Sunday, February 11, 2018

Film Review: The Post

Her 21st Oscar nomination was the least they could do. 
One of the few things more captivating than watching Meryl Streep embody a pioneering woman with a zest for life is watching Meryl Streep make an impossible decision on screen. In Steven Spielberg’s triumphant and timely newspaper thriller The Post, Streep as Kay Graham does both, and the result is one of the most Meryl performances of all time.

Streep on screen faces off against Roy Cohn, Richard Nixon,
and in real life Donald Trump
In Graham, Streep digs into a role that is something like “Julia Child plays Margaret Thatcher and makes Sophie’s Choice to save the republic.” In fact, the part is so Streepian it is nearly pastiche, and one can hear the ghosts of previous characters in Graham’s difficult to place accent – a Child-like guffaw hosting a social event, a low Thatcherite steadiness, even moments of her Ethel Rosenberg, perhaps from Graham’s Jewish New York roots.

In the climax, in which Graham stands in Gloriana in her Ann Roth-designed Caftan, frantically worried male advisors sniping in her ear, and decides whether to risk her legacy, DC establishment relationships, money, and freedom to defy a vindictive President and publish the Pentagon Papers, it is as if all the Meryl Streep Movie Decisions were distilled into one piercing moment. In this near death experience, Streep's life on screen flashes before our minds eye, a parade of impossible choices she has made for the modern woman: leaving her family to find herselfgiving her daughter to the Nazis to save her son, whether to leave her husband’s car in Bridges of Madison Countychoosing between Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin (perhaps not so complicated, that one). But whereas all these decisions were forced by or related almost entirely to men, in The Post the men are ultimately gnats buzzing around her ear, as all the power to choose, and the consequences which shall result, rests with and will be endured by her. As Sarah Paulson explains to Tom Hanks’s adventurous, perhaps reckless, Ben Bradlee (and to the audience), Graham has everything to lose in deciding to publish, and she does it anyway, “and I think that is brave.” At last, after her key role being cut out of All the President's Men, Graham receives her due in bringing down Nixon.

Hanks is good in a role that's been done well before, and Spielberg is compellingly in control – the screen fetish for 70s telephones is a treat, and the gravity and adventurous nobility he grants to the always vulnerable newspaper business is the best kind of nostalgia. But this is Streep’s film, an ascension to yet another level in her thrilling and complicated career, and everything that career has meant and continues to mean for women everywhere. From the moment she overcame Hollywood misogyny (too ugly! Slapped by Dustin Hoffman!), wrote her own testimony as Joanna Kramer and won her first Oscar, to her pitch-perfect 2017 Golden Globes speech standing up the vindictive bullying of Donald Trump, to the current blowback for her inevitable ties to the establishment, Meryl Streep has become a woman just as pioneering and complex as the historical figures she plays on screen, and in her portrayal of Katharine Graham, rarely has actress and role fused so beautifully into one.

Surrounded by the most powerful men in Hollywood, Streep still steals the show
When, through tears, Kay Graham agrees to put it all on the line on behalf of the first amendment, she speaks from a voice which emerges from within, overpowering the tinny male hectoring in her ear. The voice emerges small at first, growing in confidence like Molly Boom's soliloquy of orgasmic acquiesence: Yes, yes, yes, I will publish, yes. She takes the leap, and on behalf of women everywhere, despite her flaws and despite her fears, she leads.  Five Stars. *****

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Film Review: I, Tonya

Tonya Harding should be remembered solely as one of the great American figure skaters, the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition. The reason she is not remembered that way is because men are swine.

Her mother, monstrous as she may be, worked hard as a waitress to fund her skate lessons and uses half her lines warning her daughter about men. In the film, we see her watching her daughter's Olympic performance on the diner TV. Her male boss doesn't give a shit, shouting her name to get her back to work. Because men are swine.

Tonya married a man who increasingly abused her the more successful she became, because men are swine.

Her husband's best friend Shawn, a man, ruined her career by indulging in a megalomaniacal plot to assault Nancy Kerrigan. Because men are swine.

The hitman Shawn hired to assault Kerrigan accepted money to injure a woman and potentially ruin her career, because men are swine. He didn't even do it right, because men are idiots.

The tabloid reporter, played by Bobby Cannavale, harasses Tonya Harding and even feigns having her car towed to get her outside for a picture because men are swine.

The film, written and directed by men, is a black comedy masterpiece, surprisingly moving, and career-high cinema showpieces for Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, showing that, perhaps, every once in a while, #NotAllMen.  But the male characters in the film, who ruin a hard-working woman's life, are obviously the type of person now running the United States -- egomaniac idiot abusers -- who were elected by white men who didn't like the ambitious woman. The pigs have been winning, and too many women have been unjustly punished and villainized, their perspectives left unexplored.

oh look fucking Shawn and Jeff run the fucking world

I, Tonya is a great movie about a horrible incident that happened for one reason: men. If truth exists, and I think it does, this proudly postmodern film at least tells this one: Men are swine. Impeach them.

Livia in I, Claudius, like Janney's LaVona, know the world is shit because Men are Swine

Four stars out of Five ****

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

If Milk is a proudly gay movie, Call Me By Your Name is, like archetype-inverting Brokeback Mountain, a decidedly queer one, which is something a bit different. This is not only because the two men flirt and even have sex with women as well as each other, or because of its skepticism of marriage, or because it is set in a semi-fantastical realm outside the political struggle for gay rights, but because the characters are always reading. In fact, if we take queer to mean, in part, against the mainstream, in today's illiterate society all the reading in this film is almost queerer than the sex between two men.

This is a same sex romance the gay-label rejecting writer Gore Vidal might have appreciated, as it is set in Italy, drenched in the classical past, and in love with words. And whatever you think of Vidal's viewpoint, this film's simple and emotionally shattering earnestness surpasses Vidal’s inherent bitterness about love and discovers far more painful truths.  This movie, about intimacy, openness, the sensual blossoming of youth and the ever-encroaching numbness of modern adulthood, is sentimental in the most earned and expensive sense, and when it aims for the deepest recesses of the heart, as it does during Michael  Stuhlbarg’s devastating father to son monologue, it does not miss.

Armie Hammer, a classical statue come to life, is handsome as ever in his latest “star-making” role, shimmering but still outshone, this time by co-star Timothée Chalamet, who delivers a performance the Oscars were created to honor. The final moments, in which Chalamet both bears the full emotional weight of the film and causes us, simply by staring into the camera, to feel it with him, is the most moving ending of a film romance in recent memory.  

Five Stars *****