Saturday, October 19, 2019

Film review: "The Laundromat" (2019)

Netflix released The Laundromat to streaming yesterday, and I got the chance to watch it last night. There's been a bit of controversy around it, and as recently as a couple days ago, the two men on whom much of the film is based, filed a lawsuit to prevent Netflix from releasing the it. After its Venice premiere in late August, dozens of reviews have trickled in. I can't avoid taking notice of course, and it's difficult not to get a biased view of what to expect, considering it hasn't exactly received universal acclaim. In fact, it's been fairly poorly reviewed. I tried to put that aside and watch the movie with an open mind.

It's a pretty fast run, at only 96 minutes. The film opens with Ellen Martin (Meryl) on a trip with her husband in New York, where their boat capsizes, killing her husband and many others. The attempt to secure an insurance settlement leaves Ellen out of luck, as she learns that the company that was supposed to handle the restitution has essentially been able to weasel out of it...through convoluted, but not necessarily illegal, channels.

Ellen tries to track down the company, leading her as far as the Caribbean, but to no avail. Along the way, we're treated to behind the scenes explanations from Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, who portray the real-life lawyers Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca (of the infamous Panama Papers law firm Mossack Fonseca), describing step by step how the rich are basically screwing the little guy and getting away with it.

The film jumps around a lot, including side stories of wealthy African and Chinese families, conveying the nature of the often cruel and even murderous lengths individuals went to protect their astronomical assets. I tend to agree with many of the reviews that suggest that the film might not always know where it's going, or that it simply would be better to more closely follow Ellen's story. I realize I'm biased toward Meryl, but Ellen is really the one person we're meant to care about in the film, and I believe the film would be stronger with a little more length to follow Ellen's story a bit more closely.

Now to the controversy. There are a handful of viewers who accuse Streep of engaging in "brownface," in the film, in that she is attempting to portray a woman of color. Meryl plays a dual role, the second being a Panamanian office worker. On paper it totally sounds like "what the f*ck are you thinking?" but in the context of the film, there really isn't anything overtly offensive about it. I'm not going to get into a long-winded narrative about what constitutes blatant disregard for racial inequality, or insensitive depictions of minorities on screen. Suffice it to say, I, like the vast majority of folks who have posted online reviews, find little to no real issue with it.

Steven Soderbergh addressed the concern, which he anticipated, in a recent interview. I'm satisified with his explanation. I just wish I were a little more satisfied with the film. Since it's on Netflix, we're not concerned about box office, but I think if we're going to hope for any awards attention this upcoming season, it'll definitely be for Big Little Lies.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sizing up Best Supporting Actress...for TV

Things are looking pretty bleak in regard to Meryl's awards chances for The Laundromat. I'll write more about my thoughts when I'm able to post a review after it's released to Netflix Friday, but I thought it would be a good idea to touch on what her chances are for recognition for her television performance this year: Big Little Lies. I'll still keep track of her chances in the film department, hopefully commenting on my thoughts of other actresses in the hunt. After all, if anyone has the chance to be a spoiler or surprise nominee, it's Meryl.

I've tended to sort of forget already that she has a very good shot of seeing some love at the Golden Globes, SAGs, and eventually the Emmys for her role as Mary Louise Wright. The interesting thing, of course, is that we won't get nominations for the Emmys until next summer. The timeline for eligibility is not the calendar year, rather June 1-May 31 of any given year. Since BLL was not released until June, it was not eligible for last month's Emmys. It will, however, be eligible for both the Globes and SAGs, as they, like the Oscars, are based on calendar-year eligibility.

With that in mind, we should identify who the likely candidates are for recognition this upcoming winter awards season. Globe and SAG nominations are already going to come out in early December. We need to be aware that Meryl will likely fall into a different category next year in each of the Globes, SAGs and Emmys. This is due to how they group performers. For example, the Globes clump all supporting roles together (regardless if they're from a drama, comedy, miniseries or television movie). The SAGs don't have supporting categories for TV at all, which may give us a Meryl nom essentially in lead. And the Emmys have about a trillion categories, of which Meryl will no doubt fall into Supporting Actress in a Drama series. BLL will have to compete in drama series, unlike last year when we all thought it was only going to be a limited series. But after a second season, that was no longer possible.

