Archive for the ‘Meryl Streep: ACTING GODDESS’ Category

The Laundromat

27 Nov

The Laundromat—directed by Steven Soderbergh. Crime Dramedy. 95 minutes Color 2019.
The Story: The mad fairytale of the notorious off-shore tax evasion con is danced into floodlit glare by its perpetrators and victims alike.
Here we have a that rarity, a comic polemic, apt, imaginative, convincing. How well directed? Perfectly. How written, edited, costumed, set, and designed? Perfectly.

As to the acting, all the actors should be shot.

And why is that?

Because how could any of them exceed in excellence what they triumph as here?

The piece takes on the illegal, devious, cheap, and costly scam of off-shore tax shelters. 60 billion tax dollars lost last year to the common weal, stolen and stashed by America’s corporations.

I mean, how small can you get? How vile, how cheesy to cheat one’s countrymen of education? Food? Care?

Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman play international profits isolators, Banderas from Latin America and Oldman from someplace Teutonic, Tweedledum and Tweedledee in perfect sync. Believe me, they are believed to be must seen. Which means you dare not miss the black comedy of their grift, the irony of their alibis, their slippery sloping mealy-mouthed lying tongues. They play other parts as well, all in aid of mendacity and moolah.

Meryl Streep?

I leave you to wake to her particular genius again. We keep falling asleep about her. She keeps waking us up.

Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell, Sharon Stone, David Schwimmer—all in top form. Clear, cogent, creative.

This is on Netflix and was produced for Netflix.

Tip top entertainment. Which induces us all to rise to the occasion, I should hope.


Mary Poppins Returns

21 Jan

Mary Poppins Returns—directed by Rob Marshall. Musical Comedy. 2 hours 10 minutes Color 2018.
The Story: Though threatened with eviction, the Banks family of London take on a former nanny, who arrives with heavenly solutions in her carpet bag.
Reassurance reigns with the fresh face and person of Lin-Manuel Miranda biking around London putting out gas lights as the picture opens. What is it about him? Well, there were no gaslights in 1930’s London, but we forget that with the forthright, honest face of him, easy, simple, unforced— singing. And then the song, which is open in style and a welcome-mat to one’s hopes that the rest of the songs will be as accessible.

Few of them are. Generally the songs are over-written, cramped with verses whose wit is too quick to register, more adult than Gilbert and Sullivan, and not nearly as pretty. Kids won’t get it. Adults won’t wonder why: they won’t get it either.

The dancing of them is incorrectly shot, feet unshown, and so elaborate in choreography and rapidly cut, one does not have time to sit back and enjoy a thing.

This forced-feeding goes on throughout the film as muscal episode after episode is dolled up and stuffed with special effects that detract from the good-hearted message of the film which is: use your imagination. But imagination withers under the rain of these over-imaginative special effects. Under water we go. Up Big Ben we scale. High in the sky we fly. A bore. Because? Because they leave nothing to the imagination. Special effects dictate enjoyment, they do not necessarily provide it. Each musical number wrestles us to the floor and puts a stranglehold on us. With the command for us to surrender to it, the film does all the entertaining for us, leaving us with nothing to contribute to the joy.

The original Mary Poppins movie gave us breathing space and several songs our little daughter could sing. And I could too, and still can. The Return supplies us with no such air and and no such airs.

But it is delightful whenever all of this is not happening. Which is most of the time.

David Warner, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep all show up and bring the zest of their 10-20-30 pacing.

The faces new to me are really good: Ben Wishaw as the father-inferior beset with eviction, Emily Mortimer as his appealing sister and Wishaw’s three children Pixie Davies, Nathanael Sahel, and Joel Dawson—along with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Noma Dumezweni as the wicked bank owner’s staff.

My heart swelled a number of times as the Banks folks extricated themselves from the threat of becoming homeless—a situation millions experience today. Will the spoonful of imagination-and-good will help the medicine of expatriation go down? Alas, our modern-day refugees do not have the help of a magical nanny parachuting from the sky to answer that question.

