With the upcoming released biopic, The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep already garnering Oscar buzz, it seems like a good time to consider other times movies have brought the news industry into the spotlight. At a time when the future of newspapers and journalism seems so uncertain the following films are especially relevant.
All The President’s Men (1976) This classic political thriller tells the now legendary story of how Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) investigation and reporting of an a minor break-in at the Watergate led to a tangled web that brought down the Nixon presidency. (It also ensured that all future scandals would have the title ‘gate’ attached to their name.) Directed by Alan Pakula (Klute, The Parallax View) and with a screenplay by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) it was an instant commercial and critical success. It would garner eight Academy Award nominations and four awards including Best Screenplay for Goldman and Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards. It currently holds a fresh rating of 93% on the Tomatometer.
Fletch (1985) Los Angeles Times reporter and master of disguise Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase in what he would call his favorite roll) is posing as a junkie while researching an expose on drug trafficking. A millionaire approaches him and claiming to be terminally ill hires Fletch to kill him. When further investigation reveals the millionaire to be in perfect health, Fletch realizes he’s on to a potentially much bigger story. To get at it, will take all his considerable wits. The movie was a critical and commercial hit spawning a sequel and has gone on to garner a cult following as well.
The Paper (1994) Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) directed this American comedy-drama taking place over 24 hectic hours in the life of Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) Metro editor for the New York Sun, a fictional tabloid. The Sun is experiencing cash flow problems and is making drastic cuts. Meanwhile Henry’s wife, Martha (Marisa Tomei), is expecting their first child and aggravated with his workaholism. She wants him to take a job at the New York Sentinel (a thinly disguised version of the New York Times). Meanwhile a sensational double homicide of two white businessman and subsequent arrest of two African American teenagers has Harry’s news sense tingling. The all star cast also includes Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards (again!). It currently holds an 88% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes with critics praising the film for capturing the frenetic high energy environment of actual newsrooms.
State of Play (2009) This taut political thriller was an adaption of a six-part BBC series by the same name. Russell Crowe turns in a pitch perfect performance as investigative reporter Cal McAffrey who probes the suspicious death of Congressman Stephen Collins’ (Ben Affleck) mistress. Matters are further complicated by the fact that McAffrey and Collins were once old friends and that Cal had an affair with Stephen’s wife Anne (Robin Wright). Cal convinces his wary, long suffering editor Cameron (the always fabulous Helen Mirren) to let him dig deeper into the matter with the help of young reporter and blogger Della (Rachel McAdams at her most charming). Needless to say twists and turns abound in an intricate plot of layered conspiracy. State of Play garnered generally favorable reviews and Crowe won the Best Actor award from the Australia Film Institute.
Spotlight (2015) This searing biographical crime drama follows how The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team uncovered a pattern of widespread systemic sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, that kicked off an international scandal. Starring Michael Keaton (again!), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams (again!), Stanley Tucci, and Liev Schreiber it’s an instant masterpiece demonstrating how a culture of complicity and silence enabled generations of abuse. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. (Read our earlier review.)
Top photo: Bigstock
“Call me Ishmael.” The first line in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is one of the most memorable in literature. Published in 1851, the novel’s themes – obsession, greed, duty, friendship, and, of course, death – remain relevant. Two films have depicted the face off between man and whale, the 1956 version directed by John Huston, with Gregory Peck as the ship’s Captain Ahab, and 2015’s In the Heart of the Sea, directed by Ron Howard, with Chris Helmsworth as first mate, Owen Chase.
This holiday season theatergoers in Washington, D.C. will experience something totally different – a stage version that uses daring trapeze and acrobatic work, rather than computer generated special effects, to recreate Melville’s spell-binding story. The production is the brainchild of David Catlin, a founding ensemble member of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company. After runs in Chicago and Atlanta, Moby Dick will play in Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theatre from November 18 through December 24. The set, designed by Courtney O’Neill, includes a portion of the ship’s deck and what mimics a whale ribcage as the ship’s masts. As much action takes place above the stage as on it, as the actors climb, twirl, swing, and hang from the rigging.
According to Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, “The story just doesn’t come alive in this production, it flies in the air all around you. Prepare to be amazed.”
While there are only two minor female figures in the novel, the stage version includes three actresses, whose characters are identified ominously as “Fate.” We had the opportunity to ask these actresses – Kelley Abell, Cordelia Dewdney, and Kasey Foster – about the production and their roles.
“I actually saw an earlier version of this production at Northwestern University before hearing about it,” said Foster. “When I saw the women playing the powerful role of Fate, I fell in love.” Abell called the play’s women, “pretty essential and antithetical to the men: the force that gives life, and that which takes it away.”
What do the women as Fate represent? “One could see the women as representing the whale, but as an actor I prefer to perceive that, as a Fate, I have the power to become the very things that influence the sailors,” said Dewdney. “Thus, the Fates create and control the inevitable, but are simultaneously swallowed up by the inevitable themselves.” Added Abell, “It’s a nice dichotomy we get to play with: human characters who create actual emotional or intellectual obstacles to the men – and the metaphors that haunt and drive them.”
Christopher Donahue as Captain Ahab and Cordelia Dewdney as Fate
Dewdney said she first read Moby Dick for an American literature class her freshman year in college. “I had a wonderful teacher who dressed up as the characters or writers of the books we were reading, and for Moby she donned all white!” she said. “I was most struck by unstoppable movement of the storyline. The writing has a unique circuitous path that, no matter how many winding twists it takes, always falls to the chase of the men’s inevitable fates.”
Abell said she first listened to Moby Dick on tape while driving to and from high school. “I was struck by the incredibly detailed descriptions that fill the book, the minutia of rigging and whale parts and hooping spare barrels, the monotony of those mundane tasks that made up a whaler’s life,” she said. “At 18, I think I was frustrated at how little happened in the book, you know, where’s the romance, where’s the intrigue, where are the women, but coming back to the story as an adult, I see my own fixation on the small details of my life that Melville so beautifully captured. The minutia is the stuff that makes up a life, is it not?”
After a performance in Atlanta, the actors met with a group of high school students and one young woman offered her interpretation, that “man can become so swept up in his pursuit of x – money, fortune, fame, power – that he loses perspective, that he loses sight of his own human purpose, and that he forsakes his connection with humanity in the wake of his frenzy,” said Abell. “I wish we could bring her along as a spokesperson!”
Dewdney noted that while the play illustrates the prejudice and racism that existed during Melville’s time, Moby Dick is also about friendship, including the close bond that exists between Queequeg, a tattooed cannibal, and Ishmael, a white sailor. “Once they leave the society that separates them, they find that the ship binds them,” observed Foster. Abell said that early in the play, Ahab invites the men – “Pagans and Christians alike” – to be equals. “I see the quality of the diverse crew as essential to our production,” she said. “But it feels more about what it is to be essentially human, those truths which resonate most deeply.”
The actors prepared for their physically demanding roles by working with instructors from Chicago’s Actors Gymnasium. “Many of us came into the production with dance or physical theatre training, but many of the circus elements were very new to me,” said Abell. “In Act 2, the women are incorporated into a straps routine, including a trick which took me countless failed attempts to master. Turns out that quick thinking while spinning in mid-air is not something that comes as easily to me as panic does. Cordelia [Dewdnwy] has the most circus tricks of us all – and she handles them all like a true pro.”
In addition, the three women had to learn to work together as a team, since they are often moving together, ostensibly, in the sea, perhaps representing the whale. “These are some amazing women I work with who both think and work deeply and honestly,” said Abell. “During rehearsals we had some time to work as a trio – how to move as one unit, how to sing as one unit, how to feel cohesive as the `Fate’ of all these men. We’ve become experts with peripheral vision and speaking at the same time.”
