Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

Little Women

Writer-director Greta Gerwig has a clear feminist point of view when retelling the classic tale Little Women. She doesn’t deviate much from the novel penned by Louisa May Alcott (two novels in fact – more on that later) and doesn’t need to. Alcott was surprisingly modern unconventional for her time (1832-1888), writing about domesticity and women’s work but making it clear that they all had minds and passions and ambitions of their own, even if society was set up to constrain their use.

The novels are largely classified as autobiographical or semi-autobiographical fiction, with Jo March standing in for Alcott herself as she pulls stories from her own life to illustrate herself and her sisters transitioning from childhood to womanhood. The first novel was such a success that Alcott quickly wrote a follow up which she titled Good Wives, telling more about her characters are their lives as grown women. An avalanche of fan mail had poured in, much of it demanding a happy ending for Jo, happy meaning married of course, so Alcott wove that into her own story, but bucked against the traditional and created a second option for Jo, one she hoped would appease readers (she was, after all, needing to support her family on the earnings from her work) but would still honour the true spirit of the character she and so many others had come to love. But 150 years later, Gerwig restores Alcott’s true intentions, bending the ending just a bit, leaving it not a little ambiguous so that we may choose which of the paths was truly more important to Jo.

As a writer with 3 sisters myself, who often put on plays together in the basement (we had no attic) of our home, you can probably guess why I loved this novel from a young age. It wasn’t its radical (for the time) point of view, it was the wonderful bond of sisterhood so deeply felt within its pages. Even as the sisters fight (sometimes physically, as illustrated in the film), their attachments are secure, their love never wavering. Modern sisterhood is often portrayed as catty and competitive but we too were a home of Little Women with big personalities and are close to this day, as our Snapchat can attest.

Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is the writer, not just of their childhood productions but also evidently of this retelling. Big sister Meg (Emma Watson) is the actress, Amy (Florence Pugh) the dreamer and youngest Beth (Eliza Scanlen) the sweet, shy musician. Marmee (Laura Dern) presides over her family with unending patience and affection even as she spreads the family’s resources thin taking care of others in the community. The next door neighbours are almost as rich as they are irresistible; Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper) cuts a sad figure from the window of his large but empty house, and young Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) clearly feels stifled as its only other occupant. Both men will get folded into the March family home in their own ways. Mr. Laurence is fond of young Beth, who reminds him of his own departed daughter, while Laurie and Jo get on like a house on fire, often to the exclusion of Amy who feels on so spurned.

The brilliance of Alcott is that even as some of these sisters settled into marriage and domesticity, the work never seems to judge them. Their paths are held in equal esteem to that of Jo’s. Alcott, who remained unmarried herself, was revolutionary in her thinking, in painting love and career in equal measure and equal worth. 151 years later, we still haven’t truly caught up, still trying to balance those wants and needs in a way that feels satisfying and right. Although I loved the spirit of this adaptation, I suppose I thought Gerwig might have a little more to say on the matter. I imagined that she might have stamped just a bit more of herself into the proceedings.

Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are the stand-outs among the cast; as this is the seventh movie adaptation I suppose by now we know these are the plum roles (Jo having been played by the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Winona Ryder, and Amy by Elizabeth Taylor and Kirsten Dunst). All great directors have their muses and it seems Ronan may be that for Gerwig, playing her leading lady twice now, and likely to secure an Oscar nomination. Pugh has already had a dizzyingly successful 2019, and she certainly makes the most of her scenes in this. As Gerwig must, she trims many of the novel’s excesses, choosing scenes for plot and character development and losing many of the fun and funny anecdotal ones that make the novel feel so lively and warm. But Gerwig’s adaptation is both faithful and wise. It’s only that I admire her unique voice so much that I wish she had respected her source material a little less and allowed her own perspective to shine through a little more. If it is possible to love something while being just the tiniest bit disappointed, then that’s my verdict. Gerwig gives Little Women 100% but I unfairly hoped for 110%. Still, it’s a pleasure to see a female story be so lovingly preserved through the years, in timeless and timely ways.

