Mid-Day Mini ~ Ironweed

The Facts:

Synopsis: A schizophrenic drifter spends Halloween in his home town after returning there for the first time in decades.

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Tom Waits, Carroll Baker

Director: Hector Babenco

Rated: R

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:   The pairing of Nicholson and Streep worked so well in 1986’s Heartburn that the two were teamed up again the very next year in this adaptation of a novel by William Kennedy.  Set in depression-era New York, the movie is a somber look at the lives of a rag-tag group of bums and drunks around Halloween as they deal with the ghostly shadows of their unfulfilled lives.

In roles that seem tailor-made for them (perhaps a tad too tailor-made), Streep and Nicholson go for the jugular and earned Oscar nominations for their effort.  She’s a failed singer on her last legs, leaning perhaps a bit unwisely on the shoulder of Nicholson’s ex baseball player.  Now he digs ditches and occasionally visits his abandoned wife and family who want nothing to do with him.  They hang out in shanties, drink, gossip, argue, and care for one another the only way they know how.

It’s a bleak film given dignity by the performances (including Waits, Nathan Lane, Fred Gwynne, and especially Baker as Nicholson’s wife), script (by author Kennedy), and direction from Babenco who found similar light in dark pieces like Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Pixote.  By the end of the film you’ll be as haunted by these characters as they are by the dreams of their lives that might have been.

Down From the Shelf ~ Falling In Love

The Facts:

Synopsis: Commuting to Manhattan on the same train, two married strangers meet by accident and have an affair.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Dianne Wiest, Jane Kaczmarek

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  In 1984 Streep and DeNiro were already on their way into the history books of movie performances.  She had already won two Oscars and was coming off the success of Silkwood.  He was riding the great reviews of The King of Comedy and Once Upon a Time in America.  So it’s odd then, that these two actors took a chance on this slightly slight romantic drama which ended up not really going anywhere.

Both play married people that meet by chance on a commuter train into Manhattan.  There is your typical “meet cute” that turns into an infatuation and then more.  What Streep and DeNiro do with these roles is to give them real weight and pathos.  You see decisions on their faces and consequences cross their minds in a way that lesser actors wouldn’t bother going displaying.  They really do make the movie work better than it probably should and it makes this an interesting entry on their resumes.

It’s not that the movie is without value.  Even though it’s classified overall as a drama, there is a certain breeziness to the proceedings that make it quite watchable.  Maybe it’s the jazzy score by Dave Grusin or the unobtrusive direction by Grosbard.  Michael Cristofer’s script has some zip to it and both our leads deliver it well.  It has a few unexpected moments as well – such as DeNiro’s response to Streep asking him “Is there anything you want to know about me?”  What he asks isn’t quite polite but it’s a breath of fresh air.

Supporting performances by Keitel and Weist give this a very When Harry Met Sally… feeling and I wonder if Falling in Love didn’t inspire some of that later film.  Fans of Streep and DeNiro would probably enjoy this, as well as anyone looking for a romantic drama with some unexpected pedigree to it.

Oh…and don’t forget to vote in my poll!

Movie Review ~ The Iron Lady

The Facts:

Synopsis: A look at the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the price she paid for power.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Prosthetics Designer – Mark Coulier and Prosthetics Make-Up Artist – Barrie Gower. (Far from my usual random highlight, these two deserve the Oscar for their seamless/flawless efforts in transforming Streep into Margaret Thatcher. It’s astonishing work.)

TMMM Score: (7.5/10) *(10/10 for Streep’s performance)

Review: By now, it’s a given that Streep is the best actress of her generation.  Quibble if you must but the proof is in the pudding.  From Sophie’s Choice to Silkwood to Ironweed to She-Devil to Mamma Mia! to Adaptation to The Devil Wears Prada the ‘many faces of Streep’ seemingly has no end.  In the past several years she’s turned in a steady stream of Oscar worthy performances.  That is to say, while the performances have been consistent I always felt like there was someone else better suited to take the statute.  Here, finally, is an Oscar winning performance. It’s another role that Streep disappears in but gives much gravitas to.  Margaret Thatcher was a figure that divides people to this day and while the movie doesn’t necessarily sugar-coat her life, it isn’t afraid to give you some hints as to why people love to hate her.

It would have been easy for the filmmakers to do a straight biopic of Thatcher’s rise from a working-class grocer’s daughter to the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.  Instead of that route, the film is more interested in the woman behind the pearls, which is precisely why I imagine Streep took the role.  It jettisons pretty much any discussion of her personal life and focuses on her determination to be a leader to her party.  It’s a tricky line to walk because while she’s not shown as an outright cunning climber, it is suggested that she sacrificed elements of her relationships as a wife and mother.  Were she a male this may not have been as obvious a point but it’s almost too much information to get into 105 minute film…so cutting the home life angle was a wise one.

If the film is faulted for anything it’s that it never really commits as much as its leading actress does.   Director Lloyd seems to resist pushing deeper to that darker side.  Yes, Thatcher is shown with conflict and never at a loss for words…especially when it comes to upbraiding her male peers.  However, aside from one too many shots of Thatcher riding in her car with the masses kicking and shouting from the outside, no real consequences of actions taken are shown.

An element I ended up appreciating was that the entire film is seen through the eyes of an aged Thatcher, disintegrating with dementia in her London flat.  If Streep tells the story of the younger Thatcher though body language and dialogue, her take on the older Thatcher is all in the face.  That’s when you know you are watching the best of the best.  With the slightest shift in her eyes a story is told…these are wonderful, rewarding moments of acting to witness.

Broadbent is not asked to do much here but recreate his “supportive husband” role that snagged him an Oscar in Iris…he’s a smart enough actor to know that his job is to support Streep as does the rest of the cast.  That no one stands out isn’t a dig at the acting which is solid, it’s just that Streep commands each scene in a manner that you dare not look away.

Like My Week With Marilyn, the central performance is stronger than the film it inhabits.  I would recommend both movies but felt The Iron Lady was the more successful of the two.  Streep is at the point of her career where I would pay to watch her watch paint dry…and she continues to take on roles that speak to her and translate well to her fans and critics alike.  Before seeing this I wasn’t convinced that this may be Streep’s Oscar to lose but consider me convinced.  While I still feel she has stiff competition from Viola Davis in The Help…I can see it being Streep’s year.