The White House shines again in The Way I See It

What’s On October 16, 2020

The Way I See It is a must-see view at the White House through the lens of official photographer Pete Souza, I Am Greta goes on an epic journey to save the world, and Aaron Sorkin’s Trial of the Chicago 7 fails to find a West Wing moment.

The Way I See It

4/5

Starring: Pete Souza, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes

Directed by: Dawn Porter

Running time: 1 hr 40 mins

Airing tonight, Oct. 16 on MSNBC

 

I Am Greta

3.5/5

Starring: Greta Thunberg, Malena Ernman, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Directed by: Nathan Grossman

Running time: 1 hr 37 mins

New in Select Theatres Oct. 16. Streaming on Hulu/VOD November

 

Trial of the Chicago 7

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

New Netflix ORIGINAL debuts today, Oct. 16

Push record on your PVR to capture the moving images created by Pete Souza’s still camera in The Way I See It.

By Katherine Monk

THE WAY I SEE IT  (FREE ON MSNBC TONIGHT ) – Pete Souza is a photo journalist. And like most photojournalists who earn a working wage, he’s a white man over the age of 50. That’s not a dig. It’s just a fact. White men have framed the world we see, and the world we live in, which is why the images they reflect back to us feel familiar and expected, and oddly “official.” Maybe even “stagey” and “static.” There’s a conceit to them that assumes what they are showing us is the only thing we need to see, the most important thing, the essence of a moment.

That said, consider the significance of The Way I See It, the title itself is an acknowledgment of the limitations of the subject. Pete Souza is only showing us the world as he sees it through the viewfinder of his cameras. More importantly, he knows his lens is entirely subjective — and he’s creating a narrative with his eyes. So what has Pete Souza seen through that ground glass? The evolution of a nation as witnessed from inside the White House.

First hired by the Reagan Administration to capture the glowing optimism of the President’s first term, Souza found his way through the new assignment of being the inside man — the archivist to an administration. He and the Reagans were all comfortable being around cameras, and the Reagans knew how to pose to maximum effect. The resulting photo archive is one filled with crisp images of folksy confidence, staged intimacy and posed populism. Every image Pete Souza created in the Reagan White House is one of honour and courage, crafted for theatrical effect.

It’s an impressive collection that cemented the imagery of the Reagans. So it came as a surprise to Souza when he was asked back into the political fold to follow a new leader with eyes on the White House. Barack Obama’s team hired Souza when he first won a seat in the Senate and headed to Washington in 2005. Souza and Obama developed a rapport, and by the time Obama was installed as the 44th President of the United States in 2008, Souza had enough material to publish a coffee table book on the rise of America’s first black president, The Rise of Barack Obama.

For the next eight years, he captured nothing less than an American sea change. He used his experience photographing the Reagans to leverage a new brand of insight into the Obamas. He understood the office, and the rigid box it constructs around its occupants, which allowed him to understand and find the true moments where Obama’s presidency was novel, one might go so far as to say Revolutionary.

If you don’t feel a bold shiver of inspiration in the images as they cascade across the screen, you will undoubtedly feel it in Souza’s own voice, a Massachusetts accent with a warm coat of tarred gravel. Souza was transformed over the course of his eight years with Obama. His voice breaks when he speaks of the moment when the President bowed his head so a young black boy could touch his hair and affirm it was just like his, and he tears up with admiration when he articulates the former President’s ability to find grace in the hardest moments.

When we see the photographs Souza snapped in Newtown, parents collapsing into the President’s lapel, and then the shot when he got home to the White House and saw his own daughter, and immediately pulled her to his chest in a long, long hug, it just breaks you.

More than a photo collage of the presidents, more than a tribute to Barack Obama’s historical administration, The Way I See It is nothing less than a love letter to an American institution and its endlessly heroic potential. But it’s true victory is the ability to frame all that awe through the most human of moments, and showcasing the feelings that finally shape a nation.

I Am Greta goes big and goes home as we watch Thunberg navigate the dangerous straits of fame without losing her connection to family.

I Am Greta (In Select theatres today) – Well, this may come as a month-old news flash… but this is the film that opened the Toronto International Film Festival this year. And had it been any other year, this Greta Thunberg documentary would be lined up for a huge theatrical run and an Oscar nomination — because that’s what often happens after an opening night TIFF debut.

So pity the producers of I Am Greta, who lost a chunk of ink on their big night but still get shot at greatness because I Am Greta is the kind of movie that lasts. A straight-up documentary of Thunberg that takes us back to the beginning, and her first day of action as a school striker for climate justice, we get to know Thunberg through the eyes of her father. He’s shooting Greta outside Parliament, standing across the street with his iPhone, watching what happens — listening to the people who approach her with a condescending lecture about truancy, and others who join her cause.

Fast-forward to 2019, just over a year later, when Thunberg is invited to speak the United Nations — and address the Climate Change Conference. Thunberg doesn’t eat meat, she doesn’t fly on airplanes. The young woman with Asperger’s felt if she was going to attend, she was going across the Atlantic on a sailboat — which is the one leg of her journey where she really does have massive doubts.

