Film Review: ‘Bombshell’ ★★★★

Direction: Jay Roach
Screenplay: Charles Randolph
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow,
Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: 15

A stylishly executed drama that captures the cultural zeitgeist.

Set in 2016, Megan Kelly (Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil (Robbie) have been sexually harassed by predatory Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes (Lithgow) but are at different stages of their lives and careers. News anchor Carlson is fired after angering the network and its audience before preparing to sue Ailes, Kelly is the current star news anchor questioning whether to come forward against Ailes, and Posposil is a new arrival at what she thought would be her dream job.

In ‘Bombshell’, we have a backstage pass to watch the high pressure and competition of 24-hour cable news where the camera is always on the move; panning, zooming and refocusing, reflecting the fast pace and constant rate of change. Transformed by subtle prosthetics and vocal register, Theron is particularly impressive as Kelly, delivering dialogue in voiceover and breaking the fourth wall (as do Kidman and Robbie) to provide us with context on Fox News and her place within it as she strides through the newsroom sets.

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in character as Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and Kayla Pospisil, respectively | © 2019 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.

Director Jay Roach, who also helmed the HBO political drama films ‘Recount’, ‘Game Change’ and ‘All The Way’, brings much of the same class and flair for behind the scenes storytelling to this biographical drama as he brought to ‘Trumbo’, his previous cinema release. Also in voiceover is the shocking testimony from other survivors of sexual harassment at the hands of Ailes, an unexpected and commanding move.

Both ‘Bombshell’ and the Showtime limited series ‘The Loudest Voice’, which depicts the rise and fall of Roger Ailes over twenty years as he builds Fox News into the media powerhouse that exists today, have received significant awards season attention. While Theron and Robbie have collected Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for their leading and supporting performances in the film, respectively, Kidman and Lithgow were overlooked for their supporting turns. In contrast, Russell Crowe won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Ailes while the limited series was also nominated.

John Lithgow in character as Roger Ailes | © 2019 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.

While ‘Bombshell’ focuses more on Kelly and ‘The Loudest Voice’ on Ailes, both projects recognise the pivotal role of Carlson in the downfall of Ailes. By stepping into the firing line, literally and metaphorically, to expose the sexual harassment by Ailes, other women were encouraged to come forward. But this decision was a huge risk considering the media machine and toxic culture that opposed them. It would leave their lives, career and relationships vulnerable to attack. After surviving assault in private, they would need to withstand further onslaught in public with no guarantee of effecting significant change.

Since 2016, there has been a monumental cultural shift in action for survivors and reactions against perpetrators of sexual harassment, with particular reference to individuals and industries in the public eye. But how much of the system has changed when the settlements for accusers are much lower than abusers, as highlighted at the end of the film?

‘Bombshell’ broadcasts this heart-breaking news from the women’s point of view.

‘Bombshell’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

Film Review: ‘1917’ ★★★★★

A war drama of extraordinary technical and emotional achievement.

Often the simplest plots are the best for epic staging. Two young British soldiers, Lance (George MacKay) and Tom (Dean-Charles Chapman) have been charged by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) with preventing the planned attack by the 2nd Battalion of Devonshire Regiment who mistakenly believe the Germans are in full retreat but are actually tactically withdrawing. With field telephone lines cut, they must deliver the message by hand to save the lives of 1,600 men before the attack the following day.

A treacherous descent into destruction develops as the protagonists move cautiously through a maze of death. Like the soldiers, we’re held in a ubiquitous state of tension, by both the leading characters’ progress and the cerebral writhing of Thomas Newman’s score.

With each challenge Schofield and Blake surpass, the further they journey from relative safety adding to the sense of foreboding. Louder and softer the music groans, evoking the sound of far off shelling, and the image that while all is quiet here and now, it is only temporary as battles are raging somewhere and death is never far away.

Lance Corporals Will Schofield (MacKay) and Tom Blake (Chapman) make their way through the barbed wire of No Man’s Land in ‘1917’ | © 2020 Universal Pictures

Step by step, the characters walk the story through dangerously cramped trenches, hazardous underground tunnels and battle-scarred farmland. Completely isolated, in fear of their lives and only each other for survival, Schofield and Blake still press on. One wrong move could be their last. Just one story of true heroism representative of so many that fought, died and survived an unimaginable existence. The tragedy of war is inescapable. But life goes on.

An entire world has been created in ‘1917’. What unfolds before us is a miraculous combination of forensic planning in screenwriting and production. And the meticulous precision of acting and directing in order to execute what is essentially a cinematic play staged on location in real time but that never feels staged for effect. One-shot filming requires a faultless performance from cast and crew and all should be commended for the distinctive qualities this gives the film.

