Tags Posts tagged with "Meryl Streep"

Meryl Streep

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Center, from left, Ariana Rose and Jo Ellen Pellman in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In 2018, the musical The Prom made its Broadway debut at the Longacre Theatre.  With music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and book by Bob Martin and Beguelin, it dealt with a group of narcissistic Broadway actors who are trying to change their unlikable images. Looking for a cause, they select a lesbian high school student who is denied the right to take her girlfriend to the prom. The quartet of Broadway performers travel to the conservative Edgewater, Indiana, where, in an attempt to help, they wreak havoc. Ultimately, it all works out in the way that musical comedies do.

There was a great deal of feel-good material and a lot of messages about understanding and tolerance in the show. Casey Nicholaw strongly directed the production, if leaning a bit into the over-the-top humor alternating with easy sentimentality. His choreography was engaging and vigorous, often leaning towards the athletic. The original cast was made up of Broadway veterans who brought out the best in the material. For the most part, the reviews were good but it failed to find an audience and closed within the year.

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and Meryl Streep in a scene from the film. Netflix photo

Ryan Murphy, who was one of the Broadway producers, has now directed a film version which has been released on Netflix and is also currently playing in movie theaters. Murphy recruited Martin and Beguelin to write the screenplay with the majority of the score intact. They have opened it up, taking advantage of a range of locations to give it more variety and a more kinetic energy. There are also some good flashbacks that enhance the story as well. Murphy has shown the same care and whimsy here that he did with the recent Netflix miniseries Hollywood, and the result is an entertaining two hours.

Murphy has replaced the entire Broadway company with well-known film and television personalities. So many cinematic stage transfers have been ruined by stunt casting that fails to preserve the integrity of the source material. That said, Murphy has assembled an excellent company who deliver. 

Meryl Streep is delightful as the Broadway diva, Dee Dee Allen. She is outrageous but grounded in her own selective reality and manages to make Dee Dee both insufferable and likable, often simultaneously. Her singing voice is solid, and she manages the big numbers well enough. Andrew Rannells is a younger, edgier take on the Julliard-trained Trent Oliver; he has real musical theatre chops (The Book of Mormon) and a hipper approach to the character.

Keegan-Michael Key evokes the right balance of controlled concern and star-struck fan as the principal who is enamored with Dee Dee. Kerry Washington brings snap and spark to the outraged PTA president who is doing all she can to keep the prom “straight.”  Kevin Chamberlin is charming as the long-suffering agent.

Only Nicole Kidman seems lost as the perpetual chorus girl, Angie Dickinson. Her vocals are adequate but she never finds her way with the character. It is also clear that she is uncomfortable with the Fosse style and it undermines her big number — “Zazz” —  and ultimately the character’s core.

Jo Ellen Pellman has a beautiful voice and winning presence as Emma Nolan, the girl who just wants to go to the prom. She shines through the entire film — one just wishes she wasn’t smiling the entire time; the absence of angst makes the final moments not quite as cathartic. Ariana DeBose as Alyssa, the daughter of the crusading PTA president, ably shows her internal conflict as Emma’s closet girlfriend and delivers in her musical number, “Alyssa Greene.” The ensemble of young singer-dancers handle the big numbers well and have a nice ease about them.

But if the film belonged to any one performer, it would be James Corden as Barry Glickman, Dee Dee’s costar in the failed Eleanor Roosevelt musical that incites the entire plot. He is warm and funny but truly vulnerable. He is completely at home as both a singer and a dancer, making his numbers some of the best moments. In many ways, it becomes just as much his story as Emma’s.

The film has a strong start, moving quickly from place-to-place and song-to-song, everything cast in a musical comedy glow. There are many excellent production numbers that are hilarious — “Changing Lives,” “It’s Not About Me,” and “Love Thy Neighbor” — and just plain joyous —“Tonight Belongs to You.” Murphy wisely retained Nicholaw as choreographer.

It is unfortunate that the second half of the movie sags a bit with dramatic scenes that have been introduced to give both weight and extended background to Barry and Dee Dee. While it gives the two actors an opportunity to emote, the tonal shift and the additional time do nothing to drive the action forward.

These additions necessitated the trimming of several numbers, most notably “The Acceptance Song,” done at a monster truck rally.

This is a minor quibble in an overall enjoyable outing. The Broadway quartet learn and grow, just as we know they would.  Emma and Alyssa celebrate their love with the exuberant “It’s Time to Dance” — as celebratory here as it was on Broadway.

If people take exception to the ease with which minds are changed and bigotry is overcome, it should be reminded that this is the world of fantasy. Just as with his Hollywood, Murphy offers us not necessarily the world we have but perhaps the world we can hope for — and some really terrific production numbers along the way.

Rated PG-13, The Prom is currently playing in local theaters and on Netflix.