I liked the first version of Mary Poppins, but I prefer this actress’s interpretation of Mary Poppins to Julie Andrews’, whose singing forces us to be pleased with it. Emily Blunt’s Poppins is not easy to take, maybe, but more understandable, more formidable, and more sly in her determination to ease the characters and us into the mind-set that imagination can win the day.

I recommend the film to everyone. The banks versus the Banks—I know whom I’m rooting for—every time! Same as you.


The Post

15 Jan

The Post – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. 116 minutes Color 2017.
The Story: When the Justice Department bans the farther publication of The Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post seeks to continue, and the battle to do or not to do this seethes throughout the Post’s personnel.
It’s a civics class, presented as a scrapbook of walloping headlines and fill-you-in-quick info. Which, in film terms, means that it is collage as montage.

We get big, fat, hairy History Facts. The crudeness of their presentation means they must be jammed down our throats rather than presented cinematically. And all the supporting parts are overwritten.

The style is to hype all this into a suspense story, and it sure achieves that effect. For the film excites as the suspense mounts, for it mounts as the fears mount. And the fears mount. Or at least reproduce like fleas.

Will the Post survive? Will the Post staff go to jail? Will publication ruin the stock options for the Post? Will the First Amendment be forsaken? Will the Post get The Pentagon Papers? Can The Post reporters assemble a coherent copy from unnumbered pages? Will the scaredy-cat Post Board Of Directors and lawyers prevail over the valiant editorial staff? Will Robert McNamara’s friendship with Post’s owner, Mrs Katharine Graham, override her ability to disgrace him? Will she be able to seize the steering wheel of the paper like the good feminist she doesn’t even know herself to be? And will Ben Bradlee, her editor-in-chief, lose his job to disgrace and failure?

I sit on the edge of my seat for all this as though I didn’t know the outcome. And the Berkeley audience at the multiplex, which also knows, applauds each time Mrs Graham makes the ethically adventurous choice. Each episode offered us keeps the movie going: John Williams’ score excites; Janucz Kaminski’s camera captivates; Ann Roth’s costuming convinces. We’re all ganged up on by Spielberg’s bunch and we expect to be.

Because what we have is an old-fashioned movie about a heroine.

Heroine-acting is – well, let’s give a fond example – Katharine Hepburn acting. She did that sort of acting a lot, and it’s done with a lot of tears and nobility of jaw and a sky-blue righteousness.

Meryl Streep does not play Mrs Graham in this vein. She does the opposite all. She plays it, let’s say, in a pair of old sheepskin bedroom slippers and a comfy bathrobe. That is, she underplays big moments. She throws them away. Watch her do it. And see how you pick up what she throws before it hits the ground, polish it up, and hand it to both of you.

This acting decision makes Streep’s every character decision personal to the character. It’s that simple.

Kay Graham was Jewish. Streep gives her a tiny overlay of this in her accent. She was an ordinary, well-bred Vassar girl of modest ambition, and Streep makes clear that which was unclear in Graham, not an easy thing for an actor to do. It’s a good character performance which we all can enter into as its boundaries and qualities unfold.

Tom Hanks plays the supporting role of her goad and ally, the editor-in-chief bent on the big fun of a big story. Bradlee was a virile, brash personality, which is not in Hanks’ usual line. One thing he does to nail Bradlee is to play in his shirtsleeves, for earthy honesty is Bradlee’s ethos, which is in Hanks’ line, and it carries the role.

Hanks squeezes the part into his brow and into a mouth that does not speak with forked tongue, so you get Bradlee’s toughness, resolve, and vim in an inner battle between restraint and outbreak. And Hanks does beautifully a well-written monolog late in the film, and, like Streep, it is taken anti-heroically as he lounges back on a couch. He’s an actor who knows it’s the woman’s picture, but since that doesn’t offend the actor, so it does not offend the character, which is essentially what makes the character work as an influence in a story not his own.

