Friday, December 25, 2020

Recasting 1998: "Primary Colors"

I had a little trouble at first deciding which film to choose from this year. Often I've had in my mind what roles I wish I'd seen Meryl do for some time, and they do tend to fall in line with ones that have been critically acclaimed or done well with industry awards. When I realized I'd overlooked one of my all-time favorite films, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought to myself, "Duh."

Mike Nichols's comedy-drama Primary Colors was adapted from the novel of the same name. It was originally published anonymously, until journalist Joe Klein took credit a few years later. The story follows the tumultuous presidential campaign of a Southern governor in the early 90s. Basically it's Bill and Hillary Clinton. 

I was definitely not a teenager who followed politics, other than what was probably sensationalized on TV. But I seem to remember seeing the cast of this film on an episode of Oprah around the time it was released. I don't know for sure if it was before or after I saw the film in the theater, but I do remember being rather interested in it and its characters. Perhaps it was that it de-glamorized politicians and leaders down to folks who didn't seem all that different from me and my family in rural Minnesota. 

Meryl didn't really do a lot of political stuff back then, at least in terms of roles. It wasn't until after George Bush had been in office for a while did we start to see her in things that seemed to have more of a message or commentary on U.S. politics. The Manchurian Candidate, Rendition, Lions for Lambs. She was going to do a Martha Mitchell biopic around 2007 with Ryan Murphy that never came to fruition, and she dropped out of 2006's All the King's Men, which starred Sean Penn. Tackling the role of Susan Stanton in Primary Colors would therefore have been a fun early step into the types of projects to which she more regularly attached herself. 

The movie is mostly from the point of view of a young African American political adviser (played by Adrian Lester) who joins Jack Stanton's campaign to become the Democratic nominee for the presidency. John Travolta plays Stanton, in a borderline parody of Bill Clinton as the governor. The great Emma Thompson of course originated the role of Susan. 

Writing about theses characters after 2016 has a bit of a somber feel to it. Susan, much like I expect Hillary Clinton was during her husband's political career, is often forced to convince herself that the political end always justifies the means. Even if it ends up damaging her marriage. Not that Susan is OK with Jack's philandering, but she's got an air pragmatism that Clinton herself seemed to demonstrate whenever faced with her own campaign woes. There was always a sense of "Do whatever you have to do. We'll ask forgiveness for any fallout after we win." Our current president isn't actually that different, other than that he never really seems to be concerned about the fallout either. 


I once saw an interviewer mention to Thompson that when she watched Emma's character on screen, she thought to herself, "The wrong person's running for president!" Oh the foreshadowing in that. The smartest one in the room is relegated to the supportive spouse role. But Susan to some extent is part of her own problem. She's a victim in regard to her husband's infidelity, but she wants the win. She wants and works for the position as much, if not harder than, Jack. Yes, yes, she wants it because she supports his vision and it matches her own of what is right for America, but she could also do that without being married to the guy. 

I know that's so much easier said than done. I cannot even imagine how challenging it would be to have your entire life under a microscope, with people just waiting for you to screw up so they can initiate the dogpile. I wish I could've found a video online of the scene where Susan finds out that Henry (Lester) went behind her back with another member of the campaign to conduct a secret amniocentesis on the Stantons' young babysitter, whom Jack is rumored to have impregnated. It's a devastating scene and brilliantly acted by Thompson. Some good stuff for Meryl to sink her teeth into here. 

Kathy Bates, however, really is the best thing about this film. Her character of Libby Holden is one of my all-time favorites on screen. The somewhat off-kilter "dust buster" of the campaign is a moral counterpart to the Stantons' "prevail at all costs" approach. 


The film was generally well-received by critics (81% on Rotten Tomatoes), but it had a disappointing box office run. Being it was released in March 1998, just a couple months into the Monica Lewinsky scandal, one has to wonder if that hurt its performance with audiences. The resemblance of Jack Stanton to Bill Clinton may have turned folks off to the idea of watching a movie about him at the time that made him out to be the good guy. On the other hand, during a scandal sometimes people can't get enough of it and it's possible it actually helped drive viewers to the theater. And maybe it's just that it wasn't that great of a movie. 

Regardless, I happen to love the film and have continued to revisit it over the years. Even if it's just for Kathy Bates's great delivery of Libby's wisecracks, it's definitely worth the watch. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Recasting 1997: "As Good as it Gets"

Coming off a string of films in this recasting project that are decidedly not comedic, it's nice to have something a tad lighter for this week's pick. James L. Brooks's romantic comedy is a fun choice for me. I'd considered including Terms of Endearment early on, but it just didn't seem the right fit. It was therefore a nice compromise when I remembered Brooks also directed one of my all-time favorite films of the 90s, As Good as it Gets. 

The film stars Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt as a sort of oddball pairing of love interests. He's got obsessive-compulsive disorder and can only be served by Hunt's character, Carol, who plays a waitress in Manhattan. Turns out Carol has a chronically sick son. When she doesn't show up at work one day because she has to take her son the ER, Nicholson's character (Melvin), who happens to be a successful romance novelist, pays for a private doctor to ensure Carol doesn't have to miss any future shifts. 

First off, let's talk about the age difference. I know it's "only a number" but Nicholson is nearly 30 years older than Hunt. Not that I care that the characters get together with such a spread between them, nor have I historically found it distracting in this film (for better or worse). The point is that Nicholson is perfectly cast in this movie, so I see little issue with casting someone older in Carol's role. Meryl, incidentally, is only fourteen years older than Hunt. "But Carol has a young child in this movie!" someone might argue. Yes, while I think it's a bit of a stretch for someone Streep's age at the time to have a seven year-old (Streep was in her late 40s at the time of filming), let's not forget about the project Meryl actually starred in back in 1997. 

...First Do No Harm was a television movie from 1997 where Meryl portrayed a mother fighting to find a treatment for her son's uncontrolled epilepsy. Interesting parallel between these two pictures. Another coincidence is that the young actor who plays her son in ...First Do No Harm is actually a month younger that the actor who played the son in As Good as it Gets. We had little trouble believing it in ...First Do No Harm, so I doubt we'd think much about it in the latter film. I know I'm probably getting into the weeds about this age thing, but I like to be able to realistically picture Meryl in the roles for which I'm recasting her--with as few changes to the original movie possible. 

One little snag might be Carol's mother, played hilariously by Shirley Knight. She's only thirteen years old than Meryl. But we've seen even narrower age gaps between onscreen parents and children in other high-profile films that pulled it off just fine (Melissa Leo and Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter comes to mind). Fun fact though: I've read that Betty White was originally offered the role of Carol's mom, but declined it due to how the dog was treated in the script. That would've been an amazingly fun paring to see with Meryl, and a much more realistic age difference (27 years). 

"Con-science?!" I enjoy that line. As much as I adore this film, I do tend to think Hunt is a bit extra at times, like she's going for laughs too obviously. I've never seen a single episode of Mad About You, so I don't know if this performance has ever been compared to her role in that sitcom, but I wouldn't be surprised. It's in areas like this that I feel Meryl would've been able to provide some more interesting nuance to the lines. 

I'd be remiss not to mention the great Greg Kinnear from this film. He of course plays Simon, who lives across the hall from Melvin and is out on his luck after getting badly injured in a robbery attack. Melvin begrudgingly agrees to drive Simon to his parents' to ask them for money. But not before he guilts Carol into joining them. It's on this misfit road trip that we get some of the best moments in the film. 


As awful as it is, my husband and I both laughed out loud when I played this clip and we hear the line, "Carol the waitress, Simon the fag." But it's absolutely fitting for Melvin, whom we get to see learn to be a "better man." There are times where one thinks, "why the hell is she even remotely interested in this guy." It really doesn't seem to be because of the money he had which helps out her son. His act in doing so, while completely selfish as far as its motivation for him, showed Carol a different side that we can actually see her growing affections as somewhat believable. That's a tricky thing to negotiate in this character I think. Melvin's such a nightmare at times and Carol doesn't seem to mess around. Or maybe it's just that she's barely had time for in the past several years, and she's not really sure who she is without having her son's medical emergencies run her life. 

