“The Post”

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks do such a masterful job playing  Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee that we forget that we are watching top-notch actors. Their familar faces meld into the Kay and Ben, the historic figures “The Post” makes them. We are reminded that homage should be paid to those who stand up for democratic ideals, freedom of the press being one of the most important for any truth-seeking citizen.

Graham and Bradlee, publisher and editor, respectively, had to decide in 1971 whether to risk the newspaper and prison to publish classified history. The films  “All The President’s Men” ( 1976 ) and “ Spotlight”  ( 2015 ) have used the same material. “The Post” holds its own in this “fake news” Trump-time.

The Pentagon Papers and the story of the New York Times and The Washington Post in publishing them is recreated under Stephen Spielberg’s expert direction. The pacing, the personal relationships, the networking of sources, and the egos and the character of pure journalism pervade.

Four American Presidents misled the nation by championing the Viet Nam war. Daniel Ellsberg photocopied 4,000 of the 7,000 classified government documents housed at the Rand Corporation which systematically showed that Congress and the public were kept from the truth. As his colleagues recalled, “ he ‘doved’ pretty hard.” I hope the 86 year-old Ellsberg enjoys this film.

For Streep’s pregnant pauses, her yelps, her small gestures like straightening her belt all make Graham so real. She both snores at her desk and  empathizes with the families of dead soldiers. Streep can deliver the punch line softly: “ I’m asking your advise, not your permission.” Likewise,  Hanks adds a toughness and an insight to editor Bradlee that show how competitiveness was part of the journalistic trade. When Kay says, “ Ben sets his mind to plunder” , Hanks is believable as a Viking.  Tracy Letts is memorable as a conservative board member. Daniel Ellsberg, played understatedly by Matthew Rhys; and Bruce Greenwood, playing an almost physical double to Robert McNamara, further perfect the casting.

Boardrooms, newsrooms, closeted offices, restaurants, and private residences keep the settings interesting. The lino-type machines and the hand-tied  bundles of newsprint are nostalgic, ( as are Thom McCann shoe boxes) ,and the presses running are applaud-worthy. Parties where the men and women separate, where the men talk policy and the women discuss Laurence Durrell novels are the norm.

Writers, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer seamlessly incorporate the struggle of women to gain full respect and power. Sarah Paulson as Ben’s wife, Antoinette Bradlee, gives a great performance voicing the bravery of Kay Graham. President Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, tried to halt any chance of publication that proved 30 years of government lying. Henry Kissinger believed “ people need be put to the torch” for security breaches. The fact that Graham’s family paper was going public further complicated the decision to print.

When Hanks intones, “ The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish.” ,we think of Ellsberg willing to go to prison to stop a war. And, we especially, think of Katherine Graham willing to make a decision that could kill her newspaper, and her family’s reputation, and her three daughters’ fortunes.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 vote in favor of freedom of the press, and Judge Black’s words: “ the press serves to the governed, not to the governor” , could not ring any clearer for this  2018 viewer.


“California Typewriter”

A documentary on the subject of vintage typewriters and the people who love and repair them is a tad arcane. Yet, this collection of people who understand that no good typewriters are ever going to be made again draws us in.

Like the assemblage  of  Australians who came to love the canetoad, vintage machines get their homage. Though the film can be rather tongue in cheek in  tone, the earnest Tom Hanks tells us that he types almost everyday. In fact, Hanks has a book of short stories each centering on the machine. Published this month, “Uncommon Type: Some Stories ” has gotten good reviews. In “California Typewriter ”, Hanks shows us some of his own collection. He owes over one-hundred.

Hanks is should not the only personality obsessed with the machine. The late Sam Shepherd works in tandem with his Hermès from Switzerland, and compares his composing on it to a kid working on his bike: you can see what you are working with. The songwriter, Pony Blues, tells us that he wants documentation of his writing process. Typewriters are seen as haunted thought. Historian David McCullough and John Mayer also are advocate interviewees.

Viewers learn that Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee invented the typewriter in 1867. Remingtons, Smith-Coronas, Olivettis, Olympias, Hermes, Underwoods, Royals, and Brothers and more are showcased. The Sholes and Glidden exist in 175 museum examples.

A quirky tapestry of machines and characters flow through Director Doug Nichol’s film. The 100% given by Rotten Tomatoes over reaches in my view, but I was engaged by the LA repair shop and the crazy Boston orchestra musicians and artist who were inspired by purpose, sound, and “useless parts”. The typing poet you will experience in New Orleans. And the typewriter key jewelry is appreciated.

Flea markets, the Martin Howard collection of 18th century typewriters, and the 2870 wooden prototype before Remington did metal in 1874 are shown.  Even Indian street typists are part of the celebration. Hanks waxes elegant  on “ the rise of the keys” and “the solidity of  the action”.

Typewriter enthusiasts will find the 113 minute ode to the machine  fly by like a carriage  speedily thrown, while the Typewriter Insurgency Manifesto is over the top.

“A Hologram For The King”

I disliked this movie, for the same reason I have disliked the award-winning Dave Eggers’ stories. There is not enough universal truth anywhere near them, and they are self-indulgently boring, whining and ego-centric. Willie Loman vibes are not sufficient to make one care.

Here, rather than the sad tale of a caregiver, Eggers himself, we are introduced to Alan Clay and given a sad tale of a divorced salesman and board member, who has hurt American workers by moving the Schwinn  bicycle factory to China, only to have the Chinese rip off the technology. Hoping to successfully right some past wrongs, he travels to Saudi Arabia to sell hologram technology to the king. He knew the king’s nephew long ago and made him laugh once in a restroom. “What do you call a fish with no “i” ?  A younger, but still the salesman Alan, makes a “fsh” sound. It doesn’t get much better.

