Saturday, April 29, 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins

Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant,
Simon Helberg

"The inspiring True story
of the World worst Singer"

Meryl Streep's career has spanned decades and there is no doubt she loves her craft. She is also at a point where her age can limit her choices to a select few roles. But she is also fearlessly brave as an artist who knows her limitations yet still pushes past the boundaries while other actresses (in her same age group) might deem it a risky move for their movie careers.

For instance, Meryl Streep's singing voice is not what made her win acting awards yet she starred in musicals like the movie adaptation of "Mama Mia" and some film whose title escapes me right now, where she played the aging lead vocalist of some rock band.

In this regard, she shares this indomitable spirit with a really colorful character named Florence Foster Jenkins. A New York socialite/heiress in the mid 1940s who is known as the worst singer/soprano in the world yet persisted and was able to stage a concert to a full house (mind you!) at the Carnegie Hall. 

Florence was enthusiastically encouraged and supported by her partner St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) who lavishes her with high praises yet also shields her from any bad reviews by critics of her really horrible performances.

Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) was hired to accompany her on the piano. A young struggling musician who could not believe his luck when he was personally picked by Florence. Little did he know what he was getting himself into ... his look of disbelief when he first hears her sing during their initial practice session is totally priceless!

This is a poignant story of a woman who was either delusional or simply didn't care whether her voice was irritating and her singing was totally terrible. She simply wanted to sing and sing she did with everything she got, usually clad in luxurious jewelry, a bejeweled headpiece (at her final concert she even donned huge angel wings) and extravagantly lavish gowns which she designed herself. 

Mixed emotions prevail as you don't know whether to feel sad for her, rejoice for her, or cringe (covering your ears) once she starts vocalizing with gusto. I believe her partner St. Clair was truly instrumental in making sure she was 'successful'. This makes you question whether he did it out of pity (she was already ailing with a long term disease), out of love (he only wanted her to be happy) or for monetary reasons (her concerts were mostly sold out events). 

This charming film truly doesn't explain that and neither does it intend to mock Ms. Jenkins It celebrates her life, her performances, her passion and her invincible spirit. It flourishes immensely due to the larger than life portrayal by *the* Meryl Streep. I believe that Florence Foster Jenkins deserves to be immortalized on film and recognized for her significant efforts in promoting music and the arts ... never mind she was out of tune in doing so.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Maggie's Plan

Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke,
Julianne Moore

"Chapter Three: A Change of Heart" 

Maggie (Greta Gerwig) desperately wants to have a baby but since she is currently unattached, she develops a plan. She 'commissions' Guy, a former schoolmate to donate his sperm so she can self inseminate herself and raise the child on her own. But life has other plans when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a married professor/lecturer of anthropology, they have an affair and she gets pregnant. 

Three married years later, John has basically turned into a good for nothing, wanna be novelist while Maggie does all the 'heavy lifting' so to speak. She is pretty convinced she is better off raising her adorable daughter Lily by herself so she hatches another plan. This one involves reuniting her husband John with his ex-wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) who is also from the academe so they can get back together. 

I know it sounds pretty complicated but believe me it isn't hard to follow. This sort of romantic comedy with a twisted love triangle angle unfolds with some laughs, a fair load of sarcasm, flawed yet endearing characters within a nicely conceived dialogue driven narrative.

Greta Gerwig, the "IT" girl of the mumblecore film movement is in her elements here as Maggie. Only a millennial would and could come up with such a plan to sustain her self interests for her own sweet convenience to thrive in life. This is sadly a recurring and for me an alarming trend among some if not most of today's youth. A generation raised in this age of social media, where selfish behavior (selfies) and a wrong sense of entitlement seems to be the common pattern.

She is ably supported by Ethan Hawke, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and special mention goes to Julianne Moore whose portrayal of Georgette, the icy Danish ex-wife and an expert of ficto-anthropology was spot on. She was amusing and a delight to watch, complete with her exaggerated Danish accent.

By the way, for the uninitiated, Wikipedia describes the term mumblecore as: a sub genre of independent film characterized by naturalistic acting and dialogue (often improvised), low-budget film production, an emphasis on dialogue over plot, and a focus on the personal relationships of people in their 20s and 30s.

"Maggie's Plan" is an apt representation that mirrors the typical life of the millennials generation. I am still on the fence when it comes to this sort of attitude and behavioral patterns because there are certainly pros and cons but sometimes I do fear that the cons outweigh the positives and in my opinion this unfortunately doesn't bode well for the future of the human race.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Accountant

Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, 
J.K Simmons

"Calculate your Choices"

Ben Affleck stars as Christian Wolff, a freelance accountant with a complex past but it is his present affiliations with certain shady companies whose books he was hired to audit which will make his life much more complicated than ever.

During his childhood, Christian had autism in a period when the disease was still in its early stages of diagnosis so his parents didn't really know to deal with him. The adult Christian is a loner but seems to have done good for himself and manages to keep his illness pretty much under control (thanks to his strict training by his military dad) although there are certain circumstances which trigger his 'outbursts'.

The film is an action thriller with a smart narrative which tends to lose its way once certain side plots overlap. Yet at the same time, it is these side plots which add an emotional element both to its central character as well as to the movie ... so I guess it is not a bad thing as far as "The Accountant" is concerned.  The story unfolds in present day with certain flashback scenes intertwined to give the audience more backgrounder on how Christian evolved throughout the years. 

The supporting cast led by J.K Simmons (as a relentless Treasury Department agent) and Anna Kendrick (in a short yet significant role) among other equally talented actors deliver credible performances.  

But it is truly a Ben Affleck movie as he is in almost every single frame and he does well in this meaty role of a complex character who barely speaks yet his action speaks louder than words. They say that Ben Affleck is a far better director than an actor and I agree but I like to add that he just lacks range and is not necessarily a bad actor, per se.  There I said it. On that note, I believe he does fairly well in "The Accountant". 

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