The Post

Posted on December 25, 2017 at 11:01 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking and drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some wartime violence
Diversity Issues: Some sexist treatment
Date Released to Theaters: December 25, 2017
Date Released to DVD: April 16, 2018
Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox

Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), publisher of The Washington Post, is going over a list of financial and legal documents once again, rehearsing her answers to the questions she will be getting from bankers about selling shares in the company to the public for the first time. This job is one she never anticipated and never wanted. Her father had handed the business over to her husband and she had been perfectly content to be a mother and a socialite, hosting gracious parties and enjoying friendships with people who were important but never being important herself. But her husband has died — no, she reminds a colleague, he committed suicide. And so this is the job she has, even though the men around her are not sure she can do it and she is far from sure herself.

Daniel Ellsberg (“The Americans'” Matthew Rhys), a top aide to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), watches his boss tell reporters that the military was making progress in Vietnam, exactly the opposite of what Ellsberg had told him moments before. Later, working for the RAND Corporation think tank, he would take 47 volumes of reports on the government’s lies about the military efforts in Vietnam and send them to the New York Times. When the Nixon administration got a court order to stop further publication, it was shy, inexperienced Mrs. Graham who would have to decide whether she would risk her reputation, her family business, and even her freedom to continue to print the story.

And that, my friends in journalism, is why The Post, about the real-life publication of the Pentagon Papers, is not about the New York Times, which published them first, but about the then-considerably second-tier Washington Post and Mrs. Graham, who risked the collapse of the crucial deal to secure their finances, published second. This is about a woman who did not have greatness thrust upon her; she became great when greatness beckoned. And in playing Graham, we see a woman who began great and is still getting greater.

I know, I know, we’re all kind of over how great Meryl Streep is. She has given us so many decades of impeccable performances and inevitable awards nominations that we just take her for granted. But Streep’s performance in “The Post” is worthy of special attention because it shows us exactly what makes her the best actor of her generation. There’s nothing especially flashy about it. She did not have to learn a new language or transform herself as she has done in the past. Yet she is, as always, astonishingly precise in this film as Katharine Graham, a very private 1970’s socialite who is not yet aware of how fundamentally she is changing to become the leader of a major media outlet.

The very best actors convey a mixture of emotions. In “The Post,” the play of thoughts and feelings in Streep’s face as she seeks the courage to stand up to the men who are telling her what to do is like a master class in acting. She is nervous but resolute, insecure about her ability, unsure of her role, but certain about her commitment to the paper. We see how devoted she is to her family and her friends, the tribute she pays to the guest of honor at a cocktail party in the garden of her Georgetown mansion, her concern for her good friend Robert McNamara as he cares for his ailing wife, the way she softens in the middle of a tense conversation when a grandchild chases a ball into the room. But we also see her growing in the realization of the power of The Post and her own power as well.

Streep is not just superb at creating characters. She is a true ensemble player, never showboating but always seamlessly matching the rest of the cast, whether she is playing a notoriously awful singer in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a house band front woman in “Rikki and the Flash,” or a British Prime Minister in “The Iron Lady,” to mention just a few of her most recent roles.

In “The Post” she once again blends into the ensemble and she plays a character who is used to deferring to men. So it is easy to overlook how specific and layered she is in showing us a woman who was quiet, unsure, and, frequently condescended to by the men she worked with. As the shy heiress who unexpectedly became the publisher of The Washington Post when her husband committed suicide, Streep shows us the struggle, the spirit, and ultimately the determination of the woman who took the paper from a small local publication to fearless coverage of Watergate that brought down the Nixon administration.

As the movie begins, Graham is practicing for the biggest challenge she has had since taking over the paper that her father had given to her husband. The company is going to go public and she will have to persuade the bankers that even with the family maintaining control it is going to be a good investment. She is hyper-diligent; as one of the men points out, she is the only one who has read through all of the technical financial and legal documents, and she has made extensive notes for herself. We see her rehearsing her answers and when the time comes and she cannot get the words out, we see how hard she is trying and how much she wants to be the business executive the company needs. Watch Streep as Graham becomes in each scene less of the shy socialite who was unfailingly gracious to the paper’s sources, subjects, and rivals. Watch her become not just an executive but a journalist and a passionate defender of freedom of the press as she spars, first tentatively and then hitting her stride with Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) over his own blind spots in putting friendship before reporting the story. Watch her as her close friend, whose reputation she is about to help destroy, shocks her by showing her his own fundamental integrity, and just try to look anywhere else as she reads aloud a note from her daughter and as she quietly but firmly and authoritatively does at the end of the film what she could not do at the beginning – thinks for herself and makes a decision based on her own sure sense of what is right for the paper and the country.

