“The Post” movie review

The Fourth Estate, triumphant! Steven Spielberg’s The Post is a historic biographical drama depicting the story behind the infamous Pentagon Papers that set a monumental precedent in the US Supreme Court following a ruling in the favor of the freedom of the press. Probably the most significant ruling affecting journalism, this film goes beyond the cold, hard facts of the case and into the offices and houses of those who were responsible for shedding light on the lies the US government was spinning to keep the War in Vietnam going. In a manner of speaking, this film could be read as Spielberg’s ode to US journalism, and by extension, to the free press at large. While traditional ink and paper newspapers may be slowly becoming a thing of the past, Spielberg’s film shows that the press has an important place in a democratic society. Without the free press, a nation’s government could easily lie and maliciously mislead its people to serve its own gain. No surprise, Meryl Streep’s and Tom Hanks’ acting is simply brilliant; while the rolls may not seem incredibly complex, it’s the beauty in simplicity that demonstrates the excellent commitment to character that we all have come to respect over the years for these Oscar-winning actors. The Post is a historical drama brought to life for the screen through precise editing, beautiful cinematography, and a gripping score.

Unrest grows at home while the US is deep in the middle of the Vietnam War. With conflicting reports coming out of the warzone, the people of the United States have only the word of their government to assure them the war is going well but they have to continue sending the boys overseas to “win.” After a rogue journalist leaks papers from the Pentagon describing how the US is losing and it keeps sending boys overseas to keep up appearances to the New York Times, the attorney general places a restraining order on the iconic newspaper to prohibit it from publishing the classified material. After word of this unprecedented extension of power, the editor-in-chief of The Washington Post Ben Bradlee (Hanks) comes to have a copy of the papers and desires to publish them in order to show the American people what the government has really been up to. Only one small problem, the owner of The Washington Post Katharine (Kay) Graham (Streep), the first woman to own a major newspaper, is unsure if the papers should be published because she seeks to take the paper public and this could damage that–not to mention that she and Bradlee could go to jail. Go beyond the pages of a history book to witness the thrilling drama unfold as you find out just why The Pentagon Papers was such a big deal.

While many critics and fans of the movie are touting it as the “best movie of the year” or commenting to managers at cineplexes that it’s “amazing,” I am not convinced that it truly is “the best” or as “amazing” as it’s being heralded. Before you go questioning my taste in movies, I completely agree that The Post is an excellently made film–there is nothing wrong with it. For all intents and purposes, it is a perfect film. But just because it’s figuratively perfectly produced and directed, does not mean that it is “amazing.” In many ways, this movie reminds me of Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. It too is a perfectly made historic drama (coincidentally also starring Hanks) that falls within the same subgenre of drama as The Post. When I think of a Spielberg film, I have come to expect a wow factor. And it’s that lack of a wow factor that troubles me in awarding this film with an accolade such as “best picture.”

Usually, there is a particular scene that evokes strong emotion, perhaps it’s a powerful monologue or heated emotionally-driven exchange between two characters, there are other methods for evoking an eruption of feeling and emotion within the mind and body. Never once did I feel my emotions run high with this film. And I happen to be an entertainment journalist, I teach media writing at a popular university, and spent time in broadcast news. I have a love for the media, the press, and publishing. I also spent time in a media law class in graduate school analyzing the very papers in question, and I still did not feel emotionally woken up by the film. I find the film very well written, produced, shot, directed, acted, scored–everything is done with extreme precision. But, that’s what I have come to expect from Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks. Yes, to be able to consistently deliver excellence is nearly uncanny; but when I know what to expect, it’s much more difficult to surprise or wow me. That’s what is missing from this film in my opinion–the wow factor.

On the socio-political spectrum, I find the commentary on women in leadership is brilliant! Quite happy that the film chose such an incredible woman’s story to tell so cinematically well. The character of Kay Graham is not only an inspiration to aspiring female leaders, but she is an inspiration to all who find themselves in positions of influence or power for which society does not feel he or she is suited. Whereas this prejudice can affect men and women, history has shown that is has affected women more. And this film is a breath of inspiration for young women who will become future leaders around the world. Brave. Kay Graham was an incredibly brave woman who fought the good fight and proved that she could make the tough decisions that are required in order to grow a company. I also find that The Post serves as a beacon of hope that the press is here to serve the American people in a day and time that our government’s leaders claim that the press at large is “fake news.” Newspapers are here to serve the governed NOT the governers. Let the Pentagon Papers be a sign that our leaders are not past deception even if it means sending our military to certain death in order to keep up appearances.

