Meryl Streep

Review – Florence Foster Jenkins

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Review – Florence Foster Jenkins

By guest columnist my_year_in_movies.

Admittedly, I’d decided to hate this movie well before I saw it. The concept alone was enough to make we want to peel my eyeballs. It looked twee, it looked ridiculous and when I heard Streep had received yet another oscar nomination I assumed it was because she’d just turned up and that’s generally enough.

I forced myself to watch it because I try to see all best actor/actress/picture/director Oscar nominees before the awards. And you know what? I actually really enjoyed it.

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Movie Issues: Into The Woods

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Movie Issues: Into The Woods

Rob Marshall is no stranger to directing a Broadway stage show turned live action movie, having directed Best Picture winner, Chicago in 2003. Going back to his musical roots and taking a stab at Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 stage classic, Into The Woods. For anyone not familiar with the show it has a very simple story: Many different fairy tale characters inhabit the same world and each gets lost in the woods searching for his or her own personal want or need. All the being orchestrated by an evil witch with her own plan. Thus all the stories come to head together though beautiful direction, amazing acting and wonderful singing which gave way to a very enjoyable movie.

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Movie Issues: The Giver

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Movie Issues: The Giver

The Giver is a social science fiction film directed Phillip Noyce, based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Lois Lowry. In a perfect world where there is no conflict, racism, or sickness, every member of society has a specific role, and 16-year-old Jonas is selected to be the new Receiver of Memory. Soon Jonas uncovers the truth behind his world’s past, and discovers that many years earlier, his forefathers gave up humanity in order to have a stable society. Now he must come to terms with what he’s learned and either except it or try to find a new path. Staring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, and Katie Holmes.

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It's Complicated

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How lovely to see a romance and flirtation and obstacles in a comedy based on history and life connections rather than lumbar tattoos and skateboarding talent. Even lovelier is getting to see the funny and playful Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin emobdy a divorced couple circling each other, drawn by the heady scent of unfinished business. What an extra treat to see Steve Martin (in Serious Actor mode, mostly) orbiting their complex dance and do what he does so well: be charming and sincere.

After 10 years of being divorced, Streep is still awkward about Baldwin’s young, hot wife Lake Bell, but Meryl and Alec still have a wonderful comfort to them when Bell is not around. Streep is luminous and gorgeous, even more so than when she was in Mamma Mia — she’s a stronger romantic comedy contender than I have seen all year (sorry Sandy!). Baldwin is all gruff confidence and unaware selfishess, wheedling his wants out of his ex without a care in the world. Watching them together, you root for them, even knowing why they divorced. Watching Streep groove on her own empty nest self-actualization, you root for Martin to win her heart. Truth is, no one is probably good enough for this awesome woman, except her amazing house and her fantastic little clutch of friends (Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, and Alexandra Wentworth). Maybe.

Fun romantic comedy standard hijinks ensue, with some great extra funny supplied by John Krasinski, iChat, and a little mary jane. Characters are perpetually doing the math on the last time we… remember back in… they’ve been apart for… it started about X years ago… which keeps our historical perspective primed while we watch first-date-worthy giddiness muddle the heads of our leads. We get a strong sense of their history, one we become fond of without ever having experienced, and yet we also love Streep being finally happy for herself. Everyone is so freaking charismatic you almost forget to appreciate the great, adult story. It’s not an old person’s movie but it is an extremely enjoyable one that should be watched by second-bloom folks of all ages.

The kids of the divorce are a little fragile and flatly portrayed, as if the screenwriter/director Nancy Meyers can only imagine what it would be like to be a child of a divorced couple. How the tables have turned, youth culture! Now you’re the boring ones. For all the complicatedness of the emotions Streep and Baldwin navigate, it’s still a smooth ride to huge grins and hearty guffaws, with excellent performances.

MPAA R- some drug content and sexuality

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes

Director Nancy Meyers

Studio Universal Pictures

The Devil Wears Prada

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Fans of Lauren Weisberger’s novel of the same name will notice some marked differences between that work and this film. Sure, that happens with all movie adaptations from books, but I think the difference is significant enough that it starts to resemble someone else’s work entirely. Weisberger wrote a semi-fictional account of a job from hell she had with a major unnamed editrix but rumors abound as to the identity of that hellish boss. This movie declaws the written character of Miranda Priestly and gives her lead, Andrea Sachs, balls we never saw coming. As a result, book fans may feel a littlecheated.

