Review: “The Post”

Most of the plot of “The Post” takes place over a few days in 1971 when the Washington Post released parts of the  Pentagon Papers, detailing what was going on behind the scenes in the government and military before and during the Vietnam War.

Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, the paper’s publisher, with great sensitivity and nuance. She conveys so much with a slight raising of an eyebrow or trembling of fingers. Tom Hanks plays the hard-driving Post editor Ben Bradlee with appropriate business-like bluster, although letting his personal feelings show in some scenes when he is alone with Graham or his wife.

I was a child living in rural New England when the Pentagon papers were released. We were somewhat sheltered from the protests and intrigues about the war, but there were certain things about that time that I remember and that resonated for me while watching the film.

First was how much I admire Katharine Graham, who was a woman in a position of power in a field dominated by men and also dealing with the overwhelmingly male realms of finance and government. There are several scenes in the film that accentuate the uniqueness of her position in that timeframe. After the death of her father and her husband, she inherited the job of publisher of the Post and succeeded in bringing the paper from being a local Washington one to national prominence.  The Pentagon Papers story was a major part of that rise in stature, which continues to this day. The Washington Post has been breaking major stories on the inner workings of the current White House and on the Russian influence investigation.

Second was where my brain jumps every time I hear the name Daniel Ellsberg – to the phrase “Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.” I remember news coverage after the Papers came out about efforts to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who had been the source of the secret study to both the New York Times and the Washington Post. The office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist had been broken into by an FBI and a CIA agent to try to find materials with which to blackmail Ellsberg and this was covered in the news media.

I hope that no one is breaking into offices in the present day, but it is a stark reminder of how chilling it is to have the government try to interfere with the freedom of the press. Toward the end of the film, there is a quote from the 6-3 majority Supreme Court decision that allowed the Times and the Post and other papers to continue to publish stories from the Pentagon Papers. [What follows is probably not the exact quote from the movie, but it is taken from the concurrence of Justice Black. The Supreme Court document can be found here.]

In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.

I hope people will think of this every time the President denigrates the press or says that a member of the press is lying when they are actually reporting or says that the press is the enemy.

The United States needs a free press today as much as it always has. It is an absolute necessity for the health of our nation and our democracy. I thank director Stephen Spielberg and everyone involved in “The Post” for the timely reminder.
*****
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Star Wars history

aka a way to write about my spouse and me going to see Star Wars without there being spoilers in the post…

When we were in our mid-teens, B and I saw the first Star Wars movie at the Mohawk in North Adams, the last remaining downtown theater surviving from the age of weekend double features with newsreels.  We both loved the characters, the story, the larger-than-life look with the special effects, the music, and the humor mixed in with the old-style good-versus-evil dichotomy.

It was puzzling that the opening sequence announced it as Episode Four, but it was understood as a nod to the serials that would use that technique to update viewers who may have missed an episode on the backstory of what they were about to see.

We never imagined that, forty years later, we would be seeing Episode Eight with some of those same actors reprising their roles.

Earlier this week, we saw the latest Star Wars movie at the Regal multiplex in Binghamton, New York, although our showing was delayed for a few minutes due to technical difficulties. All the things we loved about the original are still there, albeit with more advanced sound and effects than in 1977. It was poignant to see Carrie Fisher in her last performance as Leia, especially knowing that Episode Nine had been planned to center on her.

B and I still tend to call each movie “Star Wars” with an episode number if needed for clarity, but, technically, I should refer to this film as The Last Jedi. 

The Last Jedi was not shown at the Mohawk. The building is still there on Main Street with a restored marquee. The building has been stabilized and is under the ownership of the City of North Adams, but plans for a full restoration have yet to be realized.

Maybe sometime in the 2020s…

 

The Big Sick

Back when it was in theaters this summer, B and I went to see The Big Sick. It was written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, based on their real-life courtship – which involved Emily being in a coma. This is not a spoiler; it was well known before the movie came out, so I thought I would be able to handle it.

I was looking forward to going to the theater with B because we hadn’t gotten out much on our own, as we are in a major sandwich generation phase. It seemed like a good choice because the movie is a romantic comedy. Not only do we know that the couple get together in the end but it is also about a comedian (Nanjiani plays himself in the film) with lots of jokes in the show.

I did like the movie and think that it was well done. It was hard for me to write about it at that time, but it is now coming out on DVD, so this seemed a good time to revisit it and put out a post.

