MOVIE BUFF-ET: The Front Runner falls flat despite raising interesting questions

The Front Runner

Sony Pictures

“The Front Runner” is a movie that ultimately asks questions that are more interesting than the the film itself.

The biographical drama, directed by Jason Reitman and starring Hugh Jackman as Democratic Sen. Garry Hart, details how Hart went from being the front runner for the 1988 presidential campaign one week, and then three weeks later his political career was virtually over because of reports of an extra-marital affair with Miami saleswoman Donna Rice (Sara Paxton).

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The film is based off the 2014 book “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” by Matt Bai, which delved into the news event that basically declared the end of a private life for all major American political candidates, even though the press routinely looked past the affairs of presidents and other politicians in the past.

Hart’s declaration that the newsworthiness of policy stances trumped the private piccalillis of political candidates fell on deaf ears as the tricky decision of one newspaper, the “Miami Herald.” to run a half-baked but ultimately true story turned into a media feeding frenzy that doomed Hart’s presidential aspirations.

Today the question of privacy might seem passé in a world where cameras are filming everywhere and most digital correspondence and many conversations can easily be accessed through various forms of technology. However, the question of what is and should be private concerning the lives of our elected officials is as pertinent today as ever.

That said Reitman (“Juno” and “Up In the Air”) delivers a flat movie with an oddly unlikeable performance by the usually charming Jackman. Jackman’s performance as Hart left me wondering how and why Hart garnered such great support if he acted anything like the character in the film.

The most compelling performances in the movie are by J.K. Simmons and Molly Ephraim as members of Hart’s political team. Unfortunately Vera Farmiga is all but wasted in her role at Hart’s wife Oletha “Lee” Hart.

(R) 1 hr. 53 min.
Grade: C

Creed II


Director Steven Caple Jr. delivered a sturdy yet unsensational followup to Ryan Cooler’s original in “Creed II. The movie unfortunately lacks the emotional punch of the first film because the story is all too familiar.

The film is not only a sequel to “Creed,” but it’s also is a sequel to and re-make of 1985’s “Rocky IV” as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordon) fights Russian boxer Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the boxer who killed Adonis’ father, Apollo in the ring.

Jordon is charismatic and compelling as Creed, and Sylvester Stallone still has as much pugnacious charm as ever as the elderly Rocky Balboa, who again mentors Creed as his corner man. I enjoyed the movie because of those two performances and for the menace Munteanu and Lundgren provided as the Dragos, but the paint-by-the numbers story was disappointing.

Watching the movie was like going to eat a dependable fast-food chain called Rocky’s. It was fun and filling, but ultimately I wanted a less formulaic product.

Here’s my ranking of the Rocky films.
1. Rocky (1976), 2. Rocky Balboa (2006), 3. Creed (2015), 4. Rocky II (1979), 5. Rocky III (1982), 6a. Rocky IV and 6b. Creed II (2018), 8. Rocky V (1990).

Grade: B-
(PG-13) 2 hr. 10 min.

Classic Corner

With the Christmas season barreling at us like a runaway bolder rolling down a snowy hill, Turner Classic Movies will be featuring seasonal movies in prime time on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23. Here’s what’s on tap this weekend

Saturday, Dec. 1

Beyond Tomorrow at 7 p.m. (CT)

“Beyond Tomorrow” is charming yet cautionary fantasy from 1940 in which three older gentlemen become guardian angels of sorts to an engaged couple James, a cowboy crooner, and Jean, a school teacher, they introduced prior to their deaths in a plane crash. The film, directed by A. Edward Arthur, features no major stars, but film buffs might recognize cowboy actor Harry Carey and Maria Ouspenkskaya (the gypsy Maleva from “The Wolf-Man”) while enjoying this well-crafted B movie.

The Bishop’s Wife at 8:45 p.m. (CT)

“The Bishop’s Wife” stars Cary Grant as the angel Dudley who comes to Earth to help a wayward minister David Niven at Christmastime and while doing so, inadvertently falls in love with the minister’s wife, played by the lovely Loretta Young. Few things say Christmas like the opening scenes of the film, and the rest is awfully good, too.

Sunday, Dec. 2

The Shop Around the Corner at 7 p.m. (CT)

“The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) is a tight, beautifully shot romantic comedy by Ernest Lubitsch, starring old friends Jimmy Stewart and Margret Sullivan as pen pals who fall in love with each other through their correspondence , but unknowingly dislike each other as co-workers. It’s set during Christmastime, and it inspired remakes “In the Good Ol’ Summertime” (1949) and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998).

Holiday Affair at 9 p.m. (CT)
In 1949’s “Holiday Affair” Robert Mitchum plays against type as a World War II veteran who falls for single mother Janet Leigh, when he meets her while she is comparison shopping in the department store where he works. There is a connection but a reticence on Leigh’s part because she has a son and a boyfriend who would like to be her fiancé. Circumstances lead them all being together for Christmas where Mitchum surprises everyone with an audacious request.