Tag Archive: Meryl Streep


florence-foster-jenkins-posterA wealthy and connected socialite deludes herself that she is a talented soprano and aims for staging a concert at Carnegie Hall, topping all of her other dubious musical accomplishments. Her doting husband and compliant accompanist enable her, and no one else speaks out, until a reporter who attends the concert cries “the emperor has no clothes” and bursts her bubble.

Very funny stuff. And the funniest part? It all happened! Yes, truth is truly stranger than fiction.

Streep, left, as Lady Florece, as she liked to be called, and the real Florence at right.

St. Clair Bayfield was Florence’s longtime companion, though it seems they were not actually married.

Director Stephen Frears’ film Florence Foster Jenkins is engaging and fun to watch, and it’s one of those slices of little-known history that makes you want to learn more. I love these kinds of films, when they are executed as well as this one is. Of course there are the instances of Hollywood poetic license to add drama, but the story is just a hoot.

 

Playing the lead is Meryl Streep, whose performance is, as ever, marvelous. She dexterously emulates tone-deafness, and her character is affable as the afflicted yet undauntedly persevering Lady Florence. Hugh Grant falls smoothly into the role of her amiable and facilitating husband, with a mixture of saintly patience and all-too-human appetites.

 

Cosme McMoon was at the height of his piano-playing career with Lady Florence, and he ended up becoming interested in bodybuilding.

The toughest sell for me was the casting of Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory) as Cosme McMoon, Florence’s piano accompanist. It’s a personal thing, I concede. Helberg is perfect for the role. He is geeky and puny and a talented piano player, like the real McMoon (which some purport was a pseudonym to protect the real performer’s reputation). But I could not get over seeing Howard Wolowitz on the screen, and I expected him to be living with his mother when Florence goes to see him, and yelling, “All right, Ma!” when she summons from offstage.

The supporting cast adds depth and flavor to the story, perfectly helping depict the grand deception that served Florence’s fantasy.  They used her, and she used them. Ah, the rich.

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Dysfunction in Oklahoma

MV5BNzQ5ODE4NTcxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjkyNDQ0MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Some of us don’t get to attend award-winning Broadway plays as often as we’d like (read: never), and that makes me very glad indeed when a well-made adaptation of one is created for the more accessible big screen. Such a case is August: Osage County, the newly released film based on the Tracy Letts play of the same name and directed by John Wells, best know as a producer and writer and for such efforts as The West Wing and The Company Men.

August-Osage-County-HD-WallpaperI did not know what to expect of this film, having heard little about it and not knowing much about Wells or about Letts’ play. Maybe due to that, this glimpse at a dysfunctional yet self-sufficient family in Oklahoma was a riveting surprise. The ensemble cast is nothing short of amazing, and Wells does what I admire any good director doing: He lets the consummate pros run with the material. It results in an emotional, gritty, sometimes funny, always pointed drama that verges on the raw angst of a Greek tragedy, with moments of wondrous irony.

august-osage-countyMeryl Streep, always impeccable, is superb as Violet, the newly widowed matriarch of the Weston clan, having just lost her husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard), to apparent suicide. In come her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper), her three daughters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis), one husband and one fiancee (Ewen McGregor, Dermot Mulroney), one granddaughter (Abigail Breslin), and Mattie’s Fae’s son (Benedict Cumberbatch). Also close by is the recent hire Beverly made, the live-in cook and caretaker Johnna (Misty Upham). Suddenly all thrown together after time apart, the family members experience some typical awkwardness and sporadic hysterics. August-Osage-County-Movie-Still-2-630x393But there are other skeletons in the closet here, and they soon come out to wreak marvelous havoc.

Oklahoma itself is an ever-present character in this story. It comes across as a strong atmosphere, and is expressed in sentiments like the short speech Barbara (Julia Roberts) gives: “The Midwest, ha. This is the Plains … a spiritual affliction, like the blues.”

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And the Winner Is…

It’s Academy Awards day.  Guess you know what this movie freak will be watching this evening. 

Stephen King, in his Entertainment Weekly column, made the excellent point that it’s the films we movie-lovers like to watch, not the goofy award shows—and I agree.  But for me, the spectacle of the Oscars has been a long-time institution connected to the film industry, and for good or ill, decisions made here about the year’s best influence upcoming projects, careers, and theater runs for months and years to come. So, like King, I’ll be watching with some snacks on tap, and I won’t be falling asleep before the end!

