Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Don't Look Up" set for November...or December release

Director Adam McKay recently did an interview on the podcast Happy Sad Confused. In it, he stated his upcoming Netflix film, Don't Look Up, was likely to be released in either November or December. This isn't exactly wild news, as we already knew it was slated for a fourth quarter release. 

More interesting is how McKay talks about how he and Leonardo DiCaprio reworked the script for several months prior to filming. There's been some buzz that the script was a bit light in some areas, or perhaps too campy. I expected that the version I read was likely not the final draft they filmed. Glad to hear it's been cleaned up a bit--anything to better the chances of this film getting good notices. McKay also commented on how the tone of the film will be a mix of The Big Short and The Other Guys. 

Maybe we'll get our first teaser this summer. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Recasting 2014: "Olive Kitteridge"

Julianne Moore's performance in 2014's Still Alice was one of the most lauded of the decade. She pretty much swept all film awards, including the Big Four: Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG. And yet, there was another screen performance that year that was arguably just as praised and awarded. Frances McDormand's role in the HBO limited series Olive Kitteridge was an acting powerhouse, and would've been an incredible character to watch Meryl interpret. 

Adapted from Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of the same name, the four-part series takes us on a 25-year journey through Olive's life, and her struggles with depression, marriage, motherhood, and friendship. I think it's fair to characterize her as a bit of a misanthrope. She detests sentiment and will not suffer fools. But Olive has more depth to her than that. I found this particularly noticeable in the relationship with her husband. The old adage of "opposites attract" is not all that accurate in my opinion. I think people who are similar to each other tend to end up together. In the case of Olive and Henry (Richard Jenkins), they both actually share very similar values. Hard work, honesty, a commitment to their home and child. Granted, their instincts on how to go about maintaining those things vary, but at their core, the couple wants the same things. 

My husband and I watched the series this past weekend (it was the second viewing for me, Joe's first), and it reminded me of what I think about as far as what often attracts couples. As I mentioned, mostly it's similarities, but I also think something that's extremely attractive to people is finding someone who shores you up in areas where you're maybe lacking, or reluctant, or afraid. Olive basically says this in the last episode, when with Bill Murray's character she comments on how Henry may have driven her mad at times, but now that he's gone, it seems like he was the perfect man. 

In searching for a clip to show of the show, I found this one and realized the scene sort of encapsulates Olive's whole character and the Kitteridge family dynamic in general. 


I'll add this one of Frances McDormand discussing women's stories on screen in general. 


I have to agree, Frances. Perhaps it's why I'm such a big fan of limited series. Trying to showcase a person, much less a complex personality over the course of 25 years, is very difficult to do well in under two hours. Olive Kitteridge is about four, and we probably still could've used more. 

I deliberately haven't written much in this post about the plot of the series. Watching it the second time, I had forgotten how extraordinary some of the plot points are. And I don't necessarily mean that in a positive way. The connections with random death and violence and accidents in a relatively short period of time is a bit difficult to believe at times. It puts the characters in situations where the have to emote a lot, but honestly, it was a bit distracting at times. 

Joe commented a handful of times on the poor quality of some of the supporting actors' performances. Not so for Zoe Kazan and Bill Murray. And both McDormand and Jenkins were astoundingly good throughout. In fact, I thought Frances was so good, I had a hard time picturing how Meryl would play certain scenes. That rarely happens. But eventually I envisioned it being a mixture of threads from Sister Aloysious from Doubt, Kate from Dancing at Lughnasa, and Roberta from Music of the Heart.

Reception for the series was even impressive, holding a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 89 on Metacritic. Both are indications of almost universally positive reviews.As I mentioned at the start of this post, Frances McDormand's performance was critically-acclaimed. She won the SAG and Emmy awards for Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie, and was nominated for the Golden Globe (strangely losing to Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honorable Woman).  Three years later, McDormand went on to win her second Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Will her every-third-year charm continue this weekend where she's nominated again for Nomadland? Tune in Sunday to find out. 