So...we're going to see Meryl potentially "competing" against different groups of actresses in each of the three awards bodies! I'm exhausted just thinking about all the permutations of different performers and categories, but I think I'm going to just start (in this post at least) with the Golden Globes.

Gold Derby has predictions for both the "experts" and "editors" which pretty much have Meryl ranked #1 or #2 across the board.  Helena Bonham Carter is going to pose a big challenge, as next month we will see her as the latest iteration of Princess Margaret in Netflix's The Crown. Patricia Arquette has already won an Emmy for her role in the limited series The Act (which was horrifying and amazing at the same time), and is sure to be in the running. Laura Dern won pretty much everything for her supporting role in BLL the first time around, and she's got a lot of buzz this year for her film role in Marriage Story, so we can't leave her out--but I honestly think Shailene Woodley was the best of the Monterey Five in season two. Chernobyl was a huge success for HBO, and Emily Watson already scored a nom with the Television Academy. And Jessica Lange (The Politician) is a perennial television favorite these days. I'd love to see one of the ladies form When They See Us make it in. I personally thought Niecy Nash was great in that limited series.

This is going to be a fun season. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Kerry Washington joins "The Prom"

Multiple sources are reporting that Kerry Washington (Scandal, Shadow Force) has joined Ryan Murphy's upcoming film adaptation of the Broadway musical The Prom. There is no word yet on what role Washington will play. I'm not sure if she can sing or not, but I'm guessing there are plenty of non-singing roles in the film, regardless. 

Early reports had indicated the film would begin filming in December, with a late-summer 2020 release planned.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sizing up supporting actress: Margot Robbie in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

When I posted my thoughts on a pair of contenders in the Best Supporting Actress category last week, I totally forgot that I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in early August. Margot Robbie is getting some buzz for her role as slain actress Sharon Tate

Directed by Quentin Tarantino, the film is a sort of reimagining of characters and events surrounding the Manson Family murders, which took place in the summer of 1969. I actually really enjoyed the movie, and thought Robbie did a fine job. The only problem is that she's barely in it. I get that the character is historically well-known, and that the Academy tends to wet themselves over films depicting their industry. But there just isn't enough for Robbie to do here.

I expect there have been plenty of pundits out there who've broken down why and how Robbie might get the nod. What Robbie does she does well. It would be very difficult to convince me, however, that it's a worthy performance. Not that screen time is the only thing that constitutes a good role.  But this is not Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love or Viola Davis in Doubt. There is so little interesting or difficult in Robbie's portrayal. No arc. No big speech or super emotional moment. That, coupled with low screen time, does not an Oscar role make.

If she gets in, I expect it to be more understandable if its for Bombshell, which opens December 20 (and I cannot wait to see).

My ranking of the performances I've seen thus far:

1. Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)
2. Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
3. Margot Robbie (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sizing up supporting actress

Meryl is possibly in the hunt for awards recognition this season for The Laundromat. Her chances have seemed to dwindle a bit in recent weeks. While the film isn't getting great reviews, Streep is getting good notices, often described as the best thing in the movie. I haven't seen it yet (it's only in limited theaters), and I'm guessing that I'll ultimately first see it when it's released to Netflix on on October 18.

As I've tended to do in other years, I like to comment on where I think Meryl is in the running compared to other ladies in contention. With that in mind, I got the chance to see two movies this weekend, and am going to give my thoughts on two of the contenders.

The first film I saw was Downton Abbey. Full disclosure, I loved the series, but I'm not sure I would have made the point to see the film version in the theater had I not wanted to get a head start on Oscar-watching. The movie was actually great, and Maggie Smith is getting some buzz for reprising her role as the Dowager Countess. She was very well-rewarded for her role in the series iteration, so it's not surprising that many are touting her chances with this feature film. Her performance wasn't really anything special. It's certainly not any different than what we've seen for years on the series, and it's pretty much a ho-hum "Maggie Smith" role. She does a lovely job I'm sure, but nothing we haven't seen before, no particular stretch for her. All that said, I wouldn't be at all surprised if she gets nominated for an Oscar. People LOVE her in this role. A huge box-office haul is not going to hurt either.

