Screening Room: ‘The Post’

The year’s big political movie comes with an unlikely cast and director: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in Steven Spielberg’s The Post. An all-too-timely thriller about the cacophonous showdown over the publishing of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, it opens in limited release on December 22.

My review is at Film Journal International:

For his most taut and dashing movie since Munich, Steven Spielberg chose an unlikely subject: the publishing of the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971. It’s not history that Spielberg tends to favor. There are no great battles or monumental court cases; well, there is the latter, but Spielberg whips right past it without pausing for gassy Amistad oratory. The heroes are neither grand orators nor men of action. Instead, they’re mostly disputatious ink-stained wretches in off-the-rack suits…

Quote of the Day: Meryl Streep Digs Journalists

Speaking at the the annual awards for the Committee to Protect Journalists last night, Meryl Streep—who plays Katharine Graham in Spielberg’s new Pentagon Papers movie—said this:

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. You are the Fourth Estate. You are our first line of defense against tyranny and state-sanctioned news … Thank you, you intrepid, underpaid, over-extended, trolled, and un-extolled, young and old, battered and bold, bought and sold, hyper-alert crack-caffeine fiends. You’re gorgeous, ambitious, contrarian, fiery, dogged and determined bullshit detectives.

What’s to say? It’s a good time to be a detective.

Screening Room: ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

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Meryl Streep’s latest role requires her to do some stretching, as it involves playing a woman who was absolutely terrible at doing the thing she loved most.

Florence Foster Jenkins is playing now. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

There’s an old joke about the difference that money makes for people suffering from mental illness. Most mentally ill people are just referred to as “crazy.” The ones with money, though, are tagged as “eccentric.” Very few statements have more clearly defined the advantages that wealth bestows upon those who have it. Until, that is, the release earlier this month of Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s a dialed-in, feel-good period piece in which almost all the main characters bend over backwards to protect the fragile delusions of one extremely eccentric woman…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: It’s Time to Go ‘Into the Woods’

Emily Blunt and James Corden go 'Into the Woods' (Walt Disney)
Emily Blunt and James Corden go ‘Into the Woods’ (Walt Disney)

intothewoods-posterStephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into the Woods threw a couple Shrek ‘s worth of fairytales into the mix (Rapunzel to Cinderella and Red Riding Hood) and used them for a musically soaring but lyrically cynical story about the dangers of dreams granted. Rob Marshall’s lavish Disney adaptation is quite faithful to the original and comes packed with performances ranging from the unsurprisingly good (Meryl Streep’s Witch) to the revelatory (Chris Pine as the Prince).

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

This narrative begins with a Baker and his Wife who are cursed with infertility by their witch neighbor. They can only break the curse by gathering up four talismans that helpfully bring all the other characters into play: “The cow as white as milk / The cape as red as blood / The hair as yellow as corn / The slipper as pure as gold”. The prologue includes an undertone as well, when the Baker adds, “I wish we had a child,” the juxtaposition typical of Sondheim’s best work, layered like so many fairy tales. Some 25 years ago, however, such layering was not the sort of thing that Disney’s heroes and gamines sang about. But the play’s reassessing of fairy tale tropes, its reinvigorating them with old Grimm’s blood and thunder, looked forward to the spunky heroines and broad-chested prince-villains who later cropped up in everything from Beauty and the Beast to Frozen…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘August: Osage County’

One of last year’s great but overlooked dramas and one of its better-than-average FX blockbusters are hitting DVD and Blu-ray today.

August: Osage County

John Wells’ star-stocked adaptation of Tracey Letts’ sprawling and brawling Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan is perhaps a little too truncated but mostly hits it out of the park. For once, Julia Roberts proves herself to be not only not done with acting but able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Meryl Streep. Full review

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The second of Peter Jackson’s all-too-much trilogy on The Hobbit packs in even more non-Tolkien material to its middle-part travelogue following the intrepid dwarves and hobbit on their way to steal back the stolen riches of Smaug the dragon. Better by far than the first bloated entry, and possessed of a greater sense of rollicking adventure, still in need of a good pruning. Full review

 

New in Theaters: ‘August: Osage County’

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Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts in ‘August: Osage County’

august-osage-county-poster1Tracey Letts’ play August: Osage County was a sprawling, Eugene O’Neill-esque slab of all-American dysfunctionality that played like gangbusters on the stage. It’s just about the last thing that you would want to see Harvey Weinstein and a pack of Oscar-festooned actors get their hands on; but somehow the truncated film adaptation plays pretty smartly. It opens up the material without lessening too much of the story’s darker impact. Also, Julia Roberts shows up in a Meryl Streep movie and actually leaves a stronger impression.

August: Osage County opened on Christmas Day, go find it! My review is at Film Racket:

This wasn’t supposed to happen. August: Osage County features Meryl Streep lording it over a fractious family as a red-eyed, pill-popping, malicious, cancer-stricken, Eric Clapton-loving matriarch with a black wig that looks a small dog flopped onto her head. But somehow Julia Roberts ends up being the one who sticks with you. She doesn’t do it by trying to reinvent herself. This character is in the same ballpark with the other flinty types Roberts has specialized in over the years. But what makes her stand out from the lesser films that Roberts has wasted most of her time on is her desire to push the limits of unlikeability. During an explosive family dinner scene that violently jerks into a half-thought-out intervention, Barbara Weston (Roberts) turns on her suddenly terrified mother Violet (Streep) like an unleashed animal, bellowing at her and everyone else within a half-mile radius, “I’m in charge now.” It’s more an admission of doom than triumphant declaration…

Roberts and Streep in 'August: Osage County'

Here’s the trailer, which makes the film look like some sassy Southern heartwarmer that Roberts would have starred in back in 1996: