Sunday, December 22, 2019


Rated:  R

STARS: Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow
GENRE: Drama

I've been a tad critical of some of the #MeToo movies that have come out--notably The Favourite, The Wife, and Late Night--all reviewed here previously. I felt they either came off as preachy, or exhibited pre-conceived notions about men, a la the tongue-in-cheek meme at the top of this review! 

Didn't get that feeling with Bombshell. It was straightforward and fast paced--and ironically, because it's subject was Fox News--it wasn't trying to put a spin on the events as they were unfolding! The film is "based upon actual events"--that nebulous phrase that's come to mean that they made some of the stuff up. And to their credit, the filmmakers placed that advisory right up front at the beginning (whereas Clint Eastwood stuck--or snuck--a similar notice in with the closing credits in Richard Jewell).

Most of us know the basic story of how Roger Ailes--CEO of Fox News and the guy who built it into the empire it is today, was taken down by courageous news anchor Gretchen Carlson when she sued him for sexual harassment. Others, including Megyn Kelly, eventually backed her up with their own corroborating evidence of his pervy transgressions. The film title refers to the impact the story made when it broke, as well as the three blonde-tressed barbies who are central to the tale.

Here there is no gray area. No insinuating that all men are kinda like that. This is a story about power more than perversion, and how absolute power in any position of life corrupts. And how those subjected to it feel powerless to do anything about it. 

There are three parallel narratives--with Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and Margot Robbie as a composite character: a naive new hire named Kayla. Theron completely inhabits her character, and is a dead ringer appearance wise for the real Megyn Kelly. Nicole Kidman is always a treat to watch. But it is Robbie who brings it in spades this time, in one of the most powerful scenes I've seen in a long time, as the tearful Kayla recounts what she felt pressured into doing with Ailes. Heart breaking to watch. Kate McKinnon, as an in-the-closet lesbian Fox producer, provides some occasional relief from all the blonde-ness. John Lithgow, in all his puffy Roger Ailes-ness, has perv down pat when he utters something to the effect of "boys will be boys" in his own defense.

Impressive cast. Impressive work. I don't think you'll see the likes of them all together like that again. Unless it's at The Oscars.

Grade:  B +


With all the advanced publicity about Bombshell, I was expecting a bonanza of a film. Unfortunately, I had watched the same tale being told on Showtime. Russell Crowe played Ayles in this made-for-cable-TV version titled "The Loudest Voice." It had some definite advantages: mainly time. Whereas Bombshell had to cram the entire sequence of events on screen in an hour and 48 minutes. Too little time for such a public undoing.

Tim has pretty much covered the outstanding performances by these veteran actors. But as far as my take on 'the most powerful scene,' it would have to be the initial meeting between Roger Ailes, smarmily played by John Lithgow, and Kayla, his latest victim-in-training. To say it made me squirm would be a gross understatement. I asked the guy I saw the movie with how he had reacted to that scene? He said he felt both sorry for the girl and a bit titillated. (Therein lies the difference between the sexes!)

I've been a long time fan of John Lithgow since... forever. Whether he plays a classic psycho (e.g. his recurring role in the TV series "Dexter") or an alien dad ("Third Rock From The Sun"), his work always rings true. And that distinctive voice is unforgettable. But in the case of portraying Roger Ailes, I'd have to give Russell Crowe top honors.

For me, there were just too damn many characters. No doubt the screenwriter Charles Randolph (The Big Short) felt it was necessary to include all the players in this modern day drama. Keeping track of them, however, was a detractor. And the whole lesbian sub-story was totally unnecessary.

My advice? Get Showtime's "The Loudest Voice" from your local library.

Grade: B-



Wednesday, December 18, 2019


Rated:  R

STARS: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
GENRE: Docudrama

There is no denying that Clint Eastwood is a master filmmaker, and in Richard Jewell he has crafted a riveting drama with clearly defined good guys and bad guys that will push all of your buttons. Clearly defined, that is, if you want to buy into Eastwood's right-eous vision of the world.

Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser)--as you may or may not recall--was the security guard who discovered a bomb in an abandoned backpack in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He alerted police on the premises and saved lives by helping to get people cleared away from the scene before the blast went off--resulting in two deaths and injuring over a hundred unsuspecting souls attending an outdoor concert. 

Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell then came under suspicion as a suspect in the bombing. He is portrayed as a dimwitted loose cannon, who had a habit of getting fired from his law enforcement and security guard jobs. Jon Hamm, as FBI agent Tom Shaw, leads a team of overzealous and unscrupulous investigators bent upon fingering Jewell as the culprit. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution breaks the story--and as we see so often today, another individual is convicted in the court of public opinion long before due process has run its course. Jewell was eventually cleared of any involvement in the bombing that was engineered by Eric Rudolph 

Outstanding turns from Hauser, who seems born for this role, and the reliably excellent Sam Rockwell as Jewell's feisty lawyer, make this as compelling a drama as you'll find. But the integrity of Clint Eastwood's art is compromised by his insistence on making a political statement in essentially everything he does. In this case it's an obvious and heavy-handed one--demonizing two of today's popular targets of the right (and that originates straight from the top of the McDonald's eating political food chain), the free press and the FBI. 

Eastwood saw his chance to hop on the bandwagon. He plays fast and loose with the truth, as in the portrayal of newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who broke the story about Jewell coming under suspicion, as being an amoral opportunist who would do whatever--including trading sexual favors to get a news scoop. Scruggs' former colleagues, family and friends reportedly were not contacted by the filmmakers to get the scoop on who she really was and what she was about. 

Eastwood apparently felt it was okay to besmirch a deceased person's reputation to serve his own agenda as tit-for-tat because of what happened to poor hapless Richard Jewell. But the film going public may be better equipped to smell a rat than Eastwood gives them credit for.

Richard Jewell is bombing at the box office.

Grade:  C -


As one of my unbendable rules, I never read reviews before seeing a film. I don't want any preprogrammed opinions sneaking into my thought processes. Alas, with Richard Jewel, Yahoo couldn't wait to plaster "worst box office opening in four generations of film-making" across my unsuspecting monitor. So I went in, ready to dump all kinds of vitriol on old Clint's latest offering.... How relieved I was not to have to do that to one of the all time great film-makers.

Richard Jewell was terrific. Engrossing. Brilliantly acted (I'll get to that later). And wrongly crucified by some, not all, film critics.

I get so (friggin') tired of people judging artistic endeavors by disagreeing politically. Just like I get pissed off with celebrities who use their public clout to endorse a political candidate. (Better they put their money where their mouth shouldn't be.) But I digress....

If Katy Bates doesn't get nominated for Best Supporting Actor for her role as Richard Jewell's mom—a hapless victim of the FBI's over zealous behavior—I will run naked down Del Mar's main thoroughfare. When Bates goes in front of the cameras, pleading for privacy and defending her son's innocence, it's cinematic magic. Pure and simple.

So what did I find fault with in this film? Very little. I wasn't bored. I didn't feel preached to. I know it was very unflattering to the press and the FBI but the story called for that. If I had to criticize anything it would be Jon Hamm's wooden performance. (And I loved him in "Mad Men.") Perhaps I should blame the screenwriter Billy Ray instead. No character deserves to be so one-dimensional.

As the movie ended, one man insisted on clapping. I wanted to join him but lost my nerve.

Grade: B+