Bombshell

Posted on December 12, 2019 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual material and language throughout
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sexual pressure and harassment
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 13, 2019
Date Released to DVD: March 9, 2020

Copyright 2019 Lionsgate
The word “bombshell” works both ways as the title of this film based on the true story of the #metoo moment that rocked the powerful leadership of Fox News and brought down its visionary founder Roger Ailes. “Bombshell” means a very attractive woman (check out the Jean Harlow movie of the same name, about a gorgeous movie star, and the documentary of the same name, about Hedy Lamar). And “bombshell” also means a shocking piece of news. Both are equally apt.

Those who watched “The Loudest Voice in the Room” on Showtime know that Ailes transformed the news media by creating a network that had two important innovations: gorgeous women in revealing clothes delivering news stories slanted toward white people who think their victimhood has been overlooked. As an executive puts it in this film, “You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop. The world is a bad place. People are lazy morons. Minorities are criminals. Sex is sick, but interesting. Ask yourself, ‘What would scare my grandmother, or p— off my grandfather?’ And that’s a Fox story.”

The story is almost operatic in scope and drama and director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph (“The Big Short”) hit the tone just right, the heightened urgency of the newsroom, the millions of small and devastatingly large compromises at the top of the media food chain.

The performances are sizzling. Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is a fading star at FOX, relegated to off-peak programs. (I could not help thinking of this performance as a bookend with Kidman’s “To Die For,” with Kidman as a woman who was willing to do anything, including sexual favors and murder, to get a job on TV news.) Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is a rising star, and as this movie begins, she is horrified to find herself in the middle of a story as then-candidate Donald Trump makes ugly and crude accusations because she surprised him by asking him to comment on some of his insults to women (“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals”) in an on-air interview. Margot Robbie plays Kayla, a fictional character based on the ambitious lower-level staff and what those who asked Ailes for on-camera opportunities were expected to do to show their “loyalty.”

Some early critics of the film object to the women being portrayed as feminist heroines. But they are not portrayed as feminist heroines; on the contrary. They’re not fighting courageously for justice like Norma Rae or Erin Brockovich. They are carefully calibrating how much abuse, how many humiliations, how much indignity they are willing to trade for the professional opportunities they want, even when it means ignoring abuse of other women. Answer: a lot. Ultimately, there is a limit, though, and watching each character locate that line is what makes this movie smart and engrossing. For Carlson, it is being fired. For Kayla, it is a painful realization after the fact, and after someone else has taken the almost unthinkably daunting step of going first. And the stakes are clear. “Once you go public, no one will hire you,” Carlson is told. Her post-lawsuit career has focused on sexual harassment issues either because she now recognizes the importance of the issue or because she cannot get any other job. The week of the film’s release she wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling on Fox to withdraw the non-disclosure agreement she had to sign in order to settle her case. It’s unlikely, but if they do, maybe we’ll get another movie out of it.

The focus here is on Kelly. It is one thing to burn your bridges after you have been fired and have nothing to lose, but it is entirely another for a woman near the top of her profession who says, “I’m not a feminist; I’m a lawyer,” who does not want to be the story, who is in cutthroat competition with the other beautiful blondes and not one to raise a fist and proclaim that sisterhood is powerful. What will it take to get her to speak out and what price will she pay for saying something? Kelly is a complicated character and the way her dilemma is presented here is complicated and nuanced, more directed toward nods of recognition than standing ovations. Her career has been rocky (except for financially) since her decision to acknowledge the abuse, which makes this a cautionary tale that does not make the prospect of feminist heroine-ing look very appealing.

What is even more fascinating here is the setting. Is Fox a news organization as it has traditionally been understood? We get glimpses of other Fox personalities, including Bill O’Reilly, who left Fox following his own #metoo abuses. The way the organization responds to Carlson’s claims — handing out “Team Roger” t-shirts before any investigation even though it is generally known why there’s a lock on his door and a separate entrance to his office — says something about whether “loyalty” is more important than the truth, to them and to us.

Parents should know that this film is based on the real life #metoo upheavals at FOX News, with explicit discussions and some depiction of sexual harassment, abuse, and predation, and very strong language.

Family discussion: Why did the three women respond differently? How has coming forward affected their careers? What is the best way to prevent abuse by people in power?

If you like this, try: “The Loudest Voice” miniseries and “The Hunting Ground”

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Gender and Diversity Journalism movie review Movies -- Reviews

The Accountant

Posted on October 12, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
Ben Affleck plays the title character in “The Accountant,” a man on the autism spectrum who has what clinicians call a “flat affect” and some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but also the math skills of a 93 petaflop computer and the martial arts skills of a Navy Seal who competes on weekends as an American Ninja Warrior.

Director Gavin O’Connor (the underseen gem “Warrior“) and screenwriter Bill Dubuque (the underseen “The Judge“) have concocted a twisty thriller with surprises up to the last minute. The crafty back-and-forth structure keeps the information just out of our reach until it is exactly the right moment for it to fall into place.