The movie a huge box-office success. It raked in $314 million against a budget of only $50 million. Critics hailed it as one of the best of the year as well. It currently holds an 85% "fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes.  and was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Hunt and Nicholson both won Lead Acting Oscars, as well as at the Golden Globes. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

No Ledbetter for Streep

I had posted back in February that Meryl was announced as a co-producer of Rachel Feldman's movie, Lilly. It's to be a biopic of Lilly Ledbetter, who's fight for equal pay was passed as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. At the time, I found it strange that Meryl was announced as co-producing, but not that she would be starring. Seemed to be up her ally in regard to baity roles. 

Cut to a couple days ago, where an interview was released with Feldman and producer J. Todd Harris about the film's status. There was a specific question for Feldman about how Meryl ended up getting involved, and Feldman's response made it clear about Meryl's potential participation as Lilly: 

I wrote her (Meryl) an old-fashioned letter, in her mailbox, simply saying that I had written a screenplay about Lilly Ledbetter and asked if she would consider reading it. In a beautiful email, she wrote back saying she was well aware of how important Lilly's story was. She wanted to read the script but made it clear that she would not want to play the role. She read LILLY and loved it. She told me that she was 100% behind me and asked how she could help. What a remarkable woman!

So I guess that's that. I'd be curious to know why Meryl was so sure about whether or not she'd portray Lilly prior to even reading the script, which she apparently loved. Based on Feldman's response, it seems that was the case (that Meryl declined taking the role before reading it). 

I read this Friday and thought to myself, "Oh shoot. It would've been nice to hear confirmation of a lead role for Meryl."  I'd been thinking about her current filming of Don't Look Up, where by all accounts her role will be supporting. We don't have real confirmation of her involvement in Damien Chazelle's Babylon at this point, but that too would be supporting. I'd thought for a second, "We haven't seen her in a lead role since The Post in 2017." I had to laugh then, as I realized that that very evening I'd be watching Meryl in a new lead role for the second consecutive day. I felt a little less disappointed then. 

Either way, I'll be interested to see the full extent of Meryl's involvement in Lilly. It's an important story and I hope it does end up getting filmed. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Film review: "The Prom" (2020)

Two lead Meryl roles in two days! After yet another long day of work behind a mask and face shield, I was able to plop in front of the tube with my husband and a glass of wine to enjoy the fun of The Prom. 

Director Ryan Murphy's Netflix adaptation of the Broadway musical stayed very true to its theater roots. There was a song about every two minutes. Not that I necessarily mind--musicals are one of my favorite genres. I was a little worried I would think it was too cheesy and exceedingly low brow. Turns out it was cheesy and low brow. But I had no need to worry, as I really enjoyed it nonetheless. 

The film starts off with Indiana teenager, Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman in her film debut), faced with being unable to bring her girlfriend to her high school prom. Enter fading Broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden), who bemoan the awful reviews of their new musical, "Eleanor." It was already here where I felt the story jumped ahead faster than I would expect, with Dee Dee and Barry teaming up with fellow actors Tom and Angie (Andrew Rannells and Nicole Kidman, respectively) to find a cause célèbre to bring publicity to their careers. They of course choose Emma and her Twitter-trending plight of homophobia. 

The New Yorkers who descend on Indiana to "help" Emma, are met with some hostility from the PTA, as well as from students who are pissed their prom has to be cancelled because of her. Keegan-Michael Key does a really nice job as the school's principle. He just happens to be a big fan of Dee Dee Allen as well, and the two spark a tentative romance. Meryl's scenes with Key are some of may favorite. They had really sweet chemistry and Meryl's "The Lady's Improving" number is one of the highlights for me. But the real showstopper is without a doubt "It's Not About Me," performed fairly early in the film, where Meryl belts out a hilarious, if insincere, tango-like call to action on Emma's behalf. 


I have to admit I laughed out loud when she calls the townspeople "bigoted monsters."  I don't think Meryl has ever sounded better, and she looks beautiful and like she having a blast. 

The film did feel like it dragged a bit at times. And with all the musical numbers and focus on the Broadway characters, both Joe and I agreed that we tended to forget a bit about Emma. She's really supposed to be the main event here, but she's so easily overshadowed by the larger-than-life older characters. Not that I minded. I honestly found Jo Ellen Pellman uncompelling in the role. I was far more interested when Ariana DeBose, her onscreen girlfriend, was in scenes with her. 

There's been a lot of chatter in the Twitterverse about James Corden and what some are calling a bad example of "gay face." While I'm not an advocate of perpetuating stereotypes, I was not bothered at all by his characterization. His performance is nothing particularly special, but I think the outrage over his casting is hyperbolic, and frankly smacks a bit of gay self-loathing and anti-effeminacy. 

I hope I'm not rambling too much in this post. Writing a film review is probably my least favorite thing to do on this blog. I feel like I just end up writing a brief synopsis followed by more of a reaction without really reviewing the film for what it is as complete work. I'm so bad at that. I'm not good at being objective about filmmaking when I'm so interested in the characters and how I generally feel when I'm watching it. Maybe I should wait to write reviews after I can watch the film a few times or after several weeks have passed. 

What I can say is that I had a good time watching this movie. Joe and I were humming and singing the tunes before it even ended, and have watched clips and played songs from the soundtrack already today. The cinematography is gorgeous and, as is Ryan Murphy's wont, extremely colorful. How are my eyes not sick of pink and purple by this point?

Is the film a masterpiece? Far from it. It's not a brainy musical like something you'd get from Sondheim. It's not as bad as the worst of Glee (a show I've seen every episode of btw), but it definitely had that EVERYBODY IS REPRESENTED VERY ON PURPOSE kind of feel. That's a good thing, I suppose, even if it's a bit heavy handed. 

Meryl's a shoe-in for a Golden Globe nod for Musical or Comedy. It seems a role tailor-made for a win, but I truly truly believe that awards bodies are very averse to giving her the top prize these days. It's too eyebrow-raising to snub her for something like this, but I'm more expecting Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman or Michelle Pfeiffer in French Exit. If Meryl happens to win the Globe or snag a SAG nom, there's a small window for an Oscar nomination. I never would've guessed a few months ago. I assumed and continue to assume it won't go much beyond the Globes, but it'll be a fun awards season regardless, as we watch and wait to see what happens with both this movie, and Let Them All Talk.  

Friday, December 11, 2020

Film Review: "Let Them All Talk" (2020)

It's the first of two consecutive nights we get to stream Meryl in leading roles for a feature film. First up: Steven Soderbergh's Let Them All Talk. 

HBO Max does the honors for this evening. The movie centers on fictional Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Hughes, as she makes "a crossing" (Alice "can't fly) from New York to Southampton aboard the Queen Mary 2 to accept a literary prize. Along with her she takes her nephew Tyler (played by Lucas Hedges) and her former college buddies, Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Wiest). 

I watched the move tonight with my husband, Joe, and we were both giggling from the start. Mostly at Candice Bergen's character, a golddigger convinced that Alice has ruined her life by using her for the main character in one of her successful books. Then at Meryl's pompous deliveries of a self-absorbed but not necessarily self-aware writer. Wiest perhaps has the best one-liners, and is the only one seemingly level-headed enough to try to build bridges amongst the trio of friends. Gemma Chan rounds out the main cast as Alice's literary agent, who quietly joins the ship in hope of unearthing her client's latest manuscript prospects. Old grudges are brought to the service and a budding romance develops, as the liner makes its way across the Atlantic. I don't want to give away spoilers so I'll just give some more general reactions. 

We know by now that a lot of the dialogue of the film was improvised. The cast was told where a scene would need to end, but a lot of the middle of it was made up as they went along. There was a bit of that sense during the film, with Joe and I commenting on which parts we felt had to have part of the original screenplay, and which we felt were likely improvised. 

Meryl, not surprisingly, is a joy to watch. She's convincing as a successful novelist, someone who considers herself an intellectual, and assumes that anything on which she happens to opine is worthy of great attention. I'm sure many reviewers are commenting on how it's one of her more subtle performances in recent years, and they'd be right. It's a quiet movie, where the cast really is just left to talk.

