"I take orders from the Octoboss."


During my annual Oscar-bait viewing I was scared away from multi-nominee (best actress, best supporting actress, best makeup and hair) BOMBSHELL, about the Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal at Fox News, when my friend Matt Lynch tweeted that it was “worse than VICE!” That was an effective and immediate optimism killer. Now that it’s on video though I gave it a shot and I don’t agree, it’s not nearly as obnoxious or frustrating as VICE. But what good does that do to me when it’s not very good either?

Three great actresses play three Fox News employees with their own little stories. Two are playing known real life TV personalities. All three are blonde. Charlize Theron (REINDEER GAMES) plays Megyn Kelly, the star of her own show who was held out as the smart and independent woman at Fox because a couple she noted Trump’s sexism a couple times during the 2016 election. Of couse she also did the same bullshit as every other jerk on that network (about the only example in the movie is her crusade against non-white depictions of Santa Claus).

Theron, one of my favorite working actors, captures Kelly’s demeanor well, and at times the makeup job is uncanny. But I kept thinking “Who does her accent remind me of?” and once I realized it was Mira Sorvino in ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION I couldn’t unthink it.

Nicole Kidman (THE PAPERBOY) plays Gretchen Carlson, bugging her eyes and talking meekly in a slightly comical imitation that allows her to be pretty sympathetic without being normalized. She’s the one with the balls to sue the supposedly untouchable chairman and CEO, bringing to light an open secret that they’d allowed to go on for years, and causing him to resign. So you can at least respect that.

Margot Robbie (THE LEGEND OF TARZAN) plays “composite character” Kayla Pospisil (why not give her a pronounceable name if she’s fictional?), I guess based on some combination of the 22 other known victims. She’s an ambitious staffer trying to use an “I’m a young conservative, I have a fresh new perspective!” angle to work her way up the ladder, but Ailes has other interests.s

I think the most interesting part of the movie, which is directed by Jay Roach (writer of BLOWN AWAY) and written by Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT), is how it depicts women trying to take very small steps to stand up for themselves in a place where feminism is a boogeyman. Early in the movie, Kelly is preparing to moderate a debate and word gets out that she plans to ask Trump about calling women horseface and shit like that. “Oh great, the future of Fox is a feminist,” says Ailes. “She’s not a feminist!” pipe in two female staffers, defending her. I like the dynamic of these characters who we can see are invested in these fights but afraid to admit it publicly or maybe even to themselves.

Carlson, who has been taken off of Fox & Friends to do her own show, but in a much wore times lot, horrifies Ailes by doing an episode where she doesn’t wear makeup. Not because the Joker has poisoned the city’s supply of beauty products, but to make a point about male-female double standards on International Women’s Day/Cynthia Rothrock’s birthday. Meanwhile, despite Carlson’s pleas for women-at-Fox solidarity, Kayla leaves her staff to work for “that asshole” Bill O’Reilly. Kind of lonely standing up for yourself at a network built on putting you in your place.

Kelly has a little more support at home, where her husband (Mark Duplass, Theron’s brother in TULLY) chases off shitheads who run up and yell “DONALD TRUMP!” at her – easily the part of the movie that seems most like a documentary. I think this is the first movie to portray a historical incident involving a person being frequently harassed by morons because the future president obsessively writes misogynistic gibberish about her on Twitter to punish her for one time asking him a question about the misogynistic gibberish he writes about women on Twitter. And there’s some pretty good dramatic tension when Kelly and husband argue because he’s disappointed she let Trump off the hook in her subsequent interview of him. She knows what she has to do if she wants to remain a right wing celebrity. Doesn’t (at least in this fictional depiction) stop her husband from taking it personally.

John Lithgow (RAISING CAIN) plays Ailes, and it’s weird because you can’t not hear Lithgow’s voice in there, but the makeup is outstanding and he does a good job of hobbling around, breathing loud, exuding arrogance and condescension. There are harrowing scenes where Kayla meets with him in his office to try to get on the air and he makes her “do a spin” and then pull her dress up, grunting “it’s a visual medium” as his half-assed attempt to pretend it’s legitimate, coming very close to drooling. It’s torturously drawn out and loathsome and her hesitance followed by fearful surrender is heartbreaking.

