Maui Connections

Continuing to write about Maui from the Mainland where we’re staying through the end of the month feels like zeroing in on your home on Google Maps. It’s as familiar as the back of your hand, yet you’re seeing it through a telescope, way out of reach.

You can’t look out the window or step onto the deck to check the weather. You’ve got to depend on calls from friends or social media to hear about the rain or the bomb-attack warning sirens.

These days I live in the cyber neighborhood of Nextdoor KULA keeping me in the loop for lost dogs, found turtles and the always magical Haleakala Waldorf School Holiday Faire last weekend.

My email inbox turns into Santa’s helper at this time of year, bringing news of new projects from friends, just in time for the holidays. One of my favorites is “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson,” a DVD/CD concert film overflowing with music superstars surrounding Hana’s favorite singer/songwriter and movie actor.

Among all the renderings by all those talented folks sharing Kris’ incomparable lyrics is a duet with another Maui guy, Willie Nelson, on the classic “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” It’s a little flashback to last February, when the two icons performed live on stage at Kris’ sold-out homecoming concert at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

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Speaking of DVDs, I keep receiving new ones in the mail from film studios marked “For Your Consideration.” Thanks to Barry Wurst, who created the Hawaii Film Critics Society, a handful of us in the middle of the ocean get to add our collective 10-best list to all the others floating around every awards season.

Topping my personal list this week is “The Post,” a brilliant historical flashback directed by Steven Spielberg starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

It joins the early favorites announced last week: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”; “Coco”; “Dunkirk”; “Get Out” and “Lady Bird.”

Spielberg’s taut thriller is based on The Washington Post’s 1971 revelations of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study chronicling the U.S.’ disastrous Vietnam policy that security analyst Daniel Ellsberg first leaked to The New York Times. Adding more tension to the screenplay is the long-planned business decision to take the family-owned newspaper public, reluctantly led by the paper’s publisher, Katharine Graham.

The movie won’t be widely released in theaters until January, but the names Spielberg, Streep and Hanks are virtual guarantees of awards nominations. The nominations will be well earned.

Streep as Graham and Hanks as legendary executive editor Ben Bradlee produce unique chemistry in the affectionate but testy relationship between these two very real movers and shakers in post-Kennedy-era Camelot.

Bradlee was a close confidant of the political icon he still emotionally calls “Jack.” Graham was a genteel socialite, a close family friend of former defense secretary Robert McNamara, who had commissioned the Pentagon Papers. The backstory would be more than enough for most movies, but it’s only the starting point for what makes this one great.

It’s a matter of timing. Watching “The Post” produces an eerie sense of deja vu. It resonates in the present as much as it recalls the past. Its white-knuckle, Nixon-era high drama of a despotic president who considers himself above the law and views the free press as his subversive, anti-American enemy, feels uncomfortably familiar, if not terrifying, right now.

But it’s Katharine Graham’s transformation, finding her voice and asserting her power in male-dominated Washington that couldn’t have arrived on the big screen at a more serendipitous moment. Prefiguring revelations of misuses of male power in tomorrow’s headlines, she has one scene sure to bring spontaneous cheers from the audience.

The political upheavals of the ’60s and ’70s hold great interest for Hollywood these days. But as opposed to Rob Reiner’s “LBJ,” featuring Woody Harrelson in the title role, or “Mark Felt,” with Liam Neeson as the crack FBI agent who turned out to be “Deep Throat” in the Watergate scandal, “The Post” pulses with authenticity.

Director Spielberg is in top form, pacing the story, getting outstanding performances from the entire cast and attending to every period detail, right down to the Post’s hot-lead typesetters.

For all the political drama at its core, “The Post” is also a love letter — to newspapers. From the tensions that always exist between the publisher’s office and the newsroom, to the soul-testing, adrenaline-pumping, no-mistakes-allowed requirements to find and report the truth, “The Post” gets it right.

It’s a profile of courage in the past and of conscience in the present, trying to bring today’s society lost in lies back to our senses.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at