Posts Tagged ‘Charlise Theron’

Film lead times being what they are, it’s only now that we are starting to see big studio movies that were greenlit in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and everything that followed it. As the Weinstein case itself is still sub judice, or whatever the American equivalent is, studios and producers are having to look elsewhere for material for this kind of film. It’s a no-brainer that Jay Roach’s Bombshell has settled upon some particularly promising source material, which is very resonant with Weinstein’s case as well as opening up all kinds of other areas which can be usefully exploited.

Bombshell is largely set in the offices (and concerns employees) of the Fox News network. Even over here in the UK Fox News has become a byword for a certain kind of hard-right, not exactly impartial broadcasting. It is, notoriously, Donald Trump’s news outlet of choice, and the bulk of the film is set during the last American presidential campaign. Nevertheless, Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly (Charlise Theron) is given permission by the network’s owners, the Murdoch family, to give Trump a hard time during a TV debate, to which he responds with typical restraint, thoughtfulness, and humility (i.e., none whatsoever). Kelly is hounded as a result, with the network’s founder and head, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) reluctant to fully support her.

Other plotlines run parallel to this one: Kayla (Margot Robbie), an ambitious young woman seeking preferment, attempts to get ahead at Fox, but finds that this involves making certain accommodations with Ailes that she was not expecting. Another woman broadcaster, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), is fired, with no specific reason given. She has her own suspicions about this, and proceeds to sue Ailes for sexual harassment. This is the storyline that proceeds to dominate the film. Carlson assumes that she has been far from the only recipient of Ailes’ attention, but she is reliant on other women coming forward to corroborate her story. The question is, is anyone prepared to risk their careers by taking a stand against the prevailing culture at the network?

Here’s the thing about Bombshell: it’s written by Charles Randolph, most celebrated for the sterling job he did co-scripting The Big Short, and the trailer and other publicity material for this movie suggests that it’s going to be in the same kind of vein as both The Big Short and last year’s Vice – smart, fast, angry films, unafraid to be politically engaged, but also very blackly comic and with a real willingness to be formally inventive and even subversive. Bombshell is a bit like this to begin with – there is a flashback to a profoundly awkward conversation between a woman and her boss, in which he explains he will happily promote her if she’ll sleep with him, during which we are privy to her thoughts – but certainly by the end of the first act it has settled down to become a largely serious drama about a workplace culture in which sexual harassment is virtually part of the ethos.

I mean, obviously, I don’t think sexual harassment is something to be treated lightly, by any means – it’s just that Bombshell isn’t quite the film I had been hoping for. It is still distinctive in other ways, of course, not least because it is still a surprisingly political film. Standard Hollywood procedure, certainly in the current riven times, is to affect to be studiously apolitical: when the makers of one of the new stellar conflict movies jokingly drew parallels between the Trump administration and the Empire, they were quickly slapped down by Disney and various soothing press releases issued: the red cap brigade are a volatile bunch and the studios want them to turn up to movies, for their money is as good as anyone else’s. Bombshell does feature Donald Trump in archive footage, but it is set prior to his most notoriously misogynistic comments became widely known and it is not explicitly critical of the president. On the other hand, the tune being played by the mood music is very obvious, and it will be interesting to see if other films take a similar approach over the coming year.

Todd Phillips, who rose to notice making dumb comedy films before receiving critical acclaim for Joker, has said he’s stopped doing comedies because the modern world is such a minefield of potentially contentious issues that people can’t wait to get outraged about. It seems he’s not the only one, but once you get past the considerable cognitive dissonance of the director of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me making a largely serious film about sexual harassment, there are many good things about Bombshell. Certainly one of the most noticeable things about it is the extent to which various members of the cast have been slathered in prosthetic make-up to make them look more like other people. I suspect the effect may be rather lost on audiences outside of the US, for here in the UK at least the likes of Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson are virtually unknown: Nicole Kidman just looks like Nicole Kidman with a distractingly fake chin (I think), while Charlise Theron is bemusingly difficult to recognise. That said, there is some fun to be had when Malcolm McDowell turns up as Rupert Murdoch – McDowell certainly seems to be enjoying himself, although I am not sure his ten-minute cameo warrants his prominence in the credits.