The VICE comparison comes from some cutesy shit mostly at the beginning where Kelly walks around the building, breaking the fourth wall and explaining a bunch of stuff about the company, sometimes with infographics. Please, I beg of you, do not let this become the way to tell political stories. Are you trying to make us retroactively hate THE BIG SHORT? Because I think you’ve succeeded now. If that’s what you’re interested in, save yourself tens of millions of dollars and do one of those time sensitive political documentaries nobody can watch again after the election cycle. But if you want to make a real movie that somebody might still be interested in watching again some day then have some god damn faith in the power of cinematic storytelling.

Also like VICE (or W.), and not in a bad way, you’re looking to see who they cast as various famous Republican goons. Rupert Murdoch is played by Malcolm McDowell (TANK GIRL), Sean Hannity is Spencer Garrett (AIR FORCE ONE), Chris Wallace is Marc Evan Jackson (KONG: SKULL ISLAND), Rudy Guliani is Richard Kind (GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE), best of all Geraldo Rivera is Tony Plana (HALF PAST DEAD). There’s a weird choice that Trump is only stock footage, but O’Reilly is stock footage and an actor (Late Night with Conan O’Brien writer Kevin Dorff in very good makeup). And I think somehow they got permission to insert Kidman into real Fox & Friends footage but also have guys playing them in other scenes? Weird.

Where I think the movie overplays its hand is with Kate McKinnon (GHOSTBUSTERS) playing a Kate McKinnon character, a closeted lesbian and Hilary Clinton supporter working at Fox. Showing Kayla the ropes, she presents the cynical view of how to write a Fox news story full of fear mongering and racism. McKinnon is funny as usual and it’s effectively crushing when Kayla goes to her after the Ailes incident and she says she can’t get involved. But mostly she’s an obvious mouthpiece character who insults the audience’s intelligence by pointing out stuff that is ploddingly obvious to the presumably mostly left wing audience and would probly scare off the one Fox News viewer who accidentally watched the movie and was willing to learn from it. I guess that gives away the game – they’re not interested in satire or getting a point across as much as being pleasantly pleasing to someone who just wants to see something they agree with.

I think there’s something important about BOMBSHELL depicting this type of workplace sexual coercion and misogyny. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie this focused on it, showing the professional consequences of speaking up, the way the men (and some women!) in the office rally around the boss, the way the victims get attacked (if she had a problem with being forced to have sex in order to get a job, why did she later write a smiley face on a letter?), and the kind of denial Ailes’s wife (Connie Britton, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake) has to be in so she can support her husband. But I would prefer more of an Alexander & Karaszewski type of approach, treating them as interesting weirdos and just telling their story rather than having to add a fictional character to voice obvious points about how we all feel about their politics.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020 at 7:48 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “Bombshell”

  1. Bear with me here, because this is actually going somewhere.

    The other day, I watched a surprisingly authentic 2006 Italian-made homage to the spaghetti splatter films of the 70s and 80s called THE LAST HOUSE IN THE WOODS. Like, say, MANDY, the film takes the approach of cramming all the half-remembered flotsam of a life spent watching questionable movies into a fever dream of escalating lunacy. The first act of the film features a cadre of would-be rapists. The second features a cannibal family. The third pits the two camps against each other.

    That’s this movie. Fox New execs vs. Fox News anchors? Rapists vs. Cannibals. Whoever wins, we lose. I’d happily watch all these grease stains on the human tapestry mangle each other in a protracted fight to the death, but put them in a scenario where I’m expected to sympathize with either side and give a shit about who wins? Not happening. These women were happy to be the eye candy division of the Face-Eating Leopard Party and then were shocked—SHOCKED I tell you—when their faces got eaten. Fuck ’em. Drop every one of these repositories of surplus DNA in a pit with a basket of rusty knives and we might have something. But don’t give me this bullshit where some of the world’s shittiest people get to see themselves played by some of the world’s most glamorous movie stars. I’d rather throw my money in the gutter.

