Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
With the upcoming released biopic, The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep already garnering Oscar buzz, it seems like a good time to consider other times movies have brought the news industry into the spotlight. At a time when the future of newspapers and journalism seems so uncertain the following films are especially relevant.
All The President’s Men (1976) This classic political thriller tells the now legendary story of how Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) investigation and reporting of an a minor break-in at the Watergate led to a tangled web that brought down the Nixon presidency. (It also ensured that all future scandals would have the title ‘gate’ attached to their name.) Directed by Alan Pakula (Klute, The Parallax View) and with a screenplay by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) it was an instant commercial and critical success. It would garner eight Academy Award nominations and four awards including Best Screenplay for Goldman and Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards. It currently holds a fresh rating of 93% on the Tomatometer.
Fletch (1985) Los Angeles Times reporter and master of disguise Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase in what he would call his favorite roll) is posing as a junkie while researching an expose on drug trafficking. A millionaire approaches him and claiming to be terminally ill hires Fletch to kill him. When further investigation reveals the millionaire to be in perfect health, Fletch realizes he’s on to a potentially much bigger story. To get at it, will take all his considerable wits. The movie was a critical and commercial hit spawning a sequel and has gone on to garner a cult following as well.
The Paper(1994) Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) directed this American comedy-drama taking place over 24 hectic hours in the life of Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) Metro editor for the New York Sun, a fictional tabloid. The Sun is experiencing cash flow problems and is making drastic cuts. Meanwhile Henry’s wife, Martha (Marisa Tomei), is expecting their first child and aggravated with his workaholism. She wants him to take a job at the New York Sentinel (a thinly disguised version of the New York Times). Meanwhile a sensational double homicide of two white businessman and subsequent arrest of two African American teenagers has Harry’s news sense tingling. The all star cast also includes Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards (again!). It currently holds an 88% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes with critics praising the film for capturing the frenetic high energy environment of actual newsrooms.
State of Play (2009) This taut political thriller was an adaption of a six-part BBC series by the same name. Russell Crowe turns in a pitch perfect performance as investigative reporter Cal McAffrey who probes the suspicious death of Congressman Stephen Collins’ (Ben Affleck) mistress. Matters are further complicated by the fact that McAffrey and Collins were once old friends and that Cal had an affair with Stephen’s wife Anne (Robin Wright). Cal convinces his wary, long suffering editor Cameron (the always fabulous Helen Mirren) to let him dig deeper into the matter with the help of young reporter and blogger Della (Rachel McAdams at her most charming). Needless to say twists and turns abound in an intricate plot of layered conspiracy. State of Play garnered generally favorable reviews and Crowe won the Best Actor award from the Australia Film Institute.
Spotlight (2015) This searing biographical crime drama follows how The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team uncovered a pattern of widespread systemic sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, that kicked off an international scandal. Starring Michael Keaton (again!), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams (again!), Stanley Tucci, and Liev Schreiber it’s an instant masterpiece demonstrating how a culture of complicity and silence enabled generations of abuse. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. (Read our earlier review.)
The publishing industry and the movie industry are lemmings, following popular trends rather than thinking outside the box to come up with something exciting and different. When a new book or film does break out – The Hunger Games (first book, then film) – everyone rushes to replicate that success. So we have had a whole series of dystopian novels and films ad nauseam, none as great as the one which started the trend.
We can say the same about Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller which was a bestseller and went on to become a film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins also became a film, this one with Emily Blunt. So we can imagine all those intrepid editors at publishing houses going through slush piles trying to find the next thriller featuring a slightly crazed female protagonist and coming up with A Simple Favor by first time novelist Darcey Bell.
Like its predecessors, A Simple Favor follows a similar pattern. The woman at the center of the plot is narcissistic and unbalanced, but, like so many people with these characteristics, she can skillfully manipulate others to play along with anything she cooks up. The problem with this set up is that the protagonist and everyone around her become unsympathetic and unlikeable. (That was certainly the case with Gone Girl. Did anyone like Affleck’s character, even though he was the victim?) And without someone to latch onto, root for, the characters become annoying and the plot frustrating.
In A Simple Favor, Emily is in the driver’s seat. She seems to have it all – good looks, an attractive husband, Sean, who is British and works in finance, an adorable son, Nicky, a gorgeous home in suburban Connecticut, and a high-profile job working for a famous fashion designer, Dennis Nylon. She also seems nice, befriending odd duck Stephanie, a widow with a son, Miles, who spends her time writing a mommy blog. Stephanie is so needy that when Emily throws her a lifeline she grabs it with a vengeance. Soon the two are inseparable, spending afternoons stretched out on Emily’s huge sofa, drinking white wine, while their two sons enjoy a playdate. When Emily asks that her friend pick up Nicky after school, Stephanie is only too happy to help. But then Emily disappears and Stephanie is frantic that something has happened to her friend.
Stephanie tells part of her story in her blog, part in straight narrative. While Bell nails the tone and substance of a mommy blog, these passages are irritating. The condescending, cheerful content begins to grate, although this might be intentional on Bell’s part. After Emily’s disappearance, Stephanie uses the blog to enlist support to help find her friend (since she says her readers come from all part of the country, this seems a stretch). When it appears Emily is dead, she continues to keep everyone updated on Sean and Nicky.
There are many revelations and Bell skillfully doles them out. Truth be told, Bell has produced a page turner, even though the characters – Emily, Stephanie, and Sean – continue to act in ways that are off-putting and exasperating. By the end of the book, not one of the trio is anyone a normal person would want to spend time with. But we will be spending more time with them. A Simple Favor will soon be a feature film from Fox.
The latest powerhouse in comic-book adaptations, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, promises an explosive showdown between two of the biggest superheroes on the planet. Picking up where Man of Steel left off—with the city of Metropolis in tatters following Superman’s battle with Zod—Batman v. Superman opens in an uncertain era with many questioning Superman’s intentions and power. With Batman on a mission to stop Superman before he causes further harm, the two superheroes soon find themselves battling not just each other, but Lex Luthor’s evil creation, Doomsday, as well. Starring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, the movie is chock full of explosions, and action, but does it live up to the hype?
It’s safe to say that the one saving grace of Batman v. Superman is its epic action. Featuring a wealth of impressive CGI over the course of two and a half hours, the film is bolstered largely by its highly-choreographed action sequences and explosions. These scenes are aplenty, and keep the film from collapsing into insipid tedium. On the other hand, the non-action scenes of the movie are surprisingly dull. Many of the performances only add to the muted, listless tone of the film. The acting is not bad, just dreary.
While there are some standout performances—most notably, Gal Gadot’s impressive Wonder Woman—Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader is disappointingly one-dimensional. Though Affleck succeeds at being stoic and steely, he lacks the charm of previous Bruce Waynes and leaves viewers yearning for Christian Bale or Michael Keaton incarnations. As evil Lex Luthor, Jesse Eisenberg falls flat in his over-the-top attempt to recall a giggling villain on the brink of insanity, à la Heath Ledger’s flawless Joker character in the Christopher Nolan series. There are plenty of other famous faces in the movie—including Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, and Diane Lane as Superman’s mom—but the real treat of the supporting cast is Jeremy Irons. Though he is in the movie far too briefly, Irons adds some much needed lightness and humor to the film as Alfred, Batman’s long-suffering butler.
If you’re a fan of the original D.C. comics that inspired the movie, or of big-budget superhero movies in general, then Batman v. Superman will surely knock your socks off. If, however, you don’t have a Batman costume hanging in your closet, aren’t already clued in on storyline, or even know who Lex Luthor is, you might be bored. Those viewers unfamiliar with the storyline will feel stranded by the scarce and flimsy explanations of critical plot points. Unlike other films that offer mass appeal to a large range of viewers, like the recent Deadpool or even 2015’s Antman, Batman v. Superman feels like it is specifically tailored for comic-loving audiences.
Ultimately, the movie offers an interesting concept but feels like it’s drowning in its own seriousness. Taking a cue from other superhero blockbusters and injecting some warmth and humor to the film, as well as adopting a more linear plotline, would have benefitted Batman v. Superman greatly. If you’re not a teenage boy, or a die-hard comic fan, skip this film and re-watch Deadpool instead.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opens nationwide on Friday, March 25.