“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 Greatest Showman” movie musical review

Stunningly sensational! Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages witness the larger than life movie musical adaptation of the life of P.T. Barnum directed by Michael Gracey. Dazzling! 20th Century Fox’s The Greatest Showman is an incredible work of motion picture and performing arts magic. Never before has the magic of the American circus been captured so brilliantly. As the movie stares, “a man’s station is truly limited only by his imagination.” From the costumes to the music and choreography, this film is sure to inspire anyone who has a dream and wants to realize it. The music will have you singing along, clapping, and even tapping your toes because the emotions will get you right to the core. Ordinarily, a movie like this could generate an interest in budding performing artists and showbusiness enthusiasts to “run away and join the circus,” but the big top had its swan song earlier this year. One can only speculate that had this film been released last year that the circus that still bears his name Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey would still be touring today. Sadly, the circus had its final performance in May 2017. From the moment the movie opens, you will be completely immersed in the world of P.T. Barnum, a world unfamiliar with the concept of shows that were sheer spectacle, illusion, and simply designed to put smiles on faces. It’s entirely possible that this may prove to be the greatest films of 2017, and certainly one of the greatest movie musicals ever made.

Simply stated, The Greatest Showman is the film adaptation of the life of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and depicts how he was inspired to essentially create the very concept of showbusiness. From his successes to his failures, this movie showcases the very beginning of the American circus, a tradition that would last for nearly 150 years. Filled with incredible original music, this original movie musical displays how one man’s vision became a worldwide sensation.

My first observation of this film is just how polarizing it seems to be. On one hand, some critics and websites praise it for being an absolute delight while others are rating it rotten. Unapologetically, I feel strongly that this film musical is nearly flawless. As to how accurately it reflects the life of P.T. Barnum, I cannot speak to that because I have not spent hours researching his life; however, from what I do know about him, the movie seems to have captured the inspiration and vision accurately, as well as his faults and pitfalls. While standard holiday issue biopics are nothing new, what with The Darkest Hour also on the horizon this season, Gracey turns what could have been just another biographical film about an American icon into a larger than life dazzling display of precise choreography, effective montages, and just plain fun! Ringing Bros. may have closed the bigtop for the last time, but the soul of P.T. Barnum lives on in what Feld Entertainment (parent company to Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey) does. Without P.T. Barnum, we may not have the concept of showbusiness as we know it today. Despite staying away from the usual meaty themes found in Christmastime biopics, this film packs a powerful punch and supports the need for entertainment and the arts in our lives.

The high degree of passion Jackman displays for his character cannot be overstated. Though Gracey shows his directing prowess in this film, it is the labor of love of Jackman who has been trying to get this movie musical made for the better part of a decade. While the cliche underdog story may not be anything new, the method through which the story is told is a must-see spectacle. What works best in the movie are the extravagant and intricately choreographed musical numbers. The infectious and inspirational songs of The Greatest Showman were written by La La Land Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul while the brilliant choreography was staged by Ashley Wallen. Each and every musical number is powerful and truly adds to the fantastic experience of this film. Moreover, this movie musical typifies the height of the visual and performing arts in terms of the ability to create an imaginative atmosphere that generates sheer delight in the minds and eyes of the audience.

In many ways, this movie is an extension of the circus that many of us grew up watching as kids and even adults. The circus was never about deep, complex stories; it was about entertaining audiences of all ages and bringing smiles to faces. And this film will certainly bring joy into your life this holiday season! Such a perfect movie for the week leading into Christmas because it is fun for the whole family.

