‘Richard Jewell’ Fits the Profile of a Classic Clint Eastwood Biopic

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Nina Arianda, Ian Gomez

Director: Clint Eastwood

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Language (Including Innuendo) and a Bloody Crime Scene

Release Date: December 13, 2019

The real life stories that Clint Eastwood chooses for his films make me think he wants to say something grand about society at large. But then he tells them in such a way that makes it clear that he is just talking about this one particular story, especially in the case of Richard Jewell. (That statement comes with the caveat that there are several moments that viewers can extrapolate to draw their own broader conclusions.) During the 1996 Summer Olympics, the title fellow discovered a backpack packed with a bomb while working security at a concert at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. After alerting authorities and helping spectators clear the area, he was initially hailed as a hero in the media. But then the FBI leaked information to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicating that Jewell was considered a suspect, leading to him being constantly hounded by an invasive investigation and a phalanx of relentless reporters outside his home.

Jewell fits the profile of a particular type of lone bomber terrorist: white, male, former military or law enforcement, or wannabe law enforcement, and presumably with a hero complex fantasy wherein he plants a deadly weapon so that he can save people by “discovering” it. Paul Walter Hauser plays Jewell with a confidence and sureness of himself that keeps underlining how much he fits that profile. He has a cache of hunting weapons, a hollowed-out grenade from a military surplus store that he uses as a paperweight, and a deep knowledge of terrorism and anti-terrorism techniques that he is perfectly happy to regale his friends and family with. He’s a bit naive, but not so naive that he doesn’t recognize when public opinion has wildly swung against him. He may not be the culprit, but that by no means absolves all people like him. The message of this one movie is that in this one case, this one guy who fits the profile isn’t guilty.

So when considered as just one particular story that doesn’t deign to have broader implications, Richard Jewell is a riveting tale of someone who was forced to stand up for himself in a way he never thought he would need to. The most crucial scene happens when his lawyer (a nimble and righteously angry Sam Rockwell) exhorts him to stop being so meek and get upset. Hauser lets down his armor and reveals that he could hardly be any angrier, but that doesn’t mean he can change who he fundamentally is as a person. And that is someone who has always believed in the virtue of respecting authority and is now coming to grips with how that authority can be weaponized against the wrong person. Richard Jewell is just one guy, and this one big thing just happened to happen to him. Somehow he survived, and Clint Eastwood was happy to let us know how.

Richard Jewell is Recommended If You Like: The Mule, Classic Olympics highlights, Vintage news clips

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Suspicious Backpacks

‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is Worth It Mostly for the Actor-Persona Swapping

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Frank Masi/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Rory McCann, Marin Hinkle

Director: Jake Kadan

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense CGI Animal Attacks

Release Date: December 13, 2019

Let’s be real: the biggest joy of 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t the game itself, but how it was played. I’m talking about the actors who played the video game avatars and how the conceit demanded that they depart so far from their typical personas. Dwayne Johnson had to act like a scrawny kid with allergies, Kevin Hart got to wonder why he wasn’t a foot taller, Karen Gillan was allowed to question the wisdom of midriff-baring in action scenarios, and Jack Black fulfilled his destiny by getting to play a superficial teenage girl. So if The Next Level, the third movie in this series (although let’s be real: this feels like the second movie, since the actual first movie is so far removed from these latter two, though I’ll do my best to call it the third. Also, side note: there’s a cameo of someone from the original film, but I didn’t even remember that she was in the original, so take from that what you will) wants to succeed, it ought to double down on that performance-with-a-performance framework, right? Definitely, although there’s also a hullabaloo about a plot and some frenetic action set pieces.

The Next Level, naturally enough, is about the next level in the video game, so it’s a little harder now for the gamers to successfully complete their mission of saving Jumanji. For us, that means a lot of the film is like watching someone else playing a video game, which can be enjoyable, but it usually doesn’t deliver the transcendence that cinema is designed to achieve. Maybe some viewers will really dig all this flying through the air and slamming into the scenery, but for me, it feels like an exhausting visual onslaught. Although, I must admit that the CGI-rendered ostriches and mandrills do look genuinely scary.

But back to the main attraction, as it behooves me to mention that Dannys DeVito and Glover have joined the Jumanji gang, and they have major parts, even when we don’t get to see their familiar faces. Glover plays Milo, former business partner to DeVito’s Eddie, grandfather to Spencer (Alex Wolff), whose lingering insecurity about life in general has led him to venture back into the game. His friends follow behind to rescue him, but since everything is a little haywire, Milo and Eddie are dragged in as well, and nobody gets to choose their avatars, though they also get some opportunities to switch around who’s playing whom. In Welcome to the Jungle, the young actors were not too well-known, so the actors playing the video game characters were playing types more than they were doing impressions. But now with the presence of some more familiar names, the routine gets to lean more toward impressions, which Hart, Johnson, and newcomer Awkwafina take full advantage of. Honestly, in this day and age of strife and division, the world would be a lot better if we all spent some time pretending to be Danny DeVito. So, in that sense, The Next Level is a net good.

Jumanji: The Next Level is Recommended If You Like: Watching other people play video games, Danny DeVito impressions, Danny Glover impressions

Grade: 3 out of 5 Life Bars

The Fascinatingly Conflicted ‘Bombshell’ Documents the Downfall of Roger Ailes

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP

Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Rob Delaney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Liv Hewson, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell

Director: Jay Roach

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for Powerful Men Behaving Badly

Release Date: December 13, 2019

Most of the audience who will see Bombshell are probably not regular Fox News viewers. Although I don’t want to assume anything too definitively. Maybe there are actually some people who have the mental capacity to watch both a notoriously conservative news network and a movie that is fundamentally critical about it. Bombshell makes a similar argument against rushing to judgment when being critical seems like the most obvious correct approach to take, especially in one key scene when a woman confronts Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) in a grocery store, and Carlson shoots back about the virtue of treating with respect the people you disagree with. That could easily be a shallow bromide, but when you consider what Carlson is going through, it has unexpected resonance.

