Categories Print Media Review Spy Wars

Wall Street Journal Review: Spy Wars With Damian Lewis – March 19, 2020

Espionage in the Spotlight

by Dorothy Rabinowitz | The Wall Street Journal | March 19, 2020

Smithsonian Channel’s series tells shockingly true stories of the clandestine variety. In 1968, a loyal officer of the KGB is so shaken by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that he becomes an operative for British and American intelligence—one, “Spy Wars” reveals (begins Sunday, 8 p.m., Smithsonian Channel), destined to be of historic importance. This is the saga of Oleg Gordievsky—subject of the first episode of this eight-part weekly series, and a rich portrait it is. When his role of many years as a spy for the British and Americans finally becomes known to the Kremlin, quick exfiltration becomes an urgent necessity. His 1985 getaway in the trunk of a car driven by unflappable MI6 agents, who get him safely to Finland despite suspicious Russian border guards—and the howls of their alert dogs, who quiet down when the car’s driver throws them a treat—is an escape sequence to cherish.

In 2001, Robert Hanssen—one of the FBI’s most trusted agents—is unmasked as the mole who had, for 20 years, betrayed the identities of American assets in the Soviet Union and then Russia, thus ensuring their deaths at the hands of execution squads.

Continue reading Wall Street Journal Review: Spy Wars With Damian Lewis – March 19, 2020

Categories Review Run This Town Screenings

How Accurate is Run This Town – March 6, 2020

Fact or Fiction? A Comparison.

by Courtney Shea | Toronto Life | March 6, 2020

It’s been 10 years since Rob Ford rode his gravy train all the way into the mayor’s office. From the start, his reign was mired in scandals and stupors, but things reached international-talk-show-punchline levels with rumours of a video that showed him smoking crack. This regrettable slice of city lore is the basis of Run This Town, a new movie out Friday starring Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Ford, and co-starring Nina Dobrev and Mena Massoud. The drama centres around the hunt for the elusive video, and for those of us who lived through Crackgate, the story will feel familiar…sort of. Real-life events are the inspiration, but like a certain erstwhile mayor, writer and director Ricky Tollman has taken more than a few liberties with the truth. Here’s our (very spoilery) analysis of truths and post-truths in the film.

The protagonist
Real life: The most significant deviation from actual events is the movie’s gender-swapped protagonist. In March 2013, Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle received an anonymous call from a source with access to the crack-smoking Ford video. She viewed the footage in an Etobicoke parking lot a month later.

Run This Town: In the movie, the hungry young reporter chasing the crack video is 20-something journalism grad Bram Shriver (Ben Platt). Doolittle tweeted about the surprising gender swap when the movie was first announced: “I’m glad they’re rewriting the fact that it was a female reporter who investigated Rob Ford. Why have a woman be a lead character when a man could do it? Ammaright?” In response, Tollman said that his movie tells a different story: one that uses the Ford crack scandal to explore millennial entitlement and male privilege. It was, per Tollman, inspired by his own brother’s post–journalism school experience.

The paper
Real life: The Star was the paper at the centre of the Crackgate scandal, though the video was ultimately scooped by Gawker, which published a written account of the video in May 2013.

Run This Town: Bram works at a fictional paper called the Record, reporting to an extremely cranky mid-level editor named David (Scott Speedman). In the film, the Star and the Globe also exist. When the story finally comes out, it’s on an unnamed website—a stand-in for Gawker. It’s unclear what purpose the Record serves as a plot device, since Bram could have just as easily worked at one of the real papers. Maybe because it’s because most real newsroom editors don’t look like Scott Speedman.

The mayor
Real life: Ford was famously scruffy and unkempt—it was part of his Average Joe persona, but also down to his penchant for after-hours (and during-hours) debauchery. And while he grew up posh in Etobicoke, his accent was curiously blue-collar Ontario.

Run This Town: Hunky Brit Damian Lewis is totally unrecognizable in a fat suit and extensive prosthetics. The result captures Ford’s signature dishevelment. Playing the mayor in party-mode is where Lewis does his best work. A scene where he hosts an after-party at his office will probably feel familiar to anyone who worked at City Hall during the Ford administration. As for the accent, Lewis worked with a voice coach to pull off a convincing hoser-lite, but at times it sounds more East Coast than outskirts of Toronto.

Continue reading How Accurate is Run This Town – March 6, 2020

Categories Review Run This Town

LA Times Review of Run This Town – March 5, 2020

‘Run This Town’ Runs the Table in a True Tale of Mayoral Malfeasance in Toronto

by Kenneth Duran | Los Angeles Times | March 5, 2020

Smart, ambitious and impressive, “Run This Town” is the best kind of feature directing debut, a film that entertains and makes you look forward to what will come next.

Written and directed by Ricky Tollman and inspired by a real-life scandal that enveloped Toronto’s then-Mayor Rob Ford half a dozen years ago, “Run This Town” does several things well.

It delivers a savvy portrait of millennials — eager to get ahead in a world they never made while coping with multiple pressures — by presenting two individuals who end up working two sides of the same situation.

Mena Massoud (“Aladdin”) plays Kamal Arafa, a special assistant to Ford, who is — truly — a larger-than-life mayor (that’s Damian Lewis under a ton of makeup).

Kamal’s job is spinning Ford’s periodic bad behavior, and when he hears about a tape that shows the mayor smoking crack, he swings into action.

Bram Shriver (Ben Platt, Tony winner for “Dear Evan Hansen”) is an aspiring journalist stuck doing “best of” lists. Eager to prove himself to his acerbic bosses (Jennifer Ehle and Scott Speedman, both excellent), he too gets wind of the tape and goes after it.

Intent on telling these individual stories (as well as that of another Ford assistant played by Nina Dobrev), “Run This Town” also finds time for generational commentary and an examination of how both politics and journalism operate.

Read the rest of the original article at Los Angeles Times

Categories Review Run This Town

New York Times Review of Run This Town – March 5, 2020

What Happens When the Mayor Smokes Crack?

by Ben Kenigsberg | New York Times | March 5, 2020

“Run This Town,” a jagged, snappy procedural that splits its time between a downsizing newspaper and a dysfunctional city government, is a fictionalized account of an actual scandal. In 2013, The Toronto Star and Gawker both said their reporters had watched a video that appeared to show Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, smoking crack. Six months later, he admitted to having used the drug, but did not resign.

Bram (Ben Platt), a young journalist who writes listicles for a Toronto news outlet, is clearly out of his depth when he meets a potential source who wants to sell him the video. The movie, which ends with Bram delivering a self-righteous, mostly unmotivated defense of his generation’s work ethic, takes a weirdly sympathetic attitude toward his stumbles.

The film is much sharper at city hall, where the two other major characters work. Kamal (Mena Massoud), the special assistant to the mayor, gleefully demonstrates his reporter-stonewalling strategies to Ashley (Nina Dobrev), a new press aide. She eagerly runs interference for the mayor until he shows up at work drunk and grabs her lewdly. Damian Lewis plays Ford, whose name is not changed, in a surprisingly effective feat of prosthetics.

Making energetic use of split screens, the writer-director Ricky Tollman shows a gift for staccato cutting and clipped dialogue, as in a spirited discussion of terminology at city hall.

Read the rest of the original article at New York Times

Categories Print Media Review Run This Town

Run This Town Review – March 2, 2020

Damian Lewis is Exceptional as Ford

by Hannah Hoolihan | Screen Rant | March 2, 2020

In May of 2013, a video surfaced that appeared to show Toronto’s former mayor, Rob Ford, smoking crack. It was hardly the first time his name had come up in relation to controversy, but it was the rock big enough to cause a ripple effect throughout his administration. But, rather than focusing on Ford’s bombastic personality and fall from grace, writer-director Ricky Tollman’s debut feature centers on those in smaller positions working in a variety of industries around him. Whether they’re eager to break this monumental story or to try and keep it contained, the effort exuded by each party far outweighs Ford’s cataclysmic nature, even if his presence looms heavily over the narrative. Run This Town falls short of its storytelling aspirations but finds success in Ben Platt and Mena Massoud, who lead with lively, enthralling energy.

Run This Town‘s narrative is mainly focused on Kamal (Massoud), a political aide to Ford, and Bram (Platt), a recently-graduated journalism major with a hunger to break his first big story. The two live entirely different lives, but share one common goal of climbing the respective ladders at their institutions. When the video of Ford becomes known to Bram, he jumps at the opportunity to use this as his ticket to leave his current position as a listicle writer. Kamal, on the other hand, is struggling to contain the story while still maintaining his legitimacy in his field. In the end, the true focus of Tollman’s story is how tirelessly these two characters worked to prove themselves, which Massoud and Platt play up in equally electric performances.

Continue reading Run This Town Review – March 2, 2020