The Post is definitely a movie that all journalists should watch. And not just “conventional” journalists. But anyone who takes part in publishing written, audio, or video media content. Especially those who cover governmental affairs should watch this historical drama highlighting a huge turning point in the freedom of the press.

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“The Circle” movie review

Tries for a perfect circle, but winds up more like an oval. Full of endless circular logic and irony, director James Ponsoldt’s The Circle depicts the story of a not-so-distant future, or perhaps an alternative present, in which one company dominates digital media, data gathering, and surveillance services. Based upon the four-year-old novel by author Dave Eggers, you’ll notice some stark similarities between this motion picture narrative and the smash hit TV series Black Mirror. The biggest difference between the two is that The Circle is fast-faced and poorly written whereas Black Mirror is a slow-burning but well-written anthology series. In addition to the similarities between the aforementioned, there are certainly elements of The Truman Show in this movie as well. With a powerhouse cast, brilliant composer (Danny Elfman), and excellent editing, The Circle appears to have what a blockbuster needs; however, the hollow characters, poor character development, fractured subplots, and overall diegesis hold the film back from reaching the impact that it could have had. Having taken a digital media and privacy class in graduate school, and published a few articles, this is a film that I was looking forward to in order to analyze how the social commentary or commentary on the human condition regarding reasonable expectations of privacy and big data were integrated into the plot. Sadly, the screenplay was not strong or developed significantly enough to provide big data and privacy discussions.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) hates her job at the water company, so she is incredibly excited when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) lands Mae an interview at The Circle, the world’s most powerful technology and social media company. Mae’s fear of unfulfilled potential impresses the recruiters at The Circle and she lands the opportunity of a lifetime. After Mae puts herself into harm’s way but rescued, thanks to The Circle’s newest surveillance and data gathering system, she is encouraged by the company founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) to take a more active role in technology development by participating in an experiment that puts Mae’s life on display for the world (in the vein of The Truman Show) to see. Once Mae turns on that camera, she has more “friends” than she ever imagined and becomes an instant online celebrity. Unfortunately, this decision will affect those closest to Mae and the negative ramifications will reach far beyond her inner circle and begin to impact humanity at large. Sometimes, people just don’t want to be found or be “social.”

For all The Circle has going for it, the weak screenplay keeps it from being the blockbuster that it so desperately wants to be. A great movie typically begins with solid writing, and that is what’s missing here. After five minutes (or so it seems) of opening title logos, perhaps that is indirect evidence that there were just too many hands in the pot, each trying to take the movie’s narrative in a different direction. Much like Frozen plays off like two different movies crudely sewn together, The Circle appears to be one movie for the first two acts, but takes an unexpected and unfulfilling turn in the third. A couple of conspicuous unanswered questions come after Mae meets TrueYou designer and founder Ty (John Boyega). He designed the platform that launched The Circle. At one point he asks Mae to meet him in a secret tunnel (where all the servers are stored) and tells her that “it’s worse than I thought.” Great opportunity to introduce intrigue, suspense, and more. The problem is that the audience is never told what Ty finds or what happens with what he found. You can remove that whole subplot and the movie remains the same. There are other subplots that are nicely introduced, but never carried out as well. Any or all of them can be removed and the film proceeds the same. Not good. If you can remove several subplots or unfulfilled turning points and the film’s diegesis remain largely untouched, then you have poor writing. The third act in and of itself leaves audiences with a hurried ending that does little to provide closure to the narrative; however, it does support the film’s circular logic and irony. Hardly satisfying.

In terms of the allegory here, The Circle is a Google-like company with Apple’s technology. Eamon Bailey is a Steve Jobs type innovator with characteristics of Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt. Thankfully, The Circle does not represent any one company, but rather combines all the most notable innovations and technological achievements of Google, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, and more into one globally dominating company. Antitrust issues are introduced early on, but again, that’s never fully developed. The movie highlights many issues faced by private citizens, governments, and digital data driven companies today; therefore, it sets the foundation for a movie that could have been thought-provoking, but the writing hinders that ability. The irony in the movie is for every digital answer to streamlining services or bolstering conveniences, a little privacy is eroded each time. Pretty soon, if one shares enough information, the idea of privacy is extinct. Privacy was central to the plot, but it just wasn’t handled in the most effective way. Concepts such as “off the grid,” self-proclaimed “celebrity,” and “calls to action” are displayed and discussed in the film, connecting this augmented reality to real-world issues each of us encounter or think about. One particularly interesting theme in the movie is deep friendship. Unfortunately, this was not fully fleshed as is the case with most of the movie; but still, it does get touched upon.

