business news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of movies to catch up with this week...

Someday, there will be a first-rate thriller that focuses on terrorism while having as its subtext serious questions about freedom, privacy and both personal and political vulnerability. But Closed Circuit isn't it. Not by a long shot.

The premise of the movie is that a pair of attorneys - former lovers - are assigned to defend a man accused of orchestrating a deadly terrorist attack in London. But in doing their work, they discover that the accused may have been a double agent working for the government, a possibility that the government will go to any lengths to keep covered up. The situation is complicated by the fact that London is filled with surveillance cameras, making it both hard to hide and hard to hide the truth.

The lead performances - by Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall - are okay, but neither actor could be described as charismatic. The writing and direction don;t do anything to clarify the British legal system, which strikes an outsider as being confusing and convoluted. And in the end, the whole thing doesn't work very well.

Too bad.

My daughter and I went to see Closed Circuit the other night, and when we got home, I told her that I was going to show her a thriller that works on every level. So we popped Three Days of the Condor into the DVD player, and settled down to watch a 1975 that holds up remarkably well.

Condor has terrific performances - Robert Redford may never have been better, and he's matched by Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and Max Von Sydow - and the film works like a well-oiled machine, directed by the always dependable Sydney Pollack.

Not only does it hold up, but Condor actually seems incredibly timely - much of what the film shows us presages events that actually happened. And there's one moment that really grabbed me. It happens when John Houseman, playing a CIA bigwig, is telling Cliff Robertson's CIA section chief about his military background, which goes back to "10 years after the Great War, before we knew enough to number them." Robertson asks him if he missed that kind of action, and Houseman shakes his head. "I miss that kind of clarity," he says.

The filmmakers could not have imagined how much less clear the geopolitical world would be more than three decades after Three Days of the Condor was originally released. No matter. It is a classic little thriller, and it is worth watching.




I really liked a little movie called Drinking Buddies, which is an improvisational comedy about four Chicago friends, two of whom work in a local brewery.

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play the brewery workers, and they are soul mates, though they are involved with other people - she with a more conventional boyfriend played by Ron Livingston, he with a marriage-minded woman played by Anna Kendrick. Mostly, the film is about four people talking and flirting and drinking and eating and drinking some more. But I liked it ... it has a loose, shambling feel that seems authentic, and to be honest, I'm a big fan of both Wilde (who is both gorgeous and terrific here) and Kendrick (who was so wonderful in Up In the Air, and makes the most of a small role here). The director is Joe Swanberg, and he's working on a small canvas here ... and I look forward to his next movie.




Must be a month for drinking movies. I also saw The World's End, which is a typically anarchic British science fiction comedy about five childhood friends - played by Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan - who regroup 20 years after they tried to make a famous 12-pub "crawl" in a single night, but failed. Now middle aged, they all have various reasons for trying to do it again ... reasons that become more or less relevant as their evening takes unexpected turns.

I won't explain more than that, mostly because it is hard to do so without giving away too much. Suffice it to say that the film - directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Pegg - isn't as good as the first two that they did, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And as it hurtles toward its outrageous ending, it seems like the filmmakers couldn't quit decide what to do, so they simply threw the kitchen sink at the problem.

But I kind of liked The World's End. Maybe it's because I responded to the notion of being middle aged and trying to recapture past glories. Maybe it's because I have a thing for British comedy. Maybe it's because the movie has the always-watchable Rosamund Pike in a small but pivotal role. Maybe it's because the filmmakers clearly have a thing for James Bond movies.

The World's End doesn't work as well as it should, but it worked well enough for me.




Three quick TV notes...

• "Longmire," the modern western on A&E, continued in its second season to be a fascinating combination of procedural cop show and character study of a iconic western sheriff, played by Robert Taylor. I've loved it, and hope it gets renewed for a third season.

• "The Newsroom," on HBO, is a highly polarizing series. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Count me among the people who love it, mostly because I love the way that people in Aaron Sorkin TV series and movies talk and think. it has nothing to do with reality, of course, but it is great fun to watch people who are eloquent and thoughtful and basically decent human beings, even when they are not. And I'm thrilled that it has been renewed for a third season, because it just keeps getting better.

• There won't be any more episodes of "Burn Notice," which ended its seven-year run on USA Network last night, finishing the saga of Michael Westen, a "burned" spy trying to get his life back. This final season has been darker than past seasons, but now, having watched the finale, I think that the trajectory was inevitable and, in the end, entirely satisfying. Good stuff. I'll miss it.




I have two white wines to recommend to you this week...

• the 2011 Halter Ranch 2011 Cotes de Paso Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Viognier, that is wonderful with seafood and poultry.

• the 2011 Willamette Valley Vineyard Pinot Gris, which manages to balance citrus with a kind of creaminess. in the end, the word I like best for this wine is "yummy."




That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
KC's View: