Posts Tagged ‘Meryl Streep’

Into the Woods: The Woods Can Be a Wonderful Place—Movie

December 29, 2014

Into the Woods” is a joyous, albeit dark, journey into the combined worlds of Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine and the Brothers Grimm. Directed by Rob Marshall, with screenplay by Lapine, based on the musical by Sondheim and Lapine, “Into the Woods” grabs you in the very first scene and never lets go.

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Through song we’re quickly introduced to a variety of familiar fairy-tale characters with some unfulfilled dreams, chief among them—the Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Stepmother (Christine Baranski), Jack and his Mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman) and most especially, the Witch (Meryl Streep). Yes, the Witch has unfulfilled dreams, too…dreams that only the Baker and his Wife can make happen. And why would they help the Witch? Well, as she explains, to reverse the curse they didn’t know was placed upon them…a curse that makes it impossible for them to have children. Helping the Witch puts the Baker and his Wife in contact with virtually every other character in the musical. The plot seems simple and direct, but that is not necessarily the case. As the Witch reminds them…and us…be careful what you wish for.

What helps makes “Into the Woods” so successful is that every single actor can actually act and sing. Each actor makes you believe in his or her character and is perfectly cast.

The supporting cast…and the word, supporting, is used loosely… is just phenomenal. As the Wolf, Johnny Depp is sublime. He is everything you’d want in a wolf…sly, sneaky, lithe and sexy…even with those ears and whiskers. What’s more, his voice suits his character to a tee. Depp has limited amount of screen time, but he makes the most of every single second. As the object of his “affection,” Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Hood is terrific. She conveys just the right amount of spunkiness. Crawford may be young and little, but this girl can sing…she’s a precocious belter and is fabulous. Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman as Jack and his Mother make the perfect team. Huttlestone is impishly cute with a great voice and his character’s “love affair” with his cow seems very believable. Tracey Ullman has a shockingly melodic voice. In a supporting role, we don’t see a lot of her, but she is fun to watch when she’s on the screen. Fans of “The Bold and Beautiful’s” Mackenzie Mauzy knew she could sing and as Rapunzel she doesn’t disappoint, making a beautiful and belligerent Rapunzel. Cinderella’s Stepmother, Christine Baranski, is hysterically mean. She can sing with the best of them and her role just seems meant for her.

Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince and Billy Magnussen as his brother and Rapunzel’s Prince have to be singled out for special praise, especially Pine. They are both fabulous and together are just hysterical. When they sing, “Agony,” you’ll be in anything but. Pine is the year’s comedic find. He has a bit more dialogue than Magnussen and as the slightly dim, but oh so charming prince, he just continues to astound, he is that good.

Then there are the leads…to say they are all amazing is putting it mildly. As the Baker, James Corden is so very lovable you can’t help but root for him. He might not be leading man handsome, but he is a terrific actor and with his wonderful voice, he makes you fall in love with him. His scenes with the young characters, Jack and Little Red Riding Hood, are very charismatic and his work with Blunt and Streep is especially good. Emily Blunt is extremely endearing as the Baker’s Wife. She has a delightful voice and her scenes with Corden and Pine are terrific in very different ways. Anna Kendrick gives us a very plucky Cinderella, one with a huge heart, but fierce in spirit at the same time. Her singing is amazing and she is just all-around magnificent. Finally there is Meryl Streep as the Witch. To say she is astounding and perfect in every way is an understatement. Many of us knew Streep could sing, but we’ve never heard her sing the way she does in ‘Into the Woods.” Ferocious and soft when she needs to be, she just nails it. The beauty of Streep is that her part is meant to be huge and she plays that just right without overwhelming her cast-mates. The other actors more than hold their own with her which makes the movie a well-rounded affair.

The musical takes full advantage of the screen, using special effects where it’s called for and not a bit more. The effects help the film, but never overtake it. As brilliant as “Into the Woods’” cast is, the movie would be nothing without the breathtakingly beautiful and lyrically fun songs of Stephen Sondheim. Abetted by James Lapine’s marvelous screenplay, the astute direction of Rob Marshall and the most wonderful of costumes by Colleen Atwood, “Into the Woods” is a feast for the ears and eyes.

