Monday, January 08, 2018

THE POST -- My review

THE POST takes us back to a time when Americans were smart enough to realize the “Fake News” came from the government, not the media. Steven Spielberg delivers a handsomely mounted film with a message more timely now than when its events took place.

Steven has put together a Justice League of American Actors. It’s amazing how many great actors are in this film with nothing to do. Maybe one or two scenes. Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson, Carrie Coon, and Jessie Mueller are just a few of the supporting cast members to go along with mega stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. And other supporting thesps who did get some good stuff to play include Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Jesse Plemons, Bruce Greenwood, and Matthew Rhys. What, Steve couldn’t get Marlon Brando to come back one time and play Spiro Agnew?

And poor Sarah Paulson.  Is there a more thankless role than the "wife."  Plus, she has to deliver the worst speech in the film explaining to us (via Ben) why the stakes are so high.   Later there's another poorly written scene.  Meryl Streep with Alison Brie (who plays her daughter).  For the sake of getting information out to the audience Meryl tells Alison things she would obviously already know.  I'm paraphrasing but not much: "Remember that day you wrote a note and we got into the car and were our way to your father's funeral because he had died and you gave me the note and we were all wearing black...?"   And then, only for our purposes, Meryl has Alison read the note aloud.  Who does that?  Nobody.

The John Williams score sounds like a network news theme played for two hours.  But those are quibbles and personal pet peeves. 

THE POST is a very good movie that would be considered a better movie if it weren’t for ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, which was a spectacular movie. And it’s hard not to compare the two when it’s the same paper, same era, similar storyline, and many of the same characters. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN took down an entire administration. THE POST exposed the government’s cover-up on Vietnam but caused no major impact on history. And as my daughter Annie pointed out, it seems like every year we get another one of these newspaper movies.

Reporters are trying to uncover a major scandal, they’re stymied in their attempt to get all the facts, there’s resistance to print the bombshell story, they finally do, the end.

A recent version was SPOTLIGHT. Spielberg even got the SPOTLIGHT writer, Josh Singer, to rewrite Liz Hannah’s original screenplay.  (If Josh happened to write the Streep-Brie "note" scene Liz might be reading this going "YES!!!") 

And I’m sorry but Jason Robards was better as Ben Bradlee than Tom Hanks.  Tom went in and out of a Boston accent.  He was doing Lawrence Bourne III from VOLUNTEERS.  I wonder if I can get any sequel money??? 

I’m glad Spielberg made THE POST. As always, it’s beautifully shot. The camera work and performances are dazzling.  You should definitely see it.  I say that not as a California Elitist but as someone who loves this country and fears for its future.  The First Amendment needs to be protected, now more than ever. 


Charlie said...

This movie went home empty handed failing to win any from the 6 nominations at GG. Pretentious crap that even waiters failed to give any awards to 😜

Linda said...

Quibbles or personal pet peeves Ken, as you have said many times - John Williams has been scoring the same crap for the past several decades.

And what more, he is getting nominations because of his association with big names and big movies. High time independent movies and their technicians are recognized.

Hollywood has failed to heed to the public's hatred for its incestuous gangbang. Year after year...same actors, directors, crappy musicians being nominated again and again and again.... for their 3rd rate work.

Sick of it.

Anonymous said...

First off I'd like to say that I miss seeing Robards performances too.

Second, I'd also respectfully point out (and speaking as someone who did not vote for Trump) that a signifigant portion of the country has had an issue with media bias for some time. Since, at least, the 90s. And that same section of the country is of the belief that it has gotten even worse since then. It remained ignored and unaddressed--always summarily dismissed and the ones who held the view were castigated. This provided a perfect opportunity for Trump to make political hay out of the issue pitting one group against another.

If people would take the time to at least give a hearing to people on the other side of the aisle on matters that have been brought up for decades...well, then there wouldnt be any opportunities for politicians like Trump to exploit them. We've been pouring salt on the wound of our national divisions for decades. And BOTH sides seem to lack the intelligence to stop and listen to each other.

Of course I could be wrong and I pray for the best for all of you. I welcome your thoughts, given respectfully if you please.


Linda said...