Tom Hanks can not carry bad writing, fine actor though he is. The initial dream sequence on the plane was pink puff ball stupid. Not since ” Cinderella” have things vanished so on screen. The mantra ” same as it ever was” means ? Things leave him for no reason? Don’t think so.

Tom Tykwer could have made a funny movie including the cultural differences between countries, but here he stereotypes the Chinese, and makesthe Saudis look like hypocritical Muslims and business bluffers. Everyone studied in America, is having affairs, loves money and booze. Differences seem to be confined to what one keeps on the car dash and hanging from the rear view mirror: camel and prayer beads versus St. Christopher statues and rosaries. His driver Intoduces himself as the third son of his father’s fourth wife. He ( Alexander Black) disguises Alan as a Muslim so that he can enter Mecca. He teaches him how to raise the index finger at street beggars to “end the discussion” by signaling  that ” God will provide”. Alan falls off chairs three times and showers four. He has a precancerous cyst removed by a female doctor. They ride in a car together for an hour and enumerate their children, and tell a few memorable life affirming stories. They begin an e-mail flirtation and finally fool her nosy neighbors by snorkeling topless. Two bare backs evidentially connote two male friends cavorting in coral studded reefs.

Lots of post mid-life crisis angst somehow morphs into a love story, of sorts. Save your money unless you love capitalism and WASP  worldviews with a romantic cherry on the top.

“Bridge Of Spies”

Beautiful cinematography, with black umbrellas and rain sheets in street light haze, with the base of Brooklyn Bridge in all its massiveness, and with East German interiors of faded yellow suggesting more faded stories is what Janusy Kaminski gives the viewer of “Bridge Of Spies”. The lovely black and white pictures of white snow and black trusses is what I enjoyed. Director Steven Spielberg gives us a patriotic historical drama celebrating what makes us American. The earnest Tom Hanks gives us moral character, the “stand-up guy”. Hanks is a pro at impassioned speeches. In his portrayal of Attorney James B. Donovan, he tells us he is Irish on both sides, but what makes him American-what makes us all Americans – is the rule book,our Constitution. The audience at full-house at half-an-hour before previews broke into applause at the film’s end. The “one man can make a difference” is big in our culture. “The greatest weapon we have is who we are!” Hanks reminds us.

The setting is 1957, and the film’s attention to period detail is fun for those who remember. The production designer is first-rate. The brimmed hats,the collar bars,the high pants and short ties,the prayerful meals,the bomb drills,the phone ring, the journalists’ flash bulbs tossed to the ground all are past reminders. Yet, connections to the present are purposefully here. The atmosphere of fear for our way of life,the ironic calls of God’s name, the prejudice against the foreign, how our criminal justice system looks are all here. My favorite line was “In the name of God why aren’t we hanging him!”

The story of Cold War espionage and the threat of a full thermal nuclear exchange as the backdrop incorporates codes of silence and spy agencies’ puffery. The war of information becomes a machismo game. Donovan, who used to be a criminal lawyer, but now is working for an insurance firm, is asked by the U.S. government to represent a captured Soviet spy, who has served this foreign power faithfully. Though Jim Donovan is honored to be asked,he understands that he will be the “second most hated man in the country” and that there will be costs to his family and to his firm. Heavy music and gun shots through the Donovan home as his spooly-headed daughter watches tv’s “Route 66” underscore his commitment to “everyone deserving a fair trial”.

Mark Rylance plays Tom Hank’s client magnificently. We care for this quirky Northern England born KGB artist and music lover. As the alias, Rudolf Abel, we get a portrait of a spy and a spy’s portrait. The respect and humanity of two characters doing what their governments can’t do without “losing face” is ironic, too. The dialogue is best between these two. The understatements are dour and funny (Coen brothers style). D: “you have failed to register as a foreign agent.” A:”Do many register?” D: “You don’t seem alarmed.” A: “Would it help?” Rylance is caught without his dentures and in his underwear,but he is royal in his attitude as a man doing his job.

Donovan sees insurance in keeping Abel alive. He tells his client that “a death sentence is not a forgone conclusion”. As Francis Gary Powers spies against the Soviets and is shot down in “the article”, or U-2 ,North of Turkey and is sentenced to ten years in his own trial, an exchange is set up. John Dulles thanks Donovan for foreseeing a prisoner exchange. With both spies having “headloads of information” a swap is in the best interests of both countries. East Berlin gets into the picture to complicate things.Donovan becomes even more of a hero as he negotiates for an imprisoned Yale student, Frederick Pryor, as part of the exchange. Two prisoners for one Donovan mandates.

I liked the portrayal of Americans as impatient. The scene of Hanks cutting line as he tries to negotiate the barricades are real,as are the passport problems as East Berlin tries to show its strength.When Abel stands with Jim on the bridge and says he can wait for Pryor to arrive,we understand a friendship is here and patience has its place.The bridge scene and the actual exchange are dramatic. We wait to see if the Soviets will embrace Abel. We wince when he is just shown the back seat. We will research what became of him.

The Berlin Wall scenes are beautifully done and mirrored at the end of the film in the young boys climbing the chain-linked backyard fences at the film’s end. Freedom is given another ring! This is what Spielberg does best: a tad Hollywood,a tad didactic,but with artistic framing.