Review – The Post

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I’ve said it numerous times before, but I’ll state, once again, that Tom Hanks is my all-time favorite actor.  There’s absolutely no way I would miss any of his films in the theater, but team him up with Steven Spielberg and Meryl Streep and I don’t see how anyone with decent taste could resist.  If that trio isn’t the objectively greatest of our generation within their own fields of filmmaking, then they are almost certainly the most beloved.  In The Post, Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep come together like Voltron to tackle an historical event that is also sadly more topical and relevant in today’s world than it should ever realistically be.

When evidence is leaked that four consecutive presidential administrations participated in a cover-up regarding the United States’ military strategy and foreign relations during the Vietnam War, journalists at both the New York Times and the Washington Post are faced with the decision to sit on the information in their possession (known as the Pentagon Papers) or publish the truth to the public and face the full wrath of the cowardly, corrupt, and tyrannical President Richard Nixon.

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Streep portrays the first female newspaper publisher in history in the form of Washington Post owner Kay Graham while Hanks assumes the role of her editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee.  Both are respectable people who only desire to do what’s right.  In Graham’s case, however, she has more to lose than anyone else on her team.  While all of them face the threat of jail time, Graham has inherited the Post from her late husband and intends to pass it down to her children.  She finds herself in the situation of potentially having to choose between truth and family, as Nixon threatens to destroy the paper should the truth be published.  In addition, her decision to publish or to not publish directly affects the well-being of everyone in her employ.  It is not a decision that she can – or should – take lightly.

This particular element of the film adds a human quality that would otherwise be entirely lacking.  Nearly everyone else in the movie is completely focused on the task at hand with no pause for the personal consequences they may be facing.  In fact, the first hour of the film feels somewhat clinical and mechanical.  Streep and her character add a layer of depth and a palpable warmth to the otherwise cold, businesslike proceedings playing out around her, providing the audience with a much-needed and -appreciated emotional anchor.  The implications of the Post’s discovery are massive, as is the potential fallout.  People other than the president will be affected by the ultimate outcome and Spielberg understands that his film must acknowledge that fact.  He wisely trusts Streep with that responsibility and she delivers.  I think I can now forgive her for Florence Foster Jenkins.

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Hanks’s Ben Bradlee is a little more gruff than audiences are used to seeing from a Hanks character, but he fits the role perfectly.  Bradlee is the driving force behind the progression of events in the film.  Without Bradlee pushing others, nothing happens.  Hanks projects strength and determination – as any editor-in-chief should – anchored by an underlying and unwavering moral center.  Bradlee not only cares about maintaining dignity and ethics, but also about the American people as well the reputation of the company and industry to which he has dedicated himself.

The film is undoubtedly reminiscent of 2015’s awards darling Spotlight, though perhaps while being even more timely than that picture was.  With America’s current president regularly toeing the line with regards to the suppression of the first amendment – and even explicitly threatening to revoke said amendment – The Post is an important reminder that the freedom of the press is an important pillar of democracy and must be protected at all costs.  Spielberg has not only delivered a prestige film, but also a public service announcement starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

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On the other end of the spectrum, the film takes a little longer than I expected to gain narrative momentum.  Once Bradlee gains access to the Pentagon Papers, things really pick up, though, and, to me, the film did not feel like it was anywhere near two hours long.  And, objectively speaking, The Post isn’t quite as engaging or starkly entertaining as some of the other prestige films of the late-2017 season (though Hanks gets off a few well-delivered quotable lines).  But it doesn’t really need to be.  That’s not this film’s goal.  The Post carves out its own unique identity among the rest of the field and stands tall as perhaps the most vitally important film of the year.  It has become a cliché to declare that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.  Yet, despite the frequency with which that particular phrase is uttered, society keeps making the same old mistakes.  The Post is a plea from Steven Spielberg for us to come together and to do better.  If we do nearly as well as he, Streep, and Hanks have done with this film, then we’ll be able to chalk it up as a lesson learned.