“Logan” movie review

loganUncanny! 20th Century Fox, Marvel, and TSG Entertainment’s Logan is a compelling, grizzly, organic superhero movie that is the last to feature Hugh Jackman as Logan (Wolverine) and Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier. Prepare to have your mind blown as the action unfolds in such a way that your heart will be pounding, racing, and pumping adrenaline through your body and then tug at your heartstrings as emotions run high. Logan is quite possibly the most comprehensive and diegetically dynamic superhero movie ever, and perhaps best X-Men film in the long, successful franchise. With a penchant for thrilling, action, and even horror films, director James Mangold pulls out all the stops in the last chapter in the story of The Wolverine. While there have been several films about Logan/Wolvervine outside of the main X-Men films, this cinematic adventure will have you on the edge of your seat with anxiety and holding back tears simultaneously. Some of the responsibilities of the final chapter of a character or an actor portraying a long-standing character are striking a delicate balance between nostalgia, closure, but still providing audiences with a new story; overwhelmingly, this film delivers the absolute best as we bid farewell to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart from the X-Men universe and exceeds any and all expectations.

In the not too distant future, an aging Logan (Jackman) is caring for an increasingly ailing Professor X (Stewart) near the US/Mexican border. With the professor’s cognitive health in a downward spiral, Logan illegally acquires medications that ease the Professor’s seizures…seizures that are telekinetically powerful enough to leave devastation in their wake–and have. Logan is challenged to hide the Professor from the world in an effort to shield him from those who seek to kill him. While operating as a limo driver, Logan encounters a bizarre woman at a funeral who begs for his help. As Logan has always been the solitary type who mostly cares for himself, he ignores her cry for aid. In a bizarre turn of events, he finds himself caretaker of her daughter when she is found dead in her hotel room. After she follows Logan to the hideout, Professor X pleads with Logan to take her to a place called Eden. This soon becomes a bloody road trip as the three of them hide from and attempt to outrun those who want to kill Logan, the Professor and take the girl back to Mexico.

What do James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and Logan have in common? They are both grisly western films. Evidence of this is not only seen in the character development, pacing, and overall tone of the film, but can also be seen within the film itself as Professor X and Laura (Dafne Keen), the young girl traveling with Logan and Xavier, watch a western film on TV–a film that Xavier references several times as he reminisces about films from his childhood. While many think that the American Western film died out with Hollywood Golden age, it has certainly not retreated from cinemas. In fact, many of Quinten Tarrantino’s films are westerns, the original Star Wars: A New Hope was a post-modern western, and Mangold’s Logan is yet another example of a reimagination of the American Western film. Reading the film as a western enhances the visceral experience of the film. Although directors seldom pit cowboys against indians anymore, there are subtle references to that relational dynamic from early western movies within this film. Much like the Lone Ranger and many of John Wayne’s characters, Logan is also a solemn solitary character being pulled into a world built upon the idea of relationships but his baggage makes it incredibly difficult. Emotions run high in Logan; and it’s these emotions that provide audiences with a comprehensive experience that fulfills the desire for gritty action plus moments that may stir you to tears.

Although we are just coming out of this year’s award season, it’s entirely possible that Logan may be the first superhero motion picture to be nominated and even win Best Picture at next year’s Oscars. All the elements that make up a Best Picture nominee can be found in Logan. It has drama, romance, a little humor, feels organic, deals with prejudice (by extension), and is based on a book–a comic book that is. The R rating is also important because it (1) serves as further evidence in the direction Fox is going to proceed with films like Deadpool and X-Force–gearing toward an adult audience (2) it allowed for audiences to see the Wolverine at full bloody force, which has been a desire for quite sometime and (3) the degree to which the film can deal with real adult problems physiologically and emotionally. The financial success of Logan will depend on adult audiences speaking the word about the outstanding nature of the film and even bringing more mature younger superhero fans to see the movie. Since most of the film contains disturbing imagery in regards to both the bloody violence and with Professor X’s debilitating cognitive disorder (most likely a severe form of dementia), I would not recommend bringing those under 13 to the film until you have screened it for yourself. It’s an incredible, film; but, there is content that may not sit well with those that are quite young.

