The Report Review TIFF 2019

The Plot

An idealistic senate staffer is tasked with helming an investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program launched in the wake of 9/11. Finding himself locked in a battle to discover harsh truths and share them with the world.

The Good

Adam Driver has emerged as one of the most redeeming features of the divisive new star wars trilogy. In the report the turns those considerable dramatic talents to an even more contentious subject matter in examining the complex aftermath of 9/11. As always he is an arresting on screen presence and he does his very best to convince an audience to share in his character’s earnest passion for the truth.

It is immediately clear that Driver has a very difficult task to maintain audience interest in a character who literally spends years drudging through CIA paperwork and virtually alone. Under the circumstances Driver does the best he possibly can to make that exercise feel urgent and compelling.

Beyond Driver’s own talents the film finds a host of familiar faces like Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll and Annette Benning willing to share the burden of fleshing out this overly familiar history on screen. Their collective star power helps keep audiences interested in spite of their likely pre-existing answers to all the questions the film seeks to ask.

The Bad

Audiences may understandably find their appetite for dwelling on this difficult period of modern history has waned considerably as the years have passed. By now most people already have well entrenched views about the actions of nations and intelligence communities around the world in the wake of 9/11. People will already either view these events as justified measures to fight unprecedented dangers or as misguided acts of evil in their own right. Little if anything this particular film has to offer will change those fixed opinions.

With nearly a decade of public debate, partisan political squabbling, endless investigations and introspective films about this subject, all that has really been accomplished is weariness and a growing sense of jaded apathy.

In a world beset by new problems, new leaders and new controversies audiences may already feel long disconnected from events already consigned to history books. Absent any new information or the ability to create meaningful sentiment there’s sadly little rewards to be found for any of the film’s well intentioned efforts.

At best the film is a weary rehash of familiar history, at worst the fiercely partisan nature of American political tribes means that the film simply cannot avoid painting Bush era republicans as unethical war criminals and Democrats as the de facto champions of truth and accountability. An obvious oversimplification of a murky political landscape where both sides are equally tarnished by rampant self-interest and amoral political expediency over real principles.

The Ugly Truth

The Report is another hand wringing look at a dark and divisive period of modern history that awkwardly feels too current to be rediscovered but increasingly irrelevant to the fast paced drama of

Dolemite Is My Name Review TIFF 2019

The Plot

The true story of how charismatic showbiz failure Rudy Ray Moore launched one final bid for stardom through his flamboyant new alter ego Dolemite. Setting out on a seemingly impossible quest to turn his wisecracking foul mouthed creation into a bone fide cinematic icon and household name superstar.

The Good

Eddie Murphy was once one of the most electrifying forces in stand-up comedy and an undisputed big screen icon. His machine gun paced wit and flamboyant flair for character acting saw him serving up countless comedy classics, often while playing multiple roles. Sadly a string of increasingly lacklustre box office efforts saw his star wane considerably, leaving him better known to a younger generation for his easy payday work as Shrek’s donkey sidekick. This real life trajectory all makes Murphy’s portrayal of a washed up comedian with fading last ditch hopes of achieving true stardom feel more poignant and deeply personal than it otherwise would have.

Beyond this obvious case real world symbolism, Murphy is also just simply a perfect fit for Rudy Ray Moore. Murphy is expertly capable of portraying Moore’s fine balance of world weary cynicism and irrepressible comedic optimism. Likewise he’s able to flamboyantly cut loose as the jive talking delight of Dolemite. Much of Murphy’s own unique stand up style as a whirlwind of fouled mouthed but good natured fun is joyously recaptured in his transformation into the portly kung fu kicking Blaxploitation star.

A solid supporting cast is further capped off by a scene stealing comedic turn from Wesley Snipes. The ridiculously enjoyable chemistry between him and Murphy bodes very well indeed for their next project, a long overdue sequel to Coming To America. Based on the abundant comedic charm the pair produce in this film, fans have every reason to be surprisingly optimistic of getting a sequel equal to one of Murphy’s most enduring cinematic hits.

Armed with terrific performances and a triumphant return to greatness from Eddie Murphy it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with Dolomite and have a riotous time following his quest for elusive stardom.

The Bad

There’s little to criticise in a film that rarely if ever makes a misstep in delivering consistent laughs and real heart. As with all comedic offerings some people might find their funny bone less fiercely tickled by Dolomite’s antics than others. But the majority of people are certain to be won over by the films irrepressible charms and genuine giggles. In particular, anyone who tries to take any kind of offence to Moore’s outlandish comedic creation is perhaps guilty of missing the entire point of a knowing parody of the cliché ridden genre cinema of that particular time cinematic history. 