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Recasting 2013: "The Hundred-Foot Journey"

This is the second consecutive film I bumped up a year. Considering the cast of this movie, I don't think it would've made much of a difference age-wise had it been filmed a bit earlier. The Hundred-Foot Journey pick might come as a surprise to some. Despite Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey having produced it, I don't remember it as a super high-profile picture. But I really enjoy it. I think mainly it's the cinematography; every scene feels like its filled with tons of color. Even the moments that take place at night seem like they're bright. I get a similar sense from Julie & Julia, actually. And like that film, The Hundred-Foot Journey makes me want to eat. A lot. 

Streep would of course take the role of Madame Mallory, originally portrayed by the great Helen Mirren. Mallory owns an upscale restaurant in Southern France. When an immigrant Indian family buys an abandoned restaurant across the street, a battle ensues over attention for customers, and the fact that the new neighbors are, well...not white French. 

Hassan is the second son of the the owner of the new "Maison Mumbai," and has been groomed to become the head chef of his family's business. He had worked closely with his mother in India, before she was killed in a fire started by rioters after a disputed election. In the back-and-forth between Madame Mallory and Hassan's father, Om, Mallory's employees "in secret" deface the fencing outside of Maison Mumbai, and attempt to burn down it down. Madame Mallory fires the guy responsible, and when she takes it upon herself to clean it up the graffiti, Hassan, who's hands were burned in the fire, asks if he can make her an omelette. A sous chef at Mallory's restaurant, Marguerite (with whom Hassan sparks a bit of a romance), had previously told him that Madame Mallory can tell if a chef has what it takes to be great by tasting one bite of their omelette. 


"What, more spice?" I really like this movie, even if some of the dialogue and plot points are a bit low-brow. And it's not a bad role, either. It's certainly not as layered as say, Nic from The Kids are All Right or Big Edie from Grey Gardens, but I think Madame Mallory has a few interesting things in her "arc" that would be interesting to see Meryl negotiate and perhaps elevate. 

Madame Mallory is part of an old guard of snooty culinary insiders. France is of course a mecca for fancy cuisine, and Mallory's livelihood and legacy (and ego) depend on her achieving that elusive second Michelin Star. There's a brief reference to her late husband's former involvement in the restaurant at one point, so I guess we're expected to assume that she might carry that torch within her as well. Then there's the more interesting piece to this, in that Mallory, like probably most white people and especially most white people born before 1980, grew up with a certain amount of prejudice. Had the family been Swedish, I doubt there'd be as much of a conflict there. We get to see her get past some of that, if in a tired sort of way. 

I can't pass up the chance to talk about a new accent. Meryl has spoken French in other films (Plenty, a little bit in her Julia Child voice), but never done a French accent on screen (that I can think of). It got me thinking about how Québécois director Xavier Dolan has stated that he'd written a script for Meryl. I wonder if it would've been for a character whose first language was French. I think Mirren does a fairly good job, but I have to say that I tend to hear a bit of British in everything I've seen her do. Then I got to thinking how there's probably a difference between doing a French accent in English if it's someone who lives in Europe versus North America. Native French speakers who live in Europe probably learn British-sounding English, which no doubt has a slightly different sound in a French accent than American English. 

Mirren snagged a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. The film was a box office success, earning close to $90 million worldwide on a budget of $22m. Mirren and director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat) were both praised, and the film received decent reviews, despite the being what many critics thought was "predictable food porn." Sometimes it's just nice to watch flicks like that though. And it feels good to leave a movie in a better mood than when it started. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Adam McKay talks "Don't Look Up"

There was brief article with director Adam McKay released today. In it, he discusses his upcoming film (which includes Meryl of course), Don't Look Up. What I found interesting was how the film was ostensibly going to be an allegory for climate change. But with the wild ride we've had this past year, it's taken on a new context: 

“That is kind of how it started. But then the pandemic hit. What that did was bring out what the movie is really about, which is how we communicate with each other. We can’t even talk to each other anymore. We can’t even agree. So it’s about climate change, but at its root it’s about what has the internet, what have cellphones, what has the modern world done to the way we communicate.”

As I've previously posted, I had the opportunity to read the script not too long ago, and this was totally how I experienced the characters' interactions, and how I felt most people on social media communicated over the past, very politically divisive, year. I enjoy when Meryl does movies with a political bent to them. And in this one she's kind of the villain! Watching her channel her own version of a conservative president is going to be incredibly entertaining. 

