Insomnia File #21: Truth (dir by James Vanderbilt)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you found yourself awake at three in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2015 film, Truth.

I can’t say for sure whether or not Truth would have put you to sleep.  It kept me awake, largely because I was in a state of shock that any movie could be as bad as what I was watching.  Without running the risk of hyperbole, I can say that Truth is one of the worst fucking movies that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  It’s not just that the film is poorly scripted, inconsistently acted, and directed in the most heavy-handed way possible.  No, the problems with Truth went far beyond mere execution.  Truth is a film with an agenda, one that I kind of agree with, but it’s such a total misfire that it ends up doing more damage to its cause than good.  Truth is meant to be a defense of the much maligned mainstream media but it’s so poorly put together that it’s easy to imagine it being one of Donald Trump’s guilty pleasures.  Remember how all of us musical theater nerds used to hatewatch Smash?  I imagine that the White House staff does the same thing with Truth.

Truth is ostensibly based on a true story.  In 2004, veteran anchorman Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford) reported a story that then-President George W. Bush got preferential treatment while he was serving in the Air National Guard.  This story was considered to be especially big because 1) the Iraq War was deeply unpopular, 2) Bush was in a tight race for reelection, 3) his opponent, John F. Kerry, didn’t have much to offer beyond having served in Vietnam, and 4) questions were being raised about what Kerry actually did in Vietnam.

One of the most important pieces of evidence in Rather’s story were four memos that had been provided by a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Air National Guard, a veteran Bush-hater named Bill Burkett (played, in the film, by Stacy Keach).  Shortly after the story aired, conservative bloggers claimed that the memos were obvious forgeries.  After spending weeks defending the story and haughtily dismissing anyone who didn’t collect an eight-figure paycheck from CBS, Rather admitted on air that the authenticity of the memos could not be verified.  In the wake of the scandal, Rather’s longtime producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), was fired.  Rather retired a year earlier than expected and went on to become one of those reliably dull commentators who occasionally emerges to complain about how the world hasn’t been the same since Adlai Stevenson died.  Mapes later wrote a book, which argued that 1) the memos were authentic and 2) it didn’t actually matter whether they were authentic, even though they like so totally were.

With all the current talk about fake news and whether both the media and Hollywood exist in a bubble, Truth is a film that should be especially relevant but, as previously stated, it’s so clumsy and heavy-handed that it actually does more harm than good.  About halfway through the film, there’s a hilarious scene in which literally the entire country is shown watching 60 Minutes with awe-struck expression on their face.  Children are watching.  Customers in a bar are watching.  The cooking staff in the kitchen pauses in their work to watch the report.  Heroic music rises on the soundtrack.  This scene, with all of its self-important grandeur, pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with Truth.  It’s one thing to argue that the news media does, should, and must play an important role in American life.  It’s another thing to make your argument by constructing a fantasy world where the entire country plots their lives around watching 60 Minutes.  But that’s the way Vanderbilt directs the entire film.  He’s so high on the fumes of his good intentions that he doesn’t realize his film basically comes across like a parody of those intentions.

Especially in the second half of the film, there’s a lot of speeches about why journalism is important.  And those speeches may actually make a great point but the problem is that none of them convince us that Mary Mapes and Dan Rather didn’t get fooled by some painfully obvious forgeries.  In its laudable effort to defend journalism, Truth makes the mistake of excusing shoddy journalism. When, towards the end of the film, Mapes exclaims that the memos were only a minor part of the overall story and not necessary to prove that Bush got preferential treatment, you want someone to ask her, “If you could prove the story without them, then why did you include these unverifiable documents in the first place, especially considering that they were received from a questionable source?”  But nobody does because none of the film’s saintly characters have been written or portrayed with the nuance necessary to be able to survive a question like that.   Truth‘s problem is that it wants to have it both ways.  “It doesn’t matter that this story was based on obviously fake documents,” Truth says, “And, because Mary Mapes and Dan Rather were sent by God to tell the truth, the obviously fake documents were completely real.”

