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Review: The Post

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock over the last year is well aware that journalism has been under fire in this country. As a fan of journalism movies, I was extremely excited for Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post. Set in 1971 it tells the true story of the leaked documents detailing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and what the government knew and didn’t know as well as what they failed to tell the American people. The New York Times ran a story featuring based on information they received from the whistleblower. The struggling Washington Post then obtained all 4000 pages of the report and was stuck in a moral and legal dilemma as whether or not to release the information to the country. Feeling bound by their journalistic obligations they soon decided that releasing the documents was more important than the legal ramifications that could come their way.

The film has a true all-star cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep with great supporting roles at every turn. Tom Hanks plays the famous editor Ben Bradlee Sr. who was also played wonderfully by Jason Robards in the 1976 masterpiece, All The Presidents Men. Meryl Streep plays Fay Graham the owner of the paper who’s family has owned the paper for decades. Doing her best to keep the paper afloat all while trying to keep its integrity and relevance. She is on the verge of taking the paper public on the stock exchange when the documents find their way into the hands of the newsroom. After combing the damning documents the quick decision must be made ultimately by Graham as for whether or not to publish. she is conflicted because of not only the legal backlash but how it could ultimately be the end of the paper if mishandled in any way.

Spielberg has done a fine job capturing the quick pace that journalists work at as well as the enormous pressure they can be under in a time factor as well as morally. He shows the tension so well that we as the viewers can feel it at every level. As good as Hanks and Streep are, and they are great, the film is really carried by its supporting cast. The pace of the film is so quick it will be a movie that needs multiple viewings to absorb all the information that is given in rapid-fire succession.

Two years ago I reviewed the Oscar-winning film Spotlight (review can be found here) and I mentioned how the death of great journalism is slowly happening in this digital age. Once again a film shows the power of true journalism and how it can’t go away or be taken away no matter how ugly what is reported is. It is the last line of defense to hold ANYONE in power accountable, not just in government but in any daily situation. The Post talks about how newspapers fledgling and that is so much truer today, yet even in times like those, great things happened and they still can.

Spielberg pulls no punches and shows the truth behind everything that went into informing the public about the disaster that was Vietnam. As bad as everyone knew the war was for so many years, they had no idea how deeply and just how bad it really was. These papers tarnished legacies such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy just 11 years after his assassination. Richard Nixon undoubtedly took the brunt of the heat at the time leading him to wage war on the Washington Post (sound familiar?). The paper survived and ultimately took the president down a couple years later with the Watergate scandal.

There is no question that Spielberg had the current times on his mind while making the movie but he did not let that change the way the story was told. He didn’t have to change things to make a point about today. The story itself is the message of journalism and the power it has. There is a saying that the pen is mightier than the sword and when you realize that right to a free press was an amendment to the constitution before the right to bear arms, it shows that the founding fathers knew this well over 200 years ago. The Post will leave in awe as well as having you thinking deeply about today’s political climate. It will rank with great films such as Spotlight and All The Presidents Men and is one many people need to see.

2014 Best Actress Predictions

meryl-streep-august-osage-county-julia-robertsAside from wondering what movie wins the best picture of the year, my truly favorite categories is the best acting categories. Acting is the one thing I really pay attention to and it’s what can make or break a movie for me. Therefore, these two awards are the ones I will be watching with high anticipation. That leads me into analyzing the two awards I love. The trouble with analyzing these two categories this year is that they almost both seem to be locked up

The actress category might be the more locked of the two, but that’s not saying much. Cate Blanchett is the clear front runner for her absolutely brilliant performance in Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen once writes and directs a female role that is for the ages. Her neurotic and eccentric characteristics are so well portrayed you thought you were watching a real person not an actress. She all but has this locked up.

With Blanchett being, so good, as much as it pains me to say, don’t overlook the perennial contender, Meryl Streep. He performance in August: Osage County is one any actress would love to be the feather in their cap. For Ms. Streep it’s another day at the office. She makes the film. Without her the movie falls flat and the chemistry (which was mentioned last article) with Julia Roberts is outstanding.

The weakest, despite her Golden Globe win is Amy Adams. Her performance is not the issue in my book, it’s her accent. The inconsistency is too distracting. She delivers dialogue as good as anyone in the industry. That aside, I wasn’t sure for three quaters of the movie if she was suposed to be British or faking it. It just was a disappointing effort for my taste.

Judi Dench is just wonderful. I am a fan of her as M in the Bond films and just about everything she does. She has an Academy Award for Shakespeare In Love and isblue-jasmine-1 nominated once again for Philomena. Her portrayal of the real life woman seeking to meet her son that was taken from her is so moving and delicate it will bring tears to your eyes.