  2. I have to agree that Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly, Andrea Tantaros, and anyone else on Fox gleefully worked against women’s issues and peoples’ rights in general (other than the right to own military weapons), so it causes real cognitive dissonance when they turn around and try to become feminist champions just because something affected them personally. It’s like if I made a living by stomping around on everyone’s faces, and then if someone else tripped me and I suddenly declared myself both a victim and a shepherd for the rights of all mankind. So the actual people being dramatized are, of course, garbage. None of them ever came forward and said “I was wrong to work there and wrong to attack people on air and wrong to deceive the elderly and turn them against their families and I was wrong to demonize education and compassion and wrong to promote racism and hate and I was wrong to spread lies and propaganda”. Instead, they just came out and said “that man was creepy to me, so now I have gravitas”. But the movie itself could still be a worthwhile and thought provoking piece, like watching Succession, where the characters are all idiots and garbage people, but their story is still interesting.

  3. I also have the same beef with this film as I do with most period movies about racism. By setting their examinations of a social issue in an already demonized milieu (the past, the South, Fox News), these well-intentioned but ultimately tone deaf films seem designed to let contemporary white liberals off the hook. “See?” they’re saying. “The problem is OVER THERE with THOSE people. Not us. Please let us know when our Totally Not Racist Or Sexist In Comparison trophies are in the mail.” The entire audience for this film EXPECTS Fox News to be a hot bed of misogyny, so there’s no risk in exposing it as such. But we all know that sexism and sexual harassment is not just a problem for Republican workplaces. It’s a problem literally everywhere. Framing this issue as the result of the toxic culture of one particularly evil organization misses the entire point. It would be far more challenging and thought-provoking to set a film like this at an ostensibly liberal company, but that might alienate the audience. This way, everybody gets to leave the theater with a pat on the back for already having defeated sexism simply by virtue of what news channel they prefer. Nobody has to take any long, hard looks at themselves. I mean, maybe the ins and outs of this particular all-but-ubiquitous case of sexism in the workplace are simply so dynamic and specific that this story simply HAD to be told, but I’m pretty sure just about any female anchor who never looked right in the camera and told America that Santa Claus is white would tell similar stories. Look at Matt Lauer. Look at CBS. Look at Charlie Rose, for God’s sake. This isn’t something you can pin on those barbarians over at Fox News. This is a problem all of us share the blame for.

  4. That’s what’s interesting about the story, though, and why I think it could’ve been better. Gretchen Carlson being an idiot but managing to justifiably knock the CEO off his throne, something nobody thought could happen, is more interesting than if she wasn’t an idiot.

  5. Just woke up here in Asia to learn that Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years. Nice to see there’s some justice in this world.

  6. Vern: Maybe you’re right. Maybe the fact that it’s a battle between degrees of evil is maybe more interesting than a simple good vs evil struggle. And it’s not like I’d watch that other version of the movie I described either so maybe they know their business.

    I just really hate that Kelly got Charlize to play her. That’s an honor that woman does not deserve.

  7. Majestyk has a good point. The main reason I had no interest in this as an audience member is because the premise is, “we’re gonna expose Fox as being run by a bunch of chauvinistic misogynists!” and I’m like, I already know that. If a story is going to be worth my time & money, neither of which I have as much of as I want, then it has to promise more than that. So I agree that expanding the focus to Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose would have been an improvement. Would have been a different movie, but maybe one I’d be interested in seeing.

  8. Seeing the trailers for this, it just seemed a bit rich for Hollywood to be going “man, Fox News, can you believe all the sexual harassment going on OVER THERE?”

