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The Post

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Post

The Post does a grand job of filling in the cracks of a major historical scandal. It often takes a long time to do that – in this case five decades. Over time, the primary players confess in regret or die in silence while others feel entitled at last to pull together the details of a major event.

This movie shows us the threads of the Pentagon Papers case that ignited Watergate. Those threads were suppressed under four administrations while American boys died in Vietnam. Now they are given us by Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradlee, Meryl Streep as Post owner Kay Graham, and the fine director Steven Spielberg.

At the outset, Bradlee is editor of The Post when it was considered just Washington’s local newspaper. Kay Graham’s husband, editor of the paper, has recently committed suicide. Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) is a Post journalist on assignment in Vietnam to assess the validity of the controversial war.

Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), thoroughly disillusioned by the human cost of the war, risks taking five thousand pages of incriminating papers to the New York Times from his job at Rand. A judge shuts down publication by the Times.

Ellsberg then delivers those papers to The Post where Bradlee and Graham explore both the politics of the Vietnam war and the possible consequences if they publish the papers. Prison sentences and destruction of their paper hang over their heads as a possibility.

As Tom Hanks literally becomes Ben Bradlee, we drop fully into the story. He gives us Bradlee’s determination to publish if he can convince Kay Graham it is the right thing to do. Meryl Streep’s Kay Graham, now owner after her husband’s suicide, gets a fast course in courage. She must decide whether to risk everything by publishing the papers the court has forbidden. In that process, she shows us Graham’s deep mix of brains and courage that had been used before her husband’s death in social and volunteer situations. Together Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep bring these two figures to fighting life and lift the movie to top of 2017. Both are thoroughly convincing.

Matthew Rhys’s Daniel Ellsberg is a deeply caring idealist determined to stop the dying of American boys in a political war. Rhys endows Ellsberg with a brave mixture of courage and fear.

We see glimpses of the future (this was 1971) in short shots of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson as they argued and covered the truth of that war while allowing it to continue. The movie tackles and exposes the bi-partisan wrongs of the war and shows us the enormous courage Kay Graham showed in encouraging Ben Bradlee to publish at great risk to all of them and to their paper. A short final shot reminds us that the release of the Pentagon Papers led to the biggest scandal in American political history. We look forward to watching this same cast deliver the story of Watergate.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Post
Word Count: 495
Running Time: 2:33
Rating: PG-13
Date: 21 January 2018

 

I, Tonya

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

I, Tonya

I, Tonya is not a story about an ambitious mother driving her reluctant daughter. It is about the ambitious daughter who has loved skating since she first stepped on the ice when she was three years old. When her mother, Lavona (Allison Janney) sees that, she devotes her own manic, focused energy to propelling Tonya (Margot Robbie) all the way to the Olympics. In driving her daughter forward, this mother becomes a monster, but Tonya also wants that gold medal.

If we hadn’t watched the public side of all this unfold in the1984 Olympics, it would be impossible to believe either the personalities or the steps taken to ensure Tonya’s success. It is so violent at points that disbelieving laughter ripples through the audience. Did this really happen? Yes. Filling in the details is this movie’s gift to us.

Mother and daughter – labeled “white trash” within the skating community – resent deeply the judges insistence that champions come from “appropriate” backgrounds. They are defensive of who they are even though the reality is more one of behavior than class.

Off the ice, Tonya marries, leaves, and returns to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a stupid man with a consuming mean streak. As Tonya works her way up in the skating world, Jeff makes plans to write letters to Nancy Kerrigan – Tonya’s main competitor – to throw her off her performance in the upcoming games.

Jeff’s awful pal Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Houser) takes the plan up a notch by swatting Kerrigan’s leg with a sharp instrument. If you didn’t see the TV of those games, you may think this is overplayed. It isn’t. The villains are both dumb and mean and the mother is without honesty. Tonya herself, while not part of the planning, lets us know how she feels about her treatment by the judges.

Why would you want to go to a movie laced with cruelty, stupidity, and malicious acts? First, because every single actor does a genuinely good job. Margot Robbie is terrific as the accomplished, driven Tonya who is riven with resentment and anger at the culture of the skating world and at her own background. Julianne Nicholson (Diane Rawlinson) is good as the coach who stepped into this family mess.

Allison Janney creates a woman who embodies harsh selfishness and real life cruelty that equals anything I’ve seen on screen before. Hers is a blockbuster performance of a woman driven by resentment at her lot, ambition for her daughter, and a willingness to do immoral and illegal things to further her cause. She will do, and does, whatever it takes.

You will see guns, alcohol, ambition, crime, cruelty, and hatred all marshaled to get Tonya to the top. You will also see this true story come to life in some of the best performances of this year. And you may, as I did, leave the theater thinking of all the negatives rolling in Tonya’s head as she said, “I was loved for a minute.”

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : I, Tonya
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:24
Rating: R
Date: 14 January 2018