No film caused more noise this past week than Sunday's unveiling of Jay Roach's 'Bombshell,' which centers on former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly during Roger Ailes' reign at Fox News.
No film caused more noise this past week than Sunday's unveiling of Jay Roach's Bombshell, which centers on former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly during Roger Ailes' reign at Fox News. Almost everyone who caught the Lionsgate release at West Hollywood's Pacific Design Center declared that it exceeded their expectations — which is a bit surprising, considering that Roach has been pumping out high-caliber female-centric films about news and politics for years. He directed award-winning performances by Laura Dern as Katherine Harris in 2008's Recount and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in 2012's Game Change,for HBO.
"Exit polls" seem to suggest that Robbie and John Lithgow, who plays Ailes, could contend for supporting noms, but that Theron is the true standout and a slam-dunk for a lead actress nom. If so, Academy members may have to decide whether to give a rare second Oscar either to Theron who previously won best actress for 2003's Monster for playing a person many of them dislike, or to current frontrunner Renee Zellwegerwho previously won best supporting actress for 2003's Cold Mountainand playing a person many of them adored, Judy Garland in Judy.
Meanwhile, on Monday morning, the Critics' Choice Association of which I am a longtime member announced the nominees for its fourth Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, which will be handed out on Nov. 10 at Bric in Brooklyn. Neon had the most to celebrate as its docs The Biggest Little Farm,with seven nominations, and Apollo 11,with six noms, led the field and were joined in the best doc feature category by another of the company's releases, Honeyland. They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson's World War I doc for Warner Bros., also scored six noms, including best doc feature.
The Critics' Choice Documentary Awards ceremony will also honor two legendary documentarians. Frederick Wisemanwill receive the first Critics' Choice Lifetime Achievement Award, renamed the D.A. Pennebaker Award after the great filmmaker who died in August, and Michael Aptedwill receive the Landmark Award, in recognition of his unparalleled Up series of docs, the latest of which, 63 Up, was released this year.
I spent the holiday weekend three hours north of New York in picturesque East Hampton, where I served on the narrative films jury for the Hamptons InternationalFilm Festival the fest's 27th edition, fest director David Nugent's 13th and my first, alongside writer-director Peter Hedges and Magnolia executive Dori Begley. We considered five narrative features and five narrative shorts and, after hours of deliberation, awarded best narrative feature to Hlynur Pálmason's haunting A White, White Day, the Icelandic entry for the best international feature Oscar. Best narrative short went to Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers' timely Just the Two of Us.
We also bestowed several special awards: breakthrough achievement in filmmaking to Anke Blondé's terrific directorial debut The Best of Dorien B., a Belgian film starringKim Snauwaert;best cinematography toMiguel Ioann Litten Menz, the DP of the remarkable low-budget sci-fi film The Vast of Night; and special mentions recognizing five standout performances by female actors - The Best of Dorien B.'s aforementioned Snauwaert, A White, White Day's Ida Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Atlantics' Mama Sane, The Vast of Night's Sierra McCormick and Lara's Corinna Harfouch who was previously awarded best actress at the Karlovy Vary InternationalFilm Festival.
The HIFF documentary jury chose Sung-a Yoon's Overseas as best doc feature and Bassam Tariq's Ghosts of Sugar Land as best doc short. It also awarded special jury prizes to Alla Kovgan's Cunningham for artistic vision; Suhaib Gasmelbari's Talking About Trees for indomitable spirit of storytelling; Lasse Linder's All Cats Are Grey in the Dark for originality; and Alexander A. Mora's The Nightcrawlers for creative filmmaking. Separately, Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts' doc For Sama was awarded the Brizzolara Family Foundation's Award to Films of Conflict and Resolution.