2nd comment:

You didn't mention him in the review but Sam Rockwell's superb performance has got him a Golden Globe.

Very happy that a superb under-rated performer has won. Deserves all the accolades.

So Happy!!!

Phil said...

Thanks for the review Ken.

Just wanted to ask about this article I saw on Roger Deakins.

He is one the best but has never won an Oscar. This is his year they say. But in this article they say his chances are dimmed due to the fact his name wont appear in the ballot paper, just the movie name. So Dunkirk cameraman has more chances of winning.

Is that so? Why aren't names mentioned for every category?

Hope you talk about this when you post anything on Oscars or Roger Deakins.

Feel sad for him :(

kent said...

Keep in mind that most people are too young to remember All the President's Men, so they need this film. On the other hand, I'm not and you're dead on.

Neil said...

I, for one, miss your Golden Globes review and especially Sam Rubin ass-kicking. Ha Ha ha....

I thought I will ask a different type of question about the blog itself, so hope for it to be a post.

Whenever you criticize someone, they respond to you, one way or another like Zack Braff, Sorkin, Roseanne... But has anyone else spoken to you about your criticism?

Like I know you have met Spielberg, but he didn't say anything.

What about Sam Rubin? Surely being in media, he must have come across your blog. Has he replied anytime or e-mailed or met you and asked why you hate him so much?

I feel sorry for Sam Rubin actually, poor guy... :)

Hope you will invite him sometime as your guest for the podcast. That will be fun... ;)

Peter said...

I love Spielberg but just once I wish he'd take a break from his history movies and do a down and dirty R rated film that isn't trying to tell a history lesson but just be a thriller or a drama for adults, the way Scorsese does when he makes something like The Departed or The Wolf of Wall Street.

Roger Owen Green said...

Even Tom Hanks knows that Robards was a better Bradlee than he was, per some interview I read.

Michael said...

Bradlee didn't really have a "Boston" accent, if you think of how we think of those accents. He once was described as having a gravelly voice and looking like a handsome neighborhood bookie or jewel thief.

Chris said...

I made myself watch the whole thing thinking "Surely I'm wrong. People of this calibre cannot have made a movie this inept." I was wrong. Hanks was embarrassing, and, I can't believe I'm saying this because I have never disliked her in anything, but Streep's denial of knowing about Harvey Weinstein was more believable than anything she did in this movie. Was Speilberg just too in awe of the reputation of his leads to get involved?

Alaskaray said...

Ken, I’m sure you remember when I worked for the emergency hospital in Malibu. Well, Daniel Ellsberg lived in Malibu at the time the story takes place and he was one of the doctor’s regular patients. When the Pentagon Papers story broke, all our phones at the office and at our homes were tapped for several months. I guess they wanted to know if we helped him in any way. We didn’t, but I would have if he had asked (as if there was anything I could have done). It was a very weird time in American politics, but today is much weirder.

sanford said...

Regarding Alaskaray's comment on Ellsburg, you should try and get a hold of the documentary the Most Dangerous Man in the World. It is about Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers. Rich Goldsmith was the director. I would also go to you tube and look up his doc on George Seldes. I am sure that few or no one even knows the name. One of the things he wrote about was how bad cigarettes were. This was back in the 40's before the press started writing about it. His journalism career started during WW1. One of the very few reporters that got in to Germany after the War. One of the few reporters that saw what was going on in Italy and got expelled. He also published the paper In Fact for ten years. He got caught up in the Red Scandal although was never proven to be a communist. The paper was the like IF Stone's paper. In Fact went out of business because of a loss of subscribers. Stone's paper started in 1953. We need more reporters like those two.

Dr Loser said...

Has there been a film about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution yet?
I ask, because I'm unaware of one. And there most definitely should be one.
(Preferably not by Steven Spielberg or on the other hand Oliver Stone.)
Props to Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening, btw, who were not just the only two senators to vote against the resolution -- they were both Democrats, theoretically on the same side as the President. Not an eventuality that I would expect to see today.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

I thought the film was very well done. The rushed production is evident, resulting in a shallower effort than Spielberg's usual historical dramas, but I thought the all-pro team did result in an engaging and often entertainingly professional effort that didn't come off as preachy despite the fact that it existed largely do deliver a much-needed message.

