The Post

the-post-movie-71.jpg

* * * 1/2

There is a term certain critics use that’s quite fun: “wiggy.” It’s generally applied to films that are set in another period, and often to films portraying real people. The ultimate wiggy films are, for example, films where most, if not all the main characters look kind of ridiculous via the efforts the hair and make-up people have gone to make them look like their real-life counterparts.

The Post is very wiggy. It’s far more wiggy than Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which, on the surface, looked like a more likely candidate for top honours: crazy muttonchops, ludicrous sideburns, Lincoln’s beard (facial hair counts as “wig”). But Lincoln was a labour of love that Spielberg spent a very long time developing; it was long on the drawing boards and long in pre-production. I’m sure he had someone – paid, perhaps full-time – working on a bust of Daniel Day-Lewis from the moment the actor committed to the film, experimenting with wig.

By great contrast, The Post is Spielberg’s rapid response to Trump. It went from page to screen in nine months – an astonishingly quick process for a “Spielberg Film”, or any film. And so it’s quite wiggy, and rushed in other ways, because Mr. Spielberg – who knows what he’s doing, perhaps more than any other practitioner, of any industry, on the planet – made the decision early on that getting the film in theatres in order to reflect Trump’s War On The Press would – pardon me – trump the demands of perfectionism. Time was of the essence; perfect sideburns were not.

Working fast, Spielberg resorts to what he knows works; thus, at a moment of great decision, a camera slowly moves in on a Great Actor’s face. Would there be a more interesting way of doing the moment, something unexpected, understated, or even subversive? Undoubtedly. But Spielberg didn’t waste time. He captured a moment of Great Acting in a Spielbergian manner, and moved on.

The result, which plays like a prequel to All The President’s Men (1975), is spectacularly entertaining, in the way that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws are spectacularly entertaining. Breathlessly paced, it’s a journalist-movie thrill ride. Spotlight, which won the Best Film Oscar two years ago, had far more nuance, character development and emotional heft. The Post has urgency, in spades. There is no reason not to see it. It is professional, angry, and fun.

the-post-1510148707.png

My Bodyguard

IMG_0298
*** (out of five)

On paper, it’s hard to tell if teaming Dwayne Johnson, the artist formally known as The Rock, now officially the highest-earning movie star in the world – in salary and box office – and Meryl Streep, the most awarded and respected (except by the President of the United States) movie actor in history, was a good one. In practice, it’s turned out surprisingly well. In My Bodyguard, which is a very tenuous, practically “in name only” remake of the 1980 drama, Johnson plays Sanchez, the well-meaning, dyslexic janitor at an isolated, elite private high school hired by the school’s principal (Streep) to be her bodyguard against the increasingly – and bizarrely – dangerous student population. It’s a strange hybrid of gritty (and surprisingly violent) action and sentimental May/December romance, and, somehow, it works, despite a few preposterous moments.

Happily, those moments are also some of the film’s (deeply) guilty pleasures. As with seeing Helen Mirren blow things and beat people up in Red (2010), it’s highly entertaining to watch Streep lay into one of her particularly odious charges while Sanchez sits calmly in a dark corner of the room, his presence all that is needed to keep the student from fighting back. Likewise, it is a rare joy to see Johnson go into emotional territory he simply hasn’t explored before; – spolier – yes, we see the big fella cry.

By setting the scene in an expensive private school, the film deftly – or, blatantly – avoids racial politics. All of the students turned violent are white; the few minority students, all on scholarships, are also the good ones, who pay Sanchez respect even before he puts down his broom and picks up his bat. Like The River Wild (1994) and The Giver (2014), this is Streep taking a swim in genre cinema seemingly to just give it a go, but – of course! – she also deeply commits. Watch, they’ll give her another Oscar nomination; wouldn’t it be fun if Johnson got one too?

Film Title: It's Complicated

Into The Woods

Into-the-Woods-banner***1/2 (out of five)

For many, many musical theatre aficionados, Into The Woods is a master work, one of the best pieces by the best maestro, being Stephen Sondheim, the anti-populist, intellectual, “difficult” composer and lyricist. Into The Woods is one of his biggies, featuring excellent music and songs, strong characters, and a clever storyline that subverts a bunch of fairytales. Huge in scale – there’s a witch, a giant, a castle or two, a cow, magic beans, a wolf and an awful lot of woods – it’s long been ripe for cinematic treatment.

Rob Marshall’s adaptation is straightforward and respectful. Since the material itself is slyly subversive, there’s no need to subvert it in the transition from stage to screen; all that is necessary is to flesh it out, fill the screen with it, and Marshall’s done that. Thus The Witch (Meryl Streep) can get up to all manner of creepy manoeuvres, the beans can burst skyward as a thundering, towering beanstalk, the giant can look like a giant and her footsteps can cause the shattering of a castle tower.

There is one shrieking element of total theatricality: The Wolf (Johnny Depp) doesn’t look like a wolf, he looks like Johnny Depp with some whiskers. It’s an odd choice and clashes with Steep’s effective witchiness, the giant’s giantism, and the cow, which is mainly played by a real cow. Depp comes and goes early and is pretty much forgotten by the end, which is just as well; his episode is the film’s least compelling.

The best character is Cinderella, and Anna Kendrick is sublime. She’s got a terrific song on the castle steps that is full of humour and nuance. Kendrick is bagging all the great singing-on-screen roles, from her franchise (Pitch Perfect) to her upcoming two-hander The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown’s excellent musical. She deserves to. She sings beautifully and you believe her singing; even as she sings along to her own recordings (as they did on this one, as opposed to the “live” singing of Les Miserables) you can see her lower lip trembling in vibrato. She’s a perfect Cinderella.

Also terrific is Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife. She outshines The Baker, James Cordon, and fans will be bummed to see one of his big numbers cut. Mostly, though, the songs are all there, unlike the recent Annie, which bombed the Dresden out of its own source material. Meryl’s fine – in that Meryl Streep way of “fine” meaning typically excellent – but my Musical Theatre Expert, who accompanied me to the screening I saw, said that she didn’t own the role – and the singing – as it has been owned by Bernadette Peters on stage and in a famous PBS filmed stage recording. My Musical Theatre Expert did single out young Daniel Huttlestone, as Jack (as in, “…and the beanstalk”) and even applauded after one of his big numbers.

Everything is very competent and it’s all good fun. It doesn’t seem to have any raison d’être except that, perhaps, someone finally got the money together to make it. It doesn’t comment on our age, doesn’t offer a bold new perspective, and doesn’t feature any particular “star” performance. But if it only exists for Sondheim fans, it exists well for them. Supposedly the man himself is happy with it, and so he should be. It treats his work with complete reverence, respect, and love.