Before Logan begins, fans of Deadpool will be excited to know that there is a short film (glorified promo, really) for Deadpool that does a successful job at promoting the highly anticipated sequel to last year’s blockbuster. Its placement is also important to Logan in that it provides some levity before the rather somber tone of the feature film that follows Ryan Reynolds’ offensively endearing witty charm as Deadpool. Logan is proof that superhero films can take the more serious route without sacrificing the art of the story. Both Jackman’s and Stewart’s acting is on point, and probably some of the best of their respective careers. Stewart, more specifically, delivers a command performance as Professor X and demonstrates that an accomplished actor who was primarily first known as Captain Picard can excel in both the horror (Green Room) and superhero genre films, all the while continually adding the touch of class that comes with his formal Shakespearean training as a performing artist.

This is NOT repeat NOT a kids superhero movie. Unless you have screen the film first, I would not recommend bringing anyone under the age of 13 with you to the cinema for Logan. There may not be “adult” content in the conventional sense; but, there are themes, subtext, and some violent content that may not be suitable for a younger audience who typically flock to superhero genre movies. Over all, Logan is an outstanding film, not just of the superhero variety, but also in general. From the writing to the directing and technical elements, this movie is a fantastic example of a superhero film that attempts to be and successes at breaking the mold and cementing itself as serious cinema.

“Hidden Figures” movie review

hiddenfiguresAn absolutely out-of-this-world biographical film! 20th Century Fox, PepsiCo, and TSG Entertainment present Theodore Melfi’s incredible film depicting the lives and careers of three African-American women whose work was extremely influential in the early days of NASA’s Mercury, Atlas, and Apollo missions. In all likelihood, there may not have been successful launches, orbits, and landings if it weren’t for these brave women who refused to back down and take the back seat to white men and women at a time that even government buildings still segregated restrooms, water fountains, and “community” coffee pots. Every once in a while, there is a biographical drama that packs a powerful socio-political message within a simple but brilliant story that is told incredibly successfully. Hidden Figures is a film that should have been released many years ago. How stories like this one go untold, is bewildering. Between the powerful performances, excellent writing, meticulous direction, and fantastic score, this is definitely a film to catch in theaters this weekend. Although Hidden Figures has been on a limited release since December, it receives its nationwide release this weekend and one to watch for when Oscar nominations are released.

Hidden Figures is the story of three absolutely brilliant African-American women who served as the problem-solving geniuses behind some of NASA’s greatest space operations in all of history including John Glenn’s (Glen Powell) first earth orbit and Alan Shepherd’s symbolic penetration of earth’s atmosphere into space. Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) work as computers (the term used at the time before the conventional modern use) at NASA’s Langley facility near Washington D.C. Never assigned to a permanent position, these talented ladies work tirelessly to support NASA’s operations and aspirations of space exploration. At a time in which it was incredibly difficult for persons of color–much less women–to climb out of temporary and entry-level jobs, these women do not permit archaic societal norms to stop them from reaching their greatest potential as an engineer, programmer, and mathematician respectively. This untold story will move you as these three women, that society and NASA determined could not be more than computers, are significantly instrumental in launching the space program that indirectly united people from all over the world and cemented the U.S. as a then-leader in space exploration.

What a story! And the best part about it is that it is based on actual events and three real women who are responsible for the success of NASA’s early space programs and even help to launch some of the more contemporary missions. Unlike many biographical dramas, there is a comprehensive nature to this film as it contains two important stories. There is the foreground story featuring the women at the center of the movie, but there is also the story of the state of the U.S.’ domestic socio-political policies at a time of civil rights unrest–especially in places like Virginia. Both stories parallel one another and serve to pack a powerful punch. After watching this film, it is clear that this film wishes it had existed in the 1960s. Within the former story, the focus is primarily on the life and career of Katherine Goble followed by Dorothy Vaughn, and to a lesser extent, Mary Jackson. Each woman specializes in a different STEM (as it is now commonly referred) area. Katherine is a mathematical genius matched by none, Dorothy understands early computer language better than anyone at NASA, and Mary is an aspiring engineer with a brilliant mind for aerospace design. The latter story, underscoring the socio-political civil rights unrest, is certainly highlighted in the film but never takes the focus completely off the story in the foreground; however, is vitally important to this powerful story with a message that those who you least expect to rise to be leaders in their respective fields, can and will! Despite all the challenges coming from within the work place and the country itself, these three women prove that you should never be afraid to be the best. Being good, isn’t good enough. Be the best!

