Minisode 036: The Post

We’ve gotten together to talk about Steven Spielberg’s newest film, The Post, a dramatization of the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which exposed government secrets and lies about the Vietnam War. With a cast led by superstars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, this story of unbiased journalism is extremely relevant and sure to land numerous Oscar nominations.


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MOVIE REVIEW: The Post

THE POST (2017)

GOING IN

True story – my dream career for two decades was newspaper editor. Not an astronaut or a doctor or Major League Baseball player. I grew up with a very strong interest in journalism and political science. Had my life taken a different path, perhaps those two subjects would have resulted in college degrees that eventually led me to that desk job at a major paper.

The Post dramatizes the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed government secrets and lies about the Vietnam War. With a cast led by superstars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and directed by Steven Spielberg, this story of unbiased journalism is extremely relevant and sure to land numerous Oscar nominations. The question is, will it be more All President’s Men or Spotlight? And will it rekindle my dreams or put me at ease about missing out?


COMING OUT

Standing ovation. That’s my initial reaction when the credits start to roll. I simply don’t clap for movies. It feels odd to do so when there is no one present to actually receive the praise being given from said action, but this film was the rare exception that made me want to.

The Post story, I’m ashamed to say, is not one that I was familiar with, but is a piece of history that is vitally important for all Americans to know well. Essentially the Nixon administration and government before him had a pretty bad habit of making decisions based on public perception instead of what might actually be best for the country. There was also a culture of “friendship” between the press and the White House that called into question the bias of reporting. All that was brought into focus, though, when the New York Times first published excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. After Nixon fails to persuade the NYT to cease publishing, a federal court does so claiming the papers violate the Espionage Act of 1917 due to their classified nature.

This is where The Washington Post, published by Katharine Graham (Streep) and edited by Ben Bradlee (Hanks) comes in. Hanks portrays Bradlee with a staunch patriotism and determination to do what he feels is right, which is always give the public the truth. “The only way to protect the right to publish, is to publish,” he says more than once, as he pushes his team to locate the Pentagon Papers and convince Graham to publish despite the potential consequences. Graham not only must face the risk of her career and freedom, but must do so in a world that where women were not frequently in positions of power. Streep’s performance is inspiring in the way it captures both the spirited strength of Graham as well as her nervous fears. Hanks is also fantastic and the chemistry between these two star-studded actors in a joy to behold.

Spielberg has also assembled an incredible supporting cast around Hanks and Streep. Bob Odenkirk stands out the most as reporter Ben Bagdikian, the man in charge of locating the Pentagon Papers for The Post. His resolve never waivers once and he is the perfect extension of Bradlee’s mantra that freedom of the press must survive because as he says about the government “If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” John Williams’ score is much more minimalist than usual, but equally effective. It accentuates perfectly those heightened moments of drama with Oscar-worthy speeches, breaths collectively being held as decisions are awaited, and once scene where Spielberg shoots the printing press like it was in an action movie.

VERDICT

The Post features Spielberg’s best work in ages and the timeless greatness of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep is on full display. This all-star team-up provides the goods in telling an important story about the place of journalism in society and the necessity of checks and balances for public servants. Emotionally speaking, everything works here and comes together into a rousing picture that champions a right which Americans must cling to more than ever today. See it in a theater. See it with your children. As much a vital history lesson as outstanding entertainment, The Post is one of this year’s best films and should not be missed.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Feelin’ TV: June 19-25

There’s a reason that only kids repeat the little rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It’s because It’s complete garbage. While many have experienced physical pain, careless words are what often leave the most lasting scars. Through three seasons of Better Call Saul, we’ve watched as Jimmy McGill slowly but surely transforms into Saul Goodman. While the show has taken its time to get there, this week’s season finale moved the transition along with a jolt. And it did so with one sentence, spoken to Jimmy by his brother Charles. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is, you never mattered much to me.” With these words, Charles, whose approval and respect was the motivation behind Jimmy’s quest to be a lawyer, paves the way for Slippin’ Jimmy’s rebirth Saul. And if it ends up that we don’t hear from Chuck again, it was one crushing final blow to our main character. I can’t imagine that Jimmy recovers from this. Occasionally, because of the likeable and charming way in which Jimmy is portrayed by Bob Odenkirk, it can be easy to forget that Saul Goodman doesn’t end up the good guy. He’s not the hero of this story. But until this point, he’s meant well. I’m not sure that will be the case anymore heading into season four. Previous seasons of AMC’s Better Call Saul can be found on Netflix.

It takes a lot of confidence for writers to do what they did on this season of Fargo. There were a lot of threads dangling from the season that one might assume would be wrapped into a little bow in an anthology series like this, but they would be wrong. Instead what we got was an open-ended finale that allows the viewer to decide how they want it to end. It was a wonderful twist to a season that has really played with the idea of the nature of truth. Does it matter what really happened if everyone believes something else? Do you believe that justice will be served like Carrie Coon’s Gloria Burgle does? Or will David Thewlis’ Varga be let off the hook due to the strength of the alternate story he’s created? You choose. It’s bold and I think it’s a perfect ending to this season. Prior seasons of FX’s Fargo can be found on Hulu Plus.

