Saturday, June 30, 2012

Shoulda Coulda Wouldas #4: "Evita"

For some time I've wanted to add this film to my Shoulda Coulda Wouldas section, but I figured before I could write about it I had to actually watch it.  My uncle Jim lent me his copy of Evita about two years ago and I got around to viewing  So thank you/sorry Jim, as I'm sure you've forgotten by now that you ever owned the DVD.

Why Evita?  Most big Meryl fans know that a film version of this 1978 musical was planned shortly after its London debut.   By the mid to late 1980's several actresses, including Meryl, were considered for the lead of Eva Perón.   Madonna evidently campaigned for the role pretty hard, and as much as I'd like it to be true, the quote of Meryl saying "I can sing better than Madonna...if she gets the part I'll rip her throat out" is in fact Hollywood lore.

From what I understand, Meryl was actually offered the role in 1989, with production to begin in early 1990.  If we think about the timing of this, in retrospect it would've been perfect for awards positioning.   Had filming indeed started in early 1990 with Meryl in the lead, it likely would've had a 1991 release.  Call it a hunch, but I think this picture would've been a bigger deal than Meryl's 1991 film Defending Your Life.  Haven't seen it?  Yeah, few have.   Alas, production was delayed, directors changed and Meryl was out of the running by the time Evita was released in late 1996.   I was surprised to read in an article from the L.A. Times that Streep's representative cited "exhaustion" for her non-involvement in the film.  Sounds more like an excuse we'd hear from  Lindsay Lohan, and I question the claim's validity.

This film is actually decent.  Who doesn't love a good musical?   Joe mentioned recently that he used to repeatedly watch this movie during his self-described "Andrew Lloyd Webber phase" in high school.  Until watching the film today, I never realized what an affinity Lloyd Webber had for creating a sort of omniscient singing narrator in his musicals, a la Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph.   The plot takes us through the life of Eva Duarte, who overcomes a modest upbringing to win over the heart of Argentinian military officer Juan Perón.  Perón ultimately becomes president of Argentina, with immense help from his populist vote-garnering wife.  Despite their appeal to the poor and middle class, the Argentinian bourgeoisie (and some historians for that matter) assailed the Peróns as demagogues and dictators.  How juicy. 

The story seems so up Meryl's alley.  Evita is a major historical figure, a glamorous and strong woman, and the film takes place in South America.  The Argentinian setting would've been a first for Meryl.  Had she ultimately been in the film, perhaps she would've reconsidered her decision to join an almost all Anglo-American cast to portray a Chilean family in 1993's box-office flop The House of the Spirits.   I'm sure that wouldn't have mattered, but I can't help jabbing Spirits because it's super boring.   She would've been singing in English in Evita anyway.   Or would she?

A big chunk of this particular shoulda coulda woulda idea is that Meryl would've been in a musical.  Keep in mind this was long before Mamma Mia!, and after a decade of very heavy dramatic roles in the 80's, a musical of this caliber would've been a novel choice.   And let's keep it real; yes, Meryl indeed can sing better than Madonna.   The one thing I noticed about the score however is that some of Evita's part are rather high.  Meryl has stated in interviews that she once possessed a good coloratura voice.  I'm not sure if she meant soprano, but technically the coloratura Fach can be represented in any vocal tessitura, and Streep's voice, at least in performances of hers I've heard, seems to be closer to a mezzo.   But who knows, she may have had no problem with it. 

Meryl would've killed in that scene.  Not to take away anything from Madonna, who did a fine job.  It couldn't have been easy when Argentinians were protesting her participation in the film.  Many didn't approve based on some of her more racy career choices.  How can we forget her 1992 book Sex?  Streep likely would've experienced no such backlash.  Kudos to Madonna for winning the Golden Globe award for Actress in a Musical or Comedy in 1997.   That's usually a slam dunk for Meryl, and I don't think an Oscar nomination would've been out of the question with the right director and co-stars.   The film ultimately was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for best original song "You Must Love Me."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Remembering Nora Ephron

Today Hollywood is mourning the loss of screenwriter/director Nora Ephron.  The 71 year-old passed away yesterday from complications related to acute myeolgenous luekemia.  Ephron was a three-time Academy Award nominee for best original screenplay.  Popular films of hers include When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, not to mention Silkwood, Heartburn, and Julie and Julia, starring you-know-who.

I first heard of Nora Ephron through watching Meryl films of course, and I am no exception when it comes to thinking of her as a sharp, funny and engaging writer.   She and Meryl were friends, and Meryl was quoted regarding her passing saying, "Nora just looked at every situation and cocked her head and thought, 'Hmmmm, how can I make this more fun?'  You could call on her for anything: doctors, restaurants, recipes, speeches or just a few jokes, and we all did it, constantly. She was an expert in all the departments of living well."

