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Intrigue at the highest levels in politics, journalism and gender

      In 1971, a secret study exposing the futility of the Vietnam War was leaked to the New York Times. Printing it reveals decades of deception. The Pentagon Papers, as the explosive revelations were known, shook the American people’s trust in their government and infuriated the Nixon administration.
      Nixon sued. The Times was barred from further revelations while the Supreme Court deliberated on the paper’s First Amendment rights to print.
That’s the true backstory of the lively political drama The Post.
       With the Times silenced, papers around the world await the decision.
Except The Washington Post, whose executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks: The Circle), wants to break the silence, raising his paper’s national prestige.
      Standing in his way is the Post’s owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep: Florence Foster Jenkins), a Washington socialite close with LBJ and Bob McNamara.   Graham is in fact struggling to keep her paper alive and to be taken seriously in a man’s world. If she prints the Pentagon Papers and the Supreme Court rules against the Times, she can lose her paper. If she doesn’t, she risks irrelevancy.
       Their conflict adds another layer of drama to a newspaper movie that is both thrilling and, in the current political climate, timely.
       The Post manages to be two very interesting movies in one. Bradlee and his dogged quest to print the Pentagon Papers plays out like a political thriller and prequel to All the President’s Men. Graham’s is the timely story about a woman finding her place in the working world and asserting herself as the men at the table dismiss her.
      Hanks makes Bradlee a man guided by his principles and both driven and driving to get the scoop. His half of the movie is filled with research and breathless phone calls.
         Graham’s half of the story is more nuanced. Streep is excellent as a woman used to being unobtrusive. She gossips with the ladies at her parties rather than talking politics with the men. She allows herself to be cowed by the panel of men who are supposed to advise her. In framing Streep in her scenes, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (The BFG) has a man looming above or crowding into her frame, making her seem small and pressed.
       The Post is a bit heavy-handed due to director Steven Spielberg, who can never resist making his point in the most obvious way and repeating it. Speeches about how hard it is to be a woman in a changing society are back-to-back. A shot of Graham walking past every female stereotype is so groan-inducing that you may need to resist the urge to throw popcorn at the screen.
       Still, The Post is a welcome reminder about the role the press plays in keeping the executive branch honest — and about women finding new ways to embrace power in the face of male domination. 
Good Drama • PG-13 • 115 mins.
 
New this Week
 
The Commuter 
       Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) follows a mundane routine. So he’s surprised to be pulled into a conspiracy on his daily train commute. Following the instructions of a mysterious woman on the train (Vera Farmiga), he’s told, or people will die and he’ll be blamed. 
         On a speeding train with no way to signal for help, he must try to outwit whoever is attempting to ruin his life. 
      Neeson has made an odd turn late in his career, from dramatic actor to action movie hero. The Commuter looks to be one of those typical action flicks, featuring him growling menacingly and quickly walking with purpose through small spaces.
       If you’re a fan of Neeson’s particular set of skills, this film should be fairly thrilling. Setting the movie on a train keeps the action claustrophobic and the tension high. If you’re looking for a well-thought out plot, however, you may be disappointed.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 104 mins.
 
Paddington 2
       Now an official member of the Brown family, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is a bear on a mission. He wants to buy a spectacular present for his aunt’s 100th birthday. He works many odd jobs to earn enough money to buy something wonderful, only to have his money stolen.
        Paddington and the Brown family must work together to find the thief and save Aunt Lucy’s birthday surprise.
      This sequel to the surprisingly loveable Paddington movie promises more delight. Brimming with recognizable British character actors and cuddly critters, Paddington 2 should be fun for young and old alike.
Prospects: Bright • PG • 103 mins. 
 
