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Frost/Nixon

The twentieth century forever changed the hallowed institutions of journalism and politics.  With the increasing amount of technology at their disposal, both began a marriage of convenience still existing today.  Political orators discovered fresh ways to spin their beliefs whilst journalists went behind the scenes to uncover the truth behind the sound bytes.  One was Englishman David Frost, who in 1977 conducted a series of televised interviews with disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon.  What transpired was a battle for public opinion where both men had everything to gain by staring down the barrel of the lens.
Known as a lightweight entertainer, David Frost (Michael Sheen) wanted to prove he could do more than entertain the punters.  When President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) resigned from office after the Watergate scandal, he saw his chance.  Eager to interview Nixon, Frost assembled a winning research team determined to elicit an apology from the tarnished Commander in Chief.  Nixon in turn was keen to correct the many mis-conceptions of his Presidency and of the six figure sum the interview bought.  Sparring together in a duel of words the interviews became an insightful study into the dangers genuine power can bring.
Directed with a sense of theatrical drama by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon is essentially about needing redemption.  Forever trapped in a scandal of his own design, Nixon desperately wanted to salvage his reputation whilst Frost set out establishing a new one.  Using the probing analysis both their professions bring, it’s interesting watching the pair switch from being the giver and receiver of information.  For his many flaws, Nixon still knew how to use his natural charisma to buttress situations to his own advantage with Frost slowly learning how to out-manoeuvre one of the decade’s canniest operators.
Using an excellent script from Peter Morgan based on his stage play, the film becomes the most accomplished of Howard’s work.  Although rightly basing most of the action on the riveting interviews, Howard perfectly sets the scene in the lead up to the anticipated event.  Exploring the back-room dealings with their various minders, this shows the jockeying that went on to ensure their men had an even chance at ‘winning’ the contest of egos.  Sheen and Langella head a wonderful ensemble projecting that vital aura of tension even though viewers would already know the outcome.  Like others who have portrayed him, Langella captures the abiding sadness enveloping Nixon with his regret at never receiving the respect he felt he deserved staying with him until his final days.
With this current decade seeing journalists entering political life and vice versa, the fine line between them have become blurred. Frost/Nixon looks at the beginning of media’s formative steps towards assimilating with the very institution they’re meant to observe.  A high calibre drama with fine performances, Frost/Nixon is an engrossing portrait of two men risking everything in order to create their own permanent legacy.
Rating out of 10:  8

City of Ember

Ignorance may occasionally be bliss but often it can come with a price.  The desire to go about daily life whilst appointed authorities do the ‘dirty work’ of societal functionality is a notion City of Ember’s characters take to heart.  Produced by the increasingly ubiquitous Walden Media group, this children’s book adaptation attempts to craft an almost grim fairy tale.  Not reaching any great heights it does at least hold the attention with some arresting scenery.
Ember is a city in a state of decay.  Housed deep in the earth’s core, the self contained bunker was built to last for 200 years after a cataclysmic disaster made the surface unliveable.  Unfortunately decades after the bi-centennial anniversary, the city is near collapse with the ancient machinery on the point of destruction.  The city’s corrupt Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) assures his people everything is fine, but two youngsters called Lina (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon (Harry Treadaway) know better.  Discovering an ancient text given them clues leading to a way out, they eventually learn that knowledge is the natural friend of survival.
City of Ember endeavours to tap into the notion of a child’s desire for constant discoveries.  Whilst its adult citizens exist in a vacuum of information apathy, Ember’s young elite still have enough of an inquisitive mind to question what they’re told.  Wrapped within a ‘great escape’ scenario, the film has its moments without being a satisfying whole.  This is mainly due to the awkward delivery of its story elements in what is chiefly an engaging concept.  Due to some sluggish pacing, the first act fails to truly integrate the viewer into its world with a  fairly routine climax rushed through too quickly.  This robs the story of any tension with the crucial sense of wonder and danger never materialising.
Its best aspect is the rustic industrialism of a production design recalling Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’.  Almost totalitarian in nature, this facilitates a lot of the ambiance missing from some much needed character development.  Ronan and Treadaway make fine leads, however they seem a little old to fully convince as pre-adolescent children.  Better is the veteran cast including Tim Robbins, Martin Landau and a waspish Bill Murray who seems to have the most fun.  It’s pleasing also that the children have to use their wits to assemble the clues rather than having simple solution giving them an easy way out.
As an entertainment for undemanding pre-schoolers it works reasonably well, although more mature viewers may soon tire of its lack of momentum.  The eye catching visuals nearly make up for a story showing that staying in tune with one’s surroundings can prove beneficial over those proclaiming to be all knowing oracles.
Rating out of 10:  5