No word yet on when Netflix plans for a release, but fourth quarter of this year seems likely. 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Recasting 2012: "Saving Mr. Banks"

In February of 2012, Disney was finalizing a deal to purchase the rights to the Blacklisted script, Saving Mr. Banks. Both Tom Hanks and Meryl were rumored as being eyed to star as Walt Disney and P.L. Travers. I posted about it at the time of course, which happened to be about a week before Meryl was officially confirmed to star in August: Osage County. Both films were ultimately filmed around the same time later that year. This was likely what prevented Streep from participating in Banks, as it's been reported that Emma Thompson was hired after the studio was "unable to secure" Streep. 

Knowing how long of a process it had been to get Banks to the screen, had it been ready six months earlier, it's reasonable to expect that it could've been released in late 2012, a year earlier than its original release. Similar to The Last Station, I had written up Saving Mr. Banks in my Shoulda Coulda Wouldas tag as a film I wanted to include in my Reimagined Filmography of Streep's screen career. With this new project, however, I get to move Banks to a parallel filmography that doesn't overextend what would've been a very tight shooting schedule. 

The film depicts the story of P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, and the tedious process Walt Disney undertook to secure the film rights to the story in 1961. Travers is against almost all of the creative team's plans and suggestions--loathing songs, the idea of animation, and basically anything that doesn't seem to fit the literal depictions of what she's created in her books. We come to learn that the story of Mary Poppins is a deeply personal one for Travers, particularly with the relationship shown between the children and the seemingly uninvolved father. Multiple flashbacks show a young Travers in Australia, where she idolizes her alcoholic father (played by Coin Farrell), and is devastated when he succumbs to tuberculosis. 


It's nice at the end when we get a better look behind the harsh facade. Thompson has stated in interviews that this role was one of the best she's ever had, due to the character's complexity, and often unpredictable and contradictory behavior. I reread my Shoulda Coulda Woulda post, and I agree with what I said then, that Thompson was a little one note for much of the film. Yes, Travers is supposed to be cantankerous and prickly, but I would've liked to get a better sense of the conflict in her from an earlier start. The flashbacks sort of do some of that work for us, but I can't help but wonder how Meryl would've approached that tricky inner dilemma. It's bad enough that Travers has surrender her beloved story out of lack of money. On top of that, the sacred place she has for her aunt (on whom the character of Mary Poppins was largely based), is being threatened with a sugary, overly Los Angeles-y screen depiction that she detests. There's a lot to work with there. 

The film garnered good reviews and was a great box office success. Anything related to Disney is going to find its audience. Streep is a better known actress, so it's unlikely it would've fared any worse had she starred as Travers. Thompson hit all the precursor awards, only to be left out at the Oscars. Meryl missed BAFTA but received both Golden Globe and SAG nominations. Many believe her Academy Award nomination for August: Osage County that year was undeserved in Thompson's place. Personally, I think that's laughable, but still wish Thompson had been recognized as well. I wouldn't have minded if Amy Adams had missed for American Hustle to make room for them both. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Streep voices Martha Gellhorn in Hemingway documentary for PBS

Not exactly major news, but when I came across this the other day, my eyes sort of lit up. This coming Monday through Wednesday, PBS is going to air a three-part Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway. In Hemingway, Streep will voice the novelist's third of four wives, Martha Gellhorn. Herself a novelist and war correspondent, Gellhorn and Hemingway were married from 1940-1945. The other three wives are voiced by Keri Russell, Patricia Clarkson, and Mary Louise Parker, respectively. 

Meryl's participation in this project hearkens back to when she voiced former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in The Roosevelts, another Burns doc, back in 2014. I found Streep's work in that production to be one of her better "voices" we've heard, even if it wasn't for a character we could see. Gellhorn could be the subject of her own fascinating documentary, or (another) feature film for that matter. Nicole Kidman starred alongside Clive Owen in the HBO movie, Hemingway and Gellhorn.


