The Real Story: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Posted on March 6, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Tina Fey’s new film, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is “inspired by” not “based on” the true story of journalist Kim Barker, which is why the character’s name is one letter removed from her real-life inspiration: she is called Kim Baker.

The real Kim Barker was a print journalist, not a television correspondent. She wrote for the Chicago Tribune and she did go to Afghanistan planning to spend three months and she did stay for three years. Her book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan describes her struggles to understand a culture that was very different from what she knew and yet in some ways similar to her home in Montana: men with beards and guns who hate their government. As we see in the film, the people she encountered included an official who made romantic overtures and the other correspondents who were sometime rivals, sometime friends, and who, caught up in the “Kabubble,” let off steam with some intense partying.

Visiting with her former Tribune colleagues to talk about the movie, Barker explained that unlike Fey’s version, she went to Kabul because she was a journalist, not because she was unhappy with her life at home and needed and adventure.

“I remember after 9/11 happened, (former Tribune reporter) Kirsten Scharnberg and I went to some Italian restaurant that had white butcher paper on the table and we mapped out how many women were getting sent out and how many men were getting sent out (to cover aftermath of the terrorist attacks),” she said. “As a journalist you don’t really think that much about the risk or of being terrified. It was just, ‘I want to be one of the people who get to see it.'”

She did become very close to her “fixer,” and says that if he and his family had not relocated to Canada she would not have been able to write the book because it would have put them at risk. You can read a sample of her Tribune coverage here.

Barker is now an investigative reporter for the New York Times. Here she talks about her book.

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The Real Story

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Posted on March 3, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Copyright 2016 Paramount
Copyright 2016 Paramount

When Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times reviewed the book that inspired “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” the memoir of journalist Kim Barker about her days covering US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, she wrote:

What’s remarkable about “The Taliban Shuffle” is that its author, Kim Barker — a reporter at ProPublica and the South Asia bureau chief for The Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009 — has written an account of her experiences covering Afghanistan and Pakistan that manages to be hilarious and harrowing, witty and illuminating, all at the same time.

It’s not just that Ms. Barker is adept at dramatizing her own adventures as a reporter — though she develops the chops of a veteran foreign correspondent, she depicts herself as a sort of Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war.

And now that book is a movie, and the role of Ms. Barker is being played by non-other than Tina Fey, who also co-produced. As always, her work is whip-smart and original. This is not Liz Lemon goes to war, it is an impressively sensitive dramatic performance.

But Barker’s story has been movie-ized, giving it the “inspired by” rather than “based on” designation, and removing the “r” from the character’s name to create some space. The real Barker was a print journalist, but making her a television correspondent to make it more cinematic. And the various love interests are fictional. It is disappointing that the movie makes the impetus for the assignment a combination of professional and romantic ennui. Barker was a dedicated journalist looking for a big story.

But much of the essence of it is the real deal, starting with Barker/Baker’s plan to spend three months in Afghanistan that turned into three years, and the ramped-up intensity of spending days embedded with the military, frantically editing the story, and then trying to obliterate memory and consciousness with some hard-core partying, only to start over again. Baker is inexperienced but dedicated and smart. She quickly impresses the cynical General (Billy Bob Thornton) who sees embedded journalists as a bother and a risk. And she quickly bonds with the other woman reporter (Margot Robbie), who shows her the ropes and asks very politely if she can sleep with Baker’s hunky security guy.

Alfred Molina is excellent, as always, as an Afghani official, though we should be past the time when European actors are cast as Middle Eastern characters. And maybe we do not need any more stories of Western characters discovering the mysteries of the other side of the world, with illuminating life lessons from exotic people. We don’t want this to be “Under the Tuscan Sun” but with war instead of sun-ripened Italian tomatoes, and it gets uncomfortably close at times. But the thoughtful script from longtime Fey collaborator Robert Carlock keeps the film from making war be just a growth experience for a reporter looking to shake up her life a bit, and the contrast between what the war does to the people trying to tell the story, knowing that the people back home just change the channel anyway give the story a sobering weight.

Parents should know that this movie has constant very strong, crude, and colorful language, drinking, drugs, smoking, wartime violence with some graphic images, characters injured and killed, sexual references and situations, and nudity.

Family discussion: What was the most important story Kim Baker reported? What did she mean when she said it “started to feel normal?”

If you like this, try: The book that inspired this film, The Taliban Shuffle, and the film “The Year of Living Dangerously”

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Drama Inspired by a true story Journalism War

Coming to Theaters — March 2016

Posted on March 1, 2016 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2016 Disney
Copyright 2016 Disney

Happy March! Here’s some of what we’ll be seeing in theaters this month.

March 4, 2016

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” Tina Fey and Margot Robbie star in this fact-based story of women reporters covering the war in Afghanistan.

“Zootopia” Disney’s latest animated film is set in a big city populated by animals. A bunny cop and a fox con man (con fox?) team up to solve a mystery in this funny, smart, gorgeously imagined story.

“London Has Fallen” Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler star in this sequel to “Olympus Has Fallen,” about world dignitaries gathered in London for a funeral who become the targets for an attack.

March 11, 2016

“The Young Messiah” This film explores the childhood of Jesus, as He and those around him begin to understand His purpose.

“!0 Cloverfield Lane” A woman wakes up in an underground shelter with a man who tells her that he rescued her and that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Is he telling the truth? And if he is, what’s next?

“Hello My Name is Doris” Sally Fields stars in the story of a women who develops a crush on her handsome, young, new co-worker (Max Greenfield).

March 18, 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant” Tris, Four, and the rest leave Chicago for discoveries that will lead to the final confrontation in the upcoming fourth film in the series.

“Midnight Special” Michael Shannon plays an estranged father whose son has special powers.

“The Little Prince” Antoine Saint-Exubery’s classic fable about the prince who visits from another planet comes to the screen.

March 25, 2016

“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” The Dark Knight and the Krypton superhero battle each other.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” Nia Vardelos and her Greek relatives are back for another warm, lively, story of love and culture clashes.

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