Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-Nate Hill

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Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a blast of serotonin in cinematic form, a pure ‘happy’ movie that may be even more fun than the first. I’ll level with you though: to enjoy it you’ll need to a) love the music of Abba, and b) not be one of those stiffly stiffersons who puckers their sphincter at the very mention of the word ‘musical.’ Both those boxes are heartily checked off for me, so it’s nothing but a glowing review on this end. Sunny Mediterranean skies, an unbelievable all star cast clearly having some of the most fun of their careers, all the glorious Abba music you want and a heartbreaking poignancy that both blindsides you and wasn’t quite all the way there the first time around, what’s not to love? Sure, it’s gimmicky, ditzy, silly beyond compare, but like Mrs. Mia Wallace would say, don’t be a 🔲. Staged as both sequel and prequel, this one zooms back to the raucous 70’s to show us just how Meryl Streep’s Donna found her way to that idyllic Greek island and stumbled into the hotel business. She’s played by Lily James here who is a true find, a charismatic beauty with a singing voice that could clear a cloudy day right out. The amazing, uncanny thing here is how they’ve managed find young actors who really do emulate their older selves, in the case of the three famous potential fathers she meets, and her two hilarious best friends, played again in the present by scene stealing Christine Baranski and Julie ‘Mrs. Weasley’ Walters. Amanda Seyfried has really come into her own as an actress, I’m always looking forward to whatever she does next because I know she’ll do it with grace and gravity, and her character blooms here as a strong pillar of the story as opposed to the fresh faced bride role she got in the first. Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard return and give the film a shot of humour and warmth, while Andy Garcia charms everyone in a role which ties into a hit Abba song later in a way that’s so funny you don’t know whether to clap or roll your eyes. And yes, Cher is in it, her voice is still a powerhouse but she must have had so much work done that she’s more synthetic that organic these days, she’s gotta be in her early 70’s and looks like she just got done recording like her second album, it’s slightly terrifying. If you’re a true Abba buff you’ll appreciate two wicked cameos from founding members cleverly added. The film is fluff and sunshine for the most part, with emotion being relayed by the not always deep or resonant lyrics of Abba, let’s face it, they were a playful disco band. Curiously, there’s one song that really plumbs depths and reaches the most grounded and emotionally truthful height from both actors and audiences that these films have ever ascended to, and, not surprisingly, it’s the one song we get from Meryl Streep, who sadly has no more than a hyped up cameo, but five minutes of Meryl is enough to turn anything gold, really. This seems like an unreleased Abba song, one from mother to daughter sung to Seyfried, and anchors the film right into lucid pathos that I didn’t think was possible with a jumping bean of a flick like this. Like I said before, it’s love it or hate it. I grew up listening to Abba on vinyl, and these songs are a part of me. Every actor in the cast is someone I love to see, it’s set in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, uses the power of music to literally give nutrients to the soul, and is the perfect recipe for summer escapism.

-Nate Hill

PHILLIP NOYCE: An Interview with Kent Hill

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One of the great things Phil told me – aside from passing through my hometown to play footy in his youth – was that Queensland had a big part to play in convincing the studio powers that Blind Fury (my personal favorite of Phil’s pictures) could be a hit.

After a regime change – as often is the way in Hollywood – the new brass didn’t have much faith in a film the previous caretakers saw fit to green-light. Phil knew he had a good picture and thus persuaded the powers to let him take it to the far side of the world and release it in the Sunshine State, where, with the help of a publicist, they sold the heck out of Blind Fury and brought in $500,000 buckaroos.

So Phil went back to the blokes in suits and told them if the movie can do that kind of business 7,510 miles from Hollywood, I think we have a shot. See that’s the Phil Noyce touch ladies and gentlemen, remaining Dead Calm in the face of Clear and Present Danger. If you believe that there is even a Sliver of a chance your movie can Catch a Fire, you can’t just sit there like The Quiet American and take it with a grain of Salt. You need to fix your courage to the sticking place, follow the Rabbit Proof Fence all the way home and for your hard work they’ll call you The Saint for being the The Giver of great cinematic entertainment. You can play Patriot Games till the cows come home, but if you attack them on the Newsfront then you’ll be The Bone Collector and bring home the receipts.

I’ve watched many a great interview and read many a great book about the life and career of Phillip Noyce – never thinking that one day I might catch a moment’s grace and be able to have a chat with him. I have to thank (again) a top bloke by the name of Nick Clement for putting in a good word for me – without Nick I’d still be dreamin’.

Phillip Noyce is a marvelous chap of the old school and the maker of some truly wondrous pictures. He really needs no introduction from me for his reputation speaks for itself. Without further adieu . . . the master . . . Phillip Noyce.

