Review – The Post; Molly’s Game; Wonder
Freedom of the press is especially relevant given our current political climate, and Steven Spielberg’s The Post is a perfect reminder as to how important it is to have this freedom (for more jaundiced views of the press, one may consult Ace in the Hole, among many others). For those too young to remember, in the early 1970s, journalist Daniel Ellsberg managed to ferret out provocative papers regarding the United States government’s involvement in the Vietnam War—the New York Times subsequently published some of them until the Times was ordered to cease and desist. Immediately thereafter, more of these Pentagon Papers found their way to the Washington Post, then under the leadership of editor Ben Bradlee (a gruff but likable Tom Hanks) and publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep). To Bradlee, publishing these papers is close to a “no-brainer” (after first ascertaining that these papers wouldn’t pose a threat to national security or to those currently in combat); for Graham, however, as the widow of the former publisher, and a socialite herself, with friends in high places—including those who might be hurt by revelations contained in these papers, the situation is a little more complex. Add to that the fact that Graham was the first female newspaper publisher, struggling to prove herself among what was essentially a “boys club,” and you have another aspect that resonates today.
Luckily, The Post scales down the “grandstanding” (save for a few Bradlee diatribes forcefully delivered by Hanks) and delivers a fairly taut, satisfying drama which celebrates the search for truth even in the face of governmental interference (and the possible repercussions). Spielberg, working from a literate, occasionally incisive script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, keeps the action moving, and the shots of the newsroom and the presses preserve both the grit and the magic of good old-fashioned journalism. The players don’t disappoint either, especially the aforementioned Hanks, Bob Odenkirk’s Ben Bagdikan, who gets hold of the papers (as well as the ethical quandary they present), and Streep’s Graham. Say what you will about how “routine” Streep’s excellence might appear, she manages to invest Graham with both complexity and dignity. Streep admirably conveys Graham’s initial discomfort and deference, as well as her evolving confidence and a sense of integrity that rivals Bradlee’s. If The Post doesn’t prove to be the equal of Spotlight, it’s still a darn good entertainment in its own right. And, you don’t even have to wait for the sequel…
Molly’s Game, writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, has plenty of those Sorkin qualities—namely loads of intelligent, entertaining, quickly paced dialogue, accompanied by omni-present voiceovers.
And why not, since this “based on fact” tale of a Molly Bloom, a former Olympic skier who eventually ran a high stakes poker game both in Los Angeles and New York City, lends itself easily to rapid-fire patter and actors with the facility to handle all it demands. Jessica Chastain’s Molly is front and center throughout, as she struggles to make a place for herself in what is essentially a man’s world (one rarely sees women at these poker parties, except if they’re dealing cards or offering refreshment (of a liquid variety). The film contains Chastain’s best work yet, as her Molly has her own “demons’ to contend with, yet strives to maintain a fair environment (or at least as fair as one can get when dealing cards). Her Molly only wants players who can afford to lose, and she tries, with varying degrees of success, to dissuade those who might be on the path to ruin. As is the case with most movies depicting a rise and fall (the FBI would eventually come after Molly), the rise is more interesting, but Chastain’s portrayal commands attention throughout. She is abetted in this regard by Idris Elba, as her initially reluctant lawyer (whose daughter is hooked on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible—and leads to one of the year’s best lines), Michael Cera and Brian d’Arcy James as some very “influential” gamblers, and Kevin Costner, who continues his string of impressive character work as Molly’s psychologist father. At the risk of stating the obvious, Molly’s Game delivers a winning hand (insert your own groan).
Despite these films’ uniformly high quality, the movie one would want to revisit the soonest might be Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder.
I’ll admit I was filled with trepidation—from the commercials, I feared it might be treacly, maudlin, and almost insufferable—boy was I surprised. It’s an intelligent, compassionate, uplifting comedy-drama with both its head and heart in all the right places. Auggie Pullman (a superb, heartbreaking Jacob Tremblay), who has been homeschooled by his mom (Julia Roberts, also excellent), mainly because he suffers from a rare facial deformity (and has endured several operations) is entering middle school—and all the educational and social difficulties this entails—especially a largely insensitive, and occasionally cruel group of classmates. Auggie’s struggles—both to make friends and stand up to the bullies—are the center of the tale—but by no means the whole story. Auggie’s older sister “Via” (an excellent Izabela Vidovic) has dificulties of her own, as she has been seemingly abandoned by both her best friend and her mother, since Auggie’s demands have consumed the mother’s attention. The film is told from multiple viewpoints, including Auggie, the sister (and her friend), and Auggie’s nemesis who later turns out to be his champion. This narrative structure (the well-crafted script is by Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad, and Chbosky provides added insight into the characters (and plot turns), leading to an entirely heartwarming and uplifting conclusion. Also featuring fine work from Owen Wilson as Auggie’s endearing father and Mandy Patinkin as the pragmatic, sensitive administrator any school would be lucky to have.