A number of other notables came to town to support their films at this year's HIFF. It was great to catch up with The Farewell's writer/director Lulu Wang and her boyfriend Barry Jenkins and Clemency's supporting actor Aldis Hodge along with the film's leading lady Alfre Woodard and director Chinonye Chukwu, who were honored as breakthrough artists at the fest along with Camila Morrone. It was nice to see The Two Popes' leading actor Jonathan Pryce, Marriage Story's writer-director Noah Baumbach and HIFF lifetime achievement award honoree Brian De Palma. And it was a personal thrill to meet Tracy Edwards, the legendary yachtswoman who is the subject of the aforementioned Maiden, which recently won the audience award at HIFF's 11th SummerDocs series.
Meanwhile, from Oct. 9-13, the second annual Film Fest 919 — founded by veteran publicist Carol Marshall, film critic Claudia Puig and executive Randi Emerman — was taking place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with 38 films it opened with Marriage Story and closed with Jojo Rabbit and accompanying talent The Two Popes scribe Anthony McCarten was on hand to collect the Distinguished Screenwriter Award. Festival goers voted to give their audience award to Parasite, with Just Mercy placing second and The Two Popes finishing third.
Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who in 2016 helped publicize Roger Ailes’ alleged pattern of sexual misconduct when she sued the network’s former chairman, says it’s frustrating that she’s unable to participate in TV and film adaptations of stories based on her life. But what’s most important, she said, is the “big picture” with Showtime series “The Loudest Voice” and now the forthcoming film “Bombshell” — advancing the public conversation around harassment. Via Entertainment Weekly
Carlson sued her former boss for sexual harassment in 2016 after leaving Fox, a legal action that preceded scores of women coming forward alleging that Ailes, who founded the conservative network, had harassed them too. Ailes settled with Carlson for $20 million and resigned from his post.
Carlson reacted to the tense “Bombshell” teaser in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly.
“It's a strange and frustrating reality that I can't partake in any of these projects based on my settlement, which is why I'm working so hard on Capitol Hill so that nobody else has to be handcuffed anymore. And I'm trying to pass the bill to take the muzzle off of women who face harassment in the workplace so that they're not forced into signing NDAs and have to go to the secret chamber of arbitration where nobody ever knows what the hell happened to them. It's frustrating cause I can say, ‘Hey wait a minute, you know, that was my life!'” Carlson said.
“Bombshell” was shown in public for the first time Sunday to industry and media members and was followed by a post-screening Q&A that included Nicole Kidman, who portrays Carlson in the film, Charlize Theron, who plays former Fox host Megyn Kelly, director Jay Roach, screenwriter Charles Randolph, and Margot Robbie, whose character is a composite based on interviews with Fox staffers who allege they were harassed by Ailes.
Theron said she and Roach frequently discussed how important it was to get to the “greater truth” of the matter, but they didn’t say who exactly they interviewed in researching the movie. Roach said it was important to protect the people who spoke with them.
The fact that Carlson’s settlement with Ailes restricted what she could say publicly was addressed in the film: Her lawyers explained that she essentially would be unable to speak about the topic.
The real-life Carlson said she’s at peace with that.
“In the end, I can't participate, but it's all about continuing the dialogue. And if projects like this and the Showtime miniseries keeps people in our society talking about this issue, then that is amazing. And most importantly, if it gives courage to men and women who are facing these kinds of situations to come forward, then that's the extra bonus. I really feel like nobody would have done these movies three years ago when I jumped off the cliff all by myself in July of 2016. The idea now that Naomi Watts and Nicole have been portraying my character is surreal,” she said.
Watts plays Carlson in “The Loudest Voice,” based on the book “The Loudest Voice in the Room” by Gabriel Sherman.
Bombshelllives up to its title, and then some, as this explosive story of the scandal in which a group of women brought down Roger Ailes the founder and ruler of Fox News, entered the Oscar race Sunday in a big way.
Stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, director Jay Roach, and screenwriter Charles Randolph appeared at the first night screening of the Lionsgate release 12/20 at Pacific Design Center followed by a conversation with the quintet moderated by Madelyn Hammond. Earlier in the day the actors, along with co-star John Lithgow who brilliantly plays Ailes, did a Q&A following a SAG screening in Westwood. Reaction was strong for a movie that is funny, fierce, furious, powerful, timely and moving — qualities that ought to secure it a place in the Oscar conversation as the season ramps up. Lionsgate, which inherited the project, after Annapurna put it in turnaround just two weeks before filming was to begin, is smart to get this out early, well before its December release, in order to get the buzz going. And buzz at the post -reception last night was definitely there, much of it centered around Theron's uncanny and remarkable transformation into Fox News star Megyn Kelly who became a key player in the eventual ouster of Ailes when she admitted ten years earlier she too, like so many women — famous or not- at Fox News Channel had similar stories to tell.
Of course the real force in this were the sexual harassment charges against Ailes and Fox by fired anchor Gretchen Carlson that became the beginning of his undoing. Kidman plays her in a touching portrayal that shows the cost, personally and professionally, of going into battle with a very powerful man and network. Robbie is similarly excellent as Kayla, a fictional character meant to represent an amalgamation of the various women the filmmakers interviewed in creating the movie, employees who signed NDAs but can have their voice in Robbie's character.
Theron, whose production company Denver & Delilah is one the entities bringing the film to fruition, was also a producer in addition to taking on the risky role of Kelly which she admitted at last night's Q&A she wasn't sure about doing at first. At the reception she told me she had been involved with Roach in possibly producing a TV project, and when the then-untitled Ailes saga came along she turned to him for advice on it. Roach, director of Emmy winning ripped-from-the-headlines HBO movies like Recountand Game Change,said 'you haveto make this movie' and she got him to take the journey with her. Roach said part of the interest for him was that Fox News was among the mostunlikely places where this kind of revolution could happen, and praised Theron for playing a deeply conflicted character we aren't sure about.
Theron related to that aspect of her. “I have no interest in playing heroes. I like playing someone who is complicated and flawed, who at the beginning might be oft-putting...Women don't always do the right thing. This idea of what a victim looks like, of what an abuser looks like is not black and white. It's incredibly gray. Theron mentioned the 2005 film, North Country, that she made about the 1984 landmark sexual harassment case by female miners in Minnesota, as an early example of how the once-unspoken subject is now becoming a rallying cry for women whose voices are finally being heard. Bombshelldemonstrates one more big step in bringing it all fully in the open, a long way from those miners in North Country.
“We are in a climate now that is pretty intense and it is not cooling...Now there is more safety in numbers and that is happening which is why I think this movie is so powerful, ” she said.
Randolph, an Oscar winner for The Big Short,talked about the challenging creative choices he had to make in writing about a subject where “half the audience will already know more than you do”, referring to the well -publicized scandal that brought down not only Ailes, but eventually Fox News veteran star Bill O'Reilly among others. Interestingly the film was a 'go' before the 2016 election of Trump, and before the Harvey Weinstein scandal set off the #MeToo movement. Now that it is coming out, it feels more timely than ever. “No woman, no matter what you think of her politics deserved to be harassed...This resonates way beyond that,” he said while mentioning that Annapurna, where it was developed, had other encouraging projects this year about strong female characters like Booksmartand Hustlers,the latter eventually taken over by STX. Lionsgate and Bron Studios came in to rescue Bombshellwhen Annapurna backed out. Megan Ellison retains an EP credit.
Kidman, playing Carlson who got a $20 million settlement from Fox but isn't allowed to discuss the details, looked at the human factor in taking on the role. “It's such a personal experience. I would hope now women could think they could be heard and be believed.” She said she knew very little about Carlson or this story, but was making the second season of Big Little Lieswhen the offer came her way. Her answer became clear when she sought the counsel of a certain co-star in that show. “So I was sitting on the set and I asked Meryl pause Streep if I should do it and she said 'yes!'”. Give Meryl 10%! Good decision.
Robbie, playing Kayla, connected to her character even though she is not an actual person, but compiled from many. “She was so real to me even though she's fictional,” she said. Roach added they wanted to get input from everyone involved, both the people it happened to, as well as the actors playing them and also noted how important this story is not just for women to see, but also men. “Men have to talk about this. People should be safe at work, and men are the problem,” he said.
