Posts Tagged ‘meryl streep’

florence-foster-jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Steep) is a wealthy socialite whose greatest desire is to sing opera.  Florence is encouraged by Arturo Toscanini (John Kavanagh) and by her husband, St. Claire Bayfield. (Hugh Grant)  The problem is, Florence can’t sing very well.  Undaunted, she hires a vocal coach, and a pianist, Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) McMoon  seems bewildered by the fact that he is playing classical music for a woman who can’t sing.

Bayfield continues to carefully manage Florence’s career, keeping mockers and negative reviewers at bay, sometimes bribing reviewers to keep their views secret.  This is not the only deception that Bayfield is practicing, he is carrying on an affair with a woman named Kathleen. (Rebecca Ferguson)  Seemingly oblivious to the deception around her, Florence cuts a record of the song, “Like A Bird.”  The song is a hit with the troops fighting in WWII, so Florence plans a concert at Carnegie Hall, and has already given away thousands of troops coming home from the war.  Bayfield and McMoon worry that they will no longer be able to control the scoffers, and that Florence Foster Jenkins feelings will be crushed when the truth is revealed.  Doess the Carnegie Hall show go on?  What is the crowd and critical reaction to the show?

The story of Florence Foster Jenkins portrayed in the movie seems historically accurate, and I was happy to learn her story, but the story lacked any sense of conflict.  Her husband cheated on her,  she had an STD, and she couldn’t sing very well, yet this movie seems to accept all these facts at face value, and have no conflict stemming from any one of these things, makes for a very dull film.  It tries to be a screwball comedy, like the movies Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn used to make, but falls short.  The comedy relies on one joke, Florence can’t sing, and everyone knows it but Florence, the old Emperor Has No Clothes story, but it never goes anywhere, and the tacked on ending doesn’t help matters any.

Meryl Steep is not great in this film.  I never lost myself in this performance.  I always thought “Oh there’s Meryl Steep playing someone.”  And Streep is supposed to be the queen of accents, muddles the accent here, sometimes it’s a British accent, sometimes an American accent, and Jenkins was born in Pennsylvania.  She does not deserve an Oscar nomination in my opinion.  Hugh Grant tries to play a Cary Grant type roguish character, a loveable playboy, but Hugh Grant is not Cary Grant, and lacks both the charm and wit that Cary Grant possessed.  Simon Helberg plays a version of his character on The Big Bang Theory, and he’s not very funny.

Stephen Frears is a good director, he’s directed movies like High Fidelity, and Dangerous Liaisons, but he misses the mark here.  Florence Foster Jenkins is not funny enough to be a comedy or dramatic enough to be a drama, so it muddles along in some middle ground.  The pacing is poor because there is not enough material here for a 2 hour film and so, the middle of the movie drags Frears does not get especially good performances from any of the actors, so the combination of bad pacing, mediocre performances and a bad script, are all things that Frears had a say over and didn’t do enough to change the uninteresting elements.

Florence Foster Jenkins:  Don’t go with the Flo.

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suffragette

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is a laundry worker in England in the early 1900’s.  She is not a suffragette, but is attracted to the movement by a co-worker named Violet Miller. (Anne Marie Duff) Violet introduces Maud to Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) a pharmacist, who’s not averse to using violence.  Violet, Edith, and others take Maud to see Emmaline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) one of the pioneers of the suffragette movement in England.  As she gets enmeshed deeper and deeper in the movement, the movement becomes more and more violent, and Maud gets repeatedly jailed, beaten, intimidated, loses her son and her job.  The police are surveilling the women the whole time, and police inspector Arthur Steed (Brandon Gleeson) is trying to get an informant inside the women’s movement.  Steed offers Maud a deal, give him information on the leaders of the suffragette movement, and he will drop all charges against her. Does he take the deal?