   

It's true that there's not a lot of obvious conflict until the second half of the movie. Things are hinted at throughout, and that's a pretty effective burn for folks who aren't spoiled by only ever consuming thrillers or Marvel movies. I wouldn't have minded if we'd seen more fireworks between Alice and Roberta early on, or if Susan had thrown down a little earlier.

The film is ripe with unsolved mystery and surprise. I honestly was not expecting it to end the way it did, but it offered one more little dramatic hit that brings the viewer out of the polite, but clever banter to which we become accustomed. 

The cinematography is lovely. I've historically been averse to the idea of ever being on a cruise, and this movie has not changed my mind--unless I can ride on the ship with a maximum of five other friends. 

What do we think about awards recognition for this movie?! It's a tricky one. The film is unlike any other I've ever seen...filmed in ten days, three 70-plus actresses in the main roles, not much of a score. It's going to go Comedy for the Globes, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Meryl got double nommed for this and The Prom (one day sight unseen). But I think it's likely too low-key for voters to pull that first-place-vote trigger at Oscar. 

I'll have more to say on that topic after tomorrow night. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Streep talks "Don't Look Up"

After a pretty quiet year in terms of Meryl news, it seems she's all of a sudden in everything. She joined Stephen Colbert on The Late Show to talk about, among other things, her upcoming film by director Adam McKay, Don't Look Up.


Filming has been underway in Boston for a couple weeks at this point. Sort of a strange way to have to go about it the way Meryl describes the process here.

I acquired access to the film's script, but at this point have only skimmed certain parts. I'll probably get around to it and provide a few thoughts on what I think the movie will look like (no spoilers) and what we might be able to expect from Meryl's performance/character. And of course, awards chances. 

Until then, I cannot wait to have two consecutive nights of new Meryl movies starting in two days!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Recasting 1996: "Dead Man Walking"

Dead Man Walking rounds out the third and final film for my recasting that was originally released in 1995. Being that it was filmed only six months prior to its release, it's the best fit to be pushed to '96. I dithered a bit on the possibilities for this year. Fargo is a great role for Frances McDormand, and it even takes place in my home state. But I never even saw it until a couple years ago, and for a long time I was sort of put off by how strange everyone's accents in the film seemed to me. Brenda Blethyn for Secrets and Lies, an incredibly well-received film and performance, also came to mind. 

Ultimately, however, Susan Sarandon's Oscar-winning role of Sister Helen Prejean won out, and I'm happy with the choice (as I still really wanted to somehow be able to include Copycat and Dolores Claiborne from the same year).

There are a few main items that make this role appealing to me. Having already seen Meryl as Sister Aloysius in Doubt, we'd get to see a pretty sharp contrast in what I consider to be good and bad nuns. Not that Sister Aloysius is evil, but she sort or represents the stupid and bad stuff about Catholicism (with the exception of her drive to rid the school of what she thinks is a pedophile). She's a bastion of archaic values and adheres to rigid doctrine. Meanwhile, Helen Prejean, to me, represents what sadly seems to be the forgotten aspect of Christianity: acting like Jesus. I don't personally believe the dude was a god, but by what we know of what he preached in the Bible, there's some pretty good stuff in there. 

Prejean helps convicted murderer Matthew Poncelet (brilliantly portrayed by Sean Penn) with his last chance of appeal. Without judgement, she serves as his spiritual advisor and ultimately helps him admit and take responsibility for the death of a young man and the rape of a young woman. The families of the victims are abhorred by her connection with Poncelet. It's here where I think Meryl would be particularly attracted to such a role. It's a tricky scenario and difficult thing to defend--communicating with a killer much less helping him commute his sentence. 


I don't think I'd have much trouble saying "Ciao" to anyone who murdered a loved one of mine and was sentenced to death. There probably really are people who are just plain evil in the world. But I also can understand someone like Matthew Poncelet, or anyone else who had an abusive, wretched childhood, and goes down a dangerous spiral into crime. And while there's no excuse for killing an innocent person, I admire folks who somehow find the strength and maturity to forgive someone who owns up to brutal wrongs they've done. 

Sarandon is wonderful in this role and I really enjoy the chemistry between her and Penn. I watched the movie for just the second time a few weeks back and I was surprised how touched I was by the emotion from both actors, as well as those who portray the victims' families and Poncelet's. The two leads' penultimate scene before the execution is particularly tense. 


There's probably something wrong with me, but does anyone else feel a little bit of erotic tension between them? The facial expressions and the manner of speech from Sarandon borderline on romantic longing in some phrases. I don't expect that was intended, and the scene is still magnificent in spite of my own dumb distraction. 

I think it would've been pretty tough for Meryl to land this role. After all, it was Sarandon's partner Tim Robbins who directed it and cast her in the lead role. The film and both her and Penn's performances were highly praised by critics. It sits at a whopping 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 80 on Metacritic. 

Despite Sarandon's probably overdue status for an Oscar by the time 1995 rolled around, I'm convinced that the only reason Meryl didn't win for The Bridges of Madison County was the simple fact that she'd won twice already. I don't begrudge Sarandon her award--it was a lovely performance. But it was a year, along with Jodie Foster's win in 1988 and Sandra Bullock's in 2010, where a brilliant and possibly more deserving Streep performance came up short with the Academy. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Promising first reviews for "Let Them All Talk"

My cup runneth over with Meryl having two films being released to streaming services next week! Numbers are dropping just a tad for The Prom, but first reviews for Steven Soderbergh's Let Them All Talk look very good. 

With ten reviews in on Metacritic, the film sits at 72, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Over on Rotten Tomatoes, while there aren't a lot more reviews there (thirteen), it's at 100%! 

Meryl's again getting good ink here, but it's a more subdued performance. More of the commentary is on Soderbergh's cinematography and the supporting performance by Candice Bergen. There's even a little Oscar buzz going around now for Bergin. While early December would normally be far too late to expect somebody to join the race, this is a special year. Globe and SAG nods won't even be announced until late February. 

So excited to watch both films next week!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Reviews rolling in for "The Prom"

The media embargo for official film reviews was lifted for The Prom yesterday. At the time of this post, the film stands at 54 on Metacritic (fifteen reviews), and 75% on Rotten Tomatoes (41 reviews). Metacritic of course is more the "prestigious" of scores, as it's a weighted average of fewer, more prominent sources. Rotten Tomatoes is a bit more low brow, and tends to run higher than Metacritic. 

There will be many more reviews of course, but so far, I'd say this is decent for a Ryan Murphy feature. Unsurprisingly, a lot of reviewers are comparing it to Glee. But a fair number are offering very favorable takes in the movie, generally praising it as a feel-good romp and something joyous that theater-starved audiences desperately need right now. 

More important is that Meryl is getting pretty good ink here. She's given props for "having fun" and really "sinking her teeth into" the part. And her singing is being widely praised as well. A clip of her performance of "It's Not about Me" leaked in Twitter earlier, which I happened to catch. I have to agree she sounds amazing. Possibly the best I've ever heard her. The full soundtrack will be released digitally on December 4.  

At this point, she's looking very good for a Globe nod, and may even possibly contend for the win. 

The Prom will be streamed on Netflix starting next Friday, December 11.  

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Interview on "Let Them All Talk"

Streep was joined by co-stars Dianne Wiest and Candice Bergen for a virtual CBS Sunday Morning interview on their upcoming film, Let Them All Talk.


It's the most info we've gotten on the plot and the characters' histories and motivations. I'm actually looking more forward to this film than The Prom, if I'm being honest. 

There's been so much confusion and misinformation on whether this picture is going to compete in the TV movie or feature film categories for awards. Sources at Awards Worthy seem to have info which suggests it is going to be campaigned in the film category. Gold Derby now also has it listed in its odds list for film nomination and wins. If it indeed will be considered a feature film, I think it bodes well for Meryl's nomination chances. The TV Movie/Limited Series category is always so packed for Lead Actress. With both The Prom and Let Them All Talk, Meryl has a realistic chance of getting double Golden Globe nominations in the same category (a feat she previously accomplished in 2010 for Julie & Julia and It's Complicated, winning for the former). 

