Musical, Reviews

Florence Foster Jenkins

florence foster jenkins

Copyright © 2016 by Paramount Pictures

Story
Founder of the Verdi Club, Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) perform plays to their esteemed members. Despite her shortcomings, Jenkins recommences her singing lessons with vocal instructor, Carlo Edwards (David Haig) and accompanied by her newly hired pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg). She arranges an exclusive recital with attendees coming mainly from her club. Unaware of the audiences’ actual reaction to her singing, the New York heiress confidently organises a subsequent appearance at Carnegie Hall.

Review
Lesson number one, if you have dreams, dream big. Specifically, Carnegie Hall big. Would it matter if you are reported in the tabloids as a national joke? Probably not. Should the overriding jeers submerging the cheers be any reason to quit and prove cynics they are right all along? If it did, will we ever be able to relish in Ms Streep’s hilarious impression of the world’s worst singer?

Honouring a celebrated icon, Streep is pitch perfect as the tone deaf soprano. Academy members must already be crusading for her 20th Oscar nomination. She imbues Jenkins with pathos and it transforms the slightness into a sympathetic yet determined disposition. That being said, it is being equipoised by many LOL and ROTFL moments (the latter literally has a spectator on fours, forgoing all formality).

The best actress of her generation has shimmered in ‘Mamma Mia!’ and ‘Into the Woods’ which only accentuates her commitment to sounding deliberately bad exquisitely. Fervent, I waited with bated breath until her first vocal session is in motion and it left me in tears for laughing so hard. Playing along to the charade is Bayfield, Edwards and later, McMoon.

Serious and sincere, Grant is invigorating as the devoted and protective Bayfield but securing Helberg is a steal to this British production as he offers slyness encased in awestruck bewilderment. McMoon’s increasing fondness for his employers parallels the film’s strongest aspect, thanks to Nicholas Martin’s thorough grasp of Jenkins’ illustrious life turning her more than mere high society.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material

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Musical, Reviews

Into the Woods

Into The Woods

Copyright © 2014 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Story
A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a baby but are informed by a witch (Meryl Streep) they are barren because of a curse she put on the baker’s family when his father stole an assortment of greens from her garden due to his mother’s pregnancy cravings. Not realising his father has taken her magic beans, the witch is hexed from a startling beauty into a hideous hag. To lift both spells, she has entrusted the couple to acquire a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold for her in three days’ time. If they fail, they will forever remain childless.

Review
The cinematic version of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award winner has arrived through a faithful reworking from director Rob Marshall whose debut ‘Chicago’ revived an almost extinct genre with extraordinary acting, cherished tunes and deadpan humour are all present in his third foray in the movie musical (‘Annie’ does not really count) after losing steam in the tedious ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, unfocused ‘Nine’ and derivative ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’.

The frontrunner now in remaking existing children’s fables with a twist (‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Maleficent’ and the forthcoming ‘Cinderella’), it does appear like a natural progression that Disney be the one charged in updating this mishmash of classic fairy tales to a generation unfamiliar by Sondheim’s work (‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ did try mainstreaming his composition with an A-list actor and director but the results were moderately fruitful).

Following in the footsteps of ‘Les Misérable’, ‘Into the Woods’ is on course to be another profitable venture and second consecutive win for Streep after her stint in ‘Mamma Mia!’ yielded her the biggest hit of the 65-year-old’s 44-year career. Unlike the Abba-inspired numbers, the original songs are wordy and the recurring melody could sound repetitious after a while. There is no hesitation though that you will find yourself humming to tracks like the titular opening sequence, ‘Agony’, ‘On the Steps of the Palace’ and ‘Your Fault’.

Earning her a 19th nomination in the Academy Awards, extending her record-setting total as the most nominated actor in history, Streep is an enjoyment as the witch with a grudge. She is immensely different and does it with aplomb that it is easy to overlook how Bernadette Peters and Donna Murphy were once legends in their own right. While the stage queens opt for flamboyance, Streep alleviates it with a touch of class but her crooning in ‘Last Midnight’ is merely adequate and not gratifying enough.

