Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Streep speaks at DNC

I purposely tend to avoid posting about non film-related news on Meryl.  But when there's this much coverage on a specific topic or event, I feel compelled to add my two cents.  Last night Meryl gave a brief speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  If you haven't already seen it, please watch below.



She's getting a lot of comments on her American flag frock.  Leave it to Meryl to go against convention and don something patriotic instead of Prada.  Her jubilant scream at the speech's onset was a nice touch as well, beginnin what was to be a fiery endorsement of her pal Hillary Clinton.

With all the examples Meryl gave of remarkable women in U.S. history, doesn't it just beg for someone to produce a film on the history of women's suffrage in America?  I'm talking about Meryl teaming with Kathy Bates and starring as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in a feature film, just like Meryl suggested back in 2012.  If Hillary pulls off the win in November, maybe it'll spark the production of the project.

Speaking of buddy projects, I've discussed in the past how great I think it would be if Ryan Murphy ended up making Best Actress. We know that the project got picked up for TV by FX and is currently filming as an eight part series entitled Feud, with Susan Sarandon (Bette Davis) and Jessica Lange (Joan Crawford) starring.  Had Meryl been cast as Crawford, we could've seen a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter (Sarandon) working alongside a fervent Clinton supporter (Streep).  Considering the vitriol Davis and Crawford had for each other, could there be a more perfect backdrop for this production?  Picture two actresses whose preferred candidates have been broiled in an impassioned campaign, culminating in Clinton's official nomination this week while bawling Sanders supporters struggle to surrender their allegiance (as a Bernie supporter I don't mind saying this).  It would allow for a fantastic backstory to production.

Alas, still nothing in the hopper for Meryl.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Film review: "The River Wild" (1994)

By 1994, for the first time Meryl had experienced a bit of a drought in film recognition.  Despite 1991's Defending Your Life doing well with critics, it failed to make much of a splash at the box office.  Death Becomes Her fared a bit better, despite the strangeness of its plot. And The House of the Spirits a year later...well let's just say it was time for something different.  The River Wild provided that change of pace.

Directed by Curtis Hanson (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, L.A. Confidential), this was the first time we saw Streep in an action-packed, psychological thriller.  Up to this point Meryl had not really done anything like what we'd consider a conventional "popcorn" movie.  And as I've thoroughly covered in the past, the early 90's was a departure from Meryl's historical blueprint for film choices.  Regardless of her reasons for choosing these scripts, had her series of comedies during this time garnered her more recognition, I wonder if she would've participated in River.  But so it goes.

The picture follows Gail (Meryl), a former rafting guide who now lives in Boston with her husband Tom (David Strathairn) and two children.  The family is planning a rafting trip out west where Gail grew up, but as we learn has become a pattern, Tom has to cancel last minute due to his busy work schedule.  Gail and her children depart without Tom, but he ends up showing up after all.  Upon the family's arrival in Idaho, they meet up with Gail's parents.  Here we get to see Meryl utlizing American Sign Language, as her character's father is deaf.  The family's ability to sign serves an important function later in the picture.

Before embarking down the river (the young daughter stays ashore with Grandma and Grandpa) the family meets a trio of men planning the same rafting trip.  Something seems a bit "off," but Tom's really the only one who doesn't trust them at first.  I rewatched the movie this afternoon and recall thinking that at this point in the film I just want everything to stay like this; the family is together, the scenery is beautiful and we can expect a lovely trip.  Of course that's not what happens.  We quickly learn that Tom's assumptions about the men are correct.  Reconnecting with the men (now down to just two of them) downstream, Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry (John C. Reilly) join up with Gail and her family under the guise that Gail will help them to more safely make it down the river.

We quickly learn that Wade and Terry are actually on the run from the law, having robbed a cattle auction and now hoping to escape to Canada.  Gail's family is essentially taken hostage, forcing her to help them make it through the tough rapids.  Tom runs off to avoid being shot after a failed attempt to take Terry's gun, and most of the second half of the film is a back and forth of missed chances for escape.  Eventually, with Tom singnaling his presence with sign language markings on a cliff and Gail devising a plan to knock Wade and Terry out the boat, the family frees themselves, having endured several dangerous and violent experiences.



Despite the plot being rather predictable, Hanson's film  manages to provide its share of suspense.  The backdrop of the action is breathtaking, and if nothing else the film is worth watching for its cinematography alone. The acting, not surprisingly, is very good.  As she always does, Meryl succeeds at creating a believable history for Gail.  We're able to see through her reaction to Tom's news that he won't be joining the family that their marriage has not been on the firmest ground lately.