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From left, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen star as the March sisters in the latest adaptation of Little Women. Photo courtesy of SONY Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel Little Women was published in two volumes between 1868 and 1869. It told of the four March daughters: pretty Meg, tomboy Jo, delicate Beth and willful Amy. The book follows them from childhood to womanhood and was both a critical and commercial success. It spawned two sequels: Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

Over the years, there have been multiple screen and television versions and even a Broadway musical. Notable films have included the 1933 George Cukor version starring Katherine Hepburn as Jo; the 1949 one with June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor; and the most popular, the 1994 version featuring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst and Claire Danes. Best of all is the 2018 Masterpiece/BBC co-production that manages to find the balance between its original source and a contemporary audience.

Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie in a scene from the film.

The newest incarnation is written and directed by Greta Gerwig, best-known for her breakout with 2017’s Lady Bird. There is a distinctly modern feel to the adaptation, and this is unmistakably intentional. The more progressive pieces in the story are emphasized, and it highlights the daughters’ independence. Certain departures from the original story shift some of the motivations and subsequent reactions, but, overall, the film is very true onto itself. It even manages to provide two endings that are able to live side-by-side so that Jo does not lose her individuality.  

Little Women is not necessarily long on plot. Instead, it is really a series of events that reveal character. At its heart, it is about a family dealing with the world. Even though it is set during the Civil War, this cataclysmic event stays on the periphery. It is the day-to-day world of the March family: financial challenges, separations, illness, marriage, career. It is the detail with which these struggles and triumphs are told that make the tapestry.

Undoubtedly, it requires a gifted cast, and this one does not disappoint. The quartet at the center all fair well. Emma Watson makes for a dimensional Meg, whose mild vanity does not overwhelm her good intentions. Eliza Scanlen as Beth is appropriately winsome without resorting to the usual caricatures of shyness and fragility. 

Timothée Chalamet and Florence Pugh play Laurie and Amy in ‘Little Women.’

At the center of any Little Women is Jo, a wonderfully complicated character, whose dream of being a writer drives much of the narrative. Saoirse Ronan is dynamic in her passions and vulnerable in her confusions. She holds center and keeps the story and the family together. But it is Florence Pugh as selfish Amy who finds a true arc and is the only one of the four to succeed in playing the character’s age range and subsequent growth; it is an unusual and artful performance.

Laura Dern’s Marmee is appropriately kind and matriarchal if the most modern of the players. Timothée Chalamet presents a more human Laurie, who, thwarted in his love for Jo, sinks into visible dissipation; it is a bold choice on Gerwig’s part, but it pays off in the resolution.  

Meryl Streep’s Aunt March lacks a true imperiousness; part of this is that the brittle and icy center has been softened with some odd choices that are so antithetical to Alcott’s vision, it makes her too knowing and less of an antagonist to both overcome and win over.  

Laura Dern, Meryl Streep and Florence Pugh in a scene from the film.

In smaller roles, Bob Odenkirk seems lost as the father while Tracy Letts, as Jo’s first editor, Mr. Dashwood, hits all of the right notes. Chris Cooper, as neighbor and later friend Mr. Laurence, never quite gets to underlying pain. James Norton’s John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor and eventually Meg’s husband, has been reduced to a cipher, which is a shame given his importance. 

The same could be said of Louis Garrel’s Professor Bhaer, Jo’s New York suitor: there just isn’t enough of him to make an impression. Jayne Houdyshell, as the family housekeeper, Hannah, manages to make the most of her scenes and avoids stereotype as best she can.

One element that has always been a challenge in adapting Little Women is the progression of the sisters from pre-/early teens to twenties. Most have not solved this problem, and this manifestation suffers worse than the previous versions. This is because of the film’s one major flaw: Gerwig chose to eschew a linear structure, instead shifting back-and-forth over about a 10-year period. With one very powerful exception, nothing is gained by this lack of chronology. Many of the shifts are clumsy, and the viewers must regroup to figure out where they were left in the previous time line. For those not well-versed with the story, it would probably make for a confusing and occasionally frustrating experience.

However, putting this aside, the final result is still worthwhile. There is an honest emotional core, and it is hard not to invest into this fresh new foray into the March family. While this might not be the definitive Little Women, it is certainly one for our time. Rated PG, Little Women is now playing in local theaters.

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep lead an all-star cast in Steven Spielberg’s film about the release of the Pentagon Papers. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

By Kevin Redding

Like a reporter punching away at keys to hit a deadline, “The Post” is fast paced, reflective and inspired in its depiction of the most pivotal moment in American journalism: In the summer of 1971, the Washington Post risked it all to publish the Pentagon Papers, a decision that exposed the lies of political leaders surrounding the Vietnam War and firmly protected the First Amendment against suppression by the occupant of the White House.