The directorial style is forced and crude and obvious. But one does not ask and has never asked for subtlety of treatment from Spielberg, but for a big-bang-up subject to stir and engross, with the soft landing of a moral at the end. Such perils provide the entertainment of the thrill of a free fall into a dish of tapioca pudding. I always go to them. Good old-fashioned movie-going is what I know I’ll find, and I do.

The movie may seem apt right now, because, as with Nixon then, we once again have a lunatic rat in The White House. Nixon, of course, was clever but devious. If Trump is clever he’s too clever to ever have revealed it, and he is as devious as a load of garbage cascading down a mountainside.

Both presidents sought to squelch the press. Bu in Nixon’s day newspapers still existed as a source of truth – valiant truth sometimes. Nowadays, newspapers have been superannuated by screens, and screens are a compromised medium – as compromised as the president who would compromise them further. One believes neither president nor press. All there is, is the blatant outrage of misconduct by all parties and on all sides, whose sleep alone allows the peeps of liberal complaint to seep through. We cannot have freedom of the press if freedom has no place to exist. We cannot have freedom of the press if there is no place for content. If we cannot hold a newspaper in our bare hands, what can we possibly believe. If those who create it do not have to hold it in their bare hands, why should veracity bother them.

So even this civics lesson picture falls under suspicion of mis-information and pious prevarication. How true is all of this? Did this really happen? In this order? Or is this just another People magazine version of a celebrity inside-story by those whose power prefers to shout from outside the gate with impotent resentment across a vast lawn to a White House whose occupant’s mentality of an orange is in Florida. That is to say, is this another splash of muck on just another screen. In 2015, The Washington Post itself was sold to Amazon for 250 million dollars in cash – which is to say it was sold to just another computer screen.


Florence Foster Jenkins

15 Aug

Florence Foster Jenkins – directed by Stephen Frears. Biopic. 110 minutes Color 2016


The Story: A New York Socialite devoted to classical music brings her collapsed singing to Carnegie Hall.


New York never looked like that then. I was alive in the 1940s and lived there. So the first falsity is in the costumes of the extras, the cars, the buildings, all of which are CGI and show it. Carnegie Hall and the other public interiors ring no truer than Lady Florence’s soprano. Is this treatment in conflict with or is it in support of the false basis of her talent in the ears of Francis Foster Jenkins herself? For the real question is, how come didn’t she know?

We never go deeply into it. And with Meryl Streep before us in the role, we could. The honest things about the piece are that Meryl Streep does her own singing and Simon Helberg does his own piano playing as her accompanist Cosmé McMoony. Otherwise all we get is the story of a flimsy delusion.

We do get that Francis Foster Jenkins was devoted to musical performance her whole life, and sacrificed a great fortune to pursue it when, as an 18 year old, her father refused to send her to conservatory and disinherited her when she left home and taught piano to continue.

The important element missing is that Francis Foster Jenkins actually made a recording of her voice – and she must have listened to it – and she must have known she was off pitch. So there is a disparity between her appreciation of Lily Pons in the ‘40s and Jenkins being knocked out by Pons’ singing. If we know Jenkins heard Pons, how come she couldn’t she hear herself?

Her vocal irregularities may have been a derangement brought on by tertiary syphilis. In which case we might sympathize with her as a human more deeply than we do, despite Streep’s success in making her a generous, charming and appealing individual, which in real life she may have been.

So one doesn’t know what to think of this film. It is certainly not the depiction of an egomaniac. Nor is it the depiction of someone whose God-given calling was to be a musical performer, although that was her God-given calling.

Hugh Grant plays her “husband” – actually her manager – one of several who fed her with flattery in exchange for the contents of her purse. He plays it well and is well cast, but it is a thankless role as written, because we never get a chance to explore him, except as a hardworking gigolo.

