Forence Foster Jenkins
Meryl Streep straps on a fat suit and untrains her usually gorgeous singing voice to play the 1940’s singing sensation that rocked Manhattan, Florence Foster Jenkins. The late blooming performer sounded like a cat with its tail under a rocking chair; her terribly off-key, wickedly atonal and piercing shrieking operetta stylings were according to her pianist “excruciating”. But that didn’t stop her from becoming a star. Jenkins held private concerts for friends only each year at the Ritz and they giggled and applauded loudly. No one ever had the temerity to tell her she couldn’t sing. She couldn’t, but no one told her. The cult of Florence was rapt an adoring, drawn in part by her fever dream “tableaux vivants”, all lace and flowers and angel wings, with elaborate costumes ranging from shepherdess to Viking. She tossed flowers into the audience and had her accompanist collect them so she could do it a second time. What she lacked in talent she made up for with sheer enthusiasm. Cosme McMoon (Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg) was a piano prodigy and eagerly took the job playing for Jenkins– and then he heard her sing. Jenkins thought she sounded better than most singers and listened to her only album for hours on end. She finally consented to a public performance at Carnegie Hall in 1944 and personally sold the tickets out of her luxurious apartment. Critics were excluded. That suggests she had some notion of her weakness. The show did not disappoint her fans. Hugh Grant plays the gloriously named St Clair Bayfield her patient and adoring husband who leaves her each night to go to his girlfriend at their apartment- all known to Jenkins. She has contracted syphilis from her first husband … What could have been a one off-key joke but the film is so much more, it’s deliriously rich, funny, odd, beautiful and confounding and it took a Meryl Streep to make it work. Grant came out of retirement to play opposite her. It’s a must-see.
Pete’s Dragon, the heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story of a boy and his love for a dragon is an update of the 1977 classic Disney film about a toddler left to fend for himself in the wilderness when his parents crash their car and die. Pete (Oakes Fegley) raises himself in the woods, with the help of his protector Elliott, a kindly dragon. Disney’s tweaked the story for our modern world, you could say for the times we live in. The mood and tone is dark with a matching colour palette that heightens the ongoing sense of danger and change. The mountain forests where the action takes place are foreboding but make a good home for a boy and his dragon. When Pete is about seven he and Elliott are spotted and there is no longer any safety. Men come after them with guns and a forest ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) removes Pete from to live with her. I was surprised by its darkness and wonder if Disney’s rethinking its approach in light of world events and realities today. Pete goes along with the social experiment and grows close to Howard and Robert Redford’s characters, but he misses Elliott and the woods and his independent life. Shocking events remind me of the trauma of Bambi but never fear – good will always wins. Oakes Fegley is a revelation.
Bryan Cranston is a study in hard focus as an undercover US Customs agent in The Infiltrator. Its 1980 and Pablo Escobar’s smuggling unheard of amounts of drugs into Florida and laundering the proceeds by secreting them in compliant banks. Escobar is untouchable, guarded around the clock in his jungle lair, traveling in gold-trimmed private planes and running the business. Cranston’s sent to infiltrate Escobar’s empire and finds himself in the heart of a jungle drug cartel HQ, enduring terrifying loyalty tests. Even so he’s no angel, doing everything it takes to make his ruse seem real. He doesn’t think twice about killing, lying, drugging and whoring as part of the sting. He eventually befriends Escobar’s right hand man (Benjamin Bratt) who shows a real interest in him and his family. Maybe too much interest; eventually they are targeted. The screenplay’s based on Robert “Bob” Mazur’s 2009 memoir The Infiltrator: My Secret Life inside the Dirty Banks behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. It’s on the books so there’s no spoiler in noting the sting resulted in the arrest of 100 drug bosses and bankers and the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. It’s an interesting story, the kind that can’t be made up – and Cranston is as ever, terrific. It’s good to see Bratt extend his brand as a steely eyed murderer.
Amanda Gunn, Cranston’s co-star in Breaking Bad is Naomi Bishop a powerful and work hardened Wall Street Senior investment banker, the right hand of the bank president in Equity. Lately things have been rough, she’s passed over for a promotion, a deal’s gone sour and another with a start-up internet security company looks like it might. She’s lost control and her boss tells her she can no longer cut it because she “rubs people the wrong way”. Bishop starts asking questions as the police white collar crime unit begins an investigation into her bank. She’s being surveilled and her junior is acting pretty senior these days. The mud’s so deep there seems to be no end of corruption. I really liked Equity because it’s a great story and its focus on a strong woman in crisis who fights back and keeps it together is timely. Gunn’s performance is so well measured that we are kept guessing right to the end. It’s a tip of the hat to every woman who hit the glass ceiling and suffered gender discrimination on the job.
Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy and Toby Jones star as Jewish resistance fighters in WWII in Czechoslovakia planning to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution and the Reich’s third in command after Hitler and Himmler. It’s a true story and a remarkable chapter in history but the film never lives up to it. The performances are earnest and respectful but it’s pretty uptight and the emphasis on tight shots removes context, a big mistake made by handheld digital filmmakers. Some of the scenes were shot in the actual locations where the events took place in and around Prague. Two previous films covered the events and another comes out this year called HHhH.
Zoom is interesting to look at, an animation and live action mix in a story about a couple of kids – Gael Garcia Bernal is a comic book artist and filmmaker and Toronto’s’ Alison Pill makes sex dolls. They work on a comic strip at night together, and he’s directing a film about a novelist working on a book about animation. It’s a three tiered universe with the stories weaving in and out of each other. Its “A multi-dimensional interface and each lives in a separate reality”. Jason Priestly and Don McKellar have small roles. It’s an interesting idea but its constructs overwhelm it.
Sausage Party opened. Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill star.