Truth and consequences

Whether one considers the events dramatized in Truth to be a miscarriage of justice, an obfuscation of fact, or – conversely – an example of inaccurate reporting, the film is persuasively presented and constantly absorbing. It’s a film with something to say, as much about contemporary journalism in the 21 st century as the actual story told in the narrative, and it’s bound to provoke discussion, which is hardly a bad thing.

On the eve of the 2004 Presidential election, “60 Minutes II” aired a (now legendary) story hosted by Dan Rather that called into question President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. The subsequent fall-out effectively ended producer Mary Mapes’ career at CBS (she hasn’t produced anywhere since 2004) and hastened Rather’s departure as the host of the “CBS Evening News,” which he had anchored for over 30 years.

With Mapes the central character, the film based on her best-selling book (Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power), and most of the events seen from her perspective, Truth clearly portrays her as the protagonist. This has, unsurprisingly, raised some hackles. (Thus far, the official statements made by CBS regarding the film are, equally unsurprisingly, none too favorable.)

Mapes is played by Cate Blanchett, further solidifying her position as one of the top actresses working today, who brings a passion and ferocity to the role. Yet there’s no halo hovering above her head. She’s driven, curt, and sometimes ill-tempered. Each time she hears the constant official refrain that “no strings were pulled” with regard to Bush’s service, it pushes her further – until, indeed, she and the story are past the point of no return.

Blanchett and Robert Redford, who plays Rather, dominate the proceedings, but there’s ample room for the supporting cast to shine: Topher Grace (who has an awesome meltdown scene), Elisabeth Moss, Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood, John Benjamin Hickey, Andrew McFarlane, David Lyons, Dermot Mulroney and reliable Dennis Quaid.

It’s fascinating to watch Redford, an icon in his field, playing Rather, an icon in his. The actor occasionally nails the Rather drawl and clipped on-air delivery, but merely having him play the role lends Rather a largerthan-life – but not superhuman – stature.

Given Redford’s presence and the approach taken by screenwriter and first-time director James Vanderbilt, Truth cannot help but be compared, to some extent, to All the President’s Men (1976) — although the eventual outcome is very different.

Truth opens Friday !

Even Michael Caine can’t save it…

Put Vin Diesel behind the wheel of a fancy car, and audiences flock to it. Put a flaming sword in his hands to battle witches, and the outcome may be very different.

In The Last Witch Hunter, the 21 st century’s answer to Telly Savalas (not an insult), puts his trademark glower and growl to use as Kaulder, an 800-year-old warrior whose job it is to kill witches, still conjuring up trouble to this very day.

Some of these witches have been imprisoned for centuries – about as long as this movie seems – and have been biding their time, conspiring and combining their power, waiting for the right moment to pop their tops, so to speak. Unless Kaulder can save the day, it’ll be hell on Earth – and experience that many might well compare to watching this movie.

Director Breck Eisner leans more on flashy effects – swarms of CGI flies, hordes of CGI maggots, exploding plumes of CGI flame – than on story, although the screenplay (Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are guilty as credited) offers endless, repetitious story exposition.

For “comic relief” (of sorts), Elijah Wood plays a wide-eyed novice priest who’s such a bumbler that he surely must be hiding something. Rose Leslie, another “Game of Thrones” veteran treading into features, is attractive and, all things considered, personable as a good witch named Chloe, instead of Glinda.

Then there’s Michael Caine, whose star status is ensured – and will endure — despite films like this. This, after all, is the actor unable to accept his Hannah and Her Sisters Academy Award because he was shooting Jaws: The Revenge at the time. As a (visibly) weary priest and the film’s initial fount of exposition, Caine’s words of wisdom sound like discarded dialogue from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. For a good portion of the film, Caine’s character is comatose – yet he still manages to outact the majority of the cast.

Even Diesel, hardly the most expressive actor, appears bored at times – and who can blame him?

The film, whose violence quotient stretches the boundaries of its PG-13 rating (for those who care), plays like a bad comic-book or video-game movie, but since neither pre-exist, The Last Witch Hunter must simply be classified as a bad movie. If this is somehow being touted as a poten- tial big-screen franchise for Diesel, then the first Witch Hunter is likely the last. !

Almost Elvis

Jimmy Ellis was a country boy from Alabama who sounded uncannily like Elvis Presley. His voice was his ticket to stardom … or so he thought.

Jeanie Finlay’s award-winning documentary Orion: The Man Who Would Be King offers a thorough and compassionate look at Ellis, who found his greatest fame (as it were) shortly after Presley’s 1977 death when he donned a mask, adopted the name “Orion,” and fashioned a mythos suggesting he actually was Elvis Presley. Much of the Orion persona was “borrowed” from Gail Brewer Giorgio’s best-seller Orion, the story of a rock star who fakes his own death and tries to become a star all over again.

Ellis, who was billed for a time as “The Star of the ‘80s,” wanted to be recognized for who he was, not for who he sounded like. He even released a song titled “I’m Not Trying to Be Like Elvis.” The mask became his cross to bear, and despite releasing several hit songs, fame eluded him.

Bitterness begins to creep into his life as he contemplates what might have been, what could have been, and what he clearly thinks should have been. But the shadow of Elvis Presley simply loomed too large, even when he finally doffed the mask and dumped the Orion character (at least for a time).

Not unlike the King, Jimmy loved the limelight (too much) and loved the ladies (ditto), but he never became a legend – although the point could be made as Orion he became an urban legend.

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King will be screened 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 3 at the Carolina Theatre (310 S. Greene St., Greensboro) as part of the Southern Circuit Indie Film Series. Tickets are $7 (general admission) or $6 (students, senior citizens, military). For advance tickets or more information, call 336.333.2605 or visit the official Carolina Theatre website:

(For an exclusive interview with filmmaker Jeanie Finlay, turn to Page 31) !

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2015, Mark Burger.