Exploring digital media and privacy is something I have written on within the last couple years. More specifically, I explore how entertainment media companies collect big data, and the privacy issues faced therein. In 2016, I published a short series of articles on the Walt Disney World Magic Bands entitled “Magical Data Collection.” You can read those articles by clicking HERE.

If you were hoping for another film like the brilliant Social Network, then you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Films such as The Circle should be memorable, but unfortunately this one is very much forgettable. Coincidentally, the movie itself is as hollow as the plot and characters.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Inferno” movie review

infernoFamed symbologist Robert Langdon is back in a fiery installment in the franchise that bears his name. Sony Pictures and Imagine Entertainment’s Inferno is a non-stop rollercoaster of an adventure film that combines art, history, literature, bio-medical science, and weapons of mass destruction in a heart-pounding thriller that makes academia and public health look sexy. As expected, Tom Hanks delivers an outstanding performance as the Indiana Jones of symbols and puzzles and the visual storytelling is excellent. From the moment the film opens with incoherent subjective flashes through the eyes of Langdon suffering from amnesia, shaky camera movements, and glimpses of disturbing apocalyptic imagery to the final showdown beneath Instanbul’s Hagia Sophia, Inferno will command your attention for the two-hour runtime. Unlike the two previous installments in the Langdon franchise, there is a conspicuous lack of commentary on organized religion by deciphering puzzles and revealing coverups and more of a focus on art history and rhetoric. This focus provides a far more believable plot than found in The Da Vinci Code and lesser so in Angels and Demons. With bio-medical warfare being at the center of this film, the movie paints a realistic portrait of how a Dante-spouting sociopath might try to fix the world’s problems by wiping out half the population with a destructive plague.

Waking up in a state of incoherency and amnesia in an Italian hospital in Florence, Robert Langdon (Hanks) is thrust into running–or hobbling, rather–for his life. Under the guidance and protection of a beautiful ER doctor (Felicity Jones), Langdon barely escapes with his life. Dazed and confused, Langdon must concentrate on piecing together a puzzle–no surprise there–but this time, the puzzle begins with how he got to Italy and why he is carrying a bio-medical tube. From puzzle to mystery, Langdon and Dr. Brooks (Jones) are forced into an adventure that blind-sided them. After discovering a connection between a dead sociopathic billionaire madman and the Italian poet Dante (The Divine Comedy), Langdon and Brooks race across Europe to stop a devastating plague from killing off more than half of the world’s population. Between stopping the plague and constantly under siege by the WHO (World Health Organization) and a private security firm, Langdon is truly racing against the clock to piece together his own life while making the connections in the puzzle left by the deceased sociopath to save the world.

Although in previous installments in the Langdon franchise have the symbologist traversing across Europe and even the world, this film’s plot is mostly concentrated in Florence. Home to some of the most notable works of art in the world, Inferno might work as an unconventional travel guide for the tourism industry in Italy. Far less cerebral than The Da Vinci Code and to a lesser extent Angels and DemonsInferno is far more visceral, exciting, and thrilling. The lack of religious/historic irony will definitely stick out to those who either read the books and/or watch the movies (I am the latte); however, that does not hinder the film’s delivery of an action-adventure taking place within the worlds of the arts and medical science. With the previous installment Angels and Demons being released in 2009, the high-impact feeling of Inferno is incredibly important because there has been such a long gap between the films. Still, the plot of Inferno does not have the finesse that both previous films have. Although this installment is incredibly enjoyable and entertaining, it lacks the opportunity to question, think, and analyze the mystery at hand.