Although this is truly a powerful film with a beautiful message that is just as relevant today as it would have been 50 years ago, it never quite hits the mark that I had hoped it would and perhaps that is due to the PG rating. Suffice it to say, there are some remarkable scenes with powerful speeches, but the film is just shy of the level of intensely as it should have contained. I realize that some of what transpired in the Space Task room, wind tunnels, and courtroom may have been taken from transcripts for authenticity, as this is a movie, I feel that there should have been more of a dramatic license taken out to increase the emotional impact of the film. It certainly has a moderately high emotional impact, but there was definitely the potential to take it up several more degrees. Two scenes come to mind. (1) Katherine challenging the segregation policies at NASA as it relates to common comforts such as restrooms and coffee and (2) Mary petitioning the court to permit her enrollment for graduate level engineering classes held at an all-white school. Dorothy also has a couple of encounters with her superior (Kirsten Dunst) but they are more subtle–no less powerful and important to the film. In regards to the scene in which Katherine confronts Mr. Harrison, the scene feels a little cut short of where it should have ended and Mr. Harrison’s (Kevin Costner) response could have been more dramatic. When inside the courtroom as Mary was addressing the judge, this would have been the perfect time for a speech that would have brought a flood of tears to the eyes, but it stops short of where it could have gone too. Over all, the screenplay is excellently written. These are just two areas that I feel could have struck a more powerful emotional cord. As it is, these scenes are still some of the most brilliant in the film and leave an impact.

One of Mr. Harrison’s lines in the film contains a large degree of irony. The line was something to the effect of “How can the U.S. government justify NASA when it is consistently unable to get into and explore space?” The irony therein is seen in today’s defunding of NASA for, essentially, that very concept. NASA did not lose the bulk of its government funding due to any particular presidential administration but from remaining in the 80s and never launching into the 21st century. After the Space Shuttle program, NASA did very little to grow–its technology and engineering remained fairly stagnant. Sure, communication technologies greatly benefited from NASA engineers, but that is not what made NASA an exciting organization from the 60s thru the 90s. What made NASA great was the perception of being explorers–exploration excited a society! Once NASA no longer appeared to be focused on exploration and shifted its focus to communication technologies, it lost that public support that was such a part of what brought so many people together. In many ways, the perceptions and issues facing NASA prior to and during the early missions is plaguing it today. Instead of an inability to launch a man into space and orbit the earth (later to land on the moon), there is now the demonstrable evidence and perception that NASA has an inability to create manned vessels capable of exploring space. Satellites and camera are great, but nothing parallels the actual exploration of space by humans. If NASA could one again be seen as explorers, then perhaps a new generation would petition the government to once again proactively support the iconic organization.

Hidden Figures is definitely not to be missed while it is in theaters. It is a larger than life story that is best appreciated on the big screen. For those in the audience who remember the early days of NASA, there is plenty of vintage footage to accompany the modern cinematic storytelling in this film. Even Kennedy’s famous “we will go to the moon” speech is in this movie. More than a biography of the glory days of NASA, this is a story of three women who, against all odds, rose to the challenges they faced on a daily basis to prove that women are capable of anything that a man can do. Between breaking the sound barrier, gravitational pull, and paving the way for equal rights and treatment in the workplace, this film will hit close to home for many who know what it is like to feel oppressed for who they are.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” movie review

