Movie Review ~ Bombshell

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Female employees at Fox News take on a toxic male culture, leading to the downfall of media mogul Roger Ailes.

Stars: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Mark Duplass, Alice Eve, Alanna Ubach

Director: Jay Roach

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  I’m sure it’s because I’m a lifelong MN but I still recall that night in 1989 when Gretchen Carlson from Anoka won the Miss America pageant after impressing the judges with her talent (violin), poise, and that aquamarine gown.  I always felt that MNs should stick together and since I rooted for her so vehemently to win I obviously thought we were best friends so I was dismayed when Carlson turned up on the Fox news network in a morning show that routinely spoke out against issues that I felt strongly about.  Now I didn’t follow Carlson’s career closely, mind you, but the station was always in the media for something and she seemed to be at the center of attention – so when she was fired it wasn’t just big national news, it was buzzed about in the local press as well.

Carlson is one of a handful of familiar Fox faces that are featured in Bombshell, a true-ish account of the lawsuit Carlson initiated against her former boss and how it turned into a media frenzy that topped a once-solid empire.  Yet from the outset it’s hard to view Bombshell and not address the elephant in the room: Fox News was and is a hugely problematic news outlet with anchors known for stirring the pot, making uninformed statements, introducing unsubstantiated facts, and orchestrating countless take downs of anyone that doesn’t share the agenda they’re pushing.  An already uneasy world has been made more dangerous by the untruths they perpetrate – and now we’re supposed to sit in a theater for two hours and watch beautiful female employees at Fox sob about internal misconduct without also examining the fuel they added to their company bonfire?  It’s a hard place to get to for some, but I found my way into this world thanks to stellar performances, a sharp script, and assured direction.

As the primary elections are ramping up in 2015, anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde) prepares for the Republican Party presidential debate and doesn’t shy away from asking then-candidate Donald Trump about his poor history with women, welcoming a firestorm of criticism but drawing huge ratings for her network.   This pleases her boss Roger Ailes (a sublimely slimy John Lithgow, Pet Sematary) but makes life with her children and husband (Mark Duplass, Tammy) fraught with anxiety.  In the same period, on-air reporter Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, The Goldfinch) struggles with her own show, thought of to her as a demotion from her prime spot as the third member of Fox and Friends.  Seeing the writing on the wall, she engages with lawyers to discuss her options on suing Ailes for harassment should he fire her, willing to bring up his sordid history of propositioning female employees for sexual favors.

It seems Ailes has a long reputation of harassment that is popular knowledge among the staff, save for fresh face Kayla (Margot Robie, I, Tonya) who falls into his trap fairly quickly, with her co-worker Jess (Kate McKinnon, Yesterday) unable to warn her in time.  When Carlson is ousted and brings her lawsuit into the public, will the other women at the network stand with her or stay loyal to the powerful man that holds their jobs in his hands?  Played out over a span of a year and a few months, the case develops into something bigger when respected people like Kelly stay silent instead of picking a side – leading some to ask if Kelly wasn’t another victim of Ailes, benefited from their relationship…or both.

Working from a script by Oscar-winner Charles Randolph (The Big Short), director Jay Roach (Trumbo) uses some clever ways to introduce us to the behind the scenes happenings at the network.  A guided tour of the building by Megyn is a good way to give us a lay of the land, separating the executives from the anchors and the anchors from the assistants, etc. etc.  Roach and Randolph aren’t above having actors stop and address the camera directly, though they wisely use that oft-employed tactic sparingly so when it happens it has a greater impact.  Key people are identified by name throughout and the movie takes considered steps to let us know these are actors playing real people…there is a message before the studio logo, before the cast list in the closing credits, and again at the end of the movie — so they mean business.

It’s the casting where Roach really hit gold.  As Kelly, Theron has again gone through a transformation right before our eyes into a completely different person.  It’s admittedly harder to see at the beginning when Kelly’s hair was longer but when the short style arrives, watch out, because Theron is on the money with Kelly’s voice, mannerisms, and, with the assistance of Kazu Hiro’s (and Oscar winner for Darkest Hour in 2018) expert prosthetics, an uncanny ringer for the real person.  Though she never met Kelly before making the movie, Theron seems to understand her and what motivated her forward, giving her complexities that maybe are a bit generous at times.  Kelly was always a slight enigma, that’s partly why she struggled when she moved to NBC news, and failed to connect with a broader audience…Theron perhaps warms us up to her too much.  Kidman doesn’t look much like Carlson but with her big hair and pursed lips she has the determined look of a woman smart enough to get her ducks lined up in a row and so resourceful no one even knew the ducks were there to begin with.