Sometimes it’s more than ok to go into the woods. This is one of those times. Run, don’t walk.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

The Giver: Is Good to Receive–Movie

August 18, 2014

The Giver” is a very engrossing look at what life might be like in the future with no remembrances of the past. Directed by Phillip Noyce, with screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, based on Lois Lowry’s book, “The Giver” takes place in dystopian times, after what the film calls, the Ruin. Births are genetically engineered and the resulting children placed into families. Citizens live with a set of rules in which everyone is equal, no harsh language is used, there is no color and seemingly no emotion. When one reaches 16, there is a ceremony in which the future is decided for each person by a group known as the Elders.

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It’s on the cusp of this important event that we are introduced to Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), his two closest friends—Fiona and Asher (Odeya Rush and Cameron Monaghan)—and his mother (Katie Holmes), father (Alexander Skarsgård) and sister, Lilly (Emma Tremblay). On the day of the ceremony, we meet the Elders, who are led by the Chief Elder, a long-grey-haired Meryl Streep. In this group is one Elder with the power to remember the past, The Giver, a grey and gnarly Jeff Bridges. At the ceremony, Jonas is seemingly passed over for assignment. However, the Chief Elder comes back to him at the end, saying that Jonas didn’t fit neatly into any one category and was deemed special. As such, Jonas will be the Receiver of Memories, mentored by The Giver. It’s Jonas’ sessions with The Giver that fuels the remaining story.

For the most part “The Giver” is devoid of special effects which allows for the film’s tone and mood to have an eerily calming aspect that somehow seems right. The grey tones in which much of “The Giver” is shot adds to this feeling. It’s only when memories come into play that we see color and movement.

“The Giver’s” cast is a very strong one, headed by Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. Streep really doesn’t have much to do except act authoritative and she is fine, albeit wasted. Bridges is extremely good, however, as the man with memories. Bridges is only 64, but in the film seems years older—maybe from the burden of harboring memories. Taylor Swift has a very brief, but important role, and in her scenes with Bridges, she is actually very good. Bridges has a knack for working well with younger actors and his interactions with Swift and Brenton Thwaites’ Jonas are quite compelling. In reality Thwaites is 25, playing 16, but he does so very convincingly. His work with Bridges and especially Odeya Rush as Fiona is very good and his scenes with Fiona seem a like a genuine portrayal of young love. Alexander Skarsgård has a very good turn as a care-giver and his scenes with the baby, Gabriel, are extremely sweet (and from where do these baby actors come—the babies playing Gabriel are amazing)—until they’re not. Katie Holmes as the strict mother is terrific to the point of being almost scary, she is so devoid of emotion.

Jeff Bridges tried for a very long time to bring “The Giver” to the screen. Compared with other “new society” YA films like “Divergent”  and the “The Hunger Games,” “The Giver” is much more quiet, but no less intelligent. He should be proud and happy with the results.

3 nuggets out of 4

 

 

August: Osage County: Too Hot for Comfort—Movie

January 19, 2014

Is it possible for a movie to fail when it is based on a Pulitzer-Prize winning play and features terrific performances from an all-star cast? The answer is “yes” as “August: Osage County” sadly demonstrates.

Based on Tracy Letts’ award-winning play, with screenplay by Letts and direction by John Wells, “August: Osage County” is about the Weston family who have gathered in Oklahoma following the disappearance and subsequent death of Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), the family patriarch. To say the Weston family is dysfunctional is an understatement. From the movie’s opening scenes, we know this is a given. To cope with this dysfunction, each family member…either by birth or marriage…has developed a sharp, dark and biting way of communicating with one another. If you can’t meet that tone head-on, you either keep what you’re feeling inside, like middle daughter, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who has stayed in Oklahoma to look after her parents, until she can no longer control her seething rage at the slights and jabs taken over the years. Or, you leave the home as soon as you can, like oldest daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts), and youngest daughter, Karen (Juliette Lewis), only to discover, in Barbara’s case, that she is in danger of turning into a miniature version of  her mother, Violet (Meryl Streep).August Osage County1

Also entering the reunion fray is Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale), and Mattie Fae’s husband, Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). You can tell that Charlie loves his wife and that he’s learned to deal with her sharp tongue by either ignoring her or occasionally snapping right back. And Little Charles? Let’s just say there’s more to him than meets the eye. Barbara comes to the family gathering with her estranged husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor) and surly teenage daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin). It’s hard not to imagine Jean turning into a carbon copy of her mother unless something shakes Barbara out of her bitterness.  Two newcomers to the reunion are Karen’s fiancé, Steve (Dermot Mulroney), and Johnna (Misty Upham), the Native American Beverly hired right before his disappearance to serve as a live-in caregiver  and cook.

