Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Great Hope Springs" title change?

I've been thinking about blogging about this for over a week now, but since imdb has it changed, I figured I was safe to mention it.  Apparently Meryl's upcoming film Great Hope Springs has had its title changed to simply Hope Springs.  I wasn't able to find out a lot about it, but it's mentioned in a few articles on the web in addition to it being changed on imdb.  I have no idea why the title may have changed.  It's interesting that there have been a couple other movies with the exact same title as Hope Springs (as recently as 2003), so they certainly weren't going for originality.   Most annoyingly, I have to change it on the countdown, which I always manage to screw up.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Academy Awards analysis (1982)

Sweet Jeebus I haven't blogged in a week!  I've decided to continue my analysis of each Academy Awards race in which Meryl took part.  1982 was the year Meryl was up for Sophie's Choice.   Is there really anything else I can say about this film or role?  Probably not, except that with the quality of the performance and the outcome of the previous year, no one stood a chance against Meryl.  We can recall that Meryl was a pretty strong front-runner to get her first Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role for The French Lieutenant's Woman the year prior.   Katharine Hepburn of course set a record for wins with the upset for her performance in On Golden Pond.  The Academy therefore likely felt comfortable voting for Streep's tour de force performance.  Plus, Meryl had already essentially won every critics' award under the sun for the role.  Here's the nominee list from that ceremony:

Julie Andrews (Victor/Victoria)
Jessica Lange (Frances)
Sissy Spacek (Missing)
Meryl Streep (Sophie's Choice)
Debra Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman)

Andrews and Spacek were already previous winners, and Lange actually won for supporting that same night for Tootsie.  Debra Winger evidently hated An Officer and a Gentleman and refused to do any publicity for it.  Not exactly a good plan for getting votes.  So yeah, slam dunk for Meryl.  Both clips I wanted to use from youtube idiotically had the embed disabled, so here's the link:

Oh Sly.  It was cute how Meryl got a little embarrassed when she dropped her speech.  The speech itself was a little mundane, but it was also 29 years ago and I think everyone expected her to win, so just rattle off the names.  More interestingly, I see this win as part of an Oscar trajectory that I hope happens for Meryl.  It's a course I liken to that of Katharine Hepburn's.  Hepburn won her first Oscar for Morning Glory in the 1932/1933 awards year.  Her next didn't come until 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a 34-year gap.  She then won the very next year for The Lion in Winter, a film I happen to like immensely.  Hepburn's record fourth came, as I mentioned above, in 1982 for On Golden Pond, at the age of 74.  Streep won this year for The Iron Lady, 29 years after her last win.  It is obviously not unheard of for an icon to win very closely together, which is what I hope for Meryl in two years when she's inevitably (finger crossed) nominated for her role as Violet Weston in August: Osage County.  Granted, if she won, this would already be Meryl's fourth Oscar, whereas is was Hepburn's third when she won so close together.  But if I want Meryl to surpass Hepburn's record, which I've made clear ad nauseam on this blog, she'll have to acquire that extremely elusive fifth statuette.  The best chance for that to happen is the same way it happened for Hepburn: after a win in two years for August, a sort of lifetime achievement honor well down the road, which some mistakenly think this year's win was.

Time will tell of course.  I've no doubt Harvey Weinstein is already carving out the path to victory.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Film review: "A Prairie Home Companion" (2006)

This post is going to be less about the film itself and more about the cool connections I have with it.  Yes, you read that correctly.  As you all know, this movie was filmed at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the radio show A Prairie Home Companion usually broadcasts on Saturday evenings.   Garrison Keillor hosts the show and also leads this ensemble cast which takes place on the night of the show's last performance.  Putting it mildly, it's pretty boring. 

In the film, the show is threatened with being cancelled, as its producers feel it's too old-fashioned for main-stream media.   The regulars of the cast get together for the last performance and we see a sort of behind-the-scenes account of their lives as it relates to the show.  Meryl plays Yolanda Johnson, part a sister act along with Lily Tomlin.  Lindsay Lohan (pre-crazy) plays Meryl's morose daughter, Lola.  The sisters hail from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Meryl therefore tries her hand at a midwestern accent.  Having been born and raised in Minnesota, I've been told I have a slight midwestern accent myself, but I truly have always struggled to hear it except in people who live far north of the Twin Cities metro area.  I can recall that when the movie Fargo came out, I saw the preview and didn't understand why the characters spoke that way.  I was further confused when I was told that that's how Minnesotans talk too.  Meryl does a nice job with the accent, but I've frankly always found them a bit over-done when I've heard them in movies.  Here's a fun clip of her and Tomlin:

Ok, so what are the aforementioned connections? First and foremost, I was an extra in this movie.  You probably can't pick me out in the theater seats in the film, but I lived in a suburb of St. Paul during grad school in 2005 and when I found out that they were accepting extras, I made my friend Steph go with me to see if we could get in.  We did get to sit in the theater as part of the audience during the filming of the "black coffee" segment.  We walked right past Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, and Maya Rudolph.  Sadly, Meryl was not filming that day, but I had to take a chance at getting a glimpse of her.

When the film premiered at the Fitzgerald Theater in May 2006, my friend Scooter (whom I interviewed on Word on the Streep in January) attended the opening night parade where the film's stars arrived in horse-drawn carriages.  He snapped this photo of Meryl and Lily:

I joke that Lily is raising her hand to smack someone.  I was not able to attend because I couldn't make it over to St. Paul in time from work.  In hindsight that seems like such a lame excuse.   Anyway, the third connection I have is that Joe used to be Garrison Keillor's personal assistant.  Joe had answered a very benign ad on Cragslist for a "busy man" looking for an assistant and it ended up being a famous person. Joe claims that he was terrible at the job and it only lasted a few months, but it's still a cool story, if for no other reason than to mention it here.

