"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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The Post: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this film except for the wonderful performance of Meryl Streep, so maybe catch it on Netflix or cable if you are so inclined.

The Post, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer and directed by Steven Spielberg, is the story of Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee, the publisher and editor of the Washington Post respectively, as they guide the newspaper through the Pentagon Papers controversy. The film stars Meryl Streep as Graham and Tom Hanks as Bradlee. 

In case you aren't aware, The Post is one of Spielberg's "serious" movies, which the Spielberg-worshipping Amen chorus in the media tells us means that it should only be spoken about in the most hushed and reverent tones. The Post has been self-consciously selling itself as being very "timely" because it is allegedly a story about freedom of the press in the face of tyranny. The film is obviously meant as a nobly defiant gesture in the face of Fuhrer Trump, who goes unmentioned in the film but is an ever ominous presence lurking beneath the movie's surface, sort of like the Great White shark that terrorized one of Speilberg's actually good films, Jaws

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Speilberg made The Post not only after Trump became president, but because he became president. The film was hurried into production in June of 2017 in order to strike while the anti-Trump iron was hot in an attempt to convert Trump hate into dollars and awards. The political problem for The Post is that it comes across as entirely, overwhelmingly and painfully reactionary. Being reactionary is not a crime in and of itself, but the mark of a great artist is that they are ahead of the curve. The true artist dances between their individual consciousness and the collective unconscious and are able to sense things they can only articulate and express artistically (even when they may not be intellectually or "consciously" aware of them) before they come to the surface in the wider collective consciousness. With The Post, Speilberg's reactionism feels like merely a symptom of the disease of artistic fraudulence and bankruptcy, which is a malady from which he has long suffered. The film is also a result of his shameless and clumsy attempt to be politically relevant in order to be further admired by those in the political and media establishment.

The truth is I saw The Post over a month ago and was so underwhelmed by it on every single level I haven't been able to muster the creative energy to review it until now. The film is a stale and suffocatingly conventional piece of predictable moviemaking that feels as if a propaganda unit for the Hillary Clinton campaign made an after school special that was a sequel to their smash hit "Love Trumps Hate"…or as America heard it, "Love Trump's Hate".

On the most basic level, The Post is an extraordinarily poorly structured cinematic venture and is so numbingly bland as to be unremarkable in every single way. The Post is just one more bit of incontrovertible evidence that Spielberg is simply not that great at making "serious" movies, and that he needs aliens or dinosaurs at the heart of his story in order to be proficient at his craft.

In The Post, just like in his other "serious" films Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, Spielberg seems completely unaware of how to create a cohesive and palatable narrative rhythm to a film. As with many of his previous "serious" films, Spielberg chooses to encase The Post in the most useless and clumsy preamble and coda, which renders any sort of dramatic tension or revelations that can be scrounged up in between them entirely moot and ineffective.

There are some sequences in The Post that are so cinematically inept, amateurish and heavy-handed it is difficult to not laugh out loud at them. Of all of the cringe-worthy scenes scattered throughout, none makes the colon twinge quite so much as the scene where Streep's Katherine Graham exits the Supreme Court to a soaring soundtrack amidst a sea of young, bright eyed women who part for her like the Red Sea and then gaze with awe and astonishment upon her as if she were the Goddess coming down from the heavens victorious at having slain the patriarchal dragon. This scene is so awful it actually made me unintentionally groan aloud in the theatre. There are also some ridiculous scenes of Nixon in silhouette at the White House that are the absolute height of unintentional comedy.  

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Meryl Streep stars in the film as Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, a woman trying to make her way in a man's world. Streep is simply the very best at her craft that we have seen and her work in The Post is testament to that. With a flaccid script, she is able to turn Katherine Graham into an honest to goodness, multi-dimensional human being, the only one in the entire film. Streep's Graham never rings false, which is an accomplishment of Herculean proportions on the part of the Grand Dame, due to the emotionally and intellectually infantile script from which she has to work. 

Tom Hanks co-stars as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. Hanks has proven himself over the years to be a decent movie star but at the end of the day he turns out to be a pretty shitty actor. Hanks's shallow portrayal of Bradlee, with his spray on tan and affected grumble of a voice, would be better suited in an SNL sketch than in a feature film. Seeing Hanks on screen opposite Streep is very illuminating, as Hanks is exposed as being a smoke and mirrors huckster of a performer, and Streep is revealed to be the consummate actor.

The narrative of The Post is meant to cover as many politically correct bases as possible. There is the story of the tyrannical president and the noble press fighting for American ideals and freedoms. There is also the story of female empowerment where a woman must overcome the horrors of the patriarchy that conspires to keep her down. With all of the shamelessly, not-so-subtle Hillary love and admiration for the mainstream press imprinted in the DNA of The Post, a more apt title for it may have been "The Establishment Strikes Back".

One of the things that bothered me about The Post, even more than the sub-par storytelling and ham-fisted directing, is why tell this particular version of the story in the first place? The Pentagon Papers is an important story, of that there is no doubt. Daniel Ellsberg is an important story and The New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers in an important story, but Spielberg doesn't tell any of those stories. Instead, he tells the story of the Washington Post's part in the Pentagon Papers, and that probably isn't even in the top ten of stories surrounding the Pentagon Papers that should or need to be told. 

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The trick that Spielberg manages to pull off in his version of the Pentagon Papers is he manages to smear Daniel Ellsberg and belittles and demeans what he risked and accomplished in exposing the Pentagon Papers. It is remarkable that Spielberg could make a movie about the Pentagon Papers, one of the biggest whistleblowers stories in U.S. history, and yet completely diminishes and disrespects that whistleblower. Spielberg turns Ellsberg into a long-haired, hippie malcontent and narcissist driven solely by his self-aggrandizing instinct and ego. This would not be such a big deal except that it is entirely at odds with the reality of who Daniel Ellsberg truly is and what he did. 

The other thing that bothers me are the lies of omission committed by The Post. Ben Bradlee is portrayed as not only a truth teller in the face of power, but also the quintessential journalist who was a thoughtful and passionate man who cared deeply for his profession. The reality is that Bradlee was the consummate Washington insider and his tentacles were everywhere in The Swamp. It is shown in the film that Bradlee was a friend of JFK and a frequent guest at the White House for private dinners with JFK and occasionally Jackie, which is true. What the film doesn't dare mention is that Bradlee was married to wealthy socialite Toni Pinchot during Kennedy's presidency. Toni's sister was Mary Pinchot Meyer, a divorcee who was having an affair with JFK during his presidency and would frequently go to the White House with Ben Bradlee and Toni in order for them to cover for her and JFK's affair. Also of note is that Mary Pinchot Meyer wasn't just any divorcee, she was divorced from Cord Meyer, a powerful CIA official who was Head of the Covert Action Staff of the Directorate of Plans during Kennedy's administration, and also became the principle operative of Operation Mockingbird, which was a massive operation that was used to secretly influence U.S. and foreign media. 

Another bit of info kept out of The Post about Bradlee is this, that almost one year after Kennedy was assassinated, on October 12, 1964, Mary Pinchot Meyer was assassinated, gunned down in broad daylight, while walking along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath near her Georgetown home. Why is this important? Well, it is important because Mary Meyer had kept a very thorough diary of her time with JFK, which included not only the usual Kennedy sexcapades, but JFK's use of both marijuana and LSD. To make the Meyer case all the more intriguing, Mary Meyer was convinced that JFK was murdered by a conspiracy involving U.S. intelligence agencies, of which she was intimately familiar, and she was determined to bring it to light.

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After she was murdered some very strange things occurred, the first of which is that someone in the CIA called Ben Bradlee on the day of the shooting to tell him of Mary's murder. Why is this strange? Because Mary Pinchot Meyer was still lying in the morgue and had not even been identified by the coroners office, she was just a Jane Doe. Mary's family didn't even know anything had happened to her at this point, but because of a mysterious source in the CIA, Ben Bradlee did. Bradlee then went to Mary's house and scoured the pace and found her JFK diary and instead of doing the journalistically honorable thing of reporting on it, he instead kept it secret and turned it over to none other than James Jesus Angelton who destroyed it. Who is James Jesus Angelton? Well, James Angelton was just the Chief of Covert Counter-Intelligence Operations for the CIA. 

To make the Meyer story all the more intriguing is what happened when Bradlee was called to testify in the 1965 murder trial against a young Black man charged, and later acquitted, of the crime of killing Mary Meyer. On the stand Bradlee lied, in other words committed perjury, when he failed to mention his interaction with Mr. Angelton of the CIA and about the existence of Mary's diary. How do we know he lied? Because years later when he wrote his 1995 memoir, A Good Life, he told the truth about what actually happened and how he conspired with Angelton to find and destroy Mary's diary. 

Bradlee's back story is pretty remarkable, but so is Katherine Graham's. Graham's husband, Phil, was the publisher and co-owner of the Washington Post. In late 1962, Phil was having an affair with a young woman from Australia and told Katherine about it. A short time later in 1963, Phil got himself into a boat load of trouble when he got stinking drunk at a newspaper publisher's convention in Phoenix and stood up and told a room full of reporters that President Kennedy was having an affair in the White House with...you guessed it…Mary Pinchot Meyer. Mrs. Graham was alerted to her soon to be ex-husbands behavior and flew out to Phoenix with their doctor and Phil was sedated, put in a straitjacket, and flown to Washington where he was quickly hospitalized at Chestnut Lodge, a hospital in Maryland well-known to be used by the CIA for various unsavory psychiatric activities. 

After his initial release five days later from Chestnut Lodge, Phil left Katherine and told friends he was going to divorce her, take sole control of the Post, and quickly remarry with his Australian girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, in June of 1963, Phil was again placed in Chestnut Lodge and treated for "manic depression". Chestnut Lodge then released him in early August 1963 to his ex-wife Katherine's custody for a weekend break because she claimed he seemed to be doing much better. Phil stayed with Katherine at their Virginia farmhouse, and that is where he allegedly shot himself with shotgun. Against the wishes of Phil's will, which Katherine challenged, Katherine Graham then inherited the Washington Post which became a powerful mouthpiece for the intelligence community on all matters.

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Ben Bradlee was also a key part of the intelligence community's control over the Post and of American political discourse. The best way to describe Bradlee is that for the duration of his Washington Post career, he was a useful asset to the intelligence community. Katherine Graham was less an asset and more of an insurance policy for the intelligence community. They got her power over the Post, and she gave them access and unquestioned loyalty. Remember the previously Operation Mockingbird, well the Washington Post is the flagship newspaper for Operation Mockingbird, and remember who ran Operation Mockingbird…none other than Cord Meyer, Mary Meyer's ex-husband. (If you want to read more about the very tangled and incredibly fascinating story of Mary Meyer, JFK, Cord Meyer, James Angleton, Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham, I wholly encourage you to go read Mary's Mosaic by Peter Janney, it is a page-turner well worth your time if you have the interest.)

Now, don't those stories sound much more interesting and dramatically charged than the limp, third-rate Washington Post - Pentagon Papers nonsense that Spielberg conjures in The Post? Wouldn't those backstories make for at least a modicum of intrigue and drama when trying to fully flesh out who these dramatis personae really are and what actually happened at the Washington Post during the Pentagon papers incident? 

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But Steven Spielberg has no interest in telling that kind of truth in his movies, he is only interested in telling a certain kind of truth, the same kind of truth that Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham are interested in telling, namely...the manufactured, "safe" truth. If you look at the length and breadth of Spielberg and Hanks' career you notice something very troubling, they are both only interested in telling that sort of manufactured "safe" truth. Hanks and Spielberg are anything but artistic truth-tellers, they are Rockwellian myth-makers and star-spangled Riefenstahls who consistently and exclusively pump out agitprop for the Establishment and American Empire. I realize that I will be tarred and feathered as a tin-foil hat wearing kook for saying this, but it doesn't take a genius or a madman to figure out that upon closer inspection, Hanks and Spielberg are just like Bradlee and Graham, they are well positioned assets useful in disseminating disinformation propaganda for the American Intelligence community (and maybe some other nations Intelligence communities as well) in order to subtly indoctrinate the gullible and unaware masses.

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Bradlee and Graham were so well positioned to be assets for Operation Mockingbird one cannot help but wonder if they were "assisted" in their rise to such pivotal and prominent roles on the American political stage…and the same can be said of Hanks and Spielberg, who have proven time and again that they seem to have risen to heights in Hollywood well beyond their artistic abilities and use their positions of power to inundate the public with most insidious of propaganda. (For further reading on Hanks desire to alter history to appease the American Intelligence community, check out James DiEugenio's book Reclaiming Parkland, it is not a particularly well-written work, but it is does contain some fascinating and insightful information.)

When you look at the question I posed earlier about why Spielberg would make THIS film about the Pentagon Papers instead of investigating other more potentially interesting angles of that story (Ellsberg bio-pic, NY Times angle etc.), through the prism of his job as a propagandist for the Establishment and the intelligence community, then The Post makes a helluva lot more sense.  

Spielberg could not make a film with Ellsberg as a hero because Ellsberg is a whistleblower and whistleblowers cannot be perceived as heroic especially in this day and age because they could potentially reveal the crimes of American empire and the intelligence community. Hanks and Spielberg both said as much in doing interviews regarding The Post. When asked if Ellsberg was a hero they both said, "yeah sure", but when asked if Snowden was a hero, they both declined to answer and said it "was complicated". It isn't complicated, it is only complicated if you are a propagandist interested in obscuring truth, not exposing it. The reason they can sort of say Ellsberg is ok is because his revelations are ancient history with no impact on today's world, whereas Snowden is making a brave Ellsbergian stand today, and to make things worse in Hanks and Spielberg's eyes, Snowden did so while Obama was president. 

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Think of it this way, Spielberg can make any movie he wants, but he chose the safest route imaginable and made The Post. He could've made a Snowden movie, or a Chelsea Manning movie, both of which would tell the truth to power story and even the freedom of the press story that The Post pretends to tell. He could've made a film about John Kiriakou which would be immensely more interesting than The Post, but he didn't. Spielberg could've still played it safe and made a straight up, paint-by-numbers Ellsberg bio-pic…but he didn't. Hell, Spielberg could've made a Trump bio-pic, Oliver Stone made one of George W. Bush while he was still in office for goodness sake, but he would never do something so ballsy. Instead, Spielberg made the impotent and insipid The Post, with all of its narrative quirks, historical omissions and sub-textual dishonesty.

What I found even more damning than the shitty filmmaking and predictable script on display in The Post, was the audience with whom I watched it. The screening I attended was pretty crowded and at various times throughout the showing, the crowd whooped and cheered for the "good guys" (Hanks and company), and when the film ended there was a rapturous round of applause. I can easily surmise that none of these cheering people voted for Donald Trump, and that they felt their cheering was a brave and courageous act of "resistance".

What all the cheering from the audience proved to me is that this anti-Trump audience deserves that know-nothing buffoon as their president, because just like him they are dim-witted ignorami who only want to be told what they want to hear and are incurious, ill-informed and easily manipulated.  

These cheering ninnies are blissfully unaware of Ben Bradlee's connection to the intelligence community or his duplicitous relationship with JFK's affairs and Mary Meyer's murder. They are also blissfully unaware of Katherine Graham's equally nefarious connections to the intelligence community and the mystery surrounding her husbands downfall and supposed suicide and her subsequent rise to power at the Washington Post. These same simpletons probably confuse Snowden with Assange, and recoil at the truthful and accurate revelations of those two men and Chelsea Manning, but ignorantly cheer the charade of The Post as a metaphor for speaking truth to power and the battle for the freedom of the press today, just because Spielberg tells them to. These fools are Spielberg's bread and butter, for they are the worst kind of fools, they think they are savvy, well-informed, serious people, but they are simply dupes and dopes, and these vacuous, vapid and vacant numskulls have gotten the country, the president and the movie they so richly deserve. 

In conclusion, The Post is certainly not worth paying to see in the theatre. If you stumble across it on cable or Netlfix you can watch it to see Streep's marvelous performance but that is about it. The Post is fools gold for those looking for powerful stories of the struggle for freedom of the press and speaking truth to power. Viewers would be much better served avoiding the historical revisionism of The Post and seeking out the stories of Edward Snowden (the documentary Citizenfour or Oliver Stone's flawed Snowden), Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Daniel Ellsberg (the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America) and yes, even the much-maligned Julian Assange, if they want to understand the current fight for freedom of the press and the battle against tyranny, where information and the truth are the greatest weapons of war.

©2017

Casting the Comey Affair

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Estimated Reading Time : 6 minutes 38 seconds

Due to a very, very serious, dare I say, life-threatening illness (a chest cold!), I have not been able to keep my not-so-adoring public up to date on my feelings regarding the goings on in Washington, Hollywood and the world these past few weeks. I was unable to cover the Comey hearing, the British election and now missed the Sessions hearing. Due to a truly heroic effort on my part, I was able to read a bit about all of those proceedings in my weakened state, and even saw some clips on the television. Of course, any insights I may have been able to provide are long past their used by date, once again proving I am a day late and many dollars short. 

That said, I am not completely without some relevant thoughts. For instance, the thing that instantly occurred to me as I watched the coverage of Comey's testimony was, "who is going to play him in the movie?". I promise you there are some Hollywood suits who are plotting a film or miniseries about all of these made-for-tv political events. So I put on my sleazy producer hat and started thinking right along with them. I came up with multiple casts for the film I have titled "The Comey Affair". 

Some are Oscar bait, some are box office beasts, some are desperate wannabes and some are quick money grabs, but all of them are being contemplated by some fat cat in an office here in Hollywood…I promise you that. So sit back, relax, and enjoy inhabiting the mind of a Hollywood power broker!!

Here are the films.

STAR EDITION : THE A-LIST

Directed by Steven Spielberg, and typical of his films, his "The Comey Affair" will have lots of flag waving and swelling music. The establishment media will lap it up and heap praise upon it no end, but in reality the movie will be as awful as Bridge of Spies or Lincoln…which is really, really, really awful. 

James Comey - Tom Hanks : Of course Tom Hanks plays Comey. Hanks is incapable of playing any other character but a condescendingly noble and morally and ethically impeccable man with a heart of gold, and so it is with his rendition of James Comey. Think Sully, Captain Philips and Bridge of Spies guy crossed with his Saving Private Ryan character. 

Donald Trump - Jack Nicholson : This is both Nicholson's comeback and swan song. A surefire nomination for Best Supporting Actor will follow Jack's peculiar and erratic performance. Nicholson's work as Trump will be sub-par, like much of his work over the last thirty years, but he'll be rewarded anyway because Hollywood likes their icons to go out on top. Jack's Trump will be a combination of his Whitey Bulger-esque character in The Departed and Nicholson himself.

Mike Pence - George Clooney : Clooney will co-produce along with Hanks and Spielberg, so he'll play Pence in order to boost box office. He will do his usual lackluster, smirky work but will be taken seriously for some mysterious reason. The media will fawn all over George as he recounts one of the myriad of impotent pranks he pulls on his adoring co-stars. Oh, George, you cad.

