Tag Archives: Streep

Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: The Post

Post

Merly Streep plays newspaper head Katharine Graham in The Post.

The subject matter of The Post doesn’t sound like the type of subject matter that would win a big crowd, but it is a film worth seeing.

The story goes back in 1966 during the Vietnam War. Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg is in Vietnam with General Robert McNamara to document the progress of the war. McNamara admits to Ellsberg and President Johnson that the war is hopeless but has confidence in the effort, leaving Ellsberg disillusioned.

Years later, Ellsberg is now working for a military contractor and comes across classified documents showing the US’s decades-long involvement in the conflict in Vietnam going back to just a few years after World War II ended. Ellsberg discloses the documents to the New York Times.

It’s 1971. Katharine Graham is head of the Washington Post. It’s been a position she mastered with a lot of difficulty as it’s commonly seen as a ‘man’s position.’ Even though her family founded the Post, the position of the head went to her husband Philip instead of her. It was right after Philip’s suicide that Katharine became head. It’s not easy for a female to be head of a newspaper. Especially someone like Graham who has a good work ethic, but lacks experience and is constantly overruled by the aggressiveness of the men of the Post. On top of that, she seeks to gain an IPO for a stock market launch to propel the Post to greater strength. The Washington Post however is second-fiddle to the New York Times which always has the biggest news scoops, even the scoops of what’s happening in Washington.

Editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee is one of the men who work for her. He tries in vain to be one step ahead of the New York Times in coming up with the latest scoops, but falls short each time. Meanwhile McNamara, who is a friend of Graham’s, confesses to her of how he’s the subject of bad news in the New York Times. It’s through their constant expose of the government’s deception of the American public. However a court injunction blockades any further publication of such news by the Times.

Ellsberg is willing to provide the documents and opportunity to the Post to publish the stories. As they look through the stories to publish, lawyers to the Post advise against publishing the story, fearing the Nixon administration will press criminal charges. Graham seeks advice from McNamara, Bradlee and Post chairman Fritz Beebe of whether to publish. It’s made even more frustrating when the lawyer note that since  the sources are the same as the New York Times, Graham herself could be charged with contempt of court. It’s a gamble. Graham risks terminating the newspaper her family established. Alternatively, the Post won such a legal battle, it would establish itself as a major journalism source, much on the same level as the New York Times.

She agrees to have the story published. The White House retaliated by taking both the Times and the Post to the Supreme Court to argue their case of publishing classified document information being a First Amendment Right. Both newspapers receive almost unanimous support from the other newspapers in the US and they win their Supreme Court battle 6-3. An infuriated Nixon bans the Post from the White House. And the rest is infamy… for Nixon.

The film is more than just about a top secret story that needed to be exposed and makes journalism history. The story is also about the newspaper behind the story. We shouldn’t forget that this came at a time when The New York Times was the newspaper that delivered the biggest news about what was happening in the Oval Office and the ones to do it first. Even though the Washington Post was the newspaper of Washington, DC, it was more of a second-fiddle newspaper like the newspapers of the rest of the cities. The New York Times lead and all other newspapers, including the Washington Post followed. This story allowed the Washington Post take pole position towards what was happening in Washington. This would also allow for the Washington Post to be the prime newspaper to go to upon the breaking of the Watergate Scandal. Even despite the Post competing against the Times, they united when they faced the heat of the freedom-of-speech debate and won together.

The film is not simply about a history-making story, a legal breakthrough or even a milestone for a newspaper. It’s also the personal story of Katharine Graham and how she had to achieve greatness for herself. Katharine Graham was born into the paper and assumed control of it right after her husband died. It was always tradition that a man headed the newspaper. After the suicide of her husband, she headed it. The paper her ancestors founded and the paper she wants to propel into marketability. This news story could help be the boost she needed, but the court injunction against the New York Times causes her to put it on hold. Basically she’s gambling everything with this touchy story: the Times, her status as a leader, her role as a woman with power, her role as a mother, even her own personal freedom. In the end, that one decision caused left all of us convinced she did the right thing. She did more than just allow a story. She did more than boost the profile of the Washington Post. She created a breakthrough in freedom of speech and freedom of press. On top of that, she earned the respect from her male colleagues. That was rare back in the early 70’s.