The more interesting of the two roles I watched was Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. I'm just as surprised as the next person that J Lo is in the conversation for Oscar at all. But after seeing the movie, I can sort of understand why. First off, it's a borderline lead role, which certainly helps in regard to screen time. She has a lot to do, and a lot of moments to shine. She plays a stripper who ends up corralling a group of her co-workers to drug men and steal their money. Not unlike Maggie Smith, however, I don't think this role is like wildly outside of something I could normally expect to see J Lo in, but she was pretty convincing at Ramona. She looked amazing, did some incredible pole dancing, had emotional scenes and went on a journey as a character. The film, while disturbing at times, is overall very well done, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's getting great reviews, as is she, so she's shot up toward the top of many people's lists.

Of the two contenders I've seen so far this year, my rankings go:

1. Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)
2. Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Shoulda Coulda Wouldas #16: "The Good House"

Multiple sources revealed yesterday that Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline have been tapped to star in the film adaptation of Ann Leary's 2013 novel, The Good House. For regular readers of this blog, you probably know that I've been holding a bit of a candle for this project for six years now, ever since it was announced that Streep was set to start alongside Robert De Niro. I had pretty much given up hope of ever seeing this story reach the screen, and when I woke up this morning to an alert on my blog that it had been recast, I wasn't really sure what to think.

My first thought was how out of the blue this seemed. I'd assumed this film had died and gone to development hell. But from what I understand, filming is already underway in Canada. The film will be directed by married couple Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky (I know, who?!)--there never had been a previous director attached. Amblin Partners is producing, with Universal handling distribution. Michael Cunningham had been reportedly working on the adaptation in 2013, but the articles I've read suggest that Forbes and Wolordarsky wrote the script. My guess is that the director pair revised Cunningham's original adaptation. 

While I'm excited to see this story brought to the screen, I feel it's an unfortunate missed opportunity for Meryl. Nobody knows how the film is ultimately going to pan out, but I'm very familiar with the book, and have for years now found is protagonist, Hildy Good, a fascinating character. Shes a 60-something realtor on Boston's North Shore: successful, strident, a mother, grandmother, divorced from a gay husband, descended from Salem witches, purportedly psychic, and desperately trying to hide her love affair with alcohol. Imagine Meryl negotiating this woman!

After reading the novel when it was announced Meryl was attached to the film adaptation, I've regularly revisited parts of the story, thanks to the amazing audible version narrated by the great Mary Beth Hurt. It's become a nostalgic story for me. With its historic town, numerous fall and winter scenes, witty dialogue, and comprehensive characterizations, it's a setting that's become  entrenched in my mind.

My hope is that the film does the story justice. I remember hearing Ann Leary in an interview a couple years ago saying that it was still in the development process, and that the producer, Jane Rosenthal, really wanted the script and characters to be as perfect as possible. It'd be great if the reason it's taken six years to go into production was because they were doing just that. Weaver is of course a brilliant actress, so I look forward to her interpretation of the role. On paper, it seems the type of project and character that would garner a lot of attention.
Sadly, The Good House has gone the way of other projects from the not-so-distant past for which Meryl was originally attached. The Last Station, Saving Mr. Banks, and Julieta all ended up being made with other actors in the main roles. In recent years, I had expected The Good House to fall more along the lines of Daughter of the Queen of Sheba, Dirty Tricks and Master Class, all of which have never reached the screen. 

I hope Let Them All Talk and The Prom end up being worth Meryl missing out this fall. Lord knows there are a thousand possible reasons why she never stuck with the project (see The Last Station et al.). Regardless, when The Good House hits theaters in 2020, I'll be one of the first in line.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"The Laundromat" garnering tepid reviews

The Laundromat has now been shown at both the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals. Over forty reviews have been counted, and I'm disappointed to report that most critics are giving it a thumbs-sideways. The majority of concerns seem to center on the fact that the film it disjointed and smug, does not give enough time to cover the wide swath of ground it wishes to traverse, and is wasting its impressive cast on too much frivolity for such a serious topic.

While that's disappointing to read, Meryl is generally getting best-in-show notices. There are rumblings about the fact that she portrays more than one character, one being a Panamanian woman, and how that may be a a misguided and even offensive example of "brownface."

Those detractors are few, but loud, and from what I can understand, the criticism is probably misplaced. I'll hold off on getting too into it until I see the film, but more to come on that.

The sad thing about the film not doing well is that it's likely going to cost Meryl any love come awards season. I could see it having a better chance at the Golden Globes, but and Oscar nom may be out of reach this time. 

There's always Big Little Lies.