Lionsgate is planning to take the film and these kinds of screenings on the road before its December debut. In fact as you entered the Pacific Design Center theatre a big sign said “Bombshell The Conversation Tour”. Theron mentioned they had some early screenings where the audience stayed for two hours or more just talking about the emotions and issues the film brings to the surface.
As for its awards prospects the early reaction would seem to indicate it could resonate with voters, not just as an important film with food for thought, but as the moderator pointed out, a hell of a political thriller that has you on the edge of your seat. There should be consideration for Picture, Director, Screenplay and other tech credits. In a just world Theron will be in strong contention for Lead Actress in a portrait of Kelly that goes way past the voice and prosthetics to create the essence of a person caught up in her own ambition vs doing the right thing. Both Kidman and Robbie likely will be in the mix for Supporting Actress, though the latter will be competing for attention against her own lovely performance as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Veteran Lithgow adds yet another deserving name in the impossibly crowed supporting actor race. All the actors in the large cast are so perfectly chosen including a best-yet performance from Kate McKinnon and a dead-on turn from Allison Janney as Ailes lawyer Susan Estrich, that a SAG Cast nod should be in the offing.
Right now Lionsgate's main job should just be in getting it seen. The film's considerable merits should take care of its eventual awards fate.
The 57th annual New York Film Festival started off strong, with Martin Scorsese’s interrogation of time in his mob masterpiece The Irishman. So it is perhaps rather fitting that the whirlwind two weeks of prestige films will end with a movie displaced out of time. Edward Norton’s noir passion project Motherless Brooklyn was a somewhat baffling capper to this year’s New York Film Festival, which was filled with its share of hits and misses. One of those misses is the impenetrable Lou Ye black-and-white romance drama Saturday Fiction. But a few of the gems were unmissable, including Agnes Varda’s final film Varda by Agnes.
Dive into our New York Film Festival 2019 Week 2 recap.
Varda By Agnes
Time is relative, legendary French filmmaker Agnes Varda tells us with a knowing twinkle in her eye at the beginning of Varda by Agnes. And in her final and most quintessential film, she proves exactly how by taking us by the hand like some kind of diminutive fairy guardian and guiding us through her astonishing career. Structured around a lecture that the filmmaker gave to a group of bushy-tailed students in a French opera house, Varda by Agnes at first seems like a glorified TED Talk, with Varda giving a chronological rundown of her entire IMDB page. But the documentary soon begins to unfold, in typical Varda fashion, into an funny and intensely personal portrait of her life narrated and dissected by the one and only filmmaker.
As Varda launches into a discussion about her career, which began with the 1962 French New Wave classic Cleo from 5 to 7, time begins to bend around the filmmaker as she cuts to on-location shots where she explains how she pulled off the tracking shots from Vagabond complete with Varda narrating from atop the dolly track, or wanders the beach that was at the heart of her bittersweet ode to aging and ephemerality in The Beaches of Agnes. But unlike some of her later documentaries, Varda by Agnes’ purpose is not to reflect but to celebrate. In traveling through her own life and discussing her relation to art, on celluloid and in a gallery, Varda reminds us once again of the joie de vivre which she infused in even her darkest and most bitter films.
Partly like attending an intimate class lecture with the filmmaker, and partly like a tour through her life and career, Varda by Agnes is an illuminating and slightly surreal retrospective of the legendary French director’s life’s work, told with the impish, wry humor that she was known for. Endlessly chattering and always keen on getting the last word, it’s no wonder that Varda wanted to get the last word in on her own life in this posthumous documentary — but never was there a eulogy so joyful, so funny, so effervescent as Varda by Agnes.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10
In a black-and-white drama set to the backdrop of a politically turbulent period of time, a doomed couple chart their tragic love story across the decades. But enough about Cold War. Saturday Fiction, Lou Ye‘s World War II-set Chinese drama starring Gong Li as a famous actress who reconnects with an old flame amidst an incomprehensible political plot, shares only surface-level similarities with Pawe? Pawlikowski’s achingly beautiful 2018 romance. Despite the film’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and intriguingly amorphous border between reality and fantasy, Saturday Fiction is an impenetrable slog.