This story is very relevant to the present. We always hear those words ‘fake news.’ We have a feeling that Donald Trump is like a big brother monster who wants to control everything. There are often times in which I wonder if the times of Nixon were worse than the times of Trump. I know all about Nixon and his lust for control. Whatever the times, the story and the court ruling against government censorship of the press serves as a reminder to all citizens that the press has the right to publish the truth to the public. The ruling of the New York Times vs. The United States of America back then was clear: “‘In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” That ruling still applies today.

Leave it to Steven Spielberg to direct a story that will capture our intrigue. Some would describe this type of story as a ‘boring story.’ Steven Spielberg knows how to direct it into something interesting and have us glued to the screens. The screenplay by Josh Singer and Liz Hannah also creates the right interest and intrigue. They’re able to take the chain of events surrounding the publishing of the story and turn it into a story of intrigue. Even a story from a humanist side.

Once again, Meryl Streep delivers in creating depth in a public figure. She gave Katharine Graham the right dimension and the right humanistic tone to make the story work. Tom Hanks also does an excellent job in his role as Ben Bradlee. He delivers in the character very well as he adds some dimension to Bradlee too. The supporting actors may have minor or limited roles, but they add to the film too. Janusz Kaminski does an excellent job of cinematography and John Williams again delivers a fitting score.

The Post is a journalism story that will keep one intrigued. It’s a story that’s very relevant today as it’s also about our own right to know the truth.

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Movie Review: Into The Woods

 

Meryl Streep plays a witch in control of the fates of fairy tales in the film adaptation of Into The Woods.

Meryl Streep plays a witch in control of the fates of fairy tales in the film adaptation of Into The Woods.

Into The Woods is the latest Broadway musical to hit the big screen. The question is does it entertain and charm well enough for moviegoers?

The film begins just as the fairy tales do so: Little Red Riding Hood is about to go to grandma’s with her basket, Jack has to sell the cow as she’s getting old, Cinderella is being mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, a lonely couple want a child, and Rapunzel is imprisoned in a castle by the Witch. The Witch puts a request on the couple. You first thing it’s just Rapunzel’s hair but she also asks for a red cape, a white cow and a golden slipper.

As they search the stories proceed: Riding Hood is lured off the path by a wolf, Jack goers to market but will only accept an offer that would mean the return of his cow, Cinderella arrives at the ball. However the couple find their way into the story or pass by it: Jack receives magic beans from the husband, the wife tries to swipe Cinderella’s slipper off her feet after running from the ball, the husband passes the tower Rapunzel is kept captive in, and both notice Riding Hood’s cape.

After a series of misadventures, the couple has all the items needed to produce the spell to receive their baby, all the fairy tale characters have their expected happy endings and the witch is able to regain her beauty with the potion. However the ‘Happily ever after’ endings don’t end up being so happy after all. The Baker worries he might end up being a poor father to his son just like his own father, Cinderella loses her charm for prince charming and the lavish life with it, Rapunzel is scared by the outside world, the witch loses her powers with her returned youth and Jack is pursued by the giant’s wife –ahem, widow– who came down to earth via a second beanstalk and demands Jack or she will destroy the village and its inhabitants.

Soon everything goes opposite to what’s planned. Casualties include the Baker’s wife who fell for Prince Charming before her accidental death, Rapunzel as she ran off forever with her prince, Riding Hood’s mother and grandmother, and Jack’s mother. The latter three killed in the Giant’s Wife’s rampage. On top of it, Cinderella and Prince Charming part ways. At first those still standing–the Baker, Cinderella, Jack and Red Riding Hood– think that Jack should be offered back only for them to blame each other. Nevertheless they do work things out, defend against the Giant and there’s the genesis of a new fairy tale the Baker reads to his son.

I have to say as a musical, Into The Woods was probably not the first time fairy tales have been mixed together to surround a main plot. It’s not even the first in motion pictures. Remember Shrek? What it needed to do was stay true to the fables while mixing the story of the baker and his wife as well as the haunting of the Witch during the first half and then allow for a believable twist to the fables we all know to occur in the second half. Even though the twist occurred starting with the giant’s wife appearing, all the twists of the stories had to appear sensible and pertinent to the original story. Some of the twists were very surprising and even tragic but it did come together in the end. That’s how the stage musical of Into The Woods worked.