All this means that Streep is left with a narrow range in which to operate and operize. Still worth seeing, of course, more for Streep than Jenkins. And we humans should not deny ourselves. For, if Jenkins had done so, wherever would we be?

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The Homesman

27 Mar

The Homesman directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Western. 122 minutes. Color 2014.


The Story: With the aid of a disreputable bum, a spinster must transport 3 mad women back home to Iowa,


An interesting story, and well written, but damaged by casting, costumes, and production.

Let’s get the worst out of the way, and save the best for last.

Nebraska is set in northern New Mexico, which, of course, it does not resemble one bit. The great plains do not go there, even on Sunday. What we get instead is parched earth to the horizon – although I recall northern New Mexico as quite green. This dislocation does not harm, but then the production shifts to what is supposed to be 1850 Georgia, which looks instead like an historic theme park tricked up for tourists. Since the first three fourths of the film have been earthy and stark, this is disastrous, and who suddenly appears at the rectory door but Meryl Streep all gotten up to go to a costume party. She wears a dress oh so freshly pressed and never worn before or since.

Nor does her performance overcome this, for her hold on the role is uncertain, and she moves it at once in the direction of your customary woman of good intentions, Miss Helen Hayes. Streep’s very presence overbears this part of the film and wrecks the finale, which itself is clumsily directed and shot.

None of this would be worth mentioning were not something worth mentioning more, which is that the main character is played by Hillary Swank. She is supposed to be bossy, pious, and plain as a tin can. But we see Swank is none of those things either by art or nature. In the extras everyone describes her as wonderful to work with, and I bet she is. That does not make her good in a role where she should in fact be obnoxious. And she is by no stretch of the imagination or makeup homely. Those suitors who reject her give us wonder. She seems quite acceptable, kindly, capable, never annoying, and handsome at the least. Swank’s presence denies the film its human drama. It needed Mary WIckes.

The great gift of the film is its story, which is well worth watching, and also the remarkable places the strange wagon containing the three lunatics traverse. And Tommy Lee Jones makes a brilliant old reprobate of his Mr. Briggs. It’s one of his best efforts. See Homesman. It’s different. Except you will recognize this film’s similarity to The African Queen. Jones is better than Bogey, Hepburn than Swank. John Lithgow plays Robert Morley. The three mad women play the torpedo. And Meryl Streep plays Lake Tanganyika.



Into The Woods

04 Jan

Into The Woods – directed by Rob Marshall. Musical. 125 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: In art, all woods are The Woods Of Error. Here, Little Red Riding Hood, The Miller and His Wife, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk stumble into one another’s stories in the woods in order to lift the curses of their various character traits.


It’s so unevenly cast that I didn’t know what to do with it. Then I just sat back in my seat and decided to let it wash over me. After all, here I was being presented with a great big dolloping Hollywood musical: just my dish of tea.

What’s wrong with it is that some of the principles seemed not belonging in a musical at all. Actors who might be able to sing, as opposed to singers who might be able to act. No dancers in sight. That sort of thing. I name no names. It’s too late for that.

What’s good about it is the rampant artificiality of the sets. What’s not so good is that one senses the two brothers who sing on a waterfall appear to have been filmed somewhere else and then stuck onto the cascade like paper dolls. They relate neither to the water nor to the peril of their situation. What’s good about it is that the two young men sing a song of the agony of frustrated love wonderfully.

What’s bad about it is Steven Sondheim’s hardened acidity, a quality which has etched away melody from his songs and left him with utilitarian recitatives, systems of music he can open like bureau drawers and put some new words into. (He used the same music in A Little Night Music.) His songs have no song. What’s good about it is that if the words are sometimes too witty to go anywhere inside you, they are matchless in their dexterity, which like a rapid game of badminton, is fun to watch – or rather hear.