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Review – The Post

#ThrowbackThursday – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

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Original US release date: December 25, 2011
Production budget: $40,000,000
Worldwide gross: $55,247,881

There have been a number of films to tackle the topic of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11 of 2001 and the perpetual efforts of the people of the United States to deal with the losses resulting from those attacks and attempt to move forward.  Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel of the same name, Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close deals with the subject matter from a unique perspective.  While often, stories look at those events through the eyes of the direct victims or the common, everyday citizens who became heroes during the rescue efforts, this particular story looks at the aftermath of that day from the perspective of a young boy named Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn).

Oskar and his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) have a strong relationship and a close bond that is expressed by their shared love of puzzle-making and -solving.  They toss brainteasers and mindbenders at each other and both relish in the challenge of taking the other’s best shot.  Thomas uses these exercises to help build Oskar’s intelligence, confidence, and social skills, but that all comes to a tragic end when Thomas is killed during the events of September 11.  Left behind with his mother and Thomas’s wife Linda (Sandra Bullock), Oskar yearns for the lost connection with his father.  When he finds a clue accompanying a mysterious key in his father’s closet, Oskar sets out with adamant determination to discover what the key unlocks and hopefully receive one final message from his father.

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I remember first seeing the film upon its original release and despising Thomas Horn’s performance as Oskar.  I thought he was unnatural, wooden, and he took me out of the film.  I have to say, I don’t really understand where I was seeing that.  I’m not going to proclaim Horn one of the all-time great child actors, but with this re-watch, I think he did fine.  Oskar appears to be somewhere on the spectrum and Horn plays it well.  So, I’m not sure what my problem was, back in the day.  Hanks is great as always, though his screen time is limited.  Bullock has more time than Hanks but is also firmly entrenched in supporting player territory.  This is Horn’s film.

Many people loved this film and many hated it.  I can see both sides, as there are both good and bad components of the film.  As mentioned, the cast is good (along with Max Von Sydow, who gets to play a different sort of role, almost as if he’s in a silent film), as is the premise.  This is a story about coping with unfathomable loss when one isn’t old, mature, or experienced enough to know how to do so.  The idea of Oskar searching for the lock that goes along with his father’s key is a clever one and certainly compelling (adding mystery to a weighty drama provides a unique twist to the presentation), but the execution is often lacking.

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The dialogue is unnatural and forced.  Characters don’t respond believably to each other, instead sounding like they are waiting to deliver lines that real people wouldn’t typically say.  And not only is the dialogue overly contrived, but many of the scenarios in which the characters interact are strange and even occasionally off-putting.  The narrative offers an explanation as to why so many adults in New York City would so eagerly and willingly open their arms to a young boy who knocks on their doors with no forewarning, but it doesn’t exactly explain why they would so eagerly allow him to witness their most personal moments or share their most painful and intimate memories.

I’ve seen some wonder how or why Oskar’s mission would help him cope with his father’s death, but I dismiss that question as I find it illegitimate and inappropriate.  Everyone deals with loss in their own way, and movie critics are not psychologists.  And they are certainly not child psychologists.  And they are even more certainly not experts on children with emotional development issues.  So, I’m not about to question Oskar’s motivations.  But I do have a hard time buying that this story could have actually played out in the way the film presents it.  I suppose it’s technically possible, but most everything is possible.  That doesn’t make it plausible.  And, as well meaning as this film is, any attempt to deal with such a raw, real, resonant happening needs to do so in a way that is equally raw, real, and resonant.