This movie brings us back to a time when trust in government and media was high. The Pentagon Papers was the first major leak of the modern era, followed by the Cointelpro documents revealed which revealed abuses by the FBI and led to major reforms and increased oversight. The discovery that three Presidents and their administrations had lied about the prospects of success in Vietnam was the political equivalent of “the call is coming from inside the house.” It had a seismic effect on Americans already in the midst of one of the country’s most tumultuous periods of protest and upheaval.

This movie makes it clear that the press had its own credibility issue at the time. Mrs. Graham points out to Bradlee that his close friendship with President Kennedy compromised his integrity as a journalist, as he asks her not to let her close friendship with McNamara compromise hers.

On top of all that, and its uncanny timeliness, it is whalloping good story about secrets and honor and Bob Odenkirk all but steals the film from two of the biggest stars in Hollywood history with his performance as Ben Bagdikian, the reporter with a hunch and a Rolodex who tracked down the papers for the Post. The last scene cheekily sets it up as a prequel to “All the President’s Men.” We can hope both are a prequel to future films about reporters dedicated to telling the story.

Parents should know that this film includes brief footage of the war in Vietnam, reference to suicide, and some strong language.

Family discussion: How did Mrs. Graham change and why? What did Ben Bagdikian mean about being part of a revolution?

If you like this, try: “All the President’s Men” and Mrs. Graham’s superb autobiography

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Journalism movie review Politics Politics Reviews

Politics and Popcorn at Landmark Theater in Washington DC

Posted on May 2, 2017 at 11:36 pm

LANDMARK THEATRES’ E STREET CINEMA PRESENTS
“POPCORN AND POLITICS”

Two-Part Political Film Series features DC Premiere of Laura Poitras’ Julian Assange documentary, “RISK”

Washington, DC – April 26, 2017 – Landmark Theatres’ E Street Cinema is proud to present the spring 2017 “Popcorn and Politics” film series. For two consecutive nights starting on Wednesday, May 3rd, patrons are invited to experience classic and current political films on the big screen and engage in discussions with special guests including film subjects and filmmakers.

The “Popcorn and Politics” Film Series Schedule Includes:

“ARGO”
Wednesday, May 3rd at 7:00 p.m.
Based on true events, this dramatic 2012 thriller and Academy Award “Best Picture” winner chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis—the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades. The film’s subject and retired CIA officer Tony Mendez along with his wife, retired CIA intelligence officer Jonna Mendez, will be joined by The Washington Post’s Michael Rosenwald for a post-screening Q&A. All proceeds from this event will benefit the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.

DC Premiere Screening: “RISK”
Thursday, May 4th at 7:00 p.m.
Laura Poitras, the critically acclaimed director of Academy Award-winning “CITIZENFOUR”, presents her long-awaited documentary “RISK” about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This DC Premiere will feature a Q&A with the filmmaker immediately following the film. “RISK” will open on Friday, May 5th in Washington, D.C. exclusively at Landmark Theatres’ Atlantic Plumbing and West End Cinemas.

ARGO” – for tickets and more information

“RISK” – for tickets and more information

ABOUT LANDMARK THEATRES

Landmark Theatres is a recognized leader in the industry for providing its customers consistently diverse and entertaining film products in a sophisticated adult-oriented atmosphere.

Since its founding in 1974, Landmark has grown to 55 theatres, 255 screens in 27 markets. Landmark is known for both its award-winning historic theatres, such as the Tivoli in St. Louis, the Inwood in Dallas and the Oriental in Milwaukee, and its more contemporary theatres, including our flagship theatre, The Landmark in Los Angeles, the Sunshine Cinema in New York City, E Street Cinema in Washington, DC, and The Landmark Theatre Greenwood Village in Denver’s flourishing Tech Center.

 

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Movie History Movies for Grown-Ups Politics

Miss Sloane

Posted on December 8, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Copyright 2016 Filmnation
Copyright 2016 Filmnation
Striding confidently down the halls of the Congressional office buildings, picking up the check in restaurants with crisp white tablecloths and extensive wine cellars, and, inevitably, at fundraisers, lobbyists are impossible to miss in Washington, D.C. They wear discreetly expensive suits. In fact, they are usually pretty discreet about everything, whether it is handing over money or making threats. Especially when they are making threats.