Everyone and his second cousin makes Oscar-winner predictions, so it feels rather silly to add to that melee, but I promised I would chime in, even though I have waited until the last minute to do so.  I don’t really want to predict as much as offer a few comments and some sincere hopes—most of which are not news to those who have talked to me over the past couple of months.

Best Picture

The commercial favorite is, of course, Avatar, and I do think chances are very good that this entertaining and technically advanced film will win.  I won’t be heartbroken (or surprised) if it does win, as it is wildly entertaining and groundbreaking in some ways for its effects.  However, it doesn’t have the depth of story that I’d like to see triumph.  What does? My personal favorite is District 9 for overall storyline and performances plus its genius combination of genres, and eye-popping action and effects on a small budget. People have argued that it won’t win because it’s a science-fiction movie … so, what is Avatar?

I’d also be quite pleased if The Hurt Locker took home the Best Picture statuette. It is deserving for its amazing performances, flawless pacing, fantastic cinematography, and more. The subject matter may be a bit narrow for the top prize, though many are hoping that if the film can’t take Best Picture, Kathryn Bigelow will snag Best Director (I’d love for that to happen especially if Avatar gets Best Pic!).

I’ve watched all three of these movies twice now, and I can say unequivocally that one of them should win. Any other choice from the ridiculous ten-strong category will be a travesty.

Actors

Unfortunately, I have not seen some of the films that feature the Best Actor nominees, so I’m all good with frontrunner Jeff Bridges winning.  I also haven’t seen some of the Best Actress performances, but I pray and hope that a serious actor like Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep takes it.  I like Sandra Bullock, especially in fun movies, but she is just not of the same caliber as many of the nominees. Neither are the films in which she appears, including this year’s The Blind Side. I’ve always said I’m no film snob, but I’m feeling like a bit of one in this case. Nonetheless, I will be sorely disappointed if the Razzies winner (or rather, loser) also takes home and Oscar.

Other Categories

There are not many categories this year that I feel very strongly about, so it will just be fun to watch who and what wins. There’s one exception, though.  For Animated Feature, I’m fervently hoping that Up, which I failed to see why everyone liked so much, doesn’t win.  My favorite of those animated films I’ve seen is Coraline (hooray, Neil Gaiman!), but I fear it may be too dark to prevail in its category.

Well, that’s it for me. Everyone have fun at your Oscar parties, or watching in the comfort of your easy chair, of ignoring the festivities altogether.  I’ll be back in a day or two with some reflections after the fact.

Cheers!

The Xmas Vaca Movie-Watching Post

Over the holidays, I did some movie watching (gee, what a surprise) with the other movie freak in my family, my mom, and went to see a flick at the theater with her and also one with my brother.  It was a banner movie-watching holiday!  Here are some observations about these movies, old and new.

It’s Complicated Is Simply Funny

This is a silly film that could have been a throw-away in lesser hands. But the loads of talent involved in It’s Complicated makes it hilarious and very worth watching. Who would have thought that an older-set romance could be so much fun?  My favorite moment was probably when Meryl Streep, all giggly from realizing she’s having an affair with her ex-husband and even lying to her grown kids about it, catches herself and suddenly realizes how goofy she’s being — priceless facial expressions.  John Krasinski is adorable as the secret-keeping Harley.  B+

The Blind Side Is an After-School Special

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film. But after all the hype I had heard, frankly I expected more. The Blind Side follows in the tradition of movies based on sports-connected true stories like Rudy and We Are Marshall but fails to inspire in the way that these films did. Why is that? One reason may be the lack of loquacity of its main character. Big Mike doesn’t talk much. It’s part of his character and makes sense, but it also makes it difficult for an audience to connect with him. The lack of connection is aggravated by other characters talking about and to him in simple terms. The after-school special feel of the film comes from its simplistic treatment of complex issues. It surely could not have been quite so easy for Leigh Anne Tuohy to get her family on board and to keep her household in order. Were there really no fights, no ill effects, no resistance? One small glitch is hinted at when Leigh Anne tells Michael he’s ruining the expensive couch he’s sleeping on, so she’ll clean out the guest bedroom for him. Perhaps it would have helped to see this damage and other understandable domestic complications, making the story more realistic at a visceral level. She’s also able to quiet friends and relatives with a “Shame on you” when they worry about “a large black boy” in the house with her young daughter. I don’t know many good friends or real family who wouldn’t storm over to see just how this situation was shaping up. Despite Oscar buzz, I see this as a rental.  C-  Continue reading

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