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The film is resonant to a degree, but that’s more due to the subject matter than the effectiveness of the storytelling.  Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has its heart in the right place but needs a little more filmmaking experience behind the camera in order to reconcile it in a more appropriate manner with the real-world events by which it was inspired.  I wouldn’t say it’s not worth watching – especially for fans of Hanks and/or Bullock who both do good work, despite their limited screen time – but be prepared to feel somewhat perplexed by the events as they play out, even as they lead towards a somewhat touching conclusion.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

#ThrowbackThursday – The Simpsons Movie

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Original US release date: July 27, 2007
Production budget: $75,000,000
Worldwide gross: $527,071,022

The Simpsons is my favorite television comedy of all-time (and my second-favorite television show, altogether, after Lost).  From day one, it’s been a sharp-tongued, envelope-pushing, quick-witted cornucopia of one-liners, sight-gags, satire, and the most memorable characters ever created and designed for in-home entertainment.  Matt Groening’s legendary creation paved the way for virtually every comedy we have on television (in all of its varied forms) today.  The Simpsons and their vast supporting cast are to modern television what Elvis Presley was to music.  So, it was inevitable that they would eventually make their way to the big screen.  And in 2007, twenty years after their debut as a short on The Tracy Ullman Show, they did just that.

Anytime a television show makes the jump to movie theaters, it has to be creatively justified.  It needs to simultaneously feel like the show that audiences have grown to love but also feel grander and worth the trip to the theater and the money that exposure to the product wouldn’t normally require.  It can be a tricky proposition.  The Simpsons Movie accomplishes this on every desired level, both aesthetically and creatively.

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While there’s an obvious upgrade in the quality of art and animation, thanks to a higher, film-caliber budget, the video and audio upgrades don’t stop there.  The widescreen aspect ratio adds an extra level of panache and sense of importance.  Less obviously, the omnipresent score in the background contributes a subtle sense of scale and majesty, elevating the production far above its traditional television comedy origins.  Before the narrative even begins to unfold, this feels like the high-quality production that it is.

Yet, it’s still undeniably the Simpsons, with the classic 2D animation and character designs.  Fox and everyone working on the film justifiably felt confident in the property and didn’t make the mistake of using 3D CGI in an attempt to artificially inflate the perceived production values while abandoning the visual core and history of the show.  Other studios would have been tempted because, even in 2007, traditional, hand-drawn, 2D animation was on its way out and struggling at the box office.  It was the right – and only – choice for this film, however, so kudos to all involved in the production.

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But what about the story?  Is this movie something that couldn’t be done on television?  Well, “couldn’t” is a strong word, but it would definitely be a tough task.  In the film, Homer inadvertently pollutes Springfield’s water supply.  In response, the (fictional) head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Russ Cargill (voiced by Albert “A.” Brooks) places an impenetrable dome around the town.  Thanks to Maggie, the Simpson family manages to escape the dome and, along with it, Homer’s role in the ordeal.  But that doesn’t stop Cargill from pursuing the Simpsons and developing some nefarious plans to deal with Springfield’s pollution issue.

On television (as established by South Park), The Simpsons has practically done it all.  Coming up with something new, fresh, and high-concept for the film, while not straying from the foundations that had been established in the twenty years prior, could not have been easy.  But this story takes the family and its supporting cast to new locations, puts them in unique situations, and – in true Simpsons form – plays with political and societal constructs through the use of cutting satire.  The film pokes fun at everything and everyone they can manage – including the audience, which hardcore fans are used to and also appreciative of.  If you aren’t in on the joke, then The Simpsons will go over your head.

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Speaking of poking fun, the film is exceedingly funny and witty.  I regularly say that mileage varies when it comes to comedies, but, as always, The Simpsons provides intelligent, multilayered humor for informed, well-rounded, sophisticated adults.  There are definitely sight gags, but even the majority of those play out in an unpredictable manner that will tickle the funny bone of even the most stubborn critics of slapstick.  There are clever one-liners coming at a rapid-fire pace (the best line goes to Ralph Wiggum, with Ned Flanders not far behind) and the laughs never truly stop.  Everything lands to varying degrees and the script is an absolute goldmine of comedy that covers every different style for every unique audience member.

