Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

“The Post”

LOUISA:  3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

What does it say about us as a society that “The Post,” director Steven Spielberg‘s insightful and intense historical retelling of the Nixon White House’s attempt to silence the press, is sadly topical today? The 1970s period piece is astonishingly timely in the era of Trump, making it not only a relevant drama but also a type of psychological horror about censorship and the First Amendment.

The film depicts the true story of the unthinkable legal battle between The New York Times and the United States government after the paper reported on a massive cover-up of secrets about the Vietnam War from a study commissioned by Kennedy and Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The New York Times was subsequently banned from publishing the classified material (which was stolen by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) and sent to Times reporter Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain)).

After some expert investigative reporting, journalists at The Washington Post got their hands on these top secret documents (which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers), and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) made the gutsy decision to publish them. The entire news team fearlessly risked the future of the newspaper and braved threats of going to jail in a bold fight for the freedom of the press, rocketing The Post to its current status as a relevant powerhouse of significant reporting.

This is precisely the kind of story Spielberg excels at telling, a big, historical drama that’s handsomely directed and sharply written with an ensemble cast who dive straight into the deep end of in the Oscar pool. Streep and Hanks lend an effortless credibility to two colleagues whose relationship is one that’s built on cold banter with an ever-so-slight sprinkling of mutual respect. Rhys, Greenwood, and Tracy Letts (as Fritz Beebe) are equally strong. Often the trouble with such a large cast of pedigreed talent is that performances tend to get lost, meaning actors have to work twice as hard to stand out. Surprisingly, the actor who rises to the top is Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk runs the gamut of range and is outstanding.

It’s nice to see that Spielberg hasn’t lost his flair for directing either. He lights many scenes with cool grays and blues, an effective contrast to his signature sweeping, fluid camera movements that accurately capture the stress and excitement of a buzzing newsroom. I appreciate that this isn’t a dumbed-down film; a working knowledge of history is required. In chasing his desire to make yet another ‘Movie That Matters,’ Spielberg plays it a little too safe with predictability, particularly in the scenes that focus on the business side of a dying newspaper versus the straight history of the event (causing the story to feel like two different movies in one).

How frightening to think of the myriad parallels to the Trump administration attempting to exert its own control over the media, selling the public ludicrous lies at press conferences and through Twitter, while their hands are constantly poking and prodding in the pie of honest journalists the world over. Our own president has gone so far as to call reporters the “enemy of the American people,” something that is chilling when you examine the present day parallels to Nixon that are depicted here.

This is the kind of film that red states hate, one that’s filled with historically accurate scenarios that’ll surely make them scream liberal elitism. Spielberg’s utter detest of Trump intermittently becomes a little too obvious, especially in his heavy-handed direction towards the end, but this is an important story that deserves and needs to be told in this distressing time of “fake news.”

“The Post” expresses the intoxicating euphoria of speaking the truth and having the courage to expose the lie, even if you’re on the losing side of a Goliath. The film’s message is more important now than ever, and I hope we won’t see history like this repeat itself.

“Florence Foster Jenkins”

LOUISA: 2 STARS MATT: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is a mediocre attempt at a biopic from director Stephen Frears (“Philomena,” “The Queen“), something that’s truly surprising given that this is precisely the type of material he excels at bringing to the screen. The true story of an American socialite and music lover tries to be an all-around crowd pleaser but instead gives off a contradictory vibe.

Florence (Meryl Streep) is a wealthy patron and benefactor of the musical arts in the 1940s in New York City. She fancies herself an amateur soprano and is well known in certain circles for her flamboyant performances, extravagant costumes, and incredibly awful singing. It’s pretty cool that a film was made about her and she’s definitely one of those historical figures with whom all musicians and music lovers should familiarize themselves.

As is to be expected, this is far and away Streep’s movie. She’s as reliable as ever and has a ton of fun with this role; she’s simply delightful to watch. Ditto for co-star Hugh Grant, perfectly cast as Florence’s husband St. Clair Bayfield (she’s his sugar mama, but the actors play it as a believeable love story). As Florence screeches and rehearses for her opera performance at Carnegie Hall, St. Clair goes to great lengths to prevent her from making the soul-crushing discovery that she has an appalling singing voice.

While the film is designed to be a crowd pleaser (especially among older folks; your mom and grandma will probably love it), I found it to be draggy and long drawn out, particularly the extended scenes of Florence singing her screeching operatic solos. These scenes of waaaay off-key singing go on far too long and actually started to make me feel embarrassed for her as well as myself. At first I started to giggle because of how god-awful her singing is, and it felt like the filmmakers were encouraging the audience to laugh and point. Then in the very next scene, the film semi-shames the audience for laughing. This confusing shift made me feel quite flustered and eventually disengaged from the story. The ending gets more than a little heavy handed and is bogged down with overt symbolism that feels more like a manipulative way to wrangle tears out of the crowd than an artistic choice by Frears.

Florence is a mildly interesting historical figure that I’d never heard of before seeing this film and I very much enjoyed researching her. I applaud Florence’s real-life efforts to keep a vibrant music scene brewing in New York City and we could all learn from her plucky self-confidence and gutsy determination. Much like its main subject, this film plays like a sincere passion project –yet in the end, it’s mediocre and just can’t carry the tune.

MATT SAYS:

A wealthy socialite is a patron of the arts in New York. She loves music, but isn’t satisfied by just listening — she wants to sing, in front of an audience. But no one has the heart to tell the kind woman that she can’t carry a tune.

So goes the true story of “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a woman who played Carnegie Hall in the 1940s in spite of the fact that she was a terrible singer. Florence (Meryl Streep) is a kind-hearted woman who does much for everyone else, most of all her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). St. Clair supports his wife  and does everything he can to support her in achieving her unrealistic dream, including hiring a famous conductor as a vocal coach and concert pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) to accompany her. For, as St. Clair tells Cosme, “without loyalty, you have nothing.”

“Florence” is an interesting story with universally appealing themes about love, loyalty, and friendship. But there isn’t much to it. If not for the prowess and pedigree of Streep, I’m not sure it would be noticed much at all. She does a decent enough job (as we all expect her to), but with the exception of a moment here or there, we never really get a sense for who Florence is as a person. She’s more or less just a collection of attributes without much substance; I feel like I could have learned just as much about her by watching a 10-minute episode of “Drunk History.” By comparison, Hugh Grant imbues St. Clair with emotional weight in a nicely understated performance; in his case, we do get a glimpse behind the curtain. While it’s not an award-worthy performance, Grant definitively demonstrates that he has left his pleasant-but-one-note rom-com days behind him.

Plenty of folks will enjoy this movie well enough, but it’s hard to recommend to a broad audience. I’m sure I’ll forget about it by the end of the year and you will, too.