Jeff Sessions - Kevin Spacey : Spacey will do little more than reprise his House of Cards character Frank Underwood as Sessions with some Keyser Soze mixed in. Spacey will no doubt try and talk Spielberg into letting Sessions have a scene where he sings, hopefully he will be thwarted. Bottom line is that Spacey will chew scenery and try and upstage his esteemed colleagues…hell…maybe it'll work. 

Melania Trump - Julia Roberts : Roberts, like Nicholson, is using this role as a comeback of sorts. She wants to get back into the Oscar discussion, so she tarts herself up and turns Erin Brockovich into an aging Eastern European model. Her accent will be atrocious, but her push up bra will earn a Best Supporting nomination. Robert's work with Clooney on the media tour blitz will be vital in attracting the insufferably vacuous Clinton Cult Feminist audience. GIRL POWER!!

Ivanka Trump - Margot Robbie : Margot Robbie will struggle with the accent as well, namely losing her Austrailian one, but, as usual, she will no doubt do stellar, and under appreciated work as Ivanka. Robbie is a solid actress, and she will tell a story with her Ivanka that will be both appealing and unsettling. 

Jared Kushner - Leo DiCaprio : Leo will make Jared into a quiet, reserved, nearly mute young man in public, but a crazed and maniacal wild man in private. Think of Leo's Jared as a cross between his Jordan Belfort character in Wolf of Wall Street, his Howard Hughes from The Aviator and Frank Abignale from Catch Me If You Can.

 

OSCAR EDITION

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson brings an artists eye to the proceedings, making his "The Comey Affair" a mix of There Will Be Blood, The Master and Magnolia. A taut and tense story brought to life by a stellar and sublime cast.

James Comey - Daniel Day Lewis : Lewis, a master, is tall, which is needed to play Comey, who is a towering 6-8. He also brings the skill and versatility to give the goody two shoes Comey some much needed inner life and turmoil. Lewis' Comey will be a cross between his Bill The Butcher in Gangs of New York, his Abraham Lincoln in the aptly titled Lincoln, and his Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and will be much more interesting than Comey himself.

Donald Trump - Brendan Gleeson : Gleeson is an often over-looked great actor. His subtle work and physical pseudo resemblance to Trump will make his performance as the President Oscar worthy. Gleeson's artistic furnace burns hot, and when put into the container of Donald Trump, will be down right combustible. 

Mike Pence - Gary Oldman : Oldman, like Gleeson, is an under-appreciated genius, and his Pence will have the exterior of his George Smiley from Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, and the toxic inner life of Oldman's electric Sid Vicious. Oldman's Pence will be a ferocious wolf in delicate sheep's clothing.

Jeff Sessions - Chris Cooper : Cooper never fails to flesh out his character in the most insightful of ways, and his Sessions will no doubt be reminiscent of his closeted American Beauty character. Defiance and vindictiveness wrapped in the sing-song charm of the Old South.

Melania Trump - Cate Blanchett :  Blanchett's Melania is the beauty and the brains behind The Donald. Always at least three steps ahead of everyone else, Blanchett's Melania is playing chess, while Donald plays checkers. She let's everyone think she is a prop, but the reality is that she is the only one who knows how to manage the man-child that is her husband. 

Ivanka Trump - Jennifer Lawrence : Lawrence dazzles as Trump's darling daughter, bringing her to life with a mixture of her Rosalyn Rosenfeld from American Hustle and Joy Mangano from the accurately titled Joy. The dynamics between Ivanka and Melania in this film are both toxic and combustible. 

Jared Kushner - Ryan Gosling : Gosling's Kushner is an amalgam of his Dan Dunne from Half Nelson, Dean from Blue Valentine and Jared Vennet from The Big Short, and gives Jared a depth that he undoubtedly lacks. Struggling to keep up with Ivanka, Gosling's Jared bites off more than he can chew, and gets in way over his head with the Russians.

 

STANDARD STUDIO VERSION

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Directed by Some Studio Hack, this film will get lots and lots of hype, but will be terribly uneven because it is little more than a reenactment of events rather than an artistic pursuit. It will make a ton of money though, and God knows that is all that matters. It will run almost continuously on HBO once it is out of the theaters.

James Comey - Ben Affleck : Affleck has dark hair…so he's perfect as Comey! Or so the thinking goes with the Einsteins running Hollywood. Affleck's Comey is, not surprisingly, a bit wooden, a bit dull and a bit one dimensional….not unlike the actor himself! I'm kidding, I like Ben Affleck, but his work as Comey is less like his Batman, which I enjoy, and more like his Nick Dunne from Gone Girl, which I do not enjoy. 

 

 

Donald Trump - Matthew McConnaghey : McConnaghey sinks his teeth into The Donald and conjures up an over-the-top, make-up ridden performance that he thinks is wonderful, yet rings as hollow as his work in those atrocious Buick commercials. McConnaghey's real value will be in drumming up business for the film on the media tour, something at which he is very good. Alright, alright, alright!

Mike Pence - Liev Schrieber : Schrieber's Pence is just as quiet as the real man, but considerably more menacing. I would enjoy an entire film devoted to Schrieber's portrayal of Pence, but sadly, he is a bit player in this Hollywood monstrosity. 

Jeff Sessions - Scott Glenn : Glenn gives Sessions a complicated humanity, which is a sign of his great skill as an actor, but completely at odds with reality. Underused in the film, Glenn's talents are squandered in favor of more generic characterizations.

Melania Trump - Nicole Kidman : Kidman goes all in and gives an Oscar worthy performance as Trump's conflicted trophy wife. Sadly, Kidman's great work is overshadowed by a shallow script and her co-star McConnaghey's Trumpian histrionics. Much like her marriage to Tom Cruise, Kidman deserves a much better fate.

Ivanka Trump - Brie Larson : Larson is out of place as Ivanka, and struggles to find any sense and rhythm with her performance, sort of like her work in Kong : Skull Island. But thankfully Larson is still able to let Casey Affleck know she disapproved of his winning an Oscar…a show of true courage…so there's that.

Jared Kushner - Emile Hirsch : Hirsch is an inconsistent actor, but he conjures up his best work as Kushner, combining his Christopher McCandless from Into The Wild and Johnny Truelove from Alpha Dog to create a luminous portrait of the enigmatic son-in-law.

 

BAD IDEA/STAR VERSION THAT MOST DEFINITELY MIGHT GET MADE

Directed by some low level guy desperate for a shot at the big time, but he…and it is always a HE…is hired for the sole purpose of being Tom Cruise's lackey. The film spends more than 100 times its budget on marketing…and the film reflects that. 

James Comey - Tom Cruise : Cruise is more than a foot shorter than Comey, but even when the sign says you must be this tall to ride, Cruise never lets that stop him (Jack Reacher). Cruise turns Comey into someone who runs a lot, he is either being chased, or chases after things a great deal, for no apparent reason, but Cruise likes to run in his movies so he demands it happen. More Border Collie than FBI director, Cruise's Comey is a cross between Brian Flanagan from Cocktail and Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men. As short as Cruise is, he seems even smaller playing Comey.

Donald Trump - Nic Cage : Cage envisions his Trump as his chance for a big comeback and goes all in. Covered in make-up, he gives a distractingly horrible performance, sort of a cross between…well…actually just like everything else he's ever done. Over-the-top and bombastic, with all the subtlety of an Elvis impersonator, Cage does the nearly impossible when he sinks even lower in the eyes of critics.

Mike Pence - Emilio Estevez : Estevez gives a nuanced, thoughtful and remarkably poignant performance as Mike Pence, and absolutely no one notices because he's Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise and Nic Cage are on set. 

Jeff Sessions - Nathan Lane : Lane plays Sessions as almost identical to his character in The Birdcage, which delights liberals everywhere, and infuriates Trump and Sessions.  

Melania Trump - Emily Ratajkowski : Radakoski is much too young to play Melania, but no one cares because she does numerous nude scenes and everyone forgets about how awful this film is for a few, brief, glorious moments. 

Ivanka Trump - Emma Watson : Watson's Ivanka is Hermione without the wand...which is a pretty accurate portrayal of Trump's most favored off-spring.

Jared Kushner - Taylor Lautner : Lautner's Kushner takes his shirt off in nearly every scene, even the ones in the Oval Office. There is usually no rhyme or reason why he does it, he just does it, and it seems completely appropriate. Lautner, just like Kushner himself, is not allowed to speak in the film, only take his shirt off and do pull-ups. 

 

 

WILD CARDS

And now…some out of the box choices that could be very interesting if they were given the chance. Along with some interesting directors like Steve McQueen, Gus Van Sant, David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky, these make for some intriguing combinations. 
 

 

James Comey - Colin Firth : Firth doesn't look like Comey, but he is a master craftsmen as an actor, and he could flesh out the lanky G-man's  more conflicted and complex inner life as well as any actor out there.

Donald Trump - Sean Penn : Penn would have to wear a lot of make-up, but he could be phenomenal in the role. Penn's commitment and volatile energy would be mesmerizing to see as Trump. Especially opposite Daniel Day Lewis' Comey.

Donald Trump - Al Pacino : Pacino could capture the essence of Trump perfectly, the braggadocio, the bluster, the hollowness. Pacino at his best could even make Trump a sympathetic character, which would be a Herculean task, but a fascinating one to watch.

Melania Trump - Angelina Jolie : Angelina would be a brilliant choice, a powerful, beautiful and wise woman stuck being a trophy wife to a buffoon who is the most powerful man in the world. This role could spark Jolie's artistic renaissance.

Melania Trump - Amy Adams : Adams is able to portray an existential sadness and melancholy that is so captivating it mesmerizes, and Melania may be one of the saddest and most melancholy women walking the planet. A daring casting choice, but one that I think would pay off "Big League".

Mike Pence - Kenneth Branagh : Branagh could play Pence's false humility and stifled arrogance to perfection. Pence isn't so much King Henry V, but someone who thinks of themselves as Henry V.