TIFF19: The Laundromat

“Based on actual secrets,” the screen tells us. Based on the trailer, I sort of expected The Laundromat to be the Erin Brockovich of money laundering. It was not. It was actually just a weak and poor copy of The Big Short.

The Big Short was about the Wall Street crash of 2008, more or less, precipitated by the housing bubble. And how all that lending, and then speculating against those bad mortgages, really fucked a lot of good people over. That film wove together a narrative interspersed with attempts to break down financial concepts to the audience. A celebrity – cameos by Margot Robbie or Selena Gomez, for example – would break the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and explain textbook concepts, like subprime mortgages, to us in a way we could easily grasp. It was celebrated for its unconventional techniques, which helped secure it the Oscar for adopted screenplay.

You can’t really blame The Laundromat for trying to capitalize on its success, but when your success is based on novelty and innovation, you pretty much inherently can’t replicate it. To even try seems…lazy.

Meryl Streep stars as an old lady who goes on a pleasure cruise with her husband, played by James Cromwell. An errant wave hits them and the boat capsizes, killing 21. In the wake of the accident, it is discovered that the cruise company is without insurance. Not that they didn’t have any – they thought they did – but that their policy was bought by another company, and another, and possibly another, until all there were were shell companies and no real policy, no real insurers, and definitely no money for the victims of the accident.

But Meryl Streep’s portion of the film is just one third of what we’re ultimately presented with. The other stories are only loosely connected by a law firm that exists just to hide money for its obscenely wealthy companies. The lawyers, played by Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman, serve not just as characters, but also as narrators who get to skip through all the scenes, breaking the fourth wall and revealing the film’s sets to be just that: sets. It’s all very meta. And while these characters are a lot of fun, it stinks so badly of The Big Short you can never quite forgive it, even when it’s entertaining.

Based on the Panama Papers leak, the movie tries to reveal even just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rich getting richer: tax evasion, bribery, fraud, offshore accounts. But it’s sloppily assembled and is such a weak photocopy you can’t help but resent it outright. This is actually a very important issue that absolutely deserves our attention. But Steven Soderbergh just can’t pull this together, and in fact confuses the matter with his weird, episodic vignettes and title cards that just don’t add up. I’m just a lowly 99-percenter who pretends saving is optional and credit is use it or lose it. What do I know? Besides, you know, wanting my money back for this movie ticket.

Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns is practically perfect in every way. It looks wonderful, whimsical, fanciful, a dreamscape. The animated sequences are next-level. The choreography is lively and polished. The costuming, by genius Sandy Powell, makes me tremble, its candy colours and hand-painted detailing an absolute riot. It’s wearable happiness.

And the cast. The cast! Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer play Michael and Jane Banks, the original kids from the first Mary Poppins, all grown up. Julie Walters tinkers in the kitchen as the hard-working maid, Ellen. Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack, the effervescent but largely ineffective lamp lighter (he might light 3 lamps total during the course of a 2 hour movie because his song and dance breaks are so frequent; the lamp lighter’s union must be fabulous). Together, they’re already a dream cast, but then MV5BY2I4NTRiM2UtYzIxYS00MTkyLTk4Y2ItYmNjNWNlMzZiYzdjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_director Rob Marshall plunks down Emily Blunt as the iconic nanny, Mary Poppins. Ho-lee shit. I mean, every ounce of credit to Julie Andrews, but since she’s vacated the seat, Emily Blunt is absolutely the perfect choice to carry the carpet bag. Anyone else in the role is simply unimaginable. And Colin Firth and Meryl Streep are BONUSES? Ex-squeeze me? Pure casting heaven.

But here’s the deal: despite there not being a single smudge dirtying up the glass, the magic just wasn’t there for me. I wanted to love this movie. Maybe I wanted it too much. It has all the right ingredients, but the pinch of disappointment is all I can taste.