That leaves us with ANOTHER perenial conteder, Sandra Bullock. She won a few years back for The Blind Side. The film Gravity doesn’t exist without her and her heartfelt and strong acting. She was flat out great. The trouble for Sandra, and pretty much all these lasdies, is the year in which they are nominated and the fact that only one can win.

This year belongs to Cate Blanchett in my opinion and I’m rooting for her, Though I must say if Meryl wins, my heart won’t be broken.

Streep And Roberts Dominate August: Osage County With Brilliance

August-Osage-County-posterLet me preface this article by saying, I am in no way a big Meryl Streep fan. I find the fawning over everyone of her performances nauseating. That aside, her latest film may just be her crown jewel, and thats a mighty heavily jeweled crown. Though it should be and will be noted later on, her performance is not the only outstanding one in the film.

August:Osage County is the story of a highly dysfunctional family that gets together when their patriarch, Beverly (Sam Shepard) who is the father and mental and emotional center to the whole family, goes missing. Violet (Streep) has to endure her three daughters reluctance to come be with her during this trying time despite her mean disposition and down right awful attitude and alcohol and drug abuse. Her oldest, Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the oldest and has the most issues with her family and just as much going on in her collapsing life. The youngest, Karen (Juliette Lewis) is beyond oblivious to her life and what constitutes happiness. She maintains the most fake happy personality of them all. The middle child, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the one who feels the need to keep peace and keep her mother as happy as possible, which proves to be an impossibility. When Beverly’s disappearance proves to be a death the family is then forced to grieve together and discover they are now on their own to make big and small decisions in their lives and decide what needs to stay and what needs to go.

Barbara’s character most closely resembles Violet’s and she knows this, which makes the dynamic between Streep and Roberts the most compelling throughout the film. Barbara is forced to recognize this connection that she knows exists but hates that she’

’s a part of.

Roberts without question gives her best performance since her Oscar winning role of Erin Brockovich. According to her own telling, she wore zero make-up for the film, whichaugust-osage-county-3 lends to the hardship of the character and the life that has been lead. Her performance is flawless and in no character in film this year was I more drawn to.

That brings us to Meryl Streep. The transformation into the pill popping, cancer living and evil mother of Violet is one of the most incredible changes and roles that make you look at an actor or actress differently. I consider this to be her best film in over 30 years, which would include film like, Silkwood, Kramer vs.Kramer, The Deer Hunter, Sophie’s Choice  and Out Of Africa. She has only serious competition from Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.

The film is no feel good, memory lane type story. It’s upsetting and shows the realities of families that may have been better off not being family members. The truth is what lies underneath and how the awfulness of what exists makes us into the people we are yet we are never to old to make a change. It is a film that pulls you into each family members life and doesn’t let go. For fans of film making and acting this is the film of the year.

The Deer Hunter Is An Overlooked Masterpiece

Robert De Niro has made many, many iconic films in his time that will live on for generations. The films span time periods, decades and cultures. The list is long and distinguished and for good reason, he made brilliant films with brilliant performances and chose brilliant scripts. Any film maker could make a masterpiece with De Niro in his prime. One film maker took full advantage of his opportunity to do so.

Michael Cimino’s second film was the period at the end of a long sentence that was the Vietnam War. The Deer Hunter may have been the most, sadly forgotten film by many, as it’s rarely shown on television and certainly not on pay cable channels. It was the darkest side of the war that everyone knew was terrible, dark, sad and cruel.

The story is that of several Pennsylvania steel worker friends and what happens when three of the them are proudly shipped off to Vietnam and leave their small blue collar town behind. After being captured POW’s and facing the horror of what a POW goes through they struggle to return home and find any sense of normalcy.

The Deer Hunter took much criticism at the time of it’s release and since for it’s most controversial scenes during the POW capture. The prisoner’s are forced to play Russian Roulette for sport for the Vietcong to gamble over. The film then shows the effects their capture and the roulette has on the three surviving veterans. The controversy is over whether or not these things really happened or if this was a figment of the imagination of the screen writer. The true fact is that it doesn’t matter. The scenes were shown for one reason only, and that’s because the show so harrowingly how horrific this war and ALL wars are. These powerful scenes that are even hard to watch no matter how many times you see them are like that so they make the deepest impact on the viewer and reach him in an effort to show the ferocity of war.

When Robert De Niro was awarded the AFI lifetime achievement award in 2003 with a special ceremony, they touched on most of his films and showed clips of interviews where he discussed his films. During no other discussion was he nearly as emotional as he was when he talked about The Deer Hunter and the affect it had on him. He was nominated for every award across the board but won very few, sadly.