And then there’s the film’s performers.  Stacy Keach is great as Burkitt and his eccentric performance suggests the film that Truth could have been if it wasn’t so concerned with trying to portray its lead characters as saints.  But then there’s Robert Redford, whose portrayal of Dan Rather has all the nuance and personality of a wax figure.  (Redford wears suspenders.  That’s the extent of his performance.)  As Mary Mapes, Cate Blanchett is totally wasted.  She doesn’t really have a character to play, beyond her male director’s conception of what a professional woman is supposed to be like.  (She also has a traumatic back story of abuse, which the film trots out in such a klutzy manner that it’s actually incredibly insulting to real-life abuse victims.)  Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Elisabeth Moss all show up as members of Mapes’s team.  Quaid is playing a military man so he gets to salute in slow motion.  Grace is playing a hipster with a beard so he gets this embarrassing scene where he rants about how he’s being targeted not because of sloppy reporting but because of a corporate conspiracy.  (This was obviously meant to be a huge applause moment but, like a lot of the movie, it doesn’t explain how the progressive cause is helped by shoddy journalism.)  Moss doesn’t get to do anything, other than sit in the background.  To waste a cast of this quality is a crime.

So why did this mostly terrible film get respectful reviews?  Why did Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells insist that Truth was destined to be an Oscar contender?  Call it confirmation bias.  Truth plays to mainstream liberals (which includes the majority of film reviewers) in much the same way that God’s Not Dead 2 plays to Christians.  But just because you agree with a film’s ideology, that doesn’t make it an example of good filmmaking.  While artistic films are often political, it’s rare that political films are ever art.  If every anti-Bush film was an artistic masterpiece, we would be living in a cinematic golden age.

Here’s the thing.  We live in a time when the media is under attack and being used a convenient scapegoat for every bad thing in America. Donald Trump largely won in 2016 by portraying the media as being biased and that’s a charge that will undoubtedly be repeated many times over the next four years.  A heavy-handed mess like Truth doesn’t help anything.

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Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?

The Central Ohio Film Critics Have Announced Their Nominations!


Here are the Central Ohio Film Critics Nominations!

Best Film

-The Big Short
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
-The Revenant
-Room
Sicario
-Spotlight
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Best Director

-Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
-Todd Haynes, Carol
-Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
-George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
-Ridley Scott, The Martian
-Denis Villeneuve, Sicario

Best Actor

-Matt Damon, The Martian
-Johnny Depp, Black Mass
-Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
-Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
-Jacob Tremblay, Room

Best Actress

-Cate Blanchett, Carol
-Brie Larson, Room
-Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
-Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
-Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Best Supporting Actor

-Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
-Tom Hardy, The Revenant
-Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina
-Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
-Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress

-Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
-Rooney Mara, Carol
-Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
-Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
-Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best Ensemble

-The Big Short
Ex Machina
-The Hateful Eight
-Spotlight
Steve Jobs

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)

-Cate Blanchett (Carol, Cinderella, and Truth)
-Michael Fassbender (Macbeth, Slow West, and Steve Jobs)
-Domhnall Gleeson (Brooklyn, Ex Machina, The Revenant, and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens)
-Tom Hardy (Child 44, Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Revenant)
-Alicia Vikander (Burnt, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son, and Testament of Youth)

Breakthrough Film Artist

-Sean Baker, Tangerine – (for producing, directing, screenwriting, film editing, cinematography, camera operation, and casting)
-Joel Edgerton, The Gift – (for producing, directing, and screenwriting)
-David Robert Mitchell, It Follows – (for producing, directing, and screenwriting)
-Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – (for acting)
-Jacob Tremblay, Room – (for acting)
-Alicia Vikander, Burnt, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son, and Testament of Youth – (for acting)

Best Cinematography

-Roger Deakins, Sicario
-Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
-Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight
-John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
-Dariusz Wolski, The Martian

