Sunday, January 14, 2018

Film review: "The Post" (2017)

It's hard to believe that it was only twelve months ago when after having read a copy of the Hollywood Blacklist script, The Post, that I blogged about what a fine opportunity I thought it would be for Meryl to play the film's central character, publisher Katharine Graham.  Fast forward two months later, and it's announced that Steven Spielberg had signed on to direct, with Streep and Tom Hanks set to star. The film was fast-tracked into production and with filming wrapped by July, here we are at the movie's nationwide opening weekend. And what a weekend it's likely going to be.

Last night, I joined my friend Scooter for a 6:40 showing of The Post, not far from my home in Minneapolis. Despite the subzero temperatures, it was the busiest I've ever seen the large theater complex, with folks forced to wait in line after purchasing their tickets just to get inside the main area. It was nice to see that our theater was completely full.

The film starts out with a brief background on the Vietnam War, setting up the conflict that would engulf the film's plot, about whether or not the Washington Post should publish classified documents from a study that were leaked from the Pentagon. In the papers, the folly of the U.S.'s involvement is explained in some detail. Matthew Rhys (whom I adore from The Americans) gets some nice screen time here as former military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg.

Meryl of course portrays Graham, who at this time in her life and career is less than confident in her role as the paper's publisher, a role that had essentially become hers by default after her father's death and husband's suicide. The acquisition of the Pentagon Papers puts her in a tricky situation, as an injunction from the White House threatens disaster. As we all know, the Supreme Court sides with the paper and the publishing is allowed to continue.

OK, now that a brief plot synopsis is out of the way, let's get to some aspects of the film's quality. Both Scooter and I really enjoyed it and remarked at how quickly it went by, with the suspenseful pace always keeping us on the edge our seats. Meryl does an exquisite job of showing us the significant lack of confidence and almost paralyzing trepidation Graham had at making big decisions that often involved the viability of her company. Being that the paper was tied up with the history of her family, and that many on the board weren't convinced as a woman she was suitable for the job, decisions surrounding the company's fate were particularly taxing. How she transitioned throughout the movie into a decisive boss was enjoyable to experience. It was by no means a broad or showy performance.  Instead, it was measured, subtle and touching. In the original version of the script I had read, there was a moving speech that she gave in front of the court which I was looking forward to seeing, but sadly was either cut after filming, or cut completely from the screenplay. I wonder if it seemed a bit too "on the nose" to keep in the film.

Tom Hanks similarly does a fine job as editor Ben Bradlee. A lot of people have complained about Hanks's somewhat affected speech patterns in the role, but I never felt distracted by his choices, and thought his moments were Meryl were strong and at times funny. A standout was Bob Odenkirk as journalist Ben Bagdikian, who manged to acquire the papers from Daniel Ellsberg and was instrumental in the ultimate decision to publish.

Regular Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski provided an aura of the 1970s with an almost glossy effect in many scenes, highlighting the smoke-filled, often neutral tones of that era. John Williams's rousing score contributes to the sort of time-crunch angst we feel in their race against the clock. And there's probably not much left to say that hasn't been said about Spielberg. While the film is often intense and fast-paced, we get a real sense of intimacy with the characters and their struggle through the grueling and likely terrifying process of first acquiring the papers, deciphering them and then waiting to learn their fates in the aftermath of publishing. Scooter and I both enjoyed and appreciated the shots of how a newspaper is physically pulled together in the shop for each printing. For something that is as ubiquitous as a daily paper, that was a process neither of us had ever really seen before on screen.

The film is a perfect allegory to the preposterous political environment in which we currently find ourselves. Using real recordings of phone conversations of former president Richard Nixon was a painful comparison to what is so evident in today's administration and its constant attacks on the free press. The Post was an important reminder that the first amendment right of free speech is excellently demonstrated in journalistic integrity. As justice Hugo Black opined in the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling, "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."

I'm glad Meryl was able to participate in the making of this movie.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

A brief update on "The Nix"

A few days ago, I came across a radio interview author Nathan Hill gave for a local station in Florida last week, and in it, he discusses the upcoming limited series project for the The Nix. Starting at 49:00, he and the interviewer discuss the stage the project is in and development of it. I'm posting about it because the script now seems to be nailed down to nine episodes (which is news), but the part that discouraged me a bit was that they're apparently still searching for a distributor.

Now, "searching for a distributor" could mean several things. Recall that in September I posted about the possibility that The Nix had been picked up by Amazon, as it was listed as a project in development for the studio when they announced plans for their 2018 production spending. It's possible that there is more than one company interested, and that they're hashing out whom to choose. That's probably wishful thinking, but with the nature of the novel's story and the fact that Hill is still discussing it in a manner that suggests it's very much alive, I'm optimistic for chances of production getting underway this year.