Suffragette is a great idea for a movie, the early women’s movement is an interesting subject for a movie, unfortunately, the story is so redundant, and blandly written, that it does a disservice to the suffragette movement.  Jailed, beaten, released, over and over again, and then it takes its focus off the main character.  The ending is more of a relief than a climax, and it doesn’t really give the viewer a satisfactory conclusion.

The meandering screenplay undermines a great performance by Carey Mulligan, she pours her whole being into this performance, she looks physically and emotionally drained by the time the film is over. She inhabits the character of Maud, and she has nothing to show for it, because the screenplay is sleep -inducing.   Meryl Streep has one speech in the entire movie, and that’s it, so if a viewer is tuning in to see a great Meryl Streep performance, that viewer will be disappointed.  It is a short Meryl Steep performance that is all.  Helena Bonham Carter gives an excellent performance as a violent activist for the feminist cause, but it’s wasted by a drab screenplay.

The direction is also inconstant, there are visually stunning shots of the British architecture, but the shots have this gray, dank, backdrop to all of them and that sets a very depressing mood.  The protests and the beatings are shot with hand-held cameras, which is an overused technique by now, and starts to grate on the viewer after a while.  The pacing is leaden, and not even  great performances from Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter tell me anything about this director, because they are both great actors.

Suffragette Insufferable.

 

the giver

In a future world called The Community, where everything is controlled by a Council of Elders, Jonas (Brandon Thwaites) Asher (Cameron Monoghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) grow up together.  It is just before their 18th birthday, before their professions are chosen for them by the Elders.  The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) chooses Fiona to be a nurturer, Asher becomes a drone pilot, and although he is not initially chosen, The Chief Elder chooses Jonas to be a receiver of memories.  The Giver (Jeff Bridges) is the keeper of all the ancient memories, and he starts transmitting them telepathically to Jonas.  Jonas sees all the joys and pain of life as we know it today, all the things that cause pain have been strategically removed from The Community. Jonas wants to share the happy parts of his emotional awakening with Fiona, and they start to share a romantic bond. Jonas realizes the perfect world that he, Fiona and Asher live in is not so perfect after all.  The Giver and Jonas hatch a plan for Jonas to escape The Community, but the Chief Elder wants to maintain the status quo, so she sends drone pilot Asher to find him.  Does Jonas escape the protective bubble of The Community? Or does the Chief Elder keep an iron fist on the society she continues to thrive in?

The story of The Giver seems to borrow generously from legendary dystopian novels like 1984, and Brave New World, visually it was reminiscent of movies like Pleasantville, The Truman Show and Elysium.  Unfortunately, the part of Fiona is written from such an obvious standpoint of sexism, I don’t know whether to blame the author or the screenwriter. The plot does try to get overtly political, it’s not important to say what topics were discussed, but it was done in a really heavy handed  way and that was off-putting to me.The biblical metaphors were also obvious and heavy handed.

The acting by Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep are outstanding,  Jeff Bridges plays the title role as somewhat of an enigma, but by the end of the movie his motivations are clear.  Meryl Streep excels at playing evil women, think of The Devil Wears Prada when watching this movie, and see if there’s not a similarity to that character and this one. I wish I could say nice things about the performances of Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush and Breton Thwaites, who were chosen expressly for their looks and not for their acting skills.  Taylor Swift is also in this movie briefly, I wondered why this character was given such importance, but then I saw Taylor Swift was playing her, the producers probably hoped that Ms. Swift’s presence in the film would drive up box office, it didn’t work.

The direction is visually stimulating, and probably the best part of the film.  Unfortunately, there are some parts of this movie that looks like it was taken out of a National Geographic special, but without the visuals, this movie would seem pretty empty.