What’s good about it is the complicity with which the plots of the story intersect and feed one another. What’s bad about it is that the stories eventually over-complicate.

What’s good about it is that happily-forever-after is just a trope to close down a tale, not an oracle of future bliss. For what’s bad about it is that, once we reach that point, the movie extends itself into unhappily-ever-after. Plot developments then wreck the use of fairy tales. Fairy tales are psychologically profound without the intrusion of a realism inapt to their own decorums.

What’s good about it is that it’s delightful to meet the old friends of these tales. What’s bad about it as that towards the end one wishes they would pick up their skirts and dash for the finish line.

I loved Daniel Huttlestone as Jack and Johnny Depp as The Wolf. I like mischief. I liked the intimacy and realism of Meryl Streep’s witch singing of motherhood to Rapunzel. I wished the story’s director had rationed her trick of goosing the story up by sudden magical appearances out of nowhere.

But I didn’t let any of this bother me at the time. Or only a little. I watched. As I say, I let it wash over me. I shall go to the theatre to see it again – or rather to listen to it again. I say all this to encourage you to go also. But be warned in advance. Gird yourself. The fractured fairy tale does become compound.









The Giver

08 Sep

The Giver — directed by Phillip Noyce. Sci-fi. 97 minutes Color 2014


The Story: A young man entrusted with the memory of the race decides to flout convention and save all humanity.


Everything depends upon the casting of the young man, and in this case he is perfect – Brenton Thwaites, a teenager by the look of him, with a big open expression and beautiful eyes like Dana Andrews’. So we can well believe in his ability to absorb the information he is called upon to receive and go on to care about his survival with it.

This information is imparted by a senior member of the community, and is played by Jeff Bridges. It is the part of a man who knows everything, and the peril in such parts is that one can sound mantic. Or make noises like a stone dog. That is to say, be Alec Guinness. Bridges skirts this canyon and tousles the young man as he transmits the info, so we see he is rather more warm-minded than the rest of the community, from which all feeling has been drained by daily injections and by a sternly regulated diction. Katie Holmes plays the young man’s mother, and she is a vision that would have won Charles Addams’ heart. His father is the local executioner, which would have won his other heart.

For what we have here is a dystopia. A dystopia is a utopia, a utopia is always a dystopia, all utopias being dystopias because all utopias, having been formed for the most noble and humane purposes, insist on certain humorless excisions, and so all go to the bad.

The monitor of this nation is Meryl Streep, who plays her role of the bad lady with a technical purity that is a source of wonder and surprise with every breath she draws and every word she utters. She regulates a nation from which all color and all love have been banished.

In the story, the young man wakens to the deprivations this nation lives under as he learns of them through the transmissions of The Giver, Bridges, a physical encyclopedia of all past human and natural history. And somehow the young man must escape and save humanity from the wreckage of the future.

I enjoyed the adventure and all the sci-fi effects. Indeed, the effects are the chief value of sci-fi. They guarantee and deliver magic. The Giver story is told in a series of beautiful montages that sweep us forward and keep us abreast of The Lost Horizon we are learning about and from. Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a sci-fi play. Meryl Streep transports herself with no more difficulty than Ariel. For special effects have an honored and ancient place in commanding our sense of wonder, fortunate deliverance, and heavenly visitation every time. If you don’t think those are real in real life, your sense of reality may be stunted. Effects are the wand to remind us of the power and influence of the impalpable.

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Posted in Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep: ACTING GODDESS, Sci-Fi, SURVIVAL DRAMA


August: Osage County

19 Jan

August: Osage County – directed by John Wells. Family Drama. 121 minutes, Color, 2014.


The Story: A paterfamilias goes missing and the clan gathers, poisoned daggers out, lips drooling with vitriol.

Misty Upham, as the American Indian caregiver, is the only sane and decent woman within miles.