Seems like a lovely lady, and I'm sure she and her work will be greatly missed.  I'll leave you with a clip from the first time I ever heard Ephron speak.  It's from Meryl's AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony in 2004. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mary Louise Streep, b. 6/22/49

Happy 63rd, Meryl!  Betty White got her a snow leopard.  The best I can manage is a shout-out.  Cheers.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Clooney to co-produce "August: Osage County"

Thank you Regina at FYC Meryl Streep for alerting me to the news that George Clooney, along with his Smokehouse Pictures partner Grant Heslov, will be co-producing Meryl's upcoming film August: Osage County.   My favorite of the articles I've read is from the Chicago Tribune.   In it, Clooney comments that he can't think of anyone better than Harvey Weinstein to pull together such a great cast with great material.  Clooney has connections to the film's director John Wells, as Wells executive produced and directed the NBC television series ER (in which Clooney starred and I happened to watch for all 15 seasons). 

As I've made abundantly clear in previous posts, I'm pretty much obsessed with this project because I love the play.  I've been hoping to read about a full cast being announced, but any news is further confirmation of the project going forward.  I just tend to be pessimistic so I don't get disappointed about Meryl not participating.   Great news!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Academy Awards analysis (1987)

By this point it had been five five years since Meryl's last win for Sophie's Choice.  Her seventh overall nomination for 1987's Ironweed was not particularly expected to win, as Meryl's friend Cher, with whom she had worked in Silkwood in 1983, took home the award for Actress in a Leading role.    Meryl had sort of already cemented herself as an expected nominee if in a lead role with notable actors.  Ironweed was no exception, with Meryl starring alongside Jack Nicholson.

From what I understand, Cher was the closest thing to a front runner that year.  The biggest competition she had was from Glenn Close in her turn as the psycho-bitch girlfriend opposite Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction.   The film was a major box-office success, and Close was on her fourth nomination without a win.  One could've made a very strong case for Close that year.  Sadly, Close remains 0 for 6 to this day, her last loss coming only four months ago to Meryl in The Iron Lady.   The entire list of nominees is as follows:

Cher (Moostruck)
Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction)
Holly Hunter (Broadcast News)
Sally Kirkland (Anna)
Meryl Streep (Ironweed)

Whoa there is a lot of really big hair in that room.  You can see Meryl hop out of her chair with excitement when Cher's name was announced.  It was fun hearing Cher mention "Mary Louise Streep" in her acceptance speech, as it has now become rather common for Meryl's peers to recognize her when they are awarded over her.   I have unfortunately never even seen Moonstruck!  I'm kind of surprised by this and in other posts in this section I usually check out the winner's film if I haven't seen it just to be sure I'm able to be objective about it.  But I have seen Fatal Attraction, and I WAY preferred that film over Ironweed anyway, so I likely would've put Meryl's chances at third or fourth.   

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Meryl presents Viola Davis with Women in Film Award

I didn't know this was happening, but last night Meryl had the honor of presenting Viola Davis with the Women in Film Award.  Among other awards presented at the event, Davis received the "Crystal Award for Excellence in Film."  I'm assuming it's for her film work over the last year?  Meryl as presenter is fitting, as they were castmates in 2008's Doubt which landed them both Academy Award nominations.  What's more fun is that she's presenting Davis just a few months after a hotly contested Oscar race between the two actresses for their work in The Iron Lady and The Help.  Of course the rivalry was completely fabricated and perpetuated by people like myself on blogs such as this.  But it's still fun to see interaction between them after all the dust has settled.  The two women are actually friends and likely respect each other very much.  Meryl had gone on record several times during awards season saying she hoped Davis would win.  We all know how that turned out.

The two of course gushed about each other at the award presentation last night.  I liked the blurb about Davis having framed a note Meryl sent her after filming Doubt.   "Ok Meryl, I framed the card. So you can never come over to my house."  Cute.  Congratulations, Viola!

ps-You go, Lindy Chamberlain.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Film review: "The Deer Hunter" (1978)

In only her second feature film, Meryl scored her first Academy Award nomination (supporting actress) starring alongside Robert De Niro in best picture-winner The Deer Hunter.  De Niro had seen Meryl in a play in New York, and when it came time to cast The Deer Hunter, he sort of hand-picked her for the role of Linda.  Evidently the screenplay originally didn't have a ton of screen time for Linda, so Meryl was encouraged by director Michael Cimino to write some of her own lines.

Let's face it, this movie is incredibly depressing.  I tried watching some of it over the last week (mostly Meryl parts), and I had forgotten how thematically morose it is.  The first main chunk takes place near Pittsburgh in the late 1960's, where we follow the lives of a group of blue-collar friends, three of which are soon to be deployed to Vietnam.  Michael (De Niro) is kind of the leader and a close friend of Nick (Christopher Walken), who plays Linda's boyfriend.  We learn that Michael has hidden feelings for Linda, although she has just promised to marry Nick after his return from service in the war.