One thing I found interesting was that the target of the message wasn't really who I expected. The movie spends very little time trying to change the minds of anyone that thinks that the press shouldn't have the right to publish information that the government doesn't want shared. The film basically treats that as a given, with the very brief courtroom scenes not even showing any of the arguments.

Instead, the audience this movie is primarily targeting is journalists and media companies themselves. Much of the focus is on how publishing information the public needs to know can often be in conflict with the business interests of the publisher as well as the professional relationships and even friendships between journalists and their subjects. All too often right now, we see reporters that seem more focused on preserving their access and/or cultivating ratings/readership than in trying to get at the truth.

Matt said...

I think the daily, if not hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute obsession with all things politics has finally become a mental health crisis. Everything has become infected with "politics."

"I can't believe it. McDonald's ran out of cofffee."
"I Know, right? And it's Trump's (Obama's/Bush's) fault!"

Turn off cable "news." What's going on in your town, your neighborhood, your house? Focus on that instead of feasting constantly on "politics" (it's not even politics anymore. It's become some weird sport "my team's the best and yours sucks! No, MY team is the best and YOURS sucks!! Oh yeah? Well my team...)

For God's sake. Just make it all stop.

Jon B. said...

I know that SPOTLIGHT and THE PAPER are not the exact same movie, but there is obvious comparison. Having re-watched SPOTLIGHT last week, I again enjoyed its depiction of the reporters' tenacity, courage and grace, all while pondering their own failings and potential culpability. It is the superior movie. Michael Keaton > Tom Hanks.

Andrew said...

It's interesting to me that when discussing the Pentagon Papers, Nixon is always depicted as the main villain. But the Pentagon Papers were about the military build-up in Vietnam from the end of WWII thru 1967. In particular, they concerned the years that Kennedy and LBJ were presidents. Why these two presidents are never held accountable for the Vietnam war is a mystery to me. The Papers had nothing to say about the years Nixon was president, yet many people think that he was trying to protect himself.

This is not to minimize Nixon's crimes. But if anyone thinks that Kennedy and LBJ didn't engage in similar domestic activities (including spying on political enemies), they are completely naive.

Peter said...

The Post hasn't opened in the UK yet, but what I strongly recommend in the meantime is Hostiles, a truly beautiful and magnificent western in which Christian Bale gives easily his greatest performance. There is a Spielberg connection here, as it was Spielberg who discovered Bale for Empire of the Sun.

Rosamund Pike is also terrific. One of Ken's favourites, Bill Camp, also makes an appearance. Jesse Plemons is in too - another Spielberg connection!

See it, see it, see it.

McAlvie said...

Robards only had to appear on the screen to be amazing. I think it was something about that lived in face.

I hope they continue making movies about not just big news stories, but about pivotal events, period. It's been multiple decades since I was in a classroom, so I don't know what they are teaching kids about history these days, but I do know that I learned more about WWII from movies than I did textbooks. Okay, WWII would have to be an entire course of its own to do it any justice, it was just that world encompassing. Anyway, textbooks just graze the surface and teachers don't have the luxury of time; and, of course, history just keeps piling on new events to memorize. You can't learn it all.

But movies draw in people who don't normally think they like learning about history. Movies add personality and context to the names and dates, and you care because the actors bring them to life. So bring on the movies, good and bad, big and small, because for lot of people that may be the only way they learn about anything.

Dr Loser said...

Jon B.:

"Why these two presidents are never held accountable for the Vietnam war is a mystery to me."

Why you think that is even remotely the case is a mystery to me, too.

It's all a bit of a conundrum, innit? I'll close with one of those good old timey songs:

"Hey, hey, RMN, how many kids d'ya kill this AM?"

Or something like that ...

Matt said...

Don't forget another really good newspaper movie is 2009's "State of Play" with Russell Crowe.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

Andrew, the film actually does spend some time discussing the other presidents, particularly the friendship between Ben Bradlee and the Kennedys. Nixon obviously has to somewhat take center stage since his administration was the one actively trying to block publication, but the film does make it pretty clear that the Pentagon Papers were mainly about the Kennedy and Johnson years.