I have nothing bad at all to say about The Simpsons Movie.  It was a rare movie that was marketed as a comedy and fully delivered on its promise.  Two decades in the making, audiences turned out in masses, rewarding the film with over half-a-billion dollars in box office returns.  To further demonstrate the love and respect that the producers of the show and movie have for the property, there has been no sequel.  They have been quoted as saying that they don’t want to do one just for the sake of making money.  They want any hypothetical theatrical follow-up to deserve the screens that it will take up and be something worthy of the fans’ time and money.  If and when they feel inspired by an idea, we’ll get another movie.  It’s been ten years since this one arrived and reaffirmed the Simpsons as America’s family and one of the greatest institutions in pop culture history.  Sit back, enjoy Spider-Pig, and celebrate the tenth anniversary of this film along with me.  And just be thankful for the Simpsons and everything that they inspired in the decades since.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Simpsons Movie

#ThrowbackThursday – Larry Crowne

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Original US release date: July 1, 2011
Production budget: $30,000,000
Worldwide gross: $72,008,245

Back in 2011, Tom Hanks released Larry Crowne, a film that he directed and co-wrote, along with Nia Vardalos.  The marketing mostly centered around the fact that the film co-starred Hanks and Julia Roberts.  It wasn’t their first film together, but it was the first where they both played to type.  Despite that, the box office returns were mediocre and the reviews were even worse.  Hanks and Roberts are two of the biggest, most-beloved movie stars of the last thirty years.  How could something that seemed like such a sure thing go so wrong?  What happened?  Was the film really that bad?

Larry Crowne follows the eponymous Larry Crowne, portrayed by Hanks.  Larry is the typical wholesome good guy that has largely defined Hanks’s career – or at least the public perception of his career.  When Larry is let go from his longtime sales position at a mass-market retailing chain for not having a college education (and therefore possessing the least upside of anyone else at the location), he decides to rectify his situation by finally pursuing a degree.  He enrolls at a local community college and learns more about himself than is dictated by any syllabi, just as he affects the other students and his professors by injecting his infectious optimism into their lives.

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The role of Larry Crowne does little to nothing to push Hanks to the boundaries of his talents, but it’s still an endearing part and it’s always nice to see Hanks play this sort of fatherly, uplifting character to supplement the more challenging roles that he has also tackled during his career.  He is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, led by Julia Roberts.  Roberts plays Larry’s speech professor, Mercy Tainot.  Mercy is cynical and beaten – her enthusiasm for life stamped out by the people around her.  Her students are uninspired and her husband (Bryan Cranston) sits at home all day, looking at PG-13 photos of women in their underwear (the movie’s interpretation of “porn”).

Backing up Hanks and Roberts is a who’s-who of talented actors – many of whom have gone on to become huge names in their own right.  Included in the cast is the aforementioned Cranston, Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer, George Takei, Pam Grier, Rami Malek, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who should be a much bigger star than she is), Wilmer Valderrama, and Hanks’s real-life wife Rita Wilson.  Of this group, contributing the most to the film are Malik and Mbatha-Raw.  As a college professor, myself, I can confirm that Malik’s Steve Dibiasi is the most like a real-life college student.  He provides much of the film’s humor (of which there is quite a bit, and pretty much all of it lands, to some degree) and is supremely likable in spite of Dibiasi’s annoying tendencies and entitled approach to life.  Mbatha-Raw’s Talia is a fellow student who takes an immediate liking to Larry and helps him adapt to modern-day college life.  Talia is an unusually upbeat character for Mbatha-Raw, who typically plays more serious parts.  It’s refreshing to see her smiling and joking and revealing a rarely-seen side of herself, displaying some versatility along the way.  She’s exuberant and adds an element of life and energy to the film that would have been noticeably lacking without her presence.