Let Them All Talk will stream on HBO Max on December 10. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Full trailer released for "The Prom"

 Yes, there is indeed much to be thankful for. Netflix has released it's first full trailer for The Prom.


What a wonderful explosion of color and gayness. I have to admit, I don't expect much out of this film other than a good time, catchy tunes, and a little tug at the heartstrings. I'm game for all three. 

I'm glad they put more focus on the teen lesbian couple than they did in the teaser. It is after all about them. Meryl looks amazing, even if she wasn't in the trailer all that much. It'll be a fun surprise seeing her solo performances. Nicole Kidman's accent was distracting, and I didn't particularly get good vibes from the few clips they showed of Kerry Washington. That's tough in a trailer like this one, though. It's a tad manic and there's so little chance to really process what you've seen at first. 

We'll get to see the full show on December 11!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Recasting 1995: "Copycat"

I've had a morbid fascination with serial killers since I was in my early teens. Maybe it was my affinity for The Silence of the Lambs. Or perhaps the fact that I can remember Jeffrey Dahmer being in the news so much the summer before I entered sixth grade. Horror films of the 80s ran rampant with boogeymen-like slashers like Jason Voorhies, Michael Myers, and my all-time favorite, Freddy Krueger. But those depictions were such stylized, almost campy portrayals that, while probably based on real killers, felt a bit clowny as I got older. 

With the advent of more realistic, and ultimately scary murderers on screen in the 90s like Hannibal Lecter, there was more focus on the minds and motivations of these elusive creatures--a character who makes us think a bit more about how a human being can turn out like that. We could imagine the real possibility that we might actually know one of these guys (or girls) without ever knowing it.

The 1995 films Seven and Copycat captured this appeal for me. Both are films I actually saw in the theater, with Copycat being the first from this recasting project. Sigourney Weaver has commented that she is most proud of her work in this film, portraying the agoraphobic criminal psychologist, Dr. Helen Hudson. I think it would be a delicious role for Meryl. 

After Helen is nearly killed by escaped prisoner Daryll Lee Cullum (creepily played by Harry Connick Jr.), she secludes herself in a fancy apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area. Holly Hunter and Dermot Mulroney are detectives who seek Helen's help in catching a serial killer, whose modus operandi is copying famous serial killers like the Boston Strangler, the Hillside Strangler, and Son of Sam.  Helen is very reluctant at first, spending her days with the shades drawn, a drink in her hand, and her computers logged in to chat rooms (which by the way seemed SUPER advanced at the time this film was released). But she eventually relents, and ends up realizing she's the main muse of the killer they're all trying to capture.

I probably watched this movie about fifty times before going to college. I loved how it gave us a bit a history on a few of the more notorious serial killers of the 20th century. And nothing's scarier than being able to imagine so vividly a dangerous thing realistically happening. The scenes where the killer is actually in Helen's apartment, both with and without her knowing, were particularly intense for me. It seemed so easy to think "just get the hell out!" But Helen can't. She's paralyzed by her fear of the outside, to the point of almost losing consciousness if she tries to take even a few steps beyond the threshold of the front door. I can't even imagine the terror of being a prisoner in your own home, on top of the overwhelming anxiety already present that serves as the watchful guard preventing you from escaping.  

I would've loved to see Meryl and Holly Hunter going head to head in this. Their interaction starts out a bit cold, and I absolutely love how prickly Weaver portrays Hudson at times. The snotty head movements she gives when having to field a question she finds either too naive or too bold. But they form a great team eventually. 

It's easy to see how Meryl would not have been the first choice for this film. She hasn't historically done thriller or action or gun movies. But there's a lot to do with the character of Dr. Helen Hudson. I'm having trouble thinking of role where Streep would have to portray fear this often. And it's a complicated fear. of course, especially when portraying a brilliant woman who was probably excruciatingly rational and in control prior to her violent encounter with Cullum. There's a paradox in that which I bet Meryl would've enjoyed negotiating. 

Weaver bemoaned the fact that Copycat sort of got "lost in the shuffle of thrillers" at the time. No doubt she's referring to David Fincher's Seven, one of my all time favs and a superior film to Copycat in my opinion. But she's probably right. Copycat is under-remembered and underappreciated. It had a decent show at the box office, again something that likely would've been stronger had it not been up against films in a similar genre at the exact same time. And it was generally well-received by critics, many of them praising the dynamite performances of its two tough, female leads. 

 


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Streep receives Grammy nomination

The Grammys announced their nominations this morning, and Meryl is up for Best Spoken Word album for her narration of Charlotte's Web. 

This is Streep's fifth Grammy nomination for a spoken word album. The Mamma Mia! soundtrack was nominated as a compilation, but Meryl wasn't personally nominated for that. She's yet to win, of course. With the list she's up against this year (Rachel Maddow, Ronan Farrow, Ken Jennings, and Flea), I'm not exactly holding my breath. 

But fun to consider her getting 3/4 of the way to an EGOT!




Sunday, November 22, 2020

Soundtrack to "The Prom" set for December 4 release

Broadway World reported this morning that we'll get the soundtrack to Ryan Murphy's The Prom a week ahead of its release on Netflix. 

While I'd love to experience the songs for the first time when I see the movie (particularly Meryl's individual performances), I'm pretty sure I'll have a tough time waiting.

The Prom will stream on December 11. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Recasting 1994: "Dolores Claiborne"

I'm providing a bit of a spoiler right from the start of this post. The next three years of recasting will consist of films that all had their theatrical releases in 1995. Conveniently for my brain--which wants really badly to be able to picture a realistic shooting schedule for the projects into which I'm retroactively inserting Meryl--all three are spaced out rather nicely in regard to their original filming. 

The first of those happens to not only be a great role, but one of my favorite movies. It's widely known that Stephen King had Kathy Bates in mind when writing his novel, Dolores Claiborne. She'd won an Oscar for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes in the film adaptation of Misery five years prior. It seems only fitting that she'd take on the title role in another of King's psychological thrillers. 

For me, the title role in this film is less of a stretch than the previous one for which I subbed out Kathy Bates in favor of Meryl (Fried Green Tomatoes). At the heart of the drama are the relationships between Dolores and her estranged daughter, Selena, and Vera Donovan, the woman whom for decades Dolores has served as a domestic. Dolores is arrested for Vera's murder, but really she was just found in a compromising position after Vera fell out of her wheelchair and was near death at the bottom of the stairs. 

Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes in from her hotshot job as a journalist in Manhattan to help her mother out, and it's quickly apparent that the two do not get along. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Selena's contempt for her mother dates back to when Dolores was under suspicion for the death of Selena's father. Christopher Plummer plays the disgruntled detective who's convinced Dolores got away with murder twenty years prior. 

For being a "thriller," this has always just felt like a great character drama to me with a lot of focus on a troubled family. The strained relationship between mother and daughter is heartbreaking because Selena has repressed the memory of (another spoiler alert!) her father sexually abusing her. She's gone through life just assuming her mother was likely responsible for her father going missing, and worse, that he didn't deserve it. Whether he had it coming is up for debate, but without the context of knowing he abused his daughter, it's a lot easier not to feel back when Dolores tricks him into falling into an abandoned well. 

While the complexities of the Dolores-Selena relationship are meaty, my favorite is actually the salty back and forth between Dolores and Vera. There's something weirdly relaxing in the scenes where Dolores is shown toiling away to keep the house looking perfect. It's sort of that Downton Abby or The Crown effect. Everything is so clean and perfect all the time (which is easy as long as you can have someone else do it for you). 

And despite Vera being such a hard-nosed rich bitch of a boss, we get to see a speck of her humanity after Dolores reveals that her husband, Joe, (portrayed by the great David Strathairn) has foiled her plans to run away with Selena.


Great stuff from Judy Parfitt. I have to admit that Kathy Bates's accent is a little distracting at times. It's almost routine at this point to assume Meryl would've nailed it, but I imagine it's one of those trickier ones as far as they go for the United States--like Boston or a specific borough of New York. 

