The Post (2017) starring Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep

WARNING: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

When American military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, realizes to his disgust the depths of the US government’s deceptions about the futility of the Vietnam War, he takes action by copying top-secret documents that would become the Pentagon Papers. Later, Washington Post owner, Kay Graham, is still adjusting to taking over her late husband’s business when editor Ben Bradlee discovers the New York Times has scooped them with an explosive expose on those papers. Determined to compete, Post reporters find Ellsberg himself and a complete copy of those papers. However, the Post’s plans to publish their findings are put in jeopardy with a Federal restraining order that could get them all indicted for Contempt. Now, Kay Graham must decide whether to back down for the safety of her paper or publish and fight for the Freedom of the Press. In doing so, Graham and her staff join a fight that would have America’s democratic ideals in the balance. -IMDB summary

This tightly edited/well-acted historical drama (directed by Spielberg) is a MUST-SEE for our (politically troubled) times! Spielberg wanted to have his film released as quickly as possible given the parallels between its theme and the burgeoning political “fake news” climate in the U.S. According to Streep, the physical shoot started in May 2017 and finished at the end of July and Spielberg had it cut two weeks later. The film went from script to final cut in a modest 9 mos.

Tom Hanks (WaPo editor Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (newspaper owner Katharine Graham) are the main draws here, BUT there are also chances for (younger/less famous) actors to shine. You will some fine moments featuring Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Alison Brie (star of GLOW), Jessie Plemons (most recently on Black Mirror), and Sarah Paulson (who plays the supportive wife of Bradlee). As I heard on NPR, this movie doesn’t get into the fact that Bradlee actually had 3 marriages which were far from ideal.  

At times, Graham is unsure of what steps to take w/ regards to the future of her paper (which was losing money). She is a woman in a man’s world, who didn’t have to work until she suddenly became a widow in middle-age. Her trusted ally is her long-time attorney, Fritz Beebe (actor/writer Tracy Letts); he is a male ally (though they wouldn’t have used this term in the late ’60s). Beebe helps Graham stands up to Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), who thinks she’s NOT the right person to head the paper.

Can journos be friends w/ politicians? Hmmm, it’s NOT such a good idea, as BOTH Bradlee and Graham come to realize. Bradlee knows that he was TOO close to the Kennedys (personally), so got the kinds of access that other newsmen wouldn’t have. Graham’s long-time friendship w/ former Secretary of State Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is tested, BUT she doesn’t let him intimidate her into being silent. Ben Bagdikian (Bod Odenkirk) provides some of the humor in the movie; he is a dogged senior reporter who tracks down Ellsberg.

 

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Star Trek: Discovery (Episode 11) – “The Wolf Inside”

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the most recent episode of the sci-fi series streaming on CBS All Access. 

We are still in the Mirror Universe, where the black/gold uniforms are FAB, killing your fellow Terran officers is commonplace, and Saru’s race are kept as nameless slaves. Capt. Lorca is able to withstand torture and STILL keep it together. Here the Klingons, Vulcans, and few other races (who get new looks) are the resistance, fighting against the Terran Empire. This ep starts out a BIT slow w/ a voiceover from Michael Burnham, who is complaining re: how she has to struggle to get through the days. We see her and Tyler cuddling and talking together; he refers to her as his “tether.” What did you think about this? Was Tyler being TOO needy? Or is this a sensitive and romantic thing to say? 

Sarek is called a “prophet” by the rebels, which includes Voq (called “the Fire Wolf”). As Sarek (who has a goatee a la Spock in the TOS Mirror Universe) does the mind meld w/ Burnham, we see him become fascinated w/ the alternate world he glimpses. He declares that Burnham means no harm. When Tyler sees Voq, he gets flashes back to his past, then attacks Voq w/ no provocation. Voq wonders how Tyler knows the “forgotten tongue” of his people (the Klingons). This fight isn’t that well done; it also comes off as awkward and no one intervenes to assist Voq.

As MANY of us knew, the albino Klingon warrior, Voq, and the human, Lt. Ash Tyler, are the SAME person! Actor Shazad Latif played BOTH parts, too, as others suspected. (Latif ‘s middle name is “Javid” and the actor recently explained that “Iqbal” is his  Pakistani father’s first name). I thought Latif did VERY well in this ep, incl. w/ the Klingon language (which a linguist on Facebook noted has sounds found in Arabic and Urdu, the main language of Pakistan). 

What did you think of Tyler’s big reveal to Burnham? I was really hoping for more! I was expecting her to kill, or at least shoot, Tyler/Voq right away. After all, he was acting ;ike he loved her. I liked how Latif was able to do the quick, yet subtle, shift from Tyler to Voq at various points in this ep. 

The final reveal- Michele Yeoh is back (YAY)- was rather unexpected! It turns out that the mysterious “Emperor” looks exactly like Capt. Georgiou. How will this affect Burnham (who saw her first captain as a a VERY close friend/mentor)? This show keeps on getting better and better! 

