MOVIE REVIEW: Bombshell

Once upon a time… in Arkansas, I grew up wanting to be a journalist. And specifically, a journalist that covered politics. I ran for school government, closely followed every election, was downtown partying in the streets of Little Rock when Governor Bill Clinton was elected President, and even volunteered on a state Senator’s successful campaign. Plans went askew, though, and somewhere after 9/11 the political discourse became too volatile and upsetting for me, so I began to tune out. For the past decade, I’ve only mildly followed the news and my awareness of major scandals was entirely through the lens of social media. So going into this film, I shockingly was ignorant to the story that “Bombshell” tells, but I’m sure glad that is no longer the case.

“Bombshell” isn’t directed by Adam McKay, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. A major reason why is that writer Charles Randolph (who won an Oscar for writing McKay’s best film, “The Big Short”) employs much of the same fourth-wall-breaking dialogue that has become a McKay signature. Director Jay Roach kicks off “Bombshell” with an entire segment of just this – featuring Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) giving us a tour of Fox News and an explanation of how the station operates. It’s an engaging way to introduce the audience to several characters and an important background for understanding the structures of power that exist in this Trump-friendly media empire. Roach shows more restraint than McKay after that, though, and settles into a much more traditionally fluid narrative.

The true story being recounted here is a #MeToo nightmare revolving around a culture of sexual abuse and harassment at Fox News that started at the top with CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) and led to a misogynistic work environment for the women employed there. Female employees were regularly subjected to insults from Ailes, promoted based on their appearance and/or willingness to participate in coerced sexual favors, and expected to show as much leg as possible during broadcasts. Frankly, it is disgusting to watch occur, even in this dramatized manner, and many viewers will likely cringe while relating to the dialogue and power games on display that they may have witnessed themselves. For others, it will hopefully be eye-opening to the behavior women still face in many workplaces across America. Lithgow plays Ailes brilliantly, as the slick-talking untouchable snake of an executive he was. He is creepy and rage-inducing, and it’s easy to cheer for his eventual downfall that is coming.

To bring down Ailes and the toxic culture at Fox, it took many brave women speaking up and risking their careers and reputations. The story in “Bombshell” centers on three of them: two highly-regarded television journalists, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and Kayla (Margot Robbie), who serves as a composite character to represent the experience new female employees went through when trying to climb the ladder of success at Fox News. Over the course of the film, Carlson’s initial lawsuit looms over Ailes, and we experience the struggle of women trying to fight back against men of power, with Kelly’s backing being critical to Carlson’s cause. As I mentioned earlier, it is not always easy to watch what these women endured. Roach took great care to present as detailed of a view of what it was really like at that time as possible, including troubling scenes showing women who supported Roger Ailes despite his blatant harassment.

Theron is incredible in her role as Kelly, fully transforming her voice and facial structure via the use of several prosthetics. It’s a committed performance and one that carries the film, as she tries to hide the emotional weight of what it costs for her to come out in support of Carlson against Ailes. Kidman and Robbie, though, are also amazing, providing two additional viewpoints from which to understand the damage being done. All three women portray both the vulnerable and strong parts of their characters incredibly well, and I found myself feeling heartbroken and angry for them.

If you enjoy costuming and production design, those are on point, as well. The costumes are more than just for looks as they play a direct role in how women were judged in the Fox culture. The production design is slick and shiny, just as you’d expect a newsroom to be, and the editing is likewise done through efficient cuts that feel akin to a news broadcast. What I’m trying to say is that “Bombshell” is the total package. It is an Oscar-worthy film, led by some of the best performances of the year, with strong technical elements, and it tells a very important story from the right perspective. In the end, what Carlson and Kelly courageously did will hopefully be inspirational to women everywhere, and provide them the strength and encouragement to stand up against harassment in their own lives. As for men watching, well, you either stand against it with them or you’re part of the problem. And for me? I may not ever end up with that dream career in journalism, but I now have two new heroes in the field, and I think that you will too when you see their story.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: April 14-27

LESSON #1: THERE ARE CASES WHERE FAN SERVICE IS NECESSARY— Folks, with a universe and property as big as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have reached a saturation point and commitment level where fan service is warranted. That’s right and here’s a paraphrase from my Avengers: Endgame review.  What some have called pandering should actually be seen as one of the many objectives in an invested and vetted blockbuster like this one. It is to a point where the course of things is thematically and tonally misaligned without those inclusions. Avengers: Endgame is unabashedly a three-hour festival of celebrating all the dream fulfillment of past and present for this deep roster of beloved characters. The wow moments come often and hit both the jaw-drop and stand-up-and-cheer levels.  Not every piece of fandom has earned that. Star Wars has and this one has too.