As I said, I knew the basic storyline, but there were things that were jarring to me. The first time we saw Emily on a ventilator reminded me of the last time I saw a family member with a tube.

Seeing Emily’s parents dealing with the doctors and trying to find the best care for their daughter brought back memories of dealing with past medical problems with my daughters. Emily’s parents are told that the doctors know what is going on and the treatment will work – and then it doesn’t. I know what that feels like. I know how desperately you want to protect your child and find the right person to help them get better. I know how little power you have in that situation.

Although the details are very different, I could also relate to the themes of family tensions around the experience of being an immigrant or the child of immigrants, religious differences between generations and spouses, and bi/multiracial families.

Erma Bombeck wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” The Big Sick walks that line in a very human and meaningful way.

 

Hidden Figures

Yesterday, B, E, T, and I went to see the film Hidden Figures. We all loved it.

Hidden Figures is based on the story of a group of African-American women who were “computers” in the early days of the US  space program. That is computers, as in those who carry out mathematical computations.

As sometimes happens, there are some connections between aspects of the film and our area and family. B, early in his career, worked for Link Flight Simulation, which made simulators for NASA. He then went to work for IBM, which, like Link, was founded in our area. IBM plays a role in the film, with a 1961 computer filling a large room. IBM used to have a museum in Endicott which had components from that era, as well as equipment, such as time clocks from IBM’s early years.

The film shows the rampant sexism and racism that the women faced in segregated Virginia. It was sobering for B and me, being reminded that this was happening in our lifetime, although we were only toddlers at the time and living in rural New England, which was neither segregated nor diverse at the time.

It was also sobering for all of us to realize that, as far as our country has come on matters of race and sex, there is still quite a distance to go to reach real equality and equity.

The long and fruitful careers of the main characters in the film are encouraging to all the younger women who follow, despite the obstacles that they still face. Thank you to everyone involved in making the film for bringing this important story to all of us.
*****
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Rogue One

Today, the four of us took the time to go to the movies, as it is the last day of vacation for B and E.

We went to see the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One.

I admit that I was tired by the violence, especially after sitting through twenty minutes of violent previews before the movie started, but at least it took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

My favorite character was Baze Malbus, played by Wen Jiang. I appreciated his relationship with The Force.

What appealed to me most was the music, based on the original Start Wars themes by John Williams. I felt that, if I closed my eyes, I could have followed much of the action on screen by hearing the soundtrack.

The most poignant moment was hearing the single word spoken by Carrie Fisher, who passed away last week, followed the next day by her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Tomorrow, our time will be somewhat more structured, with B off to work, probably before it even gets light in these short, winter days, and E working from home for her employer in Hawai’i.

I’m not sure what I will be doing, but I hope to make time for a JusJoJan post.
*****
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Fantastic Beasts

One of the characters in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them says that he knows he is not dreaming because he doesn’t have that good an imagination.

We are all fortunate that Joanne Rowling does have that good an imagination, which she shares with millions of people around the world.

We finally got to see this film, which is based in the travels of British wizard Newt Scamander, this morning and enjoyed it very much.

The visual effects are stunning, especially of the various “fantastic beasts.” Eddie Redmayne embodies Newt and I look forward to seeing him in the follow-on films.

Like most of Rowling’s work, the film deals with universal themes, among them, environmental and endangered species protection, the use and misuse of law and government, social inclusion/exclusion, abuse of power, abuse and neglect of children, and the greater power of love and friendship.

It’s not just a tale of magic.

Moana

Today, I went to see the newest Disney film, Moana. I have been looking forward to it and was not disappointed.

Moana is a Polynesian girl who is the daughter of a chief. Although the island where Moana lives is fictional, her story draws on the cultural heritage of various Polynesian islands.

I don’t want to give away the story, but it resonated with me. Both of my daughters have lived in Hawai’i and respect the native cultural traditions. Daughter T, with whom I saw the film, is especially close to the plants of the islands and was happy to see many she recognized. I could relate to the epic voyage of the heroic wayfarer and the special relationship between a wise grandmother and her questioning granddaughter. I appreciated the feminine energy and the ethic of care of and for the community.

The animation was beautiful. I especially enjoyed the ocean, which is its own character in a way. There were also a lot of great moments involving hair, which is particularly difficult to render well in animation.

As often happens, there is a bonus scene at the very end of the credits, so try to stay.