Christian Bale (& co-stars) discuss new movie: Hostiles

Set in 1892, Hostiles tells the story of a legendary Army Captain (Christian Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains. Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way. -Synopsis for the film

This “revisionist” Western film is written/directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart). The cast includes Academy-Award winner Bale and nominee- Pike (also a Brit). Veteran character actor  Studi (who is of Navajo heritage); you may know him as the imposing antagonist, Magua, on The Last of the Mohicans. The supporting cast includes Stephen Lang, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster (Hell or High Water), Adam Beach (who is Canadian from the Ojibwa nation; co-starred on SVU), Q’orianka Kilcher (Bale’s co-star on The New World) and up-and-comer Timothee Chalamet (currently on big screens in Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird). 

Official trailer for the movie:

 

Some of the cast and director talk re: the film at TIFF:

 

Christian Bale on CBS This Morning:

 

Bale, Rosamund Pike, & Wes Studi on BUILD (a live interview series in NYC):  

 

A relaxed, in-depth interview (shot in LA) w/ DP30: The Oral History of Hollywood:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (NOW PLAYING) starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, & Oscar Isaac

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the new Star Wars movie.

Growing up, mentorship, and the search for belonging (identity) continue to be themes in this sci-fi movie series. The Last Jedi is also re: growing old and regret (esp. when it comes to Luke and even Leia). Early filming began on Skellig Michael Island (off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland) in September 2015 w/ Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley. It was speculated by MANY fans that Rey is actually the long lost daughter of Luke. Being the prankster that he is, Mark Hamill made a comment, accidentally referring to Daisy Ridley as “my dau… I mean my colleague.” Luke wants no part of fighting, throwing his lightsaber over his shoulder (much to Rey’s dismay and surprise).

The island has some cute (new) creatures- the Porgs and “caretakers.” There are some touching moments (esp. for long-time fans) when Luke sees the Falcon (Han Solo’s old ship), reunites w/ Chewy, and bumps into R2-D2. Chewy can’t eat the roasted Porg b/c he feels guilty- one of the funniest moments in the movie. There is a good amount of humor in this movie.

There is more of lovable rogue Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)- YAY! He’s in the cool battle at the start, along w/ co-pilot BB-8, and also makes fun of Gen. Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). You can’t deny the great chemistry between Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a new character. Tran did not tell anyone she was doing a Star Wars movie, instead saying she was working on an indie film in Canada. She even got some maple syrup to bring back to her parents. Finn and Rose go to an island like Vegas (and Monte Carlo); this was a quite different world for Star Wars

“This movie introduces new stuff into The Force” (as reviewers on Collider noted), such as the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren- formerly known as Ben Solo- (Adam Driver). These scenes were quite effective, thanks to the sound design, and the acting skills of both actors. I watched Driver on Girls (HBO); the more I see, the more I appreciate his acting. He is an unconventional leading man, not just b/c of this looks, but b/c he is easily able to convey confusion and vulnerability. Rey thinks that Kylo isn’t totally lost, though he’s trying to pull her over to the Dark Side of the Force. And did you hear re: how Driver didn’t know what “emo” meant (until recently)? Social media was buzzing about this.

Leia (Carrie Fischer- in her final role) finally uses the Force- I didn’t expect that! She had begun training as a Jedi shortly after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). Motherhood, and troubles in the Galactic Senate, caused her to cut that short. Fischer was also a writer; she helped Rian Johnson with the writing of the script for this film.

 

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery (Episodes 3-5)

Episode 3: Context Is for Kings

Synopsis

Six months into her life sentence, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green), is on a prison transfer when her shuttle is rescued by the USS Discovery during an emergency. After a few days onboard, Burnham is ordered by Capt. Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), to assist with a scientific assignment. Burnham overhears Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp- a Broadway darling), the officer leading the assignment, discuss an upcoming experiment with a colleague serving on another starship. Lorca is soon informed of an incident on the Discovery‘s sister ship, the USS Glenn, that has killed the entire crew. Stamets leads a boarding party to investigate and finds the dead crew w/ their bodies badly twisted; a group of Klingons were also killed. There is a frightening new alien onboard the Glenn which we’ve never seen before in the Star Trek universe. Lorca later asks Burnham to work for him, explaining that he organized the circumstances that led her to him; she could help develop a new propulsion system (spore-based) that could win the war (which she started by killing T’Kuvma). He also secretly has the deadly creature transported aboard.

Review

OK, trekkers (I prefer this term), this ep is where the series really gets started! We actually get to see the state-of-the-art ship (Discovery) and its enigmatic (some have used the terms “shady” and “warmongering”) captain. Lorca is named for the 19th century’s Spanish/openly gay poet (FYI: I did a report on him, in an advanced Spanish class in college, and got applause). What’s up w/ Isaacs’ Southern accent? Well, the British character actor made that decision (along w/ producers, no doubt) b/c he didn’t want to compete w/ the memory of TNG’s Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart). Suffice it to say, Lorca is NOT like any other Starfleet captain we’ve seen before!