LESSON #2: PREPARATION IS KEY— Thanks need to go out to Feelin’ Film host Aaron White for spurring the one-movie-a-week #RoadtoEndgame.  Those rewatches since the first week of December have been outstanding for adding to the build-up and, more importantly, refreshing us to all the ins-and-outs of the MCU at it reaches its pinnacle.  If it’s too late for you to watch all 22 films before Avengers: Endgame, let our man and friend-of-the-podcast Emmanuel Noisette of E-Man’s Movie Reviews shortcut you to five must-see movies:

The movies are how you enrich your mind.  Now, you need to prepare your body. Eat a good meal before Avengers: Endgame to avoid expensive concessions and the distraction to snack.  Be mindful of your bladder power and your body will remember how it survived Titanic and six Tolkien films at the theater.  Honestly, when your mind is engaged in the movie, you won’t need a potty break.

LESSON #3: A GOOD FRANCHISE NEEDS TO CREATE A CODA— The final spoiler-free celebration note I can post about Avengers: Endgame in this column comes from the last life lesson of five from my review and it speaks to the purpose beyond the fun of fan service.  The range of the definition of “coda” can be merged into “a concluding part of a dramatic work that is formally distinct from the main structure” and “serves to round out, conclude, or summarize.” Avengers: Endgame is not a pivot point, but a grand finale eleven years in the making. True to the blueprint, it is hard to imagine a more gratifying and rewarding summit.  I wish every franchise could craft something this fitting or even have the chance to crescendo with all the energy they can muster.

LESSON #4: WHAT’S NEXT FOR MARVEL REMAINS A PLEASANT MYSTERY— Normally, thanks to the constant Disney push and bragging, we normally know every little forthcoming detail possible about their dominating calendar of coming attractions.  At this moment, a year of somewhat “radio silence” after Infinity War, you have to tip your hat to Kevin Feige and company for holds their cards close to the vest.  Sony can’t help but admit to and tout Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is regrettable, but understandable.  They have a rare blockbuster to sell. Meanwhile, Feige recently hinted at a 5-year Phase 4 MCU plan that didn’t name names, but shared the usual ambition and confidence.  Naturally, the big question remains the character acquisitions from Fox. To that question, Feige has used the vague measurement of “a very long time” as to when we’ll see the likes of the X-Men or the Fantastic Four saving the day next to the established Avengers.  Feige’s absolutely supreme planning and patience should not be questioned. He’s earned our trust that the slow play is the right play. They’ll be worth the wait.

LESSON #5: LITTLE FILMS NEED HELP— As much as we are here this weekend to celebrate the big stuff, smaller films need audience too.  When they don’t get them, a part of the industry weakens and even dies. A spotlight example of that came through the news wires this week of the cuts happening behind the scenes after Disney’s acquisition of Fox.  The Mouse House is killing off or jettisoning several unreleased Fox projects with earning potential and the bottom line in mind. It’s a creative bummer but an unfortunate reality of business. I’ve said this often in this column space: Once you start charging for tickets, this becomes a business first and an art exposition second.  Like any owner targeting profit and returns on investment, Disney is making those tough decisions. Honestly, it’s likely bad business deals that made Fox vulnerable for sale. Do better and the predicament doesn’t come.

LESSON #6: HULU’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED— As you may know, one of the components of Disney’s purchase of Fox was controlling interest in Hulu.  The remaining 30% of that stake is owned by Comcast who, according to reports this week, is in talks with Disney to broker a lucrative deal.  No matter where that bidding ends up, a dissolution in the near-future feels inevitable.  Disney, should it gain that final portion, is pushing its own brand of Disney+ as its streaming flagship.  You would think they wouldn’t push or carry two. Comcast, if they stand pat, was planning on starting their own streaming shingle to add to the marketplace since they don’t own enough of Hulu to compete.  Either way, it doesn’t look promising.

LESSON #7: THE ACADEMY IS STARTING TO WISE UP— In other distant news away from Infinity Stones and Corporate Greed Monsters, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actually announced a few minor changes and rulings this week that didn’t immediately make them Public Enemy #1 with the social media torches and pitchforks they were met with the last two press releases between the hosting screw-ups and the Popular Film category in 2018.  First, they affirmed their eligibility rules that didn’t take an anticipated shot at streaming services like Netflix, keeping the playing field fair.  Secondly, they showed modern wisdom with a redefined International Feature Film category and expanding their last three-nominee category (Best Makeup and Hair-Styling) to a proper and full five.  It’s refreshing to see them get a few things right. Keep it up, AMPAS!

