Angels in America: “Messenger”

DATELINE: Ghost of Ethel Meets Ghoul of Cohn 

 Streep & Pacino

The third episode of the miniseries Angels in America takes us to the hallucinogenic, paranormal world where Louis (Ben Shenkman) insists in his liberal way that there are no angels in America.

On the other hand, the evil Roy Cohn is the devil in America, dying of AIDS like the saintly Prior whose survival seems preordained by some supernatural force. He is to “Prepare” for an event of monumental proportions:  this is foreshadowed when two ancestor ghosts show up in his bedroom to give him a Dickensian warning.

Emma Thompson is his down to earth nurse, but she speaks in tongues (only to the ears of Prior (Justin Kirk). He is also seeing Talmudic eruptions of Torah as he prepares for the descent (or is it an ascent?).

If you have held on to this point, you will be hooked by the mixed metaphors of paranormal and political messages in crossover.

The episode builds to one of the most astounding special effects dramas and ghost stories in American literature. And, however uncomfortable the sexual situations are, they are part of the political whirlwind of America. Roy Cohn was a hypocritical gay man who worked with Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, associated with Edgar Hoover socially, and was responsible for the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg…

With Prior Walter ghosts from the Mayflower setting the stage, we are also about to see an Angel in America. Yet, for our money, the highlight of any film has to be a confrontation between Pacino’s Cohn and Streep’s Ethel Rosenberg. It is hilarious and horrifying—as ghost and her ghoul banter nastily. An extraordinary moment in movie history.

  Angels in America: “In Vitro”

DATELINE:  American Supernatural Powers 

 Pacino’s Satanic Roy Cohn!

The second episode of the mini-series Angels in America again uses some clever cross-cutting from director Mike Nichols to counter-point the two young relationships on the rocks: the gay couple (Jewish boy & Mayflower Prior) and the heterosexual Mormons (calling each other inexplicably ‘buddy’).

The connections between Louis and Joe as lawyers puts them together on occasion. Joe’s pill-popping wife refuses to come to grips with her husband’s latent sexual interests. All in all, the two couples seem ready to do battle in what may be a ridiculous waste of energy.

If Louis has a friend (in the person of a flamboyant black nurse—Jeffrey Wright), then Joe (Patrick Wilson) relies on the back-rubbing seduction of Roy Cohn (in the person of Al Pacino).

Pacino has one satanic scene in this episode, but he is so dominant and frightful that he is unforgettable, even citing Mafia words like “familiglia” as his favorite. And, Meryl Streep makes her first of two role appearances at the mother of Mormon Joe. The best is yet to come.

Again, it is the political element from a drama twenty years old that resonates today: Cohn wants protection from being disbarred. He will place cute Joe into the Reagan Administration to give him an insider cover.

The talk is putting crypto-Nazi political plans of Cohn into place to last generations. It is sentient almost to a terrifying degree—as it predates Cohn’s protégé Donald Trump putting these plans into fruition.

So, the predictive nature of this LGQBT play-unto-movie from 2003 may be the most-telling soothsaying bit of political spin out of the 20thcentury. The story is set in 1985 when AIDS was the virulent killer with no cure in sight. Cohn is laying groundwork to control the presidency and Supreme Court with his kind of American well into the 21st century–and far beyond the grave.

Post Toastie, Post Haste, Post Dated

 DATELINE: Movie Review

 post toastie  The Post

Back in the days of the Nixon Administration, journalism became elevated to the career and mission of national guardian, and you had movies like All the President’s Men about Woodward and Bernstein, starring Hoffman and Redford.

Today, with fake news all the buzz, you have an attempt to recreate the nostalgia of journalism in The Post-Watergate movie in the era of Stormy Daniels and James Comey.

Hence, you have The Post with two actors of note, exceptions as targets in the crosshairs of President Trump: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.

The Post is the name of the newspaper that is most maligned nowadays by Sarah Huckaboo Slanders in her daily briefings at the White House. It is also the name of a movie that tries to redeem journalism.

You’d have better luck collecting a nickel for your empty beer bottle.