The first 20 minutes play as if one is caught in a dream: Tan Na Mark Chao is directing his actors in rehearsal for a play based off his own brief affair with beloved actress Jean Yu Li, who has returned to Shanghai ostensibly to star opposite her former lover. They meet in a crowded cafe onstage, but the camera soon plays a magic trick on us, panning to where the empty theater would be, only to show a wall — we have been transported back to Tan and Jean’s actual meeting. The play, aptly called Saturday Fiction, appears several more times through the film to pull off this same sleight-of-hand and further blur our perceptions of reality — a brilliant gimmick that serves to break up the long minutes of dead space in between.
Jean has made a highly publicized return to “The Island of Rain,” but her motivations remain a mystery: Is she really there to only star in her ex-lover’s play about their lives, or is she there to free her ex-husband from a Japanese prison? The political intrigue serves as a fascinating backdrop to the unrequited romance between Tan and Jean, but it soon becomes clear that the intrigue is not a backdrop but the main plot, culminating in a bloody, magnificent third-act shootout that injects a bolt of lightning into the sluggishly ponderous film. It’s too bad that Saturday Fiction is so wrapped up in its own enigma that this plot is completely indecipherable until those final moments.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
You know that string of fake movies that play in a montage in Tropic Thunder? Motherless Brooklyn may be one of those films. Edward Norton‘s long-gestating passion project is his bid to make his Chinatown, right down to the 1974 noir classic’s most potent plot twists and socially relevant gentrification narrative. But Norton’s adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel, which takes the story of a detective with Tourette’s in 1999 Brooklyn and transposes it to the 1950s, can’t help feeling like a pale imitation of the great noirs it desperately tries to imitate.
Motherless Brooklyn stars Norton as Lionel Essrog, a private investigator with Tourette’s whose mentor Bruce Willis is suddenly killed while working a case. Obsessed with finding the reason for his murder, Lionel retraces his mentor’s steps and discovers an intricate web of corruption and deceit that goes all the way to the top…of the New York Housing Authority. At the center of this conspiracy is the Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s passionate activist Laura Rose, who is leading a protest against the construction of a highway that would destroy the minority neighborhoods in Brooklyn. As Lionel gets closer to Laura, he is dogged by cartoonishly scary goons and the wealthy, all-powerful builder Moses Randolph Alec Baldwin, about one degree removed from his Trump impression. Norton gives a confident performance as Lionel, whose Tourette’s straddles the line between comedic and dramatic, aided by his assured, if obvious direction.
Motherless Brooklyn really wants you to know it’s a noir — just listen to those melancholic jazz trumpet solos on the score! Just see the shadows cast on the empty streets of Brooklyn as Lionel stumbles back from a brutal beating! There’s no denying the style with which Norton directs Motherless Brooklyn, nor the engaging performances he gets out of his talented cast, which includes a delightfully unhinged turn from Willem Dafoe. But Motherless Brooklyn operates in a strange space — steeped in nostalgia but eager to tell an incredibly relevant and timely story. I couldn’t tell you why Motherless Brooklyn is set in the 1950s, if not just for the aesthetic of it all. Though Norton once again proves that he is an eminently talented actor and director, Motherless Brooklyn is undeniably, indulgently a pet project — as if he built an entire set and story so he could play dress up in a noir.
“Bombshell” offers two familiar faces in its retelling of the downfall of Fox News founder Roger Ailes — Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and Nicole Kidman and Gretchen Carlson. According to director Jay Roach, however, some onscreen fiction was needed in order to portray the true story of the wave of sexual harassment allegations that led to Ailes’ 2016 resignation. Roach, Randolph, Theron, Kidman, and Robbie spoke about making the film, due out December 20 from Lionsgate, during an early screening Sunday night, one of the first public showings of the movie.
“We had an obligation to really capture it authentically,” said Roach, who also directed the 2016 election drama “Game Change,” during the Q&A. “One of the things I have done in my other contemporary history films is go deep into actually interviewing real people, not just for authenticity … but also in details you get.”