Joseph Mazzello, who plays their son Rourke, does a fantastic job. I imagine it was a challenging role for a child, having to go through the full specturm of emotion, from elation at family adventure, to the fear and sadness of he and his parentss lives being in danger.  Streep too negotiates this well.  Gail is a physically and mentailly tough woman, but pulling it together for the sake of her family's safety is an essential action even she struggles to manage.  Faced with these threats, one would have to become almost robotic to get through the ordeal.  We feel that struggle and the building intensity of Gail's desperation up until the film's climactic final scene.

Phyical transformation is nothing new to Streep, but this role was a bit different.  Instead of simply losing or gaining weight, or donning a wig, her appreance change comes in a sort of "buff" physique.  Navigating the rapids had to be a grueling physical task, but I'd guess she went beyond what would be necessary for the film.  It likely took months of work to get herself as strong as she looked.

The film did OK at the box office, with about $47 million domestically and $94m wordlwide.  Streep earned both Golden Globe and SAG (in its inaugural year) nominations, with Kevin Bacon receiving a Globe nod in supporting as well.  It was a needed change in the trajectory of Meryl's screen career, and she herself has said that she left the experience of filming The River Wild with a lot of important life lessons.  I'll leave it up to the reader to envision exactly what those lessons may be.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Streep promoting "Florence Foster Jenkins"

Over the past few days, a pair of videos have become available of promotional activities in which Meryl has participated for Florence Foster Jenkins. With the U.S. release of the film less than a month away now, it's not surprising that there's a bit of a boost in visibility for the film.  Having been in Paris this week, for example, Meryl's face was on every street corner promoting the Bastille Day release of the film, which was nice to see.  Today, there was a spot about Jenkins and the film on CBS Sunday Morning, including a brief interview with Meryl:



The other video of interest was a press confernece in New York which included Meryl, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg.  Unfortunately, I haven't found a way to embed that video but it can be found here on Simply Streep.

In case you were wondering, there is no other news on future projects.  Grrr.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Film review: "Florence Foster Jenkins" (2016)

Joe and I were on holiday in London over the weekend.  After a long flight from Minneapolis, we got settled into our hotel, enjoyed some grub and a pair of pints, and figured we'd just make an early first night of it since we were pretty beat.  For the hell of it, I decided to see if by chance Florence Foster Jenkins was still showing anywhere.  Low and behold, there was one theater in Leicester Square with an appropriate show time.  So a quick hop on the underground and before I knew it, we were sitting down for the film.

The theater was the smallest I've ever experienced in my life, with literally about twenty seats available.  Joe joked that I could tell everyone on the blog that the place was packed, and truthfully yes, there were only a couple of seats open.  Despite fighting some fatigue from the flight and brews, I was pretty excited that it worked out for us to see the film so last minute.

We are introduced to Meryl's character, Florence Foster Jenkins, as she is lowered from the rafters during a musical tableau as part of her participation in one of multiple organizations patroning the arts in 1940's New York.  Soon she confides in her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), that she would like to take singing lessons, and the two arrange for an instructor and begin to audition pianists.  During the auditions is where we first see Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, the smiley, giggly accompanist whom Jenkins chooses. Quickly, however, we learn during her practice sessions that Florence's aspirations for performing border on the deulusional.  She's absolutely terrible.  The crowd in our theater totally ate up the scenes where Meryl is singing.  Joe and I cracked up as well, it's almost impossible not to.



As Bayfield indulges his wife's interests, Florence begins to perform for her society friends.  No one really has the nerve to tell her the truth about her lack of ability.  Her gal pals placate her and she ultimately gets the brilliant idea to stage a recital at Carnegie Hall.  Bayfield tries to completely control the audience list, as to prevent any bad press getting out and Florence discovering that most people are laughing at her, not praising her.  One critic does make it in, and depite her husband's best efforts, Florence eventually does read some terrible press.  The shock of it exacerbates her already fragile health (she contracted syphillis from her first husband on their wedding night) and we watch her finally decline.

Ok, let's break down a few things.  First and probably most notable is that the pic is thoroughly entertaining.  People were howling throughout the entire film.  Meryl does a fantastic job of butchering her arias, and like we've heard her say in interviews, she tried to first sing them well, and then learn where to go off.  That tactic proved successful.  I'm really hoping that the shear enjoyment the movie provides will make it a word-of-mouth box office success when it finally arrives in the States next month.  It's shot beautifully, and director Stephen Frears adeptly brings out the humanity in the film's title character, reminiscent of his recent female-driven biopics The Queen and Philomena. 

There were touching moments between Streep and Grant.  Although his character has a mistress and he seems to be a bit of a leech, we get a sense that he truly loves his wife, if not necessarily in a traditionally romantic way.  A failed actor himself, Bayfield could have easily fallen into the jealous husband type, resenting his wife's attention for performing badly, while he wonders why no one ever wanted to hire him to perform Shakespeare.  Instead, there's is a tender pairing, and I found myself rooting for both of them.

