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.