Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Post (dir by Steven Spielberg)


So, I finally sat down and watched the 2017 film, The Post.

The Post is something of an odd film.  Imagine if someone made a film about the production of a movie.  And imagine if, instead of focusing on the actors or the members of the crew or even the director, the film was instead about the studio executives sitting back in Hollywood and debating whether or not they should agree to give the director another million dollars to complete the film.  Imagine dramatic scenes of the execs meeting with their accountants to determine whether they can spare an extra million dollars.  Imagine triumphant music swelling in the background as one of the execs announces that they’ll raise the budget but only in return for getting to pick the title of the director’s next film.  The Post is kind of like that.  It’s a film about journalism that’s more concerned with publishers and editors than with actual journalists.

To be honest, The Post‘s deification of the bosses shouldn’t really be that much of a shock.  This is a Steven Spielberg film and a part of Spielberg’s legend has always been that, of all the young, maverick directors who emerged in the 70s, he was always the one who was the most comfortable dealing with the studio execs.  As opposed to directors like Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, and Francis Ford Coppola, Spielberg got along with the bosses and they loved him.  While his contemporaries were talking about burning Hollywood down and transforming the culture, Spielberg was happily joining the establishment and reshaping American cinema.  No one can deny that Spielberg is a talented filmmaker.  It’s just that, if anyone was going to make a movie celebrating management, you just know it would be Steven Spielberg.

Taking place in the early 70s, The Post deals with the decision to publish The Pentagon Papers, which were thirty years worth of classified documents dealing with America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  Since the Pentagon Papers revealed that the government spent several decades lying to the American people about the situation in Vietnam, there’s naturally a lot of pushback from the government.  It all leads to one of those monumental supreme court decisions, the type that usually ends a movie like this.  And while the film does acknowledge that there were journalists involved in breaking the story, it devotes most of its attention to editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep).

Gasp as Ben and Katharine debate whether to publish the story!

Shudder as Katharine tries to figure out how to keep the Post from going bankrupt.

Watch as Ben Bradlee talks to the legal department!

Thrill as Katharine Graham learns that her family friends, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, weren’t always honest with her!

And listen, I get it.  The Post isn’t as much about Nixon and the Vietnam War as it’s about Trump and the modern-day war on the media.  And yes, we get plenty of scenes of Tom Hanks explaining why freedom of the press is important and the movie ends in typical Spielberg fashion, with triumphant music and all the rest.  But watching The Post, it’s hard not to think about other films that celebrated journalism, films like All The President’s Men and Spotlight.  Both of those films featured scenes of editors supporting their reporters.  In fact, All The President’s Men featured Jason Robards playing the same editor that Tom Hanks plays in The Post.  But Spotlight and All The President’s Men focused on the journalists and the hard work that goes into breaking an important story.  Robards and Spotlight‘s Michael Keaton played editors who were willing to stand up and defend their reporters but, at the same time, those films emphasized that it was the underpaid and underappreciated reporters who were often putting their careers (and sometimes, their lives) on the line to break a story.  Whereas Spotlight and All The President’s Men showed us why journalism is important, The Post is content to merely tell us.

The Post was a famously rushed production.  Shooting started in May of 2017 and was completed in November, all so it could be released in December and receive Oscar consideration.  Production was rushed because Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks all felt that it was important to make a statement about Trump’s treatment of the press.  While I can see their point and I don’t deny that they had noble intentions, a rushed production is still going to lead to a rushed film.  The Post is a sloppy film, full of way too much on-the-nose dialogue and scenes that just seem to be missing Spielberg’s usual visual spark.  It feels less like a feature film and more like a well-made HBO production.  Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep give performances that are all surface.  Streep’s performance is all mannered technique while Hanks occasionally puts his feet up on his desk and furrows his brow.

It gets frustrating because, watching the film, you get the feeling that there’s a great movie to be made about the Pentagon Papers and the struggle to publish them.  I’d love to know what the actual reporters went through to get their hands on the papers.  But The Post is more interested in management than the workers.

All through 2017, The Post was touted as being a sure Oscar front-runner.  When it was released, it received respectful but hardly enthusiastic reviews.  In the end, it only received two nominations — one for best picture and one for Streep.  In a year dominated by Lady Bird, Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Post turned to be a nonfactor.  For all the hype and expectations, it’s the film that you usually forget whenever you’re trying to remember everything that was nominated last year.