That is not to say that anyone in any way gives less than a delicious performance. Meryl Streep’s silver-wigged Miranda is so deliciously cold-blooded that she teeters dangerously on the edge of camp; Streep keeps that from happening. Ann Hathaway’s Andrea looks the doe-eyed innocent and sexes up real good with the fancy pants later, but it’s her character that was reimagined so jarringly that I had trouble appreciating what Hathaway was doing. Stanley Tucci also studiously avoids camp in the role of Nigel.

The lack of camp is either what is best about the film or what is desperately wrong. At times the movie seems defensive about fashion as an industry, as if it would have lost all the incredibly expensive loaner wardrobe if it had dared to mock the superficiality and the cutthroat nature of that business. At other times the outfits are so horribly over the top and hideous that there is no way they were seriously trying to pull off she looks really good! Either the people need to be so over the top that we can better feel Andrea’s floundering, or they need to be so restrained that the choices they make actually make sense. I am sorry to say, I blame the screenplay or the director for defanging and backing down. I actually see people with more egregious senses of entitlement every day in my big, bad city; Miranda Priestly by and large makes relatively reasonable requests for a woman in her position (and some that are more funny than horrible). Not all, it is a movie after all, but more than I would have hoped.

I did enjoy myself – the many changes from the book’s plot kept me interested in what happens next, but midway through the movie (during a pivotal scene, sorry to say) I thought to myself, I could never see this again and be Ok with that. It’s a movie that balances work and life, paying dues versus selling your soul, but I never feel that the stakes get high enough for those choices to be in serious jeopardy. It’s worth seeing for Streep alone, or making fun of the clothes, but don’t spend too much money on it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/30/06
Time in minutes
Director David Frankel
Studio 20th Century Fox

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The Hours

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They say this book was extremely difficult to film. The novel is as famous as L.A. Confidential in its complex unfilmability, mapping the internal landscapes of three women bound unknowingly across time. I submit to you that this film is possibly equally difficult to review. I was fortunate enough to see this film with two ladies who had not only read Michael Cunningham’s novel but also Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, the novel that informs The Hours. They were able to fill me in on key elements that were, for me, missing in the film and crucial to its total understanding. It should also be said that, even left to David Hare’s own narrative devices, director Stephen Daldry still manages to hook me and keep me involved, even when I was totally lost. That is an impressive task.

The film primarily takes place in Britain in 1923, Los Angeles in 1951, and New York in 2001, with bookends of 1941 Sussex. Got that? That’s the easy part. Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, and suffering from an unspecified illness (it’s all in the book, you literate fans, this is a critique of the film adaptation only). Meanwhile, in 1951, Juliann Moore as sad housewife Laura Brown is reading Mrs. Dalloway. Her child conveys a sense of urgency about her situation that the narrative itself does not provide. A side note: Toni Collette has a scene in Laura’s kitchen which is brief but as salient as Judi Dench’s Oscar-winning 8 minutes in Shakespeare in Love. Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) is sort of living an inside out Mrs. Dalloway life in New York in 2001, including caring for her spectacularly ill friend, Richard (Ed Harris).

My Hours fans were exceedingly pleased and gratified by the success of Hare’s screenplay in capturing what is truly an invisible thread of truth running deep inside this triad of lives. As one who had not read the novel, the parallels pulled me and held me like a web. I felt them and relied on them when some of the novel’s subtext was flying over my unread head.

Much has been said about the performances of these powerhouse actresses, who exude tremendous ensemble while never sharing a second of screen time. I agree with all the raves, all the lauding and fawning and everything for these ladies. Even Meryl Streep joked at the Golden Globes about her 483 nomination ensuring no win, but it cannot be overstated that she is one of the strongest performers to come from the 20th century. Julianne Moore (despite Lost World) is also a radiant workhorse of an actress, making everything look easy but hooking us despite ourselves. Kidman has always fluctuated but comes in strong behind her much-touted prosthetic.

