3 posts categorized "American Cinema"

December 06, 2017


PostSteven Spielberg’s nostalgic celebration of the heyday of American journalism offhandedly gives deserved praise to such brave patriots as Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning for their part in speaking truth to power via newspaper institutions (i.e. The Washington Post). However, much gets lost in this film’s meandering script that takes far too long to kick into gear before settling on an overleveraged climax that is underwhelming at best.

The film focuses on events surrounding President Richard Nixon’s attempts to legally quash American newspapers from publishing extracts from The Pentagon Papers, which revealed a decades-long cover-up regarding truths behind America’s failures in its senseless war in Viet Nam. The script (by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer) is sophomoric. “All The President’s Men” this is not.

Meryl streep

Meryl Streep, as Washington Post publisher Kay Graham, runs circles around Tom Hanks in his role as Post executive editor Ben Bradlee. Not since “Papillon,” where Steve McQueen upstaged Dustin Hoffman, has such obvious head-cutting between actors been so glaring. They might just as well have titled the film Meryl Streep’s Washington Post. Hanks fails to craft a believable character, while Streep’s portrayal is utterly convincing. There is no comparison.   

“The Post” isn’t an awful movie; it just isn’t very good. Sure, you’ll come out of it feeling all fuzzy about a time when newspaper editors fought the good fight with everything in their arsenal of editorial responsibility, but those days are long gone. American media panders to the public to do their job for them as they use every clickbait trick they can think of while denigrating their already dumbed-down content with distracting online ads and video ads that autoplay as soon as you start to scroll.


Every time you see a rhetorical-question lede (“Has Elway broken the flawed Broncos’ championship window?”) or hear an NPR host or guest say “sort of,” realize that there is no such thing as responsible editorial reporting in the American media anymore. That’s something “The Post” doesn’t tell you. In the words of John Wesley Harding, “you don’t get to read the news in U.S.A. Today.”  

Rated PG-13. 130 mins. (C+) (Two stars — out of five / no halves) 

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December 02, 2013


Sweet Smell of SuccessAlexander Mackendrick (director of “The Ladykillers”) may have been of British descent, but his quick-paced 1957 sardonic drama — about the symbiotic relationship between a decadent Manhattan newspaper showbiz columnist and a hungry press agent — captures America’s indulgence in greed, corruption, and aggression like none other. Drawing on the noir style and subject matter of Billy Wilder’s perfect “Ace in the Hole” (1952) “black political drama” would be a suitable moniker for the dark pitch of cynical social satire that “Sweet Smell of Success” examines, rather than the “film noir” attribution that it frequently attracts. Here lies the defective foundation of the American Dream as viewed from an American viewpoint (Bert Lancaster’s company produced the film).

The story takes place during a day and a half in the life of its New York City characters. Fey toady press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is in the doghouse with his Walter Winchell-type gossip columnist mentor-and-abuser JJ Hunsecker (emphasis on the second “J”). Mackendrick’s ravenous camera moves through Manhattan’s late '50s Broadway theater district on a nocturnal quest for truth.


According to JJ, the frequently groveling Sidney is not responding quickly enough to JJ’s orders to rev up the rumor mill to break up a hot romance brewing between Hunsecker’s adult sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and a bland jazz guitarist named Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Steve Dallas isn’t exactly the next Tal Farlow on guitar, but he’s earned Susan’s romantic devotion. JJ wants to shut the whole thing down with a smear-job on Steve Dallas that sticks. “Communist” is a convenient accusation. JJ’s incestuous emotions seethe in his sexually impotent [or bound] mind. Sidney is working through an imagined apprenticeship with JJ that he hopes will eventually lead to his mentor’s place. The latent homosexual dominant/submissive subtext that exists between the two men underscores JJ’s impotent but nonetheless incestuous desires for his sister. Trouble in mind; trouble in action.

Neither man has an ounce of ethics but both fake morals to mask their true devotion — to power and money. Sidney calls everybody “baby” or “sweetheart” to get what he wants for his master. He sees though JJ regardless of how beholden to him he is. Sidney tells his de facto boss, “JJ, you’ve got such contempt for people it makes you stupid.”

Based on a novella by former press agent Ernest Lehman (“Sabrina”) and adapted by Clifford Odets, the great leftist poet of Harold Clurman Group Theatre — “Sweet Smell of Success” exists in a self-loathing urban bourgeois stratosphere where a gossip columnist like JJ Hunsecker can make or break a career depending on whether or not he mentioned it in his column.


Bert Lancaster’s JJ Hunsecker is a nasty master manipulator, but he doesn’t know his limits — and he doesn’t care because he’s been rewarded so much and so long for his ruthless tactics. He’s irresponsible. JJ’s capacious power has blinded everyone, including him. Still, his days are numbered.

Neither the antagonist (JJ) nor the film’s (purposefully) falsely represented protagonist (Sidney) has any redeeming traits. They suffer ongoing degrees of retribution, but each will carry on in the prescribed despicable methods to which each is accustomed.

“Sweet Smell of Success” flopped at the box office. It is in Time Magazine’s list as one of the top movies of all time.

Not Rated. 96 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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January 17, 2008


Runnin' down a dreamTo celebrate the 30th anniversary of his life in rock ‘n’ roll, Tom Petty proposed to director Peter Bogdanovich ("Paper Moon") that he make a definitive documentary covering the history of the band. The result is a comprehensive account of Petty’s significant rise in music from humble beginnings in Gainesville, Florida where his first band Mudcrutch developed the sound that would get the band signed to a record label albeit under the singer/songwriter’s name.

With full access to Petty’s personal archives and interviews with Petty and members of his mostly loyal band, Bogdanovich combines live concert footage to give a candid understanding of Petty as a performer and a creative artist. Of special interest is footage of Petty and his band during their two-year stint as Bob Dylan’s backing band, and Petty’s collaboration with the Traveling Wilburys that included Roy Orbison and George Harrison.

Tom Petty

Although frequently taken for granted, Tom Petty has had more hits than Bruce Springsteen and stands as one of America’s finest rock ‘n’ roll stars. This movie is like ice cream; you just can’t get enough. The film premiered at the 2007 New York Film Festival where it drew an admiring crowd of critics.

Not Rated, 238 mins. (A) (Five Stars)

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