Carried by a terrific ensemble of seasoned actors and actresses — including Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odenkirk and Sarah Paulson — this docudrama is an incredibly entertaining, pulse-pounding and extremely timely work by a legendary filmmaker who proves he’s still at the top of his game.

A scene from ‘The Post’

In the beginning of 2017, Steven Spielberg was antsy. Antsy because he was sitting around in postproduction limbo, waiting for the special effects to be assembled on his upcoming blockbuster, “Ready Player One.” Antsy to get back behind the camera and do what he does best. And perhaps a little antsy in observance of the state of America around him, in which the president of the United States wages war on the media on a day-to-day basis via Twitter and continually discards foolproof facts as “fake news.”

Enter “The Post,” a film whose screenplay Spielberg read in February, began shooting in May and released nationwide in late December. “When I read the first draft of the script [written by newcomer Liz Hannah], this wasn’t something that could wait three years or two years,” Spielberg said in an interview with USA Today. “This was a story I felt we needed to tell today.”

A fitting entry in Spielberg’s recent arsenal of films celebrating “American values” (“Lincoln,” “Bridge of Spies”), “The Post” is certainly not subtle in its intentions as a reflection of today’s climate, championing the merits of the press and villainizing leaders who wish to stamp it out. This is all done through the masterful vision of Spielberg, who moves the camera like no other director, knowing exactly when to hold on a moment and when to deliver a visual treat for the audience.

The Washington Post reporters in the film — seen schmoozing in cigarette smoke-filled newsrooms, racing to track down sources, and click-clacking away on typewriters in an effort to make the public aware that their leaders knew the war in Vietnam was a losing battle for decades, yet continued to let young soldiers die mostly to avoid the humiliation of an American defeat — are the heroes, “the small rebellion,” as Odenkirk’s Ben Bagdikian calls them.

Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon is portrayed only as a dark silhouette in a voyeuristic shot through the windows of the White House as he barks into a phone to administration officials that “The press is the enemy” and must be silenced with an injunction. He also asserts that no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be allowed in the White House.

As stated in the movie by Ben Bradlee (Hanks), the famously tough, feather-ruffling editor of the Post: “We have to be the check on their power. We don’t hold them accountable, my God, who will?”

The heart and soul of the movie lies with the working relationship between Bradlee and Katharine Graham (Streep), the Post’s publisher who inherits her family’s newspaper after her husband — Philip Graham, publisher since 1946, who succeeded Katharine’s father — dies, catapulting her into a position neither she nor anybody else ever expected her to fill. Throughout the course of the film, Graham finds her voice and becomes a leader in the male-dominated business, a journey that’s handled beautifully and satisfyingly. And, like everything else, hits a poignant note in modern times.

After The New York Times receives and publishes several top-secret pages of the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon administration hits it with a lawsuit, prompting the courts to rule that the Times cannot publish any more of the documents or any of its findings.

Not one to be outdone by the New York Times, Bradlee encourages his assistant editor, Bagdikian, to chase down the Times’ source for the leak, who delivers to the Post a total 7,000 pages of the documents. In an especially thrilling scene, Bradlee hosts a small team of reporters in his living room to sift through and make sense of the piles of papers, all while his wife (Paulson) serves sandwiches, his daughter sells lemonade, and a pack of lawyers and newspaper investors balk at their plan to undermine Nixon’s authority and publish them, fearing it will result in the paper’s demise.

Graham must decide whether or not to allow the documents to be published. By doing so, she risks the legacy of her family’s newspaper and also the friendships she has with many Washington, D.C., players, including Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under President Lyndon Johnson, who is largely involved in the deception of the American public. Although we, the audience, know the outcome of the film’s events, it’s great fun to watch it unfold, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a history lesson presented by some of the finest actors, and the greatest director, that ever lived. It’s an incredibly human and powerful story that serves as a great reminder that the voices of the governed should always be louder than those of the governors.

Rated PG-13 for “salty language,” “The Post is now playing in local theaters.

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The 'pink house’ in Belle Terre Village as it's being demolished in November. Photo from Historical Port Jefferson Facebook page

An iconic Port Jefferson landmark located on the Belle Terre bluffs and previously owned by a Bulgarian countess and movie star is no more.

Colloquially referred to as “the pink house” for its bubblegum-hued exterior paint job, the 30 bedroom home located at 161 Cliff Road was built in 1870 and was nearly 19,000 square feet, according to the Town of Brookhaven assessment roll. It was demolished during November, according to a Belle Terre Village employee, though the village declined to comment further on the house or property when asked why it was demolished or if the owner needed village permission to do so.