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So, what happened?  Why didn’t the film blow the box office away and rack up $200+ million in worldwide box office receipts?  Three things, I believe:

  1. The reviews.  As I mentioned, the reviews were rather critical of the film upon its release.  Or, at least, on first glance.  Upon further inspection, they generally acknowledge that the film has it’s positives, but plays it too safe.  I can’t argue that it’s not safe.  But it’s also so entertaining and charming along the way that it shouldn’t really matter, in my estimation.  I laughed quite a bit, I enjoyed the performances, and I was invested in the characters.  I can deal with safe.
  2. The title.  Honestly, does Larry Crowne stand out as a title in any meaningful way, at all?  Even when I hear the title, myself, I have to ransack my memory in order to recall which movie it was and what it was about.  Unless the character is already a household name, titling a film with just said character’s name is risky.  I have always maintained that John Carter would have performed at least somewhat better at the box office if it had been called John Carter of Mars.  Sometimes, it works out (such as with John Wick), but it’s a gamble.
  3. The marketplace.  This film was released on July 1, right in the middle of blockbuster season.  What was it up against?  A week prior saw the release of Cars 2.  On the same day as Larry Crowne was released, Transformers: Dark of the Moon also hit theaters.  Midnight in Paris and The Town were also still hanging around, pulling in the adult crowds with counterprogramming.  Had the movie opened in the spring or the fall, I think it would have gotten more attention and performed more admirably at the box office.  Even with mostly-underwhelming reviews, people love Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and want to support them.  But timing matters.

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So, while Larry Crowne isn’t an exercise in groundbreaking filmmaking, it’s still a fun, delightful time with laughs and wit abound.  It’s sadly been forgotten in the six years since its release, but it’s an appropriate movie to watch when one is in the mood for something light and uplifting.  And it’s a fun game of Spot-the-Future-Star, to boot!  Larry Crowne isn’t an all-time classic, but it deserves better than its reputation – or its lack thereof – suggests.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Larry Crowne

Review – The Circle

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Going into The Circle, I had very little idea of what to expect.  The trailer did a very good job of not spoiling anything while offering up the suggestion of techno-thrills and mystery.  If you know anything about me, at all, however, then you know that I was in as soon as I was aware of the presence of Tom Hanks, my favorite actor in history.  Throw an ever-expanding Emma Watson into the mix and I’m downright anticipative of The Circle.

Unlike virtually every other post I’ve ever done here at the Movie March, there was a delay between watching the film and writing the corresponding post.  I had a work-related function to go to that began 90 minutes after the movie ended, so I had to wait to type this up.  I’m kind of glad, because I needed some time to sort out my thoughts.  I think I still might need more, but I’m forging ahead, regardless.

I’m going to approach this film a little differently.  I’m going to break it down into what I liked, what I didn’t, what was in the middle.  Otherwise, I’m going to be all over the place and this will be a frenetic, chaotic, Rorschach test of a review.  Before that, a quick overview: The Circle spotlights Mae (Emma Watson), a new employee of tech company the Circle, run by two men with a mysterious agenda (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt).  There you go.

What I liked – The cast:  Whatever problems the film has, the cast isn’t one of them and they even work together to go a long way towards counteracting said problems.  Emma Watson is the unquestionable lead.  The marketing has positioned Tom Hanks as co-lead, but based on screen-time, he takes a firm supporting role and Watson is the sole lead.  Both are tremendous.  I maintain that Watson was always the most talented actor of the entire Hogwarts student body and Hanks is the best of our generation.  Their roles are complex and they both strike the necessary balance with seemingly no effort.  Patton Oswalt and Karen Gillan are also strong and Gillan, especially, gets a moment to shine.  But Watson and Hanks stand out and the bulk of the weight of the film falls to Watson to carry, and she does so in admirable fashion.

