Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Saw CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR at a theatre in Maui that specified “shirts and footwear required”. Needless to say, this crowd was not wowed by the film. But to be fair, if anyone was expecting a big star-studded splashy event picture this was not it. CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR was a very well made but sober true story about the Afghanistan-Soviet War of the late 80s. The stars make the tough subject matter palatable for those general audiences who need to be reminded not to attend the theatre barefoot.

I don’t know if I need a spoiler alert since the trailer and every review I’ve seen pretty much lays out the story. This Texas councilman arranges a covert war. We just watch the events unfold. The screenplay by Aaron Sorkin crackles at times, occasionally goes off on riffs of policy and political speak (the same stuff we all zoned out on in WEST WING but followed the story anyway), and is heavy on smart but light on emotion.

Tom Hanks, affable as ever, stars as Charlie Wilson. He pretty much goes back to the accent he employed in VOLUNTEERS (and even dons the white dinner jacket again). Philip Seymour Hoffman absolutely STEALS the picture. Hands down. No one even close. His first scene alone should earn both him and Sorkin Oscar noms.

But then there’s Julia Roberts. There must easily be a hundred other actresses who could have played her part as well or better. You’re getting the name, a really bad wig, and nothing remotely special. You watch her scenes and think to yourself… if only Meryl Streep were playing this… or even Allison Janney.

Mike Nichols got some great performances and it was refreshing to hear a Sorkin script spoken at a pace that real people speak in. CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is well worth seeing, it’s a story that deserves to be told, and I hope it does well in the boxoffice.

But I dunno, I was expecting more. After all, I paid full price and wore real shoes, not even flip flops.


Steve Peterson said...

I just saw an ad for this -- and it listed all the Golden Globe nominations it had:

Best Actor -- Tom Hanks
Best Actress -- Julia Roberts
Best Screenplay -- ...

Hal Tepfer said...

I agree that this was well-filmed, well-written, well-acted, and well-lit, soundified, and craftified. But, it was also well China-Syndromed, the feeling a filmgoer gets when a movie lectures and loses track of its ability to entertain. In short, this was among the best lectures I've heard and I feel so smart, I'm going to wear shoes all day today. Oh, but I agree that P. S. Hoffman's performance makes this a movie worth seeing.

Nathan said...

I saw it yesterday too. Agree with you on all calls. Couldn't hear a word Julia Roberts said 'cause I was waiting for her wig to bite her.

Anonymous said...

Nothing says a typical Maui vacation like going to a movie theatre, returning to your hotel, sitting in front of a computer and blogging about it. O-kay.

Rob said...

An Aaron Sorkin movie that lectures instead of entertains? How unlike him.

Anyone else damned sick of Philip Seymour Hoffman? Seriously dude, pick a name!

Honestly, I think it's his name. Philip Seymour Costner...... every performance will be panned.

Philip Seymour Cassel....... He spends his life making indie films.

As for Julia Roberts, I've heard stories that she's one of the more annoying actresses on the planet.

Rob said...

Hey Anonymous,

To be fair, it is a working vacation, and as a member of the guild, Ken feels obligated to work hard on something to make us all laugh so he can put it on the Internet and make no money from it.

Anonymous said...

Is there any "name" actress out there that is less appealing than Julia Roberts at this point?

Anonymous said...

For more detail on this story, check out the book and also the documentary on the History channe

Tallulah Morehead said...

Nothing to do with Hawaii. Every theater playing a movie starring Julia Roberts now has to post that shirts and shoes must be worn. It's the crowd she still manages to attract.

A close friend of mine worked with Julia when she did MURPHY BROWN, and "Annoying" was a very mild form of his term for working with her. Let's just say that, if she were on fire, he would piss on her to put the fire out. He'd even do it if she were not on fire.


Anonymous said...

My daughter graduated college with Tom Hanks daughter Emily. Tom was the graduation speaker. It was a relatively small college. I was looking forward to meeting him, if only to utter a dozen words I had been husbanding for years, “Sure you both looked great in pumps, but Peter Scolari could juggle.”