Looks like Burnham is an outcast, esp. among her former Shenzhou crewmates (incl. Lorca’s first officer, Saru). She is referred to as “Starfleet’s first mutineer;” however, we can’t forget the rebellious acts of Tom Paris (TNG/Voyager) and Ro Laren (TNG). Michael has the logic and brains of her Vulcan upbringing (nurture) mixed w/ the emotion and daring of her human biology (nature); Lorca knows that these qualities make her a valuable asset. Some viewers have commented that by-the-book Saru will balance out risk-taker Michael.

Stamets is snarky w/ Michael when he first meets her; we learn that he is a ground-breaking scientist who resents being conscripted for war. What is the deal w/ Cadet Tilly? Some critics felt that she should’ve been on a CW show (if you like those, sorry).  

Episode 4: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

Synopsis

Lorca assigns Burnham to study the new creature, referred to as a “Tardigrade,” to find a way to use its biology as a weapon. Starfleet orders Discovery to the dilithium mining colony of Corvan II, which is under Klingon attack. Stamets is reluctant to make such a long jump using the spores, and when the drive is activated, the ship nearly collides with a star. Lorca sends Cmdr Landry (Rekha Sharma from BSG) to keep Burnham’s research on track. When she attempts to sedate the Tardigrade (which she calls “Ripper”) to cut off its claw, it kills her. Burnham believes that Ripper was acting in self-defense, and is drawn to the spores. Stamets and Burnham transport it to Engineering, where it connects to the spore drive and interfaces with the navigation system. The ship makes the jump to Corvan II and saves the colony.

On T’Kuvma’s stranded ship, the red-paint wearing Klingon leader Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) earns the loyalty of T’Kuvma’s desperate followers, and leaves the white-faced Voq (Javed Iqbal) to die in the wreckage of the Shenzhou. L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), secretly loyal to Voq, promises that there a way for them to win the war for the house of T’Kuvma. However, Voq will have to go stay w/ “the matriarchs” of her house and be prepared to “give up everything.”

Review

MANY viewers were disappointed to see Landry (a WOC like Michelle Yeoh) killed off so early in the series (a la Tasha Yar on TNG). Well, Denise Crosby wanted off TNG after one season; she thought it wasn’t going to stifle her career. I really liked Tasha as a character, as did many other critics/viewers. Others called Landry “the stupidest Star Trek character” (b/c she acted so rashly). 

Who’s ready for some (rather tame so far) Klingon romance? Hey, I certainly am (b/c the Star Trek universe has such a lack of love stories, in general)! Mary Chieffo (who I learned is mainly a theater actress) is doing a fine job as L’Rell, esp. considering ALL those heavy prosthetics and costuming. 

Episode 5: Choose Your Pain

Synopsis

After a month of successful operations, Lorca is ordered to protect the spore drive until it can be replicated for other Starfleet ships. As he returns to the Discovery, he is taken captive by the Klingons. Lorca is imprisoned with a captured Starfleet officer, Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), and a criminal, Harcourt “Harry” Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Lorca eventually reveals that he killed his former crew during battle to spare them from the Klingons’ torture, but he escaped. Lorca is tortured by L’Rell, who wants the secret behind Discovery‘s new (faster) way of travel, but Lorca and Tyler escape before the Klingons can learn anything.

Burnham has grown concerned with the toll that the spore drive was having on Ripper. Along with Stamets’ partner, medical officer Hugh Culbert, Burnham convinces Stamets to find an alternative to run the drive. For the final jump needed to escape the Klingons, with Lorca and Tyler onboard, Stamets connects to the spore drive himself using Ripper’s DNA. Later, Burnham frees Ripper. Stamets’ reflection does not walk away from a mirror when he does. 

Review

The defining factor of Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future… Once you lose that, you lose the essence of what Star Trek is. That being said… Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and [the topical question now] is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is in the weight of a challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war. -Executive producer Alex Kurtzman on the balance between classic Star Trek and new elements in Discovery

OMG, why did they need to resurrect Mudd or ALL characters!? (For ALL the young/ newbie trekkers, check out Mudd’s Women in S1 of TOS. He dresses like a cowboy and ferries brides to miners on distant planets, BUT also has a sinister side.) At first, I thought that this Mudd would be funny, BUT he’s just a cowardly, self-serving jerk. I’m NOT a fan of Rainn Wilson (or his deadpan style of delivery), either, so that doesn’t help. However, Mudd does have a few good lines Starfleet sticking its nose into people’s business (quite true)!  

Hmmm… what do YOU think of the theory (circulating widely among viewers, incl. YouTube critics and podcasters) that Tyler is actually Voq in disguise? He certainly wins the trust and respect of Lorca VERY quickly, b/c he’s willing to put himself in the path of danger for a superior officer. Tyler says he has been imprisoned for 7 mos (since the Battle of the Binary Stars), BUT L’Rell has been captain of this ship for ONLY 3 mos. 

So, is this show set in the mirror universe? MANY critics/viewers think so! More on this later…