missperegrinneSurprisingly exciting! Twentieth Century Fox brings another YA novel to the screen. Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (from here on out noted at Miss Peregrine) is both a fish out of water story combined with a magical adventure that mildly comments on the human condition. Of all the YA movies that have been produced over the last few years, this one provides a much more dynamic experience than many of the others. Burton delights audiences with the classic Burton style that many of us have grown up with. In more recent years, I have often commented that he is essentially a parody of himself–a.k.a. Burt Porn (as coined by my friend Leon in Germany)–not true with Miss Peregrine. Get ready for a return to the class Burton that brought us timeless movies such as A Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands. The great cast is supported by the appearances of Samuel L Jackson and Dame Judi Dench. From Florida to Wales, this movie is sure to whisk you away to daring adventures requiring rather peculiar abilities to defeat those who would seek to take what isn’t theirs to have.

All Jake (Asa Butterfield) knew was his ordinary life. He had a rather blah home life, an eccentric grandfather, and a job that he hated. Until one day, something peculiar happened. In his grandfather’s dying breath he told Jake to find the island. With his parents finding his sports of what he saw at his grandmother’s death to be quite bizarre, they forced hi to visit a psychiatrist. Upon finding a mysterious letter, Jake is determined to find the home in which his grandfather grew up. Accompanied by his cynical father, Jake returns to the island where his grandfather grew up. Only he could never have expected the adventure and run of this life that he will soon find himself. Stumbling across the children’s home ran by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), Jake teams up with the most unusual but fascinating people who are in a rush against time to defeat those who are out to destroy them.

If I had to name one takeaway from this film, it would be that it reminds me of the 1980s/90s Tim Burton before he “went down the rabbit hole.” It combines his surreal and gothic filmmaking style juxtaposed against his flare for the colorful and bizarre. Although it is not an original concept by any means, if you’re a fan of Fox’s film adaptations of or the animated series X-Men, then you will likely enjoy this movie! Not having read the book, I cannot comment on the film’s alignment and commitment to the literary work written by Ransom Riggs; but, from what I have read online–even the author himself–is pleased with Burton’s translation from page to screen. Very few directors would have been so successful at bringing this story to life more than Burton.  Despite an apparent successful translation from book to movie, the film suffers from an overload of mythology, exposition through dialog, and lacks the thrills to completely balance out the former two elements. Although this movie may feel like one that you have seen before, it does offer a glimpse into Burton’s prime years and perhaps offers a hope that the acclaimed visionary director can once again impress us with his fantastical but highly effective cinematic storytelling.

One of the most successful elements to the X-Men’s plight as individuals born with peculiar abilities is the fact that they are human. They hold onto their humanity (the good guys anyway). Miss Peregrine’s children do not appear to offer the same level of humanity as their X-Men counterparts. The impact of the X-Men’s abilities is felt not only by the X-Men themselves but by the community at large. For the most part, Miss Peregrine’s children’s abilities largely leaves no impact upon themselves or others. Almost plays off more as a convenient plot device than character attributes. Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield’s fake American accent does not really suit his character of Jake. In a world of fantastical dynamics and depth, he plays off as a boring, flat character. In screenwriting, it is vitally important for the writer to cause the reader/audience to love the protagonist and/or love to hate the antagonist. I found it hard to love Jake or truly hate Barron (Jackson).

So, the movie may not have the amazing principle cast that we are accustomed to in a Burton movie; but, it does still contain Burton magic and some exciting and beautiful visuals. It is also a lot of fun to watch! In addition to being fun to watch, it contains some rather disturbing imagery and cringeworthy moments. But that’s par for the course with classic Burton. One of my favorite parts in the movie is the action-packed climactic sequence accompanied by dark humor. It’s a great combination of humor and visceral conflict. If you’re looking for a fun movie to watch this weekend, then this one is a solid pick! Furthermore, if you desire to get a glimpse into a more classical Burton film, then you’ll find utter delight in this one as well.