Proud Mary 
       Hitwoman Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is the go-to assassin for the biggest crime family in Boston. Then a hit goes awry. Will she take on the whole of the Boston mob to protect a boy she barely knows?
     Taraji P. Henson is one of the most charismatic actresses working today, so it’s wonderful to see her lead an action movie. Styling and plot follow Pam Grier’s blaxploitation classics, featuring powerful no-nonsense women fighting for good. If the plot is weak, Henson’s charm and talent are strong.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 89 mins.

When the cold really sets in, the hardy angler goes fishing

      Bitter cold is not enough to describe the single-digit temperatures that descended on Chesapeake Country in late December and early January.
     In Erie, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, this is what winter is like. This year the small city broke into the news (yet again) for not only low temperatures but also record Christmas snows: over five feet in four days. Weather like that is one of the reasons I moved to Maryland some 50 years ago. But for people thereabouts, it’s no big deal.
      Anglers in that neck of the woods simply make the transition to hard-water fishing. They are quite content to continue the pursuit of yellow perch, walleye, crappie, sunfish, pickerel and Northern pike throughout the winter.
     To do so, they equip themselves with ice augers, snow shovels, pop-up ice tents or small shacks on snow skids, space heaters, some tip-ups or ice rods, a slotted ice spoon for keeping the fish holes clear and some minnows or a handful of grubs or butter worms for bait. 
     Our recent temperatures have been low long enough to create safe ice (four inches or more) on many Maryland freshwater impoundments. Exclude brackish tributaries as the salt content lowers the freezing levels and the tidal currents make ice unsafe.
     Deep Creek, Smithville, Tuckahoe, Unicorn, Urieville and Waterford are among the hundred or so constructed lakes scattered throughout the state. Always keep in mind that sufficient ice is the essential requirement for safe angling. Check with Maryland Department of Natural Resources (www.almanac.com/content/ice-thickness-safety-chart) to be sure that the waters you’re interested in fishing are considered safe. 
     The basic equipment is simple, though, like my home-state ice-fishers, you can dress it up all you want. A boring auger, powered or manual, is a real help in making an ice-fishing hole, but I often used a steel spud or wrecking bar for chipping out access to the depths. Attach a rope to the bar and wrap the end around your arm so that when you break through the ice the tool doesn’t slip from your grasp and go shooting down to the bottom. 
     It is also a great advantage to have fished your chosen waters before they ice up, especially as you will have an idea of where the deeper areas lie. You’ll need at least eight feet of water to have a chance at getting fish. Avoid the areas, no matter how attractive, near any outflow as the moving water creates dangerous and unpredictable ice thicknesses. 
     An inverted five-gallon bucket with some kind of cushion makes a satisfactory seat, and a pop-up tent will break the wind — if you don’t mind cutting a hole in its floor. Space heaters can be a comfort if you are careful with the exhaust gases, always providing adequate ventilation.
    Small 18- to 24-inch rods (with appropriate reels) adapted for kids during the regular season are what you need for ice fishing. For bait, use small minnows, worms, grubs and similar trout baits, both real and synthetic. Add shad darts as an additional attractant. Small jigs and spoons will also work. Hooks up to No. 2 work well. You’ll only need a split shot or two for weight to get down near the bottom.
     Storing caught fish is simple. Dropping them outside on the ice freezes them up quickly. They are then easily handled and carried home in your bucket. The fish will generally resume activity as they thaw, so make allowances on the way to the cleaning table.

My Favorite Stories of 2017

Together, we read a lot of stories over the course of a year. Many of them give you a moment’s insight or delight. Others tell you just what you need to know. Some stay in your mind, even after all those words have come between you and them all that time ago. So I can still recount stories we ran four, 14 or 24 years ago.
    Before I close the book on 2017 (yes, I really do have a large, heavy book labeled “2017 • Vol. XXV,” I like to reflect on what we’ve done in the 52 issues of our 25th volume.
    Following the pattern of this Best of the Bay edition, I’m awarding them categorical bests.


Best Bay Weekly Cover of 2016

Get Ready for the Great American Eclipse: Aug. 17