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Review: Good Night & Good Luck and Tropico

June 24, 2011

Well, not too much going on right now. This review’s going up on time, Part 8 of my Battlefield Vietnam Let’s Play will go up as soon as I remember where I put my microphone, and I’ve got something special in mind for July, but you’ll find out about that tomorrow. Anyway, here’s Good Night, and Good Luck and Tropico.

Back in 1953, there were a few notable things going on in America. The Korean War was coming to a close, Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy was hunting communists and finding them everywhere, and the big three networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) decided to take on the newspapers with their own news programs. One of the most famous of these was See It Now, hosted by journalism legend Edward R. Murrow.

The movie, told mostly in flashback, focuses on Murrow and his team at CBS taking on Joe McCarthy over an Air Force pilot from Chicago who was forced to retire because his father supposedly had ties to communism. I say supposedly because the charges and all the evidence were delivered to the court in a sealed envelope that was never opened. Despite the objections of his boss, on the grounds that CBS sponsor Alcoa relies heavily on government contracts, they run the piece and wait for the phones to start ringing. The tension builds to near the bursting, at which point someone in the back of the room asks if he should turn the phones back on.

After one of their own is approached by an unknown figure who claims that Murrow worked for the communists in 1932, they decide to run a full-out assault on McCarthy, his most recent trial focusing on a woman who allegedly works in the Pentagon code room and is also a spy for the Soviets. Allegedly, because as the news crew discovers, she doesn’t actually work in the code room, she has the same name as three other women in the area, the only evidence against her is her name on a communist mailing list (geez, you order one communist…), and Senator McCarthy himself left after only a few questions. Then, following his “poke the bear” doctrine, Murrow invites McCarthy to defend himself on television.

When McCarthy does show up, he comes loaded for war, making accusations about Murrow’s supposed ties to communism: showing up on the dedications page of a book by a communist author, working for the Soviets in 1932 as part of a foreign exchange program, and Murrow being a card-carrying member of the Industrial Worker’s Association, a group with known communist ties. Murrow then uses his next show to defuse the situation, claiming to be a friend of the author’s despite their differing beliefs, admitting to the second claim, and outright denying the third. He also makes the case that, since McCarthy did nothing to try to refute his facts, they can be taken at face value.

In the end, the Air Force pilot is reinstated, the Senate launches an investigation into McCarthy, CBS loses their Alcoa sponsorship, resulting in layoffs, and Murrow’s show is cut to a half hour from an hour. And moved to Sunday afternoon. And he only gets to do five more episodes. Murrow and longtime friend and fellow journalist Fred Friendly get into the elevator, and decide to go out with a bang. We snap back to the present, with Murrow finishing a speech to the Radio and Television News Director’s Association, admonishing them not to take their duty as journalists lightly, finishing with his trademark sign-off, “good night, and good luck.”

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s a lot more serious than the movies I usually watch, and it treats the real events with a lot of respect. David Strathairn did a terrific job as Edward R. Murrow and George Clooney an equally fantastic job as Fred Friendly. The casting of Joe McCarthy as himself was definitely the right decision – I don’t think anyone could have said what he did in the way he did without coming off as being way too over the top. All in all, a great, if somewhat serious, film.

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Tropico is kind of…difficult to explain to someone who’s never seen it before. It’s kind of like…well, have you ever looked at Castro or Hugo Chavez, and thought, yes. I want a game like that. Tropico is that game. You play as any one of a number of Caribbean rulers, or create one of your own, and take control of the titular nation, on one of any number of islands (space warp, I guess) and build it up into either a communist or capitalist paradise, or maybe something in between, all while contending with the machinations of both the United States and Soviet Union, and occasionally facing your own people in “free” and “fair” elections.

There are problems. There will always be problems, especially in the current economic climate. The bad construction AI, which can take months or years to get off their collective asses and finish your buildings, is one of them. And it will be corrected, in time, as the global economy improves.

I’m sorry, that’s the wrong game. That’s one of the election speeches you can make in the threequel, which is more or less a straight remake of the original. Really, they’re all good. I would recommend any of them, with the exception of the second one, which is pretty much just Tropico…WITH PIRATES! The original is pretty good, but the remake is a lot richer if more graphically intense.

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