BOMBSHELL: the haunted, toothless response to a destructive political culture

Bombshell never lives up the explosive promise of its title.

While satire has caught up with the age of Donald Trump, what with Alec Baldwin’s razor sharp Saturday Night Live impersonations which have infuriated the humourless Bigly-in-chief, cinema has to date struggled with how to capture not just this most divisive of Presidents but also the culture he has fostered in American politics and mass media. Jay Roach’s Bombshell is one of the first significant efforts to explore what this means for a country Hollywood has struggled in since 2016, defined as it is by ostensibly liberal values – even if economically they are far more conservative than they would ever let on.

The doorway opened for screenwriter Charles Randolph, best known for penning Adam McKay’s The Big Short, to detail this fairly recent chapter of American political life following the death in mid-2017 of Roger Ailes, the long-standing CEO of Fox News, as controlled by the global conglomerate under Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Ailes no longer being able to litigate allows Bombshell to tell the story, primarily, of Megyn Kelly, the Fox News host who with previously dismissed host Gretchen Carlson stood up to years of pervasive, institutionalised sexual harassment by Ailes within the Fox News system, triggering a lawsuit that saw Ailes reputation in tatters and cost him his position. Within just under a year, that failure apparently killed him.

Bombshell, therefore, could easily have exploded as such and entirely destroyed Roger Ailes and the broader, Trumpian culture of old, white male abuse in the public eye. So why does it end up so remarkably toothless?

Continue reading “BOMBSHELL: the haunted, toothless response to a destructive political culture”

THE CROWN: The State of the Monarchy (Season 3 – Review)

Roughly halfway into Peter Morgan’s sprawling potted history of Queen Elizabeth II, you realise The Crown has reached a point of security. After two seasons which made a star out of Claire Foy and gave Netflix perhaps it’s most prestige original property, Season 3 has the self-assured confidence we see Elizabeth, now middle-aged, begin to imbue.

The unique central gimmick of Morgan’s drama was announced at the very beginning – that every two seasons of a projected six, the actors portraying Her Majesty and family would age-up alongside the characters themselves, and Season 3 marks the first instance of this change. Foy truly made Elizabeth her own, essaying with grace a young woman thrust into a role unlike any other on the planet while having to balance her own youth and sexuality with the rigours of her position. Olivia Colman, despite freshly minted with a Best Actress Oscar for portraying another British Queen in The Favourite, always had some big shoes to fill. As you might imagine with an actor of Colman’s character, she does just that. Nor does she attempt to simply replicate Foy’s performance.

To do so in the first place would have been a tactical error as Season 3, which takes place over a 13 year span from 1964 through to Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, presents a different Queen. The season premiere is called Olding and that forms part of the central theme in Morgan’s show this year: change. The opening scenes of the season nicely mark the actor transition as Elizabeth sees proposals for a new set of stamps, with her face replacing Foy’s; indeed Morgan bookends this nicely in finale Cri de Coeur when she is presented with a photograph from the late 40’s showing Foy and Matt Smith as Prince Philip. “How young we were” Elizabeth wistfully remarks. How young too, in a sense, was her country.

Season 3 is driven by not just Elizabeth’s and her family’s transition into different ages, roles, responsibilities and desires, but that of her country; a United Kingdom weathering economic downturn, socialist revolution, and the ripples of class war which continues the break down of the colonial Establishment on which her family was built. The Crown, halfway in, questions the state of monarchy itself in the modern age.

Continue reading “THE CROWN: The State of the Monarchy (Season 3 – Review)”

The Crown Season 1: The Efficient and the Dignified

The Crown could well end up being one of the most ambitious, grandiose television projects of the modern age. Created by Peter Morgan off the back of his successful stage play The Audience, itself inspired by Morgan’s earlier script for Stephen Frears’ The Queen, it intends to depict the entire reign of Queen Elizabeth II from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, all the way through to the modern age, across six seasons. Budgeted at £100 million for the first season, already it’s one of the most expensive seasons of television ever produced, with Netflix investing significant capital into a project they’re very confident is going to go all the way. With a second season about to premiere and a third season in the planning stages, The Crown certainly looks as though it’s here to stay, and given how well put together its first ten episodes are, that can only be a good thing.

Morgan has become one of the pre-eminent screenwriters, if not *the* pre-eminent screenwriter, working in Britain today. He has also been consistently fascinated by the concept of monarchy, particularly Elizabeth II’s still ongoing reign. A decade ago, The Queen entered the public consciousness not just thanks to a stellar performance from Helen Mirren as the ageing monarch, but for depicting the Royal Family’s response to the death of Princess Diana, arguably as signature to the end of the 20th century for British subjects in terms of the Royals as Edward VIII’s abdication was in the early part of the century. Morgan zeroed in on an aspect which played a key role in The Queen, and indeed does in The Crown, for The Audience: Her Majesty’s audiences with successive Prime Minister’s across the decades.

This makes sense. Morgan is equally fascinated by the workings of government, particularly those of British Prime Ministers and the relationship with the United States across the last half century. His scripts have extensively featured Tony Blair in TV dramas such as The Deal and The Special Relationship, not to mention The Queen (played on all occasions by Michael Sheen). This fascination, this welding of government to monarchy and how the two are constructed in tandem, is a central function of The Crown and, indeed, to why the Netflix drama works so well. Morgan delights in making Winston Churchill a fully-fledged, fleshed out regular character (sublimely played by John Lithgow), with his own relationship with the young Elizabeth an important dynamic across the entire season, from a character and thematic perspective.

Continue reading “The Crown Season 1: The Efficient and the Dignified”

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

One of the most interesting cinematic franchises of the last fifty years, Planet of the Apes makes a vibrant and fascinating return in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which classes itself as a reboot while holding true to the spirit of the original movies and charting its own modern day course.

Rupert Wyatt’s reimagining charts a very similar course to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes from 1972, the fourth of the original five film series after Charlton Heston famously shouted down those “damn dirty apes” in 1968’s seminal Planet of the Apes. In Conquest, the world’s pets have been destroyed by a lethal virus in the early 1990’s (here the series’ past, but the filmmakers’ future), which leads humans to begin domesticating apes as a replacement. The film even features an ape named Caesar leading a rebellion and the shouting of the word “NO!” as the first human word uttered by an ape.

Pointedly, Rise is not a remake of Conquest. It seeks to take certain essential pieces of that film’s DNA and place them in a contemporary context. This was deemed a necessary step after the critical and commercial failure of the first attempt to reimagine the franchise in Tim Burton’s awfully misjudged 2001 remake, Planet of the Apes, which sought to re-tell the Charlton Heston film for a new audience. Burton should have known better but his film fell in that strange nether zone of Hollywood blockbusters which was the early 2000’s, in which big budget cinema seemed locked in an awkward transition between brainless 90’s fare, the advent of popularised CGI, and a dearth of talented filmmakers wielding serious cinematic money.

A lot changed in 2005 & 2006 with both Batman Begins and Casino Royale, respectively. Those films, one made by an auteur and the other a stalwart, helped fashion the blockbuster landscape into one where talented filmmakers seemed to have a handle on quality scripting as well as major set pieces and computer generated effects. Rise took a big cue from Begins especially in quite how Wyatt, fresh of the low-budget but critically impressive The Escapist (2008), imagined reimagining the Apes universe and grounding the concept in more of a natural storytelling perspective than a high-concept vision of the like Burton tried and failed to achieve.

Continue reading “Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)”