The final connection is that about six or seven years ago, one of my friend's boyfriend had moved into an apartment/house somewhere in Minneapolis.  Behind a stone in the fireplace he found Garrison Keillor's draft card.  Apparently Keillor was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and he meant to burn his draft card in the fireplace of that home.  My friend emailed Keillor, who corroborated the story and declined to have the card sent to him.  How weird!

So, although the film is sort of a snooze, it's fun to know it was filmed near my home.  At the end of the movie the cast even gets together at the famous Mickey's Diner in St. Paul, where I've had the pleasure of enjoying a good burger.  I should also mention that this was the great Robert Altman's last film, as he passed away in November, 2006, just a few months after the film was released.  I remember him being up on a seat attached to a moveable crane at the back of the theater during filming.   I didn't appreciate it at the time, but as I'm so on in years now (ha), I realize how fortunate I was to have been a part of it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shoulda Coulda Wouldas

My first post for this tag!  I suppose it needs a little explanation.  I'm starting a section where I discuss which film roles I would've liked to see Meryl play.  She'd certainly be incredible in almost any role, so we therefore need to have some guidelines as to which films are eligible for selection.  I'm going to restrict my choices to those roles in which Meryl could have feasibly been cast based on her age when the film was produced.  With that said, I think you may be surprised by my choices. Others are likely going to be obvious selections from performances by Glen Close, Jessica Lange, or Susan Sarandon, for example.   I think this will be one of my favorite sections.  Let's start!

To inaugurate this fun section, I've chosen the role of Stands With a Fist in 1990's Dances With Wolves.  The performance garnered Mary McDonnell an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I have for a long time thought that this role had many qualities that would've been fun to see Meryl interpret.  One is the obvious aspect of language.  Half the lines of this character are spoken in Lakota.  Not exactly a frequently heard tongue on the big screen. Stands With a Fist is actually a white woman who was taken in by the Lakota people when, as a little girl, her family is killed by a group of Pawnees.  She acts as a sort of translator between Kicking Bird and Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner).  McDonnell had the challenge of making us believe that she's digging deep into her memory to recover the English language of her (tragic) childhood.  No doubt a tricky negotiation considering how painful the memories would've been.  That, coupled with the broken/accented speech, seems very much in Meryl's wheelhouse (not to impugn McDonnell's brilliant work, however).  See for yourself:

I've loved this movie since I was a kid.  I made Joe watch it once but he found it overall slow and the voice-overs too much. Basically he hated it.  Watching it again as an adult I get that, but it holds good memories and reminds me of time spent at my parents' cabin where my dad and I used to watch it.  I can recall one year on the drive up there I started dozing off and he scared the shit out of me by yelling "tatanka!" when he noticed five buffalo on a farm.  Good times.

Even though McDonnell was nominated in the supporting category for this role, had Meryl been in it, I can see them campaigning for her in lead.  Streep is a much more prominent actress, and Stands With a Fist is in a lot of this three-hour-long epic Western.  It makes me wonder if Meryl ever noticed it, was considered for it, and if so, if she would've done it.  After all, it was hugely successful at the box office and the Oscars.  Maybe the role would've been small potatoes for her at that point in her career, coming off the most celebrated decade any actor has ever had.  It would be fun to ask her about roles like this; if they were ever on her radar.  The best we can do is to have fun speculating!  Until Meryl calls me, of course.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Another Meryl evangelization success story

The book The Color Purple is to Oprah Winfrey what the film Sophie's Choice is to me.  I don't go as far as Oprah did and hand out copies to strangers on the street, but I do take every opportunity to have friends or family watch it.  This film is where it began for me when it comes to all things Meryl.  Our friend Annie had shown interest in seeing it so we set up a date on Tuesday night to watch it at her place (because she's lucky enough to be allergic to cats).

I have to mention that prior to the viewing, the three of us enjoyed a bowl of pho (my first time) and then indulged ourselves in a cup of frozen yogurt from the new "Yogurt Lab."  I use the word "cup" pretty liberally, as they charge by the weight and Joe finished off an entire pound of yogurt and toppings.  It was heaven.

Annie's neighbor/friend Anne (just to make it confusing) decided to join us for her inaugural Sophie experience as well.  After a few quick rounds of Mass Effect and a disc switch from blue ray to Xbox, we were underway.  There were several comments and questions throughout the film, notably Annie during a brief intermission saying "I've forgotten that it's Meryl.  I just want to know more about Sophie."  My thoughts exactly.  Bottom line is that they were both amply impressed by the story, the film, and of course, Meryl's superb acting.

We had a nice little discussion about the film afterward, trying to get inside Sophie's head a little bit, marveling (at least I was) at Meryl's ability to negotiate all the necessary emotions throughout different points in the film and that character's life.  I think Annie and Anne understood how I could've gotten so hooked.

I hope we can do it again sometime, probably with a more recent film.  We agreed that Doubt would be a good one to try next.  Very different character and setting.  It would be fun for me to see them experience the sharp contrast.  Until then, happy Meryl watching, everybody.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The "off" season

One week post-Oscar triumph, I'm able to go back to covering things other than awards races.  As fun as it was, I look forward to doing more film reviews, Academy Awards analyses, and tackling some films for which I feel Meryl was snubbed by the Academy.  I'm taking suggestions from readers regarding what people might want covered or discussed.  I say this with caution because in all likelihood there will be no comments on this post, but I encourage everyone to offer ideas that I have not already thought of. The floor is open...