Michael Banks is in a spot of trouble. His wife died a year ago, leaving him in charge of the house and the kids. All are neglected. His adorable children aren’t just raising themselves, they’re taking care of him too. Just about the only thing they can’t do is save the house from foreclosure. Michael and Jane can’t do it either – neither has any money. Where or where are those stock certificates their father left them? They’ve only got a few days to save their family home from the evil banker, Colin Firth. Cue Mary Poppins. Nominally, she’s taking care of the children, but I think her main ambition is just to allow them to be children again. And ideally, force Michael to act like the father again. So that’s the plot, and then we continually interrupt the plot to do some wild Mary Poppins shenanigans. The dancy, singy, cartoony musical numbers are incredible, or they would be if the songs weren’t so negligible, but they grind the plot to a halt and don’t relate to the rest of the movie at all. It’s not cohesive; I feel like I was watching two different movies, part depression-era family tragedy, part nostalgic stuff and nonsense. There are some wonderful call-backs to the original film, but I feel like Mary Poppins returns relies too heavily on its predecessor and our forgiveness. I wanted so badly to be carried away by this, but I remained firmly in my seat, butt against leather, popcorn in the cracks (of the recliner, not my ass). Translation: perfectly ordinary in every way.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Well it’s 5 years later and these jerks are ready to go again. I mean, it’s been 10 years since the last movie was released, but it’s been 5 movie years, and the gang’s all here, except not.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has refurbished her mother’s Greek hotel, finally. Too bad her husband Sky (no I cannot believe that’s his actual name) (Dominic Cooper) isn’t around to see it. Is there trouble in paradise?

No matter. She’s planning a huge party to unveil the new space. Everyone’s invited: the MV5BNzU2N2NkMDEtN2IxZS00NjQ3LWI5MGUtOTVmOGIzMjEwN2Y5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk5MTY4MTU@._V1_three dads (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard), Mom’s best friends (Christine Baranski, Julie Walters) – even Grandma (Cher)! But because one party full of old people is pretty lame (could someone tell Sophie that?), the movie is 80% flashback. Meryl Streep’s character is now played by the lush and nubile Lily James, and we get to watch her have all the unprotected, close together sex with three different men (at least!) alluded to in the first movie, which resulted in all the daddy confusion.

If you liked the first movie, you’ll probably find it in your heart to like this one. If you like ABBA but not their overplayed radio hits, which all sound the same, you’re going to love this sequel, which contains all the songs that were too shitty to make the first cut, plus a couple of weak recreations of the title song, which they just can’t get enough of. Plus, who doesn’t love the spangly, bell-bottomed costumes that go along with it? This second movie is even more contrived than the first, amounting to a less satisfying story.  Basically, you’ve got a handful of unknown ABBA songs from deep in the back catalogue, and you’ve got to contort the script to make them fit (see ‘Waterloo’ for an excellent example of this).

Everyone else in the world has been swept away by the sheer joy of a second ABBA musical while I’m still not over the first. Call me grumpy cat – I don’t get the appeal.

Mamma Mia

I love Meryl Streep, and I love her in this. Sean sort of threatened me with re-watching the entire Mission: Impossible franchise in order to “prep” for its 67th installment, so I said: not until you watch Mamma Mia first. Because of course he hasn’t seen it.

Immediately he notices that this is the free-est we’ve ever seen The Streep, and it’s not just the dancing and prancing about. “Unhinged” is what he calls her, but I see it too. She’s fluid and feminine and it makes me realize how comparatively locked down she is in her other roles – even in Ricki and the Flash, which was so terrible you’d at least hope she had fun making it.

