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Friday, May 18, 2012

The Paper

Welcome, film lovers!  I have started an insane project!  It’s called 365 – I will watch a movie a day for a year and write about them.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  So, sit back, relax, and place your bets on how fast I give up on this thing…

#365: The Paper (1994): Directed by Ron Howard. 

Ron Howard is a master at ensemble, character-driven films.  If you look at a lot of the films that have received critical and popular acclaim, they fall into this category.  Some directors are specialized in special effects movies, some focus more on the plot, but Ron Howard has always been about the characters.  This is why The Paper (1994) is such a great film, and is unfortunately widely overlooked and underappreciated.  With its all-star cast of leads, and a whole bunch of “Hey, it’s that guy!” guys, and of course his brother Clint, every character is memorable, and the plot is good enough to keep you interested, but really you just want to know where everyone lands at the end.  The breakdown of people:

Henry: Played by Michael Keaton (PS – where have you been lately?  Other than doing voice work and shorts… we miss you!!) Henry is the over-worked Metro Editor of The Sun, with big a job interview at “fancy” newspaper, The Sentinel.  He has good instincts and drive, and wants to follow the big story about a couple of white dudes shot up in Brooklyn by (supposedly) a couple of black teens. 

Martha: Played by Marisa Tomei.  Martha is Henry’s wife, and is 8 ½ months pregnant.  She used to work at the newspaper, but is on maternity leave.  She is insecure about whether or not she will be able to go back to work, or if she will be stuck living Henry’s life, and is more than a little testy about him working such late hours (even though he’s an editor, he still chases the stories like he was an investigative reporter, but it works).  She really, really, really wants Henry to take the job at the big, snotty newspaper. 

McDougal: Played by Randy Quaid.  He’s a columnist who is good friends with Henry and bitches about his car being towed a lot.  He also serves as the voice of reason in a few scenes, and is instrumental in breaking the big story.

Bernie: Played by Robert Duvall.  He is the editor, and has some issues.  Due to his screwing around and late-night journalist lifestyle, his wife left him a long time ago, and his daughter won’t speak to him.  He also has, as he puts it, “a prostate the size of a bagel”.

Alicia Clark: Played by Glenn Close.  The bitch of the office, one of the managing editors, and has her own little life issues.  See, she hates that she is hated, is trying to live above her means, has become that pain in the ass who bitches to you about every little scent spent.  Oh, and she’s having an affair with one of the features reporters, who is quite a bit younger than her.  You go, Glenn Close.

Then there’s the supporting cast: Clint Howard, the reporter always asking “Do you have another word for…?”, Lynne Thigpen who is best known for her role on “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago”, who is some sort of administrative assistant (?) and has no patience for bullshit, Spalding Gray as the snotty editor from the snotty newspaper The Sentinel, Jason Robards as the big boss of The Sun, Catherine O’Hara as Martha’s alcoholic housewife friend, Jason Alexander as the Parking Commissioner that McDougal has been targeting, and the list just goes on…

OK, the players are all set, let’s look at the story:

Basically, this is a “day in the life” story, following the people at The Sun for a full 24 hours, focusing mainly on Henry and Martha.  It opens with the story: two black kids walking by a fancy car with some shot-up white dudes inside, the car covered in racial slurs.  A gun is left on the sidewalk, and as one of the kids bends down to pick it up (not the brightest guys, eh?) someone sees them.  They run.  Cut to a clock that reads 7:00am, and a newscast from the radio.  We are introduced to Henry, still in his clothes from the night before, and Martha, who is passive-aggressively banging pots and pans as she yells at her husband.  He is ignoring her (justified) pleas to not fuck up this big interview at the New York Sentinel, because he is preoccupied with the fact that his paper, The Sun, got its ass handed to it for the lead story.  After a few minutes of “Don’t fuck up our future”, “Yes, dear”, “I miss working”, “Don’t go too stir crazy”, they kiss, and he is off.  As is the movie…

We’re introduced to all the players at the paper, and… ok.  I have read by some people on the interwebs that this is one of the more accurate depictions of a newsroom.  Dramatized, of course, but accurate.  I once worked for a newspaper.  It was nothing like this.  Of course, it was a small New England newspaper, where the brunt of our stories came off of the AP Wire, and I worked the classifieds where people mostly submitted yard sale ads, but still… I wish I worked at The Sun, is all I’m saying.  It’s insane.  Constant movement, everybody talking at each other all at once.  The best scenes are the ones that feature a group of people, like this one:

Or the meetings with the editor, or even when Henry walks through the newsroom, trailed by his wife while he frantically searches for a working Coke machine. 

So, Henry has a feeling the two kids that got busted aren’t the guys responsible for the killing (he steals his big lead off of the Sentinel’s editor, and McDougal hears on Henry’s police scanner that a couple of cops think the bust is no good), and he goes head to head with Alicia over it.  He gets his proof, goes to stop the presses, and a fight ensues.  All of this is not really important – we the viewers know the kids aren’t the killers, we just want to see how it all turns out. 

And, in true Ron Howard Hollywood fashion, it all turns out pretty good.  Henry gets his front page story, Martha has her baby, and decides that all the “crap” really doesn’t matter; Bernie doesn’t reconcile with his daughter, but discovers at least she reads his newspaper (awwww).  McDougal gets into it in a bar with the Parking Commissioner, which results in Alicia getting shot while she’s on the phone with Chuck to stop the presses, having seen the error of her ways.  This gives us one of the best moments of the film – a stunned Glenn Close on the floor of the bar, uttering “A bullet came out of the wall.  Why did a bullet come out of the wall?”  All’s right with the world, and we end on a clock turning to 7:00am while Henry, in his clothes from the night before, cuddles up with Martha in her hospital bed.

There is so much more that goes down in this movie, so if I were to go into great plot details, we'd be here forever, so take my word for it: this is Ron Howard at his best, and you'll want to work at a newspaper after seeing this.

A few quotes worth mentioning (and this is one of those movies with some great one-liners):

Henry to McDougal as they are going into the police station for the coveted cop-quote: “A clipboard and a confident wave will get you into any building in the world.”

McDougal and Henry at the press machine after getting their quote:
“Hey, Henry, aren’t ya gonna say it?  Ya gotta say it!  How often are you gonna get the chance? You can’t just do it and not say it, come on!”
“Stop the presses!”

Jason Robards to Alicia after she follows him into a men’s room at some fancy dinner while hounding him for a contract negotiation: “I’d love it if you weren’t here”.  His delivery kills me. 

There are a lot more, but I don’t want to spoil the movie in its entirety.  I will, however, leave you with one more clip:

Sidenote: back in 1998, I was working at Lou’s bakery in Hanover, NH as a cashier.  Spalding Grey came in and ordered a Danny’s Favorite Brunchfast sandwich and a huge tomato juice.  I knew him from somewhere, and when it dawned on me, I ran around telling everyone that I just served “The doctor from Beaches!”  True story.

Tune in tomorrow for something that is hopefully exceptionally bad.  That’s a Wrap!

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