Jeff Sessions - Mark Rylance : Rylance has a soft energy to him, but it conceals the fire breathing lion in his belly, which is just like Sessions, the southern gentlemen, who would eat his own young in order to gain power.

Ivanka Trump - Saoirse Ronan : Ronan is as good as it gets as an actress, and her Ivanka would no doubt be an intriguing and layered performance that would reveal more about Trump's iconic daughter than even Ivanka is aware.

Jared Kushner - Joaquin Phoenix : Phoenix would instantly make Jared a very complicated, troubled and captivating character to behold. Phoenix would make the Prince of Trumpdom one part Freddie Quell from The Master, and two parts Commodus from Gladiator. A daring, and original piece of casting that would elevate any film bold enough to undertake it.

DISASTERS IN WAITING

Here are some really bad ideas for casting this film, that are most certainly being considered by the morons running Hollywood. 

James Comey - Colin Farrell : The studio wants a star and no one else will sign on, so they go with Farrell because, just like Comey he has dark hair!! I like Colin Farrell, but this is a catastrophe waiting to happen. 

James Comey - Brad Garrett : Garrett is very tall, maybe even taller than Comey himself, so you know some studio dope thinks he is the "right fit" to play the part. Of course, Garrett is also the opposite of Comey in every single way and completely ill-prepared for the acting challenge portraying him would bring. That said, it would be wonderfully unintentionally funny.

Donald Trump - John Travolta : Travolta would think this is his ticket back to the big time so he would ham it up to the extreme, just like he did on the People v. OJ Simpson as Robert Shapiro. This would be just another opportunity for Travolta to embarrass himself…and I am sure he would take it.

Donald Trump - John Goodman : Goodman is adored by Hollywood for some weird reason, so he'll get a shot to audition for the role. And even if he's terrible, which he will be, they still might give him the gig because, hey…he's John Goodman!

Jeff Sessions - James Spader : Spader would bring his usual smugness to the role and little else, but damn, he is really good at smugness!!

Melania Trump - Sofia Vergara : Vergara has an accent and wears skimpy clothes, so she'd be perfect as Melania, or so the thinking goes. But the fact that she has a Latina accent and looks as Eastern European as Oprah Winfrey will not stop Hollywood from casting her.

Ivanka Trump - Juliana Hough : Finally, a role that will propel Hough to the stardom that Hollywood has been trying to create for her for years. The only problem is that Hough can't act and certainly couldn't bring Ivanka to life with any believability. 

Jared Kushner - Toby Maguire : Maguire's doe-eyed Kushner would be so underwhelming it might actually make the real Jared Kushner look vibrant and virile. 

BAD MADE-FOR-TV

And in conclusion…the cast of the made-for-TV version of The Comey Affair. This would most likely end up collecting dust on the Hallmark Channel.

James Comey - Josh Duhamel : Duhamel is tall…JUST LIKE COMEY!!! So he gets the part regardless of the fact that he is one of the most insipid actors walking the planet. 

Donald Trump - John Heard : Heard's work as Trump would make his dreadful performances in the Home Alone series look like Sir Laurence Olivier at his peak. To his credit, he has the physique for it. 

Mike Pence - William Peterson : Peterson has gray hair, so does Mike Pence! I actually am not sure if Peterson acts anymore as he is probably relaxing in his solid gold house and driving his rocket car…but if he wants the Pence part, it's his!

 

Jeff Sessions - Jim J. Bullock : Bullock has a southern accent…YOU'RE HIRED!!!

Melania Trump - Marg Helgenberger : Along with Peterson, this would be a nice reunion of the CSI gang, which might attract the older audience this tv version desires. 

Ivanka Trump - Kaley Cuoco : She stars on the number one sitcom in America!! Sign her up!!

Jared Kushner - Jim Parsons : Parson's Jared would actually be interesting to watch…of course it would be terribly written and shot so any worthwhile work he could muster would be drowned in a tidal wave of poop. 

Thus concludes my casting session for The Comey Affairbest case scenario...coming to a theatre near you Christmas Day 2017!!!! Or, worst case scenario, airing on the Hallmark channel Thanksgiving night!! 

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars America!! We'll see you at the movies!!

©2017

Sully : A Review

*****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!! THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!!!****

Estimated Reading Time: 208 Seconds

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. If you are a fan of Eastwood and Hanks, see it for free on Cable or Netflix.

Sully, written by Todd Kormarnicki and directed by two-time Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood, is the story of US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who famously crash landed flight 1549 into the Hudson River in January of 2009. The film is based on Sullenberger's autobiography Highest Duty, and stars two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks in the lead role. 

Sully, like many of director Eastwoods films in recent years, has some good in it and a whole lotta bad. Let's start with the good. The plane sequences where we see flight 1549 crash into the Hudson river are very impactful and exceedingly well done. It is difficult to watch those sequences and not have a visceral reaction to them. It is every airline passenger's nightmare and darkest fear to go through what the passengers of flight 1549 went through, and when you add to that the fact that 8 years before Sully's aviation heroics, low flying planes over New York city didn't crash harmlessly into the Hudson river, they crashed violently into the World Trade Center resulting in thousands dead, it is easy to understand how those passengers, and viewers of this film, would be unnerved. This recipe of recent history and the magic of cinema make for some heart pounding scenes of flight 1549's two hundred and eight seconds in the air. It is when the film is on the ground (and water) that it wanders aimlessly and sputters hopelessly.

Besides the plane sequences, another bright spot in the film is Tom Hanks. Hanks is not the most daring actor in the world. In the last few decades he has fallen into a lazy pattern of repeatedly playing characters with an almost saintly dignity which often times borders on arrogance. He does the same thing in Sully, but to his credit he does it very, very well.  Hanks has spent a career refining this exact type of performance and his years of experience come to fruition as Sully. The Sully character is one part Captain Philips, one part Captain Miller from Saving Private Ryan and one part James Donovan from Bridge of Spies. If you've seen those films then you've already met Sully, now he is just wearing a different uniform. Hanks work in Sully is not a model of artistry or creative genius, but rather one of experience and comfort with craft.

Now on to the bad. First off, there is actually no dramatic story here at all. Sully is one of those films that isn't really about anything at all except justifying its own existence…and separating people, namely older audiences, from their hard earned money. It is like a headline with no actual story below it. In other words there is no there, there in Sully. It is a meatless sandwich. Eastwood tries to make the narrative about Sully battling the  evil, mustache twirling bureaucracy of the NTSB as they try to stifle and punish good old American individuality and heroism, but not surprisingly that storyline falls impotently flat.

Sully also tries to be about the relentlessness of the media and the difficulty of being caught in the public eye…but that too is a rather dramatically flaccid narrative. It seems an odd thing for Sully to complain about being in the public eye when he voluntarily goes on tv to be interviewed by Katie Couric and followed that up by going on Letterman. He didn't have a gun to his head when he did those interviews. A good strategy to avoid the harsh spotlight of the public eye is to keep your head down and stay off of television.  (As an aside…I have a very simple rule of thumb for any film. Namely…if a film has a scene where a gaggle of reporters and camera people hound the main character and he or she has to plow his way through those reporters and camera people on the way out of his or her home, office, hotel, or courtroom, then that film is a horrendous pile of steaming poop. Most any film that has that scene in it is a horrible film - I'm looking at you Gone Girlyou piece of crap!! Keep an eye out for those type of scenes next time you watch a movie, and 99 times out of 100, you'll see that I am right.)

The only real purpose of Sully is to show the dazzling effects of the plane crash, which stated before are excellent…and to drum up the primal American fear around 9-11. It is no accident the film was released on the weekend of the 15th anniversary of 9-11 and has multiple scenes of planes crashing into the New York skyline. Sully seems to be pining for that feeling of connection and 'we're all in this together' that allegedly permeated the country after the 9-11 attacks. The character of Sully, or should I say the caricature of Sully, is that of the perfect American, heroic, noble and selfless, who is hounded by the twin evils of government bureaucracy and the liberal media. Much like Eastwood's last film, American Sniper, this film would have been much better and much more interesting if it kept a distance from its subject (or in the case of Chris Kyle, his family) and instead made a film about the actual man, and not The Legend or The Hero created by, or built around that man. But Eastwood is not the director to make that kind of film, he lacks the nuance, the skill and the craft to make a truly complex and layered film that isn't a western.

Another really bad part of the film is the non-Hanks acting. As is the case in most of Clint Eastwood's films, the supporting and secondary actors give utterly heinous performances. Laura Linney plays Sully's wife, she is a truly terrific actress, yet here she is embarrassingly awful. Her work is shrill, shallow and devoid of purpose. Anna Gunn, who is also a usually solid actress, is so terrified and uncomfortable in front of Eastwood's camera as to be distracting.

The smaller roles, those of passengers, stewardesses and the like, are filled by actors who are just plain terrible. The airline stewardess' and a father and son who get on the plane last minute are particularly note worthy in their atrociousness. The always shitty Michael Rapaport makes a brief appearance as a bartender and continues to mystify the western world as to how a man so talentless and devoid of charisma can continue to have an acting career. Mr. Rapaport can rest easy though as the actors playing his fellow New York bar compatriots are equally shitty at acting.  

The problem with Clint Eastwood directing a film is that he doesn't actually direct his actors. He does very few takes of each scene and gives no direction or guidance to his actors, so the less experienced, and less talented actors are left to their own devices and often times flounder. Eastwood's hands off approach to directing actors results in a myriad of underwhelming and terribly uneven performances throughout, and his films most assuredly suffer greatly as a result of it. Go back and peruse the acting in the supporting and smaller roles in Eastwood's last decade of filmmaking. They are absolutely cringe worthy. Just as Bradley Cooper did great work in American Sniper but was surrounded by a troupe of actors that could have been dug up out of the Blaine, Missouri community theatre, so it is with Tom Hanks and his supporting cast in Sully.

