Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bombshell (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 109 minutes
Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Charles Randolph
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Josh Lawson, Ben Lawson, Liv Hewson

Bombshell opens in cinemas around the country on January 16, 2019 thanks to Studiocanal.

Jay Roach's Bombshell is the award season movie that is far from flawless, but the emotional punch it delivers and extraordinary performances by the leading ladies are enough to make one overlook it's sins. It is a film that feels as though it has been sugar-coated visually, but at the same time balances itself out with hard-hitting topics that will trigger many. The scandal at Fox News involving Roger Ailes is shocking by nature and the film could easily have relied just on the story for impact, but Bombshell ventures to be more than a film based on a shocking story and manages to get it right more often than not.

In what is a very left wing film about the infamous right wing television network, Bombshell is a film that will stir up confusing emotions in many people. Earlier last year the Showtime mini-series, The Loudest Voice chronicled the life of the larger than life founder of Fox News, Roger Ailes. The show earned incredible critical acclaim with Russell Crowe winning the Golden Globe for playing Ailes and indeed looked at the sexual harassment claims made against him, which were led by Fox and Friends co-host, Gretchen Carlson (portrayed here by Naomi Watts). Unlike the television series, Bombshell is a film about sexual harassment in the workplace with a focus on the women affected.

For those of us who are already angry at Fox News on close to a daily basis, Bombshell will do a great deal to encourage that anger. The film goes as far as to say that even people who work for the network are only there because no one else would hire them after they work for Fox. The Fox News painted here is an evil workplace that strives on scandal, both on air and off. The women are all instructed to wear as short skirts as possible when on air and are expected to laugh along while their male co-hosts make jokes (often sexist) at their expense. As we see at the beginning of the film, this also includes the then Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, accusing then Fox darling, Megyn Kelly (incredibly portrayed by Charlize Theron) of "anger-menstruating". She is instructed not to retaliate, as it would not benefit the network's relationship with the Republican party. The overall negative view we get here of Fox News is extremely one-sided, but is also shrouded in truth.

The 2016 scandal involving Ailes was one of the first reported high-profile cases of ongoing sexual harassment in an entertainment based workplace. It is nothing short of horrific the rippling effect that these incidents had on the culture of the workplace and the individuals themselves. Bombshell brings to the forefront many of the toxic features of an environment where these events are taking place. It is shocking to see how these events are not only turned a blind eye to, but that they are also accepted as part of the culture and even quietly supported by other women who want to please their male superiors.

One of the questions that is often asked when people come forward with their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace is why they did not report it when it happened, and Bombshell certainly does not shy away from the answer to this question. Gretchen Carlson (played by Nicole Kidman) begins her journey to expose Ailes (John Lithgow) by herself, with the hope that others will come forward with their claims to support hers. Inside Fox, there are sharp whispers of women coming forward and the women in question are pounced upon with quiet threats of trouble if they do not support their boss. There is much to be scared of including loss of promotions, ostracization and even loss of their position in the company. The road to peace from sexual harassment is not a straight or smooth one by any means, as is demonstrated here. The emotional impact on the victims is also a very hard watch in this film. Margot Robbie plays Kayla Popisil (a young women who has grown up in a family who watch Fox News religiously), who is the subject to Ailes unwanted advances when she expresses her desire to progress further with Fox. Her portrayal of a victim of sexual harassment is harrowing and powerful, and shows how such an event can change a person and their view of the world.

Bombshell is first and foremost a film about sexual harassment in the workplace and second of all a film about the Fox network. Viewers of Fox will also be angered by the film, but not in the same way as those who are not fans of the network. Again, Bombshell does not paint the Fox environment or personalities in a good light, but one cannot deny that the characters are expertly cast and played. Charlize Theron completely disappears into her character of Megyn Kelly, and credit must be given to the hair and make-up department for making her look so incredibly similar to Kelly. However, it is not just the visuals that make Theron into Kelly. She completely personifies her in voice and mannerisms, as well as turning in a perfect amount of emotion and strength. Nicole Kidman also is terrific as Gretchen Carlson, a personality she already physically resembles and does not rest on this as the driving nature of her performance.

