Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


Consider the studio’s promotion sentence about Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer: “Scandalous is the true story of the National Enquirer, the infamous tabloid with a prescient grasp of its readers’ darkest curiosities.” If that sentence repels you, go no farther but for me it was an interesting look at a newspaper I never read because I thought gossip was ugly. This documentary tells us about the newspaper and the many subjects of their published scandals.

At sixteen, Gene Pope wanted to take over his father’s paper that back then concentrated on gore and sold to 1,000,000 people. As the suburbs sprawled in the ‘60s, Pope put his paper in supermarkets and changed its emphasis from violence to gossip on his theory that real world news is boring or harsh.

The now rich boss sent his reporters around the world – first class all the way, but they were competitive and often cruel to each other. Competition ruled in the form of Friday night parties where Pope fired people who had failed in any way. Employees were sent to talk to families, lawyers, hair dressers, or anyone who might give them gossip leads. They paid for information with cash and betrayed each other in the process of getting scoops.

Some of the hot scandals that enabled the explosive growth: Bob Hope having affairs with stars and “everyone else.” When Elvis died, the paper went to Memphis and turned a whole hotel into a newspaper office. Ordered from on high to get a picture of Elvis in his coffin, they connived and bribed and got the picture that sold 6.9 million copies of the paper. Their sales eclipsed Time and Newsweek.

Bill Cosby, “America’s dad”, was another. After politics became celebrity, Gary Hart lost his shot at the presidency because of the paper’s $87,000 picture of him and his girlfriend. Back then, a young Donald Trump was photographed with his girlfriend, Marla Maples. The film says Trump repeatedly called in gossip about himself while pretending he was someone else.

O.J. Simpson, former football star, was a big catch. His ex-wife was murdered. Did he do it? The coverage was deep, including the discovery and use of his shoe sole patterns to prove he had been on the murder scene. After Princess Di’s death in an auto crash, a dignified George Clooney savaged the newspaper in a TV speech – “What are they doing to these people?”

The widespread gut reaction may be disgust with the paper but after their stories began to spread to the mainstream press, the scandals became regular news that people weren’t ashamed to read. The lingering feeling for me after watching all this was, yes, disgust, but also a deep wondering of why people who have won public acclaim with their talents can’t begin to realize they have something to live up to. They have realized their gifts. Imagine an entertainment world where celebrities respect their public and the public respects their privacy. It won’t happen.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Scandalous
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 1:37
Rating: R
Date: November 17, 2019

This review was posted on November 17, 2019, in Documentary.

Marriage Story

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Marriage Story

Marriage Story opens beautifully as a husband and wife describe each other and the path of their marriage from day one to now. As each finishes the personal tale, we have become happy captives in their problems. The rest of the story expands our knowledge of this marriage based on that fine beginning. We have been warned there will be a divorce but have no idea where that will lead.

It’s common knowledge now that the conventional long marriage between two individuals – each different from the other – can be a big problem confirmed by divorce statistics. Within minutes we know that Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) have loved each other, love their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), and that she is coming unglued over her frustrations in the marriage. It is a welcome relief to watch it unfold without the usual Hollywood anger. This couple does not want to detest each other.

Then the lawyers come. Must lawyers always push their clients to extremes just to bolster their side of the case? Must they always be rooted in building a nasty case instead of a discussion? Nicole is an actor in California, Charlie a director in New York. He wants her there by his side, she wants to establish herself in Hollywood. Both love their son; each respects the other.

As things disintegrate, they both cherish their time with the son each of them loves so much. A haunting sentence from Nicole: “The kids – once they leave your body, they just continue going away.” We are watching a grandmother, lawyers, and shrinks who rough everything up but we never lose our affection for Nicole and Charlie. We root not so much for their marriage because we understand why it’s over, but for their deep appreciation for the decency of the other. Have the lawyers managed to shred that along with the marriage?

The audience is caught and is rooting for each. That rare situation is due to writer/director Noah Baumbach who paints the differing atmospheres of Hollywood and New York along with the essential decency of his players. Randy Newman’s score is quietly supportive rather than dominant or melodramatic. Even grief and defiance are delivered calmly and in small detail.

Every actor here seems to understand director Noah Baumbach’s determination to avoid a melodramatic divorce drama. This one unfolds with fine acting by the whole cast as the audience roots for both of them. Scarlett Johansson and Azhy Robertson, as mother and son, are quietly and consistently good which allows us to become thoroughly drawn to the gradual collapse of Adam Driver’s Charlie. His long and very deep performance captures all of us.

Watch the skillful unfolding of the small physical details that flesh out the characters and carry the story, and prepare for the finest surprise gesture that ends this movie. This is a quiet story not of a divorce war but of an unfortunate but inevitable separation.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Marriage Story
Word Count : 498
Running Time : 2:16
Rating : R
Date : November 10, 2019