Tag Archives: Bombshell

The Assistant

7 Feb

‘The Assistant’: Movie producer has a system, and it’s entirely too simple to become part of it

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Kitty Green’s bold, stage-like office drama couldn’t be more timely. It’s about a low-level assistant to an unnamed, never really seen New York film producer who’s demanding, vitriolic and, worse, casts a long shadow of perpetual dread – in short, the unseen force of fear is Harvey Weinstein. Through karmic justice and a deep sense of ironic circumstance, the once ballyhooed champion of indie cinema is in the middle of a milestone sexual abuse trial just as “The Assistant,” hot out of Sundance, hits theaters.

Much of the action takes place in a generically dull office where Jane (Julia Garner, so good in “Ozark”) lands as the new hire in a pool of three who staff the mogul’s gateway to heaven and hell. The film, aptly low-fi, possesses the same absurd nihilistic texture that made Neil LaBute’s blistering 1997 tale of office-sanctioned misogyny, “In the Company of Men,” so riveting. The only way we experience Jane’s boss is through muffled barbs from the earpiece of her phone, murmurs and inaudible loud shouts from behind the door and a few emails that come to Jane after she’s shared too much information about his whereabouts (which is usually a hotel room with an aspiring actress) to his suspecting wife. The response to such angry emails is always along the lines of “I’m sorry … I won’t let you down again,” with phrasing provided by two male counterparts who vary in their support of Jane but regularly dump menial duties down the ladder and onto her desk.

There’s not a lot of movement in “The Assistant.” Comely young women waltz in and out, the wife continues to make loaded inquiries and we hardly leave the confines of that outer office. Garner, who’s stock is clearly on the rise, tucks Jane’s appalled humiliation just under the surface as her assistant comes to a slow understanding of having to balance career aspirations with male-dominated office culture. Push comes to shove when Jane sets up a young waitress from Boise (Makenzie Leigh) in a posh hotel room – and later at the empty desk across the way to be the next “new” assistant. No longer able to rationalize away the odious events, Jane grabs an impromptu meeting with the head of HR (Matthew Macfadyen, from “Succession”). It’s a telling encounter that Green, as screenwriter with knives out, carves with masterful gamesmanship.

In the end, “The Assistant” isn’t didactic; nor does it wave the #MeToo flag. It doesn’t have to. Green, whose short CV holds mostly documentaries such as “Casting JonBenet” (2017) – about the slain 6-year-old beauty princess – embraces a cinéma vérité style. In long shots, we observe as if a fly on the wall. In one scene as Jane washes dishes in the corporate kitchenette, two women in heavy conversation about a project ignore her as she listens attentively while trying to appear disinterested; when done with their chatter, the women dump their dishes on Jane without acknowledging her. As with “Bombshell” last year, the power dynamics in “The Assistant” are chilling. In the former we know how that went for Roger Ailes; we’ll find out about that movie guy soon enough.

 

The Best Films of 2019

29 Dec
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THE IRISHMAN (2019) Ray Ramano (Bill Bufalino ) Al Pacino (Jimmy Hoffa) and Robert De Niro (Frank Sheeran)

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  2. Parasite
  3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  4. Aquarela
  5. Apollo 11
  6. The Irishman
  7. Long Day’s Journey into Night
  8. Aga
  9. Little Women
  10. The Farewell

Honorable mentions: Toy Story 4, The Nightingale, Ford v Ferrari, Bombshell, Us, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Uncut Gems, Midnight Traveler, The Mustang, Pain and Glory

Also here are the Cambridge Day’s Arts Staffs’ 2019 Top 10.

Bombshell

19 Dec

‘Bombshell’: Trio has news for Fox and Ailes, coming in form that seems fair and balanced

 

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We’ve already had “The Loudest Voice” miniseries on Showtime to show us just how full of hubris and sexual entitlement was Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, so why do we need “Bombshell”? Well for one, we get the sordid tale primarily from the perspective of the women who were bellowed at and belittled into accepting the media honcho’s sexual overtures, lest their careers be canceled (“You gotta give a little head to get ahead”). Also too, there’s some pretty amazing performances, most notably Charlize Theron as Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who went to war with Donald Trump (“blood coming out of everywhere”) during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, who after being kicked down the ladder by Ailes for her age and liberal leanings on assault weapons (by conservative standards), decides to kick back. Margot Robbie, so good in “I, Tonya” (2017), is also in the mix lower down the chain as newscaster, as is SNL’s Kate McKinnon, doing well in a serious role. But this is really Theron and Kidman’s show, with a major contribution from John Lithgow, charged with the unsavory task of portraying the conservative news prick who helped get Nixon and Reagan elected by manipulating the media (Trump too, some would argue).