After a brief opening shoot-out, we go back in time to see the Wolff family. The parents are meeting with a specialist, who is explaining what it means to be gifted but not neuro-typical. The boy they are discussing is Christian (Seth Lee), who is speed-solving a jigsaw puzzle as his younger brother Brax (Jake Presley) watches. We are given three important pieces of information in this scene. First, Christian cannot handle not being able to finish the puzzle. Second, when the piece that fell off the table is located, we see it fit into place from underneath — he has been working on upside-down puzzle pieces, the blank underside rather than the picture.

Third, his parents do not agree on how to help him. His mother accepts the advice of the specialist, who says that Christian’s hyper-sensitivity to stimulation means that he should be protected from light and noise. But his father (Robert C. Treveiler), who is in the military, insists on the opposite. If light and noise bother Christian, “he needs more.”

We will learn more about the consequences of that disagreement later.

Christian grows up to be an accountant, operating out of a tiny office in a strip mall. (Is the name of his firm, ZZZZ, a reference to one of the most notorious accounting frauds of the 1980’s?). He advises a couple on how to use home office deductions to reduce their tax bill and shows no interest when the receptionist tries to fix him up with her daughter. He then takes on a big case, tracking down a missing $61 million at a company about to go public, where he meets Dana, the very bright young CPA who discovered the discrepancy in the financial reports (Anna Kendrick, lighting up the screen as always). But there is more to him, including a treasure trove that includes originals by Pollack and Renoir and a #1 Action Comic (first appearance of Superman, worth about $3 million), a torturous nightly ritual, a Siri-like virtual assistant who seems to know everything and some very serious guys with guns who are determined to kill Christian and Dana.

Meanwhile, a government official (JK Simmons) is trying to track down a mysterious figure who shows up in photos of some of the most dangerous people in the world, a guy who appears to be their…accountant. He blackmails a savvy young woman on his staff (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking him down. And a paid assassin (Jon Bernthal) efficiently deals with people he has been assigned to take care of, who may or may not be connected to all of this.

As he did with “Warrior,” O’Connor plays with the borders of genre. There are unexpected moments of humor (“We should go” turns out to be very funny when the tone and timing are right). And he knows how to make us feel for the characters, giving some heft to the puzzle and action. By the end of the film, we get the same satisfaction Christian does in seeing that last piece fit into place.

Parents should know that this film includes intense, sustained action-style violence involving adults and children with martial arts and guns, characters are paid assassins and criminals, fraud, very strong language, and parental abandonment.

Family discussion: What does it mean to be neuro-typical? Who was right about Chris, his father or his mother? What was the purpose of his nightly ritual?

If you like this, try: “Warrior” from the same director

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Drama Thriller

See The Year’s Most Intriguing Actors In New Kissing Scenes: NY Times Magazine

Posted on December 13, 2014 at 8:00 am

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Actors Shorts

Interstellar

Posted on November 5, 2014 at 8:55 am

Copyright Relativity Media 2014
Copyright Relativity Media 2014

Writer/director Christopher Nolan takes on literally cosmic issues with “Interstellar.” It is an ambitious, provocative, thoughtful, and highly entertaining film that deals with, well, pretty much everything, and, all things considered (believe me, ALL things are considered), it holds together very well.

It’s the near future and some blight has turned humans from progressive, curious, and optimistic to beaten down, hopeless, close to desperate. “We once looked up to the stars and dreamed,” says Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). “Now we look down to the dirt and worry.” Cooper was once an engineer at NASA. Now, like most people left, he is a farmer, struggling to grow crops in a world that has turned into a dustbowl, with plant species dying off until all that is left is corn. Cooper is a widower with two children, teenaged Tom and 10-year-old Murphy, and they live with his father-in-law (John Lithgow). The earth is not all that has been blighted. It is a post-enlightenment society scrambling for “caretaking,” with no intellectual aspirations or opportunities. Cooper’s wife died because medical technology and expertise that was once available no longer exists. And he is called into school because Murphy is in trouble for insisting that Americans once landed on the moon. That never happened, Murphy’s teacher explains a little impatiently. That was just a clever ruse to bankrupt the Soviet Union. The clear implication is that this revisionist history is itself a clever ruse to prevent young people from developing an interest in science that human society no longer believes has any value when the only possibility of survival is to return to the cultural norms of a thousand years ago, when most of human endeavor was devoted to making food. We do not know why the idea that science might be of aid in solving the food production crisis is no longer of interest. A comment by one person that greed created problems may be a clue.

Murphy insists that she is getting messages from a ghost who throws books off the shelf in her bedroom. When Cooper investigates, it appears to be an anomaly of some kind, a gravitational singularity, a message. The “ghost’s” message points to a location. When Cooper goes there, Murphy stows away in the car. It turns out to be a secret NASA facility led by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine). They have concluded that Earth can no longer sustain human life. They have sent out rocket probes to find an alternate planet that can sustain human life. Plan A is to be able to transport Earth’s inhabitants to a new location. The project is called Lazarus. Plan B, if no one alive can be saved, is to transport fertilized eggs to the new location and begin again, a new Genesis. They want Cooper to pilot the ship.