    But then, charging people twelve bucks a ticket to see a movie about Weinstein would seem pretty ghoulish as well. So I don’t know, maybe this particular topic is better left to documentaries and books instead of narrative features. But then, I usually don’t have much interest in these documentary ‘remakes’ where they take, say, Free Solo and redo it with Matt Damon and something about his dead father and a mean guy who wants to stop him from climbing…

  9. For someone here in Asia and has never watched Fox news in his life, what’s Megyn Kelly like?

  10. Did anyone see The Loudest Voice? It was excellent, and seeing this movie afterward was kind of boring because it was like the dumb sitcom version of the same events.

  11. Felix,

    While Megyn Kelly was on fox she was basically the same as the rest of the fox anchors (other than Shep Smith), but because she was popular and hosted her own segment, she often acted more in role of the attack dog, which is part of the mission for people who host their own segments on Fox. so quite often she could be seen berating dissenting “guests”, often with nonsense talking points and conflating of unrelated topics into her arguments. She also dove into issues she would have been a lot better avoiding, like literally yelling at the camera/viewer that Santa Claus is white, in response to the existence of ads proraying a black Santa. So, for a while, she was their Tucker Carlson, and was expected to take over for O’Reilley when he retired.

    Toward the end she signalled that she was going to jump ship, first on a Howard stern interview where she coyly hinted that we shouldn’t assume she was conservative, and later by taking on Trump in the 2016 debates. It was no surprise when she resigned, and she tried to assimilate into mainstream media with a morning show, but not only did viewers remember her unreasonableness and misinformation, but she still dove into racial issues, in particular using a whole opening monologue to explain that people were wrong if they weren’t ok with famous people wearing blackface like al Jolson in the 1920’s. Every time she did this the rest of the mainstream media would attack her, and her ratings suffered. Eventually she quit.

  12. I wouldn’t say she quit. They got rid of her ass and figured it was worth the payout to do it.

  13. Hey, all. I’m under the weather the symptoms and had a different cold a few weeks ago, so, I think this is it, but can’t be sure. If it is psychosomatic, then I definitely want the equivalent-strength placebo and will be bottling and selling it (along with $5K bottles of hand sanitizer and helicopter rides to Richard Branson’s island; yeah, that’s the ticket).

    We’ve been doing the social distancing thing all week, having the economic luxury to do so.

    I’m pretty bullish about my situation and confirmed that staying in was the right thing to do, even if possibly too little too late. But I’m feeling it for the aged and vulnerable.

    Just want to take a reflective pause and thank Vern and all of you for the community and the, no joke, clear-eyed moral leadership. It means so much. It’s an anxious time and already was well before this. You guys kick and ass and nothing will change that. Stay strong out there, #vernfamilystrong.

    So, peace, God bless, stay inside, and also try to do some social media distancing if you are able. The reality is the reality, and the anxiety is something your brain is doing to mobilize you to take action, but you already know and have already taken the right actions, probably (e.g., invest in gold, attend “Free Harvey Weinstein” rally, keep pushing on the Deep State, etc.).

  14. Thank you Skani. Get well, bud. I could use some of that placebo along with a parental lock on my Twitter and MSNBC. I’m doing my best to be careful. So far haven’t run out of the hand sanitizer I use all the time anyway. But I’m worrying more and more about whether it’s wrong to still be going to my job. I haven’t met anyone that knows or suspects they have it, which in a way makes it harder to take as seriously as we’re told we need to. But I’m constantly in fear of carrying it and not knowing it. Or today I’m freaking out because I’ve felt on the verge of a cough all day. Gonna wear out the thermometer.

    It’s serious enough that I decided not to go see BLOODSHOT. Apologies if that chills you to the bone.

    I sometimes feel like an asshole sitting around writing about a Jet Li movie (coming soon) when this is going on, but then again I sure as fuck want my mind on something else. So I plan to continue to do what I do and I hope it will be valuable to somebody.

    I love you all. Sincerely. Everybody please stay safe and in touch.

