Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Comet

Don’t Look Up

by George Wolf

Since Adam McKay shifted into “political” comedy with The Big Short and Vice, it’s become most convenient to label him a satirist. But Don’t Look Up, his latest as writer/director, is more proof that pure satire isn’t quite McKay’s forte.

Not that his work isn’t funny, or astute, or politically charged – it’s all of that. But what McKay does best is his own special blend of outrage, farce, skit-based comedy and yes, moments of satire. The best of the modern satirists – Armando Iannucci, for example – are almost always commenting on one thing by talking about something else. McKay, though, fires slings and arrows that are so often on-the-nose they toe the line between shedding light and making it.

Climate change and disinformation are in McKay’s sights this time, and it isn’t hard to imagine Don’t Look Up being inspired by some exasperated bit of conversation.

“What if some giant, cataclysmic comet were heading straight for Earth? Would that get somebody’s attention?”

Astronomy PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers just such a comet, and along with her anxiety-prone professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), calculates it will destroy the Earth in precisely 6 months and 14 days.

Sounding the alarm proves harder than they realize.

President Orlean (Meryl Streep, a bit too SNL) and her chief of staff son (Jonah Hill, in pitch perfect Don, Jr. mode) want to “sit tight and assess,” so Kate and Randall take their message to the people. But after an appearance on vapidly positive morning cable news chat, Kate is vilified for her severe bangs and shrill warnings while Randall gets tagged as a PILF and starts getting cozy with TV host Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett, glorious).

Meanwhile, weird tech CEO Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) determines the comet could really be a good thing! It’s composition could be worth billions, so he pushes the administration toward a Star Wars-worthy plan to break it up in pieces small enough to harvest, as uber-angry broadcaster Dan Pawketty (Michael Chiklis) instead wants to focus on the real problem of topless senior caregivers.

What’s left for the little people to do except take sides?

With the clock ticking and the comet now visible overhead, the anti-science crowd preaches “don’t look up” while pop diva Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) belts out a soaring (and surprisingly tuneful) plea to “get your head out of year ass, just look up, turn off that shit FOX News.”

The fertile ground of current pandemic disinformation makes McKay’s mash of Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks! seem a little extra urgent. And while Don’t Look Up never matches the satirical majesty of Kubrick, McKay is able to nicely cop the disinformation industry’s circular strategy of reframing evidence against it as evidence supporting it. He knows how his film’s worldview will be attacked, but also how some calculated ridiculousness can be a pre-emptive strike.

But is McKay’s film going to change anyone’s mind? Seriously? No, no it’s not, but he knows that, too.

Hey, if you think our current situation is too dire to have fun with, that’s understandable. But if you can relate to Grande singing, “Celebrate or cry or pray, whatever it takes,” then this is funny stuff. Just don’t mistake the laughs in Don’t Look Up – and there are plenty of them, including a priceless running gag about expensive snacks – for a lack of outrage or conviction. McKay and one of the year’s best ensembles find space for all three.

Sit tight for mid-credits and after-credits stingers, too. And trust me on the snacks thing.

Practically Perfect

Mary Poppins Returns

by Christie Robb

Recreating the magic of a classic film like Mary Poppins seems like it should be impossible. Thankfully, with the sequel Disney proves that truly everything is possible, even the impossible.

Set 20 years after the original, Jane and Michael Banks are grown and eking out a living during the “Great Slump” (the term for the Great Depression in the United Kingdom). Michael (Ben Wishaw) has been recently widowed and is struggling to raise his three children alone when the bank sends some agents to inform him that his family home on Cherry Tree Lane is in foreclosure. He’s got until Friday at midnight to cough up the cash.

Enter Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who returns to take care of the Banks children. This time the stakes are clearly a bit higher. Instead of the children and nanny dealing with neglectful and boring parents, they have to negotiate grief over their dead mother, probable homelessness, and some light animated kidnapping. It’s a more Lemony Snicket approach that keeps the plot moving at a good pace, but may be intense for the more sensitive kiddos.

The drama is balanced with some exhilarating song and dance numbers that mirror, but update, those in the original film. Remember Uncle Albert? Now we have a song with Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep). The live action/animated number occurs inside the pattern of a Royal Doulton china bowl instead of a chalk drawing. And instead of chimney sweeps elevating the kids to the London rooftops for a jig, lamplighters led by Mary’s friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) wind the kids through the sewers and engage in some stunt biking and parkour.

Throughout, director Rob Marshall is faithful to the tone of the original film. There’s a continuity established from the opening credit sequence that continues through the choices in musical score, sets and costuming. However, Marshall’s experience directing movie musicals (for example, Into the Woods and Chicago) makes for more dynamic camera work and the occasional vaudevillian set piece.

This charming bit of nostalgia makes for an excellent holiday movie that celebrates the joys of childhood, imagination and family.





Like the Beat from a Tambourine

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

by Hope Madden

You may be asking yourself, is Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just 90 minutes of second-rate, b-side Abba songs? All those weird songs that no sensible story about unplanned pregnancy could call for? Songs like Waterloo?

Nope. It is nearly two full hours of it.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to open her mother’s crumbling Greek hotel as an upscale island resort. She’s so terribly angsty about it! Will anyone come to the grand opening? Will her mom be proud of her? Can she handle the pressure if her husband’s traveling and two of her three dads can’t make it?

Transition to a simpler time, a time when her mom Donna was young (played by Lily James), bohemian and striking out on her own. She has chutzpah. She has friends who love her. She has great hair.

The majority of the sequel to Phillida Lloyd’s 2008 smash looks back on the romantic voyage that created the three dad business of the first film.

James is a fresh and interesting a young version of the character Meryl Streep brought to life in the original. Likewise, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies make wonderful younger selves for Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).

The three dads have young counterparts as well, though only Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner) lands a memorable characterization. Firth is reliably adorable while Skinner’s socially awkward young man is as embarrassing and earnest as we might have imagined.

Also, Cher.

Expect an awful lot of needless angst and long stretches without humor. Whether present-time or flashback, the film desperately misses the funny friends. Desperately. But when they are onscreen, Here We Go Again cannot help but charm and entertain.

The story is weaker, although there is a reason for that. While the original gift-wrapped an origin story to plumb, the plumbing is slow going when you still have to abide by the Abba songtacular gimmick.

The sequel’s musical numbers rely too heavily on slow tunes and stretch too far to make the odder Abba songs work, but in a way, that is, in fact, the movie’s magic.

Your best bet is to abandon yourself to the sheer ridiculousness of it. There is literally no other way to enjoy it.





I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of April 16

Two-word titles available for home viewing this week. Do you want to watch a slick, important movie about that reminds you just how far America has fallen? Spielberg for you. Rather watch that same Liam Neeson movie you’ve grown to need somehow in your life? That’s here, too.

Click the film title for the full review.

The Post

The Commuter





Must Never Be Silent

The Post

by Hope Madden

It is Oscar season, people, and we have a big story to tell. Assemble the heavy hitters!

Spielberg – check.

Tom Hanks – check.

Where do you go from there when you’re making the Big Important Film? The one with potential blockbuster legs?

Correct: Meryl Streep.

It is official: The Post has it all, beginning with the almost-too-relevant story of a newspaper casting off its personal associations to hold the government accountable by sharing actual news with citizens of the United States and the world.

“If we live in a world where the government tells us what we can and cannot print,” says Ben Bradlee by way of Tom Hanks, “the Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”

The year is 1971. The New York Times has just published parts of the Pentagon Papers, a decades-long study that proves the government lied for years about what was happening in Vietnam. The Washington Post wants desperately to be seen as one of the big news outlets, so they’re working to publish similar content of their own when Nixon decides it’s in his purview to suppress the freedom of the press.

A timely reminder of the struggle to maintain an informed public, Spielberg’s latest is also a testament to Post publisher Kay Graham (Streep). The film offers an insightful image of her difficult road and her courageous actions.

Like Spotlight, also co-written by Post co-scribe Josh Singer (writing here with Liz Hannah), this story encapsulates a watershed moment in journalism. No, not the struggle for a free press. The introduction of profit into the mix. Part of the film’s tension comes from the fact that the Pentagon Papers became available at the same time that the Post was being made public, which introduces yet another powerful contributor toward determining what is and is not deemed appropriate news: money.

It’s a lot to tackle, but naturally, Spielberg has it all well in hand and he doesn’t limit his spectacular casting to Streep and Hanks. Look for great ensemble performances from Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood and about 30 others.

Spielberg’s passion and polish come together here as an expertly crafted rallying cry. He’s preaching to the choir, but he preaches so well.





The Emperor’s Old Voice

Florence Foster Jenkins

by Hope Madden

Brace yourselves – Meryl Streep is wonderful in her new film Florence Foster Jenkins. Great to know she’s finally found her footing with this whole acting thing.

Yes, Meryl Streep can act. Thanks to a string of recent films like Into the Woods, we learned that Streep can sing, too. Maybe not as well, but passably. She’s also great in a comedy (Julie & Julia, The Devil Wears Prada).

How good? Well, she did grab Oscar nominations for all three of the above efforts.

In the title role of Stephen Frears’s new 1944-set biopic, Streep gets to strain those vocal cords while showing off her comic sensibilities. No surprise, she does both with aplomb in the role of the NYC heiress who loved music far more than it loved her. Streep delivers a vibrant central performance in a charming if forgettable end-of-Summer comedy.

The film gets so much right, though. There could not have been a better choice to play Florence’s devoted yet philandering husband than Hugh Grant, whose scheming is rarely in the service of self. His every expression exposes such tenderness and protectiveness, whatever his cagy action.

Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg, playing Florence’s talented if green accompanist, steals scenes – from Meryl Streep, no less! – with the barely contained giggle or outright expression of bewildered wonder. To a certain degree, he represents the audience, forever asking: How is all this possible?

Because the film remains relatively faithful to the truth of the events: Jenkins honestly believed her caterwauling to be the tones of a sublime soprano. Her husband had so insulated her from critics who might burst that delusion that she willed herself to the stage of Carnegie Hall.

Florence is the butt of this joke, and to Streep’s credit, we all feel as protective of her as her husband and accompanist do. She finds the right combination of entitlement, tenacity, vulnerability and true, blinding love of art to make the character more than just a joke. Everyone can understand deeply loving something you simply don’t have the talent to succeed in.

Unfortunately, Frears can’t quite deliver the poignancy or even the universality that should undergird the giggles and screeches. Despite moving performances, the film dips too frequently and too deeply into sentimentality. Worse though, is the fact that you come away from the film thinking: Can you believe she really sang at Carnegie Hall? She’s still a joke. She should be a bit more of an inspiration.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Five More Remakes in Need of an All Female Cast

Rumors of an all-female Ghostbusting team got us A) excited for the reboot, and B) thinking of other movies we’d love to see reimagined with women in the lead. Here are the 5 films we think could benefit from some gender-retooling, along with our dream casts.

Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s 1975 great white classic benefitted from one of the best buddy trios in cinema with Roy Scheider’s reluctant shipmate Sheriff Brody, Richard Dreyfuss’s on-board scientist, and salty sea dog Quint played to perfection by Robert Shaw.

Who has the gravy to run nails down a chalkboard, frighten the locals and bark that she’ll find the shark for $3000, but “catch him, and kill him, for 10”? Nobody but Jessica Lange. We’d flank her with Anne Hathaway as the transplanted cop who wants a bigger boat and Emily Blunt as the oceanographer willing to take the risk when the cage goes in the water.

Easy Rider

How fun would this be? Let’s rework the classic American outlaw motorcycle ride! Who’s the laid back badass looking for an unsoiled America? We’d put the great Viola Davis in Peter Fonda’s role. For the thoughtful square up for an adventure, we swap Amy Adams in for Jack Nicholson. And who could fill legendary wacko Dennis Hopper’s motorcycle boots? We want Melissa McCarthy. (Come to think of it, she’d give Blue Velvet an interesting new take as well.)

Glengarry Glen Ross

Who on this earth could take the place of Alec Baldwin with perhaps the greatest venomous monologue in film history? Jennifer Lawrence – can you see it? We really, really want to see a movie with JLaw chewing up and spitting out this much perfectly penned hatred.

“Put that coffee down!”

And at whom should she spew? The wondrous Meryl Streep should take Jack Lemmon’s spot as loser Shelley Levine. We’d put Kate Winslet in Pacino’s slick winner Ricky Roma role and Kristin Scott Thomas in Ed Harris’s shadowy Dave Moss spot. Then we’d pull it all together with the magnificent Tilda Swinton in the weasely role worn so well by Kevin Spacey.

Predator

We knew we needed an action film, but who could be the new Schwarzenegger? Our vote: Michelle Rodriguez. We then put the ever formidable Helen Mirren in the Carl Weathers boss role. Obviously. The ragtag group of soldiers sent to, one by one, to be skinned alive? Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington and Gina Carano. Done.

Reservoir Dogs

Picture it:

Ms. Orange (Tim Roth): Rosamund Pike

Ms. White (Harvey Keitel): Julianne Moore

Ms. Blond (Michael Madsen): Charlize Theron (Cannot wait to see her get her crazy on.)

Ms. Pink (Steve Buscemi): Lupita Nyongo

Ms. Brown (Tarantino): Shailene Woodley

Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn): Cate Blanchett

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney): Kathy Bates

 

All right, Hollywood. We’ve done the hard part. Now get on it! All we ask is executive producer status and points on the back end.





The Meryl Witch Project

Into the Woods

by George Wolf

 

Don’t let the name Disney at the top of the poster fool you, Into the Woods isn’t little kid stuff. But it is more evidence that Rob Marshall is the guy who should be directing your next musical.

After nearly thirty years, the Tony-award winner from Stephen Sondheim (music) and James Lapine (book/screenplay) makes it to the big screen. It’s more lean, less mean, and still pretty spectacular.

Having Meryl Streep at the top of your cast list is always a wise move, and she’s utterly commanding as a Witch who offers the village Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) a mysterious deal. In exchange for a few magical items (red cape, white cow, yellow hair and golden slipper), the Witch will reverse a curse that is keeping the couple childless.

As the Bakers head into the woods to begin their search, four classic fairy tales begin an enchanting intersection.

With the benefit of a live stage, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his beanstalk could take turns in the spotlight while still keeping a combined narrative intact. A screen version presents an inherent challenge to recreate that vision, but Marshall doesn’t shrink from it.

His camera is almost always moving, with wide aerial shots showcasing everyone’s place in the woods, and slow pans that glide easily from one fairy tale to the next. While Marshall’s Nine was more a series of dazzling parts, here he’s able to sustain the realization that each storyline in the woods is connected.

Marshall is also smart enough to know the material and adjust. The high-stepping pizazz he utilized so well in the Oscar-winning Chicago was a perfect fit for that show, but this is Sondheim. The songs are graceful, poetic, challenging, and Marshall, with a big assist from Dion Beebe’s pristine cinematography, frames them accordingly.

The fine ensemble cast follows suit with sharp characterizations. Blunt is excellent (when isn’t she?) as the desperate wife, Corden makes a fine unlikely hero and Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella is..apologies in advance…pitch perfect. Chris Pine makes Prince Charming a delightfully amusing cad while Johnny Depp, as Johnny Depp does, leaves a memorable impression with limited screen time as the Big Bad Wolf.

Though several songs have been pruned from the stage musical, along with some of the darker edges, Marshall keeps the metaphor of “the Woods as real life” intact without overplaying the hand. Into the Woods explores what’s on the other side of fairy tales, where handsome Princes “will always love the maiden who ran away.”

The wee ones may not find any bland theme songs to call their own, but this is family entertainment on a grand, sometimes glorious scale.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 





Counting Down Holiday Must-Sees

Both Whiplash and Rosewater open this weekend at the Drexel and Gateway Film Center respectively. Both are must-see independent films with Oscar buzz aplenty, but they also signal the end of the fall films. Next weekend, things move toward holiday hoopla, and the awards-baiting indies flow alongside giant blockbuster contenders – indeed, the two sometimes even intersect. What are the holiday films to look out for?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (11/21)

Not every adolescent novel series turns into quite this strong a film franchise. Much credit goes to the boundless talent of Jennifer Lawrence, whose surly heroine goes beyond games and into real revolution in the third of four installments.

Horrible Bosses 2 (11/26)

Will it garner Oscar nominations? No. But early word on the sequel to the surprisingly hilarious Horrible Bosses looks to have upped its game, and I want to play.

The Theory of Everything (11/28)

Get to know Eddie Redmayne. This guy can do no wrong, and he may finally get the notice he deserves in this film. Redmayne plays young Stephen Hawking in the magnificent James Marsh’s dramatization of Hawking’s relationship with his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones).

The Imitation Game (12/5)

Benedict Cumberbatch is impressing early audiences in his turn as Alan Turing, an Englishman who helped break the Enigma code during WWII. Director Morten Tyldum’s last film Headhunters was too enthralling to miss his follow up.

Wild (12/19)

Reese Witherspoon is already the frontrunner in a an Oscar race not yet underway, but her turn as a woman who walks 1100 miles alone to get her head straight is impressing early audiences that much.

Unbroken (12/25)

Angelina Jolie goes behind the camera again, this time to direct the biopic of Olympian and POW Louis Zamperini. Actor-to-watch Jack O’Connell stars, but what’s more impressive is that Joel and Ethan Coen adapted Laura Hillenbrand’s nonfiction text.