The production has received rave reviews wherever it has been staged. “Oh, we are so curious [to see how audiences in D.C. react],” said Abell. What they do know is that the story of one man’s relentless pursuit of a whale continues to resonate. “One of the hardest things to do in this life, is to `let go’,” said Foster. “Whether loosening your grip on the way things used to be, or letting go of a loved one, the concept of moving on often feels impossible. Ahab has a grip, stronger than anyone, and it brings him to his death. Everyone can relate to Ahab, because we all understand the feeling of holding on too firmly.”
Lookingglass Theatre Company
Adapted and dirceted by David Caitlin from the book by Herman Melville
Co-production with the Alliance Theatre and South Coast Repertory
Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater
1101 Sixth Street, SW
November 18 through December 24, 2016
Photos by Greg Mooney
Top photo: Kasey Foster as Fate
Bertrand Zobrist is the anti-Bill Gates. Rather than use his billions to improve people’s health around the globe, Zobrist plans to unleash a plague to reduce the world’s population. Inferno, based on a Dan Brown novel, brings back Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, who must thwart Zobrist’s plot. But there’s a problem: Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a Florence hospital with no memory of how he got there. His physician, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), tells him he sustained a head injury after being grazed by a bullet. Before she can explain further, an Italian police officer, Vayentha (Ana Ularu), shows up, shoots another doctor and begins shooting at Langdon. He and Sienna escape to her apartment where they try to figure out why someone wants Langdon dead.
Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) study the Map Of Hell.
The first clue is a small cylinder made out of bone that Langdon finds in his pocket. The object is actually a projector that contains one image: Botticelli’s Map of Hell based on Dante’s Inferno. The illustration has been tweaked, adding the words: “The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death.” Once again Brown has fashioned a mystery that involves a scavenger hunt. For the next 107 minutes, Robert and Sienna will take us on a whirlwind tour of Florence’s artistic treasures as they seek to discover where Zobrist has hidden the virus.
Ignazio (Gábor Urmai) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) inspect Dante’s Death Mask.
“The eyes of death” turns out to be the death mask of Dante. Unfortunately, the mask is missing. Surveillance footage shows Langdon, along with his friend, Ignazio Busoni (Gábor Urmai), stealing the mask, even though Langdon has no memory of being the thief.
Zobrist (Ben Foster) presents his over population theory.
Zobrist (Ben Foster) committed suicide, but his followers have vowed to carry out his wishes. Besides Langdon, there are others out to find the virus, including officials from the World Health Organization and someone who hopes to sell the virus to the highest bidder. Langdon knows he met with someone in Cambridge to discuss Zobrist, but he can’t remember if it was his friend Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), or Omar Sy (Christoph Bouchard). Without knowing whom to trust, Langdon is forced to rely only on Sienna. They manage to keep two steps ahead of their pursuers, until they are separated and Langdon is apprehended. An unlikely ally comes to his aid and helps to fill in the blanks in Langdon’s memory.
Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) analyze Dante’s text.
Brown’s books have never been hailed as literary masterpieces. (In one review, his prose was described as “dreadful.”) Ron Howard, who also directed the film adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demon, understands that fans love Brown’s books not because of the language, but because the plots are a thrill ride. The film’s visual effects, recreating Langdon’s dreams of being caught up in Dante’s Inferno, are appropriately gruesome.
Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) make their way through St. Marks Square in Venice.
Those scenes of hell are offset by the visual beauty of Florence and Venice. Besides the aerial shots over these two glorious cities, we spend time on the ground, glimpsing Florence’s Boboli Gardens, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Baptistry, while also enjoying a stroll around Venice’s Piazza San Marco and a boat ride down the Grand Canal. (You may want to book a trip on your iPhone as you leave the theater.)
Hanks is having a banner year playing heroes: Sully, the pilot responsible for “The Miracle on the Hudson,” and Langdon, a low key academic who keeps finding himself in dangerous situations. In Inferno, Hanks not only saves the planet, he manages to save the film, too.
Inferno opens nationwide October 28, 2016.
Photos by Jonathan Prime courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Top photo: Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) on the balcony of St. Marks Basilica.