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What I liked – The Ideas:  There are some interesting thoughts and concepts presented within the framework of the picture.  They’re often layered, thought-provoking, and innovative.  What happens to them following their introduction varies, but upon their genesis, they are frequently fascinating.  And they manifest in different ways.  Some are more overt – a literal idea presented by a character as a solution to some monumental dilemma that plagues modern society.  It’s easy to see the pros and cons for each of these ideas, but all of them are thought-provoking and clearly do have pros and cons and are not easily dismissed.  Other ideas are filmmaking related, maybe as a way to visually represent how connected a character is to social media or a story beat designed to drive home a specific point in a way to get a desired reaction from the viewer.  There are a lot of good ideas in the film and they shouldn’t be overlooked.

What I disliked – The disconnection from the real world.  Maybe this was by design, but many of the characters – mostly the background characters and extras – are not written in a way that makes them feels like genuine people from the world we actually live in.  They come off as unnatural, forced, and as actors instead of real people.  It’s possible that the leads were written this way, too, but simply refused to allow the screenplay to dictate their performances.

But, again, let’s play devil’s advocate and say that this was done in a deliberate effort to highlight how people are actively making the choice to be less human by immersing themselves in social media and disconnecting from the world.  Okay.  That’s a possibility.  I can’t say for sure if that was the intent; I wasn’t there for any of the creative process.  But, even so, this still creates a major problem in that it causes the audience to stop believing in what they’re seeing and therefore write the narrative off as something that couldn’t happen in the real world, since real people don’t think or behave this way, even though they would need to in order to get us to the point that they are at within the film.  In other words, it saps the film of its credibility, deliberate or not.  It doesn’t plague every second of the film, but it’s peppered throughout to enough of a degree that it’s a fairly big issue.  This is the biggest problem with the film and the issue that kept me from ever fully engaging.

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In the middle – The execution.  That’s very vague, I know, but it’s apt.  For example, I’m still not even sure what the message of the film is supposed to be.  Clearly, there are problems with some of the policies and programs that the Circle enacts, but they – as mentioned – are very layered, with both pros and cons.  At some point, we’re supposed to intrinsically understand that the Circle is composed of villains, but I’m not sure when we were expected to come to this realization or exactly why.  Nonetheless, the execution regularly stimulates an emotional response, even if, mentally, everything doesn’t add up.  Are we supposed to think all social media is bad?  All businessmen?  As muddled as that all is, I was completely entertained from beginning to end.  The film looked great, sounded great, and was easy to pay attention to.  I just don’t understand the point of it all.

Another example: one character becomes fully immersed in the Circle’s social media platform and, as they walk around in the real world, we see all of the comments their followers are making about them pop up in little bubbles on the screen.  This is also in the middle because it’s a unique idea, and the comments are perfect – with at least one even skewering the film in the very same way that someone on Facebook would do when they should be job hunting – and some are even laugh-out-loud funny.  But they’re also distracting, and I found myself reading them instead of listening to the dialogue.  That’s not a desired effect.

Also, I know it takes a while to make a movie, but some of the hypothetical programs they discuss in the film are practically reality, already.  It’s not necessarily the filmmakers’ fault, yet it’s still worth noting.

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The bottom line – Your feelings towards The Circle are all going to depend on what you, as an individual, prioritize in your film-watching.  If you’re a huge Hanks or Watson fan, see it.  They’re both great and you’ll love them as much coming out as you did going in.  You might even love Watson more, as she gets to show a different side of herself that we’ve not seen before.  If you dislike ambiguity, you won’t be a fan.  If you like fast, smart dialogue, you’ll be in.  If you’re a stickler for internal logic, you’ll have a rough time.

So, The Circle is good in ways and not so good in others.  I’ll leave it at that and let you take it from there.  Still, Watson continues her climb into the upper echelon of the business and her performance, here, will only land her more roles, so the film isn’t a wash, no matter what.