GLOW, which dropped on Netflix this week, is a fictionalized take on the beginnings of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling television show from the mid-1980’s. It stars Alison Brie as Ruth, a struggling actress who stumbles into an audition for the show and Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia, the B movie creator who they hired to direct it. It’s a fun take on an origin story as the wrestlers live and train together, getting ready for the filming of the pilot episode. We get to see them adopt and hone their personas as they learn about the world of fake wrestling. It’s only 10 episodes that are about a half an hour a piece, so it’s not a huge commitment. If you’ve ever been a fan of wrestling, I’d assume that you’ll enjoy this fictionalized peek behind the curtain. Thanks to Steve Clifton for giving me a heads up about the show. All 10 episodes can be streamed on Netflix. 

As always, if there’s anything you’d like to have covered, leave it in the comments or on the Facebook page. There will be no Feelin’ TV next week on Independence Day. Turn off the TV, enjoy your family and practice fire safety.

Feelin’ TV: June 5-11

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started watching Better Call Saul. As a fan of Breaking Bad who very much enjoyed Bob Odenkirk’s portrayal of the slimy lawyer Saul Goodman, I was all in no matter what. I guess I was expecting something resembling a modern lawyer show, only funnier because the main character doesn’t care about the rules or decorum or justice or, you know, the law. What I didn’t necessarily expect, though, was a more deliberate, thoughtful and, dare I say, better version of Breaking Bad.

In 1988, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland published the famous Joker origin story, Batman: The Killing Joke. The story of the birth of the Joker was told in flashbacks as the Clown Prince of Crime put Jim Gordon through the ringer in the present day. The Joker’s hypothesis was that, much like his experience, even the best of men could be rendered insane through just one bad day. That’s the nature of the story of Walter White. Sure, through five seasons of the show we saw White go deeper and deeper into the darkness, but the truth is that Walt broke bad after one really bad day. By the end of Breaking Bad’s pilot episode, Walt has purchased an RV for the purpose of manufacturing crystal meth and he and Jesse already have two dead bodies to deal with. It was a quick trip to moral bankruptcy for Walt. This is not a complaint about Breaking Bad. I love Breaking Bad. I think it’s brilliant. But with few exceptions it was loud and bombastic and in your face storytelling. Better Call Saul is completely different. If Breaking Bad was the story of how someone can go dark because of one really bad day, Better Call Saul is the story of how the every-man, disillusioned by the often-bitter reward of attempting to do the right thing, slowly learns to embrace compromise as the fruit of those decisions yield more desirable immediate results. Over the past two and a half seasons, Vince Gilligan and his team have succeeded in turning the Breaking Bad’s comic relief into a tragic figure. We’re slowly watching the young man who put himself through law school to earn his brother’s respect become the lawyer/con-man fans of the character already hated to love. There are two episodes left in this season that has been equal parts fun and devastating. If you’re not watching, I’d recommend you start. For my money, Better Call Saul is the best show on television. Breaking Bad and the first two seasons of Better Call Saul are currently streaming on Netflix.

Since we’re talking about shows that may or may not be the best shows on TV, it’s only fair that we bring Fargo into the conversation. The Coen Brothers are my favorite filmmakers. And Fargo is my favorite Coen Brothers movie. The setting, the juxtaposition between the brutal ineptitude of the hit-men vs the polite hyper-competence of Chief Gunderson and Jerry Lundegaard’s slow descent into madness all mixed together perfectly to create one of the best films in my lifetime. FX’s take on Fargo has been able to expertly take a lot of these ingredients and mix them together to form their own unique stories that definitely feel flavored by the Coen’s unique sensibilities. This past week’s episode was a Coen lover’s dream. We got beautifully brutal shots that looked like they could have come straight from its namesake film, a Serious Man style Jewish folktale, a call back to season 1 of the show and, for good measure, half of the episode takes place in a bowling alley where characters receive advice from a mysterious stranger with a velvety smooth voice a la The Big Lebowski. It was a standout episode in what has been a very solid season of television. Each individual episode has stood apart well on its own as well as slowly building a great story. On top of that, it’s themes about the way we perceive what is true and what is false being largely based on who it is that is telling the story are supremely relevant in the age of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” Seasons one and two of Fargo can be viewed on Hulu Plus.

Finally, we have a little bit of good news to end our column. This week it was announced that a 5th season of BBC’s Luther will begin filming next year. Long-time fans of the show have been waiting since December of 2015 for new episodes. I recently caught the first four seasons on Netflix upon the recommendation of a reader (Thanks Phillip!). So, I’ve only been waiting for new episodes since last Thursday. But that already feels like it’s taking too long. Luther is unlike any detective show I’ve ever watched. It’s so much more about Idris Elba’s John Luther than it is about any of his cases. He’s a detective who occasionally plays a little fast and loose with the law, but always in the interest of justice and not to serve his own interests. There’s something to be liked for people who like the whodunit style detective show as well as those who would rather know who the bad guy is and figure out how the detective is going to nab him. And it should go without saying, but Elba is great. All four seasons (or series, sorry BBC) are currently on Netflix.

As always, if there’s something we’re not covering that you’d like to see covered, let me know in the comments, on Twitter or in the Facebook group.