Andrew said...

@ Jeffrey G.: Thanks for the info. I wasn't aware of that. I haven't yet decided whether to see the movie or not.

@ Dr. Loser: I'm not sure how snarky you're being. I don't doubt that some responsibility is ascribed to JFK and LBJ. But they aren't held in the kind of contempt that Nixon is, especially among the younger generations.

sanford said...

Regarding Andrews comment. I would say that Nixon was the villain here because he was the one that didn't want the papers published. I mentioned in another comment that I am watching the Most Dangerous Man in America. One of the things that got to Ellsburg was that McNamara knew the war was not going well, gets off a plane after a trip to Nam and tells reporters how well things are going.

Rat Billings said...

Friday Question: When you were still climbing up as a young writer, how did you deal with the emotional side of being re-written?

related Friday Question: When you were running shows, which steps did you take to make sure that your writers all felt valued throughout the inevitable process of re-writes, etc.?

MikeN said...

Like Homeland, this movie suffered with election results. The first draft had a theme of Graham rising to lead The Post as a woman. Now, they try to make it relevant from Trump, though really they are not blatant about it. The viewer puts their own views into making that connection. There's no "In 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,"

Mike said...

I think Trump is a clown. I’ve also worked in publishing for my entire career, and I can say without a doubt that 90% of the people I’ve worked with lean left, and many of those would go after a Republican politician with much more zeal than a Democrat.

I love our free press. But their very clear bias is a major contribution to the divisions in this country.

Joe Blow said...

Chris said, "People of this caliber cannot have made a movie this inept." I could not agree more. Hanks plays the same character in every movie he makes now, and not very convincingly. Streep needs to take a break to get her mojo back.

Matt said, "The minute by minute obsession with all things political has finally become a mental health crisis." Some of the Brits who frequent this blog have commented on this American phenomenon. They can't believe how every subject of discussion finds it's way to left or right politics! It's insane, and so incredibly boring.

sanford said...

I finished watching The Most Dangerous Man. Maybe I misinterpreted something. There was an injunction against the Times for continuing to print. But it seemed like there was an injunction as well against the Post when they started printing. Meanwhile there were at least 17 other papers that were printing articles on the papers. I have never read any of the papers, but I wonder what was in there that would have harmed National Security at the point that they were released. In the movie they played a couple of short excerpts from the Nixon tapes. Nixon seemed to be willing to drop a nuke on Viet Nam. One of the interesting thing in the papers was that 70 or 75 per cent of the reason for keeping the war going was to save face.

sanford said...

So Mike said 90 per cent of the people who has worked with in publishing lean left. I have no doubt that there are probably more left leaning reporters in the press but 90 per cent seem high. I would read Eric Aleterman's piece in the Nation What Liberal Media, which he later turned in to a book. I realize that he and the Magazine lean left, but he makes some good points. You should read James Risen piece on the intercept. Even the liberal bastion New York Times held back a year printing his article about the NSA spying an Americans. Even so called liberal papers don't want to offend their advertisers and probably hold back on stories. I don't know if I would call these stories censored but they were under covered.

Myles said...

POC have been screaming about media biases since the beginning of time but nobody cares until they feel like the bias hurts them.

Myles said...

Issues have to be addressed finally instead of pushed under the rug again for another 20 years. Can't just close our eyes and ears and hope the issues vanish. Most of the things in the mainstream now have been bubbling for a long time.

flurb said...

Given the level of vituperation this blog has lately engendered, I probably should let Linda's comments about John Williams pass - but I can't. Williams has not written the same score over and over again. His sober, reserved music for THE POST could not be tracked into any of the STAR WARS scores. Neither would the dazzling, fiendishly difficult CATCH ME IF YOU CAN fit Indiana Jones' adventure yarns. THE BFG wouldn't work for the jazzy THE TERMINAL, or for A.I. His WITCHES OF EASTWICK score is very different from THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST - and neither would sit well inside JURASSIC PARK or MINORITY REPORT or EMPIRE OF THE SUN or THE EIGER SANCTION or THE MISSOURI BREAKS or JANE EYRE.