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Review – The Circle

#Throwback Thursday – Philadelphia

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Original US release date: December 24, 1993
Production budget: $26,000,000
Worldwide gross: $206,678,440

Released at the end of 1993 (just in time for awards season), Philadelphia was director Jonathan Demme’s theatrical follow-up to his acclaimed – and now classic – Best Picture winner The Silence of the Lambs.  To this day, this film remains the only one in which legendary leading actors Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington co-star, that alone making it something of a must-see.  But this elegantly-constructed courtroom drama offers more than that single curiosity.  Functioning as a conversation starter regarding tolerance and basic human decency, Philadelphia was far ahead of its time and is possibly even more relevant now than it was upon its release.

Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an attorney at a high-profile corporate law firm who loses his job after an apparent display of incompetence.  His claim, however, is that the incident in question was staged and he was in actuality fired because his homophobic employers discovered that he has AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  Beckett hires low-rent injury lawyer Joe Miller (Washington) to sue his former employers for wrongful termination.  Miller, himself, is a homophobe but talks himself into the potentially big-money case, in spite of his own personal hang-ups.

Hanks’s role as Beckett landed him his first of two back-to-back Academy Awards for Lead Actor (at the 1994 Academy Awards.  The following year, he took home the same award for his role in Forrest Gump.) and it was very much earned.  Not only does Hanks deliver a performance the likes of which we simply take for granted from him, these days (he makes it look so easy that even his contemporaries now underrate his abilities.  At the very least, he should have scored nominations for Captain Phillips and Sully.), but he went to great lengths to look the part.  Hanks lost an extreme amount of weight in order to appear sickly and emaciated for the role (a feat he would repeat to an even greater extreme approximately seven years later for Cast Away), going above and beyond what most would be willing or able to do.  His dedication to and passion for his craft is evident in every role he assumes, and this one is at the pinnacle of his performances.

In late-1993, Denzel Washington was riding the momentum of his highly-publicized and -regarded titular role of Malcolm X, which earned him an Academy Award nomination earlier that same year.  He does a great job communicating the internal conflict that rages within Miller and the complexity of the character that results from it.  We see Miller give money to charity and politely hold doors for strangers, just as we witness him fly off the handle simply because a man assumes he’s homosexual (due to his choice to represent Beckett) and come on to him in a grocery store.  Miller would prefer to be considered a jerk than to be mistaken as gay.  The attempted reconciliation of his personal beliefs with his desire for professional success (on multiple levels) provides the arc for Miller.  Demme and Washington collaborate to handle it with a subtle, satisfying realism.

The threat of the AIDS virus was much more of a hot-button topic in the early-to-mid-nineties than it is, today, with all of the medical advances that have fortunately been discovered to assist those who have contracted it.  But the homophobia addressed in the film is as present now as it ever has been, and seems to constantly be popping up as the subject of news stories on televisions, websites, and Facebook feeds everywhere.  The film poignantly makes the case for equality and an intelligent person would have trouble seeing it any other way.  But, while I know that, statistically speaking, films such as Philadelphia must reach some people and cause them to rethink their outlook, here we sit, just over 23 years after the release of this film, and the treatment of people who are just trying to live their lives while harming no one seems worse than ever.  Many are even attempting to mandate their own religious beliefs in order to force homosexuals to conform to the aggressors’ narrow-minded worldview.  It’s easy to become frustrated by the lack of forward-thinking progress, but films like this (and their filmmakers) will continue to provide an alternative perspective in the hopes that it makes a difference.  Philadelphia was a pioneer in this particular fight and should deign to be remembered.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the musical cues and some of Demme’s framing attempts to artificially heighten the dramatic impact during the first act of the movie.  Once the narrative really picks up steam, this practice subsides and eventually vanishes, entirely.  But the early scenes would have been effective on their own merits without Demme and composer Howard Shore beating the audience over the head with the drama.

Despite that one misstep, Philadelphia is an important and noteworthy film that’s worth a look both for its filmmaking components and its sociological implications.  The novelty of seeing Hanks and Washington share the screen only adds to the appeal and the message behind the narrative – that human is human – is timeless and is well-represented by Demme, Hanks, Washington, and the rest (which includes a charmingly smarmy Mary Steenburgen).  It’s a must-see film for any self-professed film-lover and a worthy inclusion in the filmography of a pair of iconic actors.

