Sunday, August 21, 2016


Movies that their makers think will be nominated for awards usually don't come out in the middle of August.  Big franchise action movies, comedies and kids' movies come out in summer. Movies that their makers think will be nominated for awards are usually serious flicks, often based on true stories, saved for late Fall.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS and WAR DOGS are both based on true stories that certainly have some pretty serious aspects to them, and they've both come out in the middle of August. So the expectation is that they're being dumped into that time slot because they aren't very successful.

But that turns out to be an incorrect assumption. Both of these movies, though not grand works of art, are small works of art, successful at what they do. Despite being based on serious stories, they've been written and directed as comedies that happen to have very serious moments, as well as suspense and, in the case of WAR DOGS action, and that's partly why they work so well.

Meryl Streep as FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS pulls off playing a frumpy aging matron who presents herself as a great classical singer but actually is pretty awful. She has moments that cover the spectrum of human emotion in ways that range from hilarious to poignant. Hugh Grant as her mate and Simon Helberg as her piano accompanist (an actor who actually is also a concert pianist), add their own powerful performances. The movie sticks close to the facts and yet Stephen Frears' direction makes it an entertaining fable.

In WAR DOGS, Miles Teller and Jonah Hill play two guys in their twenties who stumble into arms dealing that gets out of hand. Also sticking pretty closely to the actual facts, Todd Phillips's direction turns a mini-tragedy into a mini-comedy, but one that becomes totally engaging, mostly because of the lead performances and an extended cameo by Bradley Cooper (who also produced it).

Both these films are about, and create, unlikely heroes who endear themselves to us despite their obvious flaws and self-delusions. And maybe helping us to face our own flaws and self-delusions with a little more acceptance.

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