Simon Helberg was a riot throughout the film.  His facial expressions the moment he first realizes that his new patroness has no talent are worth the price of admission.  There's a really nice moment the two share at the piano.  Florence stops by his apartment unannounced and divulges how long the days feel when her husband is away.  Further confiding how she can no longer effectively play piano due to the effect syphillis had on her hand, she and McMoon join for an impromptu Chopin prelude, Cosmé playing with his left hand, Florence her right.

Spoiler:  I wasn't expecting Jenkins to actually die in the film.  One of my favorite moments in the film is at the end where, with Florence on her death bed, we get to hear what she wished her voice actually sounded like.  Here Meryl is performing a lovely song with her own voice, except trying to sound good, which she does.  This too was unexpected, yet delightful.  With the film already holding a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, I hope the praise continues as more reviews roll in when it hits U.S. theaters August 12.  This performance has Golden Globe written all over it, and Meryl will definitely be in the running for her 20th Oscar nomination.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Thoughts on "Master Class"

I know we're all struggling a little bit with the dearth in project news for Meryl.  I'm sad to report that as of today, The Good House has dropped off of her IMDbPro "in developement" section.  That film is currently categorized as "developement unknown," with no actors attached.  Interesting sidebar: my mom told me that she saw Ann Leary in an interview last week for her new book The Children, and happened to mention The Good House (I had recommended it a while ago to her and now she's for sure planning to read it).  Leary also discussed the possiblity of a film, but that basically Meryl was not a sure thing.  Not surprising that it's off Meryl's page (and Robert De Niro's for that matter).

That leaves us with Master Class.  Over the weekend I read Terrence McNally's play, on which the HBO film was to be based.  I felt compelled to mention it here because of course I couldn't help myself from picuring Meryl the entire time I was reading Maria Callas's zingers.  After having finished it, I'm more bummed than ever that it might end up in perpetual movie limbo. Forgetting the fact that I'm already a huge opera fan, Callas in this story is a wonderful character.  Fiery, intelligent, direct, vulgar at times and constantly trying to tell the audience that the class is not about her, despite the fact that every event in the play ends up turning the focus squarely and solely back on Maria.  She also readily transitions between speaking in English (which would be with a Greek accent), French and Italian, with a bit of German here and there.

Alas, I wonder if the next project we get from Meryl will be something completely unkown.  Recall that she had a meeting about a film project in London in May while there for the premiere of Florence Foster Jenkins, but she reportedly wasn't ready to divulge any details yet.  Since the start of her film career, Streep has never gone more than a single calendar year without filming something (although January 1999-January 2001 is a full two years).  If 2016 goes by without anything, I think it's highly unlikely we won't see her shooting something in 2017.  Nyad, anyone?  And I'm still holding out hope for The Good House.  Even if Meryl isn't involved, I'd still love to see Hildy Good brought to life on screen.  



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"The Devil Wears Prada" ten years later

For about a week now, multiple sources have been doing retrospecitves on The Devil Wears Prada.  Tomorrow (June 30) marks the 10-year anniversary of the film's release.  Initially I didn't think to blog about it, but the more I thought, the more I realized how pivotal the film's success was to Meryl's future filmography.

In partiuclar, there's a great article from Variety where they interview Streep and co-stars Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt.  Points of interest for me were how Meryl insisted on including a scene which described the fashion industry (my favorite Meryl scene of the film) and one where she has her makeup removed and is without her "armour" (my second favorite).

The June 2006 release of this film started the string of successful projects with summer debuts, which made Meryl a bonafide box-office draw for the first time in her career, while approaching the age of 60.  Following Prada we saw Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia and It's Complicated, all big money-makers.  I'd arguably throw Hope Springs in there as well.   And even last year's Ricki and the Flash, while not nearly as commercially successful as the others in this list, still well surpassed its budget.  By all accounts Florence Foster Jenkins will continue the streak in August.

It's impossible to know the extent to which The Devil Wears Prada solidified projects for Meryl.  I remember director Norah Ephron suggesting that Julie & Julia wouldn't have come together without Streep's recent successes.  I'm just happy it opened more doors for Meryl, as her continuing to accept plum roles is what's most important for me.  Let's hope it keeps going! I'll leave you all with my fav Meryl moment from Prada.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Happy 67th, Meryl!

Yes, it's our girl's birthday.  Wherever she is, I hope she's enjoying the day. I don't have any retrospectives to offer to mark the milestone; maybe I'll save that for when she turns 70.  I will, however, take this opportunity to let everyone know that it was announced yesterday that Meryl will be attending the Rome Film Festival in October.  This isn't necessarily super newsworthy in itself, but it provides a glimpse into her fall schedule.  I doubt she has plans to film anything around that time if she'll be heading to Rome.  Maybe this really is going to be very similar to the 2010-2011 filming schedule she had...where no filming took place in 2010, but we got two in 2011.  I would lose my shit if 2017 brought us production of both The Good House and Nyad.