Robie’s character is a composite of several different producers at Fox News so she has a bit more leeway to create the role from the top down.  After scoring high marks with a fantastic dialogue-free scene earlier this summer in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, she tops that one with a hard to watch passage with Lithgow as Ailes.  Watching her face go through a range of emotions is gut-wrenching but Robie doesn’t overplay it, it’s devastating enough as it is.  Her best scenes, though, are with McKinnon who finally shows up in a movie ready to take things seriously.  By far her best work to date, McKinnon leaves her goofy shtick at the Saturday Night Live studios and works hard to be a part of the success of the film rather than being the source of the problem.

Roach has filled the rest of the cast with a truckload of amazing character actors playing a number of familiar faces from the network and the world of entertainment.  I won’t spoil them all but special mention just has to be made for Allana Ubach’s (Gloria Bell) incredible work as Judge Jeanine Pirro – it’s so close to the real thing your skin starts to crawl until you realize it’s just Ubach under all that makeup.

I still struggled with the whole Fox News of it all, though, and it took me until my second viewing and a lengthy discussion with my partner afterward to lock into what the film was missing that would have helped it along a bit more.  There’s no character present that stands in opposition to Fox News or its anchors before all of this happens, only people that turn against the women after they come forward.  So we never know if they are shunning the women themselves or the women because they work at Fox News.  Having some semblance of accountability for actions before all of the harassment business came to light would, I think, ease some of the discomfort people are feeling after seeing the movie.

Hard to deny, though, that Bombshell isn’t a slick piece of entertainment with an important, but not uncommon story to tell.  Closing with a dynamite new song from Regina Spektor, “One Little Soldier”, that sadly didn’t make the Oscar shortlist, my hope is that audiences (even the MN ones!) can put aside their differences of opinion and take the movie for what it’s trying to say.  It’s not about politics, it’s not men vs. women, it’s about saying something.  Or, as Carlson says, ‘Someone has to speak up.  Someone has to get mad.’

Movie Review ~ The Lazarus Effect

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of medical students discover a way to bring dead patients back to life.

Stars: Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Ray Wise, Amy Aquino

Director: David Gelb

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 83 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  The last film director David Gelb helmed was the well-received Jiro Dreams of Sushi from 2011, a documentary about a legendary sushi master and his heir-apparent.  Bereft of any creative pulse, The Lazarus Effect sees Gelb go from sushi to turkey in one fell swoop because the only thing that needs reviving at the end of this cheap-o effort are the audiences.  Not that Gelb and company don’t try to keep you awake by introducing a host of loud noises and seizure inducing flickering lights at random points along the way…but it’s best to sleep with one eye open so you can make a break for the door by the time the credits roll.

In an unnamed research facility on an unnamed college campus, two scientists (Mark Duplass, Tammy and Olivia Wilde, People Like Us) and their assistants (Donald Glover, The To Do List and Evan Peters, X:Men – Days of Future Past) are joined by a co-ed (Sarah Bolger) filming a documentary on their research.  Strangely (and maybe thankfully), given Gelb’s documentary past and aside from some grainy opening footage there’s none of that hand-held camera nonsense until the film reaches its hyperactive finale when the camera swoops around like it’s been tethered to a ceiling fan.

The scientists are working on a formula to re-animate dead animals…all because they eventually want to be able to “give doctors more time” to heal near-death human patients.  The first of many scientific miscalculations, the reasoning behind the research comes across more like the movie pitch it most certainly is.  Even Duplass and Wilde seem to have trouble making it through relaying their theories of resurrection without cracking a smile.

Now is a good time to really break down how much The Lazarus Effect will remind you of other movies:

Like Flatliners, the film is about a motley crew of apparently brilliant minds making a whole host of stupid decisions and pausing occasionally to talk about what’s on “the other side” and musing about what death really means.  Like Lucy, there are discussions about brain activity, how much of our brain we actually use, and what access to all of our potential would do to a person’s psyche.  Like Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator, the experimenters become the experimented when fate deals the kind of blow that necessitates speeding up the testing process and moving to human trials.  And like Hollow Man, the finale is a cat-and-mouse game where the group is locked in a lab and picked off one by one.