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#Throwback Thursday – Philadelphia

#ThrowbackThursday – Captain Phillips

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Original US release date: October 11, 2013
Production budget: $55,000,000
Worldwide gross: $218,791,811

Ahhh, is there anyone more appropriate for portraying the everyman hero character than the great Tom Hanks?  Years before Hanks portrayed Captain Chesley Sullenberger in 2016’s Sully Hanks portrayed Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, which was infamously hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.  Hanks is joined by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who earned himself an Oscar nomination for his performance as Muse, the Somali leader.  There were some ruffled feathers when Hanks also didn’t get a nomination as this is one of his strongest performances in a career full of strong performances.

There was actually some debate at the time regarding Phillips’s true status as a hero.  Some of the men who were on board with him blamed him for getting them into the situation in which they found themselves.  I’m going to be honest.  I don’t have the strength for that conversation.  I wasn’t there.  I can’t speak to what happened.  So, I won’t try.  Instead, I’ll simply speak to this telling of the story.

Captain Phillips was a well-conceived choice to adapt from real-life into film.  Not only was the film made in about as timely a manner as it could have been, before the story had been forgotten with the passage of time, but it fits nicely under the crazy-because-it’s-true umbrella.  It’s every bit as thrilling and captivating as a fictional story about a hijacking at sea would have been, but it gets the added boost of (alleged, depending on who you ask) truthfulness to give it plenty of added weight.  If you haven’t seen the film, before, it would require a cold, cold heart to not get wrapped up and enthralled in the proceedings as things go from bad to worse to are-you-kidding? for Captain Phillips and his crew.

If you have seen the film, the simplicity of the story hurts it, a little bit on subsequent re-watches.  The performances, however, – particularly by Hanks – easily keep the film afloat and give the viewer plenty to chew on.  Paul Greengrass does an excellent job directing the film in such a way to build the tension organically as the narrative intensifies.  But once you know how everything unfolds, it just seems to take a little longer than it did on the initial viewing.

As mentioned, newcomer Barkhad Abdi scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his turn as Somali pirate Muse.  He certainly does a fine job, though the Academy has a bit of a reputation for being pleasantly surprised by a fresh face and rewarding them with a nomination due as much to the fact that they exceeded expectations as to the quality of their performance.  Sometimes, those talents stick around (Hailee Steinfeld, Anna Paquin) and, sometimes, they don’t.  The latter has been the case for Abdi, who has had some very small, obscure parts in the years since this film, but nothing of note.  I was curious at the time of the release of this film as to how much versatility he would have as an actor and, as I suspected, it appears as though we may never truly know.

In spite of the Academy’s misstep, Tom Hanks is the powerhouse in this film.  He’s the heart, soul, and foundation of the entire project.  It’s true that Abdi gave him good energy to play off of, but there are scenes (one scene, in particular) where it’s just Hanks by himself and he is absolutely astounding in these moments.  I still single Hanks out as the greatest actor of our time and him not getting an Oscar nomination for this performance remains my choice for the biggest Oscar snub in at least the last ten years.

So, what we ultimately have in Captain Phillips is a film that’s based on a true story but plays like a fictional thriller.  Hanks grabs the attention of the audience and refuses to release them, forcing them to live vicariously through his performance so that they feel as though they lived the film instead of watched it.  Muse plays a strong villain opposite Hanks as they work together to relentlessly elevate the anxiety until it culminates in a brilliant climax that leaves the viewer rattled and breathless.  If you’ve seen it recently, you may want to give it a little more time to fade from memory so it’s a bit of a fresh viewing experience.  But, other than that, Captain Phillips is a thrill ride buoyed by confident direction and exquisite performances.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Captain Phillips