Christopher Walken emerged an acting star for his role as Nick. Nick becomes disconnected with reality and stays in Saigon and begins playing roulette for money and the thrill, not realizing his actions and what he has left behind at home. It’s only when Michael (De Niro) returns to Saigon to attempt to bring his friend home does he briefly see his friend through his jaded and fogged view of life.

Michael Cimino never achieved again anything close to The Deer Hunter in his career, nor does he ever have to. His film left an indelible mark on the minds of those who saw and those who continue to discover it. While the film will be remembered for it’s terrifying roulette scenes and for Walken’s stunning performance. It will also be known for bringing Meryl Streep to the forefront of the movie world and being the last work of John Cazale who was in some of the most pivotal movies of the decade. It was the sad and last word on a horrific time in American history. The film is not a perfect film, but all of it’s aspects together from the story and the emotions it draws on to the acting to it’s most beautifully haunting musical score, it’s a movie that couldn’t be made any better.

Many artists make many many pieces and rarely are they masterpieces let alone one of them. Film makers are artists and many of them don’t make masterpieces, Michael Cimino didn’t make too many films but he has the distinct privilege of having made a true masterpiece, no matter how dark and depressing or sad it may be considered. It was truly a piece that had to be crafted and made and it was done with a perfect stroke by it’s artists hand.

Billy Crystal An “Artist” When It Comes To Oscar Night

Whether your ballots are busted or you were happy to see all the winners, one things for sure The Academy Awards are done and handed out and the opinions are flooding thru every form of media available. With a few surprises as always, the heavy favorites won what most everyone expected.

Billy Crystal looked at home back at the helm of Hollywoods biggest night and he did not disappoint. He gave the show a flow and grace with a few jabs that were very funny and yet no one could be offended. He has just enough clout, class and polish to be the best host since Johnny Carson made it an art form.

The show truly started with a bang when Sasha Barron Cohen graced the red carpet as the dictator, the title character from his forthcoming movie. During his interview he made an uncomfortable reference to his “friend” Saddam Hussein and carried an urn which was supposed to be the ashes of Kim Jung Il which he proceeded to dump all over a shocked Ryan Seacrest. It was a great moment that so many people across America loved seeing. This effectively ended his stint on the red carpet while Seacrest got vacuumed off during a commercial. The comedy wasn’t as controversial for the rest of the show but there were enough good moments, peaking with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinakis presenting best song in hysterical fashion.

On to the awards! Early on it appeared to be Hugo’s night while it seemed to hoard a lot of the technical awards. The biggest surprise, if you can really call it that, was when Woody Allen collected yet another Oscar for his mantle. Allen was one of the few to beat the artist in a nice win for best original screenplay. The Descendants only walked away with one statue as well winning for best adapted screenplay. Moneyball was totally shutout as was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. the Help won only one award as well when the strong favorite, Octavia Spencer took home best supporting actress.

Christopher Plummer became the oldest actor to take home an Oscar at 82 years old just 2 years younger than Oscar himself as he made reference to in his acceptance speech, for which he also seemed to be given a time leeway.

It was after all of this that The Artist then took over. First on the checklist was Michel Hazanavicius being awarded best director beating out 4 powerful and great film makers by the names of Allen, Scorsese, Malick and Payne. Jean Dujardin then went on to beat Hollywoods virtual “man of the year” in George Clooney for best actor.

The Artist wouldn’t win best actress but most likely only because they didn’t have a nominee. Nearly 30 years since her last Oscar win, Meryl Streep would be back accepting the award over her friend Viola Davis and a, dare I say, disappointed Michelle Williams who, although I’m sure was very happy for Meryl, had a look of disappointment on her face. I must say my heart broke a little for Viola as she poured every ounce she had into her role and it meant so much to her.

The final and most coveted award, not surprisingly went to The Artist. It was the first movie to win best picture in black and white since Schindler’s List. It was very much the type of picture the Academy loves, different, well acted and made with a director with a unique vision. It may not have been the BEST overall movie, but it non the less was very much to Oscar’s liking. It was a fine evening with no real shocking or controversial moments other than, did we see Jennifer Lopez’s nipple? It’s a topic for debate but it was a night truly for Hollywood and whether or not the people who you wanted to win, did or not, it was a great show and that’s what Hollywood does best.

The Artist Steals The Show At The Spirit Awards

Independent film has really become a film and awards season force in the recent years. The Film Independent Spirit Awards for quite some time has been the ANTI Oscars and yet it seems that the Oscars has finally caught up to what independent film fans have known for a long time and that is, money and marquee names don’t necessarily make a great movie. Yesterday the independent got together and honored it’s best and things went as they have for most of the award season with The Artist playing the star.