Why does Eastwood leave his actors to their own devices? I think the biggest reason is that it actually takes time to direct actors. Eastwood is, first and foremost, concerned with getting his films done on time and on budget. He is no fool for he knows if he is on schedule and on budget they will let him keep making movies, this is how the business works. So Eastwood chooses to get things done on time, rather then to get things done RIGHT. Sometimes, like when he has a very experienced and talented cast, this approach works because his actors are up to the task. Eastwood's greatest film (and one of the greatest films of all time) Unforgiven, is a perfect example of this. When you have Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself in your cast, you don't have to waste much time working with the actors. But when you have considerably lesser talents and lesser experienced actors, you DO need to spend time working with them and helping them to gauge the size, scope and scale of their performance.

There are other issues with the film that are just egregious errors in filmmaking. After the plane crashes into the Hudson, there are not one but two instances where individual passengers are in peril, and Eastwood plays up this peril to a great degree, spending time and energy on it. Then he just walks away from the danger sequences and lets them resolve themselves without any explanation. It is bizarre, and frankly absurd. The people who were in peril weren't that interesting to begin with, so why even show them in danger in the first place? And then since you did show them in danger, why not play out that sequence to its conclusion? It is a strange, terribly sloppy and unconscionably lazy bit of filmmaking on Eastwood's part. It was one of those sequences that make me shudder to think that Eastwood has two Oscars for directing and Stanley Kubrick has none. Oh the humanity!!

In conclusion, Sully is a rather shallow and thin film that is definitely not worth spending your hard earned money to see in the theatre. While the plane sequences are captivating, the surrounding story and the majority of the acting are sub-par. If you are a fan of Eastwood or Hanks, or even Sully himself, then you can wait to see the film for free on cable or Netflix. If you want to watch a plane-crash survival oriented film while waiting for Sully to come out for free, go watch the much maligned Flight starring Denzel Washington. While the film is definitely flawed, Washington's performance is one of the best of his stellar career and is worth seeing. Or if you want to watch a 9-11 themed film, go watch Paul Greengrass' gut wrenching United 93. Both Flight and United 93 are considerably more worthy of your time than the rather tepid Sully.

©2016

 

Knight of Cups : A Review and Dispatches From the Great Malick Civil War

***THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!***

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 14 MINUTES

MY RATING: 4.75 out of 5 STARS - SEE IT IN THE THEATRE

*** REVIEW SUMMARY***: If you like Terrence Malick films you will really like Knight of Cups. As the third film in Malick's undeclared autobiographical trilogy, with The Tree of Life and To the Wonder being the first two films, it is much more accessible than To the Wonder and ever so slightly less accessible than The Tree of Life. Be forewarned, if your tastes run more conventional and mainstream, Knight of Cups, and any other Malick film for that matter, will not be for you.

Once the soul was perfect and had wings, and could soar into Heavenfind your way from darkness to light. Remember.

In 2011, I went to see the film The Tree of Life written and directed by Terence Malick. I was deeply moved by the film and genuinely loved it. The greatest attempt at describing my feelings for the film would be to say it was the film that I had unknowingly been waiting for my entire life.  Considering I am very reticent to engage in hyperbole in regards to any film (or any-thing for that matter), this was high praise indeed. 

When I was asked by people if I liked the film, I shared with them that same glowing endorsement, and I was received in one of two ways, either people warmly embraced me as a fellow traveler and soul-mate on this incredible journey of life, or I was assaulted like a stranger in a strange land with a level of vitriol unprecedented in the long, troubled history of mankind. 

It was clear, the battle lines had been drawn, pro-Malick people on one side, anti-Malick people on the other. The people who disliked The Tree of Life, REALLY, REALLY HATED it, and the people who liked the film, REALLY, REALLY LOVED it. The anti-Tree of Lifers said the film was incoherent, rambling and pretentious, while the pro-Tree of Lifers said it was intimate, personal and visionary. I wasn't entirely shocked by the negative reaction to the film by some people, during the showing I went to, three different audience members, at different times, got up and turned to face the rest of the crowd and held their arms out wide as if to say "what in the hell is this?" and then made a spectacle of themselves as they stormed out of the theatre in a loud huff, making sure everyone knew how much they hated the film.  And thus, with these 'walk-outs', the first shots in "The Great Malick Civil War", which had been simmering for decades, were fired, and the horrible, bloody war rages on to this day with Malick's latest release Knight of Cups.

At the conclusion of the showing of Knight of Cups (which is written and directed by Terrence Malick, stars Christian Bale, and is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki) which I attended, two blue-haried old biddies sitting near the front of the sparsely filled theatre made a show of dismissively laughing loudly the moment credits rolled. This was followed by an older man, sitting by himself on the other side of my row, who cupped his hands by his mouth and booed loudly, vomiting his negative opinion over every one in the theatre. My instinct was to walk over and pour my root beer over this geezer's head, and tell him that since he felt the need to share his feelings with me, I thought I'd share my feelings with him. Thankfully my better nature prevailed, or I might be writing this post on the lam, wanted for the murder, justifiable in my eyes, of three old people in a Los Angeles theatre. When it comes to this Great Malick Civil War, I am trying, God knows, to follow John Lennon's example of "giving peace a chance."

The Malick Civil War is one of those wars to which we've become so accustomed, the type of war which no one can win and which will last until the end of history. I can't end the war myself but I can try to help you understand it, it's origins and how to survive it, so that you can tell your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren about how we got into this senseless slaughter we know as "The Great Malick Civil War", with the hope that those future generations can bring an end to the carnage.

FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN MOVIES AGO

The Abraham Lincoln at the center of this civil war is enigmatic writer/director Terence Malick. Malick has directed and written seven feature films, which are, in chronological order, Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), To the Wonder (2012) and Knight of Cups (2016). In keeping with his somewhat eccentric image, after his second feature, Days of Heaven, Malick disappeared from movie-making and public life, only to resurface twenty years later with the film The Thin Red Line. Malick is a unique man, unlike most other directors, as evidenced by his rarely doing any press or interviews for his films, and not even allowing himself be photographed on the set of his movies.

Malick's last three films, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, which seem to form a sort of personal and autobiographical trilogy, are films that are particularly challenging for some viewers, and down right off-putting to others. The biggest complaint about The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups is the main complaint about many of Malick's films, namely people don't understand what the hell is happening in the story. In a Malick film, the narrative can be, at times, non-linear. Malick's films are like dreams...impressionistic, abstract and filled with symbolism.

"GIVE ME SIX HOURS TO CHOP DOWN A TREE AND I WILL SPEND THE FIRST FOUR SHARPENING THE AXE." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Unlike most other other filmmakers, Malick likes to shift perspective in his films. We often hear, in voice over, the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters throughout his films. It is a technique very similar in story telling structure to a novel or even a long form poem, and when done well, as it is in Malick's case, it helps create an intimacy and personal connection between the audience and the character.

Malick heightens this effect by often having these voice-overs be done in a barely audible whisper. Examples of this multiple-protagonist-narration technique can be found in The Thin Red Line, where the narration comes from as many as five characters, Private Witt, Sgt. Welsh, Captain Staros, Private Bell and Lt. Col. Tall, and the perspective jumps across multiple story lines, so we see the overarching narrative through these different protagonists perspectives, giving the film a depth and complexity it would otherwise be lacking with a more conventional storytelling technique.

The New World is also narrated by three different characters as well, Captain Smith, Pocahontas and John Rolfe, giving the story a much more well-rounded and deeper personal dimension than a standard filmmaking approach. This love triangle, which is a theme often explored in Malick's films, is brought to greater life and depth by understanding the inner thoughts and workings of all the participants. 

In The Tree of Life, the narration jumps between the mother (Jessica Chastain), the father (Brad Pitt) and the son as both a child (Hunter McCracken) and as an adult (Sean Penn), which gives the film a vibrant and exquisitely powerful intimacy. The use of multiple protagonist's narrations and perspectives is extremely unconventional in filmmaking, hell, just using a single narrator is a technique that many filmmakers vehemently disagree with, never mind using multiple narrators. In the hands of a less visionary director, the voice-over is a bandage used to cover their weak storytelling skill, but with a handful of directors, Malick and Scorsese in particular, voice-over narration is a weapon they wield expertly that elevates their storytelling to glorious heights. 

Malick hasn't always use multiple narrators in his films, for instance in Badlands and Days of Heaven, his first two films, he uses a singular narrator, both young woman/girls, to guide the viewer through the picture. In Badlands, the protagonist is Sissy Spacek's teenage character, Holly, who shows us the story, and her innocence makes the brutality and barbarity of Kit (Martin Sheen) and the other male characters more palatable for the viewer. In Days of Heaven, a young girl, Linda (Linda Manz), narrates the story of Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) as they make their way from Chicago to the plains of the Midwest. This technique gives the viewer a distance from the main protagonists, but maintains Malick's signature intimacy (and the theme of femininity), in this case, through the eyes of an innocent child. As Malick has matured and found his voice and style as an artist and filmmaker, he has become more deft at the use of the multiple protagonists and narrations, and has used it to great effect in his last five films to give the viewer more complex perspectives.