Looking repellent and radiant, thanks to splendid artistry from Peter Swords King and J. Roy Helland, Streep’s finesse is only rivaled by Blunt’s compassionate mother-to-be, Corden’s calculating yet affable hero and Chris Pine’s ostentatious Prince Charming. He does get a run for his money in Anna Kendrick nearly knocking him off his pedestal as the enticing runaway girlfriend. Proverbial costume designer, Colleen Atwood’s medieval wear is a feast for the eyes specifically bewitching are the witch’s blue dress and Cinderella’s sparkly garb.

As magnificent as the revered golden shoe, the decision to sanitise the risqué parts does come at a price. Appealing to a younger crowd of Sondheim’s splendour and wit is not only commercially savvy, it also functions as an outlet in reinstating the musical’s declining quality of late. The revised darkness eludes numerous themes (tweaks in plot and lyrics may perturb adult devotees) but statements of growing up, parental responsibilities and infidelity are still intact. I only wish that it is more fulfilling than being just right.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material

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Comedy, Reviews

The Devil Wears Prada

Devil Wears Prada

Copyright © 2006 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Fresh out from Northwestern University, Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) whose ambition is to be a journalist temporarily accepts a position in the fashion industry as a junior personal assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). Priestly, the editor-in-chief of Runway fashion magazine is notorious for her impossible demands but Sachs is adamant to put up with whatever that is thrown at her for a year before moving on to the job of her choice. During her time in Runway, she learns to be fashion conscious and thus altering her perception on the glitz and glamour in a world she once dismissed as superficial. It puts a strain on her relationships with her boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier) and friends especially when she places utmost importance to all the tasks assigned by Priestly. Sachs eventually realises the change and has to decide whether the sacrifices made is worth to her burgeoning career.

Review
A movie about beautiful people donning the trendiest garbs, mouthing a whole lot of haute couture to names you cannot even pronounce under the supervision of a boss from hell downplayed to devilish perfection by one extremely chilly Streep. Count me in! In her 14th Oscar nomination for ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’, Streep has done it again, this time, bringing her cool confidence and frosty charm to an awfully unlikable character. Roles of this sort tend to be highly exaggerated but under the care of our three-time Oscar winner, Priestly becomes bearable, even to the point of being sympathetic.

It depicts life in the fast lane and only the strong survives beneath an ugly core filled with ruthlessness lurking everywhere, waiting to strike at the most unintended moment. The question does come down at what cost is one willing to pay for the sake of being on top, albeit a lonely one. Priestly, with her outrageously high standards on work and the people she works with depicts a commonly seen encounter in any corporate establishment, though far less acidic and comical. Her interactions with Sachs and Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt) are the film’s brightest spots.

Being the senior who is charged for training duties, Blunt’s Emily is so directly blunt that she nearly steals the show from Streep, a feat typically a debutant would not achieve with such ease. Her cynicism towards the help’s capability is infectious and deadpan humour never falls out of place. In contrast to the dynamics of two lionesses at the top of the food chain is one heartfelt performance from Stanley Tucci, the only friend Sachs initially made in Runway who shows her the ropes along with beauty tips for a radical makeover.

Radically splendid to be exact. You cannot have a show primarily set in a fashion world without its exquisitely tailored clothes to complement its stars, can you? Aptly nominated for her costuming duties, Patricia Field has created distinctive looks for all three leading ladies from the current crop of most sought-after designers including Prada (duh!), Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein and Vivienne Westwood. The montage of Sachs’ transformation from duckling to swan grooving to Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ surely will leave one bedazzled.

Said to have been the inspiration for Lauren Weisberger’s bestseller of the same name, it is an account of Ms Weisberger’s own personal experiences as an assistant and the supposedly domineering editor-in-chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour whom Priestly is based upon. The novel did have its share of criticism but the script’s transition to film is smooth and profoundly written by Aline Brosh McKenna, providing an insightful view to a volatile industry with some of the snappiest one-liners uttered by the cast. Pretty much a must-see for fans of the book but casual viewers will still be entertained from another winner brought to life by the timeless Streep.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for some sensuality

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