The Ugly Truth

In a triumphant return to form Eddie Murphy capture the joyous charm of a unique comedic folk hero. Dolomite Is My Name is a fun loving and sweet natured tribute to the undeniable magic behind a true cult classic and underdog dreamers everywhere. This film may be out of sight…but if you miss it you’ll have a fright, because only one man can treat you right and his name dear friends… is Dolemite!

Review by Russell Nelson

Bombshell Review TIFF 2019

The Plot

A dramatic depiction of the sexual harassment scandal which saw aging Fox News supremo Roger Ailes squaring off against many of the channels most prominent female anchors over historic allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic working environment.

The Good

Bombshell offers up an impressively vast cast of familiar Hollywood faces, doing earnest impersonations of prominent figures in cable news. The film’s leading trio of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie obviously have more than enough combined screen charisma to hold audience’s attention on their own. Though they get added help from a typically compelling performance from John Lithgow as the film’s villainous figure Roger Ailes.

The film also has a slick production value that captures the artificially polished world of 24hr cable news and many of the cartoonish personalities that populate those screens. The film succeeds in looking and feeling authentic at the very least.

For those that already despise Donald Trump, Fox News and the republican side of the deeply divided American political landscape; this film will serve as a gleeful mockery of all at once. Indeed the film’s flattering award season recognition is clearly a form of back slapping thanks from those that most welcome this particular brand of political character assassination.

The Bad

Even a well-polished production and all-star cast can’t entirely hide Bombshell having several major narrative issues.

While breaking the forth wall and adopting a wryly comedic tone worked very well for lampooning the absurdity of the global financial crisis in The Big Short, it’s questionable how well screenwriter Charles Randolph’s approach fits the supposedly serious subject matter of sexual harassment. The film reaches for easy laughs and politically partisan parody at the cost of being able to give any serious dramatic weight to ostensibly sombre allegations.

The film’s comedic tone is at times both smug and glib, leaving little room for actual emotions and making it far too obvious just how much fun the vast ensemble of Hollywood stars are clearly having poking fun at their political adversaries.

Another key problem is that the film gives less screen time to actual real figures such as Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson in favour of shifting focus to the wholly fictional character played by Margot Robbie. Though Robbie’s invented role is meant to serve as a convenient stand in for the many other women involved in the scandal, it mostly just hopelessly blurs the line between fiction and reality. It’s also extremely unhelpful that Robbie’s character is an unashamedly two dimensional caricature. The character is a lazy cliché ridden stereotype of an implausibly naïve and hypocritical evangelical conservative.

This invented figure serves the dual purpose of allowing the film to more directly mock conservative news audiences and to amplify the mostly lukewarm drama involving real events and actual people. It severely undermines the weight of the real scandal that the only actual moments of abuse/harassment depicted in the film are in fact fictions. Even then the film still shy’s away from depicting any particularly graphic traumas. Even in the usually sensationalised movie version of this scandal, nothing much ever actually seems to happen. At least nothing that audiences actually get to experience for themselves.

While many will proudly praise this film as a timely ‘me too’ themed drama. It’s had to avoid recognising that Bombshell mostly just serves as a way for Hollywood to redirect the focus of those issues away from itself and onto convenient political targets. Scratching away the film’s brittle veneer of progressive feminism seems to reveal it to truly be a simple exercise in desperate damage limitation, cynically timed to cash in on current public interest and simultaneously distract from ongoing real life dramas such as the Harvey Weinstein trails.

The Ugly Truth

Bombshell is easy to watch because of its polished production value and attractive leads, but largely lacks any real substance or emotional sincerity. It’s also shamelessly open about its political allegiances and agendas. Meaning that ironically every criticism made of American cable news applies equally to this film. Bombshell is a self-serving drama that detonates with a whimper rather than exploding with a meaningful bang.

Review by Russell Nelson

The Personal History Of David Copperfield Review TIFF 2019

The Plot

Based on the iconic work of Charles Dickens, the film follows the immeasurable trials and triumphs of David Copperfield as he theatrically recounts his eventful existence.

The Good

Director Armando Ianucci has a well-deserved reputation for sharp witted comedic storytelling that blends cynical self-awareness with frequent farce. His modern sensibilities actually prove a surprisingly good fit for this timeless tale, injecting a contemporary tone into a classic piece of literature. In particular, an all-star cast helps to carry the freshly interpreted dialogue with the kind of brisk modern pacing and witty banter the Ianucci is best known for.

