Bombshell. (B) I had time to squeeze one last movie in before the end of 2019, so of course I opted for the one starring the flawless Nicole Kidman (Aquaman). It’s based on the sexual-harassment scandal that engulfed the Fox News organization in 2016 and ultimately took down CEO Roger Ailes (played here by John Lithgow, Confessions of a Shopaholic). I’ve never watched Fox News and paid no attention to the scandal, so it was all rather new to me. The incomparable Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, a Fox personality who first got demoted, then got fired, and then sued Ailes individually for sexual harassment. Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) plays Megyn Kelly, an even higher-profile Fox newswoman who has to decide whether to protect her very successful career or come forward to corroborate Carlson’s story with her own account of Ailes’s misconduct some ten years earlier. And then there’s Margot Robbie (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), who plays a wide-eyed up-and-comer who’s currently being victimized by Ailes. Although the movie was interesting, I think it suffers from the fact that Robbie’s character is fictional (a composite of several women, I’ve read). The main suspense of the action is whether any women who work at Fox will come forward to substantiate Carlson’s claims, and the movie sort of sets you up to expect that Robbie’s character will be the one to come forward because, unlike Kelly, she’s suffering from Ailes’s misconduct right now. But then she doesn’t, presumably because she’s not a real person and the movie wanted to stick closer to the facts. Anyway, I thought it was worth seeing, and I note that Theron and Robbie have picked up Golden Globe nominations for their performances (though not Kidman, criminally).
Also, I was again impressed by the Alamo Drafthouse’s pre-show entertainment, which included clips from Kidman’s first film, BMX Bandits, and a comic bit from Funnyordie.com in which Theron pretends to be practicing an Academy Award acceptance speech in her bathroom mirror.
The Homesman (B). Westerns are such exotic creatures, I like to try to see them whenever a new one is released. Of course, they are frequently terrible, like the January Jones vehicle Sweetwater, but I admire directors who try to breathe life into this wheezy old genre. I assumed this one would be laughably bad from the capsule reviews I read: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, a tough-as-nails farmer in the Nebraska Territory who agrees to transport three pioneer women back East because the three have gone stark raving mad from the tragedies and hardships of life on the frontier. It turned out to be not half bad. Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black 3) directs and co-stars as a crusty old ne’er-do-well who agrees to help Cuddy attempt the six-week trek through dangerous and desolate Indian country. Swank gives a brave performance as a lonely 31-year-old spinster who gets told to her face, more than once, that she is a very plain-looking woman, and bossy to boot. It’s a pretty grim tale, with some moments of dark humor to lighten (?) the mood. I’d give it a higher grade but for a serious twist that seemed pretty unlikely to me. You’ll be impressed at how many famous actors Jones persuaded to be in his pic, including Meryl Streep (Hope Springs), John Lithgow (Interstellar), James Spader (Lincoln), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), and Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer (Frances Ha) plays one of the crazy women.
This Is 40 (B). Well, when you sign up for a film by director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), you expect it to be vulgar and full of characters who swear like sailors. But this movie features not only Apatow’s lovely wife Leslie Mann (17 Again) but also his two little girls Maude and Iris, so you think maybe he’ll dial the vulgarity down a notch. Nope; the f-bombs fly as fast and furious as ever. Anyhoo, the movie is about Pete (the ubiquitous Paul Rudd, Wanderlust) and Debbie (Mann), the married couple seen briefly in Apatow’s 2007 film Knocked Up. Pete and Debbie are both turning 40, their finances are crumbling, and their marriage is fraying badly. Although IMDb.com calls the movie a comedy, there are long serious stretches, and Pete and Debbie have some very ugly and unpleasant fights. At 2 hours and 14 minutes, it is really too long. And yet, there are some poignant moments and some comic ones that made the film at least somewhat worthwhile for me. Also, it is amazing to see how many familiar faces Apatow managed to cast in supporting roles, such as John Lithgow (2010), Albert Brooks (Broadcast News), Megan Fox (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), and the hilarious Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids). McCarthy has a pretty funny (and, of course, profane) tirade in the movie, but during the closing credits they show an outtake of that scene in which McCarthy cracked Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann up and had me positively crying with laughter. Anyway, this movie is not going to be for everyone (Metacritic.com gives it only 58/100 at this writing), but I liked it enough, here and there, to justify a decent grade.
Confessions of a Shopaholic (D-). Long-time readers of The Movie Court know I don’t really go in for chick flicks. Independent films (Henry Poole Is Here), bawdy comedies (Stepbrothers, Role Models), foreign films (A Secret), documentaries (Under the Sea 3D), and rough-and-tumble action fare (Quantum of Solace, Inkheart) are much more my cup of tea. So I don’t know what possessed me to see this movie about a New York girl with a credit-card-debt problem, who miraculously lands a job writing a financial column for a magazine edited by a handsome Brit. Isla Fisher (Definitely, Maybe) is cute and game, and I have it on good authority that Hugh Dancy (The Jane Austen Book Club) is a good-looking fellow, but this movie is simply terrible–long, boring, and simply not funny. And a remarkably fine supporting cast (John Goodman, Arachnophobia; Joan Cusack, School of Rock; Leslie Bibb, Iron Man; John Lithgow, 2010; Kristen Scott Thomas, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen; Julie Hagerty, Airplane!) is truly and utterly wasted. Save your money. Save your time. Save yourself.