Confession of a TV Addict #13: Remembering Peter Tork and The Monkees


cracked rear viewer

Before the advent of cable and MTV and music videos, there was The Monkees. Now I know some of you are going give me flak about “The Pre-Fab Four”, how they weren’t a real band, just a commercialized, bubblegum TV concept, so let me put this in perspective… if you were an eight-year-old kid  like me back in The Monkees’ heyday, you watched the show every week, bought the records, and actually enjoyed them! That’s where I’m coming from, and that’s why I’m writing this tribute to the late Peter Tork, who passed away today of cancer at age 77.

Peter Thorkleson was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, and as a child loved music, learning to play piano, guitar, bass, and banjo early on. After college, he shortened his name to Tork and hit New York City, becoming part of the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. He…

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Degrassi: The Kids Of Degrassi Street — Ida Makes A Movie


A couple of years ago Lisa suggested that I review the long running franchise known as Degrassi. I’m sure she was mainly referring to Degrassi: The Next Generation, but, the franchise goes back a lot further than that particular entry. In fact, it goes back to 1979 with a series called The Kids Of Degrassi Street. I feel we should start at the beginning.

I began watching this franchise sometime in the 2000s and fell in love with it. It came in and out of my life after that, but I believe I have seen it all. That being said, it has been a long time since I watched some of these shows. Even then, I saw them out of order and with years in between viewings. As such, it will be a journey of rediscovery for me.

The show began with what I believe was a pilot episode, or at the very least, it was decided at some point to be expanded into an entire series. It’s my guess that this was something along the lines of Panic At Malibu Pier (1989), which was filmed as a movie, but was also intended to be a pilot episode for Baywatch. That way in case the show wasn’t picked up, they could release it as a movie. Or it could have been even simpler and been a pitch pilot such as the one done for Baywatch which had their long running real-life lifeguard cast member, Michael Newman, doing lifeguard things for a few minutes. No matter what it was intended to be, it did end up being turned into a series.

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So what shot opens up a franchise that off and on would last about 40 years? A shot of a “Do Not Litter!” sign.

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As anti-climatic as that is, it does set the tone for the entire franchise: lessons for the audience to learn.

The show essentially began as a series of after school specials where each one would focus on a particular issue or issues. If you’ve seen any later entry in the franchise, then you know that they never stopped doing that kind of thing. The difference is that in later shows these lessons would end up being folded into a normal TV show with an ongoing narrative, regular characters, and actual seasons. Still, you can unpack them and find lesson after lesson that they were trying to get across to the audience as if it were still a series of after school specials for kids. There are some recurring characters on this show, but it’s not like a regular TV Show.

Something else worth noting is that unlike a show such as Beverly Hills, 90210; Degrassi, the school, or the street in this entry, and the kids that happen to pass through are what the shows are about. On Beverly Hills, 90210 we follow a set of characters through high school, college, and beyond. That’s not what Degrassi is really going for with their shows.

I bring this up because it ties back in with what I said about after school specials. The characters on Degrassi aren’t necessarily there for one episode and then tossed away, but the takeaway for the audience are the lessons that are learned by those characters during their time in school or on Degrassi St. Of course there are exceptions since no analogy is perfect and get on with it, I know.

The first episode starts by introducing us to our two main characters for this episode. We have Ida, who is played by Zoë Newman. She is pictured on the right of the title card. We also have her friend Cookie, played by Dawn Harrison. She is on the left. As the show goes on, they fade out as the filmmakers started to find the actors that would go on to be in the next entry, Degrassi Junior High.

This cat may be surrounded by litter, but it doesn’t know how good it has it. We’ll get to that in a later episode.

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There is a bunch of garbage on the ground, and after Ida steps on a sandwich…

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Cookie notices a sign for a film contest geared towards children.

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Ida decides to do what the title of the episode says.

She starts hunting around for a camera in her attic among her dad’s old stuff. She finds one, but it’s broken.

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Enter Mom…

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who suggests that Ida simply go and get the camera fixed.

Cut directly to a guy at a camera store who tells us this was made in the 1970s without needing to say a word.

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He tells her that it needs a new spring, some film, and the cost.

Is that a picture of James Garner behind her? Was he a spokesman for Kodak or something at the time?