Kidman’s skin is so ethereally luminous, that no matter how good the schnoz is, her skin glows in a way no latex can reproduce.

However, for such a film, high caliber actresses are key. Let us not forget Ed Harris or Jeff Daniels or John C. “Soon To Be A Household Name” Reilly! In New York, Harris is a dying poet and Daniels is his ex. Harris does not disappoint; in the showier role, the deathly makeup, he is hard core. But dear, under-appreciated Jeff “Dumb & Dumber” Daniels plays in a scene where I am totally riveted, totally open in my heart to feel this performance. What made it so marked was that this scene felt (to me) the most like tons and tons of information had been omitted, and only those who had read it could even fathom what he and Streep are talking about; but Daniels made me care, made be believe, as much as if I had been in the know. That is a performance of note, Dear Readers.

The themes are there for you to discover – even without the book’s help you will feel the sacrifices and noisy distractions these women fill their emptiness with (with varying results), all at the altar of men’s needs, and not even a woman’s love can fill the void. It’s beautiful, and it made me want to read the book(s); but if it had not been for my companions, I would have been deeply lost. Beautifully shot, with an unobtrusive score by Philip Glass of all people, you sense the film deserves your love and you want to find out more about it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/27/02 (NY/LA)
Time in minutes 114
Director Stephen Daldry
Studio Paramount & Miramax

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Adaptation

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Charlie Kaufman is a different sort of man than one usually meets. Besides having an obsessively self-deprecating internal monologue rattling constantly through his sweaty, balding head, he also happens to be an extraordinary new voice in Hollywood screenwriting. Being John Malkovich or Human Nature ring any bells? That’s him. For those who might be scared off by these credits, Adaptation is vastly more accessible, without being at all pandering. He is also the lead character of this film, as well as the screenwriter.

Or should I say co-screenwriter? In a fascinating absurdity, Charlie shares his writing credit with Donald Kaufman, portrayed as his twin brother in the film, and dedicates the film to his late brother. Is Charlie real or is he a Dark Half sort of doppelganger of Charlie’s id? Charlie, wisely, will not say. By the end of the movie, we can guess easily enough which sections were written by Charlie and which by Donald. Delicious questions persist: how much of the story is true, how much of the story is fiction, how much of the story is construct, or fictionalized truth. For all his avowed self-doubt, Charlie has some serious cojones when he’s writing.

Nicholas Cage (channeling the spirit of Gene Wilder) plays the twins, and, real or not, they are completely unique persons, totally different but physically identical characters. What a feat! I am sure they even used the same hair piece for both Charlie and Donald, so alike are the brothers – but at no point do you ever wonder which is which. Nicholas is back, baby! Cage has fantastic timing with himself. As Charlie he’s shlumpy, nervous, even irritating in his inability to connect. Donald is naively happy go lucky, unserious, and definitely shaped by different mutations than Charlie. Chris Cooper, one of Hollywood’s great unappreciated, is marvelous as the subject of the book; off-putting and compelling all at once.

Patricia Waugh describes metafiction as “fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality.” (London: Methuen, 1984) That pretty much sums up Adaptation; and yet it is about so much more. The plot is basically about Kaufman having to write the screenplay adaptation of Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) book The Orchid Thief, which becomes the film we are watching. His theme of adaptation extends beyond adapting novels to species and individuals, orchids and screenplays, modes and methods.

It’s about Kaufman, by Kaufman, yet it’s the opposite of narcissistic. He was a nobody who became something doing anything to turn a book about nothing into a beautiful film about everything. It is easy in the first 2 acts to forget, to just watch it as a movie, but as Donald creeps more and more into the story, it becomes impossible not to be aware that this is a movie about itself. It doesn’t feel forced, it is never confusing (a miracle in and of itself) and it is always engaging. I loved it – I got on the phone to tell everyone to see it right when I left the theatre. You will get your money’s worth.

MPAA Rating R-language, sexuality, drug use, violent images
Release date 12/6/02 LA/NY
Time in minutes 114
Director Spike Jonze
Studio Columbia