What We Learned This Week: May 25-June 14

LESSON #1: THERE IS NO BETTER TIME TO EDUCATE YOURSELF— In this time of racial divide and protest, education is more needed than ever. Just as I tout with my website, movies can be a place to get it. Service after service, studio after studio, and platform after platform from Netflix and the Criterion Channel to Kino Lorber have begun to make films and documentaries by and/or featuring black artists free or readily available. Take this curated list from our own Erynne Hundley and pounce on this excellent recommendations: 

LESSON #2: SPIKE LEE IS ONE OF CINEMA’S BEST TEACHERS— When you watch a Spike Lee movie, you’re getting more than dramatic narrative for entertainment value. With his frequent use of archival footage lately in films like Chi-Raq, BlacKkKlansman, and the new Da 5 Bloods, Lee brings a marvelous ability to echo the lessons of the past into the topical present that still sorely needs education. The man sternly teaches as he preaches. Spike Lee may be a provocative and acquired taste for more than a few, but his contributions are nevertheless bold and vital. History can and should look fondly on what he’s done with his work for four decades and counting.

LESSON #3: OLD MOVIES ARE TIME CAPSULES FOR THEIR ERAS AND DESERVE TO BE SEEN FOR WHAT THEY ARE— Speaking of history, times change. Sensibilities change. The movies of those times and built with dated sensibilities age as well. Watch them, but do not censor them. The Gone With the Winds of history deserve to be seen, examined, and even still enjoyed. Watch them with fair and discerning lenses. Take notes and learn from them. Movies are one way we keep history from repeating itself. More than anything, some movies only get better with age. Take this list of pre-1967 movies fit for an modern audience from IndieWire and be amazed. 

LESSON #4: EVEN SAVIORS BLINK— Back in May in an op-ed in The Washington Post, filmmaker Christopher Nolan lobbied hard for the survival of movie theaters and wanted his Tenet to be the movie that could help revive the multiplex scene. Those “insiders” that believed a mid-July release was overly optimistic turned out to be right. Nolan and Warner Bros. blinked and moved Tenet (and other tentpoles like Wonder Woman 1984) two more weeks to July 31st. Watch the pandemic numbers move it again in another two weeks. Wisdom is winning over hubris. Everyone needs to keep their patience. This could take a while and I think we’ve all come find that out. Maybe someone needs to tell Christopher too.

LESSON #5: SOMETIMES MOVIES ARE BETTER THAN THEIR BOOKS— Early word around the campfire is saying Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl which debuted on Disney+ instead of theaters is quite the hollow husk compared to its source material. I will always be that critic that will implore anyone and everyone to separate the two mediums of written prose and visual filmmaking. That said, better is an easy measurement to make. It’s rare, but there are times the movie is better than the book. Collider made a nice list last summer of 30 such submissions, I would add a 31st of Field of Dreams. If you want Artemis Fowl this weekend and lament, seek a few of those classics out.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#134)

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.