To save tuition, our daughter pulled the rug out from under me by deciding to graduate a semester early in December -- and take a job for six months as a Vegan waitress in a steakhouse, while waiting to start grad school.

Anyone so frugal as to sell out her principles for tips certainly wasn’t interested in paying for a flight up to Poughkeepsie for a lousy graduation ceremony. So there went that shoulder-rubbing op. Gee thanks, three-and-a-half years of room, board, books and tuition, and now she decides to save on college?

I have not yet seen Charlie Wilson's War, but our left bank Texas crowd seems relatively oblivious to the wiggiphobia. Apparently we're still comfortable with big hair.

Instead we are apoplectic that those right wing apologists Aaron Sorkin and Mike Nichols egregiously let Wilson and the CIA off the hook for 9/11 by suggesting that Wilson’s billions went only to good guy Ahmed Shah Massoud. [Who, ironically, had already been assassinated once by a couple of guys posing as a camera crew two days before the World Trade Center.]

Melissa Roddy, a Texas actress now living in LA, is apparently producing an entire documentary on this single misrepresentation, 9 min. of which you can view on AlterNet: http://alternet.org/story/71286/.

Perhaps someone can sample the above and help me with several of my own questions:

1. Are Melissa’s clearly post-response cutaways just bad reads of questions allegedly posed to the interviewee, or bad reads of questions posed to the viewer in setting up the clips?
2. All shortcomings aside, could this be one of the reason 60 Minutes does not seem to go for “adorable” as one of the qualities valued most in their on camera reporters?
3. Was there any conflict of interest in Hanks agreeing to so favorably portay the father of his own wife Rita Wilson?
4. Will the Academy designate a seat filler for Julia’s hair?
5. Universal Pictures also makes Crocs?
6. Wait, Eric Roberts is the mellow one?
7. Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman what Seymour Glass could have become had the latter not committed suicide at a tropical vacation destination? (Ken?)
8. Can you think of any possible reason the young lady would not have received a callback from Hanks during the press tour for this major Christmas release?

That’s it for Coffeetawk, discuss.

Anonymous said...

The two-hour History Channel special mentioned above is the dog's bollocks (the half-hour one, less so) -- as it happens, Sorkin left out a lot of the craziness!

Ken Turan in the LAT for one, knocked the movie for not being didactic enough -- he feels that what happened in Afghanistan after this story should be emphasized even more.

I don't know -- I don't read the paper all that closely, but between that and the end of the film, I thought it was pretty clear.

And I like the film a lot. Even Julia Roberts (take a look at the real person in the documentary and you might appreciate the performance more), but especially Hoffman.

Anonymous said...

"working vacation" in Maui? Yeah, can't wait for the IRS to sift through those write-off receipts!

Anonymous said...

barefoot buck:

# 3 Rita Wilson & Charlie Wilson = Not even related. And, by default, no conflict of interest for Mr. Hanks.

You do though get 1 point for your feeble attempt at cleverness.

Overall Humor Score: - 1

Anonymous said...

I suspect the History Channel semidoc is more entertaining and informative than the move...especially if you digest it in pieces thanks to TiVo.

Anonymous said...

# 3 Rita Wilson & Charlie Wilson = Not even related. And, by default, no conflict of interest for Mr. Hanks.

Can't say it enough, thank you Tom for clearing up that Wilson/Wilson confusion once and for all. We will all sleep better. I do apologize though, feeble is pretty much the only cleverness I ever attempt. It's kind of a niche.

Just one more question. When did you start referring to yourself in the 3rd person?

Anonymous said...


As of late, whenever I enter a room, I've taken to introducing myself as: "And now ladies and gentlemen, here comes now the multiple academy award winner and uber talented Mr. Tom Hanks, friend to Julia Roberts, and lover of fine wine..."

Thanks for you playing our game.


Anonymous said...

"Nothing says a typical Maui vacation like going to a movie theatre, returning to your hotel, sitting in front of a computer and blogging about it."

At least Ken wore "real shoes." Tourists wear flip flops, locals wear rubbah slippahs.


Check out Lahaina for New Years, it's a hoot.

Real History Lisa said...