LESSON #8: FINALLY, IF BIG, DUMB SUPERHERO MOVIES AREN’T YOUR THING, WE STILL HAVE STUFF FOR YOU— For my parting viewing recommendations this week with all things super raining down on us, I think I have just the thing for those abstaining from heroics.  Here’s a list on Ranker of the “Most Pretentious Movies Ever Made,” topped by, what else, a Stanley Kubrick film.  If those are too blunt or obvious, try this nice little selection from Taste of Cinema of ten great movies meant to challenge your intelligence, topping by Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.  Finally, here are the May additions to the Criterion Channel with choices galore!  Call these three lists counter-programming.  Enjoy!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#99)

What We Learned This Week: November 5-11

LESSON #1: SADNESS AND DISAPPOINTMENT SHOULD BE AMONG THE FIRST EMOTIONS EMERGING FROM UNEARTHED SECRETS— Let me just start this whirlwind week to state what will be my universal stance.   I choose to stand on a shorter and calmer soapbox than others on the topic of revealed allegations of sexual misconduct that are popping up all over.   I choose to speak to something different than the immediate damning outrage and knee-jerk reactions that are becoming the norm with these headlines.  When these headlines arrive, from Kevin Spacey to George Takei, my first emotions are not anger.  They are sadness and disappointment.  I am sad that a person whose talent I recognize and work I admire and respect is now being torn down by their potential mistakes.  Even larger than the sadness is my disappointment in common people and their uninformed hot-takes that pile on top of allegations and not facts.  More on that comes in Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: WHERE ARE THE LIMITS?— A great deal of Lesson #1 echoes a fantastic Facebook discussion thread started by Feelin’ Film co-founder Aaron White this week.  It asked the essential question: “…at what point do we require more than just an allegation to ruin someone’s life forever?”  I will always be an “innocent until proven guilty” believer.  I don’t condone the content of the claims, but I refuse to label people until the label is proven to be proper.  However, I fear we have a majority society that reverses it to “guilty until proven innocent” with no basis, conscience, or respect.  I’m beginning to hate that lack of empathy and patience in people, from the clickbait press on down to trolls on Twitter.  When someone is found to be innocent, how willing will a public be to move on and let that previous hate and disdain go?

LESSON #3: THERE MAY NOT BE A BOTTOM TO THIS PIT— This might sound overly obtuse, but sexual harassment and misconduct is nothing new.  Expect more names and confessions for years.  That’s how alarmingly pervasive the behaviors have been.  For example (forgive the Fox News link) actress Maureen O’Hara was brave enough 70 years ago to try and get her story and voice heard on potential crimes committed and it created career consequences.  If you talked, even in truth, you lost your standing.  What is new is the ability of the public to listen and the landscape becoming more progressive to seek the proper justice, and that remains a very good global change.  The guilty deserve the consequences coming to them, but, again, let’s establish that guilt first.

LESSON #4: RESPECT AND SEEK CONTRITION—  Circle back to Lesson #2 for a seed in this next lesson.  Is there ever a good way to admit or reveal these mistakes?  What would happen if an actor or actress came forward on their own and admitted past mistakes before a story of allegations broke?  How much of a career suicide would that be?  More importantly, would you respect such honesty?  That’s where my sadness and disappointment and patience for innocence becomes a heart that respects those that seek contrition.  I think that’s huge and a step to a level of forgiveness that other folks aren’t willing to seek while they tweet and judge. Of all people, Louis C.K.’s admissions this week were really something.  Again, I can’t condone the behavior he admits, but I can respect his honesty and attempt at contrition.  I call that more positive than most of the ways these stories are spiraling out of control and temperament.

LESSON #5: THE BOTTOM LINE STILL MATTERS MORE THAN IT SHOULD— Social media can have their flag-waving moments of championing this entire cause of stomping out the atmosphere where harassment and misconduct are no longer accepted.  But make no mistake, the studios and corporations care about that flag-waving unity a distant second to the almighty bottom line.  They can say replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is for the right reasons, but what they are really trying to do is save a costly project from getting a bloodbath haircut from box office protests.  They’re willing to spend millions in order to renew attention, save face, and, more selfishly important, save more millions.