The next trick was to bring Sondheim’s musical to the screen. Putting a stage musical to screen is a very difficult thing. There’s a lot of decision-making on what from the stage play to leave in and what to leave out. That would fall into the hands of director Rob Marshall and scriptwriter James Lapine who wrote the original Broadway version. However when it’s Disney that buys the rights, you think it would be a big break but there was an added challenge. Naturally with this being a musical about a mish mash of fairy tales, Disney would want to make this a family film and that could be intrusive to the control Sondheim and Lapine have over the play. This was not the case as both Sondheim and Lapine insisted to Disney that any changes would have to be approved by them. Even then, they would have to work within time constraints and keep it to a respectable running length.

In the end, Sondheim, Marshall, Lapine and the production company were able to create a finished adaptation 125 minutes in length that brings the musical to a big screen audience with big-name stars and additional musical talents. I myself cannot compare the film to the stage version since I’ve never seen the stage version. I will start by saying it doesn’t surprise me that Disney acquired the rights to adapting the musical to film as Disney is world famous for bringing fairy tales to life. I will say that one can do a good job differentiating the actors who know how to do musical acting and those who don’t. You just know it. There were some like Chris Pine and Mackenzie Mauzy who struggled, there were some like Billy Magnussen and James Corden who could have done a better job, there are some like Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford and Tracey Ullman who know how to deliver both singing and acting and then there are actors like Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep who are able to deliver a performance in a musical. Meryl was especially excellent as she had the role that would hold the film all together. Musical film is another genre she can add to her list of accomplishments.

I will say that the film adaptation did very well in terms of special effects and set design to give the fell like there really was one terrain in the world where all the original stories happen at once. Colleen Atwood once again knows how to create the right costumes for the movie. The music was not a problem at all as the songs were well-sung and fit the scenes well. The film also did a good job of handling the story where all the fables get their twist in the end. However the film does leave some noticeable things out. There are some times where it felt the story had key scenes left out like the big bad wolf living in the tree about to eat Red or Jack in the giant’s house or Cinderella’s fairy godmother creating her clothes for the ball. There were even some times when one could easily forget that this is a musical and it would take a song some time later to remind you. There were even a couple of scenes that made you wonder if it should have been kept in. I can’t think of a better way to do it but I’m sure there are areas that could have been done better. Rob Marshall did a very good job of directing. It’s fair to say this is his best work since Chicago but there are some areas I feel he could have been better, like not having us forget this is a musical in some areas. It may not completely be his fault as the script was written by James Lepine. Lepine may be an accomplished scriptwriter and director in musical theatre and this may be Lepine’s best musical ever but somehow he could have done a better job at a stage-to-screen adaptation.

The film adaptation of Into The Woods has been long awaited. Now that it’s here, it’s imperfect but very enjoyable and entertaining.

Movie Review: The Iron Lady

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become… habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.

Remember Margaret Thatcher? I remember her well. She was the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 80’s. For those who remember the 80’s, who could forget her? The Iron Lady is the movie where Meryl Streep brings Margaret to life. The big question is how good does Streep do it?

The movie opens in the present as Margaret in her 80’s goes out to buy milk and has breakfast with her husband. Problem is when her keepers see her, she’s the only one there. Margaret now has dementia and has people to look after her. She can’t tell the difference between her illusions and her reality. Even her daughter, who she has a strained relationship with, tells her that her son is in South Africa, she’s not the Prime Minister and her husband’s dead.

Margaret tries to adjust to her reality. She knows she has to accept the fact of her husband’s death. It has its difficulties. As she’s autographing books, she signs one Margaret Roberts. This flashes back to the days she’s the grocer’s daughter, working at her father’s grocery store while the town’s girls were having fun. Her father gave political speeches and encouraged Margaret to develop a strong will for herself. Further flashbacks move to when she falls in love with successful businessman Denis Thatcher and when she runs for her first election in 1950. She loses but Denis strongly believes in her.

