, even if I was no Clark Kent.

The film did present some layering of Glass’s presentation of his career to a high school English class in his home town of Highland Park (MI?)  To become a staff journalist (writer??) is to have “made it.” But at the end of the film, his classroom presentation turns into an imaginary soliloquy or self-date.  The scenes where Glass gets fired (by Chuck) after first being suspended are drawn out a bit painfully, but the sequence where he is ordered to leave his office after a final denial is gripping; he can’t take his Rolidex or work, only his law books.

Hayden Christensen plays the part with great endearment, hooking the viewer. Will all his nervous energy, he seems grown up from his prepubescent look in Life is a House. There is little explanation as to why he needed to resort to fabrication, when the facts themselves would have been enough. 

Howard Kurtz reports in “Media Notes” in The Washington Post, May 2, 2005, “Ethics Pressure Squeezes a Few Out the Door,” that more journalists are getting fired partly because “outsiders – led by bloggers and other critics –have stepped up the pressure. In the Internet age, there is no rug under which to sweep the problems.”

Here’s a comedy about journalistic imposterage: Never Been Kissed (1999, 20th Century Fox, with Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Molly Shannon, Jon C. Reilly, and Michael Vartan, dir. Garry Marshall). Josie, a 25 year old reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, after watching a colleague get sacked in a meeting, goes undercover in a high school crowd and pretends to be a teenager again. Seems like she missed out on love the first time, as she finds herself drawn to an English teacher her own age (Vartan). There were clever quotes of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” about being in disguise, hiding secrets, “don’t ask don’t tell”. Well, she goes to the prom (I never did in high school and didn’t miss it), and then outs herself as a reporter, telling her chums that there is life after high school. Then, though, she comes out as heterosexual in front of a minor league baseball game, on the pitcher’s mound, no less, at her brother’s sports audition.

TheWB showed it in between season segments (Thanksgiving week, 2003) of its prized drama shows about teens and young adults. In a movie, most of the high school characters come across as teenieboppers. On TheWB, where you have a chance to get to know the characters from one week to the next, the teenagers (Simon, Ephram, Clark, Lucas) tend to come across as being much more adult and having much more mature focus. Ephram (Everwood) spends an episode proclaiming himself a man, while his father mentions that he has never had a girl friend. Well, neither did I. (Pretty soon there was a boy friend, of sorts, with sequels, and that sounds like another WB drama doesn’t it.)

The Hoax (2007, Miramax / Yari Film Group / Mark Gordon, dir. Lasse Hallstrom, 115 min, R, based on a "novel" by Clifford Irving). This film presents the inversion of the self-publishing paradigm that I developed for my 1997 "Do Ask Do Tell". I developed my own content with my own message, however screed-like the final product. In this case, Clifford Irving (a ripened Richard Gere) is a "writer" -- a big scale free-lance journalist, who lives on big advances from publishers. That satisfies the Author's Guild, all right. But here, around 1970, as Nixon is getting into gear, he invents a story that he met and interviewed the reclusive Howard Hughes, in order to write a presumably authorized biography (that is, ghost-written autobiography). He does do a lot of investigation and gumshoeing, with his researcher and partner in crime,  Dick Susskind (a fattish and heart-palpitating Alfred Molina), as in one scene when he gets a sensitive file about Hughes aircraft out of the Pentagon. In those boardroom meetings with the New York publisher, it's very clear how numbers driven they are, and how concerned they are about corporate secrets. (Howard Hughes will have the code name "Octavius".) Irving manipulates them, and gets to the brink of being caught a couple of times. Finally, as the book is about to be published, he is caught, because his wife (Marcia Gay Harden) fumbles a secret deposit in Switzerland. In the meantime, he has discovered so much corruption implicating the Nixon white house that Nixon will order the 1972 Watergate break-in. Irving will eventually go to jail, and come back as a novelist. His wife also goes to jail, but in Europe. Nope, he doesn't stay out of the penitentiary.