The Giver:  Give It Up.

into the woods

Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) battles her stepmother (Christine Baranski) to go to a three day festival given by a Prince. (Chris Pine)  Red Riding Hood (Lila Crawford) steals cookies and bread from a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to feed to her granny.(Annette Crosbie) She must evade a hungry wolf (Johnny Depp) to get to grandma.  A boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) sells his cow for some magic beans from the baker. The baker and his wife are childless.  A witch,(Meryl Steep)  who keeps a girl with long hair named Rapunzel  (Mackenzie Mauzy) locked in a tower.  The witch says she can give the childless baker and his wife a child, if they bring her something milky white, something red, something golden like corn, and golden slippers.  Does Cinderella get her prince?  Does Red evade the wolf?  What happens to Jack and his magic beans?  Does Rapunzel get out of the tower?  Does the baker and his wife have a child?

This is what some people call a fractured fairy tale, I call it a morally ambiguous fairy tale.  The characters may seem familiar, but things are not as they seem, thanks to a twist near the end of the film.  These characters may end up happy or not, but their lives are far from perfect after the twist.  If there is happiness to be had, these characters will have to work for it.  If there is a theme it is about child rearing, how to be a good and consistent parent.  It’s an interesting take on these well-known Grimm fairy tales. The music enhances the story, makes it livelier in some circumstances provides exposition.  If there is an issue with this movie, there are too many characters, and some of the characters have very little development.

The acting is generally good, with Meryl Streep giving a standout performance, with Emily Blunt giving a complex, multi-layered performance.  The younger actors, Daniel Huttleston  and Lilla Crawford also give strong performance,  Chris Pine tries very hard, but neither his voice or acting seems up to the task. Johnny Depp has a great cameo as the wolf.

The direction gives this story the proper eerie feel, the pacing is good and the songs are well-staged. The kids will enjoy the songs, they might not understand the subtleties of the movie, but they will enjoy the fairy tale aspect of the movie.

Into the Woods:  A Knotty Tale.

julie and julia

During World War II Julia Child (Streep) was a member of the OSS, a precursor of the CIA.  To put it plainly she and her husband Paul  (Stanley Tucci) were spies for the US government.  After the war. Julia stays on in Paris while husband Paul becomes a n American diplomat in France.  Bored, and looking to fill her time, Julia decides to try to become a chef.  She enrolls at the prestigious Cordon Bleu, and chose the most difficult class to attend, one filled with judgmental men.  In the 60;s Child opens up a cooking school with two French women, to teach American women living in France how to cook.  Child compiles a hefty 723 page tome of recipes and shops the book around.  Does the cookbook named Mastering the Art of French Cooking ever get published?  Does Julia’s Anti McCarthy stance get her kicked out of France any sooner?

40 years later, New York City government beurocrat, Julie Powell uses Child’s cookbook as a diversion from a very difficult customer relations job, counseling people who have survived 9/11 and need help with social services.  Julie decides to make over 500 recipes from The Art of French cooking in a year, and then blog about the results,  Does she reach her goals?  Does anyone read her blog?  Does she ever meet Julia Child?

This is a fascinating movie, which chronicles how cooking defines the lives of two very different women in different eras.  Julia Child is an immensely complex person with deep political and social views, her and her husband’s stand against McCarthyism was courageous at the time.  Streep is luminous as Child, the view can see the joy cascading from her face as Julia finds her calling in life.  There is also a scene where Child receives the news that her sister is pregnant, she cries tears of joy, but also tears of sorrow, because she cannot have kids of their own.  Steep plays this scene so deftly, that the viewer can see not only the happiness for her sister, but the sadness for herself.  Finally Steep gets the voice and cadence of Julia Child down perfectly, not so much an imitation, but an homage.  Adams is perhaps given the tougher of the two major roles, she purposely makes herself less attractive by wearing a mousy brown wig, she plays a wide range of emotions, happiness, sadness, anger, and she makes the audience root for a very complex and sometimes unlikable character.  Stanley Tucci is also very good as the stalwart Paul Child, love and support of Julia life.  The only fault I can find with this movie is that it’s a tad long at over two hours. But it is a movie about three things I love, food, politics and blogging.

Julie and Julia: Bon appétit.