This is a movie preaching to the people not sitting in the church pew. You will need to chain someone to a pillar to watch The Post.

Muckrakers no longer read newspapers or books and prefer ten seconds to hook their media audience with an image. By the same token, movies are not watched for messages nowadays, and not watched without a good car chase and explosion. You might as well hook your worm and go fishing.

But, we do have a movie here, not a video game. And we have to say something to that cult of movie watchers and the cult of message movie fans.

When documentaries are accused of being faked news, a docudrama is the ultimate fiction to the new breed of Trumpist news monks.

Oh, by the way, The Post is a prestige movie. That means no one is watching, which is a shame.

Disrespected and Played for a Fool: Streep’s Latest

 DATELINE: Florence Foster Jenkins

ffj Really and Truly

Florence Foster Jenkins (interpreted by Meryl Streep as a pixilated and dotty old lady) was actually a wealthy philanthropist with a love for music. In her youth Mrs. Jenkins sang at the White House, but in the 1940s she was humored and taken advantage of by famous and infamous friends, like Toscanini.

Alas, this film’s audience will likely see her the same way. The film’s marketing strategy plays the woman of limited singing ability as a comic figure of mockery. Streep plays her as an obtuse woman, blindly thinking she was as talented an opera singer as Lily Pons.

There is something disheartening when no one will treat her with dignity for fear they might lose her generosity. Her husband (Hugh Grant) was, in fact, an arranged companion whose job it was to shield her from the truth. His protection is her undoing.

You could say people killed her with kindness rather than confront her delusions. Florence, once puffed up, buys time at Carnegie Hall for her misguided solo performance. Out of her humanity, she gives thousands of tickets to wounded US soldiers to try to brighten their lives with her gift of music. In her grandeur she seemed confused to learn her singing off-key was considered a joke that she was never allowed to enjoy.

Sincere second-rate artists are easy targets for ridicule and contempt, but Streep’s depiction of a good heart takes the comedy out of the burlesque Florence’s audiences sneered at. There is too little kindness for those who try to live creative lives, but fall short of greatness.

Using opera for the masses as the vehicle, this movie surprises in its microcosmic tale about the integrity and hard work one untalented woman put into an art she loved. Florence Foster Jenkins had a tragic, but happy life.

Audiences who ridicule Florence Foster Jenkins do so at their own peril.

Home, Home, Homesman on the Range

DATELINE: Insane Women Out West

Homely Homesman 

The Homesman restores some faith in the Western after several so-so recent efforts. The reason probably has to do with the tale coming from Glendon Swarthout whose heyday of classic novels into movies was back in the ‘60s.

 

You could also credit Tommy Lee Jones for bringing the story to film as star, writer, and director. Swarthout, once again, was way ahead of his time with a feminist Western. But, this isn’t one of those women shooting guns and wearing badges fantasy.

This film takes the concept of that old silent Lillian Gish movie, The Wind, about pioneer women living on the prairie—driven mad by the loneliness, insensitive husbands, and the oppressive culture.

Hilary Swank plays a plain Jane spinster desperate to find a man to help her. She wants a business partner but proposes marriage all too often. Though every man thinks she is too homely, she is better looking than all the other options. So, that had us scratching our head.

She is headstrong and takes on a role no men will perform by taking three insane women eastward to escape their plight. She provides comfort and strength to these pathetic victims of a cruel west.

Yes, Swank is to behold. When she puts the make on old Tommy, we weren’t sure where this was going—but it went where we never suspected.

The film has more than a few surprising and delightful cameos—from John Lithgow as a minister to James Spader as a hotelier in the middle of nowhere to Meryl Streep as an angelic humanitarian.

These great actors are a bit wasted in the roles they play for five minutes. But, they add gravitas to the surroundings, though we cannot look at Spader as anything other than Red Reddington with his blacklist. Indeed, he seems most anachronistic hereabouts.

It’s a small quirky Western, set in the days when the West was on the other side of the Mississippi River. But, as friends often point out, if it has horses, it’s a Western.