Screenwriters Luke Dawson & Jeremy Slater have Frankenstein-ed their script with so many other ideas that the only interesting thing about the movie becomes matching up the plot points to previously released films.  Eventually, the filmmakers totally give up and increase the volume and amount of times the lights are turned off.  Seriously, at one point I thought that the evil at work was simply an energy conservationist because the scariest thing they do is turn the lights off at the most inopportune times.

Sometimes in knock-off films like this some fun can be had in some well-crafted moments of bloody gore.  I get the feeling the movie was edited down to PG-13 territory because the way that the violence is cut away from suggests post-op censoring of the ickier bits.  There’s nary a drop of blood spilled and death either occurs off-screen or in a non-invasive method such as a twisted neck.

Hound dog faced Duplass is hardly the picture of the driven researcher he’s supposed to be playing.  Changing his intentions every ten minutes because the script tells him to, there’s a missed opportunity to give the character an edge so Duplass just sits on the middle of the fence for most of the picture.  Wilde is his Mozart-loving fiancé and research partner…though he never seems to sleep in the same bed as her as evidenced in three shots of her sleeping in the middle of a bed in the house they share.  It’s a strange thing to get hung-up on, I know, but it serves as an example of the lack of attention to detail from Gelb.  With a little over an hour to tell the story, there’s not time for much character development so the rest of the cast is hardly worth mentioning (though Bolger is perhaps the best of the bunch).

Between a heap of scientific mumbo-jumbo and sleepy performances by its B-grade cast, the only thing you could put in the pro column for The Lazarus Effect would be that it’s short (83 minutes…including a credit sequence that’s better looking than anything else onscreen) and goes by relatively quickly.  Made by Blumhouse Productions (The Purge, Insidious, Sinister) for the low fee of 5 million (yes, that’s now considered a low sum), the film likely won’t have any trouble making that money back from knee-jerk audiences merely in the mood for a cheap thrill.

Movie Review ~ Tammy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh

Director: Ben Falcone

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (0/10)

Review: There’s a special place in cinema hell for movies like Tammy. Movies so bad, so rancidly unfunny that shelf space has been reserved for them in the fiery pit right next to most Adam Sandler films, Xanadu, Exit to Eden, Cool as Ice, This is 40, and Nacho Libre. What earns Tammy higher honors than most is how it squanders every single thing it has going for it: a popular (if fatally misused) lead, a stellar cast of gifted comedy veterans and/or Oscar winners, and a prime summer spot from a top studio. Yet it’s all for naught as the movie starts off bad and only gets worse over the next punishing 90 minutes.

It’s way past April Fool’s Day but go ahead and send your worst enemy to see Tammy anyway, preferably at an evening show where they’ll shell out nearly $20 to suffer through the unbalanced comedic misery. For you see, Tammy is the awful gift that keeps on giving; never once taking into consideration that it has no laughs, no likable characters, and is as unpleasant as a Silkwood shower after a bad sunburn.

The movie is downright uncomfortable from the get go as it opens on an unkempt Melissa McCarthy driving to work while stuffing potato chips into her mouth and then running over a deer that she then tries to resuscitate. Bloody and covered in animal mess, Tammy eventually shows up to work where her boss (Ben Falcone, Enough Said, McCarthy’s true partner in film crime seeing that he’s not only her husband but the co-writer and director) promptly fires her. Before you can say “It can’t get worse, can it?” it does when Tammy arrives home to find her husband (Nat Faxon, The Way Way Back) having a romantic dinner with a neighbor (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding). Faxon and Collette’s few scenes are so under rehearsed and awkward that my only conclusion is that they must have been visiting the set for the day and did this under duress or as a favor.

With no job and no husband, Tammy walks a few paces down the block to her parents’ house where she has a brief encounter with her unsympathetic mom (Allison Janney, Bad Words, only 11 years older than McCarthy) before heading off on a sorta road trip with her boozy grandmother (Susan Sarandon, Cloud Atlas, 13 years older than Janney). Sarandon was a last minute replacement for Shirley MacLaine and evidently no one bothered to redesign any costumes or wigs because Sarandon looks positively awful…and younger than Janney. With no old age make-up to be seen and the kind of grey mop of a crazy cat lady wig usually reserved for a haunted house, Sarandon may be the least convincing old person ever seen on screen. The Oscar winner is usually pretty game for anything but McCarthy and Falcone’s script is so unfocused that she’s never afforded the opportunity to really make something of her aging alcoholic granny.