Another contrast between this present installment and the previous two is the character-heavy plot. Occasionally, the film felt overrun with characters. Albeit, most of the characters are interesting and also possess brilliant minds, at times the plot is overcrowded. Perhaps that was intentional since the billionaire madman claims that the population should be reduced because of overcrowding the earth; however, it’s more likely that writer David Koepp and director Ron Howard were attempting to get as much of the novel on screen as possible. Not having read the novel, I am unable to comment on the translation from page to screen beyond inference. Despite the character-heavy plot, the film is not without the trademark art, history, literature, and enigmas that are synonymous with the Langdon series of books/films. Beginning with a reimagined map of Hell based on the one described by Dante in The Divine Comedy and illustrated by Botticelli, the film’s plot does come back to the puzzles but most of the time is spent being chased by nearly everyone.

The best part about this film is just how exciting it is. If you are even remotely interested in it, you won’t be disappointed. As this is a franchise, and franchises tend to have intentional or unintentional patterns of behavior within the cast of characters or similarly functioning plot devices, there are definitely elements in this installment that are found in the previous two. There is one plot twist that bares a striking resemblance to one in The Da Vinci Code. The non-stop action will likely kindle an interest in pursuing a career as an academic or official with the WHO. Perhaps, the study of symbols, numbers, and taxonomy, will be of greater interest to current students. There are just enough loose ends and unanswered questions that keep the film from being too predictable.

Looking for an exciting cinematic adventure for the weekend? That is, when you are not either at or recovering from a Halloween party. Check out Inferno! Not Halloween-themed at all, but it is a fun adventure full of excitement and you’ll learn a thing or two about art, history, and literature.

“Bridge of Spies” movie review

BridgeofSpiesA spy movie with very little in the way of intrigue and espionage. Touchstone, DreamWorks, and 20th Century Fox’s Bridge of Spies is a very traditional biographical film. There is nothing innately wrong with it, but there lacks anything truly remarkable or memorable either. Tom Hanks plays a very Tom Hanks character and Spielberg provides us with a very classy historic movie. Perhaps it is all just as well because the Cold War was a war of information and not high powered action. And, that is pretty well what you get in this movie. The most thrilling scenes are ones that are already in the trailer. Even James Donovan’s (Hanks) testimony before the U.S. Supreme Court was anti-climactic. Despite the fact it is based on a true story, for cinematic purposes there should have been more emotionally trying scenes or surprise. We seldom get Cold War era movies, so this is a nice addition to historic/bio pictures. Although the descriptive “thriller” has been attached to this movie, I do not find sufficient evidence in the movie to support such a claim. It is a moderate drama–neither heavy nor lite. Perhaps if John Grisham had written a book on this event and that book adapted for the screen, the film would play off more accurately as a spy thriller. As it stands, it is a historic drama. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bridge of Spies is about a Cold War era spy swap in the late 1950s in East Berlin. Suspected Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) is apprehended by the FBI in New York and placed under the counsel of successful insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks). In an effort to show due process, even to suspected spies, the U.S. government provides Abel with a trial by his peers. Following a conviction, Hanks persuades the sentencing judge to allow Abel to live in the event they need him as leverage to trade for captured suspected American spies in Soviet Europe and Russia. Quite the brilliant move because an Air Force pilot and graduate student were both captured by the Soviets shortly after the apprehension of Abel. Follow Donovan as he makes his way to one of the most dangerous parts of Europe during the height of the Cold War in an effort to successfully negotiate a spy swap.

There really isn’t much to add besides what I have already mentioned in my opening. This movie is very par for the course. Hanks and Spielberg provide us with the quality that we are accustomed to receiving from them. I was never bored during the movie, but I was never on the edge of my seat either. Typically, I look to espionage movies for some sense of surprise or intrigue; but, this one plays it like a typical drama based on a true story. As this is not a story or event that many Americans likely know about, it provides insight into what many of the operations during the Cold War may have been like. I do feel that the dialog and character development were lacking. Hanks and the rest of the cast pretty much remain static through the whole movie. Often in movies based on true stories, I like to see dynamic character arcs or redemptions. What I find in this movie is a realistic depiction of this event that likely felt more intense at the time than what is shown of the screen. Perhaps that is it. Maybe, I would have liked the movie a lot more had there has been a pronounced thrilling nature or contained emotionally intense scenes.

If you are looking for a thrilling movie of government espionage, then this is not it. If you are looking for a well-produced biographical movie based on a true story, then this is it. I am certain that Tom Hanks plays the role of Donovan accurately and I commend him for bringing this real-life American hero alive for the screen. At the end of the day, this is a good example of an accurate biographic motion picture and Spielberg proves that he can deliver a classy true story as well as he can an action-adventure movie.