There's so much to do in this role. With it spanning a couple decades of a life essentially given up in the service of one person (Vera) and for the sole benefit of another (Selena), Dolores really is the heroine of the story in every way. It's another one of those "difficult" scenarios that we know Meryl covets. Yes, it's probably wrong that Dolores premeditated her husband's death, but was the world--or Dolores and her daughter--worse off as a result? Probably not. 

I really feel the timing of this movie's original release is what got int he way of awards recognition for Kathy Bates. It was filmed in Nova Scotia from April through July 1994 and released in March of '95. Historically, films released that early aren't major players at awards ceremonies (I'm aware of The Silence of the Lambs). It seems the type of picture that could've been ready in time for a December release. '94 was a much less crowded year in terms of quality lead performances than '95 was. Had the studio opted for a fourth quarter release in the year it was filmed, I wonder if Bates and others may have been on more people's radars. 

With director Taylor Hackford at the helm (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray), the film was generally well-received by critics and a modest box-office success. Alas, Bates and Leigh only managed Saturn Award nominations. Parfitt, in retrospect, seems a perfect contender for Supporting Actress. A pity and and oversight in each case as far as I'm concerned. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Trailer released for "Let Them All Talk"

HBO Max has released a trailer (and a streaming date!) for Let Them All Talk.


We've known so little about the actual story for this movie that's it great to finally get a sense of what it's about. I like the chilly interactions between Meryl and Candice Bergen's characters. And Meryl's role actually seems like it might be that of...kind of an awful person? Or least annoying and pretentious. Either way, I'm happy to see there's some meat on the bones of the character. 

What's craziest is that this will be available to stream on December 10, one day before The Prom! Our cups runneth over. 

Up to this point, my understanding has been that this will actually be placed in the film category for awards eligibility. Interesting that Gold Derby still has it under TV movie. It'll likely be considered a comedy, so I think Meryl's got a decent shot of two Globe nods this year. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

New song released from "The Prom"

 Netflix has released a "lyric video" of one of the songs from The Prom.


I had seen a week or so ago the audio-only for one of the songs released, but this video includes a little bit of new footage as well. The song is OK, nothing fantastically special. Obviously I'm most interested to hear Meryl's performances. Not sure if we'll see or hear any of those in upcoming promotional footage. 

The Prom will be released to the streaming platform on December 11. 


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Recasting 1993: "The Piano"

1993 is probably one of the strongest years for lead actress performances on film in memory. Three of the four roles nominated for an Academy Award were those that Meryl was at least vaguely connected to in some way (The Remains of the Day, Shadowlands, and Six Degrees of Separation). I included those three films in my reimagined history of roles for which I wish Meryl had ultimately ended up doing. 

But what of the role that actually won that year? Holly Hunter's widely acclaimed performance as a mute Scottish woman sold into marriage in New Zealand pretty much swept the awards circuit that year, in a way I don't think I'd ever seen nor have since. Helen Mirren came close for 2006's The Queen, but Hunter really swept. Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, (there were not SAGs yet), Cannes, critics bodies for L.A., New York, Chicago, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, and London. Considering that she was up against great performances by Emma Thompson, Stockard Channing, Debra Winger, and Angela Bassett, it's easy to say it was a stunning portrayal. 

I bet Sigourney Weaver was probably kicking herself at the time. She was director Jane Campion's first choice for the role, but declined it, apparently saying she was "taking a break from acting." Weaver's consideration is something that actually helped me picture Meryl in this role, as the two are only a few months apart in age. It therefore doesn't seem like that would've been a reason Meryl couldn't have slid into the part. Plus, her co-stars would've been Harvey Keitel (ten years older) and Sam Neill, whom she's already starred alongside in 1988's A Cry in the Dark.

The film depicts Ada and her young daughter, Flora (portrayed by Anna Paquin in her Academy Award-winning performance), as they're dropped off on a beach in New Zealand in the mid 19th century. Ada is essentially sold into marriage by her father to Sam Neill's character, Alisdair. Ada is mute "by choice," and can hear just fine, but hasn't spoken since she was a child. Flora serves as her interpreter. Alisdair sells Ada's piano to a forrester, Baines (Keitel), and Ada is furious. Baines is willing to give it back to her by "exchanging" a certain number of piano keys for what amount to sexual favors. Ada eventually falls for Baines and the two have an affair. Alisdair eventually learns of it and (spoiler) chops off one of Ada's fingers. It all turns out OK for Ada and Flora in the end, as they leave Alisdair and end up with Baines in a different part of New Zealand. 


Wow. It's an intense and beautifully filmed movie. This is a good example of one of those "risky" roles we don't necessarily see Meryl do. The nudity might have turned her off to the project, but the opportunities for emoting when you aren't able to speak! Meryl has a limitless treasury of facial expressions from which to draw. This seems right up her alley (although Hunter does have a short voice over with a Scottish accent). 

The film was almost universally praised upon its release. It won the Palm d'Or for Campion at the Cannes Film Festival. She was also nominated at the Academy Awards for director and Best Adapted Screenplay, winning for the latter. It's so rare we get female directors, much less those who direct Best Picture nominees. I truly wonder if the only way Meryl can put herself in a position to win another lead Oscar would be if she were to connect with an auteur director on a picture with really tricky or sensitive subject matter. It's maybe the last territory we've yet to see Meryl traverse. Something we'd normally expect Isabelle Huppert to be in, for example. I don't blame her for her choices though. She knows her strengths, and maybe, just maybe, she believes she has limits to what she can effectively convey on screen. 

I say "try me."

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Recasting 1992: "Blue Sky"

Up to this point in my recasting project, I don't think I've bumped any film greater than one year forward or back from its original release date. But this week's example is sort of a special case. It's widely known that Jessica Lange won her only Lead Actress Academy Award for her performance as a bipolar housewife for Blue Sky in 1995. But the movie was actually filmed in mid 1990, shelved after the bankruptcy of Orion pictures forced them to delay its release until 1994. Incidentally, this happened to be three years after the director, Tony Richardson, passed away due to complications from AIDS. 

What a history! And I haven't even described how Meryl fits in. Let's start with the role itself. It's sort of what I've come to understand as a quintessential Jessica Lange role: Sex appeal with a hint of crazy. See Frances, Crimes of the Heart, Feud, The Politican. Lange has said herself she's fascinated by characters on the brink of madness, and it certainly shows in her filmography. Meryl, on the other hand, surprisingly doesn't seem to portray too many characters with mental illness. Plenty, Postcards from the Edge (maybe?). Some might make a case for Ironweed and August: Osage County, but it's probably a stretch. 

The lead in Blue Sky is of Carly Marshall. She's married to Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), who's a nuclear engineer in the military in 1962. Carly feels stifled by the banality of life on an army base when the family has to move from Hawaii to Alabama. She's a bit of a vamp, which tends to embarrass Hank, who finds himself making excuses for her when she behaves in a way that isn't necessarily perceived as befitting an army wife. 

Already this seems like a role we'd be surprised to see Meryl do. She made it a point early on in her career to not accept roles that could pigeonhole her into a certain kind of actress. It wouldn't have been too difficulty for her to fall into the sort of suffering girlfriend, like we saw in The Deer Hunter. Unlike Lange, Meryl has never really been cast for her looks. Not that she couldn't be, she's beautiful. But she's always been more inclined to be a character actress. Had this role in Blue Sky come along in 1989 (remember, it was filmed in '90), I think it could've been a very interesting opportunity for Meryl. Imagine her turning forty and coming across this script. What a great way to sort of show off how you've still "got it" than to portray someone as beguiling as Carly? For Lange it seems like second nature. For Meryl, I think it would be a stretch, which is why it would be so amazing to watch!


What a contrast in personality between this character and Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes. Had this filmed like it originally did in 1990, it would've been planned for a release the same year as Fried Green Tomatoes. But let's just pretend that Blue Sky someone how found it's way to the light of day two years after its release instead of four. Either way, it would've been on either side of Fried Green Tomatoes, and the contrast in roles in back to back years would only serve to make the fact that they were portrayed by the same person that much more exciting. 

The film overall did fairly well with critics. But Lange was the real story here, winning both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, among a half a dozen other nominations from critics groups and the Screen Actors Guild.  