No, instead of trying to instill some life into the tired old road trip formula, McCarthy and Falcone manage to find new ways to make traveling cross country boring as hell. The problem is that McCarthy keeps attempting to beat everyone to a certain punchline…and in doing so winds up making it worse for herself. Instead of this being the kind of R-rated female-driven raunch fest that’s made a comeback in the last several years, it’s a painfully dull series of scenes featuring McCarthy’s buffoonish and grating style of comedy. Where is the winning sincerity that made her an overnight star (and an unlikely but deserving Oscar nominee) in Bridesmaids? Instead of continuing on that route of using her comedic skills for good, she’s been wasting her gifts in garbage like Identity Thief, The Heat, and cameos (This is 40, The Hangover Part III) meant to be funny that come off as irritating.

Everything about McCarthy’s performance seems familiar…mostly because it’s just a rehash of the simpleton characters she’s played onscreen and in increasingly slack appearances as host of Saturday Night Live. There was a time when I thought McCarthy had it all in the bag, but it’s becoming crystal clear that she’s a comic with limited longevity even though her off screen persona suggests someone you want to have an 80s style sleepover with. McCarthy (and the audience) deserves better than this…but as the co-writer and producer of Tammy she can’t blame anyone but herself.

The one redeeming piece of Tammy is a heart to heart scene between McCarthy and Kathy Bates (Titanic, playing a wise old lesbian) that, though remarkably genuine, comes too late in the game to change my overall feeling toward the picture. The scene offered a glimmer of the poignant comedy I think McCarthy may have at one time been aiming for but it’s gone in a flash in favor of more inane dialogue and slapdash film-making.

Truly terrible, Tammy is another nail in McCarthy’s career coffin she appears to be more than happy to be lying in. It’s the kind of film where you sink lower and lower in your seat the more banal it becomes. The audience I saw the film with started off laughing heartily but soon trailed off into sparse uncomfortable titters as everyone became aware just how rotten it all was. I can’t imagine I’ll see a worse film in 2014 and think that anyone that makes it to the end deserves some sort of certificate of achievement. Avoid at all possible costs (but do take my advice and send your nemesis to a midnight screening).

The Silver Bullet ~ Tammy

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Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Release Date:  July 2, 2014

Thoughts: Ok…let me just say something that no one seems really willing to say: Melissa McCarthy has not delivered on the promise put forth in her rightfully praised breakthrough (and Oscar nominated) performance in Bridesmaids.  She just hasn’t.  She hasn’t.  You can disagree all you want but having watched McCarthy rehash the same character in films like Identity Thief, This is 40, The Hangover Part III, and The Heat not to mention her last severely awful hosting gig at Saturday Night Live I’m just not on her bandwagon anymore.  Like The Heat, this first trailer for Tammy has zero laughs, finding McCarthy pulling the same shtick we’ve seen her do countless times.  That’s depressing considering the impressive roster of actors involved with the movie like Susan Sarandon (Jeff, Who Lives at Home), Dan Aykroyd (This is My Life), Kathy Bates (Titanic: 3D), and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back).  I’m actually dreading this movie.

The Silver Bullet ~ Black Rock

BlackRock

Synopsis: Three childhood friends set aside their personal issues and reunite for a girls’ weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine. One wrong move turns their weekend getaway into a deadly fight for survival.

Release Date:  May 17, 2013

Thoughts: Before you write this one off completely (which the ho-hum trailer practically encourages you to do) keep in mind that the screenplay was written by Mark Duplass.  Duplass has been on a bit of a roll in the past few years directing films with his brother (Jeff, Who Lives at Home) and carving out a nice little acting career for himself as well (Safety Not Guaranteed).  I’m always wary when the director is one of the stars of the film so we’ll see if Katie Aselton (also married to Duplass) has the chops to keep things afloat.  Overall, this looks like a smarmy sorta film…one you wouldn’t mind choosing from a list of freebies On Demand.