To Glee or not To Glee (Film Thoughts: The Prom)

Since I am a big musicals fan, I was overjoyed when I heard that Ryan Murphy was doing a film version of the show for Netflix. But, I was also quite petrified – I championed that show from the beginning. I have always gravitated towards smaller heart-filled musicals, and you bet I was rooting for this show against Hadestown. You see, I can be a Brodsway purist when it comes to these things, and I am scared of what Murphy would do to my small, intimate gem of a musical.

Well, the movie is finally here. And for starters, do we really need this cast? A friend of mine called it ‘stacked,’ and yes that sure is an apt description – Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden – these are big names. But in my world, they fill bigger shoes: Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmankas, who both to me are close to perfection in these roles. And yes, I have just got to get this off my chest: Streep underwhelmed me here. I know she is a goddess, but I felt she was off here – she strained to hit notes (Dee Dee’s songs were made for a belter) and they even made her look like Beth Leavel, so I ask: why didn’t they just hire Leavel (I know, tiny violins for me) As for Corden, much has been said for his ‘offensive’ characterization of a gay man, but to be honest, I thought he would be worse. Was I offended by his performance? No. But surely he was just following Murphy’s direction (or non direction, perhaps) And did we really need Nicole Kidman for Angie Dickinson – it’s a small-ish role for someone of her stature, And Angie Schworer is someone who lived that role (was probably even named after her)

But I have to say, though, I was thrilled to see this (I wish I had seen it on a big theatrical screen) because everything looked great amplified. The fuller orchestrations has made the score soar, though ti sometimes also highlighted deficiencies in Matthew Sklar’s music and Chade Beguelin’s lyrics. I cannot complain about Jo Ellen Pellman’s Emma, who is utterly charming here and sings her songs perfectly (she may be a bit perfect for the role, but who cares) and Arian Dubose just whet my appetite for her Maria in. Spielberg’s West Side Story. And of course, it is glorious that the message of the show is there for all to see and absorb, and on Netflix it will sure to reach millions.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the film. I just have to set aside all my bias, and just accept that this version is a different one from the stage version. It’s surely not the worst thing in the world.

I’ll just leave this right here:

Grand Dames At Sea (Film Thoughts: Let Them All Talk)

Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest all in one movie? Heaven. Put them all in a cruise ship? Ideal (and in these pandemic times, even more so) Gemma Chan is just cherry on top of the icing in Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Let Them All Talk.’ I am sure that this film will polarize people, but count me among those who loved this film. ‘Dames At Sea’ was a 1969 musical, this film can be aptly called Grand Dames at Sea, and we should all jump aboard.

Getting on a ship changes someone’s psyche. You are ‘stuck’ there with seemingly no escape, and there’s something magical that happens there. But at the same time, the situation kind of toys with your head. In every cruise that I have taken (about a dozen or so by now) I have learned something new about myself.

But excuse me, the characters here are in a Crossing. Streep plays Alice, an author who is to receive a prestigious award in London, but she cannot fly so she takes the Queen Mary 2, and tags along her friends Roberta (Bergen) and Susan (Wiest) She also takes her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges) with her. Once in the boat, we find out her literary agent Karen (Gemma Chan) is also on board to spy on Alice to make sure she is working on her manuscript. Much if what happens is supposedly half-improvised by the actors themselves, and it doesn’t show, to be honest. While the format is loose, the dialogue is pretty tight, and you can see the actors in their A game. Streep is calculatingly precise as Alice, and this is a classic Streep performance, tics and all (You will either love it or hate it) but the standout for me is Bergen, who plays a woman boiling underneath from a friend’s betrayal. I liked Hedges here, but I felt I didn’t really know his character, and was just used to move the plot forward (same with Chan’s character) I ultimately got swept in the characters and how they interacted with each other, and seeing fine actresses work flawlessly. Soderbergh gave them room to breathe and show their flares, and we are all the lucky to be in their presence.

Spin Cycle (Film Thoughts: The Laundromat)

llAbout halfway through Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Laundromat,’  the story veers away from where it started, and you ask yourself, ‘what am I watching and where is this going.’ That’s only the beginning of how bizarre this film feels to me. We are first introduced to Ellen Martin, played by Meryl Streep in one of her ‘character’ performances, and yes, her story is interesting and relatable – a woman who gets killed in a boating mishap and then finds out the insurance that covers their boat ride has been shady. Ellen plays sleuth and tries to find out what caused this and gets drawn into the world of offshore shell companies that really are just corporation paperwork and nothing else. But the film abandons that narrative and goes into not one but two different arcs. It was trying to show us different situations about how these ‘shell companies’ are used to defraud the banking system but it felt jarring because it took us out of the narrative, and honestly, it felt like I was being taken out of the movie I was watching.

When the story comes back to Streep, it gets even weirder, and the ending baffling. I am still trying to process about that artistic choice. Streep is reliably good, and it’s great to see her along for the bizarre ride, but I kind of don’t like it when she goes into character mode, wherein she packs a lot of things with her performance – a wig, an accent, physical acting. It enhances the performance but also distracting at the same time.  Soderbergh does a good job of trying to explain how the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal worked, and I hope it inspires resistance from common folks. This film as an experience, though, baffles as much as it entertains.

What To Post (Film Thoughts: The Post)

large_Post-posterFor all you young ones, ‘The Post’ is not about Facebook or Instagram.  Rather, it is Steven Spielberg’s new film about freedom of the press, and in this day and time, it really is a message that resonates. Apparently, Spielberg rushed this in time for Oscar bait season, if only to reiterate that this as relevant today as it was in 1971 when the movie is set.

The film has megastars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in it, playing, respectively Kay Graham and Ben Bradles. It tells the story of the publication of The Pentagon Papers, which showed the United State government deceiving the American people regarding involvement with Vietnam. The New York Times began to publish excerpts from it but the courts stopped them from further printing because of alleged threats to national security. When The Washington post got access to the same papers, they face a dilemma: should they go ahead and publish it face repercussions, which could close the paper and put its publishers in jail.

Both Hanks and Streep are great here, although really this are roles that really both could do in their sleep. There are people who say that Streep doesn’t do anything new here, and sure, the same mannerisms and tics do show up in her Kay Graham, but I think she gives a more understated performance here than usual, and I kind of liked that. Does the film feel like a rush job? I don’t  particularly think so, although I think the film carries it own weight a little too much. Yes, we know freedom of the press is important but the film hammers it a little too much. It’s not the worst thing in the world, and the film is good solid entertainment. One should certainly see it.

Right Of Rights (Movie Thoughts: Suffragette)

suffragette-435Today millions of people – men and women – marched all over the world to raise awareness for women’s rights, to make sure women are protected, to ensure women are looked at as equals. I stand with my sisters in the world.

And it also is as good time as many to write about ‘Suffragette,” a film I have been meaning to watch for a while now. Today is as good a time as many, and of course the significance of this is even more vital. The film is set in 1918, when women in Britain starting fighting for their right to vole, and had to resort to a lot of civil disobedience to put their points across. It is a powerful message, one that resonates to this day.

I just wished I liked the film more. there are too many things going on, and I foudn myself bored by the main character of Maud. Though played with earnestness by Carey Mulligan,  the character is just one of those dreary ones in drearier situations. (I have to mention the fab Ben Whishaw  who plays her husband – this guy can play anything, and is effective always) Sarah Gavron puts the focus on fictional characters so when Meryl Streep shows up as militant advocate Emmeline Pankhurst, the screen lights up because you are seeing historical figures you have read about, and have some familiarity to. And the ending is bittersweet, with women’s voting rights happening a decade or so after. Still, the message is more important, and we celebrate and protest today.


Let Me Sing And I Am Happy (Film Thoughts: Florence Foster Jenkins)

florence-foster-jenkins-posterMy old friend Richard collects albums of bad singers. You go to his house, and he has a section of vocalists who are out of tune, out of sync, and recorded. Needless to say, he has prized possessions of the two albums that Florence Foster Jenkins (privately) recorded. I remember one of our favorite things to do then was to go to Tower Records in Lincoln Center and go through the jazz vocals section, judging discs by the covers and hoping against hope that one of these singers would be worthy enough to join his ‘awful singers’ shelf. I guess my point here is that although I am not an expert on her, I have heard a lot about La Florence from my friend, which made me more eager to see ‘Florence Foster Jenkins,’ which is the film about her.

It’s not exactly her life story, more a dramatization of the events leading up to her infamous Carnegie Hall concert. Meryl Streep plays her, in one of her larger than life performances, and she goes all out – tics, screams, arms flailing. I know she has been getting left and right raves here, but to me it rang false. From what I have heard about Jenkins, she was mostly quiet and subtle, if a lot cognizant of her deficiencies. Even though we get that on paper in the screenplay, I thought Streep played her in the opposite direction, though of course Streep is a intuitive enough actress that she knows when to to reign it in so the character isn’t a caricature. Hugh Grant, playing her companion, shows the subtlety here, and in my opinion gives the better performance even if his part is written just to react to Jenkins and her pianist Cosme Mcmoon (played with camp tendencies by Simon Helberg)

Over all, despite its oversize, Jenkins is still a small film,. It would be incorrect to call it inflated, but somehow that word also fits. Still, in this summer of frozen delight treats, this is satisfying sorbet, a tribute to anyone following her dreams as misguided some of those may be.

Flash Back To A Girl (Movie Thoughts: Ricki And The Flash)

Ricki-and-the-Flash-2015-Jonathan-Demme-poster-450“Ricki And The Flash” is a nothing of a movie. Usually a Meryl Streep performance can save a middling movie (Hello, Iron Lady) but here she just seems to be trying too hard. Although Streep is considered the “greatest living actress,” her style has never really been subtle. She usually gives a “look at me” performance: look how I aced my accent, look how this tick enhanced my acting. Here that style distracts. In fact, there are a lot of thing here that distract: her braids, her smudged eyeliner, her raspy singing. Although she sings in tune, there’s an unpleasant timbre here. But the movie is entertaining enough in a Saturday afternoon matinee kind of thing: the blue haired crowd was in attendance at my theater. My takeaway from here: it infuriated me. In the movie, Streep plays Linda, who left her family to become Ricki the Rock Star. When her daughter’s husband leaves, she comes home. I know there are a lot of issues there (Diablo Cody’s script never tells us why) but the anger that these adult kids displayed to their own mother upset me. Later on, when one of her other kids gets married, Ricki gets the shabbiest treatment: a belated insincere invitation, a back-row spot at the actual wedding, a table in Siberia. Whatever the issues these kids have at their mother, she shouldn’t be treated that way. I cried – it was heartbreaking. I know that perhaps this is a weird thing to take hone from this movie, and this perhaps shows the state of my mind right now, but I just felt for her in a serious way. And, it made the tacked on ending insincere and phony.