The downfall of Bombshell is that it tends to hover in between a Saturday Night Live episode and The Big Short. Roach employs several of the film-making techniques that Adam McKay used in his 2015 film, but with nowhere near as much ease and success. The editing of the film is irritatingly choppy throughout and several scenes could have been done without. It is a film which is rich in pop culture, which given the opportunity here means it can be a bit of fun and is given a bit of a glamorous exterior, meaning lots of beautiful women in beautiful clothes. These features almost fly under the raider, which is a good thing as there should be nothing fun about a film about sexual harassment.

The unfortunate truth about Bombshell is that considering it is a film about the victims of sexual harassment in the work place, it would have benefited from having a female director. Roach does a very good job with the film, but as this is a film about women, there was the opportunity to have had someone at the helm who could bring even more sympathy and perhaps even experience to the film. Nevertheless, Bombshell does captures the seriousness of the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and through it's incredible performances, stirs emotions within you that make it hard to forget.


Monday, January 6, 2020

Spies in Disguise (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 102 minutes
Directors: Nick Bruno and Troy Quane
Writers: Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor
Cast: (voices) Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rachel Brosnahan, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Mark Ronson, Carla Jimenez
Spies in Disguise is now in cinemas everywhere thanks to Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox.

Spies in Disguise is a typical action-thriller starring Will Smith as a special agent, but with a plot so ludicrous that it could only be an animation. However, this film by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane is an absolute comedy riot with the suspension of disbelief that animation provides. While it does not prove to be a family film that will definitely stand the test of time, Spies in Disguise is a solid effort that works as, but not far beyond, a silly, basic comedy with some very amusing animal characters.

A film about an underestimated tech officer in a top secret agency turning the world's most successful spy into a pigeon would have been a hard pitch to make in Hollywood. The one sentence summary itself  both manages to combine the cliche of the unlikely team working together to save the world and also an idea so ridiculous that couldn't possibly be carried forward with any seriousness. Lance Sterling is the spitting image of Will Smith, the man who lends his voice to the character, with his tall, mysterious and handsome demeanour, while his unlikely partner-in-crime, Walter (voiced by Tom Holland) is about a foot shorter by animation standards, awkward and invisible by comparison. This mismatched protagonist combination is ridiculously overdone and basic, and Smith and Holland are consequently playing themselves.

Thankfully, in an accidental effort to disguise Sterling and protect him from being arrested for a crime he didn't commit, Walter turns him into a pigeon. Had Spies in Disguise not have taken this turn and not included these common birds of a feather, it would have been a very dull film and would not have appealed to the family demographic at all. Unfortunately, even with these hilarious birds, there are still many parts in the film which young children will find dull and will lose interest.

There may only be one talking pigeon in this film, but the other pigeons provide many comedic moments. Spies in Disguise brings to light certain parts of a city pigeon's personality making them seem a great deal more amusing than how they are usually perceived. It is no coincidence that Walter's favourite animal/bird just happened to be a pigeon. Pigeons are birds which are often not taken much notice of and dismissed or ignored frequently. More often than not, they are treated as pests. For this reason, they are birds which are perfect as secret agents or as a character on the run as their intelligence is underestimated and they can sneak through places unnoticed. Of course, how many times have you seen a pigeon in a mall or a fast food restaurant? It's amusing, but you never believe they really know what they are doing there. Spies in Disguise makes you question this thought.

Writers Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor have done a wonderful job of looking at all the ways the pigeons could bring the laughs to the film and have succeeded. The humour is wound tightly around an otherwise mediocre screenplay and this makes Spies in Disguise a solid holiday film. The downfall of these pigeons being so entertaining and amusing is that they are make the human characters of the film look even more dull and unforgettable. The animation is well done, but the human characters lack the originality and emotional punch to allow this film to make a real impact.

Spies in Disguise is fine as a school holiday film, but it is unfortunately not one that will keep children enthralled for it's entire run time. The star of the show are the pigeons, which is highly unexpected, even though it is definitely welcomed.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Jojo Rabbit (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Taika Waititi and Christine Leunens
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin Mackenzie, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant

Jojo Rabbit is now showing in cinemas everywhere thanks to 20th Century Fox. 

The concept of Jojo Rabbit as an anti-hate satire is proving to be a hard one for many people to grasp. Despite this being the categorisation given to the film by it's filmmaker, Taika Waititi, it is perhaps not the best choice of words as it implies that we should be seeing something as awful as Nazi occupation in Germany as being funny. Thankfully, this is not what Waititi is attempting to achieve despite his choice of words.