"I WALK SLOWLY, BUT I NEVER WALK BACKWARDS" - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Malick also has a distinct and unique visual style where he only uses natural lighting. In addition to the natural lighting, Malick also highlights this naturalism with his camera movement by letting the camera dance and float about. He sometimes let's the camera stop to focus on the wonders of the natural world and setting, holding on an animal, an insect or a tree. Malick never rushes his camera, and his deliberate pace and natural lighting, free moving camera and occasional focus on nature, all create a signature style that has a tangible and palpable feel to it. You don't just see through Malick's camera, you feel the world it inhabits. Whether it is the minuscule bumps on a soldiers helmet, the abrasive blades of grass in a field, the texture of a character's sweater, through Malick's use of natural light, these objects have greater definition and every contour of them is accentuated, giving the viewer the sense memory of similar items they have felt in their own lives. It is a remarkable accomplishment for Malick to be able to bring his visuals to such a heightened  and naturalistic state that viewers not only bask in their beauty but recall their own tactile memories.

There is a sequence in Knight of Cups where Christian Bale wears a bulky, wool sweater, and Cate Blanchett simply reaches out towards him and feels it. Malick's camera, with the guidance of one of the great cinematographers working today, Emmaneul Lubezki, picks up every single nook and cranny of this sweater, it is palpable on screen, and when Blanchett reaches out for it you feel that sweater right along with her, and also feel her character's longing to connect with Bale.

"I DESTROY MY ENEMIES WHEN I MAKE THEM MY FRIENDS." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Which brings us to acting in a Malick film. Of the many people with whom I have disagreed about Terrence Malick films, many of them are actors. A lot of actors I spoke with about The Tree of Life, absolutely hated the movie. I was shocked by this revelation as I would have assumed actors were a bit more cinematically sophisticated than the average Joe, but boy was I wrong. Actors may actually be even more culturally conditioned in their movie watching because they are so used to reading scripts and understanding the basics of how to tell a story. This does not suit the viewer of a Malick film, in fact it is poison.

Malick is very improvisational with his actors and his camera, which scares the living hell out of most actors. A lot of actors want to know what to do and when to do it. Being left out in front of a camera with no context and nothing to do but simply "be", is a form of torture for most actors. In addition, because Malick is able to bring us so intensely close to his subjects and into their internal world, the opportunities for a big external clash with the outer world are reduced. The brushes with the external are quickly integrated into the internal, so we don't have the explosive confrontation that actors love to embrace. Since Malick uses voice over so often, actors aren't allowed to talk their way through something, which a lot of actors desperately love to do. The actors are forced to be present in the moment and just "be alive" before the cameras. It is very improvisational and in some ways like watching an unrehearsed dance...kind of like…I don't know...life. Some actors hate it when they don't know what to do...am I mad here? Am I sad? Do I laugh? Do I cry? No, you just are here...alive and human. Once an actor can get comfortable with the "not knowing" of Malick's approach, then Malick can fill in the proper meaning and purpose he intends through voice over and editing.

Malick's style of filmmaking lays an actor bare. You can't bullshit, or rely on your good looks to charm your way through a Malick film. You need talent, skill and frankly, intelligence and gravitas to be able to thrive in a Malick film. There have been some extraordinary performances in Malick films, for instance, Cate Blanchett in Knight of Cups does simple yet stellar work, bringing her great craft to bear in a role that would have been invisible in the hands of a lesser actress. 

Blanchett being great is no surprise as she is one of the world's finest actresses, but Malick has been able to get great performances from some less expected places. In To the Wonder, Olga Kurylenko, who had previously been in little more than action films, gives a wondrous performance. Kurylenko, whose background is in dance and for whom English is a third language, is comfortable expressing herself through her body and movement, which means she is never stuck trying to figure out a scene, but rather is capable if just inhabiting it, a great quality for an actor to possess in a Malick film. Another surprising performance in a Malick film is Colin Farrell in The New World. Farrell's naturalism and tangible fear in front of Malick's camera made for a mesmerizing and unexpected  performance from the often-time uneven actor.

Other actors who have thrived in Malick films are Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Badlands, with Sheen giving a Brando-esque level performance filled with charisma and power. Nick Nolte, Jim Cavezial, Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin and Elias Koteas all do very solid work in The Thin Red Line. Koteas and Nolte in particular do spectacularly specific work in very difficult roles. The aforementioned Colin Farrell, Christian Bale and Q'oriana Kilcher in The New World. Kilcher is simply amazing as Pocahontes, completely natural, charismatic and at ease as Malick's Native American muse. Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain all give detailed and vibrant performances in The Tree of Life, with Chastain really being the break out star. Chastain, like Blanchett, is one of the great actresses working today, and her work in The Tree of Life was so masterful and elegantly human that she was immediately catapulted into the upper echelon of highly respected actors.

Conversely, there have been actors who have been exposed in Malick films as being little more than a pretty face with an empty head. Richard Gere simply lacked the gravitas to carry Days of Heaven and the film suffered greatly for it. Gere was just unable too fill the screen and maintain the viewers interest mostly due to a lack of focus and grounding. Along the same lines, Ben Affleck is really dreadful in To the Wonder. Affleck was revealed to be a dullard with absolutely nothing going on behind the eyes. He is obviously a handsome guy, but he is unable to express much with his face, leaving him being awkward and uncomfortable in front of Malick's camera without anything to do but just be. Simliarly, Rachel McAdams also struggled mightily in To the Wonder, as both actors seemed lost and wandering throughout their screen time, especially in comparison to Olga Kurylenko's transcendent performance. 

The ability to be able to communicate non-verbally is paramount for an actor in a Malick film, which is why highly skilled actors, like Chastain, Blanchett, Penn and Sheen were able to shine, as were relative novices like Kilcher and Kurylenko who are grounded and comfortable in their bodies. 

In Knight of Cups, Christian Bale shows his great craft and skill by being able to carry the narrative of the film without saying a whole lot. He is an often underrated actor, but his work in Knight of Cups is testament to his mastery of craft and innate talent.

"ALL THAT I AM, OR HOPE TO BE, I OWE TO MY ANGEL MOTHER." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Malick often returns to the same themes in his films. One theme that runs through all of his films, and is the central focus of Knight of Cups, is the Anima, the feminine. Malick has always had a certain, very specific type of feminine archetype on display in his films. His central female characters have almost always worn flowing, light dresses, mostly in the style of the 1940's or so, and have also frequently gone barefoot, both symbolic of femininity and maternity. This particular female archetype, probably inspired by the director's own mother, is not a damsel in distress, or a vixen or a school marm, it is a femininity of strength and intrigue, like the goddess or the Virgin Mary. At once mystical, mysterious, powerful and enchanting. This archetype is vividly on display in The Tree of Life in the mother character portrayed by Jessica Chastain. The archetype also shows up in fleeting and tantalizing glimpses in The Thin Red Line, as Ben Chaplin's wife (Miranda Otto) who writes him at the front. 

In Knight of Cups, the entire film is an exploration of the Anima, and the director's relationship, in the form of Christian Bale, to her many faces. Even the interaction between male characters is entirely based upon their individual and unique relationship to the Anima. The different faces of the Anima, such as Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, are sign posts along the journey of the main character as his relationship to the feminine changes as he ages and matures.

Other themes running through all of Malick's films are philosophy and spirituality, usually in the form of a Gnostic Catholicism. Malick is one of the rare directors who even considers having characters who think about God in their life in his films. The big questions that Malick tackles, questions of life and death, love and loss, God, nature and the infinite, are almost never found in any other films. Malick is alone out in the wilderness in trying to understand the world in which he lives, both in its external and internal forms, and the universe he inhabits and the God who created it, be he merciful or not, or if he exists or not, and what that all means to the individual making his way in the world. 

In the Knight of Cups this Gnostic Catholicism is a major theme as well. Christian Bale's character is lost amid the decadence and debauchery of a modern day Babylon, and has forgotten his true self and that he is a divine Son of God. The spiritual seeking and struggle on display in Knight of Cups is a common and powerful theme running through all of Malick's films and it is part of what sets him apart from other directors.

HOW TO WATCH A MALICK MOVIE - A PRIMER

Malick's films, especially his later ones and the autobiographical trilogy, are less storytelling as they are meditations. Meditations on God, faith, nature, grace, annihilation, fatherhood, motherhood, childhood, the duality of man, the duality of God, and Malick's cinematic meditation can become meditative for viewers. The key to appreciating Malick's films are to understand that they are not something you actively try to figure out. You don't have to decide if the guy in the red hat is in internal affairs, or if the doctor is really a ghost or the ship's captain is a spy. Watching Malick is, in and of itself, an artistic meditation. A meditation on the internal life of his characters and the character's struggle, as it relates to our own struggle and to our own internal life. Viewers are not consumers of a Malick film, they are participants. The catch being, of course, is that viewers don't participate intellectually with Malick's films, but emotionally and spiritually.

The key to enjoying a Malick film is to stop trying to impose standard storytelling rules upon it, and trying to figure it out consciously. A Malick film is like going to an art exhibit, you don't mentally figure the art out, you just let it wash over you and go for the ride. You trust that the artist/auteur has something to say and that you'll understand it at some point in time. The artist may be working on an unconscious level, beyond the ability of the viewer to articulate how or why the piece moves them. With Malick, it may not even be when the film is over, it may be after you see it a second time, or third time that it resonates with the viewer. Or it may be when an event in the viewer's life changes their perspective and the film then makes more sense to them in retrospect.

Some people may not be ready to hear what Malick is saying. Maybe they have become a prisoner to formula and cultural conditioning. Maybe they've been taught to be a passive consumer and need their films to only be entertainment and can only tolerate their art when it's spoon-fed to them. Maybe Malick's philosophical and theological perspective are off-putting to many viewers who do not share his Catholicism or any belief in God at all. I mean Adam Sandler is a trillionaire and makes a couple of movies a year, and they've made TWO Sex in the City films for God's sake, but poor Terence Malick has only made seven films in the last forty years, so trust me when I tell you that I totally understand if people don't believe in God. The truth is, belief in God is not a requirement to enjoying a Malick film, but belief in art is.

