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Thumbnails Dec 17

by Tony Medley

The Newpaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee (9/10): This is a fascinating but zero-warts homage to the Managing Editor of the Washington Post who was made famous by the film “All the President’s Men” (1976). It’s told with interviews with all the fawning A-listers who admired him, like Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Jim Lehrer, John Dean, Norman Lear, Robert Redford, Sally Quinn, Tina Brown, Tom Brokaw, and a myriad of others. There is nary a disparaging word (except from Henry Kissinger). The film includes some shocking scandalous stories of the apparently constantly randy President JFK, with whom Bradlee had an unprofessional best-friend relationship, that I’ve never heard before. Not interviewed are the two wives he callously dumped because he met someone younger and sexier. Not mentioned is the perjury he committed in falsely testifying in the 1965 trial of the murderer of his sister-in law. Asked at the end if he had any regrets, he thinks, then says, “I don’t know, if I hurt Tony Bradlee (wife #2, who broke up his first marriage; only to have her marriage to Bradlee broken up by Sally Quinn, 20 years younger) I would regret that. If I hurt Jean Saltonsal Bradlee (wife #1), I would regret that.” Then, thinking a little, he smiles and says, “I don’t know; I don’t regret very much,” and laughs. The film lost its way when it did not deal in more detail with the unfeeling, ruthless way he treated two loving wives and mothers of his children. Because of Watergate he is known as a man of principle. But would a man of principle treat his wives and family so hardheartedly? It would have been a much better film had it dealt with this moral chiaroscuro. HBO Dec. 4

Daddy’s Home 2 (5/10): It might be that Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell are trying to create a comedic pair akin to Laurel & Hardy. Not even close. Laurel’s character was the schlemiel to Hardy’s schlimazel. What Wahlberg and Ferrell are is anybody’s guess, but Ferrell is no schlemiel (and certainly no Stan Laurel) and Wahlberg is no shlimazel, so it’s not what Laurel & Hardy were doing. Despite a boffo performance by Mel Gibson, whatever it is that they are trying, it’s not funny.

Murder on the Orient Express (5/10): I suppose that somewhere in this favored land where the sun is shining bright, where the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere children laugh there is someone who does not know the story of “Murder on the Orient Express.” For them, because of its high production values, this movie could possibly be rated higher. But if you know the story and you have seen the brilliant Peter Ustinov or David Suchet play the role of Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s detective with the little gray cells, the appallingly lackluster performance by director Kenneth Branagh could make this movie as tedious for you as it was for me.

Darkest Hour (5/10): The problem that I have with this film is how much can it be trusted? The question is relevant because the screenwriter is Anthony McCarten, who also wrote the screenplay for The Theory of Everything, the story of Stephen Hawking. And that screenplay was inexcusably dishonest, burying the horrific unhappiness of Hawking’s wife and the brutal way he treated her. The answer is, not much. According to “Alone,” Michael Korda’s seminal 2017 book about Churchill and Dunkirk, the main theme of the film, that Churchill was opposed by his entire war cabinet including former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in wanting to fight on instead of suing for peace in 1940 when the British army was trapped at Dunkirk, is pure poppycock, as are other only in Hollywood-manufactured scenes.

Thor: Ragnarok (2/10): Maybe every other American movie shouldn't be based on a comic book. Other countries will think Americans live in an infantile fantasy land where reality is whatever we say it is and every problem can be solved with violence. Bill Maher. This movie (apparently intended as a comedy), and all the rest of the Marvel Superhero movies, is a monument to American entertainment’s devotion to nonsensical movies aimed at the intellect of a subnormal 13 year old boy. It is so absurd and contrary to any notion of intelligent story-telling that stimulates the brain that it doesn’t deserve anything more than what’s written here.