The home was recently owned and occupied by Countess Nadia de Navarro-Farber, who died in 2014, according to an obituary on the O.B. Davis Funeral Homes website. A November legal notice from Belle Terre Village indicated a public hearing was held Nov. 28 based on the request of the property’s current owner, Yuri Farber, who is seeking to build a new two-story residence on the premises, the notice said. Farber is listed as the countess’ husband in her obituary. He could not be reached for comment.

“It’s just a total icon, you won’t run into anyone in the area who doesn’t know it,” a Facebook user named Theonie Makidis said in a discussion that took place on a page with more than 5,000 followers dedicated to sharing stories and photos related to the history of Port Jefferson. “Kind of an enigma as well because it was extremely private and secluded — being parked right in front of it you couldn’t see it at all between the bushes and the gates, but you may be lucky enough to catch a small glimpse of the (almost as iconic) green gardener’s house. The only way you could really see this home for its true beauty is when you were on a boat on the water and you’d look up and there it was up on the bluff, comforting, reliable and breathtaking. It will be missed; it’s heartbreaking and the end of an era.”

Scenes from the 1989 comedy “She Devil” starring Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep were shot at the pink house, which added to its iconic reputation. The countess was born to a noble family in Bulgaria and starred in several black-and-white movies in her home country, the obituary said. She moved to New York in 1949 and lived in Belle Terre for more than 40 years. She was twice honored by John T. Mather Memorial Hospital for her generosity, and her propensity to donate her time and money to help the hospital.

“The countess was very generous at Christmas time [as] she had many parties for the local kids,” poster Ernie Rositzke said in the Facebook thread. “Some of the gifts were mink teddy bears all lined up sitting on the staircase leading upstairs. She was a very generous women, lots of pleasant memories.”

Several community members lamented the loss of the local monument, where some said they attended hospital fundraisers and other events or took wedding photos. Another poster said being from Port Jefferson Station, it was a destination simply worth “taking a ride past” to see it. An area fisherman said the house even served as a marker for those fishing from a boat.

“Obviously the owner can do what he likes with his property, but this particular one means a little something to many of us,” Warren Handy, an administrator of the Historical Port Jefferson Facebook group, said in the thread.

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The mood, to say the least, is unsettled. On the eve of the inauguration of the newly elected president of the United States, his approval rating is at a historic low in modern times. That said, there are two facts we know indisputably about President-elect Donald Trump. One is that he is not a politician. He does not say or do any of the politically correct things an incoming president typically says or does. He has engaged in a war of words with respected civil rights leader, John Lewis, to no particular benefit for himself. He has also responded forcefully to Meryl Streep, denigrated the CIA and largely gained the worried attention of many foreign leaders. He has done all this during the “honeymoon period,” when the incoming president traditionally tries to bind the wounds caused by pre-election campaigning and to unite the country behind him. In short, he has not stopped being himself.

But that is, after all, how he got elected. He is not traditional, he does not follow the rules. And that brings me to the second fact about Trump. He is our next president, the 45th to be exact. An outlier is what his supporters wanted, and that is how he is sweeping into the White House.

So much for polling and personal approval. And so much for rhetoric. Trump, once in office, will be judged on what he does, and so far he has scored some successes even before he enters 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As the Disrupter in Chief, he seems to have persuaded some automotive companies to reconsider their plans for building new plants outside the country. And while the exact number is in dispute, he has managed to save some manufacturing jobs already. He has also secured an examination of the costs for building a new Air Force One.

Trump bills himself as a great deal maker. Certainly he has made a number of deals. Maybe the strategy when entering such a negotiation is to disrupt what has preceded the start of such talks. If that is true, he has surely succeeded in the foreign policy arena. Members of NATO are puzzled by his characterization of the post-World War II alliance as “obsolete.” For many believers, it is the foundation for long-awaited peace in Europe, especially between France and Germany. It also is thought to be a buffer between the United States and Russia. Maybe he is just rattling that cage to get members to pay a greater share of the costs of maintaining the alliance. He also questioned the value of the European Union, reserving some uncomplimentary words for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies. She and other European leaders are facing serious challenges from populist parties who are strongly anti-immigration. If Trump’s goal is to keep Europeans off balance, he seems to have won this round.

By indicating that the One China policy was open to negotiation, Trump has unnerved the Chinese leaders to the point of their declaring that “Beijing will have no choice but to take off the gloves.” By warning U.S. automakers of possible 35 percent tariffs on automobiles made in Mexico, he has elicited warnings from our neighboring country. The Russians, however, were not unhappy. “Let’s wait until he assumes office before we give assessment to any initiatives,” said a Russian spokesman.

Sounds like good advice to me. This is a most unusual incoming president with a mighty different style. Still, he is not to be underestimated, in the words of President Obama. He is an American and also, perhaps to our advantage, a New Yorker — the first to inhabit the White House since FDR.

Let’s give Trump a chance. We can always get excited if necessary and resist.