The high-wire act that “Bombshell” performs is its ability to humanize Ailes without letting him off the hook (vs., let’s say, “Vice,” which hung Dick Cheney up as a nefarious puppet master from start to end). Lithgow should be given a medal for wallowing in such muck. He shares a scene with Robbie’s Kayla (a composite character) that should make anyone with a shred of humanity very uncomfortable, if not outraged, as she pushes for and gets a one-on-one meeting with Ailes (through his secret backdoor entrance to his office suite) in which she’s asked to stand and show him her form (“news is a visual medium”), hiking her skirt higher and higher. In the end you feel that there’s so much more tawdriness, let alone criminality, that doesn’t get splashed across the screen. Much of what Kelly does in the film is strategize with Ailes on Trump, and once Ailes is under investigation by the Murdochs (Malcolm McDowell as Rupert) wrestles with how to roll with the swirling storm against the man who made her. Carlson is more of a clear-cut matter, the fired newscaster portrayed by Kidman not self-righteously or as an outright victim, but as conflicted and seeking respect in the wake of long-endured indignities. It’s a nuanced performance that many will overlook, whereas Theron’s Kelly, makes tart asides to the audience (think “The Big Short,” which is no coincidence; see below) that gives us the inside scoop on how things operate at Fox, but not on what’s in her head. Theron’s emulation of Kelly, her voice and mannerisms, is off-the-charts uncanny

Much will likely be made about what’s not on the screen in “Bombshell” though the script by Charles Randolph, who penned “The Big Short” (2015), gets to delve into the lurid now that Ailes has conveniently departed us. Like “The Irishman” and “Richard Jewell,” for that matter, “Bombshell” makes for a compelling fact-based narrative, but is it a bona fide testimonial or a skewed version of the truth? In terms of balance, Kelly isn’t let off the hook for silence in the face of accusations against her mentor, or poor judgment in calling out the notion of a “black Santa” on air and sticking with it. It makes her human, flawed and endearing. These are not heroic actions. Carlson’s the real hero, putting it on the line and against all odds. 

The film is directed by Jay Roach, who’s known mostly for his light “Meet the Fockers” romps. It’s a bold step out for Roach, much like Todd Phillips of “The Hangover” films did this year with “Joker.” Sometimes stories of such sordid and heinous happenings require a droll, dark comedic hand to pack it all into a digestible pill.

Richard Jewell

14 Dec

‘Richard Jewell’: Stopping ’96 Olympics bomb put do-gooder in the crosshairs of FBI, media

By Tom Meek

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In talking with a friend about “Two Popes,” the excellently acted and well-shot papal bore-fest, one point that came up about films dealing with “true events” was that flawed characters and quirky happenings on the fringe often made for a more compelling narrative. Take “Sully” (2016) or “I, Tonya” (2017). The former did an end run around on Miracle on the Hudson pilot Chesley Sullenberger, chronicling the hero’s personal hell while being investigated and under suspicion by the Federal Aviation Administration, while the latter peeled back the mask of villainy on the scorned figure skater for her husband’s misguided hit on a publicly adored rival.

Clint Eastwood directed “Sully” and Paul Walter Hauser played one of the goons who took a lead pipe to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee in “I, Tonya,” so it’s fitting that the two pair up for “Richard Jewell,” about the surreal ordeal surrounding the portly security guard of the title, once under investigation for a bombing in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Nicely, the story bookends with the relationship between Jewell (Hauser) and Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a snippy, dismissive lapdog of an attorney. It’s at his law firm that we first meet Jewell as a mail delivery clerk, before he moves on to pursuing his dream of being a law enforcement officer and ends up at Centennial Park.

Up to the bombing – which comes midway through – the character illustration of Jewell is quite something. Sure he’s got the countenance of a rube, lives at home with mom (Kathy Bates, perfectly understated) and has buddies with mullets who look like white supremacists, but his expressed desire to serve and protect comes off as genuine. It’s hard to fault a man with ambitions – that is, until you learn that as a college campus security officer, Jewell’s something of an overreaching megalomaniac, pulling over students on the highway outside campus when suspected of drinking and driving and barging in for dorm room searches. At once, you pity Jewell and see the seeds of George Zimmerman. Continue reading