Jojo Rabbit is an incredibly moving coming of age story that takes place during one of the darkest times in history. It is a tale of savouring the innocence of youth in Germany during the second World War, when boys were forced to be men and girls and women alike were forced to abandon their hopes and dreams. Jojo Rabbit draws extraordinary comparisons to 1940's The Great Dictator, another film which was criticised for it's controversial subject matter by many and praised by others for it's brilliance.

In 1940, Charlie Chaplin released The Great Dictator, his film which announced in spectacular style that The Little Tramp was no more. Chaplin not only directed the film, but also starred in the film as two characters who were victims of mistaken identity. One of these characters was a dictator of a fictional country, Tomania and was named Adenoid Hynkel, a character that is unmistakably based on Adolf Hitler. As the film was released before World War II, Chaplin received an incredible amount of criticism for not only making fun of, but also demonising a world leader in a time when Hollywood was quick to blacklist outsiders. Chaplin himself identified as an atheist, but Sydney, his older half-brother whom he was very close to, was Jewish. However, The Great Dictator was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor in A Leading Role, and received wide acclaim, as well as the intense criticism.

Fast forward to 2019, Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit is met with much of the same reception as The Great Dictator, although Waititi is far less subtle in his portrayal of Hitler than Chaplin was. The film has rattled those who feel that nothing about World WarII was comical, and that it should not be portrayed that way. This could not be more true, making light and encouraging an audience to laugh at one of the worst time periods in the modern world would be a terrible idea for a film. However, Waititi is certainly not asking you to do this. The eccentric filmmaker is himself of Jewish descent on his mother's side, so it is highly unlikely that he would be wanting to make Hitler or life in Germany during the war humourous.

Jojo Rabbit is a view of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a ten-year-old, an age where boys and girls tend to start trying to prove they are older, but still have the mind and wonder of a child. Roman Griffin Davis gives a magnificent breakout performance as Jojo, a young boy in Germany who's family has been torn apart by the war. At such a impressionable age, he has been conditioned to believe that the Nazis are the true heroes of the war and that Jews are a type of otherworldly evil. Jojo is really just like every other ten-year-old, and particularly one who does not have a male influence in his life as he is being raised by his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).

His hero is Adolf Hitler, who he constructs in his mind to represent everything he is missing in his life as a result of missing his father and brother. Hitler (portrayed by Waititi as a middle finger to the long deceased dictator, who would be turning in his grave knowing that a Polynesian Jew is playing him) becomes his imaginary friend. He is playful, comical, supportive and comforting, things which children crave in their life. History tells us that Hitler was not any of these things, but all he is the visualisation of Jojo's imaginary friend, as he was a type of untouchable celebrity to German children growing up in the occupation. It would not be too far-fetched to believe that there were many children during this time who were just like Jojo and seeing Hitler as their imaginary friend.

The darkly comical side of Jojo Rabbit is not just reflected in Hitler, but also in the characters who are part of the Nazi regime. In particular, Captain Klezendorf (Sam Rockwell), Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), Finkel (Alfie Allen) and Deertz (Stephen Merchant) are all given humourous qualities and are found in comical situations. It is here that Waititi has taken on a practise that is not uncommon to Quentin Tarantino. In his films such as Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and Once Upon A Time in...Hollywood, Tarantino takes on history and adds his form of black comedy to these villains to expose the nonsensical nature of their evil. Waititi has done this with the Nazis in Jojo Rabbit. He, like many others, sees this group of people as being idiotic as well as evil, and relishes in the chance to expose them for what they are/were. Another point that is to be made where the comedy in Jojo Rabbit is concerned, is that it is important to understand Waititi's brand of humour. The filmmaker has had an incredible career thus far due to his very specific and original brand of comedy that resonates through his films. It is unlikely that if you are not a fan of his previous work, that you will enjoy this satire.

Something else which Waititi is an expert at in his films, is the theme of family. In Jojo Rabbit, he once again takes on this subject with an endearing combination of love that is as whimsical as it is heartbreaking. Jojo Rabbit is classified as a comedy, but it absolutely does not shy away from the harsh reality of the time. It addresses the loss of innocence in the children, grief, terror and unrelenting frustration felt by families during the time period.

Like The Great Dictator before, Jojo Rabbit is a wonderful achievement in film-making. However, it is important to understand where Taika Waititi is coming from to be able to completely recognise that we are not being asked to laugh at Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany to lessen to severity of the war. We are being asked to see World War II through the innocent and untainted eyes of a child.