The Post

(USA 2017)

Even with the healthy skepticism I have for all things Steven Spielberg, I was looking forward to The Post, His Schmaltziness’s latest historical drama. The subject and the impressive cast built expectations (for me, anyway) along the lines of All the President’s Men ( Turns out that’s not quite what The Post is.

Set in 1971, The Post is a dramatization of newspaper heiress Katharine Graham’s (Meryl Streep) agonizing decision to publish excerpts of the classified Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post — on the eve of the paper’s public stock offering. It was a now-or-never moment with big consequences for her, the paper, and the nation. Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is determined to publish the rest of the story, president and shareholders be damned.

Recall that the Pentagon Papers detailed the shady origins and the federal government’s ongoing misleading of the American public about the efficacy of the Vietnam War. The New York Times broke the story using the same source, former government contractor Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), but was slapped with an injunction that halted its coverage.

The Post is a decent historical thriller, I’ll give it that. Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s screenplay is accurate, at least as far as the events here. The narrative is timely, loaded with dramatic tension and suspence even if the ending is rushed. In typical fashion, though, Spielberg is heavyhanded and overly sentimental. That long shot of Graham walking through a crowd of women of all ages as she leaves the courthouse of the U.S. Supreme Court and her monologue to her daughter are fine examples of what I’m talking about. Gag.

As far as Streep’s performance, I didn’t consider this a standout for her. She’s always good, but I’m probably not going to remember her for this one.

I found The Post overrated. It plays to something obvious. I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t impressed, either. Bridge of Spies (, which I didn’t love, was more interesting.

With Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts. Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, John Rue, Rick Holmes, Philip Casnoff, Jessie Mueller, Stark Sands, Michael Cyril Creighton, Will Denton, Deirdre Lovejoy, Michael Devine, Kelly Miller, Jennifer Dundas, Austyn Johnson, Brent Langdon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Deborah Green, Gary Wilmes, Christopher Innvar, Luke Slattery, Justin Swain, Robert McKay, Sasha Spielberg

Production: DreamWorks Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Amblin Entertainment, Participant Media, Pascal Pictures, Star Thrower Entertainment, River Road Entertainment

Distribution: 20th Century Fox (USA / Canada), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (International), United International Pictures (UIP) (International), Entertainment One Benelux (Netherlands), Forum Film Slovakia (Slovakia), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), Vertical Entertainment (Czech Republic), eOne Films Spain (Spain), Odeon (Greece), Columbia Pictures (Philippines), Toho-Towa (Japan)

116 minutes
Rated PG-13

(AMC River East) C+

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party

(USA 2015)

The title is misleading: Henry Gamble (Cole Doman), teenaged son of a preacher man, is definitely having a birthday party—a pool party, no less. It’s an all-day affair for an Evangelical crowd, and it continues into the night. A lot more than cake, ice cream, swimming, and Jesus is going on here, though. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party is much more complex and interesting than it may appear at first blush.

The opening scene is brilliant even if it is weird, and it shows exactly what Henry is going through: he’s lusting after his buddy, Gabe (Joe Keery), who just slept over. Henry’s sister, Autumn (Nina Ganet), home from her freshman year at a Christian college, is dealing with her lost virginity and possibly unresolved feelings for and mixed signals from the guy she gave it to, Aaron (Tyler Ross). Henry’s parents, Bob (Pat Healy) and Kat (Elizabeth Laidlaw), are recovering from a disruptive event involving the deceased husband of neighbor and fellow churchgoer Rose Matthews (Meg Thalken) and contemplating a separation, something that probably doesn’t bode well for Bob’s career. Meanwhile, Rose, who clearly misses her husband, seems to have taken up drinking, and her son Ricky (Patrick Andrews) has other issues altogether.

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party is not what I expected—a very good thing. It’s about the secret matters that go on in private, how we face or avoid them, and the facades we all put up to keep them private. It definitely gets at Henry’s queer longings and raises some gay issues, but it’s not what I would call a “queer” movie. Its subject matter is broader than that. It’s not even focused on Henry—his family members, friends, and even secondary characters are all going through one thing or another: Logan (Daniel Kyri) is black and “questioning” if not gay in a homophobic white world, pastor Larry Montgomery (Steppenwolf member Francis Guinan) is questioning his faith and looking for an escape, and his wife, Bonnie (Hanna Dworkin), is repeatedly disappointed by the sagging morals of those around her. This is a smartly culled ensemble of realistic characters, each discovering himself or herself—much like Henry.

I enjoyed this film a lot more than I thought I would. Laced with sexuality, it manages to maintain both an honesty and an innocence that work really well. The acting, mostly but not entirely by newcomers, is surprisingly good—particularly Doman and Kyri, who play their parts with a winning uneasiness. Laidlaw is awesome as Henry’s mother, and she subtly defies what one might expect an Evangelical Christian mother to be. Writer/director Stephen Cone creates relatable, memorable characters—they’re all flawed and inconsistent, yet he approaches each of them with tenderness and leaves their dignity intact. A killer new wave inspired soundtrack scores major cool points. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party has the flavor of a John Hughes film—it was even filmed in Lake Forest on Chicago’s North Shore—but it stands on its own. Everyone here has a story, and each story makes for an absorbing film.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+