Not wearing any prosthetics at all, on the other hand, is Margot Robbie, who does give a very good performance. The issue is that she is playing a fictional character – a composite of various real people, to be sure, but still essentially, well, fictional. I am always very wary when makers of supposedly fact-based films start doing this sort of thing – it gives the impression that the true story they’ve decided to tell needs pepping up a bit, or otherwise adjusting in order to make it more commercial – ‘like giving Anne Frank a wacky best friend’, to quote someone whose name I have regrettably forgotten.  It also seems to me that there are ethical issues involved in showing a real person basically molesting a fictional character, in a movie depicting various other real people. To be fair, Bombshell takes great pains to make clear that the truth has been edited to make the movie – but it doesn’t go into much detail about exactly how.

Oh well. At least, as noted, Robbie is on form; so is Kate McKinnon, who plays another fictional character (the rather unlikely role of a closeted lesbian liberal who works at Fox News because she can’t get a job anywhere else). McKinnon is also prominent in the trailer, which may be another reason I was expecting the film to be funnier – she generally does comedies, after all, not least because she is one of those people who can’t help but find the humour in any character or scene. That said, she does find the more serious notes here with no difficulty at all, confirming that if you can do comedy, the more serious stuff is a comparative doddle.

But the performances are generally good all round, the script is solid, and the storytelling reasonably assured – after a discursive start, the film finds its focus and sticks to it. If I sound a bit lukewarm about Bombshell, it may be more because it’s not the film I expected, rather than a genuinely poor one. It treats its subject matter with respect, and if it sometimes feels like it’s a message movie rather than a piece of entertainment, that’s probably because it is – to some extent, anyway. Nevertheless, a worthy and watchable film.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 25th 2003:

‘Hold on a minute, chaps, I’ve thought of something!’ ‘This is the mutual appreciation society..,’ ‘You’re only supposed to blast the flipping roof off!’ Yes, one way and another the 1969 movie The Italian Job has unforgettably embedded itself into the cultural landscape, so it’s hardly surprising the Americans have gone and remade it – really, really loosely.

The new Italian Job, directed by F Gary Gray, kicks off with Marky Mark Wahlberg, who has great hair but very little screen presence, masterminding a bullion heist in Venice with the aid of his gang (who include Donald Sutherland, Seth Green from Buffy and Austin Powers, and that charismatically rotten actor Jason Statham). The scheme, involving dustbinmen, scuba gear, and exploding paint, goes according to plan until one weaselly gang-member (Edward Norton, phoning it in) tries to kill everyone else before running off with all the gold. One year later Marky Mark tracks Norton down to LA and comes up with a new scheme to steal the gold back, recruiting beautiful safecracker Charlize Theron to help out (a case of the bland leading the blonde). The initial plan, which involves sneaking up behind Norton with a sock full of sand, is put on hold when Mini manufacturer BMW offers a skipload of cash in exchange for some serious product placement…

For all that it’s become a much-loved favourite, I’ve always thought that the original Italian Job was a rather crass and jingoistic film which wouldn’t have been made had we not won the Cup in 1966. It’s a shameless bellow of ‘England is best!!!’, utterly contemptuous of every other nationality, and (I’d be prepared to bet) a firm favourite of many soccer hooligans. This is what the original film is about, it’s encoded into its’ DNA. So an American remake, mainly populated by Americans (okay, so there’s a Canadian, a South African and a Brit in there, but let’s not quibble), and set in America, seemed to me to be entirely missing the point.

Well, take this how you will, but there’s very little of the original Job left in the remake: only a couple of character names and, of course, a new version of the famous car chase with the minis. So comprehensive is the re-imagining that the elements of the original movie are the ones that seem peculiarly incongruous. Far better to look at this film on its own merits, which are not inconsiderable – it’s slick, it’s funny, there are some nice performances and the action is well-staged. Admittedly there are some slightly nauseating faux-paternal bonding moments between Sutherland and Marky Mark, but not enough to spoil things completely.

Having said that, Marky Mark really is terribly dull as the main character. This isn’t helped by the fact that a perfectly serviceable leading man for this kind of dumb caper movie is growling and mugging away at his shoulder for most of the movie: yes, it’s Jason Statham, folks. Attentive masochists will know how much I enjoyed The Transporter, Statham’s last vehicle (ho ho), and he’s on the same winning form here. Gallantly, he’s also persuaded the producers to give a tiny cameo to his fiancee, the equally talented Kelly Brook. That said, Seth Green is also extremely funny as the team’s computer geek – he and Statham should both be looking at serious career boosts on the strength of this.