  15. My unsolicited benediction: Keep writing with zero guilt. You’re carrying the flame.

  16. My unsolicited benediction: Keep writing with zero guilt. You’re carrying the flame.

  17. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 14th, 2020 at 2:09 am

    Things are still relatively OK where I live (not a lot of confirmed cases close by). They did close the office where I work so I’ll have to work from home for God knows how long, but I feel lucky that my job at least allows me to do that. Schools are still open, not sure how long that will last since people seem unhappy with that and there’s lots of political debates about it.

    But the main thing you can tell people are freaked out is they keep nonsensically raiding the supermarkets, even though there is no shortage anywhere and no issues whatsoever with suppliers. Every saturday morning I take my kid to her swimming lesson and then afterwards to the bakery to grab a donut. Normally we’re the only ones there so early – today it was fucking pandemonium with a line starting all the way outside. And every single one of those people are loudly complaining that “people are crazy, why are you doing this” yet being there themselves as well, just as big a part of the problem. It honestly felt embarassing to have to be there, but had no choice… needed that damn donut!

  18. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 14th, 2020 at 2:10 am

    Also: yes, please keep writing! Looking forward to that Jet Li review.

  19. Best wishes to you, Vern! From a fan here in Singapore.

  20. Hey better Skani. I have no fear of the virus but everything around it has been stressing out but I’ll get through it with the help of all my daily routines like reading your reviews Vern.

  21. Thanks, Stern. My fever was going hard into the morning, but it’s broken since then. Just fatigue now. Possible it was something else, but I had the dry cough, too, and I had already had the flu shot and another cold a few weeks ago, so, I don’t know. I have to imagine an entirely different set of anxieties if you’re choosing between your paycheck and staying home or if you’re older. That’s tough.

    I would still strongly encourage anyone who can do so to lock themselves down as much as they can. Policywise, the U.S. should be on total lockdown already right now, since what we’re seeing is lagging days to weeks behind reality, in terms of people becoming symptomatic. Our national response has lagged in pretty much every department and this is one of them.

  22. Stay safe, everybody. I am off work for a week because I fucked up my neck while lifting heavy stuff, but since yesterday I am coughin pretty badly. Admittedly it’s only the cough and none of the other symptoms, but y’know, I better check it out soon. I would feel safer if my job wouldn’t be about touching random strangers old stuff (workin in the warehouse of a thrift store).

  23. I don’t think a complete lockdown would work in America. We are exceptional after all lol.

  24. Me and my wife visited Prague last week, and when we came back we were put under quarantine until the end of the month. We’re not sick (yet), and it’s really not that bad to spend 14 days inside our own house, but we’ll have to find a way to get supplies, of course.

  25. Me and my wife visited Prague last week, and when we came back we were put under quarantine until the end of the month. We’re not sick (yet), and it’s really not that bad to spend 14 days inside our own house, but we’ll have to find a way to get supplies, of course.

  26. I was worried about my chest congestion today until I remembered that I haven’t had filters for my rolled cigarettes for a couple of days now and I only worked a half-day yesterday before heading to the bar. I have since switched to (mostly) manufactured smokes and trying to limit those. And I’m doubling up on Vitamin C.

    Also, I caught up on PICARD today, and I’m pretty much enjoying it! It’s not perfect, of course, but Riker as a big ‘ol Teddy Bear was a lot of fun. And they found a way for him to shout ‘Shields up!’, which I appreciated.

    Anyway, stay safe and don’t touch anything you don’t have to, folks. Love you guys.

  27. Today is as good day as any to quit smoking.

  28. I have found this websight provides useful perspective in these times:

    Worldometer - real time world statistics

    Live world statistics on population, government and economics, society and media, environment, food, water, energy and health.

    Coronavirus has it’s own page, but the other health statistics are well worth scrolling down to, ditto the food stats.

  29. Also, I say again, if you need hope and joy right now, or even if you are just missing sports on TV, track down NEXT GOAL WINS before the Taika Waititi dramatised version hits:

    Next Goal Wins - Official Trailer

    Showing at ACMI in Melbourne (May 1-15) Details here http://mad.mn/ngwacmi In 2001, the tiny Pacific island of American Samoa suffered a world record 31-0 de...

    Stay well!

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