The Aviator (2004, Miramax/WB, dir. Martin Scorsese, 166 min, PG-13).  Miramax continues to distribute “bigger” indie films, also this was has the “help” of TheWB. I say this with tongue in cheek, but this may be one of those year-end movies that is going for Oscars instead of big box office receipts, despite the huge budget.  Better educated (adult and older teen) audiences will enjoy it, however. The muted colors give the film a period look, but the comparison to Orson Wells’s (black and white) Citizen Kane may be a bit stretched. The film is a biography of the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, and it achieves some layering (e.g., a movie about making movies) by starting with the sequences were Hughes makes what in the late 20s was the most expensive film ever made, Hell’s Angels (as well as the original Scarface). As a young man, at least in Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance, Hughes was charismatic and attractive. As he moves into the airline business, his obsessive/compulsive disorder surfaces and becomes tiresome to watch. The film in its middle section seems timely today because the big mega-airlines have, in the 21st Century, fallen onto very hard times because of aggressive unions and competition from low-cost airlines, a development not anticipated in an earlier era when airlines were regulated heavily. Hughes wheels and deals with the War Department during World War II, and then in 1947 has, with himself piloting, a spectacular crash in the Hollywood Hills, shearing apart several mansions and being badly burned himself. The subsequent scenes, after he “recovers” are difficult to watch. Grizzled with an unruly beard, his (supposedly smooth?) chest badly scarred, and living in squalor in his own hell (with his bottles of urine), Hughes is not sexually attractive. (In some of the fuzzier shots, the chest scars almost masquerade as hair—careless direction, perhaps.) The final sequence shows his meeting with Senator Brewster (Alan Alda) at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, followed by Senate hearings with the paparazzi. The cast includes Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, Cate Blanchette as Katherine Hepburn, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin (always in good clothes in this film), and even Jude Law.

 

Resurrecting the Champ (2007, Yari Film Group / Phoenix, dir. Rod Lurie, 110 min, PG-13, Canada, Cinemascope) combines sports and ethics in journalism (again!) in a big looking movie (DGC) with big stars from the small indie market. Denver sports reporter Erik (Josh Hartnett) opens the movie by making the analogy between a boxer's going into the ring and a writer's words getting published. Both events put their players out into the public eye, maybe in all five reconciled "Imajica" dominions.  Mid twenty-something Erik is under a lot of pressure with a six-year old son and an older wife (Kathryn Morris) separated from him apparently because she is somewhat older and more "mature." At work, his boss Metz (Alan Alda) tells him that his prose (or "copy") is perfunctory. Erik at one point mentions that his job is on the line because of competition for newspapers with the Internet (presumably because of free content), and, when he takes his son to lunch, is further disturbed that his son wants him to go right up and introduce him to some famous sports celebrities sitting a few feet away. Erik says, "you don't just walk up to celebrities. It's a grown-up thing."

 

In the meantime, Erik has met a homeless man (maybe not a bum) (Samuel L. Jackson) who claims to be a famous boxer "Champ" (Bob Satterfield) from the 50s, and even shows his scar to prove it. Erik, first out of kindness, builds a friendship and writes a story in the Denver Post Magazine. His career takes off and he even gets to host a "Showtime" boxing event in Las Vegas. In time, he learns that Champ has "had" him, and is actually another boxer (with the scar) who was supposedly a loser. The real Champ's heirs threaten to sue the paper (there is a line "You can't libel the dead"; don't know if that's true,) Erik is left to write his way out of this mess, and repair his sense of personal integrity with his son, based on how important Truth is (as it defines journalism) compared to competitive appearances.

 

The film was shot in Calgary, Denver, and Las Vegas.

 

The Hunting Party (2007, MGM / The Weinstein Company / QED / Intermedia, dir. Richard Shepard). Well, in all these years they haven't found Osama bin Laden, despite all the tips. The same was true in the year 2000 about the #1 war criminal in Bosnia. But three journalists set out from Serajevo to actually look for him. Simon (Richard Gere), totally discreted for an an on-the-air breakdown, Duck (Terence Howard), and an "I graduated from Harvard" guy Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg). When Benjamin improvises a line that they work for the CIA, the word gets around and they are kidnapped. In the end, the war criminal, in the movie, is turned over to the Muslims. The whole film turns around the world political scene, it seems. The irony it is the journalistic determination to find and uncover "the truth" really works here.

Related reviews: Cut Glass   Zodiac

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