Schofield (MacKay) hauls himself out of a river of bodies to deliver a message that will spare 1,600 lives | © 2020 Universal Pictures

Violent sequences alternate with moments of great beauty. Death and life intertwine. Crossing the broken bridge, escaping the bombed town and running through open battle are all stand-out set-pieces. While Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch add gravitas to pivotal moments, Claire Duburcq and Richard Madden provide sensitive relief. And then there’s George MacKay. Despite enduring such mental and physical extremities that are truly unbelievable in order to make this film as great as it is, he has infuriatingly been left out of the Best Actor categories this awards season. Thankfully, the film as a whole has not.

Winner of two Golden Globes (Best Director and Motion Picture – Drama) from three nominations, ‘1917’ has also been nominated for nine BAFTAs, including Best Film, and ten Oscars, including Best Picture. While Sam Mendes won Best Director at the Critics’ Choice Awards (in a tie with Bong Joon-Ho for ‘Parasite’), one of its three wins from eight nominations, ‘Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood’ won Best Picture.

An almighty gamble has paid off and the one-shot wonder of ‘1917’ should be handsomely rewarded as an iconic cinematic accomplishment alone. It deserves to be experienced on the big screen and will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. As the lone tree stands tall at the denouement of the film, so can the filmmakers.

‘1917’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★★

 

Billie Eilish shakes (and stirs) Bond fans

Tracks of the week reviewed: Selena Gomez, Shimmer, Soccer Mommy and The 1975

Film Review: ‘Le Mans ’66’ ★★★★

Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas
Length: 152 minutes
Rating: 12A

You hear the race cars before you see them, the roaring vibrates from the screen and fades in and out from the opening to the end credits. Roaring into action with a literal road race, ‘Le Mans ‘66’ focuses on the 24 hours of Le Mans, the oldest active endurance sports car race in the world and the rivalry between Ford and Ferarri to win it. Indeed, the film is titled ‘Ford v Ferrari’ in almost every other territory. Brace yourself for a showdown of technical excellence in speed, skill and endurance as we go behind the scenes of the enduring annual endurance competition and the car manufacturers that vie for victory.

‘Le Mans ‘66’ (Ford v Ferrari in other territories) film poster

Introduced in quick succession are Carroll Shelby (Damon), an American car designer and engineer, and Ken Miles (Bale), a British professional race car driver whose relationship drives the film as much as the exceptionally mounted racing action sequences. Miles’ wife Mollie (Balfe) and son Peter (Jupe) are no mere background scenery characters, as can often happen in films anchored on two leading roles. Henry Ford II, CEO of Ford (Letts) and Leo Beebe, Senior Executive Vice President of Ford (Lucas) also get their moments to shine.

In an effort to rebrand its image for a new generation and become a car-maker of artistry instead of mere practicality, Ford attempts to buy a bankrupt Ferrari who have won the last four Le Mans events. But Ferrari choose Fiat, prompting Ford to challenge their racing dominance at Le Mans by designing, building and testing a car of their own in order to beat Ferrari at their own game. That’s the plan anyway. In ninety days, Shelby and Miles, backed by Ford, must fight the limits of automotive engineering, the corporate structure and occasionally each other (you won’t be disappointed).

Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in ‘Le Mans ‘66’

Gorgeous cinematography presents the film as shot in a perpetual hot summer sunset, adding to the exotic nature of sports car racing and the people that make it happen. Shelby and Miles are heat stroked and grease oiled to within an inch of their lives, leaving only the overpowering petrol fumes to the imagination, especially while the racing game is underway at various events preceding, as well as, Le Mans.

Attention to minute details like these are representative of a data-focused yet mechanical industry where time, weight and size can mean the difference between success and failure, separating the winners from the losers, becoming legends or footnotes in history. Essentially a period film set over half a century ago, for all the time and effort spent in search of the perfect lap the passion for driving and love for machines is what envelops us most.

Surprisingly romantic and entertaining to a fault, the film benefits from well executed editing and dynamic sound design. Commanding monologues allow for a fireworks display of charismatic acting performances from Letts, Lucas, Damon and Bale. After four Oscar nominations this decade, will Bale finally win Best Actor next year? While his Dick Cheney in ‘Vice’ brought him close, ‘Les Mans ‘66’ could push him over the finish line.

Prepare for high stakes in the front seat as drama punctuates the levity to draw the film away from mere satisfactory viewing. A soundtrack of drums and guitars, acoustic and electric, with tyres screaming and engines revving pulsate through the film, instilling a genuine adrenaline rush for each characters’ destiny. Armed with a propulsive script and muscular production values, ‘Le Mans ‘66’ is quite simply a cinematic tour de force.

‘Le Mans ‘66’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

Making Tracks – An Edinburgh ‘tramsformation’ begins?

Constitution Street under transformation

Road blocks were enforced, traffic cones were placed and trucks were assembled to initiate construction on the next phase of the Edinburgh Trams network in Constitution Street on Monday.

In four years’ time, York Place and Newhaven should be connected by a shiny fleet of super trams in a £207.3 million project, given the green light by Edinburgh City Council just over eight months ago.