First, We have sister number one, Juliet Lewis, who in no movie is ever sane and who arrives in a condition of advanced delusion about honeymooning in Belize with her sleazy boyfriend, Dermot Mulroney. Then we have sister number two, Julia Roberts, who arrives in high, control-freak denunciation and a condition of covert separation from her husband played by Ewan McGregor. Then we have Margot Martindale, a battle-axe aunt castigating her feckless son and married for 38 years to Chris Cooper. And last but most, we have Sam Shepard’s wife, Meryl Streep as the Medusa of the family, dedicated to speaking the hideous truth, the whole hideous truth, and nothing but the hideous truth, and suffering from cancer of the mouth and extreme drug addiction, to boot.

To record all this here seeps mockery into one’s tone, since the dishes are piled with more food than one can swallow. The actors sink their jaws into it, though, and shake it all about. It is wonderful to see acting of this high order and imagination.

Indeed I sit back in wonder and amazement at the daring, skill, and inventiveness of the performers. Julia Roberts is filmed in close-ups that leave no leeway to age. And Meryl Streep is extraordinary as the Oklahoma materfamilias out to get every member at her dining table with the meanest mouth in the West. She plays a woman seared by age. She plays not an old woman. Rather, she plays a woman denounced by age, demoted by it, defeated by it, although her dying cries are ear shattering. The beastly mouth of old age indulges itself. The part is about already being old. She laughs it off; she lies. I have never seen Streep explore such a thing before.

The play itself is not about age but about the dubious proposition that if you had a terrible childhood passing it on makes you understandable and, indeed, excusable. You are awarded all this once an author writes you an exposition scene about how nasty your own mother was to you that time. No one breaks the chain, here. There is never a choice-point, every woman spits out the venom, as to the manner born, which they were, and perhaps the playwright does not have in his belief system that people can change. The venom is very well written venom. It is not venom in a Dixie cup. It is venom in a chalice.

The writer is less adept with those less verbally adept, the parts of McGregor’s and Robert’s daughter, and of the third sister and her boyfriend. These three are mute victim bystanders, the collaterally damaged. However, all three parts are weakly conceived and written. Moreover, Benedict Cumberbach misconstrues the boyfriend as somewhat simple-minded, which he is not. In any case, both characters would be better kept off-stage entirely. They would be more potent if they could not or would not appear on it at all. That writing error leads to a bad misplacement of dramatic energy in the Third Act.

But this is a cavil in a piece which we all must see, we who honor and love and enjoy acting for itself alone. On this level, August: Osage County can’t be beat. See it.



Hope Springs

12 Aug

Hope Springs – directed by David Frankel. Drama Lite. A husband and wife enter marriage counseling at cross purposes. 100 minutes Color 2012.


This is graham cracker sherbet; it should not have been brought into being by any of its practitioners. It is a piece that lies its way towards a significance it ought never have pretended to. It is no better than the cheapest television bunk, gooey, prefabricated, and lost. Meryl Streep plays a woman who has married young thirty years go, but Meryl Streep is in her 60s, and so is Tommy Lee Jones. Why they cannot play their ages is a mystery. Why don’t they say it was 40 years ago, which it would have had to have been for them to have married young. The folly of whose vanity is in play here? And nothing can carry it, since Meryl Streep overplays her part, so that I was shocked by her telegraphed opening moves, where you immediately know not just what sort of empathy is being prescribed by her for you to feel, but, worse, what sort of pity. As for Tommy Lee Jones, his work is uneven. No. Incoherent. He begins by playing Mr. Gruff with Streep or playing Mr. Blatantly Rude when confronted with Steve Carell who plays the MFC therapist, but Jones plays anger the same old way he always has done, which is not just to say that he does not bring anything new as it is that what he brings is wrong, unimaginative, unthinking, uncreative. There is nothing, I suppose, he could do anyhow against the foregone conclusion of Streep’s performance. Anyhow, Streep is a leading actress but she is not a leading lady; she does not have either the personality or the ruthless charm for that category. She is an actress of milky consistency who needs to be poured into a foreign recipe into which she can be lost. Here she is just playing some sort of nice lady, the supposition being that only some sort of nice lady would ever put up for thirty years with the cruddy crabby Jones. In the last half of the film Jones comes up with some comic quirks which serve to throw the part off track but also onto the track along which it should have originally been run. What could these film-makers have wrong with them? Not only are Streep and Jones miscast as married, the two characters have never been intimate, except when the word “intimate” is used as a euphemism for fucking. They have nothing in common. They are temperamentally inconceivable together. So the standard  by which not the resumption but the initiation of “intimacy” in this marriage is not that they have an ordinary meaningful conversation but that they fuck. A marriage with no intellectual, spiritual or congenial mutuality is regarded as triumphant if they are able to get off together? Well., that’s all the writer and director have to offer us. But why bother to even be impatient with this American junk?  It’s the same old routine franchise-art Hollywood has foisted towards us for since the 1950s.