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Recasting 1991: "Fried Green Tomatoes"

For me, part of the fun of this recasting project has been inserting Meryl into some of my favorite movies. This particular span of film history (late 80s, early 90s) has some of the most memorable casts of women on screen: Beaches, Steel Magnolias, Thelma & Louise. Not all necessarily feel right for inserting Meryl into the cast, however, For instance, I previously considered M'Lynn for Steel Magnolias, either character for Beaches, and of course I already have Meryl and Goldie Hawn as the star duo of Thelma & Louise in my reimagined filmography from 2014. 

M'Lynn's a good character, but there's just something about Sally Field and the ensemble's performance that's so great and special that I actually don't really like picturing Meryl in it. Same for Beaches, in a sense. That isn't to say that any roles I happen to choose for Meryl's recasting means they weren't necessarily brilliant performances in their own right. It's more a feeling I get of "I'd love to see Meryl do that." It's a bit nebulous, I admit, but I suspect it would be different for everyone. 

So whom do I want to see Meryl portray in 1991's Fried Green Tomatoes? Really there's only one that's reasonable to select, and I expect several people will have a hard time picturing Meryl as this character. But Kathy Bates's as of Evelyn Couch, combined with the greatness of the film itself, are too irresistible of a combination for me to pass up. 

Evelyn is a 40-something housewife in Alabama who befriends a senior woman, Ninny Threadgood in a nursing home (played by Jessica Tandy). Sidebar--this pairing includes the previous two winners for the Academy Award for Best Actress (Tandy in 89's Driving Miss Daisy and Bates for 90's Misery). Ninny recounts tales of her family and friends who lived in the now abandoned town of Whistle Stop. Basically, it's a movie split between present and past, with the present sections showing Evelyn's sort of mid-life crisis dissatisfaction with her life and husband, and the flashbacks depicting Ninny's stories that take place between the two World Wars. 

The role calls for someone overweight, sort of frumpy, no confidence, feels isolated. But the fun of it is there's such a transformation as the film progresses. Through her friendship with Ninny, Evelyn gains some confidence, becomes more fit, gets a good job, and saves her marriage. This clip is sort of the turning point in her character:


If the film kept its early 1991 filming schedule, Meryl might actually have benefited from the fact that she was a few months pregnant at the time. Perhaps they could've filmed her later scenes first (when Evelyn looks more trim and put together) and her earlier scenes later. What better excuse to put on a little weight than when you're eating for two! And it's not as if Meryl's never worn a fat suite (see Florence Foster Jenkins). 

As far as the movie itself goes, my favorite I think are actually the flashbacks, particularly the scenes between Idgy and Ruth (magnificently portrayed by Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker). For one, I love the southern setting and their relationship is very touching. 


My heart absolutely sinks when she says "Come on, you old bee charmer." And I love Cicely Tyson in this. It's disappointing that the film glosses over the lesbian relationship between Idgy and Ruth compared to the book's depiction. The director, Jon Avnet, has acknowledged this, and stated that the food fight scene in the film was was meant to depict "symbolic love-making." I guess they thought it would be too risque for theatergoers in 1991. I think Meryl would've preferred they kept it more like the novel. 

The film was an enormous box office success and did well with critics. Bates was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress-Comedy or Musical, while Tandy was nominated in supporting as well as at the Oscars and for BAFTA. In addition, film also received an Oscar nomination for the its two screenwriters, Fannie Flagg (the author of the novel on which the film is based) and Carol Sobieski. 

To this day, the film remains one of my all-time favorites. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

First teaser for "The Prom"

Netflix has released its first teaser for Ryan Murphy's upcoming screen adaptation of the Broadway musical, The Prom.


Wow, Meryl looks amazing (physically, like she looks fit and pretty). I'm getting a strong High School Musical meets Mamma Mia! feel from this. Like so much of Ryan Murphy's stuff, especially recently, the set design and costumes are VERY colorful, which I enjoy. 

It's hard enough for me to be objective about Meryl's stuff regardless, much less the first time seeing teasers like this. I'll have to watch it a few more times to get a good read. It looks like a fun, uplifting movie, which we could all use a little of right now. And I know we can't, or at least shouldn't try to gauge awards or critics predictions from one trailer, but I don't expect this to go any further than the Globes. I'm happy to be wrong about that! 

Netflix will release the movie to its streaming platform on Dec 11. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Recasting 1990: "The Grifters"

On to a new decade! Coming off what would've been 1989's Dangerous Liaisons, let's imagine that director Stephen Frears had been so impressed with Streep's work as the devious Marquise de Merteuil, that he wanted to cast her again in his upcoming neo-noir pic, The Grifters. It's not difficult to believe in that possibility. Directors often have favorites. Frears himself cast Judi Dench in three lead roles in the last fifteen years. All Meryl need do is say "yes" to another great role.

Martin Scorsese was originally planning on directing this film, but ultimately suggested Frears, as he was looking for something to follow up Liaisons. I can totally see this movie in the hands of Scorsese. This type of mob-related crime drama is very much in his oeuvre. We'll just have to be patient if we want to see Meryl inserted into a reimagined Scorsese role, however, much less cast in a real-life one. 

The role of Lilly Dillon was originated by the great Anjelica Huston. A long-time con artist, Lilly visits her son Roy (John Cusack) after several years apart, only to find him badly injured from a scam gone wrong. She tries to get him to give up "the grift", saying he's not cut out for it. Roy eventually gets into a fight with his girlfriend (Annette Bening) when he declines to join her in a long con. Myra (Bening) gets pissed after Roy hits her and decides to take her revenge by ratting out Lilly for stealing from her boss--a man who beats the shit out of her for being late to the dog track after she takes her son to the hospital. 

 

A role like Lilly sort of reminds me of how rarely Meryl does stuff as risky as this. When I watched the movie for the first time this summer, I didn't think it was all that out there. But watching clips again, I can think of very few scenes of her where it's actually disturbing to watch what the character's going through. She does enjoy topics that are "difficult," but there aren't many films where it the concepts could've been received as to be in poor taste. Not that she was never involved in a poor film, but not in roles that necessarily put at risk her particular brand of star. For heaven's sake, Lilly essentially seduces her own son at the end to try to persuade him to let her go after he catches her stealing his money (as an aside, I happen to think Cusack looks more like Streep than Huston). While not exactly the stuff made of fairy tales, it's the kind of "difficult" we don't really see Meryl do. 

But it's exactly why I'd be so interested to see her get lost in something so treacherous! I know she's said she hates noir, but like American Gigolo a decade prior, if it's actually a good movie with a great script, I wonder if she'd have had a different take on the genre. And she would've been able to say in the Los Angeles area to film this. She's of course been on record as having made a point of accepting only roles for which she could film in L.A. during the early 90s, so as to not have to cart her family all over the world. 

Huston, in a role that was originally intended for Cher, did an amazing job and won several critics awards. She came up short at the Oscars, however, losing out to Kathy Bates for her incredible performance in the screen adaptation of Stephen King's Misery (one of my personal favorites). I also sort of wonder if the Academy felt bad for their sinful omission of Stephen Frears a couple years prior for directing Dangerous Liaisons, as they made up for it with this film. Bening also received a supporting nod, as did the film's adapted screenplay. 

I highly recommend having a look. 



Friday, October 16, 2020

Streep, Bergen, and Wiest on "Let Them All Talk"

Entertainment Weekly released an extensive interview today of a Zoom meeting with Meryl, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest. The three are starring in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh comedy for HBO Max, Let Them All Talk. 

This is by far the most detail we've had about this film. It's a bit surprising that we're getting release details (although vague) from one of the actors rather than the streaming platform. In the interview, it's suggested that the film will be released in December. First time we've had a month nailed down, although there are only two remaining in the year. 

The trio go into some nice background on their characters and what it was like filming aboard the fancy cruise ship Queen Mary 2. More interesting is how improvised much of the dialogue is apparently going to be. Writer Deborah Eisenberg would evidently give the actors a sense of the scene's outline and where it needed to end up, but the lines were not rigidly scripted. It's an interesting and fresh approach for what most of us are used to when watching film. Not that we'd always know whether or not something may have been improvised, but the fact that this is being discussed so specifically, it adds an extra bit of increased anticipation to see how it's all going to turn out. 

Sounds like they're feeling pretty good about it. It's exciting that we're going to be getting so much of Meryl in the next couple of months!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Streep joins Adam McKay's Netflix comedy "Don't Look Up"

Several sources reported yesterday that Meryl has signed on to co-star in Adam McKay's upcoming Netflix comedy, Don't Look Up. It's been in the works for some time, with Jennifer Lawrence having previously been announced as a lead. With the updated casting news, however, we've learned that Leonardo DiCaprio will likely be the other lead, as the films blurb reads:

...(the film) follows two low-level astronomers who embark on a media tour to warn mankind of an impending asteroid that could destroy the planet. Lawrence and DiCaprio are expected to play the two astronomers...

This is pretty exciting news. McKay received a lot of acclaim for 2015's The Big Short. It's an amazing cast, and the only thing that remains to be seen is how much each of them will be in it. The tea on the AwardsWorthy forums is that Meryl will be portraying the president of the United States. Sounds like it could be more than a mere cameo.

Sources have indicated that the movie is already set to begin filming in Boston on November 19, which means we're likely to see a late 2021 release. I'd been wondering if Meryl would participate in filming anything while the pandemic is still if full force. Apparently she's prepared to do so. Which also means that if Damien Chazelle's Babylon gets underway early next year, and if Meryl is indeed going to star as rumored, it likely won't be Covid that would keep her out.   

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Recasting 1989: "Dangerous Liaisons"

This is not the first (Hester Street, Julia, Romancing the Stone) nor the last time I'll be "adjusting" the original release year for a film in this recasting project. While Stephen Frears's widely popular adaptation of Les liaisons dangereuses was originally released in 1988, I've chosen it to follow Gorillas in the Mist. I just couldn't pass up this film and role. 

It's not that wild to imagine the film being released in 1989. According to IMDb, shooting didn't begin until May of '88, wrapping in August. Very few films these days are ready for release only four months later. In fact, knowing this filming schedule, I'm rather surprised it wasn't held until 1989. I think I'm justified in my choice to include it for my recasting, at least based on a release probability standpoint. 

1989 marks the start of what I've often quoted from Aussie Mike Burge's 2012 article as Meryl's "wilderness years." The period of '89-'94(ish), where we saw a bit of a departure of Streep's work from the often suffering non-American to some, shall we say less "high-brow" fare. Personally, I'm not a fan of the work in this period, and although I know it was a deliberate decision for Meryl based on the geography of her family (or so she's been quoted), I'd have preferred her to continue with roles similar to those she generally throughout the 80s. 

With that in mind, I'd recommend anyone who's interested to know what will not be included in the next five years of my recasting project to refer to my 2014 "reimagined" look at this period. Those films will remain in that universe of thought...with one very minor exception, which will not be revealed until the conclusion of this current project. 

Which brings us back to Dangerous Liaisons. Glenn Close's leading role as the conniving Marquise de Merteuil was one of the most highly praised of her career. The film takes place among the 18th century French aristocracy. It's a bit of a convoluted plot, but suffice it to say that de Merteuil is trying to get back a lover who has spurned her by having someone else seduce her ex-lover's soon-to-be new wife. 

John Malkovich portrays the dastardly Vicomte de Valmont, but balks when challenged to seduce the young girl (played by a very young Uma Thurman), saying it's too easy. Instead, he sets his sights on the pious Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Merteuil agrees to a night with him if he succeeds. An intricate series of plots and plans takes place, where not surprisingly, everybody pretty much ends up getting hurt or killed. Merteuil is ultimately shamed publicly at the opéra for her schemes, with the crowd booing her out of the theater.

I made a point of rewatching the film recently. I'd remembered so little of the actual plot and performances. One of the most memorable things for the this time around was how specifically the character of Merteuil articulates the plight of women in her position:


It's an interesting, if sad, existence. With so few opportunities for making your own way women, in her view, were often consigned to manipulation. Or perhaps, as Meryl once put it in her 2011 commencement speech at Barnard:

"Women are better at acting than men. Why? Because we have to be. If successfully convincing someone bigger than you are of something he doesn't want to know is a survival skill, this is how women have survived through the millennia." 

I expect that's pretty accurate. And I was pleasantly surprised by this being an undercurrent to the film's plot. Without it, the character of Madame de Merteuil might have come across as a little too one-dimensional. 

The film was widely praised by critics. It earned seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Lead (Close) and Supporting (Pfeiffer) Actress. It snagged three wins for Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design (duh) and Art Direction, with this last win one of the most deserving I can recall. The sets are absolutely gorgeous. 

Prior to Close's loss a couple year's ago to Olivia Colman, her role in Dangerous Liaisons is likely the closest she came to nabbing that little golden guy. Many at the time considered her the front runner. Alas, Jodi Foster took home her first of two Oscars in three years for her role in The Accused (1988). Had Close been up against Jessica Tandy in '89 instead, I wonder if she might have squeaked it out. 


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

First official stills from "The Prom"

Netflix has released several set pics from Meryl's upcoming film, The Prom. 

Streep as Dee Dee Allen

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, and Streep

Streep and Corden

Ariana DeBose and Jo Ellen Pellman


Very colorful and Ryan Murphy-y. And Meryl looks like she's bringing some major camp again. There's a good quote from her about the film on IndieWire:

“It just had some of the juju of ‘Mamma Mia!,'” Streep told THR of her decision to take the part in “The Prom.” “This is based on a real thing that happened to kids in Indiana, and has a happy ending, everything we dream of in 2020. I wanted to do it. So, the character is a big asshole. I tried very hard to bring that part of me forward.”

Netflix is set to release the film on Dec 11. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Recasting 1988: "Gorillas in the Mist"

From the time I was a small child, I've been fascinated by the great expanses of the African wilderness. Nature shows on public television and eventually the Discovery Channel were a frequently viewed programs in my home. Of greatest interest were those which depicted large cats, but really anything featuring animals in Africa was interesting and exotic to me. 

It wasn't until much later that I was able to really appreciate the work of naturalists like Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, and Dian Fossey. The last of these names is of course the subject of the 1988 drama, Gorillas in the Mist.  

I have to admit that despite my own interest in natural history, I remember the previews for this movie more than the movie itself. I was nine when it was released in theaters, and I'm sure it would've been far too adult for me to have attended in person. It wasn't until college that actually ended up seeing it for the first time, and I watched it again a few months ago in quarantine when I decided I was going to include it in my recasting project. 

Directed by Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Nell), Sigourney Weaver portrayed Fossey on screen. While I consider Meryl's performance in A Cry in the Dark to be the best of any actress that year, Gorillas would've been a great get. Fossey was an American primatologist who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Her account of her work in the eponymous 1983 book serves as the source material for the screenplay. 

The film follows Fossey as she arrives in Africa, having pestered famed anthropologist Louis Leakey in the U.S. for a job in studying the gorillas. She's driven out of the Congo due to political unrest and moves across the mountains to Rwanda, where she's able to finally make some progress on her studies. There's of course a romantic subplot between her and photographer Bob Campbell (Bryan Brown), but the main focus really is Fossey's increasingly fanatical defense of her primate friends against money-hungry poachers.

             

Pretty bad-ass. It's probably not much of a spoiler for a biopic to reveal that Fossey is brutally bludgeoned to death in the end. Theories abound as to who may have done it or orchestrated it, including the possibility of the Rwandan government itself. 

In several reviews of the film, critics, while overall tending to praise the film and Weaver's performance, often bemoan the lack of emotional depth into which the actress is allowed to dive. Specifically, many have cited the fact that Fossey's "mental state" was more precarious than depicted in the film. She was rumored to have detained poachers she "caught," having beaten one of them in the genitals with burning nettle leaves. Yikes. I think it's hard to say if this sort of gentler take on Fossey was a super deliberate choice in the script, or a combination of that and both the directing and choices from Weaver. I speculate as to how Meryl may have influenced all of that, for the betterment of the picture, of course. 

