Posts Tagged ‘Tracy Letts’

History’s First Draft

The Post

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Michael Stulbarg, Matthew Rhys, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie

Before Julian Assange, before Edward Snowden, there was the Pentagon Papers.

A top level government study on how the Americans had been involved in Vietnam way before the infamous Vietnam War and how during that bloodletting fiasco, the Americans realized that they were losing the war in South East Asia, yet still continued to send troops in to fight the Viet Cong.

The leaking of the Pentagon Papers, firstly by the New York Times and then more pertinently by The Washington Post during the Nixon administration is the source of Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg’s fascinating film The Post starring two Oscar winners, Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) as owner of the Post, Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks (Philadelphia) as Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/ who seizes on the story of a decade and pushes for his newspaper to release the classified documents despite the possible legal or financial consequences.

Streep as usual, is superb as the doubtful and affluent socialite Katherine Graham who inherits her father’s newspaper The Washington Post upon her husband’s death and then is forced into an invidious position when she is called upon to make the critical decision on whether to let the newspaper publish the Pentagon Papers at a time when New York investors are eagerly awaiting The Washington Post Company’s IPO (Initial Public Offering) on the American Stock Exchange, which could hugely benefit the fortunes of the struggling newspaper.

Spielberg packs a lot into The Post, and it would be advisable for viewers to read up thoroughly about that crucial historical period in 1971 which was so decisive and widely regarded as the turning point of American press freedom. All these events occurred prior to the Watergate scandal.

The publication of the Pentagon Papers ultimately changed the American public’s sentiment on the viability of troops in Vietnam and the legal outcome after the Supreme Court ruling elevated Katherine Graham to a media doyenne, a feminist and a massively influential woman who changed the business world’s view on how a single woman can influence and transform a media empire.

There is a solid supporting cast of actors in The Post to add gravitas to a riveting tale of journalistic bravery, including Sarah Poulson as Bradlee’s wife Toni who gives her own feminine perspective on why what Katherine Graham was doing was vitally important and brave. Other supporting actors include Bob Odenkirk, Matthew Phys, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons and Tracy Letts.

In the age of the Internet, Fake News and a 24 Hour news cycle, The Post is a critical film to watch and be discussed and is especially relevant in 2018 as back then in 1971, which basically implies that at every historical junction, the media must always hold the country’s government accountable. After all, the news is History’s First Draft.

My only criticism is that screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer should have contextualized the dramatic events more efficiently so that a 21st century audience could appreciate the bravery of publishing critical information without fear or favour.

The Post is brilliant viewing and a highly recommended film about press freedom under a sinister government which makes the film’s ending all the more relevant. The Post receives a film rating of 8.5 out of 10.

Read more on Katherine Grahamhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Graham

Read more on Ben Bradleehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Bradlee

 

 

 

Spiritual Sacrifice

Indignation

indignation

Director: James Schamus

Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracey Letts, Linda Emond, Ben Rosenfield, Noah Robbins, Danny Burstein

Logan Lerman (Noah) has come a long way from portraying a teenage hero in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians franchise. He proved his acting abilities in the David Ayer war film Fury and now takes a central role in director James Schamus’s film Indignation based upon the novel by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Phillip Roth. Roth’s novels are notoriously difficult to be adapted to the big screen.

One of Philip Roth’s novel’s The Human Stain was adapted into a provocative 2003 Robert Benson film starring Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman and Wentworth Miller. Roth’s outstanding novel American Pastoral has recently been made into a film starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning.

Schamus does a sterling job of bringing Indignation to the big screen and Loman is nuanced and brilliant as the seriously conflicted young Jewish freshman Marcus who has a crisis of faith while attending a conservative Ohio college which forces the students to attend mass every Sunday.

Religious disaffection, sexual repression and social pressure are all perfectly framed within the 1950’s Korean War where young American serviceman were being conscripted to fight in the first of many US led foreign wars against the Communists.

At college Marcus while working in the library is attracted to the gorgeous Olivia Hutton who is not only sexually provocative but also slightly mentally unstable. On their first date Olivia performs a then unspeakable sexual act on Marcus, which releases years of pent up repression and rage.