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Anyways, she is going to need some money to repair the camera and Mom isn’t going to help with that, so Ida is going to have to raise some money on her own.

Back home, we meet Ida’s brother Fred, played by someone they don’t list in the credits. Proper credits don’t show up until the next episode.

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He suggests mowing lawns and Cookie suggests having a bake sale, but Ida doesn’t want to do the first and doesn’t know how to cook. Thankfully, Mom has some dialog that doesn’t make sense to give Ida an idea.

She says that if Ida doesn’t “find a place for that junk from the attic”, then she is going throw it out. I have no idea if that means Ida took a bunch of stuff out of the attic, which means she could simply put it back, or what. I just know that Ida decides that she should have a garage sale.

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At the sale, Fred buys a military helmet from Ida. It’s important for the plot that he does this.

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Ida raises enough money, and without even counting it, the guy at the store gives her the fixed camera.

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No, there will never be anything about developing, editing, or any of the other things that go into making a movie. You just have to accept that it is fixed, and now Ida is off to make her movie. It’s going to be a movie about garbage of course.

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This leads to a short “Who’s On First” routine with Mom before she leaves her, Cookie, and Fred to make the movie.

While Ida films, Cookie is supposed to dance around the garbage and they have timed the shooting to coincide with the arrival of a garbage truck. Fred is supposed to hand garbage to the garbageman. Fred “accidentally” grabs Cookie’s doll and puts it in with the trash…

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which must mean that Cookie has two dolls, I think, since she is holding another one.

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Now comes my favorite part out of this whole thing.

Despite the fact that Fred and Cookie fight over the doll in front of him…

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and despite the fact that we can see and hear Cookie calling out in his direction that the doll is not trash…

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he takes it and dumps it in the back of the truck anyways before hopping onto the truck to leave.

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Good job, garbageman! Also it’s a little cruel on Ida’s part to keep filming while she knows her friend’s doll is being taken off with actual garbage. Oh, well.

Via a title card telling us that two weeks have past…

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Ida receives a letter telling her that she is one of the finalists in the contest. The problem is that they thought it was about war instead of garbage, probably due to the fight over the doll and the helmet. I guess what the movie is supposed to be about wasn’t something that was to be included with the film when it was sent in.

What follows is some back and forth between Ida, Cookie, and Ida’s mom which amounts to the lesson that Ida should tell them that the movie is about garbage and not war because it’s a kind of lying otherwise.

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That’s an interesting looking award.

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Of course Ida wins. But then she tells the guy giving out the award, played by Elwy Yost, that the film isn’t about war. The guy then all but lets her walk offstage in embarrassment before bringing up that the award is given on merit, so she can have it. It ends right there.

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That’s the beginning of Degrassi! An episode about not lying and not accepting something from someone in return for something the other person misinterpreted as something different than what you intended it to be. It also pushes a “Do It Yourself” ethic and you could make the case that garbage and war aren’t as different a subject as Ida thinks.

They do undercut the first two messages a little bit since she never tells the announcer that she added a “T” to the middle of her name to make it sound more impressive even though the episode reminds us several times that she did.

Also, I understand why they did and will continue to largely push the parents into the background, but it has side effects at times. Not so much with this entry, but it will in later episodes.

We have a long way to go, and actors to discover that will move onto Degrassi Junior High, and beyond.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Imitation Game (dir by Morten Tyldum)


The 2014 film, The Imitation Game, takes place in three very different time periods.

The majority of the film takes place during World War II.  While the Germans are ruthlessly rolling across and conquering huge swaths of Europe, the British are desperately trying to, at the very least, slow them down.  A key to that is decrypting the secret codes that the German forces use to communicate with each other.  Since the Germans change the code every day, the British not only have to break the code but also predict what the next day’s code will be.

Working out of a 19th century mansion called Bletchley Park, a small group of mathematicians, chess players, and spies work to design a machine that will be able to decode the German messages.  Heading up this group is a man named Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Alan is a remote and, at times, rather abrasive figure, a man who appears to be more comfortable dealing with equations than with other human beings.  The people working under him occasionally chafe at Alan’s lack of social skills.  Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) suspects that Alan’s a Russian spy and would just as soon close down the entire operation.  At first, the only person who seems to have any faith in Alan’s abilities appears to be Winston Churchill himself.