Before And After

06 Jul

Before And After – directed by Barbet Schroeder. Drama. What happens to the parents when their young son is accused of murdering his girl friend. 108 minutes Color 1996.


This is the worst film script I have encountered for major actors to perform. What makes it so? There is in it not a single character with personal eccentricity of any kind, with the exception of Alfred Molina as the lawyer eating a subway sandwich at the first interview. Otherwise, nothing anyone says would anyone say under the circumstances. What they say they would say only under the circumstances of a TV show. “I must save my son!” is not what a man in the situation would utter, unless he had watched this film. But that is what poor Liam Neeson is given to say, over and over, and it doesn’t wash. Neeson is an actor of perhaps not much intelligence. He is usually given the role of an honest lug, a role that might also promise the intelligence of luggness if the actor’s instrument had it to offer. With this piece missing, we never care about Neeson’s character, and his being married to Meryl Streep is, of course, inconceivable. His character is simply a violent dope from beginning to end; whatever soft sentiments he has to show they are still violent, crude without being primordial. But actors have a hard job; they have to act; it’s their breath as well as their bread; at times they perform material for the sociological virtue it seems to have; or not infrequently they have to just take what’s available. The fault lies not with Neeson, but with the script, which, if I may lavish it with praise, is false, cheap, and manipulative. Then too, the boy is miscast. He may be a good actor, but the trick of adopting inertia as a histrionic mode is mistaken, and the young man looks 106 not 16. I am surprised that Meryl Streep, a fairly shrewd judge of material, could not see what is being fobbed off here. In creating character, style is everything, and style always consists in the extraneous, and that comes from the writing. If there is not that, the actor has nothing to work with. Streep is not a personality actress like Katharine Hepburn. Without a strongly marked personal character of her own or one to play she is curds and whey. There is no fault in that; it’s just the instrument she has. But give her a role with some spice, and her gift awakens.Otherwise, as here, she has challenges it is not, by its nature, meant to rise to.



