Tag Archives: MeToo

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.

 

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.

Unsane

23 Mar

 

 

There’s little room for debate that Stephen Soderbergh’s one of the most intriguing directors working (Paul Thomas Anderson and Nicolas Winding Refn are also on that list, to give you a taste). There’s not much the “considering retirement” auteur hasn’t tinkered with: non-professional actors (“Bubble”), a “serious film” staring a porn actress (“The Girlfriend Experience”), a Liberace biopic (“Behind the Candelabra”) and of course more mainstream fare such as “Traffic” that scored him an Oscar. Many of Soderbergh’s films, such as “Magic Mike,” the “Ocean’s” films and “Logan Lucky,” possess a playful wit. He seems to be able to conjure up a hip nod and a wink on a dime and adroitly inject a seam of bleak reality as need be (see “Contagion,” or “Sex, Lies and Videotape”). Here Soderbergh tries something new – not groundbreaking, to be sure, but genre-savvy nonetheless and shot on the down low with iPhones (not new, as Sean Baker did a similar trick for his quirky indie gem “Tangerine”). Despite all those curiosity-piquing tags, the result’s a muddled mix of great performances, edgy atmosphere and infuriating “is this really happening” plot twists.

If you’ve caught any of the trailers for “Unsane,” you might think it’s somewhere between ’80s (well 1979, to be exact) B-roll from “When a Stranger Calls” and M. Knight Shyamalan’s “Split” (2016). It lies somewhat closer to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with elements of the aforementioned flicks sprinkled in, and it’s a tough movie to discuss without spoilers. We meet up with the gloriously named Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy from “The Crown”) a young woman who works a generic job in a generic office with a married male boss whose mawkish demeanor and suggestion for a team trip – just them two – verges on a #MeToo violation. Sawyer, no pushover, seems to know how to control the situation and exits with an awkward, “I should get back to work.” She also seems to know what she wants, hooking up with a guy on Tinder, telling him the night will go his way, but in the morning he has get out and forget they ever met. Back at Sawyer’s pad just before the event goes down, Sawyer has a breakdown. Said dude, wise to the cloud of dysfunction, exits and then, through late-night Google searches for support groups and therapists, we learn that Sawyer has been the victim of a stalker up in our blessed Boston and relocated to a Pennsylvania burb to escape her pursuer’s reaches. Continue reading

Downsizing

24 Dec

 

You know that viral tiny house movement where folk show off cozy, cute mini abodes with all the home amenities amazingly in just 250 square feet? You may even have romanticized about trading your palatial digs for the micro version and living more simply. Nice idea, but not many of us would actually do it – we’re too attached to our big, consumptive lives measuring our worth in square feet and wallet size. But what if you could cut down on the consumptive part, stretch your dollar tenfold and live larger than if you won the Powerball jackpot? That’s somewhat the idea behind Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” where, in the near future, dwindling resources reaching “Soylent Green” critical levels has triggered a worldwide movement to conserve and cut back without sacrificing the lush life.

If that sounds like a win-win, it is – except that to do so you must get shrunk down to five inches and live in domed enclaves full of mini mansions, rolling green golf courses and swank nightclubs and eateries. Once done, your $50-a-week food budget can cover you for half a year. It’s a choice, and the world is roughly split down the middle between bigs and littles. Occupational therapist Paul Safrenek (local boy Matt Damon, more in the news these days for his backfiring #MeToo opines) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig, in the film far too little) decide the only way to achieve the house of their dreams is to go small. The medical process isn’t so easy either, and god forbid you leave dental implants in during the process. The matter for Paul becomes a quest for self-discovery in a new land after his wife (genders separate as they do the process en masse and in the bare) balks in the eleventh hour before shrinkage and hops a jet elsewhere. Continue reading