MV5BMmRhMmIzYjctYTExYi00YmNkLWEyMzUtMjNhZjliZTZjZWUwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAwODA4Mw@@._V1_The second thing he notices is Preacher. This has just ruined Preacher for Sean. Dominic Cooper is 100% lame in this movie, there’s no getting around it. He plays Amanda Seyfried’s love interest, and Meryl’s soon to be son-in-law, but mostly just a floppy-haired wanker who can’t wipe that shit-eating grin off his face. And Preacher NEVER grins. His character’s name is Sky so it’s official: twat.

Now, Sean is very comfortable in his manhood and he doesn’t hate on musicals as a genre, but ABBA isn’t exactly his bag – although come to find out, it’s a little more his bag than mine (Columbia House sent him a CD once, so he knows that some of the songs are different from some of the other songs, whereas I think they’re basically indistinguishable). Still, he’s a little concerned when they seem to have exhausted the entire ABBA repertoire and the movie’s not half done. Don’t worry, I tell him, they repeat. Not that that’s much comfort. And it doesn’t leave a lot for the sequel, although eagle-eyed Sean did spot a character in the sequel named Fernando (Andy Garcia) (though that song’s about war, and seems hard to place…not that that stopped them using a song about divorce in a wedding scene).

This movie’s 10 years old, and watching it all this time later, I can tell I wanted to like this movie because besides Meryl, I also adore Pierce and Brosnan, but man this is junk. The plot is structured around ABBA songs, so the best they could come up with is that Meryl’s daughter is getting married at their hotel\home in beautiful Greece, and she’s invited three former flames of her mother’s, all possibly her father. Awkward! The director, Phyllida Lloyd, is probably a talented lady, but she’s mostly a theatre director, and you can tell how married she was to the Broadway musical version of this. The acting all feels hammy, the gestures over-the-top, exaggerated for those in the cheap seats. The scenery is beautiful and it’s obvious they shot on location, but that realism makes the theatricality feel cheesy and out of place. 

It took this rewatch to realize I really don’t care for this movie, and I’m certainly not anticipating its unnecessary sequel. And it makes Sean a bit nervous to note how little Meryl is featured in its trailer…and the fact that the movie seems to largely focus on a younger version of her character (played by Lily James) does not bode well. If even Meryl didn’t care to revisit Mamma Mia, why the hell should we?

The Post

In 1971, Kay Graham was the first of her kind, a female newspaper publisher, but she was never supposed to have the job. The Washington Post was part of the family business but her father passed it down not to her, but to her husband. But when her husband committed suicide, she stepped into shoes that had always been loafers, not heels.

Then, something amazing happens: someone leaks top secret documents that detail the Vietnam cover-up that spanned 4 U.S. presidents including the current one, Richard Nixon, who’s kind of a dick. The NY Times gets ahold of them but gets shut down by Tricky Dick and his cronies. The papers then filter down to The Washington Post, and Kay Graham has to decide whether she’s going to risk her little empire AND a serious prison sentence.

Interesting facts about Mrs. Graham: she was not a powerful business person, or used to MV5BMTg5Nzg3NjUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTY5NzA1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_being in charge. She’d never had another job. She was naturally meek, and kind of nervous. She was surrounded by assertive men, some of whom weren’t crazy to have her among their midst and certainly didn’t see her as an equal never mind a boss, and none of whom were shy about voicing their opinions. She was, however, an accomplished socialite, which in the city of Washington, means she counted many prominent politicians among her friends – and the particular politician at the epicenter of this scandal was among her closest. These facts are not to diminish her but to illustrate just how courageous she truly was to take the stance she did.

Newsflash: Steven Spielberg is a good director. Yeah, we already knew this, but this film had me noticing all kinds of little details that I admired greatly. This movie has the feel of a smart and sharp little indie; it’s taut and thrilling and lots of fun. It gets a little heavy-handed at times but its best moments are when it’s showing, not telling.