Heaving back and forth on the open sea, she has a crisis of confidence. She feels overwhelmed, homesick, and just a little resentful that the entire weight of the world has fallen on her small shoulders. “It’s too much,” she sobs, briefly. Then, out of nowhere, this kid rises from her ashen complexion and finds enough sanguine energy to smile, and fight another day. I think that’s what’s most striking about this 90 minute ride in the passenger seat of history: the endless contrasts that appear in every frame.

From the shots of the little sailboat in the open Atlantic to the image of tiny Greta on the stage of the UN General Assembly, we’re steeped in David and Goliath imagery: Tiny Greta against the world’s greediest energy corporations.

What’s truly astounding is that she’s winning. She only started her campaign in 2018, and already, Greta Thunberg has called out every world leader and become a household name.

I Am Greta shows us every chapter in the amazing voyage, but most importantly, it gives us 90 minutes with Greta as she struggles with her desperate desire to change the world, and meeting the needs of her own mental health as a 15-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome.

It’s an impossible balance, and we can see the toll her convictions have taken. At the same time, we can see how much doing something — anything — can help. The most poignant scenes show Greta with her family, her dogs, her mum and dad. “I never thought I would see Greta eat with others,” says her mother, breaking down in tears. “This is new. This is wonderful.” Taking action, and confronting the bogeymen who haunt your nightmares, can be a mental salve, it seems. It can also be contagious.

 

Dramatizing the chaotic events of 1968’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago proves too unruly, even for the likes of Sorkin. The master of scripted drama fails to appeal with The Trial of Chicago 7.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (New to Netflix today) – Aaron Sorkin is best known for creating and writing The West Wing, but he’s also seen as the go-to guy for adapting real-life political stories for the big screen (Steve Jobs, Mollie’s Game, Charlie Wilson’s War) —which means I had very high hopes for this latest take on the Chicago 7.

Now, for those people who have never heard of the Chicago Seven… a quickie bit of Wiki: During the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, police and protesters clashed outside the convention hall, resulting in a wave of bloody riots that left countless people injured — and landed a handful of protest leaders in court.

Eight people were indicted, among them Black Panther Bobby Seale, Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and student activists Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis. The newly installed government of Richard Nixon wanted to make an example of these protesters and with the help of a federal judge named Hoffman (Frank Langella), the trial of the Chicago Eight went off the rails from the very beginning.

The Yippies were cracking jokes. Hayden was finding his political voice and Seale, who had been denied his own counsel, was articulating the continuing violation of his civil rights. Eventually, Seale’s outrage was deemed contempt, and the judge ordered him to be gagged and shackled in the courtroom.

This was the infamous moment when everyone in the courtroom truly understood the violation, and felt deep shame, yet reality and legal process marched on.

It was also the moment I was waiting for as a viewer. After all, this was not the first time I have seen this story brought to the big screen. Back in 2007, director Brett Morgan (Kid Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck) released the truly bizarre animated take on the story in Chicago 10. It opened Sundance, and promptly floundered. And having seen it, I can tell you it was a truly tedious movie. It didn’t make sense narratively speaking, and the animation made it feel like the most boring Saturday morning cartoon ever made.

I had such bad memories of the Chicago 10 that I figured Aaron Sorkin was going to make all the irritation from ’07 go away. I thought he’d take this story of idealistic protesters vs the force of institutional order and turn it into a parade of West Wing moments: beautifully crafted dialogue that highlights the noble elements of the American Dream, and the righteousness of public protest.

I really wanted to feel that. Instead, I felt the same niggling irritation I felt in Morgen’s film. The story is convoluted and hinges on legal process. The personalities are all larger than life, and they all speak with their own particular language to the moment. Seale’s story is framed though the language of Civil Rights and race, Hoffman and Rubin turn it into stand-up one-liners, and Hayden, played here by Eddie Redmayne of all people — turns his moment into a prelude to a political career.

Sorkin tries to orchestrate all these instruments into a violin-heavy symphony, aimed at manufacturing outrage, but even with Sacha Baron Cohen playing Hoffman, Mark Rylance playing the defendants’ lawyer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing federal prosecutor, I wasn’t fully engaged. I wasn’t really even listening. The movie has the look and feel of a soap opera in the midst of a long courtroom plot. Half the action disappears into the boring brown corners of the frame, the rest is diffused with dramatic whispers, legalese and random moments with raised voices and a building score, but no discernible climax.

@katherinemonk 

To read more of Katherine’s reviews, check out The Ex-Press archive, or sample the whole catalogue at Rotten Tomatoes.

THE EX-PRESS, October 16, 2020

-30-

Review: The Way I See It, I Am Greta, Trial of the Chicago 7

User Rating

4 (17 Votes)

Summary

4, 3.5, 3Score

(What's On October 16, 2020) The Way I See It is a must-see view at the White House through the lens of official photographer Pete Souza, I Am Greta goes on an epic journey to save the world, and Aaron Sorkin's Trial of the Chicago 7 fails to find a West Wing moment. - Katherine Monk

No Replies to "The White House shines again in The Way I See It"

    Ex-Press Yourself... and leave a reply