The Devil Wears Prada: A Review by Nate Hill

  
The Devil Wears Prada is an interesting one. It’s one part sincerity, two parts cynicism and possesses a certain love for each and every character within its narrative that it’s reluctant to admit to at times, perhaps jut to keep a low profile with its realism. I’ve never read the book, but the film starts off going one way and seems like it will tidy itself up in a nice little resolution, and abandons it’s comfort zone two thirds of the way through for something that cuts cuts a bit deeper. Anna Hathaway starts her arc in the adorable zone and progresses through confidence and finally arrives at in a jaded daze at a tough life lesson. She plays Andrea Sachs, a would be journalist who decides to take a detour and work as second personal assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) the editor and slave driver at Runway magazine, in hopes that doors will eventually open for her in her field. Not quite the breezy excursion she hoped for, as Priestly turns out to be a full on nightmare. Streep blusters into the film like an acy tornado, steady at the reigns of her character and completely owning every syllable of her delicious dialogue. Streep plays her as the ultimate boss from hell, and then cleverly shows us the woman beneath in one key scene that resonates nicely. Most of the time her personality resembles that of my fifth grade schoolteacher on a bad day, and it’s utterly hilarious to see Streep, a god amongst progessionals, go for it like a praying mantis. Andrea also comes under the scrutiny of prim Emily (Emily Blunt, excellent), Miranda’s first assistant who is aghast at her decision to hire this walking fashion disaster. Andrea quickly catches on though, holding her own with this difficult job at the expense of her relationship with her boyfriend (Adrian Grenier of Entourage). Stanley Tucci is equal parts snazzy and snooty as Nigel, Miranda’s associate and eventual mentor figure for Andrea, superb as always. Simon Baker also shows up as a hotshot who tries just a little too hard to sweep Andi off her feet. Like I said before, the film tricks you with fluff and banter and eventually ends up somewhere more serious, with a painful look at what it takes to cut it in the business world, and the allegiences which sometimes get slashed and burned in favour of covering your own ass. Ugly stuff, for sure, but necessary and honest, a decision that helps the film greatly. Plus, it’s pretty damn funny most of the time. Great stuff.

JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY’S DOUBT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Doubt is an impeccable piece of filmmaking. From the Oscar-nominated writing to the air-tight direction to the spellbinding performances, it’s a precision-tooled work from a master storyteller who has an amazing grasp on what he wants to say. Adapted from his Pulitzer winning play of the same name, writer-director John Patrick Shanley crafted one of the most thought-provoking films from 2008 with Doubt, a piece of work that scorches the nerves because of how vital and possible all of it feels. Set in the 1960’s at a NYC Catholic school, Doubt tells the story of a priest who is accused of improper behavior with one of his altar boys. Philip Seymour Hoffman, forceful as ever, is Father Flynn, a seemingly good and decent man who takes a liking to the only black student/altar boy in the school. The scarily intense Meryl Streep is Sister Beauvier, the main accuser, who teams up with another nun, the fragile Sister James, played by Amy Adams, in order to try to bring Flynn down. Sister James is the one who thinks that something improper has occurred; she doesn’t have definitive proof but she merely thinks that something bad has happened. Shanley asks his viewers to make a decision at the end of the film as to who was right, who was wrong, who was lying, and who was telling the truth. This is a hard film to review without spoiling because there’s little to no fat on the bones of the story, with each scene feeding into the one previous and the one following. Every piercing line of dialogue is important to the overall narrative and every moment in each of the three central performances are so integral to the film’s outcome that it becomes a tricky movie to discuss without giving everything away.

And then you have an emotionally shattering Viola Davis, who stole some heartbreaking scenes as the altar boy’s deeply concerned mother; there’s not a false note played by any of these superlative performers, all of whom were bestowed with Oscar nominations for their riveting portrayals. With Doubt, what I think Shanley was trying to get his audience to ask themselves is: How do we really know what goes on behind a closed-door? Is it enough to simply think that someone has done something wrong before you attack their character? What is a person’s moral compass made up of, and how do we truly know the people we work and live with? How do we decide who is right and who is wrong when all of the facts aren’t made clear? Working with the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, Shanley brought an appropriately chilly visual aesthetic to the film, with Deakins stressing grays and browns and darkly lit interiors with tons of Dutch angles and long takes that maximize the dramatic potency of every face-off between the verbally sparring actors. Every line of dialogue crackles with authority, especially when spoken by Hoffman and Streep, and Adams, in the film’s most layered role, did excellent work, painting a portrait of a confused woman who may or may not have started something she has no way of ever controlling. And most importantly, Shanley knew exactly how to wrap up his story, and during the film’s final, stinging moments, you’ll be left with a lot of fodder for discussion after the final credits have rolled.

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