Marcus fights with his roommates and soon requests a transfer which comes to the attention of Dean Caudwell wonderfully played by Tracy Letts (The Big Short). The religious conflict is evident when Marcus tells Caudwell that he is happily atheist, even though he was brought up in a Jewish home and worked for his overbearing father in a kosher butchery back in suburban New Jersey.

When Marcus falls ill, his sympathetic mother Esther Messner wonderfully played by Linda Emond (Julie and Julia, Oldboy) comes to visit and soon meets the illustrious Olivia. In the emotional crux of the film, Marcus makes a deal with his mother to stop seeing the clearly damaged Olivia superbly played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis, A Royal Night Out).

This arrangement along with Marcus’s continued conflict with Dean Caudwell on religious grounds has disastrous effects. Much to Caudwell’s horror, Marcus even quotes from the philosopher Bertrand Russell in his defence of atheism and his anti-establishment viewpoints.

Indignation is an intelligent exploration of one young man’s coming of age and his ultimate spiritual sacrifice on the cusp of what could have been an illustrious future. Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon hold their own in Schamus’s tightly controlled script based on Roth’s novel.

This atmospheric period drama is recommended viewing for those viewers that like their cinema thought-provoking, but ultimately Indignation does justice to Roth’s complex literary aesthetic.

 

No Income, No Jobs

The Big Short

big_short

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Jeffry Griffin, Billy Magnussen, Max Greenfield, Tracy Letts

The critically acclaimed film The Big Short is a highly inventive tale of how six men predicted the collapse of the US housing market and actually made money off this economic disaster.

Christian Bale turns in a brilliant Oscar nominated performance as the socially awkward Dr Michael Burry, a neurologist suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome who gives up medicine to become a hedge fund manager in director Adam McKay’s frenetic financial diatribe The Big Short, about the collapse of the American housing market in 2007 and 2008, which precipitated the worst international financial crisis since the Great Depression back in 1929.

big_short_ver2

Joining Bale in the cast are Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) as Wall Street trader Jared Vennett, Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) as hedge fund manager Mark Baum and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) as reclusive banker Ben Rickett. These four men together with two young eager investors Charlie Geller played by John Maguro (Carol) and Jamie Shipley played by Finn Wittrock all predict the imminent collapse of the US housing market due to the instability of unsecured sub-prime mortgages.

Through a series of inter related events between 2005 and 2007, these guys develop a system of credit default swaps by betting against the housing market which like the Tech industry bubble, eventually burst in 2008 bringing down Lehman Brothers in September 2008, one of the world’s largest investment banks, and forcing the entire global economy into a devastating recession.

What makes the entire dodgy financing worse is that the banks and the international rating agencies collude to actually validate the profiting of these credit default swaps, causing the Biggest Short in economic history which inevitably lead to no income and no jobs for millions of people worldwide.

Best Line in the film is prophetically “In five years’ time, everyone is going to be blaming the immigrants and the poor.”

Financial films are never exciting unless the director makes the viewer totally engrossed in what they are watching. Fortunately Anchorman director Adam McKay through some inventive directing and skillful editing along with a fascinating script by Charles Randolph which makes The Big Short an utterly engrossing film.

The Big Short is anchored down by four great performances by Pitt, Carell, Gosling and particularly Bale. Christian Bale and Steve Carell are particularly good and while some of the narrative devices are quite ingenious like Jared Vennett directly addressing the audience or using celebrities like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain the financial fundamentals especially of synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), the latter of which ironically taking place at a Blackjack table in Las Vegas.

The Big Short is an engaging, masculine portrayal of greed and power running unabated and the most frightening part about the story is that it is all true. The effects of the 2008 global financial meltdown are still being felt around the world in 2016.

Audiences should also look out for cameos by Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei along with Rafe Spall (Life of Pi) and Hamish Linklater (Magic in the Moonlight). Unlike Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Adam McKay’s The Big Short does not glamourize greed but rather sheds light on how reckless and unchecked rampant capitalism has its pitfalls as the entire world was to find out in September 2008.

The scary part is that, these real life characters portrayed in The Big Short made money off the eventual collapse of a national housing market and some of the larger Banks got away with dishing out unsecured loans to unsuspecting home buyers simply by restructuring the debt packages.

The Big Short is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy financial films with edge, tenacity and an inventive style without resorting to profanity or decadence.

 

 

 

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