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Issue #1730      May 11, 2016

Film roundup

Florence Foster Jenkins directed by Stephen Frears

BBC Films’ The Iron Lady brought Meryl Streep the Oscar for her portrait of Margaret Thatcher and she was critically hailed for her cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst in the corporation’s Suffragette.

Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins.

Patently Streep and BBC Films are a match made in heaven.

And she proves it to the hilt with her delightfully funny and, in all the right places, emotionally appealing portrait of New York heiress and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins who pursued her dream of becoming an opera singer despite a voice that would cause bats to cover their ears in pain.

Nicholas Martin’s witty screenplay ingeniously balances broad comedy – sometimes Streep, padded as the aspirant diva and patron of New York’s upscale 1940s Verdi Club, seems the perfect successor to Carry On star Hattie Jacques – with convincing pathos where Jenkins genuinely believes that her unique off-key shrieking is actually beautiful operatic singing.

Hugh Grant, too, has never been better as Jenkins’s English actor husband-manager. He and Streep’ unique relationship convinces – they clearly love each other but platonically, with Grant living apart with another woman because of Jenkins’s long-term syphilis as a result of her first marriage.

Director Stephen Frears perfectly segues from delightful character-driven comedy to poignant emotional truth without losing basic comic momentum climaxing in Jenkins’s legendary 1944 concert at Carnegie Hall, which, says Grant triumphantly, “sold out faster than Frank Sinatra.”

That perfectly recreated concert whose audience, understandably and rowdily mocking at first when Jenkins begins to assault their ears are finally brought to their feet applauding wildly by a truly unique experience is a treat in itself.

Simon Helberg, memorably funny as Jenkins’s accompanist frequently fighting to suppress laughter at her ghastly singing, provides perfect support and Frears, who clearly knows his farce from his elbow, never puts a frame wrong.

Sheer joy all the way.

I Saw the Light directed by Mark Abraham

And another biopic of a legendary American singer.

However, this saga of the life of country music star Hank Williams couldn’t be more different from Florence Foster Jenkins.

Writer-director Mark Abraham delivers a straightforward Hollywood-style rise-and-fall telling the story of Alabama-born Williams who became one of America’s first country music superstars before dying from a heart attack, drink and drug-dependent, in the back of his car at the age of 29.

Abraham’s sad saga charts Williams’s rise and fall and his rocky love life – Williams’s second wife, here played by Elizabeth Olsen, affirmed in her divorce papers of his “life of wild extravagance” – and is routine Hollywood storytelling.

What makes it utterly compelling is Tom Hiddleston’s extraordinary portrait of Williams, which impressively rises above the scripted genre clichés.

He has the accent down pat and, even more impressively, sings Williams’s songs convincingly, no mean feat for an actor born in London.

These Final Hours directed by Zak Hilditch

The Aussies certainly know how to make a chilling apocalyptic thriller on a low budget that will haunt you for days.

Writer/director Zak Hilditch’s impressive feature film debut is a gritty, thought provoking end of the world drama which can teach Hollywood a thing or two.

It unfolds in the final 12 hours before a cataclysmic event is due to hit Australia and wipe out the remainder of humanity.

After one last fling with his lover Zoe (Jessica De Gouw), who reveals she is pregnant with his child, the self-obsessed James (Nathan Phillips) leaves her to head for the party to end all parties where his girlfriend is. On the way he rescues a young girl named Rose (a stand-out performance by Angourie Rice) from her violent captor who is searching for her missing father.

There is no Bruce Willis to save the day here. This is a brutal unrelenting race against time for James to redeem himself before his time is up.

Suffocatingly intense, it gets totally under your skin making you reflect on how you would spend your last day on Earth. Depressing but effective.

Knight of Cups directed by Terrence Malick

Stunning visuals, pretentious navel-gazing characters in an unfathomable two-hour-long drama – it can only be a Terrence Malick film.

It stars Christian Bale as a comedy writer in Los Angeles who is haunted by his brother’s death, unhappy with his life and tries to find himself. He seeks solace and distraction in a string of women played by Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freda Pinto and Imogen Poots.

As a study of the excesses and shallowness of Hollywood this could have been a fascinating watch yet with its soporific, self-indulgent, never-ending voiceovers replacing meaningful dialogue it is anything but. It may well send you to sleep like some of my learned colleagues.

Divided into chapters named after Tarot cards like the film’s title, for no explicable reason, it is peppered with random images of jellyfish, the Earth from space amongst others and gratuitous shots of nude women that beggar belief.

Malick is renowned for making artistic and beautifully shot films which make little sense but this was like watching exquisite paint dry.

Morning Star

Next article – Budget Roundup

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