What Carlson is going through is a fight against the systematic misogyny at Fox News, a workplace whose initiation for its female employees apparently includes a signature piece of harassment from founder Roger Ailes (a gluttonously made-up John Lithgow). After Carlson is let go from the network in 2016, she files a lawsuit alleging harassment against Ailes, prompting the other women at Fox News to consider if they will support her. Many of them are reflexively Team Roger, but a few of them actually have a crisis of conscience, especially Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and a fictional character named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).

The filmmaking trick here is generating empathy, which is generally pretty easy to do for people who have clearly been harassed and abused. But matters are complicated by the fact that these women so resolutely insist that they’re not feminists as they come to terms with speaking out against the misogyny they’ve endured. I certainly believe it is possible to extend humanity to someone you deeply disagree with, but the struggle is even deeper than that. Even if these women leave and renounce their employer, they can’t ever escape the mark of having once worked at Fox News, so far removed is the network from the rest of the media landscape. It’s a sort of original sin that traps them in an infinite labyrinth. For a film that could have so easily been straightforward in many ways, I appreciate the complexity at its heart.

Bombshell is Recommended If You Like: Feeling disgusted and empathetic at the same time

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lawsuits

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 12/6/19

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Adult Swim

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Little Joe (Limited Theatrically)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Limited Theatrically)

TV
Fuller House Season 5 Premiere (December 6 on Netflix) – I still hope to be fully caught up one day!
Joe Pera Talks with You Season 2 Premiere (December 6 on Adult Swim) – I guess it’s Joe Week.
The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage! (December 7 on Nickelodeon)
-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” Arrowverse Crossover (Begins December 8 on The CW)
Mike Tyson Mysteries Christmas Episode (December 9 on Adult Swim)

Music
-Camila Cabello, Romance

Bring the Extinguishers When You See ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

1 Comment

CREDIT: Lilies Film

Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino

Director: Céline Sciamma

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for The Nudity That Emerges When Two Young Women Discover Their Passion for Each Other

Release Date: December 6, 2019 (Limited)/Expands February 14, 2020

When I saw the title Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I had a feeling this was going to be a passionate love story. That sense was certainly bolstered by a poster that showed exactly what was being advertised, as the embers whipped at the bottom of Adèle Haenel’s luscious green dress. Then as I finally began to watch the actual movie, I was introduced to the painting entitled “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” To which I thought, “Oh, is this the literal story behind the creation of the portrait?” And indeed it is, but that doesn’t mean the metaphorical meaning doesn’t also apply, and oh my, this movie is so very ravishingly inflammatory.

Héloïse (Haenel) is the titular lady on fire, but honestly, a more accurate title would have mentioned the second lady who is equally engulfed by a burning desire: Marianne (Noémie Merlant), the woman who has been commissioned to paint Héloïse. Taking place in the eighteenth century, this film is almost a two-hander, with Haenel and Merlant sharing the vast bulk of the screen time and just a couple other characters popping in occasionally. The settings are equally tight, as most of the running time takes place in a few locations that are not very far from each other on a remote island: the painting room, the bedroom, and the beach. These circumstances of close quarters make it feel almost inevitable that Héloïse and Marianne will develop a deep passion for each other. They also warp any sense of temporality. You might find yourself wondering how much time passes while they’re together. Days? Months? Hours? Weeks? Or maybe even decades, and they only appear to remain the same age because they are slipping through various dimensions.

Writer-director Céline Sciamma references and draws heavily upon the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the story of two lovers separated by death and fleetingly working their way back to each other through the whims of the underworld. Héloïse and Marianne are fully aware of the impernance of their entanglement, but they still enter into with the entirety of their souls. They take an almost Buddhist approach to their situation, existing both fully within and outside of time. It’s a fitting achievement for a film taking place within a painted portrait.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is Recommended If You Like: Persona, Cold War, Carol, Orpheus and Eurydice

Grade: 4 out of 5 Sitting Sessions

The 4 Types of TV-to-Film Adaptations

Leave a comment

CREDIT: NBC

Adapting TV shows into feature-length films is one of the many regular ways that the cinema industry keeps the reboot process alive. As a devoted Human Being, I am particularly invested in the possible of a Community adaptation to complete the #sixseasonsandamovie prophecy. This has led me to consider two important quandaries: 1) what different types of tv-to-film adaptations exist, and 2) which ones are most likely to result in box office and/or critical success? Over the course of pondering this topic, I have come up with the following taxonomy:

More

Ford v Ferrari = Friendship!

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I’m not sure what the message of Ford v Ferrari is, and I’m not sure if that’s a mostly good or mostly bad thing. (We could be doing a lot worse in this world!) Is it about how you can’t ever stop American individualism from being as individual as possible? Or is it about how the United States won’t ever stay an underdog for long, even in pursuits usually dominated by the Europeans? If it’s either of those, then why is the main character an Englishman? Maybe it’s about how teammates stick with each other no matter what, and the whole American-ness of it all just be how it be. Certainly what stuck with me the most is the friendship between Christian Bale’s vroom-vroom-goer Ken Miles and Matt Damon’s vroom-vroom-guider Carroll Shelby. It’s an oft-contentious relationship, which only makes sense when you’re gearing up for a race that lasts a full day. Such competition, such support, such politics behind the whole affair – I saw it all!

I give Ford v Ferrari 240 out of 360 Laps.

Older Entries