Although “August: Osage County” is female-driven, director Wells and writer Letts don’t let the male co-stars roll over and play dead. Each actor has his moment in the sun and each makes the most of the time he has on screen. Especially good are Cumberbatch and Cooper. Cumberbatch has some wonderful scenes with Martindale, Cooper and Nicholson…most especially Nicholson. Of all the characters, his is the most fragile and Cumberbatch heartbreakingly conveys that fragility. Cooper has some great scenes with Martindale and Streep, which let us in on how he’s managed to survive in this family.

But ultimately this play is about the women and their relationships with one another. Meryl Streep’s Violet is at the top of the heap…she is really the one who made the women the way they are. There are some women who shouldn’t have children and Violet is one of them. Suffering from mouth cancer, she now has an excuse for some of her pill-taking. Cancer aside, the truth is, she’s been addicted to pills for most of her life with devastating  consequences. But although Violet’s life may be difficult, it’s impossible to empathize with her because the more we learn about her, the more we dislike her. She doesn’t appear to possess a single redeeming quality. Streep seems to be at a loss at how to play Violet. Her portrayal feels very over the top. I rarely think about how someone else would play a part that Meryl Streep has undertaken, but I found myself wondering about Bette Davis and what she might have done with such a role.

Julia Roberts, however, is terrific. Her Barbara is the best piece of work she’s done in a long time. She more than holds her own with Streep, and when she’s on the screen, she owns it. Roberts is very convincing as the older sister. Although her character is terribly flawed, Barbara seems to be the glue holding the family together over the course of their days together in Oklahoma. Julianne Nicholson’s Ivy is less showy, but is critical to the family underpinnings. As the movie progresses, she starts to come into her own and Nicholson is perfect in illustrating that growth.

Abigail Breslin is becoming a terrific actress. Her work with Roberts and McGregor is very good and she makes you care about the future of her character. Margo Martindale is one of those actresses who never seems to get it wrong, and her Mattie Fae is no exception. Her character can be unbelievably cruel; however, Martindale is great at making us understand what lies beneath the cruelty. Juliette Lewis’ Karen has less screen time, but Lewis gives an outstanding turn as someone desperate for love, no matter how despicable the source of that love may be.

So given all this wonderful acting, what makes “August: Osage County” not the success one would expect? The fact that it’s two hours of mostly unrelenting, in-your-face unpleasantness doesn’t help its cause. What works on stage, when the audience is at a distance, doesn’t necessarily work on-screen, where there’s no break from the screaming and shouting diatribes. The movie becomes difficult to sit through; not because of the subject matter, but in how the subject matter is presented.

“August: Osage County” is at its best in those rare instances of quiet conversation. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough quiet.

2 nuggets out of 4

It’s Complicated—Movie

January 6, 2010

It’s Complicated, written and directed by Nancy Meyers, stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and the most fabulous kitchen in the history of moviedom. Bottom line—this movie is very good, very funny and has much more depth to it than I expected. Streep plays bakery owner extraordinaire Jane Adler, amicably divorced for about 10 years from lawyer Jake (Alec Baldwin). Steve Martin (Adam) is the architect designing Jane’s new kitchen. The film is basically the story of a woman in her mid-to-late fifties (Streep) who suddenly finds herself pursued by and attracted to two very different men…her ex-husband with whom she had three children and who left her for a much younger woman and is still married to her, albeit not happily… and her soft spoken architect. The leads are great and have terrific chemistry, particularly that of Streep and Baldwin. Pig that his character might be, Baldwin plays him with such relish, fearlessness and good-will that you can’t help but root for him despite his flaws.

The past year had many attempts at romantic comedies and only two of them worked…500 Days of Summer and now It’s Complicated.

3 1/2 nuggets out of 4


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