The Interview, (12/25)

This Is the End proved that Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg were solid comedic filmmakers. The two return to their spot behind the camera and pen, with Rogan and BFF James Franco starring as two shoddy journalists who head to North Korea to interview/assassinate Kim Jong-un. No taboo shattering there! It should prove to be uncomfortable, but smart money says it’ll be funny as hell.

Big Eyes (12/25)

Perennial Oscar contenders Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz star in Tim Burton’s biopic of artist Margaret Keane. Early predictors put Adams in the running for best actress, but if this is the film that returns Burton to solid directorial ground, it’s a victory already.

Into the Woods (12/25)

Rob Marshall brings the Sondheim musical to the screen, spinning a yarn that knots Brothers Grimm tales together and sees Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine playing recognizable fairy tale characters. Early word is that the cinematic version boasts inspired performances, particularly from Depp and Streep as The Wolf and The Witch, respectively. We’re in.

Come January we can expect a couple late-running heavy hitters including Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper before the winter blahs hit theaters. Foxcatcher’s been a moving target, but it looks like local audiences will finally get a chance to see that by mid-January. But you know what? As far as we know, the Browns may still be in contention in January, so we may still have something to watch!

Wait, did we just jinx us?





Oscar Countdown: Snubs Galore

The Oscar nominations always cause a stir, what with the Academy’s glaring myopia when it comes to certain films. This year, the snubs were fewer and less harsh than in years past (like that year they totally ignored three of the best films of the year in Drive, Take Shelter and Young Adult, and failed to nominate the year’s best lead actress performances). We may never get over 2011.

Still, as always, there are some very curious omissions. Here we run down our 5 biggest gripes.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

The magnificent Coen brothers’ immersive character study set in the unforgiving winter of the Greenwich Village folk scene garnered no love for its outstanding lead performance or its pristine screenplay or its rich and textured direction or even its music! That’s a lot of snubs for one film. It would certainly have been tough to find room for the wondrous Oscar Isaac in a leading actor field more crowded than most, and though the Coens are perpetual competitors for best director (by Oscar’s standards or anyone else’s), who would we bump this year? Scorsese? That’s a hard choice.

When it comes to original screenplay, we may have dumped Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Llewyn. There’s no question that we would have given it the best picture nod over Philomena.

 

2. Stories We Tell

The Academy had their heads up their asses with this one. In fact, there are a number of documentaries better suited to the award than this lineup suggests, but Sarah Polley’s deceptively complicated, brave and clever film cries out for recognition. Not only among the best documentaries of the year but one of the very best films overall, we would certainly have knocked Dirty Wars from the list in favor of Polley’s film. Truth be told, the only film in the category more deserving is The Act of Killing, so we’d have been fine with kicking any of the others to the curb to make room.

 

3. Her

The most imaginative and lovely film of 2013 went without acknowledgment in acting and directing, which is sinful. Our first order of business would be to get Scarlett Johansson a best actress nomination, even though the studio pushed her for supporting. Let’s be honest, regardless of the fact that she’s never onscreen, she plays one of two lovers in a love story. She’s the lead. And in a brilliant voice-only effort, she easily deserves Sandra Bullock’s spot. (In fact, we’d pick Johansson over Bullock, Streep or even Dench this year.)

Joaquin Phoenix should have edged out Leo (though we loved Leo’s work, it’s just a very tight race this year!). Director is as tight as actor, and while Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese are 1) geniuses and 2) nominated for outstanding work this year, we’d have given one of their places to Spike Jonze for crafting a beautiful love story set in an unerringly crafted near-future, and doing so without a hint of cynicism or derivation.

 

4. Blue Is the Warmest Color

Apparently France couldn’t get off its cheese eating ass to get the film released in time for Oscar consideration, which is an absolute tragedy. The film should, by all accounts, boast two nominations, one for Best Foreign Language Film and another for Best Actress. The fact that Adele Exarchopoulos’s career-defining turn in this romantic drama will go unacknowledged is a crime.

 

5. And the Rest

We’d rather see Julie Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) for Best Actress than Meryl Streep. We know that sounds like heresy, but her performance in August: Osage County is so hyperbolic that it’s more exaggeration than acting. True, the weak direction of A: OC is most likely to blame, but the end result just doesn’t measure up.

We would also have given either Daniel Bruhl (Rush) or James Gandolfini (Enough Said) the nod over Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor.

 

For more on our Oscar picks, listen to George’s stint on the Sunny 95 (WSNY Columbus, OH) morning show.