It’s a night that is what it should be, a big party and celebration. The winners are quick to remember that without independent film most of them wouldn’t have gotten their start.

Best Supporting Actor is one step away from being pretty much a clean sweep for Christopher Plummer in the Beginners but it was non the less nice to see people like John Hawkes get much deserved recognition for their work.

Shailene Woodley took home best supporting actress in a much deserved win for her very powerful role in The Descendants as the daughter who has to help her dad through the most topsy turvy time in his life.

It was so great to see Michelle Williams finally get honored for her incredible portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. It’s been a year where she has had to stand in the shadow of Meryl Streep and Viola Davis when she deserves to be mentioned right next to those women.

The Artist then continued it’s onslaught on award season when Jean Dujardin won best actor over a very under rated and great acting job by Michael Shannon in the very epitome of an independent movie, Take Shelter.

The Artist rolled the rest of the night with Michael Hazanavicius winning best director over the king of independent film and one who continues to be a force in that world, Woody Allen.

And the final award once again went to The Artist which most likely will take the big prize on Sunday.

 

2009 Was A Milliondollar Year!

2008 (awards handed out in 2009) is one of my favorite years in recent memory for motion picture, but that’s just a personal opinion. It saw the loss of a great great talent prematurely and another walked away at his peak because of what he felt was the corruption of Hollywood. It had high spots too, including the ressurection of a one time monster of the cinema. With great movies a even better stories being told there was something for everyone that year.

Taking home the coveted best picture was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the heart warming story of a young man’s early life struggles and his desire to have a better life and find the girl he has always loved since he was a young boy. Set in the poverty stricken city of Mumbai, young Jamal is forced to remeber the highs and low’s of his unfortunate childhood while on the Indian version of the game show, Who Want’s To Be A Millionaire. With an ending that manages to be both triumphant and tragic at the same time it moved audiences of all kinds. Truly one of the high points of Danny Boyle’s career who had previously been somewhat of an indie icon. Was it the best picture? Well it had some fierce competition.

As it’s fellow nominees, Slumdog had to compete with the likes of another banner year for Sean Penn with his bio pic Milk and Kate Winslet who finally got her due recognition with a best actress statue for the powerful Holocaust drama, The Reader. Not to mention David Fincher re-teaming with Brad Pitt in an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Finally Ron Howard returned with thunder with the highly dramatic Frost/Nixon.

But what was left of the list may have been just as good or better! We almost saw  a superhero movie make the list of nominees with the most successful film of the year, Christopher Nolan’s follow up to his re-boot of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight. No doubt Dark Knight was successful because everyone wanted to catch one last glimpse of the great Heath Ledger who passed away suddenly, shortly after filming. His depiction of The Joker will without question go down as one of the best and most terrifying villain roles and best all around acting performances in the history of cinema. Ledger would win the best supporting actor award posthumously to rousing applause from the audience.

While everyone honored and mourned Ledger that year they without question welcomed back one of the all time bad boys and former great talent and heart throb, Mickey Rourke showed everyone, he still has the talent. He would sadly lose to Sean Penn but The Wrestler is no doubt the feather in the cap of Rourke and will be a film and performance that will transcend time and generation for years to come.It was the moving and raw film from director Darren Arinofsky who made this gem on a show string budget and pulled out acting from it’s three principles not to soon be forgotten. With all due respect to Penn this was and should have been the crescendo to Rourke’s return.

Also left off the list was the incredibley real and well acted, Revolutionary Road. The story of a 1950’s couple struggling to live the life they believe they are expected to and the difficult decisions they are forced to make. This movie was billed as the reunion of DiCaprio and Winslet for the first time since Titanic but it was anything but. The arguing scenes felt so real they could make you almost feel uncomfortable for watching.

That brings us to the religious, controversial Doubt. Based on the play by John Patrick Shanley who rose to fame with his script Moonstruck in 1987. re-written and directed by Shanley powerhouses Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis who made everyone turn and take notice for the first time. It was a movie that left you questioning how we judge other’s based on the sins of other’s. Hoffman and Streep showdown in memorable fashion that could even leave one jaw open.

So what was the best picture? Slumdog was a fine movie and no doubt worthy of it’s nomination but it may be a cas of outstanding campaigning on behalf of the studios.

With a low budget, no studio faith and almost no one backing it, The Wrestler had nobody but fans and critics to fight for what was one of the most surprising and moving movies of the year. It may have also been the sort of people who judged the movie before seeing that gave it no hope. This was no wrestling movie it was a story of the human spirit and no matter how much it wants to, it doesn’t always triumph.

I have no problem saying I believe The Wrestler was the best picture of the year but anyone could make a case for any of the fine, near perfect films which is why I prefaced this commentary by mentioning what a great year it was for film.