Another requirement to enjoying a Malick film is that you must have lived a life in order to truly appreciate Malick's work. Malick's films are not for some twenty-something who is joyously jaunting through life with the world as their oyster. A Malick film is for those who have experienced the slings and arrows of life and have the scars to prove it, and those who have loved and lost or lost and loved. For example, The Tree of Life is entirely about loss. If you haven't lost a loved one, a dear friend, a child, then maybe the film is a jumbled mush of nonsense. But if you have, like me, lost someone, the film walks you through the questions, the thoughts, the meditations, the doubts, the hopes and the fears of what this life, and the ending of it, all mean. It has no answers, and therein lies the rub.

We have been culturally conditioned to want answers. We pay our $10 and if we are asked a question by a film, then by God that same film better give us answers. And if it doesn't, if we are left walking out of the theatre with questions, with doubt, with a humility before the vastness of the universe and all of time, with nothing more than an understanding of how miniscule and insignificant we are in the big picture of things and yet how meaningful and powerful we are in the lives of others in the same predicament as we are. Well...that causes some people to walk out before the film is over. Or to shut down and seethe while waiting for it to end and then unleashing their boos on anyone within earshot. Or to simply want to go back to sleep walking through life avoiding the only certainty that we are born with...that we will all die. Everyone we know, have known or will ever know, will die. Everything we know, have ever known or will ever know will disappear. And so will we. The clock is ticking.

This is why I love Terrence Malick films, because they feel as if they were made especially for me. Malick and I have lived very different lives, but his films, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, in particular, are as close to my actual inner life and struggles as anything ever captured on film. Malick speaks my language, walks in my world and is able to cut me to the bone and reveal things about my inner being that I wasn't even aware of until he enlightened me. Malick asks me the same questions that I ask myself and struggles with the same answers, or lack of answers, that I struggle with. This is what makes Malick such a genius, and why I admire his work so much, and also why others may loathe his work. 

"MEDIOCRITIES EVERYWHEREI ABSOLVE YOUI ABSOLVE YOUI ABSOLVE YOU ALL." - SALIERI

"MOZART, MOZART, FORGIVE YOUR ASSASSIN!! I CONFESS I KILLED YOU" - SALIERI (AND THE REST OF US)

We live in a world of Salieri's, where mediocrity is rewarded and genius shunned. Some great examples of this are that Steven Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars and Terrence Malick has none. Spielberg is the ultimate Salieri to Malick's Mozart. A comparison of their two war films is proof of that. In 1997, after a twenty year absences from directing, Malick returned with his World War II film, The Thin Red Line, based on the James Jones book. Also that year, Steven Spielberg released his World War II film, Saving Private Ryan. The films could not have been more different and more glaring examples of the genius of one man, Malick, and the pandering mediocrity of the other, Spielberg. 

The juxtaposition of these two films is perfect for making the point about Malick as a singularly unique and original artistic voice and brilliant filmmaker. In Saving Private Ryan, a standard formulaic war film, we are shown the devastating effects of war upon the human body. Spielberg's gymnastic D-Day sequence shows the physical brutality of war in a very tense and riveting way. But after that sequence the film falls into the pattern of standard war film tropes. Malick's The Thin Red Line on the other hand, shows the impact of war not only on man's body, but upon his psyche, his spirit and his soul. Malick also has a vividly compelling war action sequence, where Marines must take a hill with Japanese machine gunners atop it, but Malick gives a more nuanced and human view of war beyond the physical carnage of it, by showing how it impacts not only the external life of the soldiers fighting, but the internal life. The torment of war upon the mind, the heart, the humanity and the spirituality of the men forced to fight it is front and center in The Thin Red Line, and completely missing from Saving Private Ryan. The Thin Red Line is the rarest of the rare, a multi-dimensional, deeply intimate war film that leaves us questioning war and our own righteousness, while Saving Private Ryan is simply another one-dimensional, standard war film that never forces us to question our virtue or morality. Saving Private Ryan shows us men surviving war, while The Thin Red Line teaches us that it is what men do to survive in war that does the most damage to them.

Spielberg won a Best Director Oscar for Saving Private Ryan. No one boos or walks out of a Spielberg film because he never questions his audience or makes them think or feel. He just mindlessly and soullessly entertains and leaves us on our way. Malick never let's his audience, or himself, off the hook. He challenges the audience, to surpass their cultural conditioning and to ask themselves the big questions that they don't want to think about. 

We are the guilty ones. We are all mini-Salieri's who reward the work of other more famous Salieris. Mediocrity has become King in America. Tom Hanks has won two Best Actor Oscars while Joaquin Phoenix has won none. A malignant mediocrity like Steven Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars, when two of the most rare cinematic geniuses, Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick have none. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, poster children for mediocrity, currently lead our Presidential elections. We have sentenced ourselves to a life term of mediocrity and deceive ourselves by calling it greatness. We are the ones to blame for this, no one else.

It is interesting to me that the people who walked out of The Tree of Life when I saw it, and the people who were so dismayed at the Knight of Cups when I saw it, were older people. These are the people who should most be thinking about the questions of life and death that Terrence Malick raises, yet they were the ones who were the most resistant to these Malick films. Maybe the fact that the next big thing to happen in the life of these folks will be the ending of it, is why they do not want to think about death, and they would rather be mindlessly entertained rather than confronted with their mortality. Of course, their fear and cowardice speaks more to them and their failings than it does to the artistry of Terrence Malick.

The people who would walk out of a Malick film, or boo it upon its conclusion, are the same people who laughed at Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollack or Mozart. They are the Gatekeepers of Mediocrity, Salieri's all, who want to keep genius in a cage while they whistle by the graveyard of their own worthless lives. I don't hate people who boo Malick films, I pity them. These people are missing out on so much beauty and joy and wisdom. To their credit, they do make me think about what things might I be resistant to out there that may be so fantastically wonderful but which I am too afraid to experience or understand. There is a lot of art in the world which is beyond my limited intellect, but I would never be so presumptuous as to boo it and stamp it as worthless. While I may not intellectually understand Jackson Pollack's work, I can still marvel at its dynamism. The same can be said of Opera, or classical music. While those art forms are things I know very little about, I would not presume to belch my inadequacies upon them in order to not feel stupid. Rather I would try and learn more about them and see if I could find the ageless beauty and wisdom that resides within them. 

Malick is an incomparable filmmaker. No one even attempts to do what he is and has been doing in cinema for the last forty years. Terrence Malick is among a very small, handful of true cinematic geniuses the world has ever known. The reality is, if you stand up and walk out of a Malick film, or boo loudly at the completion of a Malick film, that is an indictment of you and your compulsively myopic artistic tastes. Not understanding the genius of a Malick film is not a Malick problem….it is a YOU problem.

The Great Malick Civil War still rages to this day (and obviously, I rage along with it!!), with neither side willing to give an inch, but only one thing is assured…this war will end, and years from now, the fools, the clowns and the idiots who laughed and booed at Malick will be long gone and completely forgotten, but Malick's films will stand as a monument to his genius for the ages to come. Knight of Cups will be among those films which history will revere.

©2016

Bridge of Spies : A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!***

MY RATING : SKIP IT.

Bridge of Spies, written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Steven Spielberg, is the story of James B. Donovan, an American insurance lawyer who must defend Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy arrested in Brooklyn in 1957 at the height of the cold war. Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, struggles to overcome both overt and covert legal, popular and familial hostility in order to give Abel (Mark Rylance) a worthy defense.

The first half of the film is dedicated to Donovan's defense of Abel amid a corrupt legal system. The second half of the film follows Donovan's attempts to facilitate a prisoner swap In East Germany between the Soviets, who want Abel back, and the Americans, who want infamous U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers back. This prisoner swap is made even more complicated as the negotiations are occurring as the Berlin Wall is being built, and an American college student is trapped on the wrong side of the wall.

If you asked most "normal" people, "normal" meaning people smart enough to not work in the film business, who the greatest filmmaker in the world was? Odds are, probably 90 to 95% would say Steven Spielberg. His name is synonymous with modern day filmmaking and enormously successful blockbusters. But I'll let you in on a dirty little secret, if you anonymously asked that same question to people who work in the film business, and they knew their answers would be confidential, the answers would be exactly the opposite. Spielberg would maybe get 5% of the vote. How do I know this? Because I've done it. I talk to people everyday in this business and they tell me all sorts of things you won't hear among 'the normals'.

I'll let you in on another dirty little secret…Steven Spielberg simply lacks the skill as a filmmaker to make a serious film of any notable quality. If you give Spielberg some aliens, dinosaurs or monsters, he'll knock it out of the park nine times out of ten (for instance, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are two popcorn films of unadulterated genius). But give him a true drama with real people, and he fumbles and stumbles his way through it. He can make his serious films appear to be noteworthy to the unsophisticated viewer, with soft lighting and a swelling soundtrack, but anyone with the least bit of artistic sensibility can see that these "serious" films are, like their director, completely devoid of gravitas.

I saw Bridge of Spies a few months ago and have not written about it at all because I found it to be so unremarkable. It is a tepid and flaccid film of no note whatsoever. I was so underwhelmed by it that I basically forgot I saw it and therefore forgot to review it. Then a friend, a famous director whom I will call Director X, emailed me a review of the film with a laughing emoji attached. As a practice I never read reviews prior to seeing a film and almost never after seeing a film. But I read the review my friend sent me and it made me, like the emoji accompanying it, fall out of my chair laughing. The review was glowing and spoke of Spielberg with a reverence usually reserved for saints and martyrs. The thing that made me laugh so hard was the reviewer said that Spielberg made the brilliant decision to "remove all dramatic tension from the film". Think about that sentence for a minute. "Remove all dramatic tension from the film". That is usually something you write about a film when that film is an unmitigated disaster, not when you are praising a director for his brilliance. For instance a reviewer may write, "why on earth would a director REMOVE ALL DRAMATIC TENSION FROM A FILM?" Well…whether St. Spielberg made that decision consciously or unconsciously, I can't say for sure, but he certainly succeeded in "removing all dramatic tension from the film". Spielberg should be charged with dramatic and storytelling misconduct and general directorial malpractice for having "removed all the dramatic tension from the film".