Dev Patel proves to be a fine fit for the lead role of titular hero David Copperfield. He neatly sidesteps the need for debate about his casting as the Victorian era English gentleman by undeniably deploying consistent talent and charm.

 

The Bad

Despite the film’s noticeably accomplished cast, modest sets and flat modern cinematography do occasionally rob the period setting of some credibility. Those drawn to period drama for the lavish sweeping cinematic spectacle they usually present may feel underwhelmed and slightly disappointed. It may be a well-intentioned choice, attempting to make the story looks and feel more modern, but it mostly just appears cheap and theatrical.

The film’s self-professed ambition to somewhat unsubtle modernise Dickensian era England with an aggressively diverse cast also unavoidably provokes some potentially sensitive discussion. While Dev Patel’s somewhat unprecedented casting as Copperfield actually serve the film very well, some of the seemingly haphazard and visually inconsistent casting of background characters creates arguably unnecessary distractions. It’s not about any issues of ‘historical accuracy’, it’s just a simple truth that when audiences are presented with parents and children of completely different ethnicity without explanation, it severely strains suspension of disbelief.

The Ugly Truth

An enthusiastic stellar cast and some fine comedic moments breathe new life into a familiar work of literary genius. Driven by Director Armando Ianucci’s determined choices the film at least in part succeeds in presenting a more accessible and relatable version of Dickensian England for a younger audience.

Review by Russell Nelson

Spider-Man Far From Home Review

The Plot

Peter Parker returns to his normal life following the climactic events of Avengers Endgame and sets out on a summer holiday to Europe with his friends looking to escape the pressures of being Spider-Man and possibly even find love.

The Good

Marvel takes an assured first step as it casually launches the next phase in its vast cinematic universe. After the dramatic and universe re-defining adventures of Avengers Endgame, it’s refreshing and vaguely appropriate to have the adolescent Peter Parker guide audiences back to more earthbound human drama in a post ‘snap’ world.

Swinging back into action as Spider-Man, young star Tom Holland continues to do great work in making his version of the costume clad web crawler an endearingly awkward and earnest young hero, reluctantly drawn into the responsibilities of saving the world yet again. Holland does well in playing the genuine conflict between Peter Parker’s desire for an ordinary teenage existence and the obvious responsibilities of being a super hero. This is the true essence of the character that Stan Lee originally created and Marvel clearly understands that.

Having obviously lost the excellent chemistry between Holland and Robert Downey Jnr’s mentor like Iron Man, Marvel is quick to replace this with a new adult chaperone for Spider-Man in the form of a stern faced Nick Fury, played with usual flare by Samuel L Jackson. It’s a smart move that gives both characters a more natural place in the MCU going forward. Combined with the more affectionate mentorship of Jon Favreu’s Happy Hogan it’s a successful substitution for the scene stealing bond between Peter and Tony Stark.

A solid supporting cast lends Far From Home much of its comedy and heart with particular praise due to Jacob Batalon as Peters pal Ned, Martin Starr as his clueless teacher and Zendaya as love interest MJ. Jake Gyllenhaal is also another welcome and long overdue addition to the MCU, playing the suitably mysterious new hero Mysterio.

The Bad

Some of the film’s plot points might be a little too easily second guessed by those familiar with the comics. Also given the sheer number of films Marvel have already offered up to fans it’s a little difficult to find a story that offers something truly original and unexpected at this stage.

The film is also burdened with having to explain how a post Thanos world functions, forcing the film to hastily gloss over the many unanswered questions about the ‘snap’ and its eventual undoing. This new world presents plenty of unique storytelling opportunities that could have been explored by much more than just a couple of minutes of casual exposition nestled amongst an otherwise unrelated adventure.

While the film offers plenty of the usual action it’s perhaps also noticeably slightly more cartoonish and obviously CGI enhanced than past Spider-Man versions have been. Likewise the film’s set pieces and European setting does at times fell like an obvious parade of recognisable landmarks. As a vehicle for moving the story forward a literal tourist road trip feels just a little heavy handed at times. Though certain to be a huge help with international marketing campaigns.

The Ugly Truth

Spider-Man Far From Home is another pleasingly playful addition to the never ending MCU that gives Tom Holland another chance to shine as a convincingly adolescent Pete Parker and an increasingly seasoned Spider-Man. The film follows a similar formula as Spider-Man Homecoming and offers fans the usual mix of action, winking comedy and even a few genuine surprises along the way.

Review by Russell Nelson