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Posts Tagged ‘Meryl Streep’

James Cordern, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep

James Corden, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep

 

“INTO THE WOODS”  My rating: B-

124 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

“Into the Woods” is a terrific big-screen musical right up to the point when it suddenly stops being great and turns disheartening and annoying.

In this it is exactly like the stage version of this Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine collaboration, which I saw in previews in New York just before its 1987 debut.  I’m talking 90 minutes of wonderful followed by 30 minutes of meh. So meh, in fact, that it damn near ruins all the good stuff.

Director Rob Marshall, who more or less singlehandedly resurrected the movie musical with 2002’s “Chicago,” comes charging out of the gate here, delivering a movie that works musically and  cinematically and which strikes just the right tongue-in-cheek tone in revisiting the fairy tale cliches of our childhoods.

In a village just outside the woods the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a child.  Their cronish neighbor (a gleefully scenery-chawing Meryl Streep), widely believed to be a witch, reveals that in his childhood she put a curse of infertility on the Baker.  Now she offers to lift the hex if the couple will obtain for her several items needed for an incantation that will restore her youth and beauty.

Among the things sought in this scavenger hunt: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

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Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

“AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

121 minutes | MPAA rating R

Some stories were meant to be performed on a stage.

For instance, the plays of Sam Shepard, which deliver moments of violence and affrontery you almost never see in live theater. A Shepard character might be required to beat a typewriter to death with a golf club, smash dozens of glass bottles just feet from the folks in the front row, or urinate on his little sister’s science project in full view of the paying customers.

If those things happened in a movie, you’d shrug. No big deal.  In a movie you can do anything.

But seeing those moments play out live, in the flesh, while you brace yourself to dodge flying glass shards or broken typewriter keys…well, that has a way of focusing your mind most wonderfully.

I thought of Shepard’s plays while watching John Wells’ screen version of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning black comedy about an Oklahoma clan assembled to bury its patriarch (played, ironically enough, by  Sam Shepard).  In the same way that Shepard’s  plays almost never make satisfying movies, “August: Osage County” makes an uncomfortable transition to the screen.

First, don’t buy into the TV ads that make it look like a rollicking comedy.  There are laughs here, yeah, but they’re the sort of laughs you can choke on. Dourness is the order of the day.

In adapting his play Letts has boiled a 3 1/2 hour production down to 2 hours. Stuff’s been left out — character development, carefully calibrated pauses — and while the essence of the play remains, it feels curiously underwhelming.

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Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

“The IRON LADY” My rating: B-  (Opening Jan. 13 at the ** theaters)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

By now we should be thoroughly inured to Meryl Streep’s transformational abilities.

Even so, her performance as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” comes as a shock.

Yes, she gets immeasurable help from an unsung crew of costumers, hairdressers and makeup artists. But as with any Streep performance, the magic goes far deeper than the surface. The way in which Streep’s Maggie Thatcher moves, holds herself, speaks — it is little short of eerie.

Streep’s believability in the role goes a long way toward ameliorating the movie’s biggest drawback — namely that director Phyllida Law (“Mamma Mia!”) and screenwriter  Abi Morgan (“Brick Lane,” “Shame”) are deeply ambivalent about their subject.

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