And this sets up the central conflict of the story. It is only secondarily about whether humans can, will, or should continue as a species and culture. The primary concern is the relationship between Cooper and Murphy. He wants more than anything in the world to stay with her and watch her grow up. But he knows his participation is critical to the mission — no one else going has ever actually flown before — and if the mission fails, Murphy’s generation will be the last. In a wrenching scene, Cooper has to leave while Murphy is furious and hurt. He promises he will come back. Parent-child relationships and especially promises broken and kept, echo throughout the storyline.

Dr. Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway) is on the crew and the trip into space leads to some mind-bending conversations about cosmology, including wormholes, black holes, and why an hour on one planet can translate into seven years for the occupants of the spaceship circulating above. The visual effects (all built or “practical” effects, no digital/green screen) are stunning.

The storyline also provides an opportunity for extremely complex and difficult moral choices, as the crew has to make decisions based on very limited information and even more limited time.  The broad sweep of themes means that some choices work better than others.  The ending seems rushed and not entirely thought through. Cutting back and forth between scenes in outer space and back on earth during one passage goes on too long, and one mention of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem would be plenty.  A detour involving an unbilled actor with an almost-unforgivably on-the-nose character name is particularly poorly conceived.  But even that scene is so visually striking that it barely registers as a diversion.  And overall, the film’s willingness to place the biggest questions in the grand sweep of the universe is absorbing and it is impossible not to be moved by it.

Parents should know that this film includes themes of environmental devastation and potential human extinction, sci-fi-style peril and violence, sad deaths of parents and children, attempted murder, characters injured and killed, and a few bad words.

Family discussion: Why did the school insist that the moon landing was faked and what does that tell us about this society? What should the crew have considered in deciding which planet to try?

If you like this, try: “2001,” “Silent Running,” and “Inception”

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Action/Adventure Science-Fiction

Love is Strange

Posted on August 28, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Love is strange.  As this movie opens, a deeply devoted couple of more than three decades wakes up and prepares for a big, important, emotional, happy occasion.  They bicker a little bit, but it is clear to them and to us that these are reassuringly familiar rhythms for them, almost a contrapuntal love duet in words.  Later in the film, two people who admire and care for each other deeply but are getting on one another’s nerves, converse in terms that are genuinely thoughtful and polite, and yet it is clear to us and to them that they are seconds short of wanting to throttle each other.  One of them will tell his husband in a phone call, “When you live with people, you know them better than you want to.”  That is, unless you share a true, romantic love.  That’s what’s strange — how it is that other people’s quirks that would annoy us if we spent too much time together somehow seem endearing when it is someone you love.  Love is what makes us not strange to the special people who truly understand us.

Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures Classics
Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures Classics

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play Ben and George, a comfortable but far from wealthy couple who have lived happily together in New York, in a life rich with art, culture, friends, and family.  Ben is an artist.  George is a choir leader in a Catholic school.  As the film opens, it is their wedding day.  Gathered in their apartment afterward, they are toasted by their loved ones, including Ben’s niece-in-law, Kate (Marisa Tomei), a writer, who makes a beautiful speech about how seeing them together, when she was dating their nephew, showed her what a loving partnership could be.

But their marriage is too much for the bishop who oversees George’s school, and he is fired.  Ben and George go into financial free-fall.  They can no longer afford their apartment, and they call on their friends and family to help them while they try to find something less expensive. Everyone wants to help, but this is New York, where space is very limited, and no one can take them both. (A niece who lives in a large house in Poughkeepsie keeps offering, but no one considers that an option.) Ben goes to stay with his nephew, a harried documentary filmmaker, and his wife, Kate, and their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). He will be sleeping in Joe’s bunk bed. George will be sleeping on the sofa in the small apartment of friends, another gay couple, both cops, who have an active social life.

What “Brokeback Mountain” did to convey that movie romances between gorgeous, glamorous movie stars do not all have to be heterosexual, this film does even better for showing us that the real love story is the one that stretches over decades. Lithgow and Molina exquisitely capture the intimacy and interdependence that only those in very long-term relationships understand. They lightly touch on past disappointments, even betrayals. They tenderly support one another’s vulnerabilities.

The brilliant timing and wit of the scene where Kate is trying to get work done while Ben is cluelessly trying to be a good guest by making social chit-chat is a highlight. Tomei is outstanding, as always. Tahan is marvelously open as a good kid who understandably feels crowded to have a 70-something uncle in his bunk bed. Writer-director Ira Sachs has enough respect for his characters and his audience to allow everyone to be nice. There are no bad guys here (except for the off-screen bishop). But that just makes clear how precious those moments are when we experience the love of those to whom we are never strangers.

Parents should know that this movie is rated R for language only.  There is a sad death.

Family discussion:  What would you advise Ben and George to do?  This movie shows small moments many movies overlook and skips the big moments many movies would include – – why?

If you like this, try: writer/director Ira Sachs’ other films, including “Married Life,” and the classic 1937 film Make Way for Tomorrow.

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