The Iron Lady

13 Jan

The Iron Lady — directed by Phillida Lloyd. Biopic. A woman entering senility is visited by recollections of her career in British politics which lead her to become Prime Minister. 105 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Because I neither watch nor read the news, I never saw Margaret Thatcher on television or heard her speak or paid attention to her work in office. So I cannot tell whether Meryl Streep is good at being Margaret Thatcher, but I do know that she is superb at not being Meryl Streep. For I do not see the actress in the performance. I see an old woman moving through her apartment, somewhat stooped with age, and not quite compos mentis, but also far from playing mad scenes, far from helpless or deranged. Her husband, admirably played, of course, by Jim Broadbent, has died some years before, but visits her here and in memory. Like a woman of good sense this both amuses and annoys her. We see her in her younger days start out with him, and proceed to enter politics and eventually take over the government, but none of these scenes are developed – partly because there is no antagonist in the film. There are The Males Of The World Of Politics and there are The People, but there is no individual and there is no ideology opposing her. She opposes. But that is her nature. Her husband has her number but she herself does not. So what we get is a portrait of an absolutist. She is always sure of herself. She never questions herself or her notions. It is a drama without a drama, that is to say,  with a protagonist but without an antagonist until she becomes the antagonist of herself, and, in a scene of astounding rudeness, makes the error of unconsciously demoting herself from Prime Minister to hectoring schoolmistress by scolding her cabinet ministers. She doesn’t get it, but it is the end of her. Her cabinet may accept her commands but not her demeans. All of this has a certain civics lesson merit, and in it we see at once her innocence and her humorlessness. But what interested me most was how she was in that apartment, just walking around from room to room, a person who seems to have forgotten she held great power once and not troubled at all that it is no longer hers. A woman who has to crack an egg, deal with over-solicitous helpers, get her pearls off and on. The ordinariness of these scenes, and they dominate, brings forward a human being unguarded, smart, and willing to live. It is fascinating to watch. It is an enactment of an historical figure largely in moments which are not historical, and as such it provides a riveting entertainment. Streep does not give a bravura performance here. You might say it is not a performance at all. It is a being being a being. It hardly matters that the being happens to be called Margaret Thatcher. As to the movie itself — never mind about the movie. It is a setting for a diamond.


It’s Complicated

08 Nov

It’s Complicated — Directed and Written by Nancy Meyers. Sex Farce. A divorced couple gets it on. 120 minutes Color 2009

* * *

Meryl Streep is a great actress, but she is not a Leading Lady. What she is is a Character Lead. Cast as a Leading Lady, as she sometimes is and as she is here, she cannot carry a film. She gives all that smiles and laughter have to offer to the part she plays here, but the soul of her gift is not in it. To be a leading lady one has to have a certain material substance, even a quirk of voice will do, such as Jean Arthur had, such as Katherine Hepburn had. One has to be a personality actress such as Diane Keaton or Goldie Hawn are. Meryl Streep’s affect is milky, wanting in strength, she has no defining attributes. So when she plays a Leading Lady character she is playing something close to her own everyday voice, and it lacks interest, bite, depth, intensity, and color. She’s just not that sort of actor, no fault of her own. Very few actors can do both sorts of things. Leonardo de Caprio is another example of this same problem. Cast him in Blood Diamond or Celebrity and you really have something. Cast him in Aviator and you have nothing. The problem of the picture, however, does not lie solely with Meryl Streep. The piece begins as a sophisticated, witty, sex farce, a la Ernst Lubitsch, well-written and well set up. But as soon as the children appear prominent it collapses. It is not the actors’ fault. They are simply not needed as story elements, and the writing of their parts is feeble, causing the playing of the parts to be also feeble. The more they are given in the film the less the film becomes. This is partly because the writer conceives them as TV sitcom children, and partly because she flushes the story down with them in an excrement of sentimentality. Alex Baldwin, as Meryl Streep observes, commandeers the film away from Steve Martin, but that is a directorial and writing error. Baldwin is very funny as the ex-husband, but once it becomes obvious that he is grossly, if endearingly, self-involved the writing of his part becomes repetitious and Streep’s becomes improbable, since her character does not act on the obvious. The writing of the Steve Martin character is flaccid; since he is supposed to be the good, sensitive guy, the part is stripped of wit, and Martin is reduced to clowning in the shadows. As the film declines in interest, what with the improbable behavior of the children and the lack of competitive edge for Martin, it also collapses on the interesting matter of this post-marital affair, reducing the escapade into exploring rationales for it. Streep is not enlarged by the affair once it is over. She is deflated by it. It is an error in judgment all around. The problem is not with the direction or filming here, which is frequently interesting. The problem is that the director needed a co-writer as a corrective to keep what begins in generating our delight from ending up generating our disgust.


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