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

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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 (Limited)/Expands December 20, 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

A Puddle of Liver Movie Review: ‘Yesterday’

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CREDIT: Jonathan Prine/Universal

Yesterday raises a lot of questions, most of which has no interest in answering. First off:

-Why does the global blackout erase the Beatles from existence, and why is Jack Malik (Hamish Patel) apparently the only one who remembers them?

I am perfectly fine that this goes unaddressed, because the “why” is less important than the “where do we go from here?” Which brings me to:

-Shouldn’t the Beatles’ absence make the world profoundly different?

To which Yesterday answers by implication: no, not that much. There is one band that was heavily influenced by the Fab Four that is also now no more, but the rest of music history appears to be intact. The blackout has also removed some other things from existence, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the main premise. Those reveals are played for (decent) laughs, but they also raise their own existential questions (which remain unaddressed). But back to how the Beatles changed the world. Their cultural influence was so wide-reaching that it is just silly not to examine what an alternative history would have been like without them. Moving on…

-If the Beatles never came to be, does that mean the band members don’t exist either?

It is heavily implied that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still somewhere, and Jack is in constant fear that he might somehow meet them and thus have to answer for passing off their music as his own. As for the two deceased lads … they are not entirely ignored either. Of course, this all raises the subquestion (which is barely touched upon): if they weren’t making the music that defined a decade, then what were they up to? But getting back to Jack’s fear:

-How much of the Beatles’ success was due not just to the songwriting, but to the people who performed it?

The lyrics of “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” are beautiful no matter who’s singing them, but Jack obviously doesn’t have the personal connection to them that the lads from Liverpool did, a fact that is introduced as quite a hitch … and then promptly ignored thereafter.

All these quandaries are given short shrift because ultimately Yesterday is really about the love story between Jack and his manager/childhood friend Ellie (Lily James). And it turns out that the main conflict is about Jack choosing between becoming a global superstar or getting things started with Ellie. I don’t understand why he can’t have both. I do understand his guilt over pretending he wrote the greatest songs ever written. But he and Ellie have such hilariously few non-obstacles to ending up together.

So look, I’ve been harping on Yesterday‘s shortcomings but I don’t really hate it. It’s got oodles of Beatles music, of course, but also I like having this conversation of drilling down on these questions. I just wish the movie itself had contributed more to the conversation.

I give Yesterday 2.5 Hands for Jude to Hold.

This Is a Movie Review: Ferdinand is Not Your Typical Bull, But ‘Ferdinand’ is Your Typical CG-Animated Kids Movie

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Jerrod Carmichael, Gina Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, Sally Phillips, Lily Day, Juanes, Jeremy Sisto

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG for Destruction Wrought by a Bull Who Refuses to Accept How Big He Is

Release Date: December 15, 2017

Based on Robert Lawson’s 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, the Blue Sky animated film Ferdinand is all about one of the most massive bulls in all of Spain. He is a beyond-perfect physical specimen for bullfighting, and in this country it goes without saying that calves spend their youths obsessing about the day they will get to face off against the matadors. But Ferdinand does not have the same pugnacious instinct as his peers. He would much rather spend his days on the farm, sniffing flowers, scarfing down carrots, and just hanging out with the preteen girl who dotes on him. But in a world that sees him as a beast, he must find a way to reconcile his hulking physicality with who he is on the inside.

Ferdinand the film, however, does not stick out from the pack as much as its titular character does. Its message of staying true to yourself is de rigueur in kids’ fare, and the CG animation, while certainly professional, does not pull off any truly lasting images. Thus, it lives and dies on the strength of its voice cast and the laugh-generating power of its gags. John Cena’s giant teddy bear persona is the correct vibe for Ferdinand, while Kate McKinnon is just right as the goat sidekick she’s versatile enough that she probably could have voiced any or all of the characters if the Ferdinand casting crew had been in the mood for that). While everyone else is at least adequate, the only significant standout is David Tennant as a heavily accented Scottish bull. Regarding the chuckles, there is some amusement to be had, as when Ferdinand sucks a caterpillar up his nose and sneezes it out as a butterfly or when the mostly blind owner of a china shop mistakes his tail for a feather duster.

Ferdinand also touches upon the fate of the bulls who are not deemed worthy of the bullfighting ring. I’m talking about the chop shop. This raises the question: are all films about talking animals secretly vegetarian propaganda? And if so, is that always, sometimes, or never intentional? A frequent, nigh-unavoidable trope of this genre is the slaughter that is just around the corner from failure or carelessness. When your lead character is an animal whose meat is favored by carnivores and omnivores, it is only natural to draw sympathy out of the threat of being eaten. Efforts to remain kid-friendly often result in daring escapes from pulverization as moments of triumph, and that is very much the case here. I do not mean to make a moral judgment one way or the other, but instead offer a philosophical pondering: are vegetarians drawn into working in the talking animal film business, or does the talking animal film business make its workers vegetarian?

Ferdinand is Recommended If You Like: Every Talking Animal Movie Ever

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 “Macarena”-Playing Flowerpots

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Leap!’ Can Only Inspire Aspiring Ballerinas If They’re Unfamiliar with the Uncanny Valley

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie Ziegler, Kate McKinnon, Mel Brooks

Directors: Éric Summer and Éric Warin

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG for Lightly Disturbing Stage Motherhood

Release Date: August 25, 2017

Hey guys, I know there are a lot of terrible things going on in the world that we need to be worried about, but there is yet one more thing I need to alert you about. Apparently the French are not so keen about orphans joining their prestigious ballet companies. Luckily, an animated movie now exists to inspire aspiring ballerinas to keep their heads up no matter where they are from! That movie is Leap!, but alas, its cookie-cutter CG animation, far from inspirational itself, is instead liable to call to mind the most bizarre cartoon you only discover in your most desperate Netflix binges. Oh well, at least it gives us an excuse to start a campaign to get Carly Rae Jepsen a Best Original Song Oscar.

The plot is the same as any inspirational animated kids movie: a misfit tries to sneak her way into the big time, where she must withstand the arrogance of the gatekeepers and the ruthlessness of her rivals, but she stands just enough of a chance for success, thanks to her own boundless gumption and a somewhat mysterious mentor figure who finds the room in her heart to train her. The whole affair is kind-spirited enough that even the most morally lacking characters in the ballet world are easily redeemed by the end. If you are an aspiring ballerina yourself, or have one in your life, you may derive value from watching Leap! For everyone else, the whole endeavor may be too disorienting to have any demonstrable results.

Leap! is an international co-production with two French directors, and accordingly it often has a vibe of being lost in translation. Characters respond to each other with lines that do not quite make sense. Dialogue is often offscreen, frequently resulting in a weird sensation in which the words sound simultaneously nearby and far away. These are the sorts of uncanny valley effects that slightly subpar CG animation always runs the risk of featuring. At least the conclusion is a satisfying reprieve from all that: as Jepsen’s sublimely buoyant “Cut to the Feeling” cuts in during the credits, it is like a marvelous return to the real world.

Leap! is Recommended If You Like: Ice Princess, Hallucinating from Inexplicably Weird Animation, Carly Rae Jepsen completism

Grade: 2.25 out of 5 Depressed Elephants

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”

SNL Recap March 7, 2015: Chris Hemsworth/Zac Brown Band

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SNL: Chris Hemsworth March 2015 Monologue (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2015.

It might just be pointlessly quixotic to ascribe a thesis statement to an episode of “SNL.”  Any detectable patterns may have just been accidental.  When the host and musical guest do not bring in a whole lot of baggage, that truth becomes emphasized.  Chris Hemsworth was host two months before the release of the next “Avengers” movie.  Zac Brown Band have new music, but they are not dominating the mainstream conversation.  This was certainly an episode that happened.  There were highlights, there were lowlights, and it will lead to a multiplicity of opinions.  Here’s one: it was cray-cray.

A Message From Hillary Clinton – Kate McKinnon made it clear that should Hillary Clinton run for president, she will not back down from the challenge of taking on this legendary impression.  This sketch was essentially a character piece, when it could have focused on sharper satire about whether or not Clinton’s e-mail correspondence is a legitimate controversy.  But as a character piece, it was encouraging, managing to imbue the tired “old person e-mail gag” with specific personality. B

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