This glowing review was not alone in it's praise of Bridge of Spies, the film is currently at 91% at critic section of the website Rotten Tomatoes. This is less an endorsement of Spielberg's work and more an indictment of the reviewers, in particular, and the business of film criticism in general. Whenever a new Spielberg film comes out you can count on the overwhelming amount of reviews being inordinately positive. Spielberg's power and reach in the film industry is gargantuan, that reviewers are afraid to speak ill of him even when he churns out one of his usual sub-par "serious" films is a testament to his standing in the business and the reviewers cowardice in the face of it. It is amazing that so many reviewers are either that bad at their job and don't know garbage when they see it, or are too afraid to speak truth to the powerful in the industry. Don't believe me? Go read the glowing reviews for the dreadful Amistad, or Saving Private Ryan, which got Spielberg a Best Director Oscar, but which is little more than one great battlefield sequence surrounded by two and a half hours of below standard World War II film tropes. Want more, check out the heavy-handed Munich, or the cloying The Color Purple.

Spielberg's holocaust epic, Schindler's List, is considered to be his greatest film for it won him a Best Picture and Best Director Oscar, but Stanley Kubrick said it best when he said of the film "Think that's (Schindler's List) about the Holocaust? That film was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler's List is about 600 who don't. Schindler's List is about success, the Holocaust is about failure." As always, Kubrick is right. Here is a great short video of director Terry Gilliam explaining Spielberg and his success. It is well worth the two minutes it takes to watch. In the video Gilliam explains the difference between the genius of Kubrick, whose films make us question, and that of shills like Spielberg, whose films give us answers, and answers that are always soft and "stupid". Spielberg placates us, Kubrick agitates us. Spielberg tell us what we want to hear, Kubrick tells us the truth.

So it is with Bridge of Spies where Spielberg goes to great lengths to assure us that America is unquestionably the moral and ethical beacon of hope in a cold and dark world. There is the opportunity for Spielberg to leave us with a question as to whether American moral superiority is genuine or simply a facade, but he goes to great lengths to eliminate that question when he adds a dramatically misguided coda to the film. This coda is there for no other reason than to squelch any potential uneasiness or doubt within the viewer as to their own, and America's "goodness".

Prior to Bridge of Spies, Spielberg's last piece of crap "serious" film was Lincoln, and it is a perfect example of what I am talking about in terms of Critic malfeasance. I was listening to a podcast on the now defunct Grantland website where some critics were discussing Lincoln and all of them but one were tripping over themselves to praise the film. The one critic who was a bit apprehensive had to keep assuring the others and the listener, that he was, in fact, NOT A RACIST and was against slavery, but that he thought the film was slightly flawed. Good Lord, it was just the worst sort of pandering imaginable. Lincoln isn't a great film, it isn't even a good film, it is a really really really bad film. It is so structurally flawed that if it were a house it would be condemned. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a dope, a dupe, or both.

There are two things at play here…1. Everyone needs to kiss up to Spielberg and pretend he's some "serious" filmmaker in order to not lose access and get frozen out of the film business where Spielberg is very powerful and has a long memory. and 2. Critics really do not know any better and don't know what the hell they are writing about and just go with the flow of the pandering crowd.

Regardless of why it happens, there is no doubt that it does happen, and that it has happened with Bridge of Spies. Structurally, once again, the film is untenable. Spielberg, just like in Lincoln, adds an unnecessary coda to the film that does nothing more than water down the already thin narrative. 

Just like in Lincoln, in Bridge of Spies, Spielberg adds story lines that do little more than extend the running time and do nothing but muddy the dramatic and narrative cohesion of the story. Just like in Lincoln he has a cloying and candied soundtrack that tells the viewer when and how to feel. Just like in Lincoln, and all his other "serious" films, Spielberg indicates his seriousness with a specific 'soft lighting'.

Steven Spielberg is a huge collector of Norman Rockwell's paintings. This should come as no surprise as he is the Norman Rockwell of filmmaking. Most of Spielberg's 'serious' films are little more than saccharine propaganda espousing America's moral and ethical supremacy. It is sadly ironic that the man who has done so much noble work for holocaust survivors with his Shoah Foundation, has morphed into little more than a modern day American Leni Reifenstahl.

Tom Hanks reprises his role as Spielberg's partner in propaganda crime by starring in Bridge of Spies. Hanks performance is typically Hanks-ian as he does little more than play dignity that often-times veers into arrogant preeminence. Like the film, Hank's performance is of no note whatsoever. It comes and goes without the least bit of notice.

Acting styles and tastes have changed over the years, for instance, go watch Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, a film for which he won his first of back-to-back Best Actor Oscars. Hanks performance, and the film itself, are terribly shallow and vacuous. Watch any Tom Hanks film over his stretch of dominance from 1992 to 2002 and you notice something, Tom Hanks doesn't act, he performs, which is why he is such a match for Spielberg who doesn't create art, but instead makes entertainment. To the uninitiated that sounds like a distinction without a difference, but to those in the know, it is a gigantic difference. There are very rare moments in Hanks career when he stops performing and starts acting (or being), and these moments are glorious, but they are very few and far between.

The first moment of note when Hanks stops performing and starts acting is in Forest Gump when Forest realizes that Jenny has had his child, and then realizes the implications of that and asks Jenny if his child is stupid or not. It is the only real moment in the entire film from Hanks and it is spectacularly human.

Another example is in Captain Phillips, where, after spending the entire film butchering a New England accent...AGAIN (he did the same thing in Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can), Hanks pulls out a moment of genuine humanity that is staggering. The moment is near the end, when Phillips sits in an examination room after his rescue a doctor (who is spectacular in the scene) checks him out to make sure he has no injuries. Hanks says little, but his body starts to convulse uncontrollably and he weeps and wails. It is easily the greatest acting Tom Hanks has ever done on screen.

Do these moments override the previous two hours of bad accent in Captain Phillips, or the shticky performing on display in Forest Gump? For me…maybe…but it depends on what day you ask me.

Hanks is like those actors in the Pre-Brando Big Bang era, actors like Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. He is more playing himself or playing a version of himself that people identify as the "everyman". What has bubbled to the surface in Hanks "everyman" work in the latter part of his career, is that "everyman" has become "smug and contemptuous". There is a haughtiness that seeps through his pores that I find odd and frankly puzzling. A great example of this is in a scene from Saving Private Ryan where Hanks' character listens to Matt Damon's character do a monologue about he and his brothers growing up.

That same air of superiority, the "my poop don't stink but yours sure does" attitude, is on full display from Hanks in Bridge of Spies as well. How the American everyman came to be so arrogant and high and mighty I have no idea, but in the world of Spielberg and Hanks, he certainly has. 

A few final notes in terms of the acting in Bridge of Spies (which is a horrendous name for a film by the way, no doubt thought up by some marketing genius at a studio). First, Mark Rylance gives an outstanding and meticulous performance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Rylance is one of the great Shakespearean actors of our time, and he was the first artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London (1995-2005). Many, many moons ago I had the good fortune to study with him while I was in London. He is a fountain of knowledge regarding acting and Shakespeare, and is a very soft-spoken and genuinely kind person. His work in Bridge of Spies has garnered him a much deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I don't know if he will win, but I will certainly be rooting for him. I also hope he does more film work and a wider audience gets a chance to appreciate his brilliance.

Another actor of note is Eve Hewson, who plays Tom Hanks daughter in the film. Hewson doesn't have too many scenes in the film, but she is captivating whenever she is on screen. There is one scene where she is lying on a couch eating ice cream that in the hands of a lesser actress would have been little more than a throwaway, but Hewson makes it a vibrant sequence worthy of attention. In a strange twist, Eve Hewson is the daughter of Paul Hewson a.k.a. Bono. Bono is, of course, the lead singer of U2, which took its band name from the same plane Francis Gary Powers was flying over the Soviet Union when he was shot down. Spooky coincidence or brilliant subliminal marketing…you decide!!!

In conclusion, Bridge of Spies is another in a long line of Spielberg's uncritical and pandering "serious" films. It is just another one of the Spielberg-Hanks propaganda collaborations that is painstakingly safe and flag-wavingly dull. In fact, I have an admittedly insane theory that both Spielberg and Hanks are contract propaganda agents of the U.S. intelligence community. Obviously I don't have time to share my tinfoil hat wearing madness with you here, but just go look at both of their filmographies and notice a pattern in the themes running through the films of both of them (case in point…notice in the re-release of E.T. Spielberg edited out the government agents guns and replaced them with walkie talkies and flashlights!!). Ok…enough of my rambling, just know that in the final analysis, Bridge of Spies is a film of no consequence that you never need to watch. If it is in the theatre, save your money and skip it, if it is on cable, don't waste your time, just change the channel. 

One final note, thank you for reading, and if you could do me a favor and keep this review between just the two of us, I'd really appreciate it. I don't want Steven Spielberg getting wind of it as I'll never work in this town again if he hears I've bad mouthed one of his movies. Also, I'm pretty sure the notoriously vicious Tom Hanks might murder me with a baseball bat if he found out I said a bad word about his work. I will thank you in advance for your discretion. 

©2016