In 1959 Margaret Thatcher, now married and a mother, is finally elected an MP in parliament. She has the difficulty of being the only female MP in parliament as she is known as the ‘lady of the house’. Nevertheless she does find support in a man, Airey Neive. He’s able to coach out her voice and her image. He even believes she could be the Prime Minister. Margaret doubts it and believes there will never be a woman Prime Minister as long as she’s alive. His death in a car bomb implanted by the IRA changed that. She became leader of the Conservative Party and won the national election in 1979. She didn’t just live to see Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. She achieved it.

Becoming Prime Minister in 1979 was not an easy thing. She had to deal with Britain’s rising unemployment, the Brixton riots, lengthy labor strikes like the seven month-long coal miners strike of 1984, and even an IRA bomb explosion during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference where she and her husband were almost killed. She also faced her biggest challenge when she declared war to reclaim the Falkland Islands. She was determined to win it back and she succeeded. Things improved for Thatcher as Britain had a better economy, she developed a friendship with Ronald Reagan and she emerged as a leading world figure.

By 1990, her reputation as the Iron Lady was starting to wear thin. She went from being seen as an active World leader to being more of a political tyrant who verbally assaults her own colleagues. Geoffrey Howe resigned after being humiliated by her in a Cabinet meeting. Michael Heseltine challenges her for the leadership of the Conservative Party and Cabinet forces her to resign as Prime Minister. She still carries the bitterness twenty years later.

Eventually Margaret does learn to let go as she packs up Denis’ belongings and tells him it’s time to go. Denis does leave and we see her washing a teacup, something she promised Denis she would never do.

The weakness of this movie is that it looks like it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a biographical drama or a fictional story amongst historical figures. No question there are a lot of times when it showcases the struggles, triumphs and defeats of Margaret Thatcher but it often feels like the story is more about her ordeal with dementia instead of the legacy she created. Many times it doesn’t make much sense as I came hoping for a biographical story of Margaret but instead felt like I was watching a movie about Margaret dealing with the loss of her husband. Even now I’m still confused what the main point of the movie was.

There is no doubt the movie did an excellent job in bringing back the legacy of one of the most legendary political heads of state of modern times. History should continue to remember Margaret Thatcher and the younger generations should be familiar with her. Margaret Thatcher sent a strong message of what a female head of state can do. She showed a woman head of state is as capable of being a world leader as a male head of state can be. She proved a woman head of state can have a long powerful term. She proved a woman head of state can transform a country. She also proved that a woman head of state is just as capable of declaring a war as a male head of state. There have been female heads of state before but never before was there a female head of state of a major country. Today the biggest country with a female head of state is Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. American media have strongly hinted there may be a president Sarah Palin in the future. Who knows?

Without a doubt, Meryl Streep delivers another winning acting performance. She never disappoints and always delivers. However this is a milestone for her and ranks amongst one of the best performances she’s ever done. Jim Broadbent was also excellent as her husband. The script however was the difficult part as I stated earlier as it doesn’t make it clear what this movie is exactly supposed to be. In all honestly, it’s another average film where Meryl’s acting saves the day. Director Phylidda Lloyd and scriptwriter Abi Morgan appear like they need more experience in their fields. They both know how to do well in their trade on the theatre but not necessarily too well on film. Even Phylidda’s own Mamma Mia from years ago doesn’t do her justice on film.

If there was one positive point of the script, it’s that it was able to capture Thatcher’s drive and beliefs. Lines like: “(Politics) used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” or even how she talked of the Americans and their drive showed how she was one who wanted to achieve things for reasons beyond her own personal interest. The biggest strength of the script is that the essence of Margaret’s political muscle was very present.

The reception of the film has been mixed. I talked about how the film brought back the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Some may agree with me while some may feel the movie hails her more than it should vilify her. We often forget that there are many people who were unhappy with her way of politics back during her administration and still harbor negative attitudes to her to this day. Even Margaret’s children, Mark and Carol, have said about the movie “It sounds like some left-wing fantasy.” Films about politicians are always going to start lots of talk.

The Iron Lady isn’t exactly as strong portrayal of Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister. It took Streep’s performance as Margaret to save the film from being a major disappointment. No doubt Streep will win the Oscar this year.