Williams is 86 years old this year; he began studio work with Franz Waxman and Miklos Rozsa and the Newman family. He has outlasted his late friends and colleagues Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith and Alex North. He has been working at his craft successfully twice as long as most of the younger film composers have been alive... And I daresay that most of them would agree. I bet Alexandre Desplat would write a better adulatory note in Williams' defense than I am writing now. And in French.

Does Williams get asked to do sequels? Sure, and sometimes accepts. But he always manages to find some new wrinkle in the musical world he's already created.

Does he have an authorial voice? Yes - but that is a feature, not a bug. Does he have orchestral modes of expression that he uses to fit to different genres? Of course. All film composers do. For that matter, so do all artists, whether visual, literary, dramatic, or musical.

Name me one film composer of the last thirty years, if you can, whose scores instantly bring back the emotional experience of their movies the way a few notes from JAWS or E.T. or HARRY POTTER or SCHINDLER'S LIST or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS will. (And then try to remember the original music in, say, ARRIVAL or DUNKIRK.) You may not like every movie he's ever done - and it is important to remember that as an artist he must serve the films, and the directors' visions - but far more often than not he expresses himself as an artist as he helps the story forward. He enriches. He does not coast.

And, Ken, I love ya, but Williams already wrote a TV news theme for NBC News, and THE POST is nothing like that either.

I say, bless JW. I will miss him terribly when he retires.

Peter said...

What flurb said.

I would add that when Oliver Stone made his two brilliant epics, JFK and Nixon, he went to John Williams for the music. The scores for those two films are nothing like the music he's composed for Spielberg's films. It's just lazy for anyone to accuse Williams of doing the same music in every film. Even just the theme to JAWS is so audaciously brilliant and clever, it shows his genius in delivering a theme that is at once witty and compelling, easily putting it up there alongside Herrmann's Psycho shower scene music.

VP81955 said...

The New York Times was far more part of the public perception of the Pentagon Papers than the Post was -- and I lived in the D.C. area in the summer of '71.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

I was resisting commenting on the John Williams bashing, but sign me up as agreeing with every word of Flurb's comment above.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

VP81955 you are right that the New York Times broke the story of the Pentagon Papers and is probably most associated with the story. That is another aspect of this film that is interesting. Unlike "All the President's Men", this really isn't a film about reporting and breaking a story. The Washington Post is the focus of the film mainly because they had a lot more to lose than the Times by challenging the government. That's the main focus of the movie.

Scott H said...

One more strong supporter for John Williams' brilliance. Flurb covered most of the territory. I have one thing to add to what Peter wrote: he may not consider Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July" to be a brilliant epic, but it also has a gorgeous, evocative score by John Williams.

And I must add to both of them the tremendous, and still to this day unmatched, score for "Superman: The Movie", which Williams wrote in 1978. With the dozens (is it hundreds yet?) of superhero movies we've seen since, no other music is as strongly associated with its lead character as Williams' original Superman theme. Tim Burton's original "Batman" theme is probably a distant second.

Andrew said...

One more huge up-vote for Flurb and the other commenters loving on John Williams.

Two favorites of mine:
1) The Map Room scene from Raiders
2) Opening scene from ET

Cap'n Bob said...

The chant I remember, Dr Loser, went like this:

Hey,hey, LBJ,
How many boys did you kill today?

Scott H said...

Oops, I of course meant "Danny Elfman's Batman theme" in Tim Burton's original "Batman" movie.

cadavra said...

I think it's the best film of the year and its faults are minimal at best. As for Hanks, he does a swell, believable job. So he's not Robards. So what? This is like saying no one should ever play Hamlet or Othello or Richard III again because they'll never be as good as Olivier.

kent said...

The best newspaper movie was The Front Page

John Jackson Miller said...

Waited to see the film before posting, but a possible Friday question here:

Do you think actors in biopics face tougher decisions in the video era? Robards' Bradlee is the more interesting character, as you say -- but I've seen enough interviews with the real Bradlee since to realize he wasn't trying to do an impression of the man, whom most viewers then had never seen. Redford and Hoffman's performances were understood by many back in the day to be fairly far off the real reporters; now, with Woodward and Bernstein on TV every other night, could actors in a remake get away with that?