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Tag Archive: Josh Singer


Review by C.J. Bunce

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

— From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

It isn’t enough to tell us what a man did.  You’ve got to tell us who he was.

— From Citizen Kane

The battle between these two ideas becomes the screenwriter’s dilemma, particularly for a historical drama recounting actual documented events.  First, there are stories of famous people and events that touch so many that the details become less important than the mythology.  Whether peppered with embellishment and puffery, it’s what the multitudes think of as the hero.  Next, there is the desire to use the archival record to fill in all the details you know, to get as much of the story as technically accurate as possible.  For these movies, the detail often distorts the impact of the story or event, minimizing what makes the actions of a man or woman or event so historic or triumphant.  And that’s the struggle evident in First Man: The Annotated Screenplay, a new book that includes the consolidated draft script of the new film chronicling astronaut Neil Armstrong’s life leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

The beauty of the book is the full disclosure of the thoughts of two people, the screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, The Fifth Estate, Fringe), and James R. Hansen, the historian and author of the only biography of Neil Armstrong authorized by Armstrong, First Man: the Life of Neil Armstrong.  Fans of NASA, of the history of spaceflight, science and technology will appreciate so many scenes that include verbatim text from the actual events.  For researchers and enthusiasts alike, Singer and Hansen include numerous reference citations showing the source of these scenes.  Yet even the bulk of these were edited for time and the needs of telling Singer’s story.  As revealed by both Singer and Hansen, the embellishments filling in the story between these sequences are many, so many that no scene seems to exclude artistic license by Singer–license that Singer freely acknowledges and defends as sincerely as someone defending a finely researched graduate thesis.  The scenes may be well-researched, educated, and heavily vetted speculation, but they aren’t reality.

Is it relevant, and does the final script reflect something of the aura missing from the space race and Moonshot that neither the director (born in 1985) nor the screen writer (born in 1972) were yet alive to witness?  Does the difference come down to the creative visions behind these movies, and established space race classics: bestselling author Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff that became the box office and critical hit The Right Stuff (directed by Philip Kaufman, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the first-hand account by Jim Lovell in his book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, that became the box office and critical hit Apollo 13 (directed by popular filmmaker Ron Howard)?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When the worst of us does its best to silence the rest of us, you get a story like 1971’s Pentagon Papers bombshell.  When a voluminous, decades-in-the-making, confidential government report that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents from Truman through Johnson is leaked to the press, The New York Times first reported on it, and the Nixon administration sought and was granted an injunction preventing the Times from publishing further articles on the subject.  Director Steven Spielberg focuses his new expertly crafted biopic The Post on The Washington Post as it decided whether to publish excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in the face of the Times injunction, primarily through the eyes of newspaper owner Katherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and managing editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks. For the average moviegoer, Spielberg takes a rather mundane footnote in American history and makes it completely engaging and entertaining.  Carefully re-creating the early 1970s more than 45 years later with everything from the annoying mishandling of coins as you tried to make a payphone call, to the rotary phones we all used, to the weekly ritual of the family newspaper strewn across the living room, to costume designer Ann Roth’s hand-sewn vintage wardrobe re-creations, eyeglasses, jewelry, and hairdos of the era, to old technology and random items on shelves (that might prompt you to think it’s time to get a new iced tea pitcher), to the thankfully bygone days of women sitting in one room at a party and the men in another, to board rooms completely devoid of women (although today there is still rarely more than one or two), Spielberg makes the best use of the film medium, sharing a timely and important story for a new generation of moviegoers.

Filmed in the same 1970s noir style as Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (and using a newsroom set that is almost as accurate as that film’s 1975 California movie set version of the real thing), The Post might as well be a prequel.  It’s almost as good, lacking some of the more heart-pounding, real-life thrills of Watergate, like the mysterious informant Deep Throat, the uncertainty of whether someone in the government was going to think The Washington Post’s press coverage was worth killing over, and the perceived nature of the stakes (the executive branch vs. the Fourth Estate).  To his credit Spielberg had the more difficult task of re-creating an era and a newsroom in 2017, when Redford was filming his movie only three years after the events took place (and Spielberg is also certain to illustrate the stakes to both the players and the nation of this earlier event).  From the opening scene Spielberg traverses familiar territory, opening with an embedded government wonk in a warzone in Vietnam, as believable as his earliest team-up with Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan.  Seamlessly composer John Williams rejoins his long partnership with Spielberg in this scene, offering one of his best scores in years, alternating within the film an intensity that rivals his Raider of the Lost Ark compositions with the contemplative import of the moment realized in his Schindler’s List soundtrack.

Yesterday is today, as scene after scene attests to the same corporate deal making, the same roadshow investors, the same IPO efforts, the same boardroom antics, the same misogyny, the same shuffling of blame, and the same indifference to the public good permeates the nation and the news.   Convincingly selling us on the gravity of the story is the best ensemble cast put together in the past year.  Streep plays a surprisingly layered Katherine Graham, a socialite who would become the first woman Fortune 500 CEO and first woman to helm a major newspaper, best known for her role in the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.  Streep never ceases to amaze as she creates yet another character as believable and authentic as any of her past award-winning performances.  The Tom Hanks that won best actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump is also back, playing the strident editor Bradlee for all it’s worth, complete with the editor’s accent, brusque language and bravado, equal to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning take on the same man in All the President’s Men.  The rest of the cast is a virtual Who’s Who of the current top genre actor scene.

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