With Meryl producing, this would potentially be an interesting scenario were the limited series to gain awards traction, not unlike the situation we've seen this year with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in their promotion and discussion of their exceptional show Bit Little Lies. We just need someone to say "here's the money. No go film it!"

ps-I'm seeing The Post tonight and am of course agog.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"The Post" shut out at BAFTA

Like the SAG nominations last month, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts has left The Post bereft of nominations. To be honest, I almost forgot about these nominations being announced, since I had no expectations for Meryl getting in, but it's never good when your film is completely shut out.

Couple things to think about, though. The top four ladies I'd expect to get noms for Lead Actress from almost any body (Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan) did. The shock to me was that Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul), a favorite with BAFTA and already a nominee at the Globes and SAG, was passed over in favor of Annette Bening for Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. Despite the miss, I think this bodes well for Meryl for a few reasons: if Dench can't get in at BAFTA, she's far less likely to get in with AMPAS (Academy Awards). Also, Bening, like Dench, is in a British film, which tends to help. We should remember that The Post is a decidedly American film that likely was seen by fewer voting members of BAFTA due to its late release, and it doesn't open in U.K. theaters until next week.

All that might be a bit of rationalizing, but I'm also trying to stay positive for Meryl's chances at a 21st Oscar nomination. I still think it'll happen, but I have to admit I'm a little nervous. Her many television appearances this week (Kimmel, Ellen, Graham Norton) should hopefully help boost box office a bit, with the film going wide in the U.S. this weekend.  I have plans to see it on Saturday evening.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

2018 Golden Globe predictions

It's really difficult to call winter my least favorite season, because it includes possibly my favorite period of the year: awards season! Tomorrow night, the Hollywood Foreign Press will hand out their Golden Globe Awards for achievement in film and television.  As usual, I enjoy predicting the winners in the acting categories.  Check out the starred(*) names below among the nominees for my winners selections.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
1. Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)
2. Daniel Day Lewis (Phantom Thread)
3. Tom Hanks (The Post)
4, Gary Oldman* (Darkest Hour)
5. Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
1. Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game)
2. Sally Hawkins* (The Shape of Water)
3. Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
4. Meryl Streep (The Post)
5. Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
1. Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes)
2. Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver)
3. James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
4. Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman)
5. Daniel Kaluuya* (Get Out)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
1. Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul)
2. Helen Mirren (The Leisure Seeker)
3. Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
4. Saoirse Ronan* (Lady Bird)
5. Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes)

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture 
1. Willem Dafoe* (The Florida Project)
2. Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name)
3. Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
4. Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
5. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
1. Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
2. Hong Chau (Downsizing)
3. Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
4. Laurie Metcalf* (Lady Bird)
5. Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)\

In my opinion, this is by far the best chance Meryl has at picking up a major televised award this year. The Post was completely shut out at SAG, and it's not even a foregone conclusion that she will get an Oscar nomination. But the HFPA love her, and if she were to come away with a win in this category tomorrow, I'll relax a little in regard to her chances for a nom. Let's not forget her speech last year at the ceremony (see clip below)? She is in a film about the importance of a free press, and they might want to reward her.

For the other categories, I would not be surprised is Frances McDormand, James Franco or Christopher Plummer won. I think the entire rest of the season for Supporting Actress will come down to Metcalf and Janney (with Metcalf likely taking Oscar). I'm probably out on a limb a bit with Daniel Kaluuya, but right now it just sort of feels right.  I'd love to see Timothée Chalamet make the upset, and I think Margot Robbie is a distant second behind Saoirse Ronan.

Super excited for Sunday!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New scene released from "The Post"

Happy New Year, everyone! As I patiently wait for January 12 to roll around, I'm sucking up any and all clips I can get of Meryl in The Post. Earlier today, a new video was released by HBO Screening Room of director Steven Spielberg and his two stars (Streep and Tom Hanks), discussing a key scene early on in the film:

I can remember reading the script about a year ago and specifically thinking about this scene, where Meryl's character Katharine Graham sort of tussles with her editor Ben Bradlee. The two bicker about the style section of the paper and, as they discuss in the video, at times it seems more like Bradlee is Graham's boss, not the other way around. It sort of sets the stage for a transformation that I'm sure Meryl negotiates wonderfully as the film progresses.

Getting excited for this and the Golden Globes Sunday!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Featurette released for "The Post"

Many have already had the pleasure of seeing The Post in theaters, but for those of us not residing in New York, Los Angeles or D.C., we have to wait until January 12.

Earlier today, a brief featurette with some new footage from the film was released.

A few good snippets from Meryl, Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg. I'm annoyed I have to wait two more weeks to see this!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

"The Post" has strong first weekend in limited release

Over the long holiday weekend, The Post had a strong showing, averaging over $58K in just nine theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.  The film took in a total of $830K between the three cities. 

Evidently this is a very good start, and I hope the trend continues. With the movie going wide in a little over two weeks, we'll get a real sense of how it's going to do long-term. Certainly if Meryl or the film happen to bag any Globes on the 7th, it'll hopefully help further boost interest.