Bombshell Review

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* * * *

Jay Roach’s portrait of the year Fox News’ Roger Ailes’ history of sexual harassment came back to bite him on his fat ass is exhilarating, furious, compelling and thoroughly entertaining. It is also essentially and thrillingly visceral: I spent the second half of the movie having to stop myself from standing up in the crowded cinema and screaming “Take that you evil fuck!” at John Lithgow’s portrayal of this awful, awful, awful human being.

Ailes and Fox News (the movie almost entirely takes place within its network of offices, elevators, hallways and cubicles) were / are so inherently toxic, so blatantly disgusting, that it could be argued that merely to present them onscreen is to guarantee a cracker show: with villains this villainous, it’s easy to rile your audience against them and cheer at their fall. But Roach and Lithgow don’t allow Ailes to be a total grotesque; the movie, as flashy as it is, is subtler than that. And it’s not Ailes’ movie, anyway.

Weirdly, but successfully, it’s Megyn Kelly’s movie. If you’re not from the US and haven’t been obsessively reading US news since Trump, you may not have heard of her; the film sketches in the version of her required to tell this story (if not her whole story, which is very complicated) and she is brilliantly played by Charlize Theron. I’m told the simulacrum of Kelly is astonishing; I’ve never seen Kelly on air, or if I have, so little that I can’t vouch for the impersonation side of the portrayal, but it’s an honest and sincere and intelligent performance. And Margot Robbie, as a young employee at Fox News who becomes a fish in Ailes’ barrel, is, as usual, astonishing. Both women are nominated for Oscars.

The only reason not to see Bombshell – and it’s a fair one – is to avoid swimming in these disgusting, rank, poisonous, filthy waters. This is not only Fox, it’s the US under Trump, and it’s grim. But as a film, this is energising, invigorating and rather essential.

PS Special points must be awarded for the ingenious casting of the Lawson brothers as the Murdoch brothers.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

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* 1/2 (out of five)

I’ve done my research, and there is no evidence to suggest that A. A. Milne, author of the Winnie The Pooh books, wore facial make-up on a daily basis. And yet in every shot (and there are hundreds) of Domhnall Gleeson as Milne in the turgid Good Bye Christopher Robin, there’s a massive, frustratingly obvious layer of pancake all over his face. It’s beyond distracting. The history of narrative cinema is partially the history of the cinematographer and make-up artist hiding the leading man’s facepaint, an important art not bothered with here.

It may seem churlish to harp on a man’s facepaint, but Gleeson’s make-up travesty is the perfect microcosmic example of everything that is wrong with Goodbye Christopher Robin. This is the kind of movie where the actors step from one incredible shaft of sunlight carefully into another, as though there were multiple suns; where their performances are as stiff as nineteenth century mechanical wind-up toys, hampered by the need to place their faces “just so” to catch the light. A movie that was obviously hijacked by a cinematographer (Ben Smithard, whose terrible overlighting also afflicts The Second Best Marigold Hotel, Viceroy’s House, My Week With Marilyn and the upcoming The Man Who Invented Christmas) who is too chummy with a terribly lazy director (Simon Curtis). This duo is a blot on British filmmaking; to see dailies of Gleeson’s face and not correct the problem is astonishing.

The make up artists involved here are Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Rachael Speke, and I will avoid their work in future if possible. Besides the constant awfulness of Gleeson’s day-to-day look, the film features the worst “age make-up” I have perhaps ever seen; Gleeson and co-star Margot Robbie, when aged, look simply glammed up for a party. Indeed, I didn’t even realise they were supposed to be decades older until a story point made it clear; the make-up certainly did not.

The script is terribly on-the-nose, misusing PTSD as an incredibly cheap sentimental trick. At one point, Milne, a recent veteran of World War One, gets triggered by a popping balloon. The way to overcome it, of course, is to pop another balloon, and soon everyone’s jumping on balloons and getting over their PTSD! The story is about Milne’s creation of the Pooh books after moving to the countryside (to get over that darned PTSD!) and the effect it has on his son, the real Christopher Robin. That’s an intriguing idea for a movie, and it is royally screwed at every stage by this horribly over-baked movie, that may as well be called Look How Pretty We Are. Hampered by everything – script, make-up, lighting, obvious lack of direction – the normally reliable Gleeson, Robbie and even Scottish National Treasure Kelly Macdonald are all dreadful, breathing as much life into their characters as the waxworks at Madame Tussauds. Wretched.

Nothing To Be Afraid Of

The Wolf of Wall Street ***1/2 (out of five)

454You get a lot of movie for your sixteen bucks with The Wolf of Wall Street. But you’d have a better time if you got less movie. It’s two hours and fifty-nine minutes, which sounds like director Martin Scorcese said to Paramount, “You don’t want a three hour movie? I haven’t given you a three hour movie!”

Actually, he probably would have said it a lot more colorfully. Wolf drops the F-bomb 506 times, making it the most fucked fictional feature film in history (the documentary Fuck uses it 857 times). There are some scenes where the use of the word almost seems banal, as though the writer (Terence Winter) was being lazy, but, in truth, this is a movie about banal people.

The worst is the main one, based-on-real-life Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), and this is the movie’s burden: for three hours (“Two hours and fifty-nine fucking minutes!”) we have to watch a movie about a royal prick. Greedy, self-obsessed, nihilistic asshole Belfort has almost no redeeming features, and, as played well by DiCaprio, that’s a bitter pill to have to suck on for such a long time.

wolf-of-wall-street-poster-poster-2033087940The movie is so similar in structure and style to GoodFellas that it’s fair to wonder if Winter stuck the script of that movie into Final Draft and then changed the words. A young ambitious man of limited means finds his niche, rises to dizzying heights while breaking the law, has his downfall… and squeals like a fuckin’ pig. Scorcese has themes, tropes, tricks, milieus and every other fancy type of cinematic self-referential tic, but he’s never so blatantly repeated himself as he does here – and unfortunately he does it with far less precision than with GoodFellas. Stylistic elements are haphazardly placed. Like GoodFellas, there is lots of voiced narration, but unlike in GoodFellas, it’s not funny, ironic or clever. Halfway through, Belfort turns and speaks directly to camera, but that’s an hour and a fuckin’ half through the movie, which is a weird time to introduce such a conceit. Some of the scenes seem deliberately improvised and are cut with the haphazard style of The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where the dialogue suddenly lurches to a new topic as though to skip over a dead patch of improv. And many of the scenes of debauched excess – such as a flight with hookers and drugs – are ludicrously (and unrealistically) over the top.

Robbie: The Next Huge Thing
Robbie: The Next Huge Thing

All this makes thematic sense – the film is about excess – but it’s too much. In particular, Scorcese gives DiCaprio too much, as though (and this could actually be the truth) he said to him, “Leo, I’m 71, you’ve done five films for me, I’m gonna get you that fuckin’ Oscar.” There are three Leo-centric scenes – two speeches and one silent piece of physical comedy – that go on soooooo long, so ludicrously, painfully, obviously too-long long, that you can feel the whole audience being aware of it: “Isn’t this scene bonkers fucking long?”

The staggering bloat aside, there are some hysterically funny scenes, some absolutely killer dialogue, endless great performances (starting with Jonah Hill, cruising through instant star Margot Robbie, and climaxing with Matthew McConaughey, who opens the movie with what is essentially a comic monologue that is, in retrospect, the best part of the whole film) and, of course, Scorcese-level craftsmanship throughout. It’s a very hard movie to love, but it’s an easy enough movie to enjoy, especially knowing that, at any time, you can go for a piss and not miss anything important… there will be plenty more movie for you when you get back.