The result of those interviews and research? The fictional character of Kayla, played by Margot Robbie — a Fox News-newcomer whose ambition is exploited by Ailes, providing audiences with a look into the former chairman’s playbook. Kayla eagerly set up a meeting with Ailes John Lithgow with the hopes of being promoted to Anchor. Among the details culled from interviews with former Fox staffers was the alleged frequent command of Ailes for women journalists to “stand up and give me a twirl” so he could inspect their bodies for what he says is appropriateness for appearing on “a visual medium.” In Kayla’s case, that built into a heavy-breathing Ailes telling her to lift up her dress more and more until her underwear is exposed.
But even if Kayla didn’t exist, her experience reflects much of the background gathered for the project. Some of the people interviewed by Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph “The Big Short” violated non-disclosure agreements by sharing details with the filmmakers, they said.
“We’re not revealing the people we talk to. We’re trying to protect them,” Roach said. “We had heard that the Murdochs were responsible for giving Megyn the names of the women who had reported over the decades … we talked to some real people. What really happened was it was the weather lady who was still working at Fox when we started the movie and was undercover, almost like a whistleblower. But [Janice Dean] slipped the names to Megyn and Megyn did help get them to come forward.”
Robbie said her experience preparing for this role was a unique one. “Usually, it starts with the character, but for this one it started with the script. It started with the content and the messaging and what in film was trying to achieve that I appreciated so much and knew I wanted to be a part of,” she said. “I never expected to go on such a journey with [Kayla]. She’s so incredibly real to me. … It was an incredible privilege to get to tell those women’s story through her.”
Following the screening, much of the early reactions centered around Theron’s stunning transformation into Kelly, portraying the anchor’s public battle with then-candidate Donald Trump and her complicated experience at Fox after Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment. In the film, Kelly is shown struggling with reconciling Ailes’ own harassment of her with her belief that he helped further her career.
“I’m interested in people who are complicated and flawed and make mistakes. I think there were things about her that were, in the beginning, very often pointing to me. And when I really looked at her longer and deeper, I realized I had a lot in common,” Theron said. “The thing that Jay and I spoke about the most was that it was very important to me that we set out on a road of whatever the greater truth is and stayed on that road and that we never veered and tried to make her sympathetic or to try and persuade people to like her or to think that she was a hero or a good person, that we just told the truth of what her story was.”
For Kidman, the process of preparing to play Carlson was an education. Unlike Kelly, who famously pressed Trump about his treatment of women on the campaign trail, Carlson was less familiar to many people unless they were devoted Fox News viewers. “I sort of investigated it more,” she said said. “I consider myself well-rounded and up to date, aware particularly of these issues, but my knowledge of Gretchen Carlson was pretty minimal.”
Hlynur Pálmason's A White, White Day and the Sung-a Yoon documentary Overseas were awarded top honors today at the the 27th Hamptons Film Festival, the fest has announced.
Pálmason's film won the Award for Best Narrative Feature, while Overseas received the Award for Best Documentary Feature.
'A White, White Day' HIFF
The festival, which began Oct. 10 with opening-night film Just Mercy and closes today with Trey Edward Shults' Waves, will announced the Audience Award.
“As we close out the 27th edition of the festival,” said David Nugent, Hamptons Film Artistic Director, “we are thrilled to announce this year's awardees. We are in awe of these films and the talented filmmakers behind each of them.”
Other jury award winners announced today include:
Best Narrative Short Film: Just Me and You,directed by Sandrine Brodeur-DesrosiersBest Documentary Short Film: Ghosts of Sugar Land, directed by Bassam TariqSpecial Cinematography Award: The Vast of Night, Miguel Ioann Litten MenzBreakthrough Achievement in Filmmaking Award: The Best of Dorien B.,directed by Anke BlondéSpecial Mentions for Acting Performances: Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, A White, White Day Mama Sane, Atlantics Corinna Harfouch, Lara Kim Snauwaert, The Best of Dorien B. Sierra McCormick, The Vast of Night