Apart from Marky Mark’s charm shortfall, the film only really disappoints when it comes to the concluding car chase, which is a bit lacklustre compared to the original, and the ending, which inevitably can’t compete with 1969’s literal cliffhanger. But as I say, this is smart and funny and very entertaining in its’ own way. Strangely enough, though, the truth remains that the 1969 Italian Job, while not a particularly great film, is undeniably a classic, and the 2003 version, though not a particularly bad one, isn’t. Funny old world, innit?

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published July 17th 2008:

Stone me! What a life! Yes, once again it’s a question of ‘Another week, another superhero movie’ – even I’m getting a bit bored with them and I have a comic collection running into four digits. What it must be like for normal people I can only imagine. Anyway, at least the superhero movie on offer this time is a bit of a break from the norm, in the shape of Peter Berg’s distinctly off-beat Hancock.

This movie poses the brave question of what it would have been like had the famously melancholic comedy genius actually had superhuman powers… no, I’m sorry, I can’t sustain a gag that weak for a whole column. Ahem. In this movie Will Smith plays Hancock (the name is derived from one of the American variants of ‘John Smith’, i.e. it’s ostentatiously nondescript), an LA-based superhero. Hancock is fairly nondescript by nature as well as by name, at least as far as superguys go – he can fly, and juggle oil-rigs, and bullets bounce off him, and he’s basically immortal – essentially he’s a cross between Captain Marvel and one of Jack Kirby’s Eternal characters. Of course, the rules of comic books dictate that the less exotic the superpowers, the more bizarre the character’s personality must be, and it holds true here as well.

The big idea of this movie, which is all over the advertising, is that Hancock is a superhero but not actually a very nice person. There is a running gag where nearly everyone he encounters describes him using a word that rhymes with grasspole. He is misanthropic, barely competent, frequently drunk, and generally causes more carnage than whatever group of bad guys he is trying to apprehend. At one point he throws a child into the ionosphere for annoying him. (The producers try to make this sequence more palatable to a family audience by making the child in question French.) You would want to be saved by Godzilla rather than this guy.

But everything changes when he saves the life of nice-guy liberal PR consultant Ray (Jason Bateman). Ray, not without ulterior motives of his own, decides to help Hancock clean up his act and make the city love him as a superhero should be loved. Hancock is, of course, initially dubious, particularly as Ray’s plan involves him doing jail time to atone for all the good deeds he’s responsible for, but upon meeting Ray’s strapping blonde wife Mary (Charlize Theron) finds himself becoming much more sympathetic to Ray’s ideas…

Well, all this stuff is in the trailer and quite amusing it is too. But! Caveat viewer! What they haven’t put in the trailer is anything from the second half of the movie, which goes off at a wild and unpredictable tangent and becomes an entirely different sort of animal. This, actually, is a bit of an understatement, as Hancock‘s main problem is that it’s extremely uncertain and unfocussed in terms of what it’s actually about and what kind of film it really wants to be. Even in the opening section it veers between special-effects blockbuster comedy and rather more subtle (and, to be honest, less funny) material. As it goes on it includes broad farce, straight-faced superhero action (there’s an extended battle sequence that’s as accomplished as anything in a recent Spider-Man or Superman movie), personal drama, romance, satire… it’s not actually unsuccessful at any of these things, but the tone of the film is still very uneven. Is it a parody of other superhero stories, as the trailer suggests? Is it a satire on modern celebrity culture? Is it about the conflict between liberal values and the realities of modern urban living? Is it about what it means to be human and the value of love? It tries to do all these things at different times without really exploring any of them properly.

Sadly, the fact that this isn’t just a blockbuster comedy has apparently led Will Smith to believe he can possibly win an Oscar for it, and so he never really uses his undoubted skills as a comedian: he’s just a bit too deadpan, if not in fact solemn, all the way through, which is a shame, because as a result the film is more about funny ideas than funny performances. On the other hand, Theron and Bateman give nicely-pitched performances, coping well with the changes of tone and mood. The film is genuinely amusing when it wants to be, even if some of the later material isn’t quite as effective as the film-makers probably hoped.

It’s usually a bad idea to try to be all things to all people, and one could argue that this is exactly what the makers of Hancock have done, whether intentionally or not. This is a far from perfect film and one quite likely to disappoint anyone who just goes to see it because they liked the trailer. However, I’m not going to knock a film just because it’s ambitious and has more ideas than it knows what to do with, and that’s exactly the sort of film Hancock is. One to see with an open mind, I think.

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