It’s only when Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) joins Alan’s team that they start to make progress.  Joan brings Alan out of his shell and teaches him how to deal with other human beings.  When Joan’s parents object to her being away from home, Alan even offers to marry her.  Of course, Alan also explains that it would just be a marriage of convenience, one that will last until they get Christopher up and working.

Christopher is the name that Alan has given to his encryption machine.  Why Christopher?  Throughout the film, we get flashbacks to Alan’s time in boarding school and his close friendship to another student, a boy named Christopher.

And finally, serving as a framing device to both the World War II intrigue and Alan’s relationship with Christopher, is a scene that’s set in 1951.  Alan’s home has been broken into and, as the police investigate the matter, they come to realize that Alan is hiding something about both his past and his present.  Their initial assumption is that Alan must be a communist spy.  The truth, however, is that Alan is gay.  And, in 1951 Britain, that is a criminal offense….

The Imitation Game is based on a true story.  During World War II, Alan Turing actually was a codebreaker and he did play a pivotal role in creating the machine that broke the German code.  After World War II, Turing was arrested and charged with “gross indecency.”  Given a choice between imprisonment or probation and chemical castration.  Turing selected the latter and committed suicide in 1954.  Alan Turing’s work as a cryptographer is estimated to have saved 14 million lives during World War II but he died a lonely and obscure figure, a victim of legally sanctioned prejudice.

Admittedly, The Imitation Game does take some liberties with history.  For one thing, most of the people who worked with Turing described him as being eccentric but not anti-social.  Though the film pretty much portrays the decoding machine as solely being Turing’s creation, it was actually a group effort.  Perhaps the biggest liberty that the film takes is that the machine was never called Christopher.  Instead, it was called Victory.

That said, The Imitation Game is still a strong and effective film.  Anchored by a brilliant lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is a film that manages to be both inspiring and infuriating at the same time.  It’s impossible not to get caught up in the team’s joy as they realize that they actually can beat the Germans at their own encryption game and, after spending 90 minutes listening to everyone doubt Alan’s abilities, you’re more than ready to see him and his unorthodox methods vindicated.  And yet, because of the film’s framing device, you already know that Alan is not going to get the credit that he deserves for his hard work.  Instead, he’s going to be destroyed by the laws of the very country that he worked so hard to save.  Success and tragedy walk hand-in-hand throughout The Imitation Game and the end result is a very powerful and very sad movie.

I have to admit that it was a bit jarring when the opening credits appeared onscreen and the first words that I read were “The Weinstein Company Presents.”  It’s only been a year and a half since Harvey Weinstein was finally exposed and forced out of power but it’s still easy to forget just how much the Wienstein Company used to dominate every Oscar season.  In many ways, with its historical setting and its cast of up-and-coming Brits, The Imitation Game feels like a typical Weinstein Company Oscar contender.  In this case, The Imitation Game was nominated for a total of 8 Oscars, including Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actress for Keira Knightley, Best Director for Morten Tyldum, Best Adapted Screenplay for Graham Moore, and Best Picture.  In the end, only Moore won his category.  In a decision that continues to confound me, the Academy named Birdman the best film of the year.

Music Video Of The Day: Comfort by Julia Jacklin (2019, dir by Nick Mckk and Julia Jacklin)


ENNUI!

Ennui is actually one of my favorite words and not a day passes that I don’t find an excuse to use it.  For instance, a few days ago, I was stuck in traffic in downtown Dallas and I happened to notice that there was a pigeon sitting on a guard rail and it looked like it was wondering whether it should jump into traffic or if it should just continue to exist and contemplate life.  So, I rolled down my window and I looked straight at that pigeon and I called out, “ENNUI!”

The pigeon looked back at me.

We had an understanding.

Anyway, this video seems like it’s full of ennui.  To be honest, there’s no way to escape that feeling whenever you’re the only person standing near a swimming pool.  As I watched this video, I thought about that scene in The Graduate where William Daniels forces Dustin Hoffman to sit at the bottom of the pool.  I also thought about the Burt Lancaster film, The Swimmer, in which Burt attempted to swim home by going through all of the neighborhood pools.  And, of course, there was Todd Field’s Little Children, where Kate Winslet spent the whole movie hanging out at the neighborhood pool.

Julia Jacklin has got a talent for these ennui-drenched videos.

Enjoy!