It wasn't the banned flip flops you were bemoaning. It was not being able to bring the Mai Tai in. Admit it. ;-)

I really enjoyed the film. It made me curious enough to pull the book by the same name off my shelf, where it has languished unread for a couple of years, so I could see what was true and what was not. Some of the most hilarious incidents are in fact true. Re Melissa, seriously, how many movie goers even caught the guy's name? Sheesh. That certainly was not the 'message' of the film and hardly deserves such a vigorous response.

As I wrote in a review at consortiumnews.com - the real star of the film is the script itself, although Hoffman does nearly walk away with it. I remember the first film I ever saw him in and thinking wow, that guy is amazing. I hardly ever have that thought, but I did. He was capitivating, and it was a small role.

I've been reading different reactions to this film all over the Web. Some love it, some hate it, but the reasons behind each opinion are far from consistent!

It's worth watching. It's better than most of what's in the theaters right now, with the exception of The Great Debaters which I highly recommend as a whopping good story.

Anonymous said...

Read the book, haven't seen the movie. The role of Charlie Wilson was made for the great Jim Garner, but alas, he's retired and I hope in good health. Did see the DVD of Pirates of the Carrabien. What a hopeless mess, Looked like they made it up as they went and nothing worked. Not even the Keith Richard's cameo.

estiv said...

Just to prove that life is strange, my brother knows Charlie Wilson, and says the movie is basically accurate in capturing his personality. And Julia Roberts' performance, as one of the anonymous posters here noted, might actually be a fairly good take on the real Joanne Herring. Ms. Herring, as a member of Houston society, is the kind of person who would have been on good terms with both George H. W. Bush and the late Ken Lay. Picture a real-life Karen from WILL & GRACE, only never any fun. Maybe JR really caught her personality. Plus I wondered whether her bikini scene was requested by JR herself, so she could show the world that as a forty-year-old mother of three, she still has the goods.

Tim W. said...

I just saw the movie tonight and it was another of this year's acclaimed pictures I wasn't blown away with. I did enjoy it though, and completely agree about Philip Seymour Hoffman (those of us that enjoy good acting aren't sick of him). He's the best thing in the movie. The big problem I had with the movie is that it really doesn't go anywhere in the end. I found it incredibly similar to Atonement (another highly acclaimed movie I liked, but was somewhat disappointed in), in that the interesting stuff happened in the first two thirds, and the final third just kind of happens.

By the way, for those who think Julia Roberts didn't portray Joanne King Herring well, go check out her site. Yes, she has a site...

Godot said...

Ken Levine said ... "This Texas councilman arranges a covert war."

Two nits to pick. Charlie Wilson was a U.S. Congressman (D) from Texas, not a Texas councilman.

Also he did not "arrange(s) a covert war." The war was already well under way and anything but covert. What he did was arrange ways for the U.S. to covertly support the Afgani resistance with dollars.

Shirt, shoes & accuracy ... please.

Anonymous said...

Strange how "everything changed on 9/11" and this movie comes out and no one points out the flaws in our policy toward Afghanistan and the direct line from those mistakes to 9/11. St. Reagan and Charlie Wilson were determined to support the "Freedom Fighters" in Afghanistan against Soviet "tyranny" - in quotes not because I am pro-Soviet; I'm not.
The war began when the Soviet puppet in Kabul issued a series of reforms, to include this horrible change to traditional Afghan culture - parents could no longer sell their daughters into marriage at any age - they had to wait until the girl was 12 to exchange her for a couple of goats.
The rugged "Freedom Fighters" would have none of that, no siree bub, and they responded with weapons that Reagan and Wilson arranged for them to have. We supplied weapons directly to a group headed by one Osama bin Laden. Smart move that.
The Soviets were chased out, the Northern Alliance took over and even by Afghani standards proved to be too corrupt leading to a Taliban take over.....I think you know the rest.
Let's not make heroes out of the Charlie Wilson's of the world. I don't believe for a minute he really believed any of this would come to pass, but if you are going to fund wars shouldn't you at the very least have some fucking clue what kind of people you are supporting?

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