I've seen videos of Meryl talking about this role a few times.  In her commencement speech to Barnard College in 2010, she stated that her performance of Linda was rooted in her experiences in high school when she consciously changed herself to seem more appealing to boys.  She described how she would defer to the young men in a group when asked questions, and by "cultivating softness" she was able to make herself more noticed.  Having stockpiled this character into early adulthood, a decade later she accessed it again to breath life into Linda.  Meryl describes this character as a girl who's always waiting.  Waiting to be asked to be asked out on a date...for her boyfriend to return from the war.   We're definitely able to see this in some of her scenes in the film.  Particularly when she's with Michael, Linda appears uncomfortable and out of sorts without his lead. 

The film progresses to scenes in Vietnam where Michael, Nick and their friend Steven are captured and forced to play Russian roulette while the captors palce bets on them.   These scenes were rather controversial at the time, as apparently there are no documented cases of this happening during the Vietnam conflict.  Regardless, it's an interesting metaphor for the horrors of war, made especially poignant by the fact that the three lead characters are of Russian descent.  The three eventually escape captivity into a river, but are split up when Nick is the only one rescued by a passing helicopter. 

Upon Michael's return to the U.S. we see probably the best scenes with Meryl.  After having skipped out on his coming home party, Michael returns to Linda's trailer where we see her waiting.  She so naturally conveys feelings of helplessness.  As Meryl has commented about Linda, it's not a proactive existence.  Thus we see her intense relief and happiness upon seeing Michael show up at her door. Again, my thanks to Simply Streep for the use of this video.

Michael goes hunting (for guess what) with his friends, which one would think would be a fun reunion, but again, the overall tone is sort of dark and foreboding, as soon he decides to visit Steven in a VA hospital.  Michael learns from Steven, who has lost both legs, that money has been repeatedly sent from Saigon, and Michael believes it's from Nick.  Going back to Vietnam, Michael finds that Nick is drug ravaged and involved in the underground business of Russian roulette.  Trying to get through to his friend, we ultimately see Nick take a bullet to the head in his last game.  Good times.  The movie basically ends after Nick's funeral back in Pennsylvania, again not a particularly jubilant scene.

I've probably spent more time in this post than in other film reviews actually discussing the plot of the movie.  In part it's because Meryl's role isn't super huge, but mostly because the film, although frequently morbid, is extremely well made.  In addition to the aforementioned win for best picture, Walken won the Academy Award for supporting actor and Cimico for director.  At the time, Meryl was romantically involved with John Cazale, who played Stanley and is probably best known for his role as Fredo in The Godfather.  Cazale was suffering from terminal cancer during shooting, requiring all his scenes to be shot first.   He died in March 1978, his last vision on earth being Meryl's face. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meryl in hunt for 2013 Oscars

There are a few things I want to cover in this post.   I decided to throw in Julie & Julia while I type, mostly because it reminds me of summer and it's felt very summery lately.  The only problem is that the movie also makes me very hungry, so although I've already stuffed myself with a delicious meal of Cuban beans and Caribbean chicken, I'm likely going to start making a sandwich the moment I publish this post.  Good god they eat in every scene in this movie! Let's go!

As the title of this post suggests, I recently noticed on gold derby that the Oscarologists have already opined about whom they predict will win the Academy Award next year.  Of course I'm primarily interested in the Best Actress category as it pertains to Meryl, but what I was surprised to see is that they're putting her in contention at all.  She tends to be on everyone's radar early on, and certainly no one has yet seen Hope Springs, but they have her #6!  Practically, I think we can hope for a Golden Globe nomination at best.  And to be honest, I don't want any possibility of an "undeserved" Oscar nomination preventing her chances in 2014 for August: Osage County.  Full cast listing...anyone?  Anyway, here's the top ten from gold derby:

1) Laura Linney (Hyde Park on Hudson)
2) Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby)
3) Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)
4) Helen Hunt (Six Sessions)
5) Keira Knightly (Anna Karenina)
6) Meryl Streep (Hope Springs)
7) Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
8) Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games)
9) Viola Davis (Won't Back Down)
10) Abbie Cornish (The Girl)

I'm pulling for Laura Linney, although there's a lot of talk about Helen Hunt.  In other news Meryl was honored at the 2012 Made in NY Awards for her contributions to the New York entertainment industry.   She joined Robert DeNiro,  Whoopi Goldberg and Kelly Ripa.   Tomorrow she presents Shirley MacLaine with the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award (which will be aired on TV Land on June 24).  Busy week for Meryl.  Ok I have to get some yummies!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

More of Meryl on Season 2 of "Web Therapy"

It appears that Meryl will again be guest-starring on Lisa Kudrow's Showtime series Web Therapy.   Meryl was in a few episodes of season one where she played Camilla Bowner, a consultant who is apparently trying to "adjust" Kudrow's husband Kip's sexual orientation.   I've watched Meryl's performances from season one.  They're funny, cute.  I've always been a fan of Kudrow, despite the fact that she seems to play a similar version of herself in all her characters on television and in films.  I'm not sure how many episodes Meryl will be in, but I'll likely tune in (once they're on the web). 

In other news, Lauren Weisberger is writing a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada called Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns.   I don't really care. 

Oh, and @LindaFort1 is full of shit.