Best Film Editing

-Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
-Tom McArdle, Spotlight
-Stephen Mirrione, The Revenant
-Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road
-Joe Walker, Sicario

Best Adapted Screenplay

-Emma Donoghue, Room
-Drew Goddard, The Martian
-Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
-Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short
-Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Best Original Screenplay

-Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley, Inside Out
-Alex Garland, Ex Machina
-Taylor Sheridan, Sicario
-Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
-Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight

Best Score

-Carter Burwell, Carol
-Michael Giacchino, Inside Out
-Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sicario
-Junkie XL, Mad Max: Fury Road
-Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Best Documentary

-Amy
-Best of Enemies
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
-The Look of Silence
-The Wolfpack

Best Foreign Language Film

-The Assassin (Nie yin niang)
-Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, ich sech)
-Phoenix
-The Tribe (Plemya)
-Timbuktu
-Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes)

Best Animated Film

-Anomalisa
-The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
-The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

Best Overlooked Film

-The End of the Tour
The Gift
-Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
-Mistress America
-Slow West
-The Tribe (Plemya)

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for October!


It’s that time of the month again!

No, not that time!  I mean that it’s time for me to, once again, attempt to guess which films and performers will receive Oscar nominations next January!

This year’s Oscar race is shaping up to be an interesting one.  Even though some favorites have finally started to emerge, there doesn’t yet seem to be any true consensus choices.  For instance, last year, from the moment the film premiered at Sundance, we all knew that J.K. Simmons was going to win an Oscar for Whiplash.  There was never any doubt.  This year, however, has yet to see any such certainty.

Up until a few days ago, I thought a best picture nomination for Carol was about as close to a sure thing as we could hope for.  But now, word is coming in that American audiences are not reacting quite as enthusiastically to the film as the audiences at Cannes.  Much like last year’s Foxcatcher, it’s starting to sound as if Carol might be a film that people respect more than they like.

Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies has been getting positive but not exactly rapturous reviews, which is pretty much what I was expecting.  Spotlight seems to be becoming more and more of a certainty.  A lot of self-appointed award divas are going crazy over Cate Blanchett in Truth, a film that looks incredibly tedious.  Myself, I’m hoping that Suffragette turns out to be great and gets all sorts of nominations.  Unfortunately, this means that I’m now in the rare position of actually agreeing with Sasha “I am the game” Stone of AwardsDaily.

And who would have thought that The Room would suddenly emerge as an Oscar front runner!? Way to go, Tommy Wiseau!  Oh, wait.  It’s a different Room?

Well, never mind then.

Anyway, below you can find my predictions for October and no, I’m still not hopping on the Revenant bangwagon, I don’t care how great the damn trailer is!  (Actually, the trailer is really good…but I made my choices for this month and I’ll live with them.)

Be sure to check out my previous predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, and September.  (Daaaaaaaaaaamn…that’s a lot of predictions!)

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Best Picture

Brooklyn

The Danish Girl

Joy

Room

Sicario

Son of Saul

Spotlight

Steve Jobs

Straight Outta Compton

Suffragette

Best Director

Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs

Tom McCarthy for Spotlight

Laszlo Nemes for Son of Saul

David O. Russell for Joy

Denis Villenueve for Sicario

Best Actor

Michael Caine in Youth

Bradley Cooper in Burnt

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol (and not Truth, so fug off with that commie crap!)

Brie Larson in Room

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Paul Dano in Love and Mercy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol (though I’m sure Noomi Rapace would have been even better in the role)

Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs

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Trailer: Truth


Here’s the trailer for Truth, a film about Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, and a bunch of forged documents.  Judging from the trailer, it looks super tedious but I’m sure it’ll get an A from the reviewer at the A.V. Club.  This looks like the type of boring political film that I would normally pay money to avoid seeing but since it’s being talked up as a potential Oscar nominee, I guess I’ll have to see it and a lot of other movies that I don’t really care that much about.

For the record, I will totally change my opinion if, at some point during Truth, Dan Rather is heard to say, “Hail Hydra.”