FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS [PG-13] B+
For years, I have maintained a distanced respect for the work of Meryl Streep, mainly because I have always felt somewhat emotionally stranded by her perfectionistic technical prowess. So imagine my surprise when, in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” the latest film from director Stephen Frears (“Philomena”), I found myself fully invested and engaged in this marvelously complex character. Jenkins is a New York heiress who has supported the musical arts community in the City for years due to a personal love so strong that she has convinced herself that she too has rich talent, where sadly, she has none. Her husband (Hugh Grant) has spent years and a small fortune supporting his wife’s delusion, but exposure looms after she books Carnegie Hall for a solo performance. The film cleverly shifts from broad jokes to real drama, and Streep thoroughly inhabits the body and soul of a woman who dreams of talent and challenges everyone to deny her reality.
PETE’S DRAGON [PG] B-
It has taken almost 40 years, but Hollywood has finally gotten around to remaking the 1977 fantasy-adventure “Pete’s Dragon,” the story of an orphan boy with a very special companion (an animated dragon named Elliott) seeking to escape from his abusive adoptive parents. This time out, writer-director David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) teams a new Pete (Oakes Fegley) up with a majestic computer-generated creation and a cast of heavy hitters (Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and Robert Redford) in order to invest the movie with equal doses of wonder and gravitas that may have been lacking in the more whimsical original. Lowery certainly cherry-picked from the Spielbergian playbook, spotlighting the wide-eyed joy of kids confronting the fantastic, but there are also smartly humanized references to Tarzan and even fleeting nods to last year’s indie treat Room. While it remains a broad family friendly slice of moviemaking, “Pete’s Dragon” seeks to offer an alternative to the purely mindless indulgences we typically spoon feed our kids, in order to merely keep them in a air-conditioned pods complete with expensive junk food for a couple of hours during the long hot summer months.
SAUSAGE PARTY [R] A-
Frank (Seth Rogen) is a sausage in a pack waiting to be chosen by a human for the 4th of July. He’s expectant and also hopeful that his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a shapely bread item in a neighboring pack will be selected along with him so that he can get all up between her buns in the great beyond. There’s no way to make this story anything other than what it is, a raunchy comedy. Well, somewhere along the way, “Sausage Party” starts to incorporate existential questions and a food revolution against humanity, while never forgetting its dirty-minded roots. Rogen and his creative partners Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill cooked up a story that skewers religion, culture, and every other sacred cow in society, but it does so with an overabundance of humor. “Sausage Party” closes out the summer with free foodie love.