In the first quarter of 2023, trams should be serving the Foot of the Walk, Port of Leith and Ocean Terminal on a new 2.8-mile long line.

While the network extension will bring positive transport, infrastructure and environmental benefits in the long term, unsurprisingly, the decision to lengthen the route was met with mixed reviews.

While the trams have been operating successfully for over five years now, on an 8.7-mile long line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place, their journey from inception and design to construction and delivery was fraught with difficulty and mired in controversy.

After the project revisions, contractual disputes and funding crisis, it took six years and over £776 million to build, but over £1 billion will be payed after interest. Indeed, the cost of this extension rose by a quarter before construction even began.

The 2008 global financial crisis also didn’t help. In order to reduce inflating costs, sections from Ingliston Park and Ride to Newbridge North, Haymarket to Granton and Granton to Newhaven were dropped.

Newhaven, intended to be part of the initial route, was also cancelled bringing the trams to an abrupt halt in York Place, providing a route to the airport that could be achieved already by bus.

Disruption to businesses, danger to cyclists and the suspension of overhead electric cables attached to residential buildings also drew concern and criticism of the project.

Edinburgh Trams are on their way

Despite this, the trams have proven their worth, with the city using them so much that original ridership projections were surpassed, enabling the operation to post pre-tax profits only two years after the trams got going.

More journeys are being made every year with 7.3 million people choosing to use the tram last year alone, more than the entire population of Scotland.

In 2016, another stop, Edinburgh Gateway, was opened providing a transport interchange between the Edinburgh Trams and trains from across Scotland allowing passengers to travel to the airport entirely by rail.

Originally part of phase one, the route to Newhaven is now finally on its way.

Signs point straight ahead to 2023

Should the Newhaven extension repeat the annual passenger growth seen on the first Edinburgh Trams line, as the strong business case suggests it will, Newbridge, Granton and connection to Newhaven (forming a circular route) may yet see trams approaching over the horizon.

With the Scottish Government’s recent declaration of a climate emergency and net-zero target for greenhouse gas emissions in just over a quarter of a century, the case for electrified public transport such as trains and trams will only strengthen.

If lessons have been learned from previous mistakes, considering the monster of a nightmare that was created in the capital city before, the next Edinburgh Tram service to Newhaven should have a much smoother journey.

HAIR LOSS: PUSHING BACK AGAINST MANUFACTURED BEAUTY STANDARDS

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

While hair loss treatment is becoming less stigmatised, the question still stands – why do some men feel that they have to restore their thinning hair to regain their self-esteem? Why should men have to change what is an entirely natural process? This represents a much wider ranging issue on male representation in the media, and by extension society, than receding hairlines.

According to a recent report, published in the Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal, hair loss was faster in men in their 20s and 30s working at least 52 hours per week than those with less hours. Is our 24-7-365 culture exacerbating male pattern baldness leading more men to resort to treatment to rectify the perceived problem?

December 2016 and November 2019

Male hair loss is only part of a much wider issue with how the media portray men in only one idealised form which is not reflective of the populace. In my view, society expects men to be tall (to indicate leadership), fit (to infer strength), handsome (to attract attention), and have a full head of hair (to symbolise youth).

I haven’t selected these, admittedly all aesthetic qualities, at random. We are bombarded by these subliminal messages by advertisements in print and online, on television and in magazines.

To fully understand how prevalent these male beauty standards are in our society today, I went out to the streets of Edinburgh to hear how people felt about the issue of hair loss and whether they would look into getting treatment.

 

Ask yourself. How many adverts have you seen where male models have thinning hair? Why are men with thick hair given prominence over those with thinning hair? Are they considered more attractive, to audiences, therefore to advertisers also, than those who are small, heavier and balding?

Is the preference for youth given prominence over ageing (which hair loss symbolises) meant to imply that those with un-model standard qualities are less important? Why is the pursuit of aesthetic perfection awarded precedence over humour, intellect and kindness, and all of the other qualities that make up a real person?

It may be because those qualities are more difficult, arguably impossible, to convey in one perfectly presented advertising campaign, image or slogan. The entire message is reduced to a clip, soundbite or poster for immediate consumption, engagement or dismissal.

This is one of the many reasons I refuse to participate in the so-called online dating trap where decisions are based on appearance. Anyone can present themselves as better than they are, but why should they think they have to? Is who I am really not enough? Do I need a hair transplant as well?

While I have looked into treatments out of sheer curiosity to rectify the problem (despite my best efforts, that’s sometimes still how I view my own hair loss) the costs involved, whether surgical or not, have always put me off. I’ve therefore decided to invest in a colourful collection of hats instead to style it out. I could do for hats what Diane Keaton has done for suits. We need a male version of that style icon to aspire to rather than just more hair.

My colleague, Sophie Wardrop, sat down with Scott Harrison who shared his own experiences with hair loss and how he deals with the stigma against the condition.

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