Maybe Spielberg’s greatest asset is his incredible ensemble cast. Tom Hanks is the fevered editor, and he’s flawless. Bob Odenkirk is stupendous as a hard-working investigative journalist. But of course it’s Meryl Streep who steals the show as Kay Graham. It’s not a showy role. Mrs. Graham is never the biggest personality in the room. She’s not commanding, but we are nevertheless riveted by Ms. Streep. Her shaking hands, her tremulous lip – we see how hard this for her, and so we admire her all the more for doing it.

You are not contractually allowed to write a review of this film without using the word “timely”. About a year ago, Nixon was down-graded to only the second most douche-baggiest president in history. Truth matters. The press belongs to the governed, not the governors. Support journalism. Subscribe to a newspaper, even if you read it online. One day they’ll be making movies about this time. But this is not just a news story, it’s also, of course, a nod to feminism. Mrs. Graham walks through a sea of secretaries before she’s admitted to the all-male floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She faces a Supreme Court that has never had a female Justice and wouldn’t for another decade. When someone says that Mrs. Graham’s father willing the family business to Kay’s husband says a lot about the man, Tom Hanks replies that actually, it says more about the time. So yeah, this is the movie we all need right now. It’s essential viewing. But even if wasn’t so “timely”, it’s so thoroughly peppered by exceptionally talented people that The Post is an easy recommendation and a damn fine film.

August: Osage County

Truth tellers: every family has one. They say mean shit and then hide behind its being “the truth” as if no harm ever came from telling the truth. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that the truth can be painful, can be private, and can be left unsaid. And as humans with emotional intelligence and self-control, we have no excuse not to hold back. My grandmother is a truth-teller, often leaving hurt feelings in the wake of her “plain-spokenness”.  I don’t always understand what has kept my grandparents together for 66 years (well, okay, probably Catholicism, and good old fashioned not believing in divorce), but my grandmother is not a pill-popper and my grandfather is not a suicidal alcoholic. So there’s that.

When Bev (Sam Shepard) goes missing, his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) rallies the troops. Daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is already there, always there, but it’s favoured daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) who really matters, who will make everything better when she arrives.

Favourites: every family has these too. Maybe it’s the one who reminds you most of yourself, or maybe the complete opposite. And maybe it changes over time, favouring the best achiever, and then the one who produces the most grandchildren, and then favouring the one who sticks closest to home. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason but we do seem to agree that we must never, ever admit it out loud. But your kids know, just the same as you knew it of your parents. It’s the way of life. Most people are just pretty good at being diplomatic about it.

Violet’s not. Violet’s pretty nasty about it. Ivy is the good one, but Barb is the favourite. Karen (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t really even figure, but it’s mostly nice when she shows up. And she does show up eventually, because her father’s bloated body is fished out of the river and now it’s not his disappearance they’re dealing with, it’s his death. The dynamic between the sisters is fragile, and with Violet twisted with grief and pills, she lets her truth flag fly. And you know how gets caught in the crossfire? Everyone.

The passing on of pain: Violet and her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) were abused by their mother. Violet is so self-righteous about her own pain that she can’t fathom the pain she causes others, or she doesn’t think it rates. Violet is cruel to her daughters, and Mattie Fae can’t seem to stand her son Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). That’s the way abuse works, it trickles down the generations. Is Barb messing up her own daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin)? She’s suffering too.

Family secrets: What’s a family without its secrets? Maybe secrets are the cement that hold us all together. Only Ivy and Charles know they’re in love, despite being cousins. Only Mattie Fae knows that Ivy and Charles aren’t cousins, they’re siblings. Only Barb and her husband (Ewan McGregor) know they’re separated. Only the devoted nursemaid knows what Karen’t fiance is trying to do with Barb’s young daughter. And only Violet knows that Bev’s death was actually a suicide.

You’ve got to have nerves of steel to get through August: Osage County. The family drama is raw as fuck. But Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put in incredibly strong performances amid a top-notch cast that never puts so much as a baby toe wrong. It’s note perfect, it’s just not pretty. A lifetime of pain is more poisonous than all the pills in the world. This film, based on a brilliant play by Tracy Letts, is a force.