The film’s title may use the quaint honorific “Miss Sloane,” but do not let that mislead you. Elizabeth Stone (Jessica Chastain in a subtle, vibrant performance) is not looking back. She is a top lobbyist and she tells us right away that means that she always must be thinking ahead. “Lobbying is about foresight and anticipating your opponent’s moves and plotting countermeasures.” She is all about tactics, she is ruthless, and she is determined. “Make sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you.” Everything about her is controlled and knife-edged. Her sheet of red hair is cut so severely it could slice through granite.

There are a fews signs of stress, though. When she thinks no one is looking, she pops some white pills. Some nights she goes to a hotel to spend time with a male escort. And she is rattled when the one she is used to seeing is not there and the new one (Jake Lacy as Forde), but not so rattled that she declines.

The most significant sign of stress is that in a meeting with a very lucrative prospective client, instead of listening politely when he explains his plan to create a group to promote the idea of women opponents to any restrictions on gun ownership, she laughs, harshly and derisively. Her boss (Sam Waterston) is furious. But for Elizabeth it is just one moral outrage too many. In what she herself recognizes is a “Jerry Maguire” move, she quits, taking her staff with her — except for Jane (Alison Pill), her closest aide, who opts to stay with the high salary and opportunity for partnership. Elizabeth is going from one extreme to the other, working to oppose the gun lobby on behalf of a small non-profit run by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong, usually the bad guy but here fine as an idealist).

The smart script by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera and brisk direction from John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) make this a solid Washington thriller with some telling (and accurate) details, moral dilemmas, and plot twists that keep you guessing until the last ten minutes.

Parents should know that this film includes strong and crude language, substance abuse, sexual references and a mildly explicit situation, and corruption and betrayal.

Family discussion: Why did Elizabeth allow herself to be so consumed by the job? Why did she decide to make a change? What would she recommend to improve politics and government?

If you like this, try: the documentary about a real-life lobbyist who went to prison, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” featuring former Congressman Bob Ney

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Election Day Movies: Presidents

Posted on November 8, 2016 at 7:00 am

After you vote, take a break from red and blue maps to enjoy some of the portrayals of real US Presidents on screen.

Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for Lincoln.  I’ve already written about some of the many other movie versions of Lincoln’s life.  “Wilson” stars Oscar nominee Alexander Knox in a dignified tribute to the 29th President. Gary Sinese gave a powerful performance in the HBO movie, Truman. Rough Riders has Tom Berenger as Theodore Roosevelt, leading Cuban rebels against Spain.

Perhaps the most fanciful portrayal of a real US President is “The Remarkable Andrew,” with William Holden as an honorable accountant who discovers a discrepancy in the town books and is visited by the ghost of his favorite President, Andrew Jackson (Brian Donlevy), who provides guidance and support.

President Kennedy’s WWII experience was the subject of PT 109, starring Cliff Robertson.  He was also the subject of 13 Days, about the Cuban missile crisis.  Oliver Stone has directed movies about Nixon, played by Anthony Hopkins (who also played a memorably cagy John Quincy Adams in “Amistad”), and George W. Bush, played by Josh Brolin.  President Nixon has been portrayed in a number of other films, from the acclaimed Frost/Nixon to the humorous but touching Elvis and Nixon and the wild satire Dick.  And of course he is the subject of the Oscar-winning Best Picture All the President’s Men, though he is only glimpsed in archival footage.

The Butler is based on the true story of a man who worked in the White House for eight Presidents, and we see everyone from Eisenhower to Reagan portrayed in the film. Of course Reagan himself was an actor before he went into politics. His best films include “King’s Row” (his own favorite), “Hellcats of the Navy” (co-starring with Nancy Reagan), and, yes, “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

There are some great President movies made for television: Gary Sinese gave a superb performance in Truman and Bryan Cranston was outstanding in the role he originated on Broadway, Lyndon Johnson in All the Way.

President and Mrs. Obama were portrayed in a film about their first date this year, Southside With You. (For the real story of what happened that night, see this adorable column by my dad, who was there.)  “Barry,” another movie about Barack Obama’s early years, will be out soon.

According to TIME Magazine, Lincoln has been portrayed most frequently on screen but perhaps the President most memorable on film is Franklin Roosevelt, the only man to be elected four times, with Sunrise At Campobello, Eleanor and Franklin and its sequel, Warm Springs, Hyde Park on Hudson, and, of course, Annie!  (TIME notes that the only US President never to show up as a character in a movie is Warren G. Harding.)

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Based on a true story For Your Netflix Queue Politics

Snowden

Posted on September 15, 2016 at 5:51 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tension and peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 16, 2016

Copyright Endgame Entertainment 2016
Copyright Endgame Entertainment 2016
Who better to take on the story of Edward Snowden than cinema-of-paranoia director Oliver Stone? Well, Laura Poitras, who directed the documentary about Snowden, “Citizenfour,” and who is portrayed in this film by Melissa Leo. As is usually the case, the documentary is the better film. But Stone’s narrative version, “Snowden,” is an absorbing version of the story, presenting vitally important issues in an arresting, provocative manner, with some superb moments. It is flawed, as Stone’s “historical” films tend to be, by unnecessary stacking of the deck that detracts from the credibility of the film. Stone does not trust the government, which is fine, but he doesn’t trust his audience, which is distracting. If you are going to make your hero a seeker of Truth, then Hollywood-izing the story is counter-productive.

The movie takes on three big questions, answers one, partially answers another, and turns the third over to us. The first question is: what happened? How did a 29-year-old computer guy get access to what appears to be the entire scope of US intelligence, copy it, and turn it over to reporters? Second, why did he do it? And third, is he a hero or a traitor?

Snowden was an enormously gifted, deeply patriotic young man who was in training for military special forces when an injury forced his return to civilian life. “There are other ways to serve your country,” the doctor crisply advises him. Naming Ayn Rand as one of his influences does not raise any concerns in his battery of entry tests and interviews, including lie detector tests. And so he goes to work for the CIA, NSA, and private contractors for both agencies, gaining access to the information and intrusions into personal data that are being constantly combed and mined for possible terrorist activity. Think of it as the government having Google that searches not just all public material but everything we think of as private: every email, every phone call, every bank account and credit card transaction, even invading your non-digital, analog world, including your home. According to this film, the government can spy on you Big Brother style via your webcam, even if the indicator light is off. I will wait here while you go get a Band-Aid to cover it up right now.

A combination of consciousness-raising from his left-leaning girlfriend (Shailene Woodley), horrifying discoveries of 4th Amendment violations, disturbing revelations about the military-industrial complex (from Nicolas Cage!), and disappointment in President Obama’s failure to curb these abuses leads Snowden to decide to go public. Briefly touched on are some other possible factors: the abuse of Tom Drake, who tried to raise these questions through official channels, and, possibly, some psychological or cognitive disturbance resulting from the onset of epilepsy and the drug used to treat it, or from the level of work-related stress that may have triggered the seizures. There is one “Beautiful Mind”-style scene where Snowden’s CIA boss (Rhys Ifans) speaks to him via a Skype-ish video conference, with a looming, room-size head along the lines of the Wizard of Oz. It is not clear whether this is Snowden’s subjective viewpoint or intended to be a realistic portrayal, but the conversation is, even within the framework of this film about massive intrusions into private lives of citizens with no suggestion of any inappropriate activity, preposterously paranoic.

All of this would be so much easier to take if Snowden was not heroic and brilliant every single moment. Given 5-8 hours to complete a programming test at the beginning of his tenure at the CIA, he finishes in under 40 minutes (38, he corrects his instructor), and everywhere he goes, he blows everyone away with his mad skills. As he zippily downloads the files he plans to turn over to the press (in real life it took months, not minutes), colleagues knowingly nod their approval, hard to understand given his insistence that he was careful to make it clear that he alone was responsible for the breach. Gordon-Levitt is, as ever, an enormously talented actor, but he is playing something of a cipher, a person with low affect. The endlessly skilled Melissa Leo is playing a tough and savvy journalist but as written she has little to do but gaze adoringly as she points her camera. The standouts in the cast are two of the most versatile and talented young actors working on film today: Ben Schnetzer and Lakeith Lee Stanfield as two of Snowden’s colleagues. In their brief screen time, each of them creates vivid, three-dimensional characters we instantly connect to more than we do to any of the main characters.

No matter where we place the balancing point between national security and individual freedom, we can all agree that the decisions should not be made unilaterally by individuals in their 20’s like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Snowden says he is hoping to start a conversation. I hope that the conversations about this film will be less about its failings and more about what we should do to make sure the next Snowden does not decide to take this step.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, sexual references and situations and some nudity, tense and perilous situations, and issues of betrayal.

Family discussion: Is Snowden a hero or a traitor? What would you have done if you discovered the level of government surveillance? Who should decide and how much should be disclosed?

If you like this, try: “Zero Days” and “Citizenfour

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