 
Streep is sort of a dead ringer for Gellhorn, actually. I look forward to tuning in this week. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Recasting 2011: "The Debt"

In the summer of 2010, Disney announced its sale of Miramax to Filmyard Holdings. One of the films that ended up getting its release date postponed was John Madden's spy thriller, The Debt. Big names like Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson, and then up and coming box-office star from Avatar, Sam Worthington, all teaming up with an Academy Award-winning director (Shakespeare in Love) made for a lineup that created early Oscar buzz. Those predictions never came to fruition, however, likely in large part due to the delayed nature of the film's release, and not because of the film's quality. 

The project was a remake of the Israeli film, Ha-Hov. Helen Mirren plays a retired Mossad agent in Tel Aviv, Rachel Singer, who, along with her two co-agents from thirty years prior, has been harboring a secret about their mission to capture a Nazi war criminal. They had indeed captured the man, but he escaped, and rather than face their government, they fabricate a story about the man's death. Well, turns out the man lived, and a journalist claims he's going to interview him. Rachel is now consigned to find the Nazi in a Ukrainian hospital and finally bring him back to Israel.

 

That was a very abbreviated snapshot of the film's plot, but it's tedious going into too much detail about it. Suffice it to say, it's totally worth watching, and it would be a fascinating character for Meryl to portray. For starters, y'all know I'm a sucker for hearing new accents. Meryl would get to try her hand at what I understand to be an Israeli accent, or more specifically, a Hebrew or Modern Hebrew accent. The character also speaks some subtitled scenes in Russian as well, so that would be fun. And considering Meryl's skill for Polish, I suspect she'd similarly had nailed this fellow Slavic language. 


Aside from Rachel being a badass intelligence agent, the more nuanced character points come from the struggle with recalling the events in 1965, and how she's had to live for decades with a lie that has repercussions on a global scale. This brings us to the fact that a good chunk of the movie takes place in the past, with a different cast portraying the younger versions of the characters in Germany. The scenes are wonderfully acted and exciting, but the casting makes the film far more difficult to follow than it needed to be. I've read a few reviews that share the same concerns about poor physical resemblances among the two sets of casts. While I'm not a stickler for perfect matches on features, I don't like getting taken out of the film by distractions or questions like "which one is he supposed to be?" 

It's easy with Rachel, as Jessica Chastain (before she was a star) portrayed the younger counterpart. She and Mirren don't exactly resemble each other, and neither do she and Streep, particularly. The bigger issue is with the guys, however. Sam Worthington (David) looks NOTHING like UK actor Ciarán Hinds, and Martin Csokas and Tom Wilkinson are a rough match as well. The storyline isn't super difficult to follow, but there's a fair amount of jumping back and forth in different time periods, and when there's a switch in casts, it can be a bit tricky to follow. 

Of course, I have thoughts on how to remedy the above issues. I can't help but think that Andrea Riseborough would've been a perfect match had Meryl been cast as the "1997" Rachel. She was originally cast as Meryl's daughter in August: Osage County before scheduling conflicts brought in Juliette Lewis. It's a more believable extension of Rachel from her late twenties to her late fifties.



And what about Out of Africa alum Klaus Maria Brandauer for the 1997 version of Sam Worthington's character, David?



And as much as I enjoy Tom Wilkinson, I feel like Ciarán Hinds, who originally portrayed the older version of David, might have fared better as Stefan:


I think these casting adjustments would've made for a more coherent storyline. We don't need such confusions from the plot or from the superb acting. And Rachel would be an interesting person to tackle. I wonder if Meryl would've had a conversation with the actor playing the younger "her." The two characters are no doubt different people form each other. After all the trauma young Rachel goes through, and then the years of possible shame for both having kept her secret and the fear that she and her colleagues will be found out. But then there's that chance at redemption--not only for herself, but for her fellow agents, country, and the Jewish people. Lots for an actor to do here, and Mirren eats it up as one would expect. 

The film did fairly well with critics, with a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. But it got sort of lost in the shuffle I think, with the aforementioned delays it had prior to its official release. I also realize that some people might not consider the 1997 version of Rachel a lead part, because a good portion of the movie takes place with the younger trio in 1965. But I argue that had Meryl been involved, it would've been like a Julie & Julia situation, with Meryl going lead. Mirren, after all, did receive top billing. Streep would've been an even bigger draw.