Friday, December 13, 2019


Bombshell is Jay Roach's saucy expose on Fox News in midst of the scandal and downfall of its creator Roger Ailes. The picture definitively paints Ailes as the one clear villain at its core, and that could be the film's main problem. The compelling characterizations by the supporting players and its trio of main actresses--Charlize Theron uncanny as reporter Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, and Margot Robbie as a starry-eyed Kayla with her Fox News media dreams--make for an undeniably entertaining, watchable movie, but everyone is ultimately undermined by Roach's sloppy direction (touches include cutesy, distracting cable news-like title cards helping to announce to us who people are) and seasick-inducing photography by Barry Ackroyd. Why do we need so many frenetic zoom-ins? The frantic tension of the story is inherent within. Scenes aren't allowed to breathe, busily stacked and collapsing like dominoes; in one particular moment, where a photog is stalking outside Kelly's vacation home, what should have been frightening, feels poorly-staged and amateurish. It's when the film slows down, it's at its most effective--like a tense elevator scene and Kayla's first closed-door harassment by one of the most powerful entities in media (played with icky, theatrical creeper eccentricities by John Lithgow).

Ultimately Carlson helped spearhead the take-down Ailes, which is the main narrative of the picture, with the interweaving of Kelly coming to terms with speaking out on her past and Kayla's fresh traumas. But the parallel story line of the rise of the insidious Donald Trump to presidency (and Fox’s part in that, which is curiously too muted here) during the same time as Ailes’s downfall, doesn’t coalesce as well as it could have. Perhaps to help immediately paint Kelly with sympathy, the movie begins with Trump’s rampant Twitter attacks against her after her “tough” questioning of him in an early Republican debate. "Am I the story?" She incredulously asks. And too, we wonder, the same. The movie then moves to focus narrowly upon the hideous, cultish environment of a hideous network while stretching thin to tackle Kayla's plight (who, despite Robbie's valiant efforts, ultimately emerges as an uneven, simplistic character, perhaps because she’s a cardboard fictional composite of some of Ailes’s victims), Carlson’s bland legal counseling sessions, and Kelly’s reluctance to come forward. As this tornado swirls around, the movie loses sight of the monster the network helped create.

Bombshell is difficult to stomach because it feels so cowardly and trite in its portrayal of its subject matter. There’s something alluring about Theron’s commitment to impersonating Kelly, but simultaneously repulsive as well. Do we really feel for Kelly when the film strives to sympathetically paint her as  coming forward because of her family (the clan surprises her in a completely bizarre “jump scare” moment) while also going on to gleefully emcee he Republican convention?—one of the most repugnant ones in recent American history. Many of our American films are obsessed with either high fantasy or waxing poetic over past centuries, so it’s admirable and important for filmmakers to take a stab at our contemporary times. Perhaps we are meant to feel as queasy about the state of the nation as Kelly after drinking her maybe-poisoned coffee. In that respect, the film succeeds, but as Roach’s glossy but terrifying Game Change did, it doesn’t offer a cathartic moment of take-down that the film seems to be aiming for, because there's too much rotten about so many of the characters here at their core. **1/2

-Jeffery Berg

Monday, December 9, 2019


The antithesis of the sharp angles, swiftness, and precision of soccer (football, here in this Portuguese film Diamantino) may indeed be fluffy puppies happily leaping in slow-motion through snowy, pink cotton candy clouds. That is one of the fun, surrealistic images that sticks and kicks off--so to speak--Gabriel Abrantes' and Daniel Schmidt's wonky and satirical portrayal of the titular soccer star (played effectively with doe-eyed earnestness by Carloto Cotta). As Diamantino plays under a "new cathedral"--a superdome open to sky--he's immediately cast as a Christ-like figure, buckling under the pressure of the World Cup and the pitfalls of keeping up a macho facade in the public eye.

As in much world cinema over this past decade, the refugee crisis comes in focus as a central topic, when Diamantino's party boat rescues a group adrift; the athlete had never thought much of world issues before--his mind only on soccer--which exposes his childlike naivete. When his father passes away, the lonely Diamantino feels an urge to his adopt his own "refugee" (Cleo Tavares)--he mispronounces as "fugee" (a poster of The Score album figures as an in-joke). Meanwhile there are, in what must be a symbolic gesturing of phobia, women around him, plotting--including his shrewish twin sisters (portrayed with a nosiy, over-the-top ruthlessness that occasionally took me out of the picture) and the shady "Dr. Lamborghini" (Carla Maciel) who plans to clone him for nationalistic purposes. With these things at play, and our protagonist circling like an unwitting pig in a maze, the plot swerves around itself into a satirical thriller with low fantasy and sci-fi elements.

Through its plot mechanics and technical artistry, Diamantino feels very much of the moment in terms of calling out injustices and group-think ignorance. In the soccer star's ads for anti-refugee isolationism, the photography, by Charles Ackley Anderson, switches from its fuzzed quality in the narrative (the film is narrated by Cotta effectively in dream-like recollections) to sharp HD with corny, machismo visuals. There are constant perspective switches from-below and high-up: ashes spread over the edge of a foggy cliff, the superdome viewed from sky, a drone and a T-Rex balloon hovering. This is a very clever movie, but not too cutesy. Even if the approach to timely, important subject matter may feel a tad too glib, hats off to the filmmakers who created something inventive and memorable. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Monday, December 2, 2019

poetry reading tuesday 12.3

Will be a featured poet at the Backroom Broadsides in Jersey City at the Fox & Crow.

Fox & Crow
594 Palisade Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07307
Tuesday, 12/3: 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM

Retro Movie Love Podcast: 1999 Films!

My guest spot on the Retro Movie Love Podcast with Meep (Michael Ferrari of Cinema Du Meep) is now live on all platforms.

We discussed our favorite movies of 1999, which is still heralded as one of the greatest in film history. There was a lot of variety to the pictures that year--across all spectrum of genre--with enduring iconic films, bold directorial debuts and many underrated gems.  It was fun to return to these movies and watch some for the first time!