The film was a box-office success and received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for Weaver, in what she has since described as her best work. It won zero. Weaver however won TWO Golden Globes that year, for Best Actress in a Drama for this film, as well as in supporting for Working Girl. I'd have to check for sure, but the only other time I can recall that happening is when Kate Winslet won for both The Reader and Revolutionary Road. It would've been a fascinating character for Meryl to interpret, nonetheless. And she would've been able to speak gorilla on screen! For real. Weaver learned, like Fossey had, to verbally communicate with real gorillas. Not too many roles these days that require that particular skill. Alas, Meryl has yet to venture beyond perfecting the delectably diverse speech patterns of homo sapiens.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Recasting 1987: "Anna"

My guess is not many people are aware of Polish director Yurek Bogayevicz's 1987 drama Anna. Neither was I until earlier this year, when I came across its title doing a little research for this recasting project. Having read the film's synopsis, I quickly became intrigued by the title role, brilliantly portrayed by the great Sally Kirkland. 

It's true I'm a sucker for a new accent. Anna is a former Czech actress who defects to the United States after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Considered "aging" in her early 40s, she struggles to find work in New York. When Anna and her on again-off again partner Daniel take in young actress who just arrived from Czechoslovakia (Paulina Porizkova), a bit of an All About Eve scenario ultimately ensues, with the lovely young protégé stepping into her mentor's former spot in the limelight. 

1987 was a big year lead actresses! Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Cher in Moonstruck, Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, Barbra Streisand in Nuts, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon joining Cher in The Witches of Eastwick, Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, and of course Meryl in her Academy Award-nominated performance in Ironweed. But out of all those fantastic roles and performances, while there are several I'd get a kick out of seeing Meryl portray, Anna seems to be the best fit for this year. 

Coming off of a somewhat comic performance the year prior in Crimes of the Heart, the role of Anna would have been a great dramatic role. It was based on the life of Polish actress Elżbieta Czyżewska. While not exactly a biopic, it provides a backstory of how Anna left Czechoslovakia, having giving birth in a prison after having almost killed a man in Prague. 

There are a few threads of Sophie in this, of course. I hesitated a bit at first including this film in my recasting, thinking Meryl would've been too young for the role. Kirkland portrayed a 44 year-old. Had Meryl filmed this around the same time she did Ironweed (early '87), she would've been just about to turn 38. Not a lot of actresses are going out of their way to portray women older than they need to. But Meryl has never really demonstrated that vanity. She's lucky enough not to have had to worry quite as much about that back then. It's really been about the role for her, and that's what has provided her such great longevity...not being predictable and not being afraid to appear "un-pretty." Just take a look at her roles from 1986's Heartburn and Ironweed:

Streep in Heartburn
Streep in Ironweed


Not exactly glamorous turns. Thirty years ago, pushing forty was a little more dubious than it is nowadays for film actresses. I think this role may have been one with which Meryl would've identified, even if she had been a tad younger than the part called for. 

Kirkland deservedly won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama and went on to earn her only Academy Award nomination for the performance, ultimately losing out to Cher for the aforementioned Moonstruck.






    

Saturday, September 19, 2020

2020 Emmy predictions

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will be presented (virtually) tomorrow night. Meryl of course is up in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work in season two of HBO's Big Little Lies. 

While I'm glad Meryl scored a nom, I'm not super optimistic about her chances at securing a win. Below are my predictions in her category, from most likely to least likely to win.

Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown)
Julia Garner (Ozark)
Sarah Snook (Succession)
Meryl Streep (Big Little Lies)
Samira Wiley (The Handmaid's Tale)
Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve)
Laura Dern (Big Little Lies)
Thandie Newton (Westworld)

I'm an enormous fan of The Crown and think Bonham Carter would be a deserving winner (as would her fellow nominee in Lead, Olivia Colman). I think this could end up being a surprise category, however. I've never seen Ozark, but critics have regularly praised Garner for her work, and she won last year for the same role. Laura Dern won two years before that, but after her Oscar win this year and the fact that the second season of BLL wasn't as well-received, I was actually a tad surprised she made the cut for a nom. I would not mind at all if Sarah Snook took this--Succession is one of my favorite new shows of the last five years. 

Here's hoping Meryl can score the upset. In other categories, I'm rooting for any and all nominees up for Succession and Schitt's Creek.










Monday, September 14, 2020

Netflix sets premiere date for "The Prom"

Netflix has announced that Ryan Murphy's upcoming adaptation of the Broadway musical, The Prom, will be available to stream on December 11. 


Top billing of course for Meryl. It's prime awards placement for release as well. I think a Golden Globe nod is on the horizon, and who knows...maybe more?




Sunday, September 13, 2020

Recasting 1986: "Crimes of the Heart"

Coming off a pair of heavy dramas, 1986's adaptation of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Crimes of the Heart, offers a bit of dark comedy in continuing this recasting. Directed by Australian Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy), the film has been described at times as Hannah and Her Sisters set in the South. I had definitely considered that film for this latest installment. But ultimately, Crimes of the Heart's Gothic setting and its incredible ensemble put it over the top for me. 

I would recast Meryl in Sissy Spacek's role of Rebecca "Babe" Botrelle. She is the youngest of a trio of sisters in Mississippi who are reunited after Babe is apprehended for shooting her abusive husband. A huge draw for me is the fact that, very much like Agnes of God, Meryl would have gotten to be part of a powerful ensemble of mostly women. I've always wanted Meryl to work with Jessica Lange (who plays middle sister Meg), and while I'd prefer to see them in more of a duel lead scenario (think Thelma & Louise or an adaptation of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer), this would've been a perfect opportunity for the two of them to share the screen. The great Diane Keaton completes the circle of Magrath sisters, portraying wallflower, Lenny (Lenora). 

The role of Babe isn't an enormously challenging one on the surface, but there's plenty to do here. She's a bit of a space cadet, and feels suffocated by her controlling husband. In what today would likely be a far more controversial subplot, Babe forms a sexual relationship with a 15 year-old African American boy in town (sidebar--I'm slightly less scandalized after reading that the age of consent in Mississippi is 16). Rather than push for Babe's imprisonment for having shot him, he instead insists the boy, Willie Jay (portrayed by Gregory Travis) be sent out of town. This is a far more devastating consequence for Babe, and she, like her mother before her, attempts suicide. I wasn't able to find any better clips of Spacek's best, scenes, but this old video from Siskel & Ebert actually covers a few great points and showcases the ladies together.

I can't help but think of another Pulitzer Prize-winning play that involved the reuniting of three southern sisters: August: Osage County. We get the plain Jane who never left town, the sort of free spirit whose facade of cuteness masks a troubled inside, and the one who managed to get out and who, while also troubled, likely has the most rational take on the family's history of issues. While they are brought together for different reasons in the two stories, both of course involve the sisters' struggles with their dysfunctional parents, in particular their mother. 

In Crimes, the Magrath matriarch makes headlines for having eccentrically hanging both herself and her cat. In the aftermath, the sisters, with their father not in the picture, were raised by their "Old Grandaddy." Lenny, in a foreshadowing to the character Keaton would play exactly ten years later in (also starring Meryl of course) Marvin's Room, takes on the burden of helping to care for him as he slips ever closer to death. 

Something I found interesting about this movie is that the three leads, while super effective in their roles and collective chemistry, tend to be a bit typecast. Last year I posted a great video where Meryl's career is dissected to help articulate "why we love" her. There's a section in it where she is compared with several of her peers. Examples are given about how Meryl's role diversification over the years has helped her longevity. When Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek are mentioned, the sort of pigeonhole into which the three have historically been placed shows up pretty acutely in Crimes of the Heart: Keaton is neurotic, Spacek is Southern--again, and Lange is the sexy one. But it still works for me. 

This is the second consecutive play adaptation in my recasted Meryl filmography (three if you count the fact that A Passage to India was adapted to a play first from the novel). It's also the second straight film for which there is an tight nucleus of women at the heart of the story. The film received positive reviews from critics. And while it was a box office disappointment, Spacek scored a nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars. Tess Harper was nominated in supporting (playing the awful cousin and neighbor, Chick Boyle), as was Henley for her beautiful screen adaptation.