LESSON #6: DISNEY IS NOT AFRAID TO THROW MONEY AND CLOUT AROUND— Disney has spent billions in the past to buy the worlds of Marvel and LucasFilm and has banked even more billions because of those properties.  With an air of “if you can’t beat them, buy them,” Disney has engaged business talks to flat out buy the majority of 21st Century Fox.  Fanboys go straight the dream of seeing the worlds of X-Men and The Fantastic Four welcomed into the MCU.  They miss what could lead to the erasure of 80+ years of proud studio history.  Put caution with the coolness of this.

LESSON #7: IN ADDITION, DISNEY IS GREEDY— As mentioned in this column earlier this year, theater companies are reeling.  AMC is losing a fortune and Regal is desperate to raise prices to cover box office bombs.  Yet, here comes Disney with an unprecedented profit grab focused on securing their take of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Read the details here.  Sure, Disney has the product everyone wants, but it’s the theaters that bring them in and sell the tickets.  This should be a partnership, not a dictatorship.

LESSON #8: DON’T F–K WITH JOURNALISTS— Speaking of studio bullying and big-wig hubris, even the supposedly unstoppable and untouchable Walt Disney Company can lose a staring contest with the First Amendment and public pressure.  After blacking out L.A. Weekly from screenings in retaliation to some previous bad press, several critics groups united to disqualify Disney properties from their upcoming year-end awards to back their fellow journalists.  The display of justified critical brotherhood drummed up the right public support.  Disney blinked and lifted its sanctions.  I guess like Midas, they can’t resist the urge for gold. Let that be a lesson to the big-wigs.  You can’t silence the newsmakers.

LESSON #9: DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY ARE HATCHED— Universal Studios threw a whole of bunch of money and hullabaloo at their “Dark Universe.”  They secured high-end talent and made big plans, but forgot one thing we mentioned earlier: the almighty bottom line.  These plans and projects have to sell.  Tom Cruise’s The Mummy vehicle bombed at the box office and was ravaged with bad reviews.  Now, mutiple levels of sunk costs are lost and Universal has pulled the plug.  Studios, take your time and let connections grow organically.  Start small and pace yourself.

LESSON #10: LUCKILY, RIAN JOHNSON MADE OUR WEEK— This week has seen plenty of hate sent in Disney’s direction and endless scandal.  One really nice story of good news to come out of Disney, especially considering their recent string of disposable directors, was to hear that they are empowering Star War: The Last Jedi and Looper director Rian Johnson to create a new Star Wars series trilogy with original stories and characters away from the Skywalker/Solo universe.  In a day and age where many of us call out all of the sequels and remakes, something fresh applied to a big property is an exciting step.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: October 8-14

LESSON #1: THE PREVALENCE OF HARASSMENT IS WORSE THAN WE THINK IT IS— The Harvey Weinstein allegations just keep getting worse with every new name that comes forward and every new story that comes to life.  The word “rape” is now being dropped and that’s a new level of seriousness.  I’m reading many comments on threads that will state “I’m not surprised,” but saying that (and I’m guilty too) slightly lowers the level of necessary outrage.  This stuff has been tossed aside too long.  It’s not the time for more dismissiveness or shoulder shrugs.  It’s time to expose this in each place (including Screen Junkies) and stomp it out.

LESSON #2: OUR FOUNDER/HOST AARON WHITE SPEAKS FOR ME AND OTHER FATHERS ON THIS TOPIC— I had to get my “preach” emoji out for Aaron yesterday on Facebook.  I’m going to quote his post verbatim:

Apparently, it’s not okay for a Dad to reference his daughters when condemning sexual abuse. Newsflash: people will ALWAYS relate to something through that which is closest to them. We’re not somehow less against sexual abuse because having a daughter made it more real for us. Sick of the generalizing and judging going on.

Aaron, I couldn’t agree more and guys like Matt Damon don’t deserve the crap they’re getting in the wake of Weinstein.  Bravo, boss!

LESSON #3: MANY CLASSICS BEGAN AS FLOPS.  WILL THAT BE BLADE RUNNER 2049 OR MOTHER! WHEN WE LOOK BACK AT 2017— Martin Scorsese recently celebrated Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and referenced it next to classics like The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Vertigo that started as misunderstand and maligned disappointments.  The much-hyped Blade Runner 2049 is looking like it’s going to follow the trajectory of its predecessor as a niche favorite and not an instant blockbuster.  As the expression goes, time will tell and it happens every year